Darkness can sweep over you in an instant. You feel a tightness in your chest and you can’t breathe.
Everywhere you look, all you see is colorless gray, as if the darkness itself has shaded everything in depressing neutral.
I’ve been swallowed by the darkness. Perhaps so have you.
The pain is almost unbearable. It’s raw and shapeless, like a ghost who knows all of your unforgivable secrets.
In this article, I want to share with you three genuine ways to find happiness in the darkest of times. Three ways that saved my life. I hope you will find them as useful and powerful as they have been for me.
Embrace Your Present
As contradictory as it sounds, research has shown that people are happiest and most satisfied when they live in and accept their present — even if the present is painful.
“We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.” — Kenji Miyazawa
The first time the darkness swallowed me was in middle school. For a year, I was bullied ruthlessly, seemingly by everyone. I spent 12 months kicking myself up through a tide of daily abuses, breaking the surface just long enough to take a desperate gulp of air.
Then the universe yanked me down again.
I remember thinking that I was worthless. That I would never fulfill my dream of one day becoming a full-time writer. Worse, that I didn’t even deserve to exist.
I almost gave in to the darkness. I WANTED to give in to the darkness.
But, instead, I embraced the present. I leaned into the now. Whenever I drifted to the past or the future, I shifted my attention back to my middle school bedroom, to my body, to sensory details of where I existed in time and space.
It wasn’t easy, but I did it. I found the light.
So can you.
Express Your Pain
We think that by ignoring our pain, we can escape it. The opposite is actually true. When we try to run away from pain, it magnifies in our life.
Instead, research published in Science Direct shows how tuning into and nurturing our pain helps diminish its impact on our life. Therefore, it is acknowledging the pain that allows us to peel back the layers of darkness to find the happiness hidden beneath.
“Never apologize for showing your feelings. When you do, you are apologizing for the truth.” — Jose’ N. Harris
The second time the darkness swallowed me was two years ago when I went through my divorce. I can’t count the number of times that I cried myself to sleep or stared bleakly at the shattered faces of my two kids.
It’s hard for me to write about it even now.
Thankfully, I had spent the past 13 years learning and teaching emotional intelligence, or I may not have made it through.
This time I not only leaned into the present but I also fell upon my training. I silently and audibly expressed my most painful feelings to friends and family and to the Higher Power of my understanding.
As much as I wanted to, I didn’t fight the pain or try to push it away. I didn’t cover it up with delusion, drugs, or dangerous behavior.
Through expression, I lessened my pain. Through expression, I found the light.
So can you.
Choose Your Focus
Yes, you acknowledge your pain but you don’t live there.
You choose to focus on something positive and pleasurable, like the warm sun on your skin, a loving pet, or the simple sounds of chattering birds in the morning.
You choose simple pleasures that flood your system with refreshing gratitude. A study in the Journal of Psychotherapy Research shows how a simple mind shift toward gratitude can tremendously improve our outlook.
You do not live in a delusional utopia. You cultivate a more empowering present with the strength of your mind and emotions. You do not ignore reality. You acknowledge it and then intentionally shift your focus to that which empowers and enlivens you.
“You need to spend time crawling alone through shadows to truly appreciate what it is to stand in the sun.” — Shaun Hick
The third time in my life that the darkness swallowed me was at the beginning of 2020 when the world shut down against the COVID-19 virus.
Isolated and alone in my new house, I yearned for human connection and to finally fulfill the dreams my middle-school self wished for all those many years ago.
By now, I had survived the darkness twice. I knew what to do.
Final Thoughts and Takeaway
I could have surrendered to the darkness. That would have been easy. We don’t write how-to articles about that because, instinctively, we already know how.
Giving in to the darkness is easy.
Finding happiness in the darkest of times, though, takes a hopeful kind of focus, clear intentionality, and stubborn grit.
Here’s the takeaway:
- Choose to embrace the present.
- Choose to acknowledge and express your pain.
- Choose to focus on being grateful.
“It is only in our darkest hours that we may discover the true strength of the brilliant light within ourselves that can never, ever, be dimmed.” — Doe Zantamata
Although the quarantine is difficult for almost everyone on the planet, I came through the initial shock of it with a deeper appreciation of the many gifts in my life. And, after all this time, I’m delighted to share with you that I am finally living my middle-school dream.
So can you.
This post was previously published on Medium.com.
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