It’s difficult to smile when you’re not okay

I was looking through my Google analytics today to see all the search terms used to find my little corner of the Internet.  It’s usually full of searches directed at my Book of Awesome Review, my Invisible Gorilla Post, my eBook Reviews, or my Pedometer posts.    I even had one today searching for “adult twisty.”  I’m not real sure what they were looking for, but I’m sure they ended up at my post about having fun as an adult on twisty slides.  I’m going to share some more of these keywords that send people to Eden Journal next month, which will mark my one year anniversary.  I have a few cool posts planned and maybe even some giveaways and prizes for my anniversary month, so be sure to check back often (or subscribe.)

Today, however, I want to share a search phrase that made me stop and think.  It was a simple statement,

“A personal blog it’s difficult to smile when you’re not okay.”

This individual ended up on my post about “smiling is contagious.”  I hope that page helped, but I’m not sure that was the best landing page for this search phrase.  Smiling is contagious, but what do you do when everything isn’t going well, when you’re not okay?  If you’re lucky, you might catch that contagious smile for a few seconds, but will that smile last when you’re not okay?

This individual was looking for a personal blog post.  He or she isn’t looking for the advice of doctors or psychiatrists.  Instead, they are looking for personal experiences.  People who have lived through some of the same things, had some of the same hard times, and had trouble smiling when things were tough.  This is the reason so many of us blog; to share our personal experiences so that we can help others as they progress through some of the same obstacles or joys; to share the life lessons we have learned, and to connect with others across vast distances in a way that has only recently become possible.

Is it okay to not smile?

Today’s post is for you; for my mystery Google searcher, for my friend that I have yet to meet, and for anyone else that is having a difficult time in life.

Today, I tell you, “It’s okay to not smile.”

Emotion is the Reason

There may be dozens of reasons why we humans inhabit this little planet.  I believe one of these reasons is to experience emotion.  Humans are emotional creatures.  Much of our daily life is ruled by emotion.  Across the span of a lifetime, most get to experience the entire gamut of emotion.  For simplicity, let’s consider the eight basic emotions: joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, disgust, anger, and anticipation.  It’s likely you have experienced all these already.

Many people believe that we are spiritual beings, with a soul inhabiting a physical body.  Most religions promote this idea, and many people outside of religion believe this also.  We typically assume that a soul in its pure form, outside of a physical body, is pure joy.  If this assumption is true, then the soul does not have the ability to experience seven of these eight emotions.  A being of pure joy cannot experience trust, fear, surprise, sadness, disgust, anger, anticipation, or sadness.  The pureness of a single emotion implies a lack of all other emotions.  Without the ability to feel other emotions, and without a comparison to the negative, they may not even realize the joy experience.  Emotion is quite possibly unique to our physical world.  It may not even exist in pure spiritual form.

The Positive without the Negative

With that assumption, we must conclude that one of the reasons or benefits of coming here to Earth is to experience emotion.  Hold that thought for a second while I briefly sidetrack.

Can we experience one emotion without ever encountering the opposite emotion?  Can we experience surprise without anticipation?  Anger without fear?  Trust without disgust? Joy without sadness?  Emotions by their very nature are described in opposites.  Surprise is the lack of anticipation.  Anticipation is a lack of surprise.  Joy is the lack of sadness.  Sadness is the lack of joy.  (I’m skipping anger, fear, trust, and disgust in this example because although they follow the same rule, it’s more difficult to comprehend.  Feel free to debate them in the comments section.)

Think about it.  If we are never surprised, that would imply that we always anticipate every action.  Without surprise, the anticipation becomes normal.  When something becomes normal, we tend to lack the words to describe it.  If we all had the ability to see into the future, then we wouldn’t have words for surprise or anticipation.  They wouldn’t exist since we would always know what would happen.  We would always anticipate the future because we would know to expect it.

Our Greatest Gift

Let’s pull those ideas back into our main discussion.  If a soul or spirit only experiences Joy, then they wouldn’t really know it, because it would be their natural state of being.  Consider that as a soul, you chose to come to Earth and inhabit a physical body.  One of the greatest gifts you have received by coming here is the ability to experience emotion.

Your greatest gift is the ability to feel sadness.

There is no room for smiles when we are experiencing sadness.  It’s a gift for us to feel it, and many do so without even realizing that it is one of their intended experiences here.  We are here to feel sad.  It’s okay.  Sadness is okay.

A smile is not always the answer to fixing sadness.  It’s ok to not smile when you are feeling sad.  You are experiencing an emotion that requires a non-smile or maybe even a frown.  Imagine that… frowning is ok.  Has anyone ever told you that it’s ok to frown?

Frowning is okay.   There are times in life that call for sadness and frowns.  A breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend is a time for sadness.  A diagnosis of an illness is a time for sadness.  The loss of a loved one is a time for sadness.  The loss of a job is a time for sadness.  Any difficulties you experience in life may be time for sadness.  It’s okay.  Experience the sadness and frown.  You may want to cry.  That’s okay too.  A big cry is needed sometimes.  It’s our body’s expression of sadness.  It is a completely natural phenomenon and it is okay.

What’s the Catch?

If sadness is okay, then why is there so much attention given towards being happy?  Quite simply, happiness (or joy) is the preferred state.  Now that we are here in our physical bodies, we very much prefer to be happy.  It feels better.  We like to feel good, and the positive emotions feel good.

All this talk of sadness being okay, there must be a catch.  There must be a reason I’m telling you that it’s okay to be sad when everyone else is telling you to be happy.  There is a catch.  Just like a life of pure joy lacks in other emotions, a life of pure sadness can do the same.  Dwelling in sadness for too long will rob you of the ability to feel all the other emotions we are so fortunate to have the opportunity to experience.  Sadness is not a state to remain in for long periods of time.  The most powerful aspect of sadness is this: by experiencing great sadness, you have to opportunity to experience even higher levels of joy.

Imagine your favorite celebrity wins a new car or a trip to Paris.  To the celebrity, it’s not that big of deal because new cars and fancy trips are normal to them.  To me and you, winning a grand vacation would be very exciting.  Our average incomes don’t typically include lavish vacations, so if we win one, then we are really excited and feel really great.  It’s the same with sadness.  If someone goes through life experiencing mostly joy, they may not get to experience super joy, or the glow as some people call it.  If you’ve led a life of sadness, then finding joy can be a life changing experience.

The Magnitude of the Swing

It’s the magnitude of the swing that makes the difference.  A swing from a little joy to a lot of joy is less than the swing of sadness to a lot of joy.

Have you ever ridden the swing at a local park?  I have found that some parks are made more for toddlers and have short little swings.  The chains going from the swing to the top of the swing set are relatively short.  This is the swing of joy to joy.  Swinging a little on this swing is fun, and swinging really high is a little more fun.  The difference between swinging a little and swinging a lot really isn’t that much difference though.  I might cover a few more inches, but quite quickly I reach the highest point.

Now… try to find a swing will really long chains.  They are hard to find, but every once in a while you find a park with a really tall swing set.  More typically you find them in a back yard, hanging from a tall tree limb.   These swings have really long chains or ropes that make it possible to really cover some distance as you swing to and fro.  These are the swings of sadness to joy.  Swing a little, moving a short distance and you have sadness.  You know the swing could do so much more, but you want to feel the sadness of the short swing.  Swing a little more and you have joy.  Really get swinging on these super tall swings and you have super joy.  You can feel the glow.  It’s the magnitude of the swing that makes the difference.

Now that you have experienced some sadness, wouldn’t it be great to hop on that super tall swing?  Wouldn’t it be great to find some joy?  When you are ready for your sadness to end, consider that super tall swing.  Find the things in life that can move you from sadness to joy.  I don’t know what those things are for you; I imagine them to be different for each individual and each situation.  I do know they are out there.  Like those super tall swings, they may be hard to find, but I know you can find it.  You can move from sadness to joy.  It may take time, it may require some help, or it might take a change in your thoughts, but you can do it.  You can find that super tall swing and move from sadness to joy.


  1. says

    Great post here… I always feel down at myself whenever I feel sadness, and always try to force my way into happiness. Sometimes the best thing to do is accept whatever emotions come to you, and feel what it’s like, without any inner conflict. I find when I do this, the emotion doesn’t become as threatening, and I don’t feel bad towards myself. Gradually the emotion subsides, and I feel better.
    Henway´s last blog post ..Tricking your metabolism

    • says

      Henway, it is nice to just feel sadness sometimes. I even like to ratchet it up a little sometimes with some sad music. The trick for me is to just feel it sometimes, and once I’ve gotten my fill, I move back into joy.

      I like your take on feeling it without inner conflict. It’s definitely less threatening when you decide it’s okay to feel sad.

  2. says

    Back when I was younger I’d this habit to hide my pain behind a smile. A smile so big you’d think I was in heaven, but only my heart knew the truth. So now as I become older, there’s a part of me that subconsciously wants to fake a smile when I’m sad. It sounds strange, but it’s not as society has always loved those who smiled more, bigger, who are happier, even if it’s only on the outside. I do get stressed at times just obsessing about how I am portraying myself through my facial expression. It used to be worse because back then it was like acting. I agree with you – it’s okay not to smile, especially when you don’t feel okay inside. I wish I had learned it as a child, but it’s okay, I’m learning to be okay with not smiling.

    Thanks Eric, for a very thought-provoking entry. It took me in an instant.
    My Reverie´s last blog post ..Leggings- Jeggings- Skinny Jeans – I Love

    • says

      My Reverie, thanks for sharing your story. I find it interesting that you hid your sadness behind a smile. That just flies in the face of everyone that tells you to smile. Sometimes smiling doesn’t make it better.

      I’m happy to hear that you have recognized your emotion and are allowing yourself to feel it. That’s a big step and something to be proud of.

  3. says

    This is a fantastic post and something that needs to be reiterated a lot more in the personal development community. Now when someone searches “it’s difficult to smile when you’re not okay,” they can understand that THAT IN-ITSELF IS OK.

    A lot of the themes in your post I also talk about in “Depressing Is Just A Stepping Stone.” Glad to see we think alike!

    Part of what social neuroscientists are now calling “emotional intelligence” includes our ability to feel sad, understand why we feel sad, and use that understanding to adapt our behaviors in new and productive ways.
    Steven H´s last blog post ..Mindfulness Practice- 10 Minutes of Sound


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