Today I feel very, very, very sad. (If you share my sadness, stick around for the second half of this post… what I intend to do about it!!)
Who am I sad for? I am a lucky one. I am a white, middle-class, grand-daughter and great-great-great-grand daughter of immigrants from Europe, with just enough income to live comfortably if I stay in the small town where I live in Italy where rents are around $400 to $500 per month (1/3 of what I had to pay for something very similar in Miami Beach when we lived there), and health care costs a fraction of what it costs in the USA. There’s no way I could afford to live comfortably on what I make in the USA. We are very lucky to have close friends here. I only miss my family and some few friends. A lot. I am not complaining. I am happy to live here where I have what I need.
So why am I sad? I am sad for the people who do not have the options I have, especially the children. When I think of the number of children who might die over the next years due to lack of available health care, not enough food or heat because of divisions between rich and poor that will only get bigger. I am sad for the parents who work but are not paid by a boss who is smart enough to figure out how to not pay them. I am sad because we have a confirmed role model that tells many people it is “smart” to not pay the taxes that pay for children’s schooling and health care, roads, fire fighters, police… let the stupid people do that (that would be me). I am sad when I witness a confirmation of the depth of xenophobia, racism and misogyny that exist in many parts of US society. I am sad, and probably angry, to think that If I were male or younger, I could be earning more than enough to live in the USA.
Maybe I am the most sad to suddenly realize that some of the people I consider(ed) friends don’t actually share my beliefs and values, and will never admit it—I hate the wondering that is now in my mind about which of the people close to me actually contributed to what happened yesterday. I can trust my belief in only a very few people right now.
I am sad because the United States used to be great and no longer is. I am sad and fearful that much of the outstanding progress of the last eight years may well be lost. This election result is like the last nail in the coffin of what the United States used to stand for. A system that I had always believed in seems broken. When systems break, anomalies happen.
Today I feel beyond sad. I feel grief. Maybe for that reason I am so pessimistic today!
Now for the positive part. I know that grief and other negative emotions we experience are key to our survival—they help us defend ourselves from danger. So there’s not much point in trying to make them go away or suppress them, they just are. Unfortunately, as part of their key role in our survival, negative emotions tend to be very strong, last longer (go round and round in our heads) and tend to suck in all of our attention.
Luckily for us, we also have some built in positive emotions that counteract the negative, and are fundamental for thriving both psychically and physically, short and long term. Among other benefits, experiencing (i.e., being aware of) positive emotions helps us build resilience and enhances creative thinking .The bad news is that they tend to be ephemeral and sometimes pass in a nanosecond completely unnoticed, which means we don’t benefit from the experience. According to Barbara Frederickson (2001) the ten most common positive emotions are (I put them in alphabetical order): amusement, awe, gratitude, hope, inspiration, interest, joy, love, pride, and serenity.
What I very much need today it is something to balance the deeply negative and persistent grief I am feeling. I think serenity is out of the question for today (but I’ll keep an open mind). Hope is based in a negative state that one “hopes” will get better. I had hope yesterday. So my plan for today is to work on “creating” and “capturing” some of these positive emotions and being fully aware of the moment I experience each one. I think I can realistically find amusement (we’re watching a very funny Netflix series with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin), beauty (my reduced version of awe, which feels a bit too “big”), maybe gratitude, maybe inspiration if I think of the creative process such as the writing I am doing now as being “inspired,” interest (I am curious to see how a “soften-soothe-allow” meditation that I recently learned works for the grief I am feeling) and love (enjoying time with my husband and some close friends).
And… walking will surely help (what I call “breathing in the green”) and probably cooking. I’ll let you know.
I hope that if you are feeling the way I am feeling today, you may get an idea here. If you share my sadness, I would love to hear from you. Even digital contact is still a connection! (And feeling social connection creates positive emotion!) What strategies have been helpful for you to deal with today’s events? What do you think of any of these ideas?
In hope (mmmm I did find “hope” after all!)
A short “soften-soothe-allow” guided meditation I found today and quite liked: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdxLsdj0ktE
(“soften-soothe-allow” meditations are designed to, as the title says, allow, soften and soothe rather than try to repress or remove negative emotions. Ironically, it's amazing how much less mental space they occupy when you focus on them!)
More on positive emotions: http://www.unc.edu/peplab/publications/Fredrickson_AmPsych_2001.pdf
P.S., Looking at the photo at the top of this post brings up a lot of positive emotions that are a powerful counterpoint to the grief I was feeling for most of today! I took it from the plane as we approached Pisa for landing on the return trip (surprise and excitement on seeing such an awesome perspective).
Last weekend I spent four days with friends in Geneva. Although we have not lived in the same place for over 20 years, our friendship, that started 26 years ago, is still strong, substantive and deep... maybe even more so for the changes and growth we have all experienced in the meantime and share when we see each other or talk on the phone. That surely is a lot of positive emotions all together! ... Exhilaration (soaring), liberation and freedom, love (friendship).