You may or may not know that Rin (who is my eldest kid) and I had a pretty tough time late last year.
Yes, we got to go to Bali together on our first Mum and grown-up kid holiday, BUT we also got stuck (thank you volcano ash!), Rin got really sick, we had to go to hospital/navigate the Balinese health system. Not really the funnest kind of holiday. THEN when we got back to Melbourne, Rin was back in hospital multiple times, then I got really sick too with the same bug. Things were basically pretty challenging. Every day was something to be ticked off and endured. There were tears. Heaps of them. It was not fun at all, especially for Rin. (There was no morphine in Bali!)
When I got home I remember saying ‘That was just not very good. I can’t imagine how that has contributed anything positive to my life. It was really crap. I feel pretty scarred by all that.’
Guess what? I was wrong. I was not scarred. I was improved. And do you know what else? My relationship with Rin is even better than it’s ever been. It’s sort of reached a kind of smug and sweet next level type thing while we weren’t looking. Who would have thought?!
The very act of navigating weird/tough/tricky times together made a BIG difference to both of our lives. It’s not like I can put my finger on the point where the sh*t bits began to make a difference (maybe it was when they stopped happening!), but what I do know is that having (albeit crappy) authentic and challenging emotional experiences together strengthens our relationships and make us happier in the long run.
It’s not just me though, I’ve done some reading recently and other people are confirming that the depth and closeness of relationships makes a real difference to our happiness.
Harvard Psychiatrist Robert Waldinger’s recent study noted of his 75 year study of men’s happiness – “The men in both groups of the Harvard study who reported being closer to their family, friends, or community tended to be happier and healthier than their less social counterparts.” Obviously I am not a man, but I would like to believe that this is a universal truth for all humans, whatever their gender.
And if we’re talking about closeness, perhaps you don’t have to be holed up/stranded in a foreign hotel room with an unwell friend or relative to achieve that closeness, but you definitely do have to dig a bit deeper emotionally and face the crap bits head on and with good faith.
Psychotherapist Francis Weller notes in this amazing piece on grief – “We experience little genuine joy in part because we avoid the depths. We are an ascension culture. We love rising, and we fear going down. Consequently we find ways to deny the reality of this rich but difficult territory, and we are thinned psychically. We live in what I call a “flat-line culture,” where the band is narrow in terms of what we let ourselves fully feel. We may cry at a wedding or when we watch a movie, but the full-throated expression of emotion is off-limits.”
Of course, you probably don’t want to deliberately court or pursue the crappy times in the name of feeling good later on. That would be weird. But it’s good to know that facing things head on – eschewing the flat-line – can actually pay dividends.
Dr Weller again – this time on avoiding difficult emotional stuff – “Think about how much energy we expend trying to deny and avoid these parts of ourselves. What if all that energy were available to us again? We would laugh more. We’d know more joy. Life is asking us to meet it on its terms, not ours. We try to control every minute detail, but life is too rambunctious, too wild. We simply can’t avoid the losses, wounds, and failures that come into our lives. What we can do is bring compassion to what arrives at our door and meet it with kindness and affection.”
Compassion. Kindness. Affection. Nice. (I would add honesty in there too, because it will always steer you right when you’re not sure what to say or do.)
What I do know about the Pip + Rin tricky times is that things got so weird (in terms of circumstances) that loyalty, honesty and candour were the only things that helped us navigate the weirdness. I suppose when things are swirling about in a super confusing manner, the truth can be an anchor that can light your path and help you find a way through. Sprinkle a little bit of kindness, compassion and affection in your wake, for good measure as Dr Weller suggests, and you can be sure that good things will happen at some point, somehow. Even when life is at its most wild and rambunctious/crap. Or maybe a little while after that.
I promise it’s 100% true.