What a week it’s been. Hellish stories and images coming out of Gaza day after day; the upsurge in anti-Semitism; endless body-parts being found (finally) in east Ukraine after disgusting politicking, hold-ups and looting; simmering hints about child abuse in high places; no let up in news stories of poverty on our doorstep which only seems to be getting worse; and now, Ebola.
In the face of so much terrible distress we quite rightly re-evaluate our own sorrows. Our annoyance with an internet provider or not having enough money to go away for the weekend becomes a bit #FirstWorldProblems
There’s something to be said for putting things in perspective. Being grateful is a genuine therapeutic tool and people who cultivate it are generally more happy, content and resilient than people who don’t. It’s a practice that we can all integrate into our lives just by writing down three positive things about the day before going to bed, or joining the 100 Happy Days meme on social media.
Mindfulness is also useful and reminds us that right here, right now, things are OK and we can take 10 long seconds to breath, be calm and bring a cool mind to our problems.
All that said, there is no hierarchy of pain. Your unhappiness is no less important that anyone else’s unhappiness. With or without war there will always be people more and less unhappy than you. Finding the balance between knowing that your problems may not be all that bad or being aware that something is beginning to affect your life and the lives of the people around you, can be difficult. It can be particularly difficult if your partner is chronically ill or has a very stressful job or is looking after an elderly parent: your stress just doesn’t compare to theirs.
Your stress is still very worthy of being heard and addressed. Paradoxically, if we address these feelings rather than believing they’re contemptible we become better able to manage them and to manage the way we are with the people who are living in ways we fear to contemplate. There’s a lot of relief in just saying a taboo sentence like, “I’m sick of never seeing my wife because she works in these high-risk areas,” or “Part of me is jealous of the attention my very ill mother in law gets from my husband.”
Yes, other people’s pain can indeed be more urgent and more important than your own, but there isn't a limited amount of care in the world, even though it can often feel as if there is. Your unhappiness is important for the very reasons we judge other peoples distress to be important. Just because you’re a human being.
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