May 3, 2020 Sara Penrose

In addition to being a title of a well known thriller, Misery is something I have been having thoughts about this week. It is commonly considered a negative state of mind and associated with sadness and pain. My trusty Concise Oxford Dictionary definition is thus: ‘A wretched (unhappy) state of mind’. It is often advised in many platforms and environs to avoid this state or at the very least work at distancing yourself from this state. We see misery as a problem. A problem that needs to be solved/ reversed. A coin flipped.

“Don’t feel bad.”

“Cheer up”

“Don’t let things get you down”

“Be happy”

Or one of my fav’s “Think positive thoughts”

Always an instruction to switch off from misery and indeed feel the entire opposite. Happy, Joyful etc. etc. ‘Opposite’ in my opinion is the operative word here. In other words people ask us to transition from one extreme to the other without any pause in between or any roadmap with how to get there.

I have no doubt the intent is good and kind in the most part, and I very often say these phrases myself. It is however in my ‘Sara world’ an interesting topic on which to dig a little deeper.

Misery is often associated with darkness and death. “Being in a mentally dark place” probably with reference to not being able to see a way out. Where as contrastingly Happiness is usually depicted with bright light and vibrant colour. Skipping, laughter, life. Ok the skipping is optional.

So I want to challenge the concept of Misery being a no go zone. I absolutely acknowledge that it is important that we don’t totally lose ourselves in the dark or we won’t be able to see anything. However it is the balanced opposite that we would not be able to see anything in total happiness. 100% over exposure to continue to use the analogy of light.

I am not saying misery is good and healthy. I am proposing that it is a state of mind that exists, has to be, if happiness is also to exist. Without mixtures of both there is nothing. How do we know when we are miserable and when we are happy. Is it not because they co-exist?

Nature reflects this well. I often ask my students, delegates and guests the seeming ridiculous question of “How do we know that this (pointing at the field of a composition) is grass?”. After looking at me like I’m crazy, comments are given such as “because it’s green”, “because of the texture” because of the movement”, even “because it’s cheese” (I particularly loved this comment and was impressed. I love the lateral thinking on this. Indeed grass is cheese!). “How about “, I offer up, “We know it is grass because of the dark; the shadows that are defining the blades, enabling a contrast and definition”.

A large % of landscape compositions are shadow. Look for the dark next time you notice a beautiful scene.

Happiness and misery are emotions/ states of mind which is an outcome of a set of events or circumstances. When something happens in our lives we have a reaction emotionally. This is a measured response. A measured response is a scaled quantifiable output, which needs a reference and comparison to other outputs in order to qualify the result. Basically if we were supremely happy all the time we would not know it. Because to know happiness we must know misery and many iterations inbetween. So the paradox is that if we didn’t have misery to contrast with happiness we would have no emotion at all. We need the contrast of these states of mind in order to find our way to navigate the emotional landscape.

The power of misery is equal to that of happiness. Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark!

Respect it. Embrace it. Use it. Know it and notice then all the colour of inbetween. That’s where we will find our roadmaps.