Recently I was reading a newspaper column where a person wrote for advice on dealing with a friend with a very negative attitude, what the advice seeker termed her friend’s “triumphant unhappiness.”
I love that phrase—triumphant unhappiness—and I totally understand it. I’ve used the term “righteous indignation” before for similar behavior. But triumphant unhappiness and righteous indignation really are not the same thing. Both terms imply a legitimate reason for unhappiness or anger, but I think triumphant unhappiness is more pervasive, more deeply rooted. We all know people who have this trait and I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been there too. It hasn’t been pretty recognizing it in myself and it’s not easy to stop it. But I’m trying.
It all boils down to changing my attitude, basic cognitive therapy in psychotherapeutic terminology, positive thinking in more pop-psych terminology. Yes, I’ve been wronged in the past. People have mistreated me; life hasn’t always been fair. So what? I’m sick of hearing my own internal tape on rewind. It doesn’t matter what happened in the past because it has been done, over, written in the book of time. It doesn’t even matter if any of it was unjust. Maybe I’ve earned the right to be unhappy or angry, but so what? Would my unhappiness or anger change anything? Of course not. Would it make anyone feel sympathy for me? Even if it does, it doesn’t matter because the worst thing that happens when I replay the triumphant unhappiness tape is that it hurts me. It keeps me stuck in that downward negative loop.
I’m reminding myself that my own personal joy is a choice. It’s how I choose to look at my past and my present. It’s how I want to walk into my future. I don’t care how righteous or triumphant my unhappiness has been because it doesn’t serve any useful purpose. I’m optimistically kicking it to the curb.