“We’re still grieving over what was before the pandemic. And the combination of isolation and the restrictions related to covid, Black people being killed, [Asian American and Pacific Islander] folks getting assaulted and harassed, other sociopolitical stressors …” said licensed psychologist Jules Farzan. “I think people are worried that if they bring up something to celebrate, they might be detracting from another person’s experience.”
Licensed psychologist Tanisha Thelemaque said that those who feel a sense of empathy and compassion naturally want to protect the feelings of other people and may be reluctant to share good news out of fear that it could make someone who is struggling feel worse. “It becomes easier to isolate yourself and not want to appear as though you’re not thinking about other people,” she said.
Although mental health experts we spoke with said that the impulse to keep silent is reasonable and compassionate, they caution that it’s not healthy to do so long term.
“There’s evidence that suppressing emotions can have a detrimental effect on people,” said Farzan. Studies have shown that decreased expression of emotions — positive, negative or neutral — can lead to a decrease in positive emotions and over time, poor self-esteem and psychological adjustment. The effect can manifest physically, too. Farzan said that research also has shown heart rate increases when people suppress their emotions.
On the other hand, being mindful and allowing for a full range of emotions to come and go is healthy and strengthens cognitive flexibility.
“It’s like building up armor,” said Thelemaque. “Having that cognitive flexibility allows people to live rich lives and be able to withstand difficulties. The more armor you have, the more resilient you’ll be.”
Research has shown that sharing good news is important for both individual and societal well-being. And, Thelemaque said, “cultivating joy and focusing on some positivity — while not minimizing other difficulties — is one way of retraining your brain to focus on what’s good.”
Studies have established that verbally expressing positive experiences to others can improve your mood, energy level and overall well-being, while also having a ripple effect on people you engage with — joy is multiplied when shared. Here are expert tips for how to do that in a healthy way, and what to do if you are not among those with happy news.
If you have good news to share
Consider your audience. The experts recommended carefully considering who you will share your good news with. “Think about who will have an equal amount of joy in it,” Thelemaque said. That may mean forgoing your larger network on social media and instead sharing directly with loved ones or colleagues who best understand you and your circumstances. “It’s a great way to deepen your connections and improve your social wellness,” she said.
Acknowledge hardships and the help you received. The human experience is full of highs and lows, so recognizing that from the outset can make for a healthier conversation and help you avoid toxic positivity.
“It’s important to hold the ‘both-and’ [mind-set]. There is great suffering and there is great joy,” Thelemaque said. “Approach the dialogue by acknowledging the difficulties. For example, you can say, ‘I know it’s been a difficult time and there is this good thing I want to share. Are you open to hearing it?’ ”
Then consider your delivery. “There’s a way to recognize your accomplishments with some humility and without judgment of others,” licensed psychologist Annette V. Clarke said. Sharing about obstacles you faced rather than just the “snapshot” of success can help convey the bigger picture. Your transparency and vulnerability may help others feel less alone in their struggles. And, Clarke said, you can invite them to share their wins, too.
Try leveraging your joy to bring joy into other people’s lives. That may mean reaching out to thank someone or mentioning people on social media who have supported you in your efforts. “Acknowledging that they helped you can uplift and remind them that even though they may not be feeling good in that moment, they have positively impacted somebody else’s life,” Thelemaque said. “That can instill a sense of gratitude and connection that lifts everybody up,” she said.
Create a good-news group. We are inundated with news and notifications. That can induce anxiety, because we don’t know what type of information a text, call or email might deliver. Thelemaque suggested creating a dedicated text or email thread. “I have one chat [thread] that’s only positive things that bring joy or are funny,” she said. “It’s nice to know you can turn to a place and have something good.” It can also boost morale for those in the group. “If somebody else you know or a group you associate with is doing well, their success can sometimes feel like your own,” Thelemaque said. And you have the option to not read it if you don’t have the emotional capacity to engage.
You can also create regular opportunities for celebration in a work environment. Farzan suggests saying something like: “We’ve been talking a lot about how hard things are, and I also want to talk about wins as well. Can we designate a time for that?”
If you have bad news to share
But perhaps things haven’t been going well, and you’ve been reluctant to let other people know. The experts encourage you to share with someone you trust, because it’s also detrimental to keep losses to yourself.
Take your time. Farzan said you can initiate the conversation without diving immediately into the difficult topics, giving the other person the chance to receive the news when they are ready. For example, Farzan suggested, you can say: “I have some tough news to share. Let me know when you have time.”
Ask for support. If you need support, Thelemaque recommended asking without attaching expectations. “Just be honest and say: ‘This is where I’m at. If you want to reach out and you have support to give, I’d be very happy to receive it. And if you don’t, that’s okay.’ ”
Or, she said, ask for “instrumental support” — tangible help that people can physically provide — such as running an errand, making dinner or watching a child. Requesting instrumental support can also reduce pressure on the listener, because they won’t have to determine what’s most helpful for you.
Or simply stay close. If you’re not ready to share specifics but still want connection, Thelemaque said, you can tell people that things haven’t been going well, and while you aren’t ready to discuss it, you’d like to spend time together. “Sometimes you want to be with loved ones but not talk about your difficulties, and that’s valid — so long as you’re not running from it completely,” she said. Carving out space for joy can be rejuvenating. “You don’t have to be sitting in all of that pain all of the time.”
Seek professional help. If you don’t feel you have someone you can count on, reach out to a mental health professional. Many are offering telehealth appointments, reduced rates and a sliding scale.
And if someone discloses a difficulty to you? Be cognizant of the way you respond.
“There might be an urge to make everything okay and say things like, ‘It could be worse,’ ” Farzan said. But this can be dismissive and harmful. Instead, “aim to validate other people’s emotions and experiences,” Farzan said.
Ultimately, whether you have good or bad news, it can be helpful to realize that being vulnerable and communicating with people you trust can bring relief and strengthen relationships. “It’s really difficult to hold on to a secret,” Farzan said. “Sharing it with others [you trust] is a way to increase intimacy.” People in your life may actually desire a closer relationship and want to share more of themselves with you, too. “It’s not necessarily a burden to share who you are with someone else.”
Fitzgerald is a Honolulu-based writer covering travel, culture, sustainability, health and wellness. Her website is thisissunny.com.