If you’ve recently lost someone you love, it can be easy to forget that life keeps happening around us. While you likely have not forgotten that the world is still moving and plants are still growing, we tend to forget that our lives are still going. After all, when we lose a loved one, we mourn the time we will not spend with them any longer. But this does not mean that we are required to only feel sadness.
Maybe that movie you’ve been looking forward to finally came out, and you loved it. Maybe your youngest child just took their first steps. Perhaps you got to meet your neighbor’s new golden retriever puppy on your walk this morning. Maybe you finally got your dream home and are excited to move in. But you’re still grieving. How can you be happy if you are grieving?
Today we’re going to dive into this extremely common happiness guilt and talk about how you can cope with this feeling of guilt that seems to always come up at the worst times.
What Is Happiness Guilt?
Many of us view grieving (likely thanks to portrayals in the media we consume) as being sad, upset, or even angry all the time. So where does the happiness you feel fit in? While shows and movies can be incredibly entertaining (and valuable), it is pretty much impossible for them to fully capture the complexity of human emotions and tell a story simultaneously.
If we base what grief should look like on what we’ve seen on TV or heard from others in our lives, we may end up feeling guilty if we are not expressing our own grief in that same way or for experiencing a number of emotions (yes, including happiness) while grieving. This is where happiness guilt typically appears. We feel guilty for being happy when we “should” be grieving the loss of a loved one.
Realistically, though, our emotions are complex. We can experience a number of feelings and emotions at the same time — even if they are seemingly opposite feelings, like happiness and sadness.
Now, we recognize that simply saying that it is okay to smile, laugh, and enjoy what is going on in your life while you are still grieving may not be enough to help you overcome that feeling of guilt that seems to come up anytime you find yourself smiling. So, now we’re going to jump into some ways that you can remind yourself that your happiness is not wrong.
How to Cope with Happiness Guilt
Without further ado, here are a few ways to cope with happiness guilt after a loss.
Allow Yourself to Feel a Range of Emotions
As we’ve mentioned before, humans are complicated. The majority of the emotions we experience are actually mixed emotions. For example, let’s say your oldest child just got accepted into a college a few states away. You may feel nervous about how they’ll do in a new place, sad that you won’t have your baby around the house anymore, and excited for the next step in their life.
So, why is it okay to feel a range of emotions in that situation but not when you’re grieving? Okay, trick question. You can feel many emotions in any situation — including while grieving. Yes, you probably feel sad, confused, lost, or angry. But you can feel happiness, contentment, or excitement as well.
Maybe for you, thinking about your loved one brings back fond memories, and you find yourself smiling or laughing about something you remember. This is completely natural! It does not mean you aren’t grieving “the right way” or that your grieving period is magically over. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to grieve — there is simply what works for you and what works for others. And it is completely okay if you find yourself grieving differently than others you know. You’re a different person with your own ways of processing things.
Remind Yourself of What Your Loved One Would Want
Most of us who have lost someone we love have heard this one. But we encourage you to really think about it. Sit down and think about what your loved one would want for you.
Chances are, they would have wanted you to enjoy your life. Life is unpredictable. Sometimes we lose people before we are ready. Realistically, most of us are never ready to lose those we love. But loss is a part of life, and there is no way to avoid it. So, recognize it as a part of life and realize you still have much more to live.
Be Kind to Yourself
The unfortunate truth is that guilt typically goes hand-in-hand with grief. Maybe we think about what we could have done differently in the past. Maybe we think about the things we wish we had told our loved ones or done for them before they passed. This is a natural feeling — guilt is a natural human emotion. But, more often than not, many people let guilt prevent them from enjoying life and even feel the need to chastise themselves for feeling happy after losing someone.
While we can’t tell you to not feel the guilt that comes up — because it is unavoidable for most people — we can remind you that you deserve happiness, excitement, and joy in your life. Unfortunately, we lose people we love throughout our lives. This is the way of life. But that does not mean we can never be happy again (or that we have to “finish grieving” before we can be happy).
So, when you feel that happiness guilt come up, be kind. Let yourself know that it is okay to feel happy. Allow yourself to feel happiness without judgment or consequence.
Talk About It
Sometimes the best way to work through guilt is to talk about them. Maybe you can talk to a close friend or family member experiencing a similar situation. However, if you are unable to talk to someone in your normal life or just can’t get over the feeling of guilt, you may want to consider speaking with a therapist.
A therapist can provide a safe, non-judgmental space for you to express your feelings and help you find the right strategies for coping with this guilt. Remember, happiness guilt is a common response in the grieving process, but this does not mean you must live with it indefinitely. So, if you are struggling with happiness guilt after a loss, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at Love Heal Grow.