I was really struck by a blog post I read today at Time's Fool (recommended to me by Sarah Fain has Starfish Envy, one of my favorite blogs). It was a story about how we all get labeled by the tragedies we go through.
Especially in small towns, I can see how this happens. How somehow we become, "the girl whose dad died when she was 16", or "the girl whose parents had all those affairs," or "the girl whose dad was gay" or "the girl who accidentally got pregnant and had to get married," or "the girl whose dad went to jail for drugs." And even as adults in a larger world, sometimes we still get labeled by the hard things we've gone through, like "the one with the son with autism," or "the one who couldn't get pregnant," or "the single one," or "the one who lost her parents," or "the single mom."
What's interesting to me about the whole idea of labels, though, is that when I think back about people I know, these "sorrow labels" aren't something I think about in a derogatory way. Knowing that my friends have gone through sorrows makes me respect them, love them, more. How could you not love, "The one who cared for her mom while she was sick. The one who took charge of her family's situation when her dad passed away. The one who was brave enough to adopt even while she was single. The one who accepted her dad as a gay man. The one who learned how to teach her son with autism. The one who took her grandkids in when her daughter couldn't care for them. The one who worked three jobs to support her family after a divorce, and The one who never gave up hope for a child after years of infertility?"
The link between sorrow and happiness is complicated. But while I've been focusing on happiness most of the time on this blog, I don't want to discount the importance of tragedies in our lives, too. In my happiness interviews, that's one thing I've seen as a theme across many people's responses--that sadness can sometimes lead to happiness somehow. Maybe it's just relief from getting through a sad time. Maybe sadness opens us up somehow. Maybe it's that we develop greater empathy for others in a similar situation.
In any case, although I first recoiled at the thought that our sorrows might define us, I'm not so sure how I feel about the idea now. I'd much rather be defined by my happiness. But maybe that's impossible, or at least overly optimistic.
How do you think people would describe you in terms of a "sorrow label"? Do you feel strength or sadness from that now?
By the way, I also really like this post by Sarah Fain called "You Gotta Get Sad to Get Happy."