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  • Writer's pictureBrad Thiessen

Co-Activation Post 2: You Don’t Have to Be Happy All the Time

Updated: May 20

You don't have to "get over" tough emotions like

fear and hopelessness. Photo by gzus.


I don't know if this happened to you, but after my cancer treatment ended I spent a lot of time

thinking about death. I found myself watching YouTube videos like When I Die: Lessons From the Death Zone, and reading books like When Breath Becomes Air and Being Mortal.


I felt conflicted: was I finding answers I needed to big questions, or was I digging myself deeper into worry?


Have you ever felt that way—like you're going back and forth between opposite emotions and you just want to settle on one, even if it's a negative one?


It hasn't gone away. I've found myself on a cliff top in Scotland looking over the ocean, just blown away in complete awe, but at the same time swallowed up in a wave of anxiety.


It doesn't make any sense.


I came across a concept recently that helps put a frame around this problem. It's called co-activation.


Happy and sad are opposites, right? They're on a continuum—you're either more happy or more sad. Or in this case, more obsessed with death, or more on track with life.


But co-activation says that's not actually true. In a research paper I read, they found that opposite emotions like happiness and sadness can actually sit side by side. These two opposite emotions aren't actually opposites—they can be companions.


In fact the researchers found it was helpful for someone with a terminal illness to look their problem straight in the eye. It helped them come to grips with their situation and even helped them stay healthier for longer.


This is huge.


It means you don't have to "get over" all those tough emotions like fear and hopelessness and loneliness and just not being back in the game like you should be. I mean, you want to work on those things, for sure. But you can still be happy at the same time, as long as you're facing them and working at it.


Happiness and sadness can sit side by side.

Photo by Pouria Teymouri.


You can accept all the crap you're dealing with, like the fear—because that may never go away.


And you can still be grateful for the good things at the same time, and look for beauty in the little things.


I know for myself, that's something I need to be reminded of.


Here's an example: the researchers told the story of a woman with terminal cancer who was too depressed to leave the house. When she finally confronted her fear of death and accepted it, she could go to the opera like she'd always wanted. She just had to imagine death was a person she could bring with her and let him sit in the seat next to her. So sadness and happiness could be side by side.


And she had a great time.


How about you? Do you have two "opposite" emotions that often sit side-by-side? Share in the comment section below.


Am I happy or sad? Yes.

Photo by Thia Gomobile.



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