Dear 100 Hour Board,
What are your thoughts about the "you should be happy! Think of all the people in the world who can't read and are starving and are dying!" school of thought? It almost feels like schadenfreude to me, but it seems very common.
Saying that I can't be sad because there are people who have it worse off than me is no different from saying that I can't be happy because there are people who have it better off than me.
Dear rana mugidora,
When I was in high school and having a teenage crisis about this or that, I'd sometimes use this thought to make myself snap out of it. I don't remember if it helped or just made me feel angst about my angst. In any case, sometimes small problems could use a little perspective to help prevent mountain-out-of-molehillery. That said, I think this idea goes a little bit too far.
One time, like a million years ago, I was texting Pilgrim about how excited I was for a date. And then, I was texting him about how I actually got stood up. I don't remember the conversation precisely (how do people write memoirs with accurate conversations in them!?!) but I remember it went something like this:
Me: So, he actually didn't show up.
Pilgs: Oh, that's awful. You should have a good cry about it.
Me: He's not going to be the first guy I cry over. That's dumb. There are way more bad things happening in the world.
Pilgs: You know that it's okay to be sad about sad things, right?
So then I realized he was right, profoundly. (And I had a good cry, of course.) So, to reiterate: it's good to not pretend you have Trials and Travails when really your life is pretty good. But you shouldn't determine how happy/sad/stressed you should be by comparing your life to someone else's. Comparison might be the thief of joy, but it can also be the thief of sadness and other healthy emotions.
I do think that cultivating a sense of gratitude makes life happier. I think that is the point people are getting at when they say things like that. I think it is good to recognize that we have been blessed with the necessities of life and a good education. Now that I am thinking about it, I know that I definitely take these simple things for granted. I could only benefit from remembering the obvious blessings that I have that I don't notice.
That being said, I do not believe that having gratitude means that we need to invalidate difficult, negative feelings or feel guilty for having them. It is entirely possible to be fed, educated and have a genuine experience of suffering.
Dear Rainbow Connection,
I think it depends entirely on what we mean by "happy." If by "happy," we mean generally content and satisfied with our lives, I think it's a very legitimate school of thought. While it doesn't mean that we won't ever experience pain and difficulty, we should be grateful that we have been blessed so much. That gratitude can help us to have a generally positive outlook on our lives. Like Sheebs said above, we don't want to take all that we've been given for granted. We're not happy that other people are in difficult circumstances, but we're grateful for what we've been given.
On the other hand, sometimes we use this phrase to put down other's (or even our own) personal problems. We judge people who have more than other people (and that's almost all of us) for "pretending" to have difficulty despite their favorable circumstances: "You don't really know sadness until you don't know where your next meal is coming from." Or how about: "Be real, your life can't be that bad if you own that car." Sometimes we do it to ourselves: "Think of all those people I saw on my mission who couldn't eat. I'm being so selfish to be upset about [this thing]."
This is flawed thinking. In this case, "happy" is used to mean "lack of sadness or sad experiences," and that's simply not right. Each of us was placed on earth to experience difficulty and tribulation. We were purposely placed in circumstances that would cause each of us to grow, and that means trials and temptation. I love the story Concealocanth told. "It's okay to be sad about sad things."
We shouldn't judge others (or ourselves) for what is a trying experience. Each of us has some areas of resiliency and others of weakness. Luckily for us, the Atonement covers them all.