Advice from The Happiness Lab: To Be Happy, Tell Your Painful Story

If you experience something traumatic, should you try to forget the memories and stop feeling the pain? According to the podcast episode Don’t Think of the White Bear from the Spotify podcast series The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos, the answer is no. Studies show that if you suppress negative feelings, it affects your health, you are more likely to lash out at innocent people, and it just makes you feel even worse.

To understand how suppressing traumatic memories affects people, the podcast talked about a UT Austen psychologist named James Pennebaker who looked for Holocaust survivors who have never shared their traumatic experiences for decades, interviewed them about these experiences, and recorded them on video. The survivors said they were happier after sharing their stories, and, a year after, their health indicators had gotten better. One of his interviewees named Rosalie S. felt so relieved after telling her story that she kept sharing her experience years after the interview, and she even wrote a book about it. She was convinced that Holocaust survivors should tell their stories.

Ever since I was young I’ve had moments where I would write in my diary, “There’s something bothering me, but I don’t want to talk about it.” In the recent years, doing this has become more frequent. I also had a number of traumatic experiences that were connected to each other, and up until now there are remnants of those experiences that pops up every now and then. It has been very difficult to have something that I am “not allowed” to share publicly when I have such things as this blog where the main point of it is to talk about my life.

What I’ve done though is I created a zine of my poems, my artworks, and photos, and I shared it with my friends only. The zine is semi-comical even though it’s talking about a really painful set of experiences. I guess humor is really the way I cope. Some parts of the zine inevitably recount some deeply hurtful events, yet, despite that, whenever I see that zine, it makes me smile. I told my mom about this and said that it puzzled me why I felt so happy whenever I see that zine even though it’s about a really terrible time of my life. Mama said, “It’s because you expressed yourself.” She was right. I talked about it instead of suppress it, and that helps, that helps.

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