This is a familiar saying to many of us.

There are several songs I found with this title. One is a traditional bluegrass piece, featuring a man who comes home late from a drinking session with the boys, and finds his wife waiting at the door with a frying pan. He complains that, because he’s made his wife unhappy, the result is the dog won’t eat and the children won’t behave, and therefore advises the listener to do nothing to upset his own wife. Tracy Byrd’s song tells of a man who realises his wife is unhappy, so gets in a babysitter, and takes his wife out for a candlelit dinner because he wants to “See that sparkle back in her eyes.”

There is another saying, “A mother is only as happy as her most unhappy child.” Today I had an opportunity to experience the truth of this: my daughter called home from university in tears. Her father and I both feel her unhappiness as if it were our own, because we love her. There is nothing we can do; we cannot even give her a hug because she is 300 miles away.

It’s true that, if a loved one is unhappy, then we feel it too – especially if we are at all empathic.

And what about the saying, “Misery loves company?” Some people take out their unhappiness on others. It may be the wife in the first song spread her fury around, so it splashed like hot fat over the whole household. Sometimes people can be so hurt and upset they snap at anyone offering comfort; so, there are two people hurt instead of just one.

Personal development coaches will tell us we are all responsible for our own happiness; we should not expect other people to make us happy, and we should not allow the unhappiness of others to rub off on us. But, of course, it’s not that simple, is it?

In the early days of our marriage, when we had two professional incomes and fewer outgoings, I occasionally used to treat myself to a facial. My therapist (and therapist is exactly the right word for her) would massage my face and my scalp while I gently sank into a state of bliss. At the end of the massage she would vigorously shake her hands. “When I massage the stress out of you,” she explained, “It has to go somewhere, so it goes into me. I’m shaking it out, so it doesn’t stay there.”

And maybe that’s what we need to do. We will always absorb unhappiness around us, but it is healthier if we can “shake it out.”

It is not disloyal to be happy if someone we love is unhappy. Would you want your own unhappiness to spread? Of course not!

We need to find our own “shaking” process. I don’t yet have one – do you? I’d love to hear about it in the comments if you do.

A Moodscope member.

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