The path to happiness is paved with memes
I wasn't always working my dream job as a therapist in private practice *surprise* - there was a time when I worked in a corporate hospital setting, working long hours to the point of feeling burned out. It was a rough time. My life felt completely out of balance, as it was consumed with nothing but work. It took me some time before I faced the four letter f-word (fear... the word is fear) and felt ready to make a change.
What got me through this rough patch? Memes. Internet Memes.
Let me explain...
During this time, this is what my day essentially looked like:
I wake up, exhausted from working late the night before. I need some inspiration to get going. I google "getting ready for work meme." I find one that validates my feelings exactly. I giggle and muster up the energy to get ready for work. Heading out the door, I text it to my group of best friends (who could also commiserate as they are not exactly living out their work dreams either)...
My group of friends respond to my earlier meme with a golden collection of memes that somehow capture our joint misery beautifully. This may be one of my favorites. I save it to my Pinterest board, "Work Humor."
I finally get a gap of time large enough to take lunch. I head to the cafeteria before they close at 1 pm to grab some food. Waiting in line, I find I need a mental break. I take a few moments to read the group text and find that the string of memes and laughs continue. This exchange is really what keeps my day going...
I'm trying to wrap up at work. I look at the time and find that my work day should have ended more than an hour ago, but there's still more to do. I weigh the pros and cons of finishing up my to-do list now or saving it for tomorrow. I text this gem to my group of friends. I decide I'm exhausted and pack up to head home.
So, how was something as silly and superficial as texting memes back-and-forth with my friends not only helpful, but pave my Path to happiness? Well, in several ways:
- It helped me tolerate stress. If it weren't for those silly exchanges throughout my day, I would have been so caught up in my own thoughts of worry and pressure to get everything done at my job that it would have made things worse - I would have likely found myself even more stressed and overwhelmed.
- It validated my feelings. Let's face it - there was real truth in those memes for me. Knowing that I wasn't alone (there were clearly others who felt the same way or the meme wouldn't exist) made my experience somehow feel more normal and more okay, therefore I judged it less and felt less frustrated and pessimistic.
- It helped me take a mental break. It allowed me to take small mental breaks throughout my day, to make things lighter and not so heavy. It diffused frustrations that I couldn't change about my job. It added energy to my day that I wouldn't otherwise have.
- It strengthened connection. By way of the group text exchange, these memes fostered a real sense of connection between me and my friends. These memes illustrated that we really got each other. Knowing you're not going it alone makes a world of difference in your attitude and ability to tolerate really difficult situations. For me, it helped me keep a positive attitude and be more easy going throughout my day rather than overthinking and taking things too seriously.
- It fostered resiliency. Research shows *insert geek emoji* that finding the funny in difficult situations fosters resiliency. At this point in time, I wasn't ready to make a change and find a new job. So, by keeping things light and finding things funny about my situation, it helped me accept that this was simply where I was. It allowed for me to make the most of my situation, to persevere, and to stay at that job - a job that I'm still thankful for today, as it allowed me to grow both professionally and personally.
If it wasn't for this professional and personal growth experience, I'm not certain that I would have had all of the skills, expertise, and courage to be where I'm at today in my life and my profession. I've built a practice based on my values and I'm able to help others in a way I feel passionate about. For me, my path to happiness really was paved with memes.
P.S. The five ways that memes helped me through this rough time illustrate ways in which Dialectical Behavior Therapy or DBT (the type of therapy I use) can help when you're struggling. In fact, the ways in which I used memes here illustrate some of the Distress Tolerance and Emotion Regulation skills used in DBT. Who knew that something so seemingly irreverent such as memes could be so meaningful and powerful?