In the throes of mental illness, it is all too easy to believe that one’s own value has plummeted to zero. The logic goes, that if we’re worth nothing, we can’t possibly have an impact on anyone. The only thing worse than being hated is being completely forgotten. Yet, it seems that it has happened. We can’t be a force of good for anyone. No one wants us. No one relies on us. No one trusts us.
But let’s stop right there. Let’s pause before our minds collapse. This isn’t a post about blind optimism. And even though I have at least a little hope that life will get better and peace will be found, this isn’t just a rave review of hopefulness. If you’re unhappy, far be it from me to tell you to smile, to force happiness that will only make you more miserable. Instead, I’m taking a different route. I’m going to tell you flat out that you, reader, have no idea how you impact another human being.
You see, the value of good we provide to another can exist independently of how we feel. Think about the stereotype of the depressed comedian. It’s often thought that comedians mask their own depression and profound unhappiness through humor. So, you can have a stand-up comedian on stage who continuously makes the audience laugh. So long as the humor doesn’t cross lines that shouldn’t be crossed, the net good of the situation is that the comedian provides laughter to the audience. The darkness within that comedian is never truly known, but the comedian is propelled by the reactions of the audience. In other words, the good that a comedian can do exists independently of how the comedian feels.
What you’ve read above is just one example of this phenomenon. And what I hope it does is help you to question your own self-appraisal when it’s especially negative. Particularly, when you think to yourself, I am worthless and provide nothing of value to anyone, I hope you take a pause and really question how true that sentiment is. Are you absolutely sure you provide nothing of value to anyone?
I’d like to share my own experience. You see, I’ve worked in retail for what feels like ages (A little over four years). One thing that continues to amaze me is how grateful customers are in response to me simply doing my job. For instance, just today, I delivered some groceries to a customer’s car in the parking lot and she wanted to give me a tip. I couldn’t accept money from her, but I told her she could give us a good review instead if she felt inclined. And she agreed. The part that gets me is just the simple fact that someone truly appreciates what I consider to be mundane or minor.
In fact, I’ve received a lot of praise from customers for simply just doing what I’m supposed to do. I’m not a Mother Teresa; I’m just a retail employee who clocks in, tolerates work, and then clocks out. Do I feel like a hero? No. Do I feel like I’m doing a great service? No, not really. Yet, it amazes me every time a customer shows such appreciation for the execution of my expected duties. To this day, I remain awed at such positive responses.
And because of all this, I can only conclude that my own impact on another human being can never be truly known. For me to say that I provide nothing of value to anyone is disingenuous when I can’t claim that with certainty. The fact is, your mere existence likely is enough to light up someone’s life. A tiny favor you do for someone might make their day. Even something like holding the door for someone or just saying “hello” might be enough to make someone smile. The thing is, you just never know.
I can be terribly sad through a whole day, yet something I do might impact someone else for the better. Yes, you can judge and measure your own actions. But your own perception can never replace another’s perception. This is precisely why me doing my job can be seen as mundane and without merit while a customer may see it as extraordinary and commendable.
I promised you that this wasn’t blind optimism, the type of sugary junk you might find in self-help books. For some people, the sort of “smile through everything” strategy may be helpful. For me, I tend to like optimism tampered by a little more reality. I like the middle ground. And I think what I’m saying here isn’t just happy-go-lucky nonsense. I’m saying, objectively, we can’t possibly know how something small we do for another impacts them. For all we know, we may be a beacon of hope for another person.
I’m not here to dismiss your feelings. I’m not saying to deny your hurt. I’m only suggesting that you do provide value to another. Even if you can’t think of anyone, you at least provide value to yourself. You may not realize how big of a deal it is to take care of yourself. When you eat, bathe, exercise, read books, and sleep, you are actively taking care of your body and mind. We always take these activities for granted, don’t we? If we took the time to think about how each of these matter in our surviving and thriving, we might be able to realize the great impact we have on ourselves.
You deserve to be happy and you deserve peace of mind. Never forget that. The path toward healing may be hard, but maybe it starts with recognizing the good you provide. Maybe it begins with seeing how often the people in your life show their appreciation. Your smile might be the one thing that helps another realize that life is beautiful. Think about the impact you have.