“Don’t be sad that it’s over – smile because it happened!” Whoever has experienced this empty, frustrating, downwards pulling feeling after a period of great times might have heard this sentence from potentially well-meaning people who attempt to raise spirits. And whoever has heard it, knows that it is probably the most ridiculous and least helpful thing to say in such a situation.
No matter whether we have an awesome time for a longer period, like an exchange semester or year, or just a short one, like a trip or a festival – we usually experience an extremely intense time with a lot of friends, laughter, joy and happiness, rainbows and unicorns, and absolutely no normal daily life. We don’t even have to think of that. It is like living in a bubble, protected by the certain promise of entertainment, provided with enough other people in the same situation to always have someone to share it with and typically free of worries or concerns whatsoever. It is awesome. It is not “real”.
Very real, however, are the subsequent sadness and sometimes even weird emptiness after the bubble. The Finns call it “Festarimasennus” (festival depression) because it comes usually in the summer (instead of the depressive winter, as one might expect), after they had an amazing time at a festival and then are thrown back into their 9-to-5 life with boring work, annoying colleagues, and no alcohol. It is pretty much applicable to all comparable situations. Now, at the end of the semester and academic year, a lot of international people have to face this feeling when going back home after their exchange. I remember my own experience with that, and it was far from easy. And then some smart people came around the corner, being offended because I was missing the time abroad instead of being glad about my regained normal life, and telling me to “smile because it happened” instead of being sad.
Why? I smiled for 4 months because it was happening. I was enjoying it to the fullest – can I not be sad for a little while afterwards? Isn’t it natural to have some mixed emotions instead of running around like a moronic idiot, smiling at everything even though inside I might feel sad? Being sad is also an expression about how awesome the (now past) time was. Sometimes I wonder if the same people would also advise this when something bad is over, like the most boring summer job ever. Just imagine: you are relieved and happy, and they’d say something like “Don’t be happy that it’s over – be sad because it happened!”
I think it is very normal and part of the experience to be sad that it’s over, and there is nothing you can do about it. Of course, being totally desperate and remaining unhappy in your normal life is another extreme and also wrong to do. So what might be the right thing to proceed with, if listening to empty philosophical phrases as well as giving up on life after a great bubble-experience are clearly the wrong ones? The solution to ease the pain could for instance be filling your life with as many “festivals” as possible. Although my eyes have been opened only after my exchange, my general understanding has changed a lot: I don’t get the concept of vacation anymore, for example. Working your butt off for the entire year and being exhausted every day, and then trying to recover and have fun in two weeks during summer just doesn’t work.
Instead, you should grab as many possibilities to create your own fun-bubbles as possible. Besides having hobbies and tasks that fulfill you, make special occasions happen more often! Look forward to even small things – a dinner-evening with friends, a short trip to a neighboring city… Visit as many friends as your time and wallet allow (and just as a hint, during student life you usually have more time for that than later), work & travel, see concerts… During the past two months I might have had four to five of these little bubbles, and even though I was naturally sad after each of them, the anticipation of the next upcoming fun kept me going. This works also if you don’t have anything in particular to look forward to – once you decided for yourself to follow this approach, the general attitude you have towards life already makes the “afterlife-emptiness” more bearable. Because you know that something new will come up soon. And then you can smile again that it’s happening.