A Problem Shared is a Problem Halved: Examining the Old Saying

The popular saying is used to express the idea that, your problem will be more bearable when you discuss it with someone. The point of it is that you create a better chance of having your problems solved when you talk with someone about them. But, is the idea really as productive as it sounds? Is it a process that works every time or you have to carefully work it out? Adages are supposed to stand the test of time and be coherent with practical experience. Well, how often do you feel relieved after discussing your problems with another?

It is important to consider these few points. First of all, you can’t talk to just anyone about your problems. For example, it would be strange to walk up to a stranger and complain about your marital challenges. Though, if your problem is something like an empty wallet, you might just get lucky relating your travails to a stranger. In my experience, I’ve found that strangers can sometimes show real empathy. There’s a high probability, however, that you’d pick a wrong audience if you open up to a complete stranger.

Therapists, religious leaders, spouse, parents good friends are examples of dependable audiences. But, you still have to filter these according to the type of challenge you’re facing. In essence, you’re discussing your problems with them because you expect they’d understand. So, if sharing your troubles with someone has been unhelpful, there’s a possibility you’ve picked the wrong audience. And your experience doesn’t disprove the adage. After all, even the best proverbs must be properly employed.

Secondly, your audience doesn’t really have to offer any direct help. At the core of the saying, “a problem shared is a problem halved”, lies understanding. You may have some serious trouble that demands urgent intervention. In that case, you’d be better off taking active measures—which may include talking to someone—to get help. However, if there’s no immediate solution available, it might just help to have someone listen to you. It is this process itself that’s encouraged by the saying; not the idea that you’d certainly get help from the person you’re speaking to. This leads us to the next point.

Talking, in itself, can be therapeutic. By this, I do not necessarily refer to clinical or counselling sessions. Though, it still has to be a guided endeavour. It’s just like eating. You do not really need to meet a nutritionist in order to have a healthy meal—unless you have an illness. However, eating healthy does call for common sense. Eating kills hunger, but eating wrong can leave you worse off. So does talking. It is a process that kills of anxiety, stress and even mild depression. But, you can’t just do it anyhow, anywhere or to anyone.

There’s a presupposition that half the burden of your problems rest on your mind. Every problem—whether it is physical, financial, marital, health, or spiritual—will take a mental toll on you. And speaking to someone will relieve you of this burden, giving you more clarity to solve the problem. So, talking to someone may not lead to a direct solution (or halve your problem instantaneously), but it will help create the mental fortitude needed.

It’s hard to trace the origin of the adage. But, according to this article, the earliest use dates as far back as 1854, when the longer form was employed in a newspaper: “A problem shared is a problem halved. A joy shared is a joy doubled”. The saying itself may not be very old, but the idea behind it is.

Having good people to share your problems with, is a blessing. However, the other side of the coin is also true, which exposes the dangers of talking (too much) about your problems. Even when you have the right audience before you, you could end up wearing them down with your complaints (or wahala, as we call it here in Nigeria). Likewise, there are some problems that may not require extra pair of ears.

It’s safe to say, we find ourselves in an era that calls for extra caution, even when applying age-old sayings. For example, your social media accounts create a platform for expression, and sometimes, you may be tempted to share your travails with your followers or friends. There are even AIs, in form of chatbots, designed to listen to you, and offer advice. While these interactions may make you feel good, there’s also a risk of compounding your problems.

So, what do you think? Is a problem shared, halved?

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