What is Happiness?

This is going to sound odd.

I’ve been realizing over the last couple weeks that I’m trying to learn how to deal with not being depressed all the time. It’s really hard to explain to myself and other people that I’m depressed despite my ability to enjoy myself. I had the thought today, You’re either sick or your well. That’s not true for a lot of things, but with mental illness it seems to apply. You either have mental illness or you don’t. Right?

If that’s true, then how do I explain the laughter and enjoyment I experience every Wednesday night when I go to my knitting group? What about the weekend in Tucson from which Erik and I just returned? I don’t think I felt depressed even once during that trip.

Clearly I experience happiness in my life, however brief or temporary.

Dr. Theodore I. Rubin writes, “For me, happiness is feeling good, nothing more that. I know that feeling good, that is, feeling fairly comfortable and relatively tension-free, is no small matter and depends on the existence of many, many factors, most of which are not discernible, let alone controllable. Therefore, what I have come to view as happiness can only be sustained for limited periods of time, sporadically, and always on a relative level. Yes, even just plain feeling good is relative and cannot be perfect either in quality or duration. But illusions about happiness and ways of achieving it invariably destroy what happiness, however humanly limited, is possible” (Compassion and Self-Hate: An Alternative to Despair).

So, in other words, contentment equals happiness. But it seems to me that society has perpetuated a myth about contentment in which contentment equals complacency and therefore is to be avoided at all costs. Dr. Rubin describes the myth of happiness as the, “illusion [] that happiness is an orgastic high, a fantastic continuum of peak orgastic experiences.” When in reality, “such states of exhilaration almost always are related to depression and almost always are followed by depression.” And yet, this orgastic happiness is what we all seem to be striving for. Or is it just me?

Honestly, I don’t often think about what exactly I mean when I say, I want to be happy. I just know that I’m not. Or at least, up until now I’ve thought I wasn’t. But perhaps Dr. Rubin is right and happiness is an ethereal feeling, rather than a lasting state of being. Maybe my real goal ought to be a more frequent experience of contentment and beyond that, simply recognizing those moments of comfort and enjoyment that I do experience.

Perhaps it’s okay to only be sick some of the time. Enjoying my life does not negate my experience of mental illness. I can still say I suffer from depression and in the next breath, laugh at a joke. The world is not black and white, no matter how it may sometimes seem. I do not, in fact, have to feel depressed all the time.

Phew. What a relief.


Life goes on.

Life goes on. If nothing else, that is what I have learned from years of anxiety and depression – years of feeling crazy, different, sad, out of whack, tired, and incapable. Life always goes on.

My business has gotten busy. And no matter how tired or unmotivated I am, the work is still there waiting to be completed. For two years, I had very little counting on me, very little I had to do. Now, I am back in the business world and I don’t know if I can hack it. Down days make keeping a schedule very difficult. But life goes on, whether I like it or not.

I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.

Saturday, June 29th

“Guilt is only allowed if you knew what you were doing was wrong and you did it anyway.” This according to the group therapy leader – one of the discharge plan managers.

I’m not sure I agree or disagree. what about the things I do or don’t do when I’m depressed and/or anxious? I know I should be doing certain things; I know I shouldn’t be hurting myself or eating too much or not showering, but I do it anyway. Does that mean my guilt over these things is appropriate? That I should feel guilty? If so, then the guilt I feel is righteous and Erik is wrong to tell me not to feel bad.

He doesn’t understand that I know in my head what I should be doing and that I still make a choice to do the wrong thing. If he understood that, maybe he would not always tell me not to feel bad.

“I spent each day struggling to appear competent, constantly amazed that I had gotten through the last test and certain that I would shut down in the face of the next. I felt completely alone. Everyone else – my wife, my kids, coworkers, friends, the guy who sold me my morning coffee – seemed to be moving through their days peacefully, laughing and having fun. I resented them because they were having such an easy time of it and because I felt utterly cut off from them emotionally. I felt angry because there was no way they could understand what I was experiencing. Their very presence seemed to magnify my sense of isolation.”

“The loneliest moments of my life have been in the middle of the night while, as I imagined it, every body else in the world was sleeping…I felt angry toward those who were sleeping, especially my wife, who was right there so visibly and easily doing what I couldn’t and desperately needed to. My bad feelings intensified in the middle of the night. The volume of my personal agony reached a deafening pitch.”

by David Karp from An Unwelcome Career