Happiness and Depression: It's Possible to Feel Both
You can feel depression and happiness together. When I dealt with my first severe bout of depression from my early to late teens, the best way to describe it would have been an all-encompassing darkness. It was the stereotypical, everything sucks versions of depression that we so often see in media, fiction and on the Internet. As many of us know, however, that’s not the only form of depression there is. So why are we only presented with this version of it? Why aren't we presented with happiness and depression together?
Depression and Happiness Can Happen at the Same Time
The short answer to the question I asked above is, I don’t know (Depression Is Not Sadness). I speculate that maybe it’s easier to understand depression hitting when everything seems to suck anyway. Think about it, how many times do people describe less-than-favourable situations as depressing? Or when people are a little sad and they say they feel depressed? The problem is likely that the word depression has become synonymous with sadness, so it must only happen to sad people (Is Depression Just Sadness).
It doesn’t. My second severe bout of depression has come along when I’m mostly, if not completely, happy. True, there are things in my life that I’m unhappy about, but, overall, I feel happy.
Let me tell you, it’s one of the strangest things to feel content with your life and have depression swirling like a weight you can’t put down.
It’s not often you hear about the happy person with depression though. As open as I am with my mental illnesses, I haven’t quite been so honest when it’s come to my depression. I’ve used the phrase, “I’m fine,” all too much when I’ve really felt like lying down and sleeping the day away (Depression – I’d Rather Be Sleeping). I’ve said, “I’m good,” when I didn’t quite mean it.
Why We Don’t Hear about Happy People with Depression
There are two main reasons I feel like we don’t hear about depression in happy people.
- People don’t understand how happiness and depression can exist simultaneously.
- Those who feel the two simultaneously feel like one or the other is probably a lie.
To start with number one, from what I’ve seen, as soon as someone with depression shows even a hint of being happy, an observer thinks the depressed person is cured, or, even worse, that the person never had the disorder to begin with. Because we’ve been so bombarded with this idea that depression equals sadness, the perception is that there’s no room for any happiness at all, so as soon as it shines we get either of those two reactions. This silences people because authentically sharing about the disorder would mean to be argued with about its validity and supposed cure.
Number two is even trickier in some ways because it’s a war in our own minds. When the depression is hitting, especially when it’s hitting hard, there’s no question of its existence. It can become so powerful that it makes us question if we were happy at all. Equally, in the moments of happiness it can feel like the depression is a lie.
I know for me, when I’m out doing things I enjoy and am having a good day, my depression is nothing more than an afterthought and I sometimes question just how bad it actually is. It all comes crashing down when I’m alone with my thoughts, however. That’s when the war between the two starts again.
What You Can Do If Someone Who Is Happy Expresses They Have Depression
Quite simply: believe them (How to Help and Support Someone with Depression).
Barton, L. (2016, June 23). Happiness and Depression: It's Possible to Feel Both, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, April 14 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivingmentalhealthstigma/2016/06/happiness-and-depression-its-possible-to-feel-both
Author: Laura A. Barton
I can't put into words how much this post relieves me.
I've been questioning myself for so long what exactly was wrong with me.
During the day, when I'm at work or with friends I feel like I can feel totally normal, I can feel happy, and I can laugh, genuine laughs. But then I feel like the tiniest thing can affect me in an absolute irrational and abnormal way and leave me in a really bad mental situation. For over a year I've been having episodes in which for a few days, or even for just a day I'm feeling completely depressed, sometimes for absolute no reason, can't stop crying, feel completely hopeless or worthless, like there's no point in living, and suicidal thoughts often pass my mind, and when I wasn't feeling extremely sad I was just feeling nothing, blank mind and no feelings. But then the fact that I could have moments where I was feeling fine made me question what exactly was wrong with me. I was telling myself I couldn't be having depression if I could feel happy at times. So I was wondering if I was just too sensitive and weak and just needed to toughen up and stop being a little b*tch when I was feeling down, cause even though the depression symptoms matched, everytime I searched about depression I could never find anything about people being depressed and still feeling happy from time to time.
I don't know if this is how you felt, maybe not, I suppose everybody feels it in a different way, but in a way I can relate to your post, and it makes me feel more "normal" and relieved.
Thank you, and wish you the best.
I'm thrilled to hear my post has helped you in this way, Luisa. Your thoughts here have mirrored mine. If there are times of happiness, how can we truly have depression? It must just be a character weakness then, my brain would tell me. But that's wrong. As you and I both know, it's completely possible to feel both happiness and depression, sometimes within a very short span of time. It can be hard to wrap our heads around, but it's real.
I encourage you to reach out during your times of struggle. It's a great way to air out these thoughts and speak to other people who get it. I've pulled the list of hotline numbers from here on the HealthyPlace website. Even if you're not sure you'll use them,I don't think it will hurt to keep them saved or bookmarked somewhere.
Mental Health Hotline Numbers and Referral Resources: https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/resources/mental-health-hotline-numbers-and-refer…
Suicide Hotline Phone Numbers: https://www.healthyplace.com/suicide/suicide-hotline-phone-numbers
I really appreciate you taking the time to share a bit of your story with me. I know that's not always easy. Wishing you the best as well!
I feel I can't relate just for one thing.
I have clinical depression but... I'm not putting on a face. That's why I never relate to those who talk about it.
I'm not acting. I'm not wearing a mask. I'm not hiding my 'true self'.
When I'm laughing and having fun sure maybe later I'll feel depressed and think I was acting stupid or like they didn't like me. But that doesn't mean it was an act. Or a fake.
Both are my true self. I never find any articles that don't use the term 'true self' or 'mask' or 'hiding.'
I'm vocal about my depression. I make jokes about it. But I can still have fun and feel things. My friends have interacted with me when I'm jokey around laughing and when I'm crying on the ground. Neither are acts. Neither are fake.
I wish I could find something that tells me that one isn't fake. I feel so alone for being apparently the only one that doesn't put on a mask...If I'm feeling depressed, I'll show it. I won't hang with friends and if I am dragged around I can at first force myself to have fun until I really AM having fun.
I feel so alone in this. Like maybe my depression isn't even real. I always feel betrayed if I find someone was only 'faking' having fun with me. I'll not hang with them again because I can't tell if they are being honest with me or not.
Hi there, April. Trust me when I say I know what it's like to feel you're the only one experiencing something and I hear you. It's absolutely valid to feel the way you do, especially when the narrative seems to swing so strongly one way and you're hard-pressed to come across anything that seems to mirror yourself. I love how you've been able to embrace both of these sides as your true self. You're right, neither is fake. That's what I was hoping to get across with this blog: feeling both and having both be true is possible. In fact, it's something I still deal with myself. I'm not quite as open in my everyday life with my depressed side as you've described here, but, like you said, it's no less real than when the depression isn't as strong. Don't worry. You're not alone at all.
Interesting article. I feel as if I can relate. I'm Joseph. 36 yr old Single White Male.
In public. I am the star of the show. Excellent employee, always willing to help others, extremely social, witty, intelligent, attractive, always cheerful and happy (sometimes annoyingly so..), etc.. I'm actually more awesome than I give myself credit for.
But that's in public.
I don't necessarily feel like I am putting on a show. This IS me. It IS the kind of person I am and who I strive to be. I have goals, ambitions, etc.. and I do actively attempt to pursue them.
But I have another side to me. A side of myself that nobody is aware of. The side of me who comes home after work and wants to do nothing more than sit on my butt and be lazy. Even if someone texts me or has invited me out I dread getting back out into the world. If it were up to me, I'd lay in bed and binge television or play video games for hours upon hours until I passed out from exhaustion.
All of this changes once I step out of the house. Once I get into my car to go to work or to go to the club/bar/movie/restaurant that I'm expected to be at. I become person 1 again. The public person. The person I enjoy being.
At least until I get back home.
This inner fight with myself is a daily routine that has been battling on for years. I've always considered it to be a type of depression. In a low level sense that I do have the willpower to overcome if I force myself to do so.
I know it may sound like I'm not serious enough to be included or that maybe I don't even compare to someone with all out depression but I actively see this negatively affecting my life. When I get home I don't want to do the things that I need to do in order to succeed. Even something as simple as writing my rent check and mailing it out or taking out the trash. These things literally take seconds to accomplish and yet it takes me days to work up the energy to complete them. Just today I decided to finally take out the trash and I realized I had enough trash laying next to the trash can to fill up another entire bag. Granted, it was all cardboard but still it's enough to make me realize how lazy I am and wonder what is wrong with me.
I work a lot. I always have. I learned early on that society in America has created this bubble that is determined to keep you down unless you are either lucky or willing to work ridiculously hard to climb out of. So I work. On average about 60+ hours per week. I don't mind it. I enjoy being forced to get out of my house. I enjoy being forced to become person 1 again.
This has allowed me to save up quite a lot of money. The kind of money that would allow me to invest in myself. I've consider all sorts of options ranging from owning my own restaurant to buying a home. But then I get home. And instead of hopping on Redfin or Zillow and looking at homes to purchase I find myself laying in bed and wondering what television show I want to fall asleep to while binge watching. I literally could have bought a home a year ago but instead I've chosen to watch 20 seasons of various television series. What is wrong with me?
I'm athletic. I'm good at any sport and I love to play them all. In fact, I'm actually quite good at anything that I've ever tried to do. In public. I'm not lazy at all; in public.
I've tried simply not going home. Forcing myself to remain in a constant state of person 1 forever. But it doesn't work. I can't trick myself. Person 2 will find a way to make up for lost time. Even if I have someone over for the night or spend the night with someone else I'll find myself staying up twice as late the next night making up for the time I've missed and exhausting myself for the following day. I should be grateful that person 1 has enough energy to be immune to exhaustion.
I'm not suicidal. It's not that I don't want to live. It's just that I want to live differently than I am now. That being said, the idea of death doesn't frighten me at all. In fact, I am more afraid of the idea of living to be too old to do all of the things that I can do now.
I also have an odd outlook on things. For example; even though I am currently in perfect physical health I would much rather die than have my entire life savings spent on medical bills or lack of health insurance. Not only can I not even imagine working to re-accumulate all that I have attained but dying would also have the increased benefit of my life insurance policy making my brother's life (whom I care most for in this world) immensely easier. Another example? In my head, my sole purpose in this world is to make life easier for someone else so that they will not have to work as hard as I have in order to succeed. The more people I can accomplish this for the better. When asked how I would like to die my response has always been "I wanna go out saving someone else". I am an organ donor; but I would much rather be playing a hero of some sort. Push someone out of the way of an oncoming vehicle or go into a burning building or save someone from a mugging/robbery, etc.. All of these things have some commonalities. They all put others as more important than myself. They all reveal my willingness to die; especially for the sake of others.
I'm not religious. I don't believe in God. I haven't excluded the possibility I suppose but I do believe it to be more likely that God does not exist. I believe that when we die we turn to dust and that is the end. So you would think that I would want to make the most of the life that I have while I have it, right? Person 1 would agree.
I feel like I've typed so much now that it's not even going to be coherent. I apologize for the rambling.
TLDR version of the story is that yes, I do feel like you can be both happy and depressed at the same time. Though in my case it's more like two different versions of myself that exist simultaneously.
Hey Joseph. Don't worry about the rambling. Sometimes we just need to let all our thoughts out of our head. From reading through it, I can tell you have a lot going on and can feel the inner struggle between your ambition and drive to exist and the depression you feel. Don't worry about severity and try not to compare yourself to others who you feel have it worse off. The reality is that you're feeling what you're feeling and it's negatively impacting you. That's valid. I know what you mean by feeling arrested by mundane tasks that would literally take a few moments of your day. I know what it's like to be stuck when you just want to move. It's such a strange experience, but it's what happens and you're right, it can make you feel like two different versions of yourself existing at the same time...or trying to anyway.
I hope that you're finding ways to work through this, although if you haven't started yet, know that there are resources out there. This website has plenty of links and tips from all the authors here. If you want, I can pull some for you. Just let me know.
I feel exactly like that too and you describe it so well
I was like reading about myself
I was really happy yesterday making family plans and having lunch with an old friend
Today I just want to lie in bed all day
That's okay, J. We all need a rest sometimes. Take the day to recharge and take care of yourself. :)
My son, 16, exemplifies what you wrote. He also uses his humor to be the “class clown” at school and gain accceptance, meanwhile hiding his true feelings. He describes this duality to me much as you did above. In his happy times he says the depression is “always in the background”... I hurt so much for him and for everyone who suffers from this feeling, it is difficult to understand from the outside but thank you for blogging on it and sharing! My son is in CBT therapy now and I am hoping it will help, as he doesn’t really want to think about medication at this point. Bless you for your words!
Hello! I apologize that I missed your comment when you posted it. Seeing it now, I really wanted to reply. Thank you so much for caring about your son enough to try to get an understanding of what he's going through. Sixteen is hard enough without the added stress of mental illness; I promise you that your support is vital. I'm glad to hear he's in CBT and I hope it helps him learn to navigate with this issue, too. I can understand his hesitation towards medication, but if it comes to it, it may be something worth trying. It's not for everyone, but for others, it's the difference between being locked within themselves and being able to move forward in life. It's nothing to be ashamed of.
Thank you for your kind words and I wish you and your son the absolute best!
I recently got diagnosed with depression after feeling it for months but never told anyone because of exactly what you described in this article. Some days I have the same exact battle going on in my head that you described and other days the bad feelings hit me so hard I don't even think to question it. Thank you for speaking out about this, knowing happiness and depression can coexist is really comforting.
Hi there. Thanks so much for taking time to share your experience. Although I wrote this blog over two years ago, I’m still trying to navigate the thoughts and feelings I wrote about, so you’re definitely not alone. I wouldn’t wish these feelings on anyone, but I’m glad to hear you were able to connect with and find comfort in my words. I wish you all the best as you continue your journey. Take care.
Amazing article. Depression and happiness can co-exist and this is explained very well in this article.
Thank you! I really appreciate your comment. :)
I have a collegue who is battling depression. I live in the Bahamas and he lives in Ghana West Africa. He needs help desparately but refuses to seek professional help. He is a public figure there and does mot want anyone to know. I am afraid of him hirting himself. I am the only one that he has tadmitted his condition too after i point blank told him that the symptoms he displys are of a depressed mind. What more can i do from so far away.
That's definitely a tough situation you're in. I suspect your friend is afraid of the stigma that men face to begin with and then being a public figure definitely adds another layer of complication to the situation. The best bet is to continue to let him know that you're there for him and what your concerns are. You can continue to encourage him to seek treatment, but ultimately that's going to be his decision. Perhaps suggest to him some Facebook support groups or other online supports — that way he can still maintain anonymity while exploring whether or not he might want to pursue a more professional treatment.
Through a quick Google search, I found this number, which is listed as a national crisis line: 2332 444 71279. Perhaps you could share that with him as well in case he needs it.
I hope this helps! Best to you and your friend.