Don’t Get Depressed and Anxious About Not Feeling Happy Enough
Some people may actually find themselves feeling more depressed and anxious when they try then fail to be as happy as they think they should be. There is plenty of research to suggest that thinking more positively and feeling happier, more of the time, has numerous physical and mental health benefits, and there is certainly nothing wrong with wanting to be happy more of the time. However problems may arise when we avoid or deny other feelings, or think we should be feeling even happier than we are.
Trying to be happy all of the time can be a very unhelpful expectation that can actually result in you feeling more unhappy. Some people with this expectation may actually start to feel worse about themselves, as they feel bad about not being as happy as they think they should be. This can set up a downward spiral, where they feel like a failure because they are not feeling happy enough, believing there must be something wrong with them, or something they are not doing right. As a result their mood, anxiety levels, self-esteem and confidence can suffer. When the only reason they are feeling unhappy is because they feel they are failing to meet their own (or others) expectations about how happy they think they should be feeling.
Emotions naturally ebb and flow
Our emotions are naturally transitory, they constantly rise and fall in intensity, and we transition from one emotion to another, from one moment to the next. It is simply not natural, or even possible to remain continuously in any one single emotion, at the same intensity, all of the time. It is therefore unrealistic to expect to be happy all of the time.
Be more in the moment
Emotions are something you feel in the moment, and anything that takes your awareness out of the moment, such as thinking analytically about how you are feeling, can have the effect of detaching you to some degree from the experience of the feeling. It is a little bit like the difference between immersing yourself fully in the enjoyable experience of eating ice cream, or watching someone else enjoying eating the ice cream. It adds a distance between you and the feeling that can reduce your experience of it. Therefore the simple act of asking yourself “Am I feeling happy enough?”, may actually reduce the intensity of the happiness you were feeling.
All emotions have a useful purpose, even the unpleasant ones
Another good reason for not ignoring your ‘unpleasant’ emotions is that all emotions serve a useful purpose. Denial or avoidance of them has the potential to cause problems. This doesn’t mean you should wallow in your unpleasant feelings, but you do need to pay attention to them for long enough to figure out what message your mind is trying to give you. In general, positive emotions draw us towards the things we desire, giving us a direction in life and keeping us focused on our goals. Whilst negative emotions like fear and anxiety motivate us by getting us up and moving, steering us away from potential threats and dangers, and ensuring that we have considered our options thoroughly enough before we take action.
Avoiding unpleasant feelings is like covering up the warning lights on your cars dashboard so that you can’t see the warning lights flash any more. It may give you some temporary relief by pretending there is nothing wrong with the car. But eventually the problem will escalate because you are not dealing with it, and ultimately it may cause serious damage. It is much better to observe the cars warning indicators, accept there is a potential problem, figure out what it means, and deal with the problem so that your car will continue to run smoothly.
Recent Research Shows the Benefits of Moderate and Short-term Bad Mood
Joseph Forgas, a mood researcher found the following benefits of moderate temporary bad mood:
- Individuals who are in a bad mood have better memories. In one study, for example, they remembered even more details about a shop interior than people who were in a good mood.
- Individuals in bad state of minds are also less likely to obtain fooled by misleading questions.
- People in bad state of minds are more exact in their judgments. Social researchers have actually had an industry day documenting judgmental biases; now state of mind researchers are revealing that people in bad moods are less susceptible to those predispositions than people in excellent state of minds.
- People in bad state of minds are less taken in. They are less most likely to believe misconceptions and they are likewise much better at detecting deception.
- People in bad moods are less likely to stereotype other individuals, and they are less likely to act upon negative stereotyped judgments.
- There are inspirational perks to tiffs. Individuals in bad state of minds persevere longer at tough jobs.
- A bad mood can have its interpersonal advantages (though it is not always helpful). For example, people in bad state of minds ask for things in more respectful methods.
- People in bad state of minds are more reasonable and more simply. Allowed to allocate a resource however they desire, for instance, they are more most likely than individuals in a great state of mind to distribute the resource in a fair means instead of hogging it for themselves.
- Individuals in bad state of minds are more convincing– they formulate better arguments.
Reference: Forgas, J. P. (2013). Don’t worry, be sad! On the cognitive, motivational, and interpersonal benefits of negative mood. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 22, 225-232.
Many of our strengths as human beings come from our self-awareness. It has given us the ability to think about, learn from, and the choice to react differently to our own thoughts and feelings and behaviours. However depending on what we focus on, in some situations self-awareness can create circular loops in our thought processes, where our awareness of the symptoms of our problem also becomes part of the cause, triggering an on-going cycle of the problem itself. We can for example feel more anxious and panicky when we notice that we are experiencing symptoms of anxiety, or we can feel even more depressed because we notice we are feeling depressed, or we can feel unhappy, when we are aware that we are not feeling as happy as we think we should be. The consequences of this is that sometimes we can get stuck in a self-sustaining cycle for a while, and the more we focus on what we think we shouldn’t be feeling, the more we end up feeling it.
Just like trying to hide the cars warning indicators, and pretending that nothing is wrong, people often turn to unhelpful or unhealthy practices (e.g. alcohol, drugs, over-eating, tightly controlling themselves and/or others) in an attempt to deny, avoid or cover up the feelings that are really just indicating that something needs their attention. Instead try accepting that all your emotions have a useful purpose, and ask yourself what is this emotion that I’m trying to avoid telling me. Deal with whatever the problem is, and you remove a reason for being unhappy, and therefore find yourself just feeling naturally happier as a result.
Often a shift in what you focus your awareness on can start to break you out of these cycles. For some people it may be difficult to change this way of thinking without some sort of external professional guidance. Particularly if there are multiple compounding problems, or if the thought patterns are very in-grained, or if the emotional response is particularly overwhelming, as it might be if you are experiencing anxiety, panic or depression. If this is the case then a properly qualified psychotherapist or counsellor will be able to help you.
The Author Nigel Magowan is a UKCP Registered Psychotherapist and offers psychotherapy and counselling in Manchester, UK, for a range of psychological issues, including depression and anxiety. Nigel has been in full-time private practice since 2002.
Related Anxiety and Depression Web Pages:
- HelpGuide.org: Dealing with Depression
- HelpGuide.org: How to Stop Worrying
- Anxiety Disorder Treatment in Manchester
- Depression Treatment in Manchester
Article: By Nigel Magowan. Last updated: 10th September 2014. “Don’t Feel Depressed and Anxious About Not Feeling Happy Enough.”