"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Happiness is Overrated

I've been diagnosed as having a "Major Depressive Disorder." I've not been depressed maybe 6-10 weeks in the past 45 years, but a lot of those years, I think I felt okay, because I didn't think about how I felt. Dissecting a joke makes it lose its funniness, and in the same way, if you question whether or not you're happy, you're not happy.

First of all, society needs depressed people. I, like everyone else, long thought that depression was a bad thing, a flaw to be removed, but natural selection has not bred depression out of us because it is useful to society as a whole to have a few depressed people. Depressed people are the canaries in the coal mine, the ones that point out the dangers that others don't see. When things are really terrible, astoundingly awful, depressed people are in their element. The Pollyannas walk gleefully into the gas chambers, oblivious to the peril; others succumb to shock when the happy veneer falls away and they see things to be as bad as they truly are; the depressed, meanwhile, go about business as usual, keeping things going until everyone else has a chance to adjust to conditions. The depressed often end up sacrificing themselves for the greater good: as long as someone succeeds, it doesn't have to be them (after all, they wouldn't enjoy success anyway). It's just that things are rarely that dire, so the depressed are just sitting there, waiting for the other shoe to drop and making others uncomfortable.

Almost everyone wants to be happy, but doesn't know what happiness actually is. It's not gratitude. It's not hopefulness. It's not enthusiasm. It's not optimism. Happiness is the emotion one feels when one obtains something one considers good. If someone gives you a present - a good present - you feel happy (you might also feel thankful and grateful). If you achieve something - something good - you feel happy (you might also feel content, or relieved). This is a rather mercenary vision of happiness, but that's why I think happiness is overrated. If you feel wealth is good, then one should be happier with greater wealth, but study after study shows that once one has met one's basic needs and has an expectation that those needs will continue to be met, additional wealth doesn't lead to happiness. This is because ease of obtainment deceases one's sense of the value, making it less "good."

We tend to conflate "the pursuit of happiness" with the "happiness of pursuit," that we should be contented with the desire to be contented. Unrealistic expectations and perfectionism keep people from being happy because one never obtains what one desires. There is a belief that we should live in the moment, that dwelling on past failures or worrying about possible future problems rob us of the happiness of the moment, but that is a statement about contentment, not happiness. There is a belief that comparing oneself to others keeps one from happiness, but that is a matter of "good" versus "better" and as I stated, wondering if you could be happier will make you unhappy.

So, I am not happy. I am not unhappy. I am depressed and I'm okay with that.


wildknits said...

Interesting perspective on the issue Steve. Will be mulling this over for a bit.

Your header photo reminds me of an ongoing series on the Perfect Duluth Day blog (perfectduluthday.com) entitled "Upset Duluth".

SteveQ said...

I'm thinking that I posted something similar once before. I'll check my photos and look for Eeyore.

Jamie said...

Just found your blog. I completely agree! I am sometimes depressed, and I am also okay with that. Running has seemed to "counteract" the feeling somewhat, and it leaves me feeling content, which is fine by me. People don't need to be happy all of the time. It becomes tiring.

Alene Gone Bad said...

Steve, I messaged you on FB. I like the canary analogy. There's so much social pressure to be positive and act like everything is going better than it actually is. I think we all need to be more realistic. These are hard times for people, and those who are the canaries- the ones who are more sensitive- can be affected more acutely.

I have dealt with depression off and on for a long time and I am okay with it too. To a point. When I feel I can't function, then I'm not okay with it.

Depression is real, it exists, it's normal (a huge percentage of the population experiences it to some degree, more than most admit), and there are things that can help relieve it.

Good for you to say it. Most people are afraid to admit it, and I've been one of them.

SteveQ said...

Just noticed that I misused the word "conflate." "Confuse" would be better, but I'm not changing it.

wildknits said...

Steve, to clarify, I meant the photo at the top of your blog right now, not header for this posting.

I appreciate your, and commenters, honesty on this matter.

Londell said...

I feel the pain. Stay positive my friend!