Sunday, August 1, 2010

Why Are You So Sad?

In Fresh Fields, Peter Kocan asks:

Do the faces make themselves miserable, or is it the street that does it to them? A bit of both, he supposed. You do the best you can inside yourself, and you cope the the outside weather as best as you can.

This is another issue I've been pondering lately. Is happiness a state of mind, or is it something that's dependent on external factors?

A lot of people tell us it's all in her head. If we put on our rose-colored glasses, we'll be happy happy joy joy. I used to try to believe that, but it rarely worked. I'd put myself in a cheerful mood. People would be cold. Things would go wrong. Soon I was in a shitty mood. Other times, I'd wake up hating myself and hating life. I'd end up being treated kindly and/or having good luck that day. Soon my frown would turn upside down.

Now I tend to believe that happiness is more about what's happening in our lives.

I know of people who have been diagnosed with depression and are on medication. The thing is some of them have REALLY difficult lives. Seriously. I look at them and think, how much crap can happen to one person?

I have a fairly easy life. I'm in good health. My family is in good health. We are financially secure. I don't have to work at a mindless hateful job. I have lots of free time to enjoy myself and think deep thoughts. We can afford to go on holidays a few times a year. My life is extremely blessed.

For fun the other day (because I have this free time on my hands) I took an online depression test. My diagnosis? I'm not depressed. In fact, the test said I'm one of the happiest people around. I thought that was cool.

Another day, I tried to think back to 2008 when I was unhappy. My diagnosis? The test said I had been MILDLY depressed. That makes sense because my life problems were mild....at least compared to what other people have to go through.

My problems weren't health, financial, or stress related....which I think can create the most inner turmoil. They were about desiring things I didn't have; Australian citizenship and stuff that's kind of personal so I won't go into it.

Anyway, my depression level fit my life problem level.

The whole thing CAN get circular though. If you're depressed (whether mildly or severe) you end up alienating people with your bad moods. You break up relationships. You get in huge fights. You end up alone a lot. Then that can worsen your mood. I guess then your depression might increase. That sucks.

I'm guessing there is a purely chemical mental illness type depression. I think I'd distinguish that from reaction-to-life depression by what's going on in someone's life. If something has financial security, good health, a dream job, a lovely family, and they're depressed....something chemical might be going on. AND someone could have a not-so-easy life plus mental illness, making them more depressed then they would have been without the illness.

Even with the so called-perfect life though, depression might not be caused by mental illness. It could be that things aren't always what they seem.

Some health ailments hide themselves. Someone might look good, and not have an official medical diagnosis...but they still feel like total crap.

A marriage may look great. Oh, they're such an adorable couple. But maybe He and She are starting to kind of hate each other. Maybe the sight of her makes him ill. Maybe his subtle rejections make her feel sad and alone.

A house may make other envious. Wow! A view of the harbour....from your window! But maybe she's living in a city where she doesn't want to live. Maybe she has no friends there.

Maybe what appears to be a perfect job is completely boring, and it involves dealing with a psychopathic boss.

I read parts of a study recently that looked at happiness in America. It corresponds well to my own opinions about the subject.

34% of people in the study are like me....very happy. That's good. And at least half of the people in the study are pretty happy. I do have to wonder if these pretty happy people are truly happy. Maybe some of them aren't happy, but feel guilty about not being happy? I think a lot of times we feel pressured to be happy, and if we're not, we feel like failures...especially when we know our lives are better than others we know. Who wants to admit they're sad for wrecking their car when they know other people have lost their whole families in war torn countries?

I more trust the honesty of people who say they're very happy. Why? I have no science behind this opinion. I just know that when I say I'm VERY happy, I mean it. If I say I'm pretty happy, it's probably more likely that I don't feel the right to admit I'm unhappy. So....I'm just going by personal experience.

The study says there is a direct correlation between income and happiness. The more money you have the happier you are. Money can't buy happiness. But it can buy good food, wine, cruise ship holidays, and fun gadgets. And all of those things can bring joy into our lives. Meanwhile hunger, insecurity, jobs taken out of desperation, and mounting bills can make someone really stressed out and unhappy.

That's not to say that all poor people are sad. 24% of those who make under $30k are very happy. Although, that's not THAT poor. What would be the happiness scores of those who are making much less than that?

AND....

Only 49% of those making over $100k are very happy. That's means 51% of these fortunate folks are not super happy. Why? Maybe their marriages are awful. Maybe their kids have very difficult personalities. Maybe they have illness in the family. Maybe they're mentally ill.....

Republicans are happier than Democrats. Why? I don't know. The study says they did controls for income...since Republicans tend to have more money than Democrats. But even with the controls, Republicans are STILL happier.

Interesting.

I don't know.

The study people think it might have to do with religion. Republicans are more likely to be Christian, and....

Church goers are happier than those who don't go to church.

Why?

Does Jesus Christ make people more happy?

Perhaps.

I think it's more about friendship. I'm guessing if people go to church on a weekly basis, they like it there. I'm guessing they have a social thing going on, and I'm guessing they have church friends. I think having a fulfilling social life can make people very happy.

Married people in the study were found to be more happy than unmarried people. That surprises me. I thought marriage often made folks miserable.

Well, THIS is a good argument for gay marriage. If marriage causes such an increase in likelihood of happiness, it's a huge crime to deny someone that right. Although does it have to be an official marriage for the happiness thing to kick in, or can any longtime partnership thing do the trick?

Although if you don't have gay marriage, you have discrimination. And I would think being discriminated against, would cause people unhappiness.

Rushed people are less likely to be super happy. That makes sense to me. It's nice to have time on your hands.

Not being employed people are less happy than employed and retired people. What is it about work that makes people happy? Is it the actual work? Financial security? The idea pushed by our society that self worth is tied up with paid employment?

Both men an women are more likely to be happy when they're sixty-five and older. I like that!

Men have their least happiest times when they're 18-39. Women have their least happiest times when they're 18-29 and 50-64.

And it goes on and on....

Again, I do question the validity of the study. Is it really about who is most happy, or is it about who is the most honest about their emotions?

It's not just about honesty either. It's about that belief that if we say we're happy, we'll BE happy. So if you answer a survey and say you're happy, maybe you'll transform into a happy person.

Who wants to admit they're sad?

They say the mental illness of depression has a stigma to it. I say sadness itself has a stigma too.

We all have sadness though.

The big question is how do you cope with the sad days.

For me, it helps to have an acceptance of it all. Life has it's ups and downs. A lot of the bad stuff will fade away....eventually. I also try to have an awareness of what makes me sad. This helps. For me, it's often feeling ignored, misunderstood, alienated, and rejected. That makes me sad. And illness makes me feel really awful, whether it's my illness or someone else's illness. To me, sickness puts a dark cloud over my life. And when I'm not feeling well, I get cranky. My mood is VERY dependent on how I'm feeling physically.

What do you do when you have a really rough life though? Can you ever be happy? My guess is you deal with the shit the best you can, and then enjoy those occasional pleasant and easy moments. Maybe hope helps as well....the idea that you can strike gold someday. This idea (even if it's delusional) can probably help keep folks afloat.

And if it's truly a mental illness that's making you unhappy, medication might help. Probably.