“Why does everyone have to be happy all the time?”

So said Doc Martin on tonight’s episode.

Wouldn’t that be nice, to be happy all the time? Isn’t that something we’d all want? The importance of happiness is, in fact, so fundamental a human motivation that it was prescribed in the Declaration of Independence of the United Β States on 4 July, 1776:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Ah – but note carefully what is stated: it is the pursuit of happiness which is an unalienable right. There’s a difference between pursuing happiness and being happy.

My latest diagnosis reads: Major depression with melancholia; dysthymia; generalized anxiety disorder. There are many times when I don’t feel happy. That’s cool; it’s part of life. It’s part of everyone’s life.

Buddhists speak of dukkha, often translated into English as suffering, anxiety or a feeling of dissatisfaction. The first of Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths is that suffering is an integral part of the human experience. (I know suffering is certainly an integral part of my Β human experience, and I’m betting it might be part of yours, too!)

When we accept this, when we acknowledge that suffering is going to be part of our life, something eases within us. We can step off the always-needing-happiness treadmill. We can stop worrying about the happiness which may or may not lie in our future, and be present in the now – which is generally far less painful than our re-hashings of past traumas or anxieties about possible future hurts.

Accepting that my mental illness, and suffering because of it, is probably going to be with me for the rest of my life has been difficult, but in some ways liberating. I’ll be honest: sometimes I still crave an instant cure. I want the happily ever after, I want it now, and I want it forever – but that’s not going to be.

I feel sad as I type those words, even though it’s something I truly believe. At the same time, I feel as though I’m in touch with reality. The positive note is that while suffering will always be part of my life, it doesn’t have to be a constant part, or even a majority part. I can learn to live, even to thrive, within the constraints biology, genetics and psychohistory have placed upon me.

I can, and I will, continue my pursuit of happiness.


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22 responses to ““Why does everyone have to be happy all the time?”

  1. Gede Prama

    Very interested, Have a wonderful day friend πŸ™‚


  2. It’s good that you’re not giving up on trying to be happy. It’s the worst thing ever when you feel so down that even the idea of happiness is pointless. I’ve had experiences where even though there is nothing particularly wrong, I am not happy and cannot imagine being happy. That hasn’t happened in the last month or so, but I know it will come around again eventually. Not sure how I will deal with it, but I’ll get through. And I’m sure you will, too. Just keep strong, and maybe make a list of the things in life that make you smile, no matter how little they are. I do that before bed sometimes, and it helps me get to sleep.


  3. Maybe those of us who experience suffering, like we do, like you describe, are more awake than the rest of us.


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  5. Your words are inspiring and uplifting. Thank you. πŸ™‚


  6. I was really struck when I read this – I had just finished listening to a podcast discussing the same ideas. One of my take-aways from the podcast was this: “Pain in life is inevitable, but suffering is optional.” So I’m trying to think of my depression as the pain that I will apparently always have to endure. But, maybe I can develop a mindset or some strategies that help me not to suffer so much…if that makes sense. And dwelling on past injuries or future struggles is a big part of my suffering. Thanks for the thoughtful post – lots to chew on!


    • YES! That’s exactly the kind of mindset I’m trying to develop within myself. For me, a key insight which I was taught in a group (yay, something useful from a group, lol) was that suffering arises when pain is not accepted. At first, that sounds like drivel, just playing with words, but when it’s explained it makes sense.
      In brief, pain is due to an event, something which has a beginning and an end. Pain will inevitably arise in life. Suffering is when we “dwell in the pain” – not necessarily deliberately, but by dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Suffering can, therefore, last an indefinite period. Acceptance doesn’t mean saying the pain is OK, but rather is about living in the present moment. Acceptance means feeling the pain in the now, but also ceasing to feel the pain once it is over.
      I’d love to hear your opinion on those ideas …


      • First, I have to say that I’m fascinated by the concept of group therapy – I imagine a room full of depressed isolationists, having no interest in sharing their struggles with anyone… πŸ™‚

        I think what you’re saying makes sense, in the very abstract way that these things can be understood. But the part that trips me up is what acceptance really looks like in my day to day life. What it looks like on a good day when I’m hopeful that my depression is maybe on hiatus. What it looks like on a bad day when I’m afraid that I will always feel so crappy (hello, future anxieties!!). What it looks like in the daily grind.

        I wrote a post about all of this as well – just trying to make sense of these ideas. I’d love to get your thoughts there too. It’s a lot to process. I think there are some real nuggets here that could really transform how I think about my life and my depression. Just have to wade through them bit by bit and I’m convinced it will be worthwhile in the end.


      • Hi again πŸ™‚
        I’ve just popped over and read your blog. I think you’re right, it is far easier to be able to see what we “shouldn’t” be doing rather than what we “should”.
        I think the only constructive thing I can add to your thinking at this stage is to say a bit more about how I experience acceptance. Sometimes, acceptance is just saying “Right now, I am feeling really, really bad” or “Right now, I know I could go out for a walk and that would make me feel better, but I simply don’t have the energy”. Acceptance for me means recognizing my present reality. Doing this does two things: (a) it validates one’s current experience, which is very important if you’re depressed, and (b) it often makes it clear what one could choose to do to improve the moment. This doesn’t mean you have to do that most constructive thing, and certainly doesn’t mean anyone should beat themselves up, but it does clarify matters.
        Anyway, that’s my brief take on it πŸ™‚


  7. Pingback: The pursuit of happiness | Change your mind

  8. Thanks for sharing more about how you approach acceptance. I will think of that as I experience rough spots this week, with a particular focus on not judging my feelings. Thank you!


  9. eddieredvine

    I’ve ofter thought that although we suffer more that maybe we appreciate the smaller things. For example yesterday I went outside to go to the car to visit my mum. This was the first time I have managed to go outside in 9 days. As soon as I stepped foot out of the door I looked up and saw the sky without a window and it was windy and cold but I felt all of it. I was mindful of it.

    So I think that although we suffer, we take positivity from little things that others may ignore… most people were scurrying hurriedly to their cars whereas I noticed everything. Xx


  10. Good for you πŸ™‚


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