It’s OK Not to Be Happy All the Time

Shannon Hilson

And there are really good reasons why you shouldn’t try to be.

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Some people really do give the impression that they’re walking, talking balls of sunshine most (if not all) of the time. Not only is “happy” their default mood, but they never seem to have trouble looking on the bright side, even when things are as bleak as can be. Nothing keeps people like these down for long because it’s simply not in their nature, and that’s a commendable way to be.

In fact, it’s so commendable that I used to think there was something wrong with me for not being the same way.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a positive person overall. I’m creative, passionate, loving, and honest. When I care about someone or something, I do so intensely. I’m good at noticing the many beauties present in this world we live in, and I’m frequently overwhelmed by my gratitude for them. So much about life makes me very happy, and I love feeling that way.

I’ve also struggled with clinical depression since I was a child. I’ll never be one of those people who are happy all the time — not even when life is going as perfectly as can be. And that’s OK. Happy is only one color in the wide, wonderful palette of human emotion. It’s unrealistic to expect to live life without ever experiencing any of the others.

It’s also incredibly unhealthy. Giving myself permission to acknowledge and embrace all of my emotions is one of the better things I ever did for my mental health. That’s almost certainly the case for you, too.

Negative emotions serve essential purposes.

My ex-husband was the type of person who is agreeable to a fault. He was the sort that would always go along to get along in life. He was Mr. Go-With-the-Flow, no matter what. The entire time we were married, I don’t think I even once heard the guy raise his voice or admit to feeling even a single negative emotion. He thought that meant he was a happy guy, but I smelled B.S.

Eventually, I realized my ex never seemed angry or sad because he didn’t honestly care about anything or anyone. He had no goals, plans, or dreams because nothing bothered him enough about his life to want to build anything or become better than he was. He didn’t get angry because the world's cruelties and injustices just weren’t very big deals to him. He never cried or got upset because he didn’t care that much when he lost people and things that should have mattered.

Knowing someone like him showed me another way to view undesirable emotions like anger, sadness, or frustration. Those are important signals that let you know when something’s wrong and calls for change. If you’re in a bad situation, they urge you to get out. If something’s unjust, they encourage you to stand up and fight for what you know is right. If you’re uncomfortable or unsatisfied, they push you to expand your horizons and continue the process of growing into your best self.

They give you the best chance of experiencing real happiness one day — warm, rich, soul-soothing happiness. That’s what my ex never truly understood. The absence of negative emotion isn’t happiness. It’s just a void — empty, dark, grey, and barren. Despair doesn’t exist in a place like that, but neither does joy.

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Happiness is not the same thing as fulfillment.

In Finnish, there are two common adjectives that translate to “happy” with equal accuracy. The first is iloinen. Iloinen is how you feel when something makes you want to jump up and down with excitement — like watching your favorite team win the World Series or realizing you’re holding a winning lottery ticket in your hand.

The second adjective is onnellinen. You feel onnellinen when experiencing deep contentment that fills you up — like when you’re holding the hand of someone you love very much or watching your children play in the sun. Neither of these feelings is mutually exclusive. You can feel both at the same time. However, while you can pretend to be iloinen, with onnellinen, you either are, or you aren’t.

Many people confuse the sunny, sparkly, more obvious type of surface happiness with a more profound sense of fulfillment. True fulfillment isn’t about feeling like life’s a party every second. It only comes when you’re content within yourself and satisfied with where you are in life. It’s not about things being perfect or never feeling sad ever again. It’s about staying connected to the beauty in life regardless of how you may be feeling on the surface.

Healthy people embrace emotional wholeness.

If you genuinely think you’re happy every second of every day, you’re likely not being completely honest with yourself. Everyone experiences emotional states like disappointment, embarrassment, grief, loss, anger, and frustration. However, not everyone is willing to admit that they feel these things. Even fewer are brave enough to let go and allow themselves to feel whatever it is they feel without shame or reservation.

If you acknowledge and deal with your feelings, you can ultimately live your life in peace. If you don’t, you wind up turning yourself into a human pressure cooker. Repressed emotions have a way of making themselves known in decidedly unpleasant ways. They cause you to behave in ways that don’t seem in line with what you know your character to be. They can drive you to hurt people you love or hurt yourself by getting lost in addictions.

Acknowledged feelings, on the other hand, can be channeled into beautiful things. I’ve transformed mine into art and writing that was therapeutic for me to create, as well as enjoyable for other people to consume. I’ve let those feelings guide me in building a life that taught me what it meant to feel genuinely comfortable in my skin and content — onnellinen. Emotional honesty may not mean feeling happy all the time, but it does mean feeling whole, which is much better.

Happiness is only one dish at the banquet.

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying happiness, and it’s normal to want to feel happy. But happiness is only one piece of a glorious whole. If you cut yourself off from everything else, you wind up like my ex — empty, complacent, and disconnected without even knowing why.

Without anything to compare it to, happiness loses its meaning and becomes impossible to recognize. It’s a beautiful emotion to feel. You’re right to love it and want more of it. Just make sure you’re pursuing it in a way that doesn’t stop you from growing and enjoying a chance at something that’s ultimately much more precious.

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Professional copywriter, blogger, critic, and journalist. Evergreen content on self-improvement, fitness, food, relationships, dating, freelancing, and productivity. Occasional hot takes on news, trending topics, movies, music, and television.

Monterey, CA
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