Chronic Unhappiness
June 22, 2014 9:38 AM   Subscribe

I was curious as to what others have done to find happiness once they have come to a complete system halt? Without going into too much detail, the last two years have been not very much fun. I finished my degree, but nothing really makes me very happy these days. I keep myself busy with volunteer work and I read a lot, but this has not resulted in any lasting happiness.
posted by nidora to Human Relations (25 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
If volunteer work isn't helping, I think you should consider going to a psychiatrist and getting some anti-depressants. If you weren't already doing volunteer work, that's the thing I'd be here suggesting you try first.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 9:47 AM on June 22, 2014

Well, I got treatment for my depression, since that was the root of the problem. Being busy and reading didn't help me, either. Have you been screened, at least?
posted by rtha at 9:48 AM on June 22, 2014

Response by poster: I have done some work on the depression. Learned some new skills with regards to this, also taking antidepressants. That's the hardest part though, low energy, and cognitive fatigue. The cognitive skills that I used to have are no longer there. I just try to think positively, but that has limits as well.
posted by nidora at 9:51 AM on June 22, 2014

I'm not really qualified to suggest this because I suffer from depression myself, but from advice I've been given in the past, have you tried exercise? The running couch to 5k is a great program, I'm doing it myself and have found it helps a little. Also maybe try working on developing some of your current friendships and/or making new ones? You could try having a look on to see if there's any meetups in your local area which meet your interests.

Hope this helps!
posted by fallingleaves at 9:55 AM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

What do you enjoy doing? I hate to sound predictable, but doing that should get you to at least content. I mean, volunteering is nice, but if you're not enjoying it, it's unlikely to make you happy.

What you enjoy doesn't have to be big or complex or an unqualified good for the world, either. I'm about to spend my Sunday watching Netflix. But it's going to be super fun and I'm looking forward to it.

Something has to click your brain's dopamine receptors. Whatever that is, no matter how uncool, do that.

If there's really nothing your brain responds to with enjoyment or contentment, yeah, your depression is not as dealt with as you think it is.
posted by Sara C. at 9:55 AM on June 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

Walks. Exercise.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:55 AM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've been struggling in the past few years, as well, and circumstances have made things much worse this past year. I'm finding help in exercise - I'm almost through with Jillian Michael's 30 Day Shred (which is difficult but also kind of fun, and getting through it is showing me that I'm stronger than I realized) - and meditation. I know it sounds like a canned answer, since it's said so often, but there's truth in the repetition. The exercise is making me physically and mentally stronger (not to mention it feels good to see my body coming back into a shape I approve of), and the meditation is a chance to look inside and explore what makes me feel positive. Quiet meditation can be kind of scary at first, especially when struggling with inner demons, but guided meditations are wonderful - I like those done by Emma Seppala, PhD and The Honest Guys have a large, dedicated following for a reason. Their meditations are wonderful, plentiful, cover many topics & forms, and they post new videos frequently. I find I feel much more centered and peaceful after doing a guided meditation, and a bit less lonely.
posted by AthenaPolias at 10:04 AM on June 22, 2014 [11 favorites]

I would like to suggest a book by the respected social scientist Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness. In the beginning of the book he asks who would be happier 10 years on- a lottery winner, or someone who became a paraplegic? Our common guess is inaccurate and he backs up his work with study after study. The bottom line is that for most people, happiness is about state of mind and acceptance. Good luck in your search.
posted by maya at 10:15 AM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


It is an amazing mood leveler. I've done lots of other exercise (weights, cycling, walking) but nothing improves my mood more than running does.
posted by srboisvert at 10:20 AM on June 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all for the wonderful suggestions! That meditation was very powerful, and I'll continue with the exercise.
posted by nidora at 10:24 AM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: "Happiness" to me is elusive, difficult to sustain, mysterious. What I can control is my inner peace, so I focus on achieving that.

I find peace through a combination of acceptance and momentum. I accept that there is only so much in this world and in my life that is in my control, so I can't take anything too seriously. After recognizing limitations, the possibilities then become clearer.

Since I don't know if anything will work out in the end, I can choose to live a meaningful life I can enjoy in the meantime. I do this by challenging myself to try new things every week, giving myself permission to make mistakes and be lost/depressed once in a while, remembering that line from a Cormac McCarthy book "You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from" to give me perspective.
posted by tackypink at 10:43 AM on June 22, 2014 [10 favorites]

How about music? Sometimes it gives me solace when nothing else does. Sometimes going out dancing (or even the songs that remind me of doing so) can be an infusion of joy that jumpstarts my ability to feel happiness again.
posted by salvia at 10:47 AM on June 22, 2014

What gives me happiness is becoming engrossed in a challenging-but-doable project that has some lasting significance and is very meaningful to me. I know that sounds vague. Maybe the volunteer work isn't cutting it for you because it's not challenging enough, or it isn't rewarding.
posted by alex1965 at 11:02 AM on June 22, 2014

I found happiness in painting. If you have any artistic bent you might try it. It sounds simplistic, but painting and drawing transports you and puts you in touch with happiness.

I guess that finding happiness really has to do with mastering things and feeling "self actualized". You may have some deep feelings about music or art or something else that would easily put you into a state of happiness. Some of us spend years ignoring the things that we know make us feel like ourselves, because the commerce aspect of those things are challenging.

Think back to your childhood and remember what filled you with joy...and promise us that you will do that! :)
posted by naplesyellow at 11:24 AM on June 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

In addition to the excellent advice you have received so far: Go get a physical checkup, a complete blood panel, and, if possible, a sleep study. You might have something going wrong physically that is contributing to your depression and low energy.

Hypothyroidism and sleep apnea are two major physical causes of depression and low energy. There are other, less common, physical causes as well. If something is wrong with you physically, getting treated will give you a new lease on life.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:12 PM on June 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

For me it was food related, specifically an allergy to garlic and onions. Anyway a change of diet is always a good idea if if you have low energy.
posted by bhnyc at 2:06 PM on June 22, 2014

Happiness is very much about the attitude with which you approach daily life. Aside from maintaining a healthy lifestyle filled with activities (meditation is really great; being aware of and feeling connected with your body is going to do you good no matter what state you're in), decent sleep hygiene, a good diet, positive social interactions, and regular exercise... I would suggest assessing things such as how you react to setbacks, how you respond to people you find annoying or don't agree with, how you deal with challenges (or perhaps whether you are being challenged appropriately in general)... in other words, assess your sense of self-efficacy. I think that can sometimes have a lot to do with happiness. This is something you might or might not find easier to do with the help of a therapist.

Something else I have found to always cheer me up: I write thank you cards (or emails) to people who I feel have positively impacted my life, even if it is in a seemingly minor way. It takes only ten minutes, is a great way to reflect, and also helps you stay connected with good people in your life.

Finally: you might qualify for a diagnosis of dysthymia, and as other have mentioned, sometimes antidepressants can help. But the above posters have some good first-line, non-medication-based suggestions! Good luck.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 2:39 PM on June 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

Why are you attempting to find happiness? Our lives have precious little of that. Don't fight for something that chance only gives rarely. Survive, draw what you can from your circumstances and wait for a lucky bunch. Don't torture yourself trying to be "happy" all the time.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:56 PM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

"Complete system halt" is interesting. Sometimes I need a break from everything: my city, my personality, my reading, my whole life. Sometimes I get it by travelling for a week, just wandering around in flipflops, drinking coffee, reading some arcane book like The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, visiting foreign local swimming pools, thinking, doing zazen on hostel bunk beds, taking arbitrary night trains, smoking cigarettes, going to museums, etc, all by myself. Life becomes an adventure again. You wake up, fill your wattle bottle, and immediately step outside with no plan. This also works at home.

Other than that, regular meditation, go to the gym, catch up with friends, explore, ride a bike, actually or imaginarily spoon someone, listen to good music, watch good movies, listen to podcasts (The Partially Examined Life, This American Life, etc), read Henry Miller, read Fernando Pessoa, read poems, bake bread, eat oranges, etc etc etc. I do this stuff not because I'm naturally overflowing with joie de vivre—in fact, I resonate with Phillip Lopate's essay Against Joie de Vivre—but because one has to do something on this earth, and through years of experimentation I've found that this stuff gives me nutrition.

I've also given up on the idea that thinking or reading is going to give me the key to happiness. Not gonna happen. I don't even really care that much about being happy in some clichéd sense. I see it like this: if my mood isn't buoyant enough to let me think about the world's utter fuckedness without feeling totally beat down and miserable, I need to go work the elliptical machine and get some fresh air. This world is generally not a shiny happy place; art, literature, and religion all make this point. But there's a sweetness to it if your body and mind are in tune.

Good food, small victories, something to look forward to, the capacity to relax, some novelty, some friendship, and exhausting one's body every day... That's my recipe.
posted by mbrock at 12:28 AM on June 23, 2014 [6 favorites]

The cognitive fatigue and low energy you mention make me think your Vitamin D might be low. Consider having it checked. I felt like you do for months on end to the point of severe, debilitating depression only to find out is was rock-bottom Vitamin D. The doctor put me on a prescription mega-dose and I felt better within days. after a few weeks, I moved to an over-the-counter Vit D and have been fine ever since.

Best wishes to you.
posted by harrietthespy at 5:38 AM on June 23, 2014

Meditation and exercise are great for the mood.

But it also sounds like you need to regain that sense of wonder and curiosity. I was much like you exactly two years ago, but I now happen to live in a different continent, spend my time learning or speaking four languages, and get up to more adventuring than before (no skydiving yet, though). I'm not happy all the time and I still have a lot of my shit I need to pull together, but my baseline mood has shot up dramatically just because I feel like I'm constantly exploring something new, and I'm always being surprised by something. So it sounds like you need a change. Maybe you need a new environment, or a new activity, or a new job, or a new social group. Anything, really. And don't be afraid to drop current low-priority commitments if they free you up to to explore new possibilities. You don't have to live the life you're living now.
posted by Hawk V at 5:51 AM on June 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

When I've been in a similar funk, the big thing that helped was setting a singular goal/event in the future that I could work towards and look forward to. Planning a trip is often the easiest way to do this, but it could also be running a 5k, etc.
posted by susanvance at 6:04 AM on June 23, 2014

One thing that helped me quite a bit, I mean attitude turn around in less than a week, was taking a vitamin D gel tab once a day. I am a chronic depressive, was in a depressed state for years recently, and was coming out of it because a lot of the factors causing it were finally turning around. I just couldn't get out of the "meh" state of mind, though. I wasn't sad, exactly, just not happy. Nothing made me happy, brought me joy, just kind of an attitude of existing and getting stuff done and going on with the day because what else am I supposed to do?
I read somewhere something about Vitamin D deficiency and a link to depression, and thought why not. Ordered a well reviewed brand from amazon, and within less than a week I actually felt happy creeping back into my life.
It's not a miracle drug, and it didn't cure my life or anything, but wow, I really wish that I had tried this years ago. It made a huge change in my attitude for the most part. I don't think it works with everyone, but for less than $10 and the ease of taking an otherwise harmless pill daily, worth giving a try.
Oh, and for what it's worth, I run and exercise regularly and intensely, eat well, go out, etc., and it helps, but I still had the meh's...
posted by newpotato at 6:33 AM on June 23, 2014

If you're taking antidepressants and still unhappy, and experiencing fatigue and cognitive issues, i think the first place you need to go to is your psychiatrist's office and evaluate whether or not this medication is working for you.
posted by inertia at 9:57 AM on June 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I think that this is a little bit more complicated than what I thought. I have been working out for the last month and am definitely out of shape. Not sure what it is , but I can't get my oomph back when I'm working out. I tire easily and don't feel like I'm able to push myself from a cardiovascular perspective. I am roughly fifty pounds overweight and not sure what to do with the exercise? I don't even break a good sweat which seems strange to me.
posted by nidora at 11:35 AM on June 23, 2014

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