Can you be simultaneously happy and unhappy? Yep.

smile-face-wallpaper morguefileI write a lot about happiness and unhappiness, because many people think if you’re unhappy it may be time for a divorce. But it turns out happiness and unhappiness are complicated, and the blame for unhappiness is often misplaced (on a situation or a person, like your spouse).

A New York Times piece by Arthur Brooks called “Love People, Not Pleasure” sheds more light on the topic of unhappiness and how we often seek it by following our “natural desires”—which paradoxically does not lead to happiness.

“What is unhappiness?” Brooks asks. “Your intuition might be that it is simply the opposite of happiness, just as darkness is the absence of light. That is not correct.” While the two are related, a person can be both happier than average and unhappier than average. It’s not a sum game but rather a collection of feelings (happy feelings and unhappy feelings). You might feel a larger than average amount of both, depending on the day or moment.

Most unhappy people will blame their circumstances, and often they are justified. For example, poverty, physical ailments and feeling oppressed (as with racism) are linked with unhappiness. Twenty percent of Americans blame loneliness as their major source of unhappiness. (I hope that reminds you to reach out to older relatives and neighbors or others who may be lonely.) Regular daily activities can also make you feel unhappy, such as meeting with your boss—the number-one unhappiness-causing event in a typical day.

Sometimes these circumstantial causes of unhappiness (don’t like your job, boss, neighborhood, kids are unruly, etc.) get internalized and may cause you to think you’re unhappy with your relationships as well. Or at a minimum, they can make you feel stressed and tired and looking for a scapegoat. If he/she could just help out a little more you wouldn’t be so unhappy, right?

In the next few posts, I will explore some of the ways Brooks says we go seeking happiness and how they usually backfire. But today, I’m thinking about how when we are feeling unhappy, it doesn’t mean we aren’t also happy. (Weird, huh?) And, yes, we can have a stressful day but also curl up on the couch with our sweetheart and just be glad for the companionship, glad that we are not alone in this world, glad that when we are having a down day, we have someone with whom to commiserate. When you feel the weight of the world pressing against you, think of your spouse as the one on your team rather than another one against you.

How are you feeling right now? Happy? Unhappy? A little bit of both? Chances are you have a certain longing within you and even a certain loneliness inside you. That’s part of our collective human experience and not something to blame on those closest to us. Learning to share those deepest parts of ourselves can deepen our marital intimacy.

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for 19 years. She is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com

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4 responses to “Can you be simultaneously happy and unhappy? Yep.

  1. That is interesting. I did not know that was possible. I believe that happiness is a choice, though.

  2. I don’t think marital vows include that of being happy. Obviously in the majority of cases this should happen in a healthy marriage. But only the fools would divorce because they feel unhappy, or because the other spouse is ill, or by reason of success/failure/money etc.
    And we don’t care about the fools, do we Lori? So, what you said is absolutely linear and normal: I would stranlge my wife of 27 years some 2.3 times per week, to say the very least, much fewer than the times she would happily stab me to death during sleep.

  3. Happiness is PARTLY a choice. But to ignore the brain chemistry involved is simplistic at minimum, and cruel at its worst. I’m sorry but these kids of statements really grate on me.

    • It does not say that happiness is a choice or totally within your control. It says that certain circumstances can legitimately be blamed for unhappiness. The point is that we can feel simultaneously happy and unhappy about aspects of our lives.

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