Being Happy All the Time Isn’t Normal

February 12th, 2013

By: Dr. Anoosha Avni
Registered Psychologist

An important part of counselling is for clients to come up with a counselling goal that is meaningful to them. When I ask my clients what they’d like to work on during the course of their counselling treatment, the most common answer I get is:

“I want to be happy all the time.”

Who doesn’t want to be happy all the time? (Anyone?)

Yet being happy all the time isn’t normal.

If you followed your mom, dad, teacher, friend, colleague, dentist, or plumber over a 24 hour period, the first thing you’d notice is that they’re not happy all the time. Emotions tend to wax and wane. Good things, bad things, neutral things, annoying things, and unpleasant things can all happen in a 24 hour period.

To show you what I mean, consider Kelly, a fictional elementary school teacher. If I followed her for a day, this is what I would see:

Kelly wakes up feeling tired and groggy because she was up late writing report cards. After a latte and bagel with cream cheese, she feels more alert and content. As the morning goes on, her students entertain her with jokes and funny faces and she laughs and feels happier. One of her female students starts crying because she skinned her knee and it’s bleeding. Kelly starts feeling nauseous as she doesn’t like the sight of blood. She tries to clean up her student’s wound and put on the band-aid as fast as she can while trying to comfort her.

It’s lunch time and Kelly realizes she forgot to bring her lunch. Annoyed, she walks to the nearby deli for a sandwich. On the way there, she runs into a colleague whom she doesn’t like very much. Her colleague wants to gossip, but Kelly doesn’t want to hear any of it. She tells her colleague she needs to run some errands and doesn’t have time to chat. Her colleague rolls her eyes and Kelly feels taken aback by her colleague’s rudeness. She arrives at the deli, orders a roast beef sandwich, and sits down to eat. She walks back to the school feeling full and a bit annoyed at her colleague’s eye rolling.

Mid-afternoon, Kelly feels tired and has a hard time staying awake. After work, she’s excited to meet some friends for dinner at her favourite restaurant. When she arrives at the restaurant, she gets a great table. As she waits for her friends to show up, she starts feeling annoyed because they’re late. When they show up, Kelly feels angry. One of her friends buys her a martini so she feels less angry. Shortly after, Kelly feels annoyed when the server tells her that the butter chicken is no longer on the menu. She chooses the halibut with seasonal vegetables and loves it.

After dinner, Kelly goes home, unwinds, and turns on the t.v. and watches the news. She watches about half an hour and starts feeling sad hearing and seeing stories about famine and civil unrest. She decides to take a bath and starts feeling more relaxed. Kelly ends the night with a phone call to her brother to remind him to pick up their parents’ wedding anniversary gift tomorrow. He tells her he doesn’t have time. She’s frustrated with her brother’s response and tells him that she can’t do it tomorrow because she’s coaching track and field and that he’d better find the time to do it. Kelly goes to bed feeling annoyed and tries to put the thoughts about her brother not following through on his promises out of her mind as she tries to fall asleep.

Did you notice that Kelly wasn’t happy every minute of the day? How could she be? She dealt with some annoyances. She was treated rudely by a colleague. She was disappointed. Kelly’s emotional reactions to the events of her day were normal and to be expected.

The media wants you to believe that if you’re not happy all the time, there’s something wrong with you. Remember that it’s normal to experience both highs and lows during the course of your day. Good and bad things happen. Being sad, angry, or frustrated doesn’t mean you aren’t coping with a situation. In fact, embracing sadness for a short period of time can be a good thing because it helps you think about, and come to terms with, whatever has upset you so you can move on and feel good again.

If, however, your low mood starts to interfere with your regular routine and the way you normally function, talk to a mental health professional. Talking to someone about how you’re feeling can help determine whether you may need professional help dealing with your low mood.

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