The World Health Organisation states that: Health is a state of mental, physical and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or illness.
What is happiness?
Happiness is a reactive response to circumstances, we are not “happy” for instance when we stub our toe or the cat dies. Demanding to be in a constant state of happiness is utopian and inconsistent with our reality. Often “happiness” measurements in the field of psychology are a measure of wellbeing or quality of life. We have categorised them under different headings as follows.
Our minds require exercise just as our bodies do. We exercise our minds through new ideas and activities to encourage mental stimulation and increase as well as maintain motivation as we go through life.
Having low energy is a symptom of poor well-being. Sometimes this is through lack of good nutrition and exercise. It can also be due to harmful habits such as excessive drug and alcohol use. Other times it is may be due to the impact of life events which trigger an unhealthy negative stress response and disturbed sleep.
Emotional Health and Well-being
Emotional health and well-being includes your self-worth, your attitudes and beliefs about yourself, others and the world. This can be healthy or unhealthy.
When our lives have a sense of meaning and purpose we have a greater sense of contentment. We do this by identifying our beliefs and values and creating healthy goals and aspirations and by understanding and striving for the things that are important to us.
We feel happier when we become creatively absorbed and when we have enlightened self interest. One of the best ways of having enjoyment is “loving”. You can be creatively absorbed in loving people, animals or art for example.
Another key aspect for happiness is the pursuit of enlightened self interest. This is about pursuing your personal desires and wants whilst accepting that other people have the right to do the same.
Depression, chronic unhappiness and sadness
Chronic unhappiness can be either depression or sadness so a thorough clinical assessment is required. Below is the difference between depression and sadness.
Depression is a mood disorder, comes in many types and variations, has different triggers and often needs to be treated through therapy alongside medication. Mood disorders include depressive disorders as well as bi-polar disorders. As therapists, we need to ensure accurate assessment, preferably made by a Consultant Psychiatrist, and work with medical as well as other mental health professionals to treat it effectively. A combination of medication and evidence based therapy like CBT, including REBT work best for some people with depression.
Depression has very distinct differences from sadness; during depression you can only focus on negatives, you think you are a failure and the future is hopeless. During sadness, you can think of both the positives and negatives and you can see the potential for you to move forwards in the future.
According to Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) theory, all of us have two types of thinking patterns or beliefs, beliefs that are healthy (rational) and beliefs that are unhealthy (irrational). Healthy beliefs lead to emotional well-being and enable you to achieve your goals and to move on and heal yourself when something bad happens. Beliefs that are unhealthy lead you to feel stuck and sabotage your healing.
Healthy beliefs are flexible and are based on the things that you want, like, desire and prefer but they are realistic. An example of a healthy belief about loss may be ‘I would have liked not to have lost my relationship but I accept that I did. This does not mean I am an unworthy or a failure. I’m worthy but fallible. My worth does not depend on my loss’. Essentially, you do not put a condition on yourself despite your loss or failures. This type of belief leads to sadness about the loss but not depression.
Unhealthy beliefs are the opposite of the healthy ones. They are inflexible, based on MUSTS, HAVE TO, GOT TO, NEED TO, ABSOLUTELY SHOULD. They are unrealistic and unhelpful because they do not allow you to accept loss or failure, whether real or perceived. An example of an unhealthy belief about loss may be ‘I absolutely should not have lost my relationship. The fact that I did proves I’m a failure and worthless’. This type of belief would provoke depression about the loss.
So what’s at the heart of feelings of depression and sadness? It is our beliefs. This is good to know because we can change them. It means that change is possible in the here and now. It shows that we can free ourselves from negative and unhelpful thinking patterns and behaviour.