A remarkable conversation this week with a successful professional woman who purports to never having been depressed in her entire life. As my eyebrows reached for my hairline I wondered out loud how she could never, ever have felt even vaguely miserable during her life. "Never!", she exclaimed, looking at me in shock horror. I decided nonetheless to make sense of her inability to feel sad. Woody Allen famously remarked in Annie Hall (the best film ever?) that if he were to do mellow, he'd start to rot. Perhaps therein lies the key: avoid stagnation in any shape or form because inertia breeds disillusionment and apathy.
My professional friend has been lucky, I would say. She fell in love early with the great love of her life and has been married happily for over thirty years. There is no doubt that a loving marriage brings enormous stability into one's life. Never having to be superwoman and perform extraordinary feats just to survive is unknown to the feminist who keeps saying she can have it her way (or there's the highway). A marriage filled with joy and buckets of happiness is a rare thing but I would argue it comes about more by chance than choice. Not everyone hits the jackpot where marriage is concerned hence the national average of one in three marriages ending in tatters. And let's face it, if your personal life is miserable it's a tad difficult to beam with rays of happiness. The trick is to take divorce in one's stride as a rite of passage and that more often than not, the proverbial s...t must occasionally hit the fan. Becoming bitter after all will just make you sad.
There's another way of looking at those who never feel blue- they're part of a small minority of people with sunny dispositions who remain oblivious to the dark side of life. They're less likely to ask probing questions to themselves or the universe. To not be terribly concerned about 'why am I here?' is not an indictment of hopeless stupidity but rather an understanding that endless soul searching, well, just makes you miserable. Humanity has been searching for thousands of years and there are still wars, murder and mayhem galore.
Let's get one thing straight though: the opposite of sad is not necessarily happy. Although one can claim to never having been depressed that doesn't mean that they're deliriously happy either. It means that they sail through life without encountering bad experiences that make them sad. And there's a reason for that too: if one doesn't stand near to a cliff edge the chances of toppling over it are remote. Remember that a falling coconut will smash your head to smithereens but you need to be sitting under a coconut tree for that to happen. Put yet another way, those who choose the safe option never get to experience depths of despair because they avoid those situations in the first place. Risk takers or those who mash the accelerator are more likely to land on their face, lose everything and find themselves staring into the abyss.
There's another category too - those who are plain unlucky and who attract misfortune and failure. Don't call them stupid or gloat about their choosing their own miserable lot- not so. Life can be an obstacle course and not everyone has the requisite stores of courage, endurance and self-knowledge to win, win, win in the stakes of life. Bad things don't necessarily only happen to bad people either and let's be honest, we are all guilty of making mistakes.
And finally, there are those who choose to be sad. Attention seekers who get a thrill from weeping on their doctor's shoulder and who keep coming back for another prescription of anti-depressants. Self-induced anxiety is a favourite past time for far too many hence the flush pharmaceutical industry. It seems that instead of feeling sad we prefer to be spaced out or indeed, to feel nothing.
So I ask you this: are you sure that you're sad and how would you know if you were happy?
Photo copyright S. van Dalen