Happiness and ADHD

Recently I’ve noticed that being “happy” or striving for “happiness” is a major topic of many conversations. We seem to live in a world where we are inundated by information about being happy. Pursuing it could literally be a full time job! Being someone who has struggled with depression, it has made me wonder what would happen if we were happy all the time, whether unhappiness has a purpose, and if happiness is really the point.

So what would happen if we were happy all the time?

Imagine being one of those people who was always happy (there are some out there). What would that be like? Waking up to greet each day with a smile, and looking forward to whatever the day will bring. Sounds wonderful. I for one would be tempted to stay and delight in that blissful state of happiness and do nothing else.

And when I mean nothing else…I mean just that. Life would be good. I would be happy. And I probably wouldn’t feel the need to change. Or grow or take on challenges that might make me uncomfortable. So I would do the same things every day. Because let’s face it… if I’m happy with things just the way they are, why would I do anything to change that?

Hmmm…almost sounds boring.

fingers coupleLooking at it that way, I am not sure we are meant to only be happy. As a student of science I know that very little we experience as human beings is random. Whether that is physical or mental. It seems that experiencing the entire range of feelings from happy to sad allows us full expression of our emotions. Realizing that happiness is at one end of the spectrum, maybe it’s sometimes okay to also acknowledge being sad. Sometimes…it might even be necessary.

What do we get from unhappiness?

For many people, depression is a common co-occurring condition with ADHD. In fact nearly 50% of people with ADHD experience feelings of low mood, sadness, or hopelessness along with the ADHD symptoms of distractibility, difficulty focusing, impulsivity and restlessness. With these statistics, it seems that UNhappiness is a somewhat normal emotion of ADHD. In fact, I would even go out on a limb to say that it is an important component.

Because while being unhappy is not very fun, there is a richness that comes with its ups and downs. A variety. Being constantly happy would be boring. Boredom is the bane of existence for people with ADHD. We avoid boredom at all costs. Perhaps unhappiness provides us with a range of experiences that keep things from feeling all the same. We realize that if we can’t be happy in that moment, we might as well be experiencing something interesting and different to try to find that feeling of bliss.

We also tend to value things more if we work for them or if they are a challenge. If being happy were easy, would we appreciate it? Unhappiness and dissatisfaction is uncomfortable. Most people don’t like being uncomfortable so we seek out ways to change things, for things to be different. Whether it be in our work, our relationships, our environment, the way we treat ourselves or the way we let others treat us, unhappiness propels us to make changes, learn and grow.

So although being unhappy is not ideal, perhaps it is necessary. Unhappiness, although not recommended as a constant mood, gives us something to push against as we strive for happiness. It is an important part of why people are willing to work so hard and take the risks to make changes personally and in their world.

And is happiness even the point at all?

Having been there, I’m not saying we should pursue or celebrate sadness, but maybe it’s okay to accept, embrace and experience our sadness as being important to living a full life rather than something to escape.

Personally I find it helpful to acknowledge my sadness when I am experiencing it, so I can learn from it and move forward. Nothing is worse for me than putting on a “happy” face.

A couple of years ago I read a book recommended by my daughter’s English teacher. A quote from the book seems to sum things up:

“So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.” Perks of Being a Wallflower

After all, life is full of both richness and sadness and, if we are to live a full and meaningful life, it means accepting all of our emotions – good, bad, happy and sad.

36 Responses to Happiness and ADHD

  1. sherri cannon     May 27, 2014    2:09 pm    Reply

    Thanks for writing this excellent piece from your heart, Laurie. Nothing is worse for me either, than ‘putting on a happy face’. I vote to marinate for a while in the learning, so that the next time, I’ll recognize familiar territory, remind myself of what I know and move on to new learning territory!

    • laurie     July 19, 2014    5:16 pm    Reply

      Thanks for the post Sherri! Keep in touch ~Laurie Dupar

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