It’s possible to live with depression and feel happy at the same time. Sadness isn’t the only depression symptom.
If you’re living with depression or know someone who is, you may think that the main symptom is a perpetual state of sadness.
You might also assume that it’s impossible to experience happiness when you have depression. But these are common misconceptions.
“It’s absolutely possible to be both happy and depressed at the same time,” says Michele Goldman, PsyD, licensed clinical psychologist at Columbia Health and media adviser at Hope for Depression Research Foundation.
Learning more about how depression can manifest, including the spectrum of possible emotions you can experience, might help you better understand your diagnosis.
Is it possible to experience formal depression symptoms without feeling sad? Yes, absolutely.
If you’ve received a diagnosis of depression, but you don’t always feel hopeless or sad, trust that you’re not alone. And your experience of living with depression isn’t invalidated because of that.
“Some people [with depression] are less hungry, and some have increased appetite. Some have insomnia, and some have hypersomnia,” says Goldman.
This means that not everyone experiences the same depression symptoms or intensity.
Other folks living with depression may feel anxious or angry, too, says Goldman. “It can [also] be difficult for some to connect to sadness or experience sadness because of biology, cultural upbringing, [or] societal values.”
Goldman says depression is still real and valid whether or not you have any of the following experiences:
- genuinely laughing at a joke
- suddenly crying after laughing
- moments of happiness and joy
- feeling an absence of sadness
- easily accomplishing tasks one day but not the next
“Depression can be experienced differently, so acknowledge that your experience is legitimate,” she says. “This doesn’t mean that you’re not experiencing depression – it solely means that your depression is manifesting in a specific way.”
In every case, symptoms of depression can be managed, and treatment is available.
The difference between sadness and depression
Sadness is an emotion, while depression is a mental health condition.
According to Goldman, another prominent difference between sadness and depression is intensity.
“Depression is a longer-term, more intense type of sadness that impacts the way in which [you] function. Whereas sadness might be more fleeting, depression can feel more pervasive,” she explains.
“We all experience sadness at times. Not all of us will feel depressed, however.”
Depression is a formal mental health condition that manifests with several emotional, physical, and cognitive symptoms.
Alternately, human emotions can be fluid and ever-changing.
“We all experience emotions differently, and emotions can be complex, but it’s certainly possible that we can experience seemingly opposite emotions simultaneously,” says Goldman.
Your ability to tap into a range of emotions, including sadness and happiness, depends on many factors. For example:
- how severe your symptoms of depression are
- which type of depression you’re living with:
- if you have any other co-occurring health conditions
“Treating depression versus [living] with depression without treatment can certainly play a role in how permanent and fixed the depression might feel,” says Goldman.
Certain mental health conditions also involve changes in mood and episodes of mania, like bipolar disorder.
“There are no specific mental health diagnoses that enable us to have seemingly opposing emotional reactions at the same time,” Goldman says. “That happens to all of us, mental health conditions or not.
“Nothing with emotions is permanent, despite how it may feel. We’re emotional beings with many layers of complexity,” she adds. “Emotions aren’t always logical, so we need to recognize that and practice acceptance for whatever we’re feeling.”
Treatment may help you reconnect with happiness
Medication and mental health resources like therapy or support groups could help relieve symptoms of depression and increase the likelihood of experiencing more positive emotions like joy and happiness.
“Connection, understanding, and empathy with a therapist can go a long way when you’re in the depths of depression,” she adds, noting that it can also help you to:
- learn coping skills
- track your changes in mood
- have someone to talk with so you don’t feel alone
The difference between joy and happiness
The difference between joy and happiness also boils down to intensity.
“Happiness is something that is commonly felt and often based on circumstance,” explains Goldman. “Joy, however, is a stronger, less common emotion.”
She also notes that some researchers suggest that joy isn’t necessarily related to circumstances but an attitude adopted and experienced internally.
What’s the difference between high functioning depression and feeling happy when living with depression?
“High-functioning depression is a common term that refers to individuals with a more persistent type of depression, which isn’t debilitating or incapacitating,” explains Goldman. “These folks are able to go to work, have relationships, and function relatively well in society.”
She notes that this can differ from someone with major depressive disorder or clinical depression who, among other symptoms, may experience:
- days without being able to get out of bed
- having a hard time maintaining personal hygiene
- being unable to perform work or school-related tasks
It’s also important not to confuse feeling happy when having depression with living with smiling depression, which is also sometimes called masked depression.
“Smiling depression isn’t a clinically recognized term but describes someone living with depression while outwardly appearing happy or content,” adds Goldman. Masked depression can also refer to a person denying or hiding their symptoms.
Depression manifests differently for everybody. But more fundamentally, as human beings, we can experience the spectrum of emotions at any given moment for any reason, with or without a mental health condition.
Also, sadness isn’t the only symptom of depression. You could have depression without feeling sad.
Whether you’ve accepted a depression diagnosis or still learning about your mental health symptoms, your ability to smile, laugh, or feel moments of happiness doesn’t counteract or negate the other symptoms you experience because of the condition.
So, if you’ve ever asked yourself, “Can I be happy and depressed?” Rest assured that the answer is yes.
“If you have questions about your own emotional experiences, consider speaking with a mental health professional,” suggests Goldman. “Even just a few sessions might help to become more aware of emotions, the purpose and function of emotions, and how to manage emotions in a more helpful way.”