Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 3/5/2023
Can depressed people be happy? It’s a complicated question, and the answer depends on why you’re asking in the first place.
Generally, people wonder whether depression sufferers can be happy for two reasons: 1) they’re curious whether depression is a constant state of sadness, or 2) they’re concerned depression is a permanent condition.
In the big picture, neither is necessarily true — although for people with depression, it can sometimes feel like a constant and endless absence of joy.
Contrary to what you may have heard or experienced, however, depression is not always a permanent state of misery. In fact, people with clinical depression or major depression have a far more complex set of mood symptoms and experiences than just “sadness.” They can even experience joy and happiness throughout their mental health conditions.
As to the question of whether a person can escape depression and make their way back into the world of happiness, that’s a little more complicated. But let’s back up.
To better understand the relationship between depression and happiness, we need to look at the emotional symptoms of depression in more detail. Let’s start there.
Depression is often represented by a mopey little cartoon character with a storm cloud hanging over their head. We’ve all seen it in children’s shows and commercials alike. But according to the National Library of Medicine (NLM), mental health professionals and other experts, depression isn’t really a solid state of sadness. Rather, it can be a range of emotions.
According to the NLM, depression can make you feel many ways besides “sad.” This may include:
Depression, for the record, can also manifest as trouble sleeping, changes in appetite, weight gain, fatigue and more.
One of the most common misconceptions about clinical depression is that when a person is depressed, they’re always sad, glum or down. But in fact, they can experience a whole range of other emotions and even joy — sometimes. Other times, they may just be putting on a good face.
Feeling happy while depressed isn’t unheard of — you might even find joy when positive events occur.
However, if you have major depression or another type of depression, the effects will generally make up a large part of your conscious time, affecting your everyday life.
This leads people to assume that if you’re laughing or smiling one night, you can’t possibly be depressed. But that’s not true. Remember: depression can also manifest as indifference and other states of emotion.
More importantly, depression isn’t always something people wear on their sleeves. There’s actually a term for feeling depression but exhibiting signs of happiness: smiling depression.
Smiling depression isn’t an official term, but medical experts often use it to describe the mental state of someone outwardly happy or content who’s suffering feelings of depression that are well-disguised.
There are also mood disorders that mix depressive symptoms and manic symptoms together, like bipolar affective disorder, also known as bipolar disorder (and previously as manic depressive disorder).
Bipolar is defined not just by its depressive lows but by its sometimes-extreme swings back toward the manic. Manic episodes can appear bright and cheery, though they may also manifest as agitation or similarly energetic behaviors.
To the average person, that may look like they’re having the time of their lives in social interactions. Instead, they’re arguably just experiencing the yo-yo effect of a bipolar condition.
In other words, depressed people can be happy in some circumstances while still struggling with severe depression. Sometimes, that happiness might not even be genuine — it could be poking through the cloud cover.
In any case, parting the clouds isn’t something that just happens on its own. If you want to help a depressed person find genuine happiness regularly and joy in positive events again, they need to pursue treatment.
Depression isn’t curable, but treatment can definitely shift the balance toward happiness and improved mental health when used effectively. Happiness in depression, in other words, is found in treating the condition.
There are many ways to categorize the effective treatments for depression, but experts generally agree that three factors have a major influence on your mental health and, specifically, the outcome of depression treatment. Those three treatment factors are medication, therapy and lifestyle changes.
Let’s start with the simple stuff. Chances are, there are a few areas in your life where you’re not taking the best care of your mind or body. Daily activities have an impact on your mental health and affective well-being.
Things like obesity and poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking, drinking and not getting a good night’s sleep can all mess with your mental health. To be your best in everyday life, you’ll generally want to make sure you’re taking care of the bare minimum.
As for therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a commonly recommended, practical tool for fighting the symptoms of mood disorders like depression.
CBT teaches you techniques and tools for dealing with and escaping negative thoughts that can contribute to depressive disorders. Over time, it can have a big impact on your mental health and give you new meaning in life.
Finally, there’s medication. Generally speaking, antidepressants are considered the best medications for the treatment of depression, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
It’s best to talk to your doctor to determine the best medication options and dosage for your needs. But if you’re curious about all the options out there, you can explore them in our guide to depression medications.
In general, antidepressants work by managing the supply of certain neurotransmitters in your brain to give it the tools to balance a depressed mood, but each works differently. That’s also a conversation best had with a healthcare professional.
Happiness is not a constant state — nobody feels positive emotions all the time. But for people with severe depression who struggle to feel it at all, it’s understandable that finding happiness becomes the goal.
That said, finding it again may present a challenge. Depression is not a curable condition — at least, not yet. It is, however, a manageable condition if you make use of proven treatment options.
The best way to find the most effective of these options for your individual needs is to speak with a healthcare professional about your concerns.
Your depression may respond well to medication, therapy or both. But you won’t know what works for you until you’ve worked with a healthcare provider to try out some options.
As for the happiness, it’ll come. And the sooner you get help, the sooner you can start tracking the delivery progress of the happiness package.
Ready to get started? Our mental health resources and online therapy platform are great places to begin the conversation. Convenient, online support is available whether you’re interested in medication or talk therapy — and we offer both.
If you’re ready to get back on the hunt for happiness, reach out today.