Q & A with Katie: Why do we feel bad after good things happen?

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Q: Hey Katie, I have a question. Ever since I got accepted into grad school, I’ve grown increasingly paranoid, like everything is happening so easy. I haven’t had that ever happen. I feel like there’s a great big blimp of shit hovering over me waiting to explode. I’ve been meditating, but there’s this feeling of impending doom. Have you ever felt this way? If so, what do you do?

A: So…I think it’s pretty damn natural to have that “something bad must be coming” feeling, especially when some important things in your life are going great. I certainly have experienced that. It’s a general feeling–no specific worry, just a sense that everything is doomed and nothing good lasts and really nothing matters at all. I think it’s the natural depression pushing back against the happiness of the good news. That is, we THINK we are depressed/sad because of external things in our lives, and that if this one thing happened or that other thing happened, we’d be happy. But depression isn’t about that–it’s both chemical AND, I believe, a common reaction intelligent people have to the dukkha of everyday life. (Dukkha is a Buddhist term, sort of meaning suffering.)

Which means that, while we want to experience the joy of the good thing, there is a part of us that knows deep down that Western ideas of “happiness” are bullshit; the natural state of human existence is dukkha, which I always think of as “an awareness of the future and the past that makes it impossible to live only in the present moment, and the knowledge that most things in our lives are not in our control.” Popular American/Western thought claims that if good things happen to us, we will be happy. But that’s a fallacy. Are all the rich people you know happy? How about all the successful people? Nope. We ALL live with dukkha. So, for me, the solution is the same with good stuff in my life as it is with bad stuff–breathe, notice how I’m feeling, remember that there is a larger “me” doing the noticing, a “me” that is bigger than and unaffected by the things that happen in this world. An eternal “me,” a me that is part of the stars and the world and other people–maybe a Whitman-type “me.”

6 thoughts on “Q & A with Katie: Why do we feel bad after good things happen?

  1. A thoughtful post and a good question, one that each of us may answer differently. It is true that depression does ‘de-press’ positive or hopeful emotions even when good things happen. I think it is also true for people to ask and explore different possibilities. Trauma, PTSD, fear of losing it, emotional numbing, coping difficulties, feeling undeservingly… so many things can interfer with the recieving and accepting good things in our lives. But a question, nevertheless, that deserves a deeper probe : )

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    • Absolutely. Every answer to a question this big is shorthand, and each person has different reactions and different ways of articulating what helps them. I think that’s why we all continue to ask questions and read new thinkers on these emotional issues–we are vastly complex, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically. And no one person has the “right” answer, for sure.

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  2. Reblogged this on Once Upon a Renaissance and commented:
    I like this explanation. I always wondered why, as a child, after opening Christmas gifts, I felt kind of sad. I think that even at a young age, I knew that material things do not bring happiness. Some intelligent people do not seem to have this Dukkha at all and I sometimes wish I didn’t. Great advice to just notice the feelings. Thank you for sharing this. I am re blogging this post to my blog.

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  3. Yes very true to take everything in one’s stride but this seems easy to read than to practice. I have seen people hanging their heads in despair on hearing some bad news but at the same time, advocating for remaining positive in rough weather

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