How to Live Happily in a Depressing, Soul-Crushing, Constantly-on-Fire World

Jeff Guenther, MS, LPC on Sep 16, 2020

With all the unbelievably horrible things going on in the world these days, how can you live a happy life? The honest answer may be that you simply cannot. Not being happy, and instead being filled with despair and helplessness, is a completely normal reaction to the state of our world.

I’m sitting in Portland, Oregon writing this blog post while being forced to stay inside because my state is literally on fire and the air quality outside is considered hazardous. Portland has been in the national news and a favorite target for Trump while we’ve had nightly marches protesting police violence. There is a daily onslaught of upsetting events sent as notifications to our phones at all hours. The upcoming election brings fears of riots and violence no matter which side wins. As a therapist, I’m watching my clients cry hysterically as they do their best to navigate their lives.

So the question is, can you be happy in a depressing, soul-crushing, constantly-on-fire world? Even though it can be incredibly difficult, I think the answer is yes. I’m going to go over five ways you can turn that (rightfully!) fear-induced anxiety-ridden perma-frown upside down!

Disclaimer: All or some of the following suggestions may not be able to be put into action because each one takes a certain amount of privilege to pull off. If your basic needs are not being met, if your life is in danger, if you are being threatened or attacked because of your ethnicity, sexual orientation or any other reason, then these suggestions may come off as tone deaf or unrealistic. I understand, and more on that to come.

Let’s get metaphorical

Sometimes the best way to feel optimistic is to get behind an apt metaphor. One that resonates with me is “When a seed sprouts, it’s a violent process.” The skin must split in two. Something has to die in order for something to be born. What’s happening right now in our society, and in the world, is violent. It’s violent on all levels. Change needs to happen, and sometimes it happens in an abrupt and violent way. I’m not saying it must be physical violence. There are other forms of violence. But physical violence may be a part of it. As uncomfortable and tragic as it might be, violence may be needed in order to create real change.

Does this justify any of the deaths that have occurred because of this needed change? Of course not, but it may put things in context for you. Does this sound like an opinion coming from a very privileged person? Yes, 100%. I have suffered but I have not suffered violence or near-death. I still have money in the bank and a roof over my head. But things are changing; our world is changing. Racism, capitalism, sexism and many other forms of oppression are being pushed to the surface for everyone to examine. The old ways of living can not be sustained. New ways of living that are just and equal will replace the old. I can’t wait to contribute to a new way of life and be present for the unfolding. Take the time to trust that things are changing for the better even though it’s hard right now.

Turn everything off

Don’t want to be inundated with bad news? Simple! Turn all your news alerts off. Stop checking your phone. Stop talking about the world ending. Just do your thing; live your life. Make a decision not to check the news until after the election. Does this sound impossible? Of course it does. No way I could do this. However, I do have some clients who have done this (clients that are privileged enough to lead lives where they are actually able to do this) and they’ve reported to me that they’re happier because of it. So, go for it. Even if you can only do it for a few days or a weekend, I recommend going cold turkey and turning everything off.

Find your opportunity

I’m like every other cliche therapist when I reframe hard times into opportunities. What’s the opportunity here for you? The world is falling apart, our routines have been shattered, nothing makes sense and there’s no timeline to get back to “normal”. Has anything opened up to you that wasn’t there before that you want to take advantage of? Where can you grow that you haven’t been able to until now? Personally, I’ve been more isolated than ever. My isolation has allowed me to dive deep into my own spiritual and meditation practice. I feel like a more well-rounded person because of it. I’ve also experienced despair on levels I’ve never touched before–– despair that has motivated me to seek answers from spiritual and metaphysical literature. I feel a ton of gratitude to be in a privileged position where I can explore and grow my spiritual practice. What can you do that will create more meaning and purpose in your life?

Get more intimate with your partner

Are you spending a ton more time with your romantic partner? Now is the chance to deepen your connection. Ask those 36 questions that cause couples to fall deeper in love, or grab the new book 8 Dates from the Gottman’s and dive into prompts that will allow you to learn important details about what your partner wants in your relationship. You can also decide to have a bunch of sex… like, sex every day. Talk about your sexy fantasies together and all the fun things you want to do in order to spice things up. Prioritize pleasure in your relationship and see where your imagination takes you. It never hurts to up the amount of dopamine and oxytocin in your brain. Intimately connecting to your partner is a great way to do that.

Choose happiness

I know you maybe don’t want to hear this, but you have a choice. You can choose to be happy. Can you be happy 100% of the time? No, probably not. But you have the choice to be happy more often than you think. You can choose how to respond to your situation. You can be angry. You can be sad. You can feel frustrated. Or you can feel happy and filled with gratitude. You can choose to appreciate that you are alive right now. You’re a living, breathing person having a ridiculous, crazy, dramatic and amazing life. Things are bonkers right now, but you get to decide how you want to feel at this moment. You may not have a lot of power over your situation at this moment, but you do have power over your emotions. And right now you can choose to be happy. You can choose to be optimistic. You can choose to be helpful and fight for the revolution. You can choose to be proud of yourself and empower people to do the right thing. Choose how you want to feel instead of allowing outside factors to make the choice for you.

One more time with the privilege

For everyone that hates to hear about privilege, you can stop reading and close this tab now. But I gotta just say one more time, some people aren’t living in a privileged situation or a privileged body that allows them to make choices like these, mentally or physically, to be happy during these times. I know that and it’s not fair. I hate it and I get angry about it. I hope and pray things change in a real, meaningful way so people who aren’t as privileged as me and others can experience the freedom and opportunity, mentally and emotionally, that I experience every day.

Jeff Guenther is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Portland, OR.

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