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Will I Ever Feel Happy Again?

Updated: Jun 22, 2023

"Come" (2021) and sit with me. Original acrylic painting by Michael Ong.

A young lady contacted me and said, “I just feel very sad and hopeless today.”

I thought to myself, “She must be going through a difficult day. No actually, it shouldn’t be so tough.” Then I think again, “Yes actually it is very tough.”

Sally (not her real name) has been struggling with anxiety and depression for some time now. Though her symptoms seem mild to me, Sally was feeling very down. Yet too ashamed to confide with her close relationships for fear that her negativism might just push away those that she holds dear. Sally is in her early 20s, a college student. Very intelligent, well groomed, kind and pleasant.

I have seen too many young people like Sally. Capable, talented, and have everything they need to flourish and succeed. But for some reasons, anxiety and depression haunt them.

After chatting with Sally for a while to address her anxieties, Sally asked, “Will I ever feel happy again?”

This question lingered in my heart for a long while, long enough for me to decide to write this reflection.

Will I ever feel happy again?

“Sure you will!” I said to myself. Such swiping statements aren't always helpful. I know them too well. The dark clouds of anxiety and depression are so thick that it is hard to see the silver lining. There is no silver lining. Nor the light at the end of the tunnel. The tunnel feels like a bottomless pit. So I held back my thoughts. As quickly as I held back my thoughts, the very next instance, I replied Sally saying, “You will feel happy again. Someday.”

Sally continued to chat but her voice faded into the background.

“Will I ever feel happy again?”

“Will I ever feel happy again?”

“Will I ever feel happy again?”

These words continue to pound in my mind. A haunting echo that keeps bouncing back.

Will I ever feel happy again?

That conversation brought me back to those dark days I once had not so many years ago. I too had agonized over that very same question “Will I ever feel happy again?” I remembered the doomsday feeling I had with the thought that I will never feel happy again. I was depressed and nothing excites. I couldn’t feel pleasure. I smiled, but my heart was heavy. I went out with friends but felt lonely. I inspired others but wasn’t so impressed with myself. I returned home and just crashed. Totally exhausted from all the energy I had to garner just to be present.

How did I get into such a state? That's for another reflection. Or when I am more ready to tell.

Will I ever feel happy again?

After nearly 5 years of prolonged stress and burnout, my family and I finally had the chance to leave everything behind and took a sabbatical. For how long? I wasn't even sure. But I was determined to get well. I want to feel happy again.

Then again, the question “Will I ever feel happy again?” lingered in my mind as I began my sabbatical. This was June 2017.

Fast forward. March 2020. In the midst of the Covid 19 situation, how am I feeling?

I feel more alive today then when I was deep in my depression some time between 2012 to 2017. That was 5 years of agony. During those days, I believed that I would never feel happy again.

Feeling happy again, I did. I can feel happy even in the midst of Covid 19. No, I am not happy with the Covid 19 situation. The unnecessary death, the major disruptions to life and business, the lost, grieve and fears that thousands are facing are not something to be happy about.

Feeling happy again means I can appreciate little moments of joy. Adorable Vietnamese children’s laughter. A pre-school boy smiling as he cycles up and down the unnamed private road in front of my house. The birds chipping. And the sensation of housefly crawling on my naked legs as I sat out here writing this reflection.

Now how did I get here? I wished I had it all figured out. I wished I could spell them out like “The 5 Steps Out of Depression.” “3 Secrets to a Happier You.” “7 Ways to be Set Free from Anxiety.” Or “The ONE Magic Pill for Your Anxiety and Depression.” No, I don’t have it all figured out. I don’t even know for sure what works.

Maybe it was simply the fact that I dropped everything and moved to a new place? Not everyone can simply just drop everything. Most people have loans to pay off and jobs to keep.

Maybe it was the physical work that I got to do around the yard? Cutting grass, racking up fallen leaves, cutting down trees to make firewood for the winter. It was really fun I must confess. Well, that’s because I was not working nor did I have loans to pay. What was fun for me are chores for most American households. I was getting better sleep again.

Maybe it was mindfulness? Increased tolerance of the loads of negative feelings and thoughts that flooded my restless mind. Journaling the conversations I had with myself. Rereading them and crying over it and found healing in those words I wrote to myself. I felt more aware of myself again.

Maybe it was the books I read? I read and read many books. I find that when I read, I don’t think. I get absorbed into the characters and the plots of the story. Humm, a way to stop thinking is to read! I felt that my mind was able to rest again.

Maybe it was the radical removal of unhealthy habits? Removing Facebook on my mobile phone. Exiting group chats from Whatsapp. Walking away from toxic relationships. Crucifying unhealthy expectations. Rethinking my thinking. Surrendering control. Quit managing appearances. I felt that my heart hurt a little less.

Maybe it was the new habits that I cultivated? Painting with acrylic. Befriending Van Gogh. Baking. Welcoming silence. Enjoying solitude. I felt my soul rejoicing a bit.

Maybe it was the walks at the state parks that I had with my wife? Or the yummy food that she so diligently prepares? Yes, those certainly helped. I could taste and enjoy food again. I felt I love my wife a bit better.

Maybe it was having deep conversations with my mentors? Visiting childhood memories. Sharing about disappointments and hurts. Forgiving others. Forgiving myself. Letting go of unnecessary guilts. I felt I could live with myself again.

Maybe it was those moments I sat alone in my study with the lights off, putting my right hand on my wounded heart and cry over it? The sense of a hand touching and holding my broken heart was consoling. I love myself a bit more. I felt I could breathe again.

I don’t know. It's just MAYBE!

One thing I am sure of though is that small voice that whispers to my weary soul all these while; that though I am deeply broken, I am dearly loved. And that was how I could feel happy again.

Maybe, just maybe you are reading this because you are also asking the same question “Will I ever feel happy again?” My response is SURE. You will feel happy again. Someday.

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