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Happy or Unhappy…Are Those Our Only Choices?

Happy or Unhappy…Are Those Our Only Choices?

What does being happy mean to you? What does being un-happy mean to you? Most of us walk around thinking that we are either happy or not, which is a bi-modal either/or, black or white, on-or-off way of thinking.

This offers us limited choices for defining our mood. We only have one good choice and one bad choice. Compound this with the constant barrage of news, headlines, and advertisements that tell us we should be happy. We should feel good and positive all of the time. Be up. Be joyous. Just be happy. The pressure we all experience for happiness is tremendous.

But what if you don’t feel up, happy, joyous, thankful, or grateful all of the time? Does that mean you are chronically unhappy? That you are depressed and miserable? That your life is hopeless and you make everyone around you feel down and depressed, too? That you need to see a therapist and start an anti-depressant?

Don’t go there yet. Hear me out. I am here to provide an alternative to this limited way of thinking about our state of mind. I think there is another option besides happy or unhappy.

First, a quick biology lesson on the body’s response to emotion.

Emotions are stressful on the body, and this means all emotions. Happiness, sadness, depression, anxiety, nervousness, joy, excitement - you name it, and it produces stress in the body. The way they produce stress may differ (meaning the specific chemicals and hormones that are released) but the impact on the body, physiologically speaking, is the generally the same.

Homeostasis is the body’s natural state of being in balance and is what the body seeks to attain on a regular basis. Emotions, whether happy or unhappy, take the body out of homeostasis and increase the amount of work needed to get back to a balanced state.

[Related: Another Word for Thinking]

Now, let me introduce the concept of NOT unhappy.

This is a state of being that is neither overly happy nor unhappy. It is a neutral state of being, and generally feeling pretty good. This is homeostasis - a resting state.

Most of the time, we are actually in this NOT unhappy state, just cruising along with our day-to-day lives. But our self- and socially-imposed expectation to be happy at all times derails us from seeing this neutral place.

Running our errands, attending meetings, or going to the gym, we are in a state of neither happiness nor unhappiness. Unless we consciously bring our minds to evaluate and label our moods as either happy or unhappy, we are in this resting of state of NOT unhappy.

Not only do I think this is an okay place to be, I actually think it is a good place to be. This neutral state gives our bodies a physical break from the stress reaction of any emotion and our minds a rest from the constant pressure to be happy. We can simply be.

[Related: For Me, Caring Less Is The Best Form Of Self-Care — Here's Why]

Think about it: Do you need to be happy, up, and positive to clean the house? Or can you just simply be?

Alternatively: Do you need to be miserable, anxious, and uptight in a meeting? Or can you just be - observing, listening, and contributing in a balanced, NOT unhappy way?

Society has laid this expectation on us that we have to be happy all of the time; otherwise, we are unhappy and miserable. Reject this expectation.

We don’t have to buy into this lame and, frankly, unachievable expectation. We can adopt NOT unhappy as an option and realize that we are actually doing our bodies and minds a favor by allowing our emotions to be in a resting state.

Choose to recognize NOT unhappy as an option for your well-being and you will reap the benefits of balance in your life.


Yvette Costa is a certified Professional Coach with over 25 years in corporate America and 10+ years teaching yoga. She is a Happiness Advocate who specializes in helping women be "Happy in Place." Learn more at

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Community Discussion
Malisa Miller Eakins

Love this concept!

June 7, 2018