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“These newsletters serve a demographic of highly intelligent readers, and deep thinkers with a passion for ideas, critical thinking, and unknown possibilities. The path to finding happiness are among those ideas. Readers of my posts are usually tired of being patronized elsewhere by fact-less, opinionated know-nothings, who complain about everything they don’t like, but lack a willingness to think about, find resources, or create life hacks, shortcuts, and solutions to fix what they don’t like.”


On a personal note: Please excuse grammatical errors, typos, repetition, and any general nonsense, and such in this post. I am getting a bit older now, and I have about 20,000 pages of information that must get published before I leave the mortal coil. I simply write and publish more than my humble editors are able to correct. If you find enough errors you are welcome to contact me about being an editor of my work.
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Q. Lewis, how can you distinguish between sadness and happiness?

A. Let’s begin my answer not in sadness or depression but in the symptoms of happiness, and tips for becoming happy.


The easiest way to become a happy person is to find purpose and meaning in the things you do. The challenge is that it isn’t always easy to do this when you mind is stuck in 1. unhappiness, 2. sadness, and 3. depression.  These three states have many qualities and symptoms in common.

How to become happy is a complex question, with many layers of potential answers.

To begin with, unhappiness and sadness are a normal and healthy reaction to events. Depression is an illness that can be triggered by life stresses, but when the intensity becomes disconnected from external events until you see the entire world through “dark-colored glasses” that is depression


That said, there are many other clear distinctions between unhappiness, sadness, and depression, and subcategories such as mild depression which often has sadness, and unhappiness within it, like a bit of the dragging feeling you get when you first realize you might have the flu. “Why am I dragging along so badly? I feel awful? What is wrong? Why can’t I get anything done?”

Here are three key concepts to make it easier to isolate unique distinctions among the three experiences.

  • Sadness and unhappiness are a part of life, clean, dark, and necessary. Depression is not! It’s mire you can’t see through. It’s not a feeling. It’s a series of systematic symptoms, a syndrome, a condition. Depression is not something you process. It is a mental and emotional boulder that paralyzes you, and can crush you.
  • Depression is often a dark inner voice you cannot trust that tells you “life is not worth living.” It says things like I am stupid. I’m an awful person. I have no friends. No one likes me anyway. The kitchen is way too far away to get the food I want. Fuck it. No wonder no one likes me. I’m useless. Most of these thoughts are inaccurate, or tiny bits of truth blown completely out of proportion. With unhappiness, we can stop this inner conversation with simple techniques. With depression that conversation goes on every second of every minute of every day. You feel worse and worse, which makes it harder to do things, which makes you feel worse. This experience requires serious intervention.
  • Depression is an inability to feel any kind of pleasure. It’s a withdrawal that is not necessarily linked with a reason. It’s an effect without a clear cause. It usually requires professional intervention.
  • Depression is not a reaction, it is a way of reacting. It colors everything and the color it colors everything is gray or black.
  • Sadness is an emotion that comes and goes. It often comes in waves that shift into other emotions like anger and jealousy or grief. Depression is not an emotion.
  • People often use the word “depression” ineffectively. They may claim, “I’m depressed I didn’t get that person to call me back,” but are still going about their lives, complaining about their day, and laughing about other things. They may be unhappy, frustrated, and discouraged, but they are not depressed.
  • If a person is in a medical depression, their ability to access positive emotions is so blocked they can’t even feel happiness, joy, or even intense feelings like anger. When this happens, the positive inner voices are exhausted and disappear. Then negative and dark voices invade and take over your inner dialogue,
  • With depression an intense feeling of “awfulness” or complete numbness replaces sadness, and even unhappiness and utter hopelessness and immobility take over.
  • Clinical depression pulls you away from anything good in your life, dulls colors, and crushes your will.
  • No one knows for sure as to whether there is a genetic component to why people are unhappy, sad, or depressed. All three are known to run in families, suggesting that genetic factors contribute to the risk of developing these patterns. However, research into the genetics of emotion is in its early stages, and very little is known for certain about the symptoms.
  • One thing is clear. We all have and need a whole range of emotions. Antidepressant factors, whether pharmaceutical, herbal, or nutrition, will not make an unhappy, sad, or depressed person happy! They just allow the dial on our emotions to be turned back to the middle instead of way down into darkness and numbness!
  • Depression and sadness are not due to weakness and lack of motivation. Unhappiness maybe!
  • You cannot, in general, see that a person is depressed, sad, or unhappy! They usually look normal and can usually hide their symptoms behind a smile and a happy public disposition because many people don’t understand what they are feeling.
  • If you are constantly unhappy, sad, or depressed ask for help, see a psychiatrist, therapist, life coach, mentor, or even your family doctor. You may not need medication, but you almost certainly can benefit from some help!
  • Sadness is just a basic human feeling, like happiness. You feel it but usually, it’s temporary. Then you move on.
  • Sadness and unhappiness are generally soft with some hard peaks that last a short time. Depression is hard as a rock, lasts a long time, and brings with it a sense of hopelessness, and desperation.
  • Sometimes you are depressed but think you are passing through a phase of sadness or unhappiness that will soon end. But it doesn’t end. You soon become aware that you have entered a ghastly state with plenty of side symptoms. Maybe you’ll wake up at about 3 am, unable to get back to sleep. The next day you feel like a zombie, unfocused, lost, exhausted, and depressed. This pattern then repeats endlessly.
  • With depression, you may become constantly anxious, unable to express your ideas very well. The chatter of the fluid conversations around you may make you both irritated and isolated.
  • With deep depression, there is no laughter? You may even envy those happily laughing around you while you remain trapped and encased in grimness, you no fun to be around.
  • The proper integrated program is the key to curing one’s sadness and unhappiness. Talk therapy alone will not do the job.
  • One good thing about Depression: it will show you who your real friends are. They are the ones you feel comfortable around. They know you’re hurting and they want to help. The rest of humanity? Irritants to one degree or another. The worst part is when you share an account of your depression and the other person says something to the effect, “Oh, we all get the blues.” Sure, but some of us get the blacks!
  • Sadness is an emotion tied to a specific event (for example, the death of a loved one), and depression is more of a response mechanism—although sadness is also part of depression.
  • In this course, I prefer to think of unhappiness, sadness, and depression as umbrellas that harbors many types of feelings, behaviors, and responses to external stimuli. It is that depression goes much deeper, the cause is more a mystery than unhappiness and sadness, and depression is more likely to affects a person physiologically, from over-sleeping/under-sleeping to chronic back pain and even heart conditions. Drinking more than usual and/or drug use is a part of depression. Living in the past (too much nostalgia).
  • With chronic depression, there’s often a lack of attention to personal hygiene. Guilt and loss of self-esteem are a part of depression. Most would agree that these symptoms are only vaguely related to unhappiness sadness. Feeling unemotional, as many others have listed, is typical of depression.
  • Research indicates Around 10 percent of the population has something called smiling depression, which means that they can function in society and perform all of the tasks and responsibilities we associate with self-care and care of others. Here a person is skilled at going through the motions and doing what needs to be done. You’d never guess they’re depressed because they put up such a good front.
  • In some, unique and complicated forms of depression the suffering individual is not sad, although they may have their moments. These individuals still feel a strong love for others, yet it is very to reach out to them. The depressed individual may start over-sleeping. Then they may have strong nostalgia for early times while worrying excessively about the future. These individuals will seldom describe themselves as happy, and even stop caring about their own happiness, or the purpose or meaning of their life.
  • Feeling sad or unhappy is seldom the same as being depressed. Sadness or unhappiness is a human emotion that all people feel at certain times during their lives. Sadness is common to all who suffer great loss or those who are particularly sensitive to the troubles of others and the world. It passes.
  • Feeling sad or unhappy is a natural reaction to situations that cause emotional upset or pain. There are varying degrees of sadness or unhappiness. But, like other emotions, like fear, joy, or frustration, sadness and unhappiness are temporary and fade with time. In this way, sadness, or unhappiness differs from depression.
  • Chronic, clinical Depression is a long-term mental illness. It impairs social, occupational, and other important areas of functioning. Left untreated, symptoms of depression may last for a long time.
  • Depression is the inability to enjoy normally enjoyable activities and feelings of sadness that last for an extended period of time. There are more symptoms, but that’s it in a nutshell.
  • Depression is a serious illness that can put profound stresses on the individual both mentally and physically; sometimes requiring intervention by those in the medical field and or mental health professionals. Its severity can vary widely from person to person and may require medications or therapy.
  • Sad – being sad is a short-term feeling. It gets faded if somebody cracks a joke for you/ take you out for a movie or by making other efforts to make you happy.
  • Depression- It’s a long-term sadness. We can’t even get a joke if we are depressed, we are in a state where nobody can make us happy.
  • Sadness more often comes from an external source: a death, a betrayal. Depression sits within your own heart and head and even if you are in the middle of the biggest most colorful, fun festival filled with music and dancing and food… nothing will move your heart and you’ll leave.
  • Depression is more like soul death. Sadness hurts but it passes in time if one accepts the situation. Depression also will often come and thankfully-also go. But I think the latter is more of an emotional problem than something outside oneself that causes sadness.
  • Depression? Sadness? Unhappiness? It’s about the reason. Depression shows up for no apparent reason. Sadness and unhappiness is a reaction to some person, place, or thing.
  • The basic difference between being sad and depression is the way of thinking in both states. When a person is just sad because of unfavorable situations he will be termed as sad only whereas when he starts thinking negatively over the situations, he is termed as in depression.
  • Depression is a state; which has to do with mental functions. Here, the mind is not able to perceive things correctly and a person may feel consistently low. Mostly, it is a medical condition.
  • If you constantly have regrets about the past, (broken marriage, broken heart, betrayal, sudden death of near one, failure, etc); and expectation (I want this, that, in this way, at this time) you will likely be sad and unhappy. Repeat this pattern and you are likely to fall into depression.
  • Chronic depression is an abnormal and dysfunctional state. It is a mental illness that needs attention. It is not regular and not everyone experiences it. This phase makes you sad about every little thing. It not only makes you sad, but it also takes away your mood and any sense of happiness. You become moody and irritable all the time. Depression touches each and every aspect of your life. You cannot will it away, or do some motivational or inspiration “hack.”It does not go away just like that. It is a long-term toxic relationship that stays with you.
  • Sadness is a mood, usually caused by some form of loss. Depression is the absence of mood (as you mentioned in your question details), which you often hear people describe as “graying out,” or “numbness,” or “feeling like a zombie.” It’s often accompanied by recurring sadness, anxiety, and anger in some combination, but these are reactions to the depression, not the depression itself.
  • Sadness lifts after a time when the cause goes away or is reconciled to. Depression persists for a month or more, even years, and when it does lift for a time, it soon comes back again.
  • Sadness is a part of the standard complement of healthy human emotions. Depression is a chronic mental disorder that seriously eats into our quality of life and our ability to enjoy our friends, our work, our leisure, and our favorite activities.
  • Depression is a recognized medical issue. If you think you suffer from it, see your doctor or a trained mental health professional for advice. The problem is shared by millions of people, and there are good treatment options today.
  • If there is a reason for you feeling low or disheartened or grieving and you become normal and happy once the reason is over/finished, it’s sadness, and unhappiness. It is not depression.
  • If you have no reason in the world to be sad and all the reasons to feel right, but still end up feeling misplaced and wrong all the time, literally; you are depressed. Sadness, on the other hand, is an emotion that comes and goes. It often comes in waves that shift into other emotions like anger and jealousy or grief.
  • Sadness is an emotion, depression is not.


The Takeaway

Once you realize that unhappiness and sadness are reactions to something; that thing could be minor (e.g., someone didn’t call you to wish you a happy birthday).  You have begun the process of happiness. A person can be sad about one thing, and unhappy about other things. The key then is to find meaning and purpose. One way to do this is to serve others.

If you think that you may be depressed, rather than just sad or unhappy please see a qualified mental health professional diagnose you.



Author: Lewis Harrison is a practical philosopher, an Independent Scholar, and a Results-Oriented Success Coach. He has a passion for knowledge, personal development, applied game theory, self-improvement, creativity, innovation, problem-solving, functional medicine, natural healing, and story-telling. He is a practitioner of Transmoderm Zen. Lewis Harrison is also a speaker, best-selling author, and the creator of the Best Course to Happiness…at Last.


This newsletter is an excerpt from the Best Course to Happiness, at Last

Click on the Smiley face just below or go to the link below the smiley face  to learn more about the course …



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