Depressed, or Just Unhappy?

How can you tell if the low mood you’re experiencing is a sign of clinical depression, or if you are simply unhappy with your current lot in life? Although it can be hard to differentiate between these two mood states, one telling difference is that someone who is unhappy can generally identify a few attainable changes they could make to make themselves happier not the change of winning the Lottery, but rather changing a relationship dynamic, or improving exercise or nutrition habits, or changing jobs.

For example, someone experiencing a clinical depression may also be able to do that, but would struggle to imagine being capable of working up the energy for – or ever achieving – the things that would make them happier.

Depression is often described as a bio-psychosocial disorder, meaning that it impacts all of those levels of our functioning:

  • Biological: appetite, sleep, energy level, sense of physical well-being
  • Psychological: how we think, how we talk to ourselves, what we make of the world and of ourselves.
  • Social: our willingness to engage with (and ability to take pleasure from) the company of others.
  • Spiritual: the sense of meaning and purpose we feel in our lives.

For a light-hearted look at the all-encompassing nature of depression, Bill O’ Hanlon, a writer and psychotherapist, offers the following:

How to “Do a Good Depression”

  1. Stay still, don’t do anything that makes you breathe fast or hard.
  2. Stay in bed if you can; if not, sit in the same chair or lay on the couch.
  3. Isolate; avoid other people.
  4. If you can’t avoid other people, try to talk to the same (preferably also depressed) person or few people. Talk to them about the same topic, usually how depressed and unhappy you/they are.
  5. Sleep during the day and have insomnia at night.
  6. Brood on the past, fears, faults and resentments.
  7. Imagine the future will be the same or worse than the past or present.
  8. Eat terribly; overeat or under eat (whichever one you specialize in), eat junk foods, ie. sugar or fat.
  9. Don’t pursue hobbies, passions, or spiritual interests.
  10. Drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, and/or use other drugs.
  11. Don’t ask for help.

If you think you might be experiencing depression, DO ask for help whether alone or in combination with antidepressant treatment, psychotherapy has been proven effective in the treatment of depression. It can help you get out from under the paralyzing weight of depression to allow you to then work on implementing the changes in your life that will make you happier and has the welcome side-effect of encouraging a deeper sense of self-connection and awareness.

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About Lee Kotsalis-Thulin

With a Master's Degree in Counselling Psychology from UBC, Lee is a Registered Clinical Counsellor and has been working in the field since 1995. In 2003, she founded ModoSano Counselling, a private counselling practice serving individuals, couples, and families facing a variety of concerns. Lee is passionate about health and healing, and practices a counselling approach that is grounded in respect, mutuality, confidentiality, acceptance, and the capacity of every person to heal and transform their lives. Her particular areas of expertise include working with disordered eating and body image concerns, substance misuse, emotional wellness, and relationship disconnect. Lee's belief in being an effective counsellor is having an interesting and balanced life, and she feels fortunate to have a family and circle of friends who keep her energized, curious and grounded.

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