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'Flat' feelings assessed
As we leave the Christmas season and all of its craziness and hype I have come to the realization that my experience of it was totally flat. Not happy, not sad, not joyous, not miserable, just flat.
I am not sure what this is or if it is anything. I think I have been having this feeling for a while now that I have noticed it. I feel like I am going through the motions rather than really living my life. I am going to see the doctor to see whether there is anything medical going on.
There have not been any big changes or events in my life that can explain how I feel. My family and friends are all well. Work is OK. Perhaps I am depressed, I do not know. What do you think?
The symptoms that you describe may or may not be depression.
Seeing your doctor to discuss what you are experiencing is a good place to start. They are able to help you explore whether or not this is depression or is something else.
Once medical causes are ruled out, however, you may still be left with the experience of feeling flat. As you say, not happy, not sad. The question I think you are asking then becomes, then what?
There is a growing body of research and literature in an area called positive psychology that has been interested in trying to find an answer to this very question.
Martin Selligman, one of the founders of this area of psychological inquiry, suggests that psychology and its related professions have been focused on understanding and treating misery with the assumption that if we can eliminate misery then people will be happy.
He argues, however, that this has not happened. Happiness has not increased.
Consequently, Selligman suggests that instead of existing on the same continuum, that misery and happiness are completely separate things. People do not necessarily become happy once their depression, anxiety or other condition is addressed.
Positive psychology argues that happiness is something that we can learn how to create and is something that we can intentionally improve with some focused effort.
Researchers have focused on five main areas that they suggest contribute to well being and happiness. These areas, although described differently by different researchers, are described by Selligman as: positive emotions, engagement, meaning, positive relationships and achievement.
When people have these things in their lives they report greater levels of happiness and life satisfaction and they experience greater health as compared to others.
This is still an emerging field of study and while the research is becoming more compelling, there are others who would dispute the findings.
Regardless, this research raises some interesting ideas that may or may not be of some help to you.
You can think about whether or not there are things you can do to improve your experience in one or more of these five categories.
Positive emotion is about fun. Engagement is about having things that engage your mind, body and focus in positive ways. Meaning is about purpose in our work and personal lives. Positive relationships is about our family, colleagues and friends, and achievement is about accomplishment.
Are there things that you can do or start to do to improve your experience in one or more of these areas? Are there areas that are less present in your life than you would like? What are some small things that you can do each day to create more of these things in your life?
There are lots of resources and ideas from this area of inquiry on the Internet. Like many things on the Internet, some of these resources are better than others. They offer a starting point if some of what I have introduced here is of interest.
Regardless, talking with your doctor is a good place to start. They will be able to help you rule out any medical causes and they will be able to provide you with some feedback and suggestions for further support.
I hope you are able to find something that helps you feel better soon!
To ask a question of the counsellors, for a response in future columns, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Consult a Counsellor is provided by registered clinical counsellors Nancy Bock, Diane Davies Leslie Wells, Andrew Lochhead and Sara-Lynn Kang at pacific therapy & consulting inc. It appears every second Thursday in the Record.