As you’ve probably noticed, it’s wedding season, which for a lot of people means gritting your teeth and fake-smiling through someone else’s joyous occasion. Maybe you’re not thrilled with your friend’s choice of life partner, or maybe you had to spend hundreds of dollars flying to a destination wedding in a place you’d never otherwise visit and are a little salty about that. Or maybe you’re just not in a place — mentally or emotionally — where you can be happy for other people.
And before you assume I feel this way because I’m a bitter spinster who desperately wants to get married, that’s not entirely true — I don’t want to get married. The concept is in no way appealing to me, but that’s a different article completely. What we’re talking about here is feeling pressured to be happy for other people for achieving major society-dictated milestones (like getting engaged, married or having children).
Really, any occasion that involves mandatory fun or celebration — like birthdays, New Year’s Eve, graduations and, yes, weddings — are recipes for disappointment. Going into something expecting to enjoy yourself or be happy for someone basically sets you up for failure if (or when) it doesn’t happen.
But in addition to that — and contrary to what you see on social media — not everyone is happy all the time (or even most of the time, if we’re being honest). We all have difficult stuff going on, whether it’s circumstantial (like family or relationship issues), living with a mental illness or both. Either way, some days it can be hard enough to get out of bed and take a shower, let alone attend a wedding and celebrate other people’s joy.
Naturally, I wondered if my inability to be happy for others was some sort of personality defect or meant that I was a horrible person or maybe (*fingers crossed*) was a symptom of my depression. Thankfully, Dr. Kelly Moore, a clinical psychologist, says that feeling this way is common and normal.
“I am a firm believer in the idea that any emotion is OK, but the way that it is expressed can determine if we handled it in an acceptable way,” Moore tells SheKnows.
OK, so secretly not caring about your friend’s happiness is one thing, but acting on it inappropriately — like, hypothetically via a drunken outburst during the reception — crosses the line. As Moore points out, the great thing about emotions is that they are internal experiences, so we can decide how or whether we want to reveal them. But even though I (usually) don’t reveal or act on these emotions, I still feel some guilt over not being happy for others. This in turn makes me feel even more anxious and depressed about everything.
Again, Moore provides some reassurance, saying, “As much as it might feel socially unacceptable to not feel happy for others, it happens and is probably more common than you think.”
Why does this happen? Am I broken?
Although it was comforting to know this happens to other people, I still wanted to find out why this happens and whether or not it means I’m in some way emotionally broken or, worse yet, subconsciously jealous.
“I think the easiest explanation that folks might jump to is to say that jealousy is what causes people to not be happy for another person,” Moore says. “But that’s too easy of an answer. If we think a little deeper, depression may better explain why this may occur.”
This makes sense: During periods when I’m especially depressed, I don’t really care about anything and just feel kind of numb about everything — including other people’s happy life events.
Moore confirms this, noting that one of the symptoms of depression is anhedonia, which is basically limited ability to really feel any type of emotion — happiness definitely being one of them. Not only that, but depression can lead to low energy and loss of interest in things we normally enjoy, so it makes sense a person dealing with depression may genuinely not be able to feel or show happiness for others, she adds.
Aside from faking it, how can we deal with this?
Thus far, my strategy has been to fake it until I make it through the event, but I've found that can lead to drinking too much or stress-eating candy wedding favors behind a large potted plant in the reception hall. That is really not ideal — alcohol is a depressant, so it’s hardly going to help, and those hard candy-coated almonds can crack a tooth — but luckily, there are other options.
Moore suggests having a confidant who you can go to and share how you’re really feeling when others tell you their good news — someone who won’t judge you and who will be able to hear why you’re not able to be happy for others.
“There is something healing about being able to express our own struggles,” Moore says. “The person you get to be open with should be a judgment-free zone.”
Ultimately, if you end up having to fake it from time to time, just be genuine, Moore advises.
“A simple, ‘Congrats,’ or ‘It’s great that you are doing well,’ is probably the most authentic way to be supportive without alienating those who want you to share in their good news,” she adds.
So if you also find yourself not being able to be happy for other people, fake it if you have to, but also know that nothing is wrong with you and that many other people at the wedding (maybe even your table) probably feel the same way.