A group of Dutch positive psychologists recently tested the possibility of a co-existence between mental disorders and happiness.
According to the study, 68.4% of the mentally troubled said they “often felt happy,” in contrast to 89.1% of those who “often felt happy” – but didn’t have a mental disorder.
So while it is still easier to find happiness without a mental disorder, there is some evidence that mental disorders and happiness aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.
Researchers had trained interviewers question volunteers about various psychological symptoms they may have been experiencing within the past month. They found that 16.5% of their sample fit into a psychiatric disorder. To test for happiness, the researchers asked only one question regarding how often the participant felt happy, on a scale from “never” to “always.”
(There are some obvious limitations to the design of this study. Asking only one question to measure happiness isn’t very conclusive, at all).
It was found, however, that those who suffered from alcohol abuse reported the same level of happiness as healthy participants. Meanwhile, those who suffered from depression and social anxiety had the lowest levels of happiness – although a significant number of these people still reported frequent happy moods.
The study also followed participants over time and found that those who reported higher levels of happiness at the start of the experiment also showed better recovery from their mental disorders.
I believe the broader lesson in this study is that the co-existence between mental disorders and happiness is indeed possible. And those who may suffer from a mental disorder shouldn’t fall for the “black and white” thinking that their disorder automatically means they will never be able to achieve happiness.
I expect more research about this will come out in the future. And hopefully psychologists and clinicians can continue to come up with better ways to help those with mental disorders still find a happy and fulfilling life.
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