It takes courage to be happy in a sad world!

Posted by Rex Alexander on Sun 11 Feb 24 in Acceptance, Depression, Happiness, Irrationality in the arts & media, suicide, ULA, UOA, USA |

It takes courage to be happy
in a sad world!

I wrote this yesterday for someone who struggles with depression.  While I reckon no one would ever accuse me of being Little Mary Sunshine, this is a message of hope, albeit expressed in an oblique way. Please share your thoughts and feelings.

If you prefer, you can skip ahead to watch a brief clip and read the transcript from Woody Allen’s brilliant film Annie Hall. Then return to read my full post which will resonate more after watching the clip.


A Religious Science minister I used to watch on TV in Hawaii from time to time was fond of saying  “It takes courage to be happy in a sad world!” It is a homily that rings true for me, especially these days.

Even in more placid times, there is never a shortage of tragic, shocking, immoral events and situations for (some) people to dwell on and become depressed over.  On the other hand, surprisingly, even under very stressful, chaotic, dangerous periods such as World War II, (clinical) depression was not a typical reaction. Although WW II was before my time, I suspect that people who became immobilized by depression were regarded as self-indulgent, shirking the responsibility to rise to the occasion and do their share in the war effort. If the venerable Dr. Gunars still tunes in here, perhaps he can comment as someone who was in Europe during the war and survived and went on to heal and prosper.

Of course, that is not all there is to the story, but if you choose not to kill yourself (and I am glad that you have chosen to live and  hope that you continue to choose to live), the first and vital step is to begin to come to grips with the idea that you largely (although not entirely) upset yourself by your theories, preconceived notions, irrational core beliefs, distorted thinking, and negative automatic self-talk (NAT) about the events of your life.  It is important to “buy into” the major premise of REBT that events do not upset us, but rather we (largely) upset ourselves by the way we think about those events.

I highly recommend that you read, if you haven’t already, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.  It is one of the very best gifts of gratitude you can give yourself and your loved ones. You can get it in paperback and on kindle.

And some important additional titles which will help clarify this important and sometimes painful issue.






Man’s Search for Meaning
by Viktor E. Frankl
4 1/2 hearts

Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s memoir has riveted generations of readers with its descriptions of life in Nazi death camps and its lessons for spiritual survival. Between 1942 and 1945 Frankl labored in four different camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished. Based on his own experience and the experiences of others he treated later in his practice, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. Frankl’s theory-known as logotherapy, from the Greek word logos (“meaning”)-holds that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, as Freud maintained, but the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful.

At the time of Frankl’s death in 1997, Man’s Search for Meaning had sold more than 10 million copies in twenty-four languages. A 1991 reader survey for the Library of Congress that asked readers to name a “book that made a difference in your life” found Man’s Search for Meaning among the ten most influential books in America.


From a kind of cynical perspective, we are all sort of “victims.”   We are not God. We didn’t create the world we find ourselves in and were not even consulted on how things should be organized. We just found ourselves here like “strangers in a strange land.” I sometimes joke that if were God, I would have set the place up be a lot like Disneyland, where everyone was kind and loving, cute and polite, where everything was spotlessly clean, and where every story had a happy ending. But I was not consulted, nor were you, and there is a LOT of stuff I could permanently upset myself over if I chose to. Let’s start with the pillow that you sleep on at night. Inside there about a millions of nearly-microscopic creatures devouring one another! And lets not forget those dust mites grazing on the skin you shed! Looking at magnified images of that microscopic world, reveals scenes of carnage that make Stephen King seem sappy and unimaginative! The entire evolution of life on this planet seems based upon predation, and extends all the way up the food chain through human society.  Sooner or later, we all get eaten! . . .   if you want to look at it that way!  And don’t get me started on Fox News!


There is a scene in the brilliant Woody Allen film Annie Hall where Mother brings ten year old  Alvy (Little Woody) to the doctor because he is depressed and has stopped doing his homework. 


MOTHER: He’s been depressed. All of a sudden, he can’t do anything.

DR. FLICKER: Why are you depressed, Alvy?

MOTHER: Tell Dr. Flicker. It’s something he read.

DR. FLICKER: Something he read, huh?

ALVY: The universe is expanding.

DR. FLICKER: The universe is expanding?

ALVY: Well, the universe is everything, and if it’s expanding, someday it will break apart, and that will be the end of everything.

MOTHER: What is that your business? He stopped doing his homework!

ALVY: What’s the point?

MOTHER: What has the universe got to do with it? You are here in Brooklyn. Brooklyn is not expanding!

DR. FLICKER: It won’t be expanding for billions of years yet Alvy. And we’ve got to try and enjoy ourselves while we’re here, huh? Huh? Ah, ha, ha, ha!



The thing that makes this scene so funny and insightful and disturbing is that we recoil from hearing this sort of nihilism coming from the mouth of a ten year old child. However, this ten year old child is destined to become the neurotic adult  character we know so we are so familiar with.


So, is the question itself inherently neurotic?  If the universe is expanding and will someday tear itself apart, what is the point, anyway?


Brief clip from Woody Allen’s brilliant film Annie Hall

This short scene is very funny, but also very poignant because of the absurd juxtaposition. On the one hand, we have entropy which is a plausible enough theory, I suppose, but occurring at such an impossibly distant time in the future that it has little immediate relevance (except possibly to depress gloomy Swedish filmmakers).  Then we have a precocious 10 year old boy giving up on life because of this highfalutin theory.  We want to cry out with every fiber of our being, “No! A 10 year old boy cannot give up on life!”  It is the most tragically absurd thing we can imagine. But why should it be any less absurd for someone older?

Look, sometimes “happiness”  is gratuitous, just as is misery.  It may not be fair (Who said life was fair?) but if you are a Moody Mildred or a Grumpy Gus, and you  want to be happy, or at least less miserable, you need to make peace with the idea that of work at it even while all the other have it naturally, or at least seem to. Paraphrasing Dr.Ellis,

stubbornly refuse to make yourself miserable, and you will stop feeling so miserable. I promise.

Start by taking a few minutes to appreciate a few things in life you are grateful for, just for today.

It takes courage to be happy in a sad world.


Khon Kaen, Thailand


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Originally posted 2015-11-27 04:43:31.

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