How to Be Happy When the World Makes You Depressed

Hold on to your handbasket! Every day, the headlines push our buttons of alarm, despair, and fury all at once. What’s a thinking, feeling human to do, besides invest in a Hunger Games-style bow and arrow? This week, Savvy Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen offers 4 tips to be happy in a world that can feel like a "Mad Max" chase through the headlines. 

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
4-minute read
Episode #228

Tip #3: Take a break from social media.

Social media has become not only a way to see our high school classmates’ most recent vacation photos and videos of that raccoon in Minnesota, but also the best (or maybe we should say worst?) source of news, both real and fake. 

A study out of the University of Copenhagen asked half of a group of over 1,000 participants to quit Facebook for a week, while the other half carried on as usual. Those on a Facebook fast reported better life satisfaction, and, notably, felt more positive emotion. 

This makes sense: a reprieve from social media not only gives us a break from the envy of the highlight reel, but also the whipsawing that comes from news clickbait in our feeds. It more than makes up for possibly missing out on the Australian giant cow.

Tip #4: Look out for each other.

Listener Lynne is concerned about the world and its people, so when she asks about happiness, she doesn’t just mean Crazy Rich Asians bachelor party pleasures. She’s likely looking for meaning as well.

Luckily, there is a way to make two Pop Tarts with one toaster: strong social connections. A study out of Florida State University examined almost 400 participants and assessed which traits and activities were most related to happiness or meaning.

What went along with both? High-quality social relationships. There were nuances: hanging out with friends was linked more strongly to happiness than meaning, while spending time with family—like taking care of kids—was meaningful but not necessarily happy. Likewise, being a giver was meaningful, while takers were happier. But overall, connecting with others is the key to finding comfort and happiness in the shadow of today’s headlines. I guess company is actually the antidote for misery.

So to Lynne and the millions in the same boat: hang in there. Feel what you feel, let it compel you to action, search out good news as a counterweight, take a break when you need it, and most importantly, go hang out with your friends and loved ones. Even when the headlines read like a dystopian novel, remember there can still be a happy ending.


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen was the host of the Savvy Psychologist podcast from 2014 to 2019. She is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). She earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. Her scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media outlets. Her debut book, HOW TO BE YOURSELF: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety, was published in March 2018.