Anhedonia, When the Happiness Disappears into Void
By : Daniel Aguira
Throughout our lives, we might have spent moments learning about history and cultures. There, we traverse through pages that describe the wonderful artistic development all over the world. Some documents helped us witness the knowledge pursuits of ancient Greeks, Iraqis, and Persians. We saw people working passionately in building their nations or kingdoms for centuries.
At simple glance, everything looked so diverse. Every single individual and nation offers something distinctive and unique. Yet if we try to find a single unifying pattern of all those endeavors of humanity, we will realize that those acts of humanity were driven by a primordial instinct: pursuit of pleasure. Ancient humans spent years of sweat perfecting their arts in pursuit for pleasure. Today, we work days and nights to find something no other than pleasure.
This idea is in accordance with Freud’s pleasure principle, in which he emphasizes that ultimately, human being is directed by two principle emotions, seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. This is further clarified by the statement “The aim of drive is always pleasure, and objects become significant in so far as they provide a way of discharging drives pressure” (Moccia, Mazza, Nicola, & Janiri, 2018).
With the understanding that everything we do in life is dedicated to find pleasure, we might be able to see why human being today is so hell-bent on doing things that are associated to pleasure. We love to consume entertainments, eat delicious foods, play sports, or get praise from others.
Yet, what if human lost capacity to feel pleasure? What if we arrive to a day where nothing feels good anymore? In a letter to his friend John Stuart, the famed president of the United States Abraham Lincoln who suffered from depression once said, “I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth” (Oates, 2011).
This inability to feel pleasure, in psychiatric terms, is called anhedonia (APA, 2013). Anhedonia is mentioned as one of the main symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder and Schizophrenia, where the afflicted couldn’t feel pleasure anymore from everything they do. Of course, this affliction will impact us badly as human being, as we are creatures that cling to emotions associated with pleasure.
Imagine meeting our loved ones after a long time, and all we feel is nothing; seeing the first bloom of the most beautiful flower feels like staring at empty walls; seeing what we always wanted in life feels like meaningless activity. We realize that conversations with best friend feel like unfulfilling toil. We watch movies we have been anticipating, but end up feeling like there is a huge hole in our heart. We listen to our favorite musics, but they felt like horrible meaningless noises.
Everything that is important becomes meaningless.
And it is not boredom. Boredom implies that some activities loses its meaning to us because we do it too often, and that we need a change. Anhedonia rips away everything, not just a few activities, but everything there is in this world. When we try something new, all we find is nothing.
Anhedonia ruins what it means to be human. It extinguish the fire of vigour, changing it with a cold emptiness that make the afflicted wonder whether they are still human or not. It left them incapacitated, lack of meaning, because nothing they do give them any feeling. What used to be fiery passion, now a gray cinder of gloom.
Despite the debilitating effect anhedonia has to human being, there are not enough conversations about it. When people talk about depression, they usually talk about other symptoms, such as anxiety, sexual dysfunction, intense sadness, insomnia, inability to concentrate, etc. Most people would simply dismiss anhedonia as boredom, while those two concepts could not be more different.
This is why, early identification of anhedonia can help us detect depression. And the quicker you get medication, the likelier you can be cured. But don’t quickly conclude that you have clinical depression when you feel nothing. Self-diagnosis is dangerous, and there are terrible consequences that await when you think you have depression without being tested by the experts. Instead, when you sense this symptoms for more than two weeks, quickly find the nearest psychologist or psychiatrist.
Everything might be bleak or hopeless and you might feel desperate if you are diagnosed with this. But don’t dwell too much on it. You are not alone, as we are ready to give you support, whoever or wherever you are.
All the happiness might be gone. But our hope remains.
APA. (2013). Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition: DSM-5. Arlington, VA.
Moccia, L., Mazza, M., Nicola, M. D., & Janiri, L. (2018). The Experience of Pleasure: A Perspective between Neuroscience and Psychoanalysis. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 12, 359.
Oates, S. (2011). With Malice Toward None: A Life of Abraham Lincoln. Harper Perennial Illustrated.