Why do I Feel Sad During "Happy" Occasions?

Why do I Feel Sad During

Society tells us how we should feel about special occasions such as milestones, birthdays, weddings, holidays, and anniversaries. We should be leaping to the skies, overjoyed with happiness! After all, these things are meant for celebrating, right? Sometimes, we can feel the opposite of overflowing joy. In fact, some individuals feel burdened and anxious by special events. Some may not feel anything at all, as it is just another day to them. Feeling anything other than happiness can make us wonder if there’s something wrong with us. I am here to assure you that you are not alone in this mindset, and there isn’t anything wrong with you for not feeling how you “should” feel about special occasions. 

Normally, my birthday is my favorite day of the year every year. In fact, I treat it as if it were a holiday. On my 20th birthday in 2019, however, the day left me in tears. My ex boyfriend broke up with me two weeks prior to my special day and as a result, I was going through the waves of post breakup despair. I tried to force a smile for the whole day, and even invited my ex over to my place to celebrate with me and my mom (I know what you’re thinking, but we agreed to be friends after the breakup). The air was dense with awkwardness while he was there. When I sent him off to go, I couldn’t hold in the tears any longer. It really wasn’t the same anymore since our dynamic had changed. 

Not all birthdays or special occasions are happy, and can leave you feeling blue for various reasons. Some people don’t have friends or family to celebrate with, which is especially the case for the elderly. Birthdays also remind us that we’re aging, and assume more responsibilities as we progress through life. Moreover, Our friends may not meet our expectations with social media posts and extravagant gifts. There is often social pressure to prove we are loved and are properly celebrating surrounded by friends.

When we reach adulthood, we are expected to reach certain milestones with age, such as thriving in our careers, getting married, settling down and starting a family, and the list goes on. Some people don’t want others making a big deal out of their birthdays. Introverts may feel overwhelmed by all the attention others try to give them. Birthdays can trigger sadness if the person who played an important role in your life at one point isn’t there or doesn’t have the same kind of relationship with you anymore. 

Birthdays are not the only occasions that can make us feel anxious or depressed. Stress levels accumulate during holidays, anniversaries, and weddings as well. When it comes to major holidays such as Thanksgiving or Christmas, we find ourselves frantically trying to buy gifts, struggling under financial pressure, and traveling. When our expectations aren’t met, we become deeply disappointed, leading us to spiral into depression and anxiety. Other times, usual traditions don’t feel the same anymore if a loved one whom we used to celebrate with passed away, or a traumatic event happened leading up to the milestone or tradition. As a result, an upcoming occasion can trigger grief, bereavement, and loneliness all over again. 

These negative emotions aren’t distinctly attached to loss or trauma. For instance,  a couple about to be wed can feel extremely anxious on the day of the wedding ceremony. The bride or groom may wonder if they’re making the right decision or feel anxious about having to deal with toxic family members. On top of that, they may have to deal with those who are upset about not being invited. Numerous expenses factor into this white-veiled occasion, as the married couple considers the financial burdens.

Fortunately, there are ways you can cope with these emotions so that events don’t overwhelm you. Here are a few of them:

1. If you choose to celebrate, you are not obligated to go all out. It’s okay to keep it simple. A celebration does not have to be fancy and expensive in order for it to be significant.

2. Practice self care. This is something you should do everyday, but it can come in handy when you’re in the process of planning. Make a schedule ahead of time so you won’t have to rush everything all at once. That way, you don’t burn out.

3. Don’t be afraid to decline an invitation or say no to things that you’re uncomfortable with. If you’re absolutely required to attend an event, you can limit the amount of interactions you have with anyone else who’s there. Plan an exit strategy so that you can leave when necessary. Don’t be afraid to ask someone you trust for help if you need extra support. 

If you feel sad, anxious, or confused on happy occassions, know that you are not alone. You are not obligated to plaster a smile and jump up and down just because society tells you to. The commercialization and hype around special occasions contribute to your pain and distress. Pay no mind to all that. If occasions truly excite you, that’s fine too! You do you. Ultimately, if you detach any superficial connotations associated with these events, they’re really just another day in the year! You will make it through. 

Written by: Stephanie Wan



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  • Jonathan

    You’re literally in my head, get out!!! Hahaha. I honestly thought I was the only one that felt this way. I remember for one of my birthdays feeling very guilty and ungrateful during it because everyone was there to celebrate, family and friends, and they were all so nice and happy but I was not feeling upbeat. I was feeling quite the opposite actually. It’s so easy to just guilt trip yourself over feeling genuine emotions on those special days. I love this article, I felt alone in this!

  • Kizzi Bennett

    Loved reading this as it really relates to me. Every year on my birthday I get super emotional. Sometimes it’s from excitement, exhaustion, or sadness. But I believe that deep down it’s a said time as it reminds me of being adopted. Even if it’s not the thing that makes me emotional, I know that subconsciously it does have an effect on me. But over the years I have learnt that’s it’s okay. I now expect my ‘biryhday tears’ ( and cheers) and I enjoy it. This acceptance of how I may feel around holiday times as been one of the biggest gifts I could have learnt in my life.

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