How You Can Avoid Happiness Hangovers

Matthew Dickson
5 min readOct 12, 2020

What is a happiness hangover?

Psychologists say it is the sad or “down” time you experience after an exciting event is over, but without the alcohol. This can happen after Christmas, the birth of your child, or a fun weekend, for example.

Eckhart Tolle in his book, “The Power of Now”, describes this process as happening not just around larger events, but also continually throughout our day in smaller amounts.

Sometimes you might find yourself just driving down the road, not particularly happy, not particularly sad or depressed or some other negative state. You are in a neutral emotional state.

You are not “numb” either. Numb would be described as a negative state, as most people don’t like the feeling of being numb. The state you are in is a neutral state, but a “positive neutral” state, if you will.

That state is what Tolle describes as “joy”.

“Happiness”, he goes on, is an excited feeling beyond joy, but which makes us feel “high” on life, or “drunk” with pleasure. The times you feel this can be during large events, like a wedding, or small events too, like simply feeling good during a regular phone call.

What follows happiness, he says, is the “hangover” — periods of negative states, like sadness, depression, anger, or boredom.

Joy is in the middle between the happiness state and the hangover state. To use an analogy of plotting this on a graph, think of joy as a baseline with waves of happiness curving up above joy and waves of hangovers curving beneath joy. Joy stays right in the middle, flat-lining along.

Tolle says joy is always there — we can feel it if we want and stay in that state and not have to go into the happiness and hangover states.

How do you do that? He gives some examples in the book. He says he was sitting on a park bench, after losing his job, and with little social support, but feeling true bliss (joy).

He says he should have been worried about the different aspects of his situation, but he didn’t. He was just enjoying being alive!

The examples in the book on how to achieve this state apparently were difficult for some of his readers to put to use themselves. He wrote a second book to better describe how to be in this state, but to be honest, the second book wasn’t that much more of a help for me (although I enjoyed both books and highly recommend them).

For me, how I put this principle into practice was to notice when I was starting to feel a little happier than usual and just not get too happy about things. I found it relatively simple to do. Something would happen, some good news, whether large or small, and I would try to lessen the increasing positive feelings I was having somewhat.

This may seem counter-intuitive. Many people struggle to feel good throughout their day. Why would you want to dampen any positive emotion you are able to experience?

This lessening of happiness allowed me to even out my emotions more and avoid negative states, such as sadness or depression, because I was able to feel the joy that is ever-present each day all day long.

This isn’t to say I never had any negative emotions. I had ups and downs throughout my days still, but the ups and downs were much smaller than I had previously experienced in my life.

Have you ever witnessed someone having a bad day, or a child upset and crying about something? You look around you and it is a nice, sunny day. Other people are laughing and having a good time. And you wonder, why are they so upset?

Try to think about that the next time you start to get upset about something. Try to remember that it is a nice day, that other people around you could be laughing and enjoying the day, but you’re upset. And people are wondering why you could possibly be upset?

Another way that I am able to level out my emotions better is by thinking of my emotions as a thermostat. I picture it in my chest. I monitor my emotions throughout the day and pay attention to when my emotions start to go up or down. I try to keep my emotions in the middle of the thermostat — not too hot, not too cold. Nice and even!

Famous actors have really good things happen to them. They star in movies! How would you feel if one day you were starring in a movie? Would you feel incredibly happy and come out later with a massive happiness hangover?

I read about a famous actor saying that they could, if they wanted to, get really excited because they were on the set of a big movie with big stars, but they just didn’t go there in their mind. They just went about their work as if it was very routine. Also there was work to do and that occupied their mind as well.

Eric Davis, the sniper instructor who taught Chris Kyle, one of the best US military snipers and the subject of Clint Eastwood’s movie, “American Sniper”, says that success has to become an automated process — to use habit and routine, not effort.

Routine. Just going through your day. If actors can avoid getting excited about wonderful things happening to them, maybe you could too.

Maybe you could feel the joy of being alive for most of the day. The joy that is all around us, like sunshine everywhere you look, continually falling on the ground all day long!

I also want to mention that I started doing this levelling out of my emotions while I was going through schizophrenia, a disease that gives you a lot of negative emotions like depression and anxiety.

I asked myself, should I really be trying to lessen the feelings of happiness I experience? Shouldn’t I try to be getting as many good feelings into me as possible? I decided to not worry about it and kept lessening my feelings of happiness and it all worked out for me.

My disease kept slowly getting better and as the months and years wore on my health kept improving overall and the process of lessening my feelings of happiness worked. I became a more emotionally-level person, something for which I’m very thankful!



Matthew Dickson

Advocate for people with mental illness in developing countries at Bicycled across Canada twice, books, nature, fitness, learning, dancing!