The French expression “joie de vivre” can be translated as “Joy of living.” The clinical term for a symptom of depression, “anhedonia,” means just the opposite—the inability to experience pleasure in things formerly enjoyed.
It is the deepening of this lack of joy in living that is a strong component of suicide. It is hard for some to understand this symptom. One who is glad to wake up in the morning, see a beautiful sunrise, make a cup of fragrant coffee, and reach for the newspaper can only imagine what it is like to only go through the motions without experiencing pleasure. It is like eating completely bland food just because you know you must. It is like dreading a phone call from a dear friend because of a lack of energy and desire to talk. Disinterest in hobbies, work, sex, even our own children, is being in a garden of fragrant blossoms and being unable to smell.
When I ask a client experiencing depression what they like to do. The answer often is “I don’t know” or “Nothing.” When the joy of living is absent, the desire to live is diminished.
Anhedonia does not begin in the taste buds. It begins deep in the brain where neurotransmitters like dopamine and pleasure pathway circuitry are not optimally functioning. In deep-seated depression, medication can make the difference between life and death. Supportive therapy and medication can be the 1 +1 = 3 equation that finally eases the pain that is depression.
Those who are depressed are sometimes the last to know and only realize it when they start to feel better again. Early intervention is the best protection from experiencing the depths that depression can take us to. Understanding the symptom of anhedonia in ourselves and others is an important first step in Joie de vivre.