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The Right to Feel Bad, Lesley Hazleton
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Note from EQI - Hazleton uses the term the "right" to feel bad. It might be more helpful to say there is a natural and evolutionary "need" or "purpose" for feeling bad or depressed. See our pages on rights vs. needs and depression.

From the Introduction:

Feeling good is no longer simply a right, but a social and personal duty. We have become convinced that if we do not feel good, we are at fault - weak or ill, dysfunctional or wrong. The right to feel good has been exaggerated out of all proportion - to the extent that we now have to reclaim the right to feel bad.

We have to reclaim the right to the whole range of feeling, including the right to mourn the vast range of loss that we are prey to. This is the right to react as human beings instead of as automatons who keep to the one path of happiness with grim determination, ignoring the realities of their lives.

Psychological knowledge is notoriously frail when applied to oneself.

It occured to me that if I could write down how I felt, I might even be able to write it out of me. I turned, went home, and wrote all night and into the morning, then went to bed and slept the first really restful sleep in weeks.

Some months later I read through those impassioned notes for the first time. I began to trace what I could not see at the time -the pattern and the logic behind my depression. Tentatively, since the subject was still shameful, I began to talk to others about it, and that was the first time that I realized I was not alone, that almost everybody knew these same feelings firsthand. That relaxation determined me to write this book.

Chapter 2-4 of this book look at what has been done to depression -the numerous ways in which it has been stigmatized and invalidated, and the vast number of ways in which we have been persuaded that to feel bad at all is unacceptable. This means looking at the social and psychiatric pressures which have tried to determine how we should feel while ignoring the yawning gap between their "shoulds" and our reality.

Chapters 5-8 take a close look at the experience of depression itself, at what really happens in depression and why. This means exploring it not as an illness or malfunction, but as a healthy reaction to various kinds of loss and to the very real problem of existing in a complex and difficult world. Depression can then be seen not as a waste of time, but as a valuable process in which we think about the terms on which we exist, reexamine our values and our selves, and find the way to a renewed sense of purpose and meaning. Without such times, we would be the lesser people.

Chapters 9-11 explore ways in which we can come to terms with depression -accepting it, tolerating it, facing it without fear, and thus giving it a chance to fulfill its role in our lives. No magic pill will do the work for us. The new antidepressant drugs, though effective in severe depression, are of questionable use in normal depression. And though other drugs can be used to escape awareness, they also limit us as human beings.

To be fully alive means to experience the full range of emotions, to struggle with the downs as well as to enjoy the ups. Life is certainly difficult and even unpredictable -full of meaning and purpose at one time and utterly meaningless and purposeless at another; sometimes so desirable that we wish to freeze it at a certain point and remain there forever, and at other times so undesirable that we may find ourselves wishing we had never been born. But it also has it own dynamic. There is no real happiness without the experience of depression to balance it. If we are not capable of depression, we are not capable of happiness either. In a very real sense, depression keeps us alive.

Instead of fleeing it, then, we need to shed our shame and terror and see depression for what it is- not an ogre or enemy, but an integral part of life itself.

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Reviews from Amazon.com


The major idea of this work is that we should not blame ourselves when we feel badly. Hazleton rightly argues that the culture tells us that we should be happy all the time, an unrealistic idea given the changing circumstances of any individual life. Hazleton teaches that we should not be guilty about our down feelings, that they are a normal part of our up and down lives. We all have disappointments and losses, difficulties and struggles.

I found especially helpful her words on the way we cover up our bad feelings, try to show others that we do not feel badly when we do. Her indication that all of us are depressed at one time or another is a way of telling us that we should not be blaming ourselves for this.

But I think Hazleton goes too far in her speaking about the way depressed people have a more realistic view of the world than the non- depressed. I also found her condemnation of 'cognitive psychology' wrongheaded and simplistic.

Anyone who knows people who are deeply depressed know that they do suffer from distortions in thinking and judgment. There are patterns of thinking in which the deeply depressed will always find the negative in any situation. I have the sense that 'cognitive therapy' can be of real help to many.

However once again Hazleton is to be commended for trying to teach us to not stigmatize ourselves when depressed, and to understand more realistically that life has its disappointments, difficulties and downsides for all of us.


Remarkable in its sanity, the book normalizes a common human feeling, depression. The author takes funny potshots at popular writers of psycho-babble, and is immensely readable. As well, BOY, can she write! It's a beauty to read simply for her use of language, much less the relief at what she has to say.


Lesley Hazleton writes some very thought provoking ideas about feeling bad -- some seemed insightful but with others I had my doubts. She goes into how the unrealistic standards of happiness our culture sets for us affect us. When we feel bad as we inevitably do sometimes we feel even worse because we feel there is something wrong with us. Oftentimes people won't let themselves feel bad and have this desperate frantic desire to get away from their bad feelings. She then talks about how feeling bad can be necessary to a healthy life because we need time to mourn lost relationships and ideals. She describes it better than I can.

I have trouble, however, with her ideas that depressed people have a better view of reality than others. She writes that depressed people are more in touch with the harsh realities of life. She dismisses the cognitive psychologists who talk of cognitive distortions common in depression. My own experience leads me to think that depressed people evaluate their chances of achieving goals and being happy more pessimistically than objectively. They are not looking at harsh reality but reality through very negative lenses. Sometimes happy people seem like they avoid any negative thoughts or situations but other times they seem more accepting of their situation and can look at their problems without getting hopeless about their difficulties.

Hazleton's book is nonetheless very worthwhile reading. The reader will be challenged to question their own views often and will be given very interesting perspectives on their bad feelinrgs.

EQI Note on this review. We believe that depression does help people see the "harsh realities of life." We also agree with the reviewer's statement that when people are depressed they think pessimistically, not just realistically. Since we believe that emotonal support both prevents and cures depression, then our suggestion is listen to the person who feels depressed and support them in identifying and addressing the specific causes of their depression.