Why does depression last longer than pleasure?

Children have the preternatural ability to discern  elementary puzzles that adults, burdened by their self-importance, are no longer able to unravel.  A child once asked the Mother why depression seemed to last longer than pleasure.  Before you read her answer, I would urge you to step back and reflect on the possible rationale on your own.

Question: Sweet Mother, sometimes when one feels depressed it lasts quite a long time; but when one feels a special kind of joy, it does not last.

Mother: Yes, that is very true.

Question: Then what should one do to make it last longer?

Mother: But it is not the same part of the being that has the depression and the joy.

If you are speaking of pleasure, the pleasure of the vital is something very fleeting, and I think that in life—in life as it is at present—there are more occasions for displeasure than for pleasure.  Pleasure in itself is extremely fleeting, for if the same vibration of pleasure is prolonged a little, it becomes unpleasant or even repulsive—exactly the same vibration. 

Pleasure in itself is something very fugitive. But if you are speaking of joy, that is something altogether different, it is a kind of warmth and illumination in the heart, you see—one may feel joy in the mind also, but it is a kind of warmth and beatific illumination occurring somewhere. That is a quality which is not yet fully developed and one is rarely in the psychological state that’s needed to have it. And that is why it is fugitive. Otherwise joy is constantly there in the truth of the being, in the reality of the being, in your true Self, in your soul, in your psychic being, joy is constantly there.

It has nothing to do with pleasure: it is a kind of inner delight.

But one is rarely in a state to feel it, unless one has become fully conscious of one’s psychic being. That is why when it comes it is fugitive, for the psychological condition necessary to perceive it is not often there. On the other hand, one is almost constantly in an ordinary vital state where the least unpleasant thing very spontaneously and easily brings you depression— depression if you are a weak person, revolt if you are a strong one.  Every desire which is not satisfied, every impulse which meets an obstacle, every unpleasant contact with outside things, very easily and very spontaneously creates depression or revolt, for that is the normal state of things—normal in life as it is today. While joy is an exceptional state.

And so, pleasure, pleasure which is simply a pleasing sensation— if it lasts, not only does it lose its edge, but it ends up by becoming unpleasant; one can’t bear it long. So, quite naturally it comes and goes. That is to say, the very thing that gives you pleasure—exactly the same vibration—after a short while, doesn’t give it to you any longer. And if it persists, it becomes unpleasant for you. That is why you can’t have pleasure for a long time.

The only thing which can be lasting is joy, if one enters into contact with the truth of the being which holds this joy permanently[1]

After Prometheus has created man out of mud, Athena breathes life into him, imparting reason and understanding. Painting by Christian Griepenkerl (oil on canvas). Click image for source.

Planes and Parts of the being

The Mother makes a significant observation above : “it is not the same part of the being that has the depression and the joy“.   Depression is experienced as a hole slightly below the heart which descends even further into the stomach when it morphs into fear.  Emotional joy, on the other hand, is felt as a volatile and gleeful bubble around the region of the heart which requires continued sensory stimulation for its sustenance.  This emotional joy is quite different from the deeper peace that originates from the psychic being.  Fear and jealousy arise from the navel region and as they expand, they invade the heart and from there overwhelm the throat giving rise to agitated speech.  Similarly, love, hope and pity have their primary seat in the heart [2].

If we engage in a daily analysis of the various parts of the body that pulsate whenever an emotion roils our consciousness, we will find that every emotion has a distinct signature – a unique place of origin followed by an expansion throughout the body and then an abrupt or gradual  withdrawal.  As we refine this power of observation, we become capable of fluently restraining our emotional overflows.

There are four parts of the vital being, according to Sri Aurobindo:

  1. the mental vital which gives a mental expression by thought, speech or otherwise to the emotions, desires, passions, sensations and other movements of the vital being.  These movements arise in the region from the throat to the heart
  2. the emotional vital which is the seat of various feelings, such as love, joy, sorrow, hatred, and the rest.  These movements originate in the heart, which is a double centre, belonging in front to the emotional vital and behind to the psychic being.
  3. the central vital which is the seat of the stronger vital longings and reactions, e.g. ambition, pride, fear, love of fame, attractions and repulsions, desires and passions of various kinds and the field of many vital energies.  These movements originate in the region from the heart to the navel.
  4. the lower vital which is occupied with small desires and feelings, such as make the greater part of daily life, e.g. food desire, sexual desire, small likings, dislikings, vanity, quarrels, love of praise, anger at blame, little wishes of all kinds – and a numberless host of other things.  The source of these movements is below the navel[2].

It is this sort of astute analysis which forms the basis of the psychological division of human consciousness put forth by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.


  1. The Mother.  Collected Works of the Mother, vol.8, pp 190-191.
  2. Sri Aurobindo.  Letters on Yoga, SABCL vol. 24, Planes and Parts of the Being.

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8 thoughts on “Why does depression last longer than pleasure?

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  7. Sandeep Post author

    The Onion at its best
    Child Who Just Lost Balloon Begins Lifelong Battle With Depression

    Sources indicated that upon seeing the balloon disappear behind a line of trees, Tremont began to grapple for the first time with the same feelings of irreversible loss and guilt that will eventually prevent him from enjoying activities he once loved and cause him to become utterly despondent in the face of a seemingly hostile world.

    “I told you to hang on to it, buddy!” said Tremont’s father, inadvertently encouraging his son to blame himself for losing the balloon, sowing the seeds for neuroses that will render the 3-year-old unable to connect emotionally with other people, ruining many of his relationships and eventually causing him to be overly harsh on his own children for their mistakes. “Don’t cry, it’ll be fine.”

    The increasingly distraught 3-year-old, who will gradually come to believe that he is a complete failure and a burden to everyone he knows, then reportedly burst into tears in what was only the very start of an inexorable, decades-long descent into severe clinical depression.

    “It’s only a balloon, honey,” said Tremont’s mother, unaware that the dismissive response only served to compound the anxieties forming in her young son’s mind. “Come on, let’s go and see the animals.”

    Tremont, whose sadness will swell over the course of years into what seems like an infinite, gaping dark void that neither monoamine oxidase inhibitors and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors nor dietary changes will be able to close completely, was reportedly uninterested in seeing the animals.

    Read more @


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