Happiness is a choice and so is unhappiness
INFPs tend toward depression and it’s not really a big mystery as to why.
It’s about making choices and decisions. I think that’s why INFPs who are extreme Ps are more depressed more often than INFPs who border the J preference. A very clear P preference tends to signal an active Extroverted Intuition (Ne) function which keeps imagining a better life than the one we have. A well-developed Extroverted Thinking (Te) function which moves us towards the J preference balances the Ne idealization by helping us organize, plan and carry out our dreams.
A main cause for unhappiness is that I don’t think INFPs can define “happy” in measurable terms. Happiness is some vague ideal like Truth. It’s the overactive Ne mental function that keeps changing our definitions of happy. It’s hard to achieve a goal that can’t be defined. However, I do feel that most INFPs grow out of that phase as we get older and our Te function gets more developed. Our definitions for happiness become more concrete because we realize we’re running out of time. Unfortunately, the goals we finally set for happiness tend towards unrealistic which starts effecting self-worth.
That’s the other reason for depression: self-worth issues. How does a person know their own worth? It’s very simple.
Our worth is measured by how well and how often our actions match our values and our view of ourselves.
INFPs spend so much time analyzing themselves that for the most part we know who we are as a person. Unfortunately, the doing is the hard part. Behavior doesn’t match self-image. Some of it has to do with making choices which INFPs are loathe to do. When our Te function makes a choice, our Ne function feels like we’re being deprived of all those other possibilities. Some of it has to do with society. Not everyone can be a famous novelist or the next Jackson Pollock even though we might see yourself as one. Society is not a meritocracy.
I think INFPs have more of a need to feel special than any other personality type. Our Introverted Feeling (Fi) holds on to deeply rooted values and our Ne function shows creates these dreams of this ideal life that expresses those values. We see ourselves as special and our behaviors– 9-5 McJob, worrying about the bills — don’t really match or view of ourselves. So to compensate, we master obscure hobbies, read Baudrillard, take up belly dancing or travel to exotic locations because we need to be part of the select few.
Even more insidious, is that we create these convoluted belief systems to explain to ourselves why our place in the world is the way it is. However, entropy is always prevalent. Life ends up being average over the long run because the big highs and the low lows take too much energy to maintain. So we end up with this lingering depression, like cough you can’t shake even though you’ve gotten over your cold.
I wholeheartedly believe that life has meaning and lots of it. I also believe that the assumption that the life has meaning is a mistake.
Whether life has meaning is a belief. It’s also a belief that only works if you consciously make a decision to believe it. Because the next step after belief is acting upon that belief.
All those random things that may be unjust, unfair or undesired have no meaning. Events in themselves have no meaning. It’s the interpretation of events that bring meaning. If one chooses to believe that life has meaning than the next action is to interpret events to give meaning. Otherwise, everything is random and we’re screwed.
Look at it this way, any belief system has to be supported by the environment. I had an acquaintance who’s no longer a vegetarian because he climbed Kilimanjaro. He didn’t have a life changing experience at the top. But in that part of Africa as part of the tour, he had a choice between chicken or starving. His environment did not support his belief in vegetarianism.
When you beliefs don’t match your environment you have 1 of 3 choices:
1. Change your belief.
2. Change your environment; or
Unfortunately, beliefs about meaning and happiness relate to the environment known as “Life”. We can’t change our environment without dying so we have to change beliefs and act on those beliefs or suffer.
I think the number one belief about life and meaning that INFPs have that causes grief is this: INFPs think that they have to find meaning in their lives.
Meaning isn’t something you find, it’s something you choose.
Or so I’ve chosen to believe. I can’t say I’ve ever regretted making that choice.
Revised: June 10, 2018
Reasoning: I wanted to add a few sentences to focus on how mental functions affect our behavior and not our preferences. I added the 5 sentences that mentions our mental functions Fi, Te, Ne.
Apr 12, 2009
“Happiness is some vague ideal like Truth. It’s the P part of us, that keeps changing our definitions of happy. It’s hard to achieve a goal that can’t be define.”
…I’m speechless. What an insight! Thank you for articulating it for me, it is really relevant to my life! It’s like sometimes I’m really happy that I accomplished something, other days I feel that I will stay in the dumps forever,
Apr 13, 2009
“I think the number one belief about life and meaning that INFPs have that causes grief is this: INFPs think that they have to find meaning in their lives.
Meaning isn’t something you find, it’s something you choose.”
Absolutely. This whole post spoke to me. But, this quote stood out to me. I think that I’m depressed because I have trouble finding meaning in my life and I blame that on my own choices.
I’ve just newly discovered that I am an INFP type person, but everything that I read continues to confirm it and I am finding some solace in that. Thank you, I hate feeling alone.
As to the previous comment, I agree. For me, “Happiness” seems to be a moving target. I am hopeful that gaining more insight on my personality type and forming some connections with other INFP people will help me find some meaning in the Universe, that is… myself.
I have more to say, but (as I am want to do) I will hold off until later, when I might be a little more sure of myself.
Apr 13, 2009
I apologize for double-commenting, but I’ve now noticed that you don’t appear to have provided an e-mail address to contact you, which is understandable. However, I was hoping to convey to you how much I like your blog and hoping that you will continue on with it, because, I know how quickly an new effort like this website can be abandoned and I want to show my appreciation for it.
…this could become a place for INFP’s to gather together (in a way).
And now I am judging myself for overuse of parenthesis, ellipsis, and analyzing myself too carefully…
May 30, 2009
“Your damned if you do and you’re damned if you dont”
Jan 14, 2010
wow- i can relate with this too. i hate making decisions, and i hate that i hate making decisions. i think part of it is that infps make EVERYTHING such a big deal…. so i’ve tried to emulate my isfj sister, and plan for the small things, not the big things. make sure i’m enjoying life.. while i’m ‘searching for meaning’.
also- i try to downplay big decisions too…. trust myself that i’ll be able to handle the ups and downs of life.
thanks for your thoughts!
January 15th, 2010 at 1:02 am
Making decisions is a skill. You get better the more you make.
Decisions are about reaching an endpoint. And I think INFPs feel that they need to choose that endpoint carefully because of the “how will I know if that will make me happy” argument have in our head constantly.
The funny thing is that. It’s never the destination. It’s the journey that makes us happy even if the destination ends up being crap.
May 5, 2010
I found your blog via the Personality Cafe forum. It’s very interesting to read things written by an INFP who has, by my perspective as an ISTJ male in his mid-20s, his “head on straight”, so to speak. You speak about some things my INFP girlfriend talks about as well and from what I can see, she writes about them with the “typical” INFP tendencies you’ve talked about. Namely, the ones that aren’t conducive to achieving what they want, such as writing about all sorts of ideas and ideals but not taking action, and then getting disappointed about the world and herself. I also have a feeling that she’s may be using MBTI as a crutch. If I could get her to start reading this blog, maybe it could help her.
It’s certainly helping me. The first time I heard of Keirsey’s book was when I started reading this blog. I want to read “The Five Love Languages” next, but my local bookstores have been out of stock for awhile. I’m getting off point here. Anyway, I’m finding your blogs helpful because you’re writing from a personal perspective. You’re giving me a concrete example of an actual INFP, my 2nd one by the way. Other than my girlfriend, the only things I knew about them were the various descriptions online and in the books I read, and like you, I kept seeing the problems like how general they are and how they don’t answer the “why” of being a certain type. When I read your postings, I see an example of the sort of potential that she has and it helps me understand her better a small step at a time.
Thank you for making this blog.
May 5th, 2010 at 5:57 pm
Thank you for commenting. I was hoping that not just INFPs but people with INFPs in the lives will my perspective useful. I have several ISTJ in my life including my brother. I know ISTJ sometimes chafe at being labeled “dependable”, but if anything that’s see the ISTJs in my life. It’s not dependability of someone who will help me move furniture that I like. It’s the consistency at which you approach life that gives me, as an INFP, a much needed perspective of how our lives can be less erratic because sometimes, we are all over the place.
For INFPs, ISTJs act as a stable point of reference in an INFP inner world that’s constantly changing.
May 5th, 2010 at 11:33 pm
I myself have never chafed at being labeled dependable. In fact, it’s something I like very much about myself and have found it very useful in my life.
She too has found it useful. One of the things she loves about me is the fact that I’m able to keep her grounded. She also loves that, like her, I value self-improvement and self-development even though I do it differently than she does (as in, a little too slowly for her tastes).
Anyway, I’ll be sure to comment on other things here if I get yet another eye-opening reaction. I might be able to provide my own perspective too.
Jul 17, 2010
Thanks for this post, it really resonated with me. I’m a 21 year old INFP and have repeatedly struggled with depression and unhappiness. I seem to go through more crises of “meaning” than anyone else I know (especially anyone else my age). I constantly seek out new hobbies (piano, violin, dance, photography, yoga, writing, etc.) like the typical INFP but am never truly happy with any one of them–even though I’m usually quite good at every new thing I try. I will admit that I certainly feel the need to stand out or be recognized and I’ve always said that my greatest fear is mediocrity.
I am still coming to terms with the fact that meaning is a choice, and that happiness is whatever you decide it is. I never seem to look forward to things like other people do because I know that they’ll never be as great as I think they’re going to be… but I’m now realizing that things aren’t great because I’m not making them great. I appreciate this blog very much because it’s helping me come out of the denial phase of my life that I seem to be going through (I’m still in college and have the support of my parents). I look forward to reading more from you.
July 18th, 2010 at 12:41 am
I cover the reason why things will never be a great as we think they’re going to be in my post called Making a Better Decision.
The tricky part I’ve encountered with deciding your happiness is that it’s an evolving process. What makes you happy when you’re 20 may no longer make you happy when you’re 40. I’m not talking about the goals but process. It’s the journey that brings me happiness, but the path I started in my 20’s which made me happy that the time didn’t make me as happy in my 30’s so I had to switch paths.
July 18th, 2010 at 9:55 am
June 25th, 2012 at 10:57 pm
Wow Kt, what you said really reminds me of myself. One of my greatest fears in life is mediocracy. I would hate to just be average. I thrive on standing out in some way, yet I feel this is my own worst enemy and is one of the reasons I am frequently depressed and unhappy
Aug 10, 2011
Scarily spot on! It does get a little easier as you get a little bit older though, don’t you think?
May 17, 2012
I sure hope that it will get easier as I get older. I didn’t necessarily believed that the post is only for INTPs but I found this blog by searching “INFP and depression”. That only happened because, well, I guess I am mostly the person you described. I badly want to make that choice to be happy or so I think I want to. I agree with what you said.
Jun 26, 2012
I find that happiness is proportional to the amount of control you feel you have in creating the life you want. When I say control, I mean ability to positively affect your life through taking some sort of action. When I say creating the life you want, I mean it’s different for everyone.
For some people, creating the life they want just means finding a nice girl, a good job, getting married and raising some kids. For other people, it’s more complicated because the life they want involves deeply held values and beliefs that often conflict with the real world.
Also when I say proportional, I mean more happy/less happy not happy/unhappy.
Jun 26, 2012
Just curious…any other INFPs here more prone to anxiety than depression? Maybe I’m in denial about depression, and yes I do have a nostalgic sadness from time to time. But mostly I feel anxiety.
Also, I’m able to will myself into a happy state without any external influence whatsoever. I especially excelled at this in late teenage. I managed to sustain a state of continual joy for several months–largely by slipping into a “zone” where I experienced life as poetry. In fact, I used to get into that state to write poetry. Hard to describe the state I was in…but it was like I superimposed my inner world on the outer world and the mesh was quite beautiful.
Is it sustainable for huge amounts of time? Hard to say.
I’m contemplating whether to make the time and effort to try to achieve that state again. Or whether it is possible when you’re well into adulthood. A part of me thinks it might be pipe-dreaming and I guess that’s why I haven’t attempted it.
Anyway, this idea of choosing happiness brought this period of willed happiness to mind.
Jul 17, 2012
I agree and can relate to what you say about the need as an INFP to feel special/unique etc.. I guess this relates to what you have put in another article about ‘critical significance’ as being one of our 6 human needs (?)
Aug 27, 2013
i have been reading your blog lately because i’m having to face some decisions in my life, and you are honestly supremely wise and thank you for writing these articles, it has helped me a lot. i’m really impressed by how you have put into words the feelings that we go through, that for a long time i couldn’t express but felt so strongly, and how you worked through them and explain clearly to us how it can be done.
i don’t usually comment online but from reading your blog and other INFP’s experiences, i think it would help us to feel less alone to share my experience too. i have a wonderful ENFJ partner, who actually does not ever judge my INFP ways and who actually gives me a lot of the same advice that you give here, but i can’t stop thinking about my INFJ friend, who connects with me on the level that my strong, practical ENFJ does not, and who can connect with my inner world and when i talk with him makes me feel more awakened to my inner world. when do you ever know to stop looking for something else? is there really no true path?
i am in the same situation in my career.
i’ve never taken the risk to leave my relationship, which is objectively perfectly good, he is kind, supportive, honest, everything, or my career, i’m afraid if i take the risk i will just find that the more fulfilling “other” is just an illusion. what if it’s not everything i hoped it to be, what if i keep jumping ship to ship and end up alone or with no real career and full of regret. where do you draw the line?
August 27th, 2013 at 1:17 pm
I’ve never liked the idea that one person or one thing should provide for everything you need on all levels. I find it unfair to lay that much responsibility on this other thing to be everything to you. I work a full time job, but I also freelance. I like my day job. The company is wonderful. My boss and co-workers are terrific. However, my work is high-level enterprise level programming and even though I like it, it isn’t something I’m that particular passionate about. That’s why I freelance. And the reason why I freelance is because my boss said it was okay. I wasn’t breaking any boundaries (confidential agreements, competition agreements, etc) in doing so. So I take these small jobs that help out my friends doing websites for business they’re just starting. I feel like I’m making a difference. Freelancing doesn’t pay as well but that’s not why I do it. As long as I’m not breaking any boundaries and am able to maintain trust between the company I work for then there is no problem.
The same goes with my relationships. My wife can’t stand movies with explosions which she thinks is mind-numbing; she likes the more artsy stuff which I find pretentious. So I have friends that I see blockbusters with. I have people that I go to for poetry critique because although my wife writes, she doesn’t write poetry. She has friends that she’s very close to and some of them are male friends. I have friends that I’m close to also. I’m under no illusion that I’m her entire life nor do I want to be. What we do have is absolute trust and absolute conviction that we are life-partners that have pair-bonded so well that we could never fit with anyone else as well. There would just be different problems with someone doesn’t have a history of solving difficult life problems the way I do with my wife.
The other thing we have, is very clear boundaries. This is what’s acceptable behavior. This is not. We talk about boundaries often. It’s not just one conversation and that’s it. Boundaries are kept to maintain trust. I tend to believe all relationships issues are trust issues.
Also, my wife and I talk about EVERYTHING especially the stuff that makes us feel uncomfortable or even worse makes us feel unworthy of the other’s love. It took us a very long time to get to that point. How else would you know that your life-partner accepts you for who you are? That’s how I know I’m with the right person even though my wife and I don’t connect on all levels. I stopped looking for someone else because I knew that I’m never going to connect with ANYONE on every level.
So whatever you’re feeling for your INFJ friend, if you can’t talk to ENFJ partner about it then it’s going to become a problem. Depending on how long you’ve been together with your ENFJ, you can try to solve this problem unilaterally–break up with your INFJ friend or end your relationship with your ENFJ partner, but what’s the point of having a partner if you can’t go to them to help you with difficult problems? Your partner should be allowed to solve this problem with you and trust the Universe (and more importantly your ENFJ) that whatever solution you two come up with will be best for your relationship.
Dec 14, 2014
What if you can’t change your environnemt, such as a school?
December 15th, 2014 at 2:16 pm
If you’re young, live with parents who doesn’t understand you and are stuck in K-12 schooling, it sucks when the environment doesn’t support your beliefs. Luckily you won’t be there forever. Then you get to go out into the “real” world where you will be stuck into for the rest of your life.
First is you have to believe you’re where you are for a reason until you’re able to get out. If you read any of the biographies of imprisoned people who never thought they would get out (Nelson Mandela, Viktor Frankl, etc), you read that they found deeper meaning in their current environment.
The important thing that I learned from Frankl’s book, Man’s Search For Meaning is that if you feel trapped, you have to find the meaning of where you are now. Otherwise when your circumstances change, when you have the option to change your environment, you’ll become disillusioned because it doesn’t mean your problems goes away or that you’re automatically going to be happy.
Frankie A Reply:
January 4th, 2016 at 8:02 pm
THIS. This. To anyone who happens to be reading this, I can’t agree with Corin’s comment enough. Especially the last line: “Otherwise when your circumstances change, when you have the option to change your environment, you’ll become disillusioned because it doesn’t mean your problems goes away or that you’re automatically going to be happy.”
To anyone thinking that changing schools will solve your problems: Not necessarily so. I was miserable in primary school and was simply waiting to enter secondary school and to “start afresh”, and for the first year or so I did manage to. But it went downhill from there, because nothing could live up to my expectations and the depressive thought cycle started all over again. Your new environment will not be some sort of “heaven” that will save you, it will have its fair share of problems as well.
January 4th, 2016 at 8:15 pm
A big thank you to Corin for creating this blog. Please don’t ever take it down, leave all your valuable insights and comments for everyone’s learning:)
This is the first time I’ve read articles from infpblog, and I could relate to every single one. I especially liked the caterpillar-butterfly metaphor (from another post), I always felt the need to transform into, well, something else other than my current self and I never thought that other INFPs would feel the exact same way.
This article however, was like a cold bucket of water to the face. For the past few years, I’ve been stumbling around in some sort of stupor for God-knows-why, and the feeling I get now is that of a drunken person waking up after a thousand years. I have no idea what I was doing, but anyway now is the time to pick up the broken pieces and see how to progress. The main problem is getting over my abundant regrets, for I made very poor decisions and I tend to continuously harp on my previous mistakes, making it difficult to move on. Gahhh I seem to have a decent amount of self-awareness but that doesn’t stop me from tripping over self-created obstacles. Frustrating.
Feb 23, 2015
Thank you for your post! I’m a 22 year old INFP, but I have never really reflected deeply on my own personality until recently. I just graduated college and started working, and this change in my lifestyle has really effected me. My emotions have been up and down, and I have been getting waves of depression about where I am at in life. Your post really helped me come to terms with things I have noticed about my personality, and hopefully I will eventually come to accept and understand it.
Lately I’ve been struggling with (seemingly) everything around me. I have been finding it difficult to connect with friends who have been my close friends all throughout college, and I am unhappy with my career (even though it just started). Your thoughts on the choice to either change our enviroment or changing our beliefs (or the third choice – to suffer through it) resonated with me because I have been wanting to move to a different state. I was hesitant because I felt I was running away from my issues, but really this is a change in my environment in order to align my environment with my belief system.
Another part that stuck to me was the last statement, “Meaning isn’t something you find, it’s something you choose”
I thought about this a lot before, and I have always believed that you need to actively search for meaning in order to have a purpose in life (i.e. experience new things, find what you like/don’t like, try different hobbies…). I don’t know though…maybe its a mix of both actively searching for your options for meaning, then choosing from those that you discover. This also might be a result of my tendency to be “unique” and different though.
Thanks for sharing your insights!
Apr 11, 2015
WOW what an insight, from the blog and from the rest of the folk who have commented. I find myself always let down with the reality of things, I have had so many jobs its unreal. I finally took the plunge of going back to Uni and I studying to be a qualified psychiatric nurse. I wanted to be a psychologist when i was younger (im 26 atm) but nursing seemed a more practical option for me, now anyways.
Thing is I go through these waves of wow this is good, and then when one aspect isnt good i go into crisis mode where im searching the internet for days for that ‘perfect career for me’. Its like im never in the moment because im always planning for next step before i have finished the current one, making it impossible to really enjoy the current moment in my life. The main issue i am having currently is the whole introverted thing, im on a placement in a busy ward where i do two 13 hour shifts some of the week and i am mentally ZAPPED! I am so zapped i just dont want to talk to the patients by the end of the day and i feel bad because im doing this line of work because i want to help people, but physically this environment wont let me. I know there is community work i can do, where i see one person at a time which i know will be MUCH better, so its the getting there, my INFP is already there mentally, but physically im still here feeling depressed by it.
Long reply I know, point is this post really strikes me because i know i need to learn to be happy in this moment and not pray i will happier in another when i have X, Y or Z.
Aug 3, 2015
This is absolutely beautiful.
I have never read something that resonated with me so much.
My boyfriend calls me a “butterfly” and says I’m completely disconnected with reality.
I have had a string of jobs throughout my life that l have inevitably quit because they don’t live up to my ideal and standard of finding meaning in my work and in life.
Being an INFP can be tough. I have never met anyone like me before.
It’s good to know that there are others out there that exist and I’m not alone. Thanks for the fascinating post – your insight and introspection are both greatly appreciated 🙂
Aug 21, 2015
After reading each comment and feeling something of a kinship with each person I felt utterly compelled to reply. I have never felt like anyone has understood me, nor have I met anyone like me. I have been a loner most of my life, even though I was a social butterfly during high school and through college. Afterwards I became somewhat of a recluse. My mind runs constantly and interaction drains me easily, most of the time. Occassionally I have tons of energy and truly seek out others, however. I was never really depressed or anxious until college. This is because once you get to a certain point in college, I felt, people start to go their own ways, really achieve things or, in my case, fall behind. I felt that everyone was ahead of me whether academically, emotionally, socially, athetically, you name it. I think that is very hard for an INFP because I looked at everyone as an equal and I do not handle competition well. I didnt handle anything about college well except the English department. I guess Ive never really felt like I fit in pr belong anymore, but I have never felt “weird”. I have just felt “left out”….like Im screaming behind a glass wall and no one can hear me. I too hate being mediocre, I jump from hobby to hobby, I cannot hold a job because I jump from job to job, I cannot hold a relationship because I am incessantly undatisfied, and I have always struggled with “meaning”.
Jan 17, 2016
This post really spoke to me and brought me a new insight. Thank you for this! Keep on bringing the good work!
Mohammad S. Babaei
Jul 14, 2016
“When you beliefs don’t match your environment you have 1 of 3 choices:
1. Change your belief.
2. Change your environment; or
Thank you so much, never thought of it that way. This is so enlightening that made me realize why I’ve been living such a miserable life for an eon or so.
Oct 30, 2016
I’m a latecomer who just started reading your blog the other night. It’s very impressive stuff indeed and i appreciate your efforts.
I’m actually very contented with simple things like walking through the countryside or sitting in the garden quietly or reading a good book, or being with my family at teh dinner table.
What gets in on top of me and can ruin any of these nice moments is my anxiety and disappointment about my current job or overall career. I’ve always been the odd one out, from school to now. I was always ‘the artist’ in the class, and family and workplace and I had high hopes of achieving great things. Sadly, for most of my career I’ve chosen the wrong path and ended up in corporate or I.T. Design Jobs that are meaningless to me. I can’t connect with them. And usually I felt bored, and that it was all pointless except for making money for me and my family.
Now I’m 48 and I feel that I’ve missed my chance. I can’t even get those dull I.T. jobs anymore!
Q: When you listed the ‘3 choices’, did you mean that it IS or isn’t valid to change your environment? I know that when I’ve worked in non-profits or other jobs with a higher social, humanitarian or cultural purpose, and nice people – even for less pay, and typing lots of cold CSS and HTML code – I have been very happy.
I’ll admit that in some ways, doing those kinds of jobs was taking the easier way, the path of least resistance, so I was no longer challenging myself as much; but I suppose even those jobs could have lead to other more challenging, innovative and progressive jobs that were in the same sort of sector, had I put my mind to it.
May 22, 2017
This line, “INFPs think that they have to find meaning in their lives”, almost made me tear up, because it’s actually true. Although I’m only fifteen and I probably still have plenty of years of life ahead of me, I’ve always felt that I need to find meaning, like, right now. That feeling of emptiness is something I’ve been feeling for over a year now, and like I just said, I have many years left, I’m just a teenager and that feeling I think is emptiness could be just chemical/hormonal changes everyone faces in their teenage years, but these last months I’ve realized how important finding meaning is to me, and how much I force myself to find something. I constantly tell myself that I need something to move me, to make me feel alive, to encourage me to keep getting out of bed every day. Sometimes it feels as if life is a rutine that repeats itself everyday, and I think meaning will change that. I really don’t know, I think it’s different to everyone, but to me, having the INFP personality is a little difficult, but beautiful at the same time. Being an INFP is seeing everything in such a beautiful perspective that not many understand, and that’s what I love about being myself, even if it’s hard making up my mind at times. This is the first post I’ve seen in your blog, but I will surely check more.
Also, sorry if my english is bad, I’m not a native english speaker.