(Psychological Paradoxes & Puzzles — 9)

A Paradox regarding Thinking, Depression, & Cheerfulness

Assumption A: Premise 1 & Premise 2 & Premise 3 & .... imply Conclusion 1.
Assumption B: Conclusion 1 is depressing and a person who becomes convinced of Conclusion 1 will, thereby, become depressed.
Assumption C: However, for any premise, P, there are a number of other facts (or premises) that are true at the same time as P and that, together, can lead to some conclusion, C, that is different from Conclusion 1 and that does not contradict Conclusion 1.
Assumption D: Premise 1' & Premise 2' & Premise 3'  & .... imply Conclusion 2 (and Conclusion 1 and Conclusion 2 are consistent with each other).
Assumption E: Conclusion 2 is not depressing, and a person who becomes convinced of Conclusion 2 will become happy and cheerful.
Assumption F: Rational thinkers are capable of holding two conclusions in mind at the same time.
Conclusion 1: No matter how depressing a valid line of thought is to a person, there is always another valid line of reasoning that can lead to a cheerful conclusion.
Conclusion 2: If a person's moods come from or are influenced by his or her rational reasoning, he or she can be both depressed and cheerful at the exact same time.


It is possible for people to think themselves into corners. For example, they notice this or that about other people or about themselves, and they come to depressing conclusions about their relations and even about the possibility of good relationships in general. Or they might come up with depressing conclusions about themselves, maybe that they are bad or weak or lesser than others. These people may pride themselves in honesty and self-knowledge and their ability to face hard facts, and they feel they are staring reality in the face and that depression is the only rational mood for them to have, the only mood that comes out of reality and reason. They can even feel superior to others who are cheerful; these people look superficial to them — Some of the characters in the movies of Woody Allen express this philosophy, as do Existentialist "heroes."

However, the paradox shows that cheerfulness is just as rational a mood as depression. There are, at all times, facts that lead to cheerful conclusions, just as, at all times, there are facts that lead to depressing conclusions.

It is possible for a person to become depressed from this paradox, but the "choice" of depression is, it seems to me, a neurotic choice and not a logical necessity. It may be heroic to face the truth, but, if so, it is heroic to face the whole truth and not just part of it. And logic leads to happy conclusions as well as to sad ones, to happiness as well as to depression and anxiety.

The paradox, if it shows anything, shows that thinkers should not place complete confidence in their thinking, that they should be very slow to act on conclusions that make them depressed or angry. This is not for a moral reason, that they should practice self-control for moral reasons. It is because reason always gives only one view. Using a geometrical metaphor, reason is alway a line, but reality consists of many dimensions. Only some of the lines (and some of the dimensions) are depressing. It is not honorable and noble and being consistent to act on angry and depressed thinking; it is irrational and shows a limited ability to think and is narrow and small minded.