Finding New Meaning in Old Emotions

A scenario. Your character has:

Given up professional and post-graduate dreams to aid a friend
Moved to a new city to aid said friend
Then been let down by said friend
Which resulted in the loss of your character's entire circle of friends, who had really been said friend's friends
Only speaks to his ex-fiancee every few weeks, which only reminds him of what he lost
Earns less 1/3 less than the national poverty average

It is:

Your character's birthday
Your character is at dinner alone
No one has called to wish him a happy birthday

Your character's mood is _________

The quick and easy answer is depressed or sad or any other negative emotion. Emotions are tricky things because it's easy to use them like Venn diagrams. A person is ________ (happy!) or __________ (sad :() and regardless of where they fall in that little circle of a diagram, they are that emotion. People don't usually work that way. You can be sad at success and happy when you've failed. We're a mercurial people and our ability to want more and to attempt more and to achieve more is pretty astounding. So when you're putting your character through a dramatic ringer, slow down and ask yourself if maybe there's another reaction to be had. Maybe the opposite of your first reaction is both plausible and a fresh take on an established subject.

In the case of the scenario above, that was my life in 2001 and 2002. My birthday was my favorite time of the year. Not because it was my special "me" day. My mom hadn't made my birthday special since I was 8 or so. No, it was special because I made $7000/year in 2001 and it was the one day out of the year I splurged on a steak. I walked down the street to a place called Scooters. I ordered a steak (medium well), steak fries, and a two-fingered scotch neat. My birthday was steak day, and for those couple hours sitting in that restaurant, the hardships of the world stopped at the door. In what was one of the most difficult times of my life, that one day was the happiest day of the year.

(Of course, it doesn't hold a candle to any of the 365 days I live now, but I got my shit together. Now I have steak whenever I want.)