Have you ever been depressed? I have, and it sucks. At one point in my life, I was so depressed that my doctor put me on Zoloft because I was breaking down and crying ‘for no reason’ in my office. Zoloft was nothing short of a miracle for me; the crying stopped, other people’s problems weren’t mine, and I felt happy. Had it not been for the side effects, I would probably still be using it today. Fortunately for my own personal growth, and whatever I share that helps you, I could only take it for a year. That year was enough to instill the possibility of happiness in me. Happily, I found another way to my happy and now I pass that on to others.
Recently, I was working with a client who has also suffered from depression. Because of my personal experiences, I’m a big believer in neuroplasticity and the value of using it to our advantage. Depression can become a habit, a habitual way of using the neurons in the brain. Change the way the neurons are used, the pathways, and the outlook will change, too. An improved outlook changes the chemical balance in the body, which contributes to the reversal of depression. It’s not magic. It’s science.
We explored my client’s own resourcefulness and found ways of preventing depression that worked for him: not letting things build up, talking to people when an incident occurs instead of harboring negative feelings for years, speaking his truth, engaging in self-care, and a few other great solutions. He had asked for my recommendations, but I always like to go to the client’s inner resourcefulness first. The answers discovered within are so much more effective and are applied more easily. He insisted that I must have a solution he hadn’t thought of, and there was one tapping on the back of my head. I recommended a blessings book.
Basically, it is a daily journal to log three good things that happened each day. My client didn’t like the word blessings, and gratitude didn’t resonate, either. He settled on ‘Happy.’ One of his self-commitments was to write in his Happy Book every evening. For over a month, the book remained blank. He just couldn’t think of anything to write. He also had other things he wanted to focus on in coaching, so the Happy Book was set aside.
Until this week. The Happy Book became front of mind. He had written two things in it, and couldn’t think of a third. “Would you like my help?” I asked. I knew that he would need that prompt, and he eagerly took me up on the offer. He had already spoken of several things that seemed to make him happy, but he also didn’t seem to recognize them.
As I asked about each one, he qualified them. No, this one didn’t count because… That one didn’t count because… They weren’t good enough. Many of the things that I thought qualified for a Happy Book simply didn’t meet his criteria for happy. No wonder he isn’t happy. In his estimation, in most cases, happy isn’t good enough!
Little happies don’t count in his life. The tiny things just don’t meet his standards. Bigger things don’t meet his standards either, if they have the slightest tinge of something that isn’t happy.
It was a revelation for me. I also believe it’s a mirror for how I viewed life many years ago. It led to this inquiry:
How big does your happy have to be in order to count as happy?
How happy would you be if every little opportunity for happy counted as enough?
I invite you into this Happiness Practice. For more information on exercises to prevent and reverse depression, see this article based on the work of the father of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman.
Let me know how it works for you. And, love someone today, would you? Extra points if it’s you.