It is no secret among those who know me that I have struggled with depression for most of my life. While it seems counterintuitive, there does appear to be a strong correlation between the prevalence of this problem and the unprecedented and continuing economic success our country has enjoyed. So if you struggle with it, there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. Most of us do, at least some of the time, and our circumstances in life really don’t seem to have a significant effect on that. As difficult as depression symptoms are to deal with, the sheer persistence of the disease in the face of long term, consistent efforts to eradicate it, has been the most frustrating aspect for me.
However, there is plenty to be hopeful about. Several months ago, I started making a more focused effort than ever to get my depression under control. First I had to accept, once and for all, that depression is a part of me and probably always will be. Acceptance is so important! As I understand it, suffering isn’t a direct result of circumstances, but rather, the result of the difference between those circumstances and one’s expectations. So in other words, anyone can be unhappy if he isn’t willing to accept reality. This is a large part of the explanation for miserable billionaires and happy people who don’t know where their next meals are coming from.
Accepting the reality that I will always have depression to contend with was a huge help. The next big step was taking responsibility for my own mental health. Too often in my life I’ve leaned on mental health professionals, thinking that if I invested enough time and money, I would have to see results. But just like with anything else, that isn’t enough. Simply going through the motions didn’t work for me. I wasted thousands of dollars in copays and hundreds of hours because I went in with the wrong mindset. The correct mindset, as in any situation, is to take responsibility – not for making the investment, but for attaining the RESULTS. When I finally did that around the middle of last year, I naturally started putting in the focused work that was necessary and everything changed.
What were my tactics? For one thing, I started reading with the specific purpose of defeating depression. Some of the books that really helped me include: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David Burns, Self-Compassion: The Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristin Neff, Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life by Eric Greitens, Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALS Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, and Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel By Changing the Way You Think by Dennis Greenberger, Christine Padesky, and Aaron Beck. But beyond just reading, I started actively working on changing my thought process. There are hundreds of very worthwhile exercises and things to think about in just the books I listed and I highly recommend working through them all to find the ones that help you.
But reading books takes time. Today I want to challenge you to start with one simple, but incredibly powerful concept: gratitude. This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned it in this young blog and that is no accident. Why is it so important? If you can change the way you think and start looking for positives instead of negatives, a few things will happen. Biologically, you will literally change your physical brain as you force it to work in different ways. That means that thinking positively will become easier with practice just like lifting weights does as your muscles get stronger. You will likely notice that your happiness level increases fairly quickly. But maybe the most exciting thing that will happen when you make it a priority to be thankful for the good things in your life is that you will get more of them. That’s right; changing the way you think will literally change your circumstances in life.
This isn’t some silly gimmick or pseudo-science. I’m not talking about thinking about things you want and the universe magically manifesting them for you. What I’m talking about is real. How does it work? When you start focusing on positive things in your life and being thankful for them, you will start to see more of them. This is human nature; you tend to find what you’re looking for and miss a lot of what you aren’t. When you start seeing more positive things, you start feeling better. When that happens, you start acting differently. You make an extra sales call. You meet a smoking hot girl and ask her out on the spot. Or maybe you just simply hold the door for someone. When you change your actions, your results start to change. Each of the examples I just listed can lead to something good happening for you and if you make enough changes like them, they certainly will. The first step to success is simply showing up and doing something. Success has a way of snowballing really quickly so literally all you have to do is start the process and ride the momentum from there and things will improve.
So how am I going to challenge you today? I want you to focus on making gratitude a part of your life. Immediately. In order for this to be as effective as possible, it needs to be obnoxious. Start keeping a notebook around or taking notes in your phone or whatever works for you. Every hour you’re awake, write down something you’re thankful for. Every single hour. I guarantee you can think of something. It can be as big as getting a promotion at work or as small as a conversation you had that you enjoyed. Still can’t find something? I bet you aren’t dying of cancer right now. I’ll bet even more that a tsunami didn’t just destroy your house and all your belongings. Try not to lean on the “it could always be worse” crutch too often but you can use it when you have to.
At the end of each day, review your list and pick out your favorites. Think about them as you lay in bed and go to sleep. There is no better way to start a night of restful sleep. Look back over previous days’ lists whenever you’re starting to feel down and remind yourself of some of the blessings in your life until the mood passes.
This exercise isn’t going to cure anyone’s depression. Much like alcoholism, I am not sure there is a cure. I think you just have to acknowledge that it exists and commit to fighting it every day. Do my gratitude challenge for a week or two and see how you feel. See if it is easier to come up with an item to add to the list than it was when you started. You are already going to notice progress and that is a money back guarantee! Obviously this doesn’t end your war. But it puts one battle in the win column. Next, pick out something else to try. Remember, big victories are made up of many little ones. If anyone decides to complete my challenge, I would love to hear about the results. So leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know how it worked for you.