I have spent a large proportion of my adult life suffering from depression. It has caused me many difficulties and at times it has been unbearable. After a particularly bad bout of depression last year I made a decision, one that may sound silly, but one that has helped me enormously: I chose to be happy. I’ve only started to feel better since I started to talk about depression and stop feeling so embarrassed about it. Depression affects so many people, yet its something we don’t talk about openly.
At least one person in every six becomes depressed in the course of their lives. One in 20 is clinically depressed. Figures suggest that it is women more than men who become depressed, but men may find it harder to admit to or talk about their experience. All age groups can be affected, and it’s important to take symptoms seriously and not to dismiss them as an inevitable part of growing up or growing old. By recognising and treating the symptoms and getting help, it’s possible to overcome depression, and prevent it coming back.
Deciding to be happy does not mean it just happens, it is something I have to work on every day. It does work though. I want to share some of the things I have learnt over the past year or so, and hopefully they will help people. I can’t claim to be an expert in this field, but everything I suggest has helped me in some way.
Ten tips for happiness
These ten tips come from the wonderful and inspiring Action for Happiness. The Action for Happiness site gathers together lots of information about happiness and how to become happier. These tips have made a difference to me because they help remind me about how I should approach problems and stressful times.
Find out what makes you happy
This may sound obvious, but for me, I had a revelation. It turns out that the things that make me happiest are not the things I thought.
I was given some wonderful advice: “Find out what makes you happy and do more of it”. Yeh great, I’m stinking-depressed and I hate everything is what I felt like. However, I took part in a little project to do with habit creation run by BJ Fogg (a very talented chap who runs the persuasive technology lab at Stanford). He was asking people to try his technique for learning new behaviour using baby steps. All you had to do was choose three new actions to do each day for a week and monitor their success. One of my three things was to write down at least three things that had made me happy in the day. I did this for well over a month and it completely changed the way I understood myself.
Once I knew what was making me happy, I was able to see how I could do more of those things instead of other more negative stuff. Simple, but very effective for me.
Don’t stick your feelings in a bucket
A powerful lesson I learned was to stop grouping all my feelings into one knotty mess, and instead force myself to think of them individually. A big jumble of emotions is much harder to deal with compared to smaller individual ones, plus the negative ones seem to be louder in groups too… yeh, I may sound mad, but what I am trying to get at is that unless you consider things on their individual merit you can’t look at them objectively.
I have a diagram to illustrate this:
If you only focus on the big feeling (represented by the capital letter ‘I’) you don’t see all the smaller feelings (the lower case i’s). Not all of those smaller things are bad – there will always be something good in there, but you have to look to see it.
Talk to people
Talking really is the best thing you can do. Verbalising problems make them seem more real initially, which can be terrifying, but once they are made real, they can be solved. If they are stuck in your head upsetting you, you’ll struggle to be able to see them and start getting rid of them. Talking to people and being open can be very liberating, for you and the ones that love you and worry about you.
So, I hope that if you have (or are) experiencing depression that in some way my ramblings have helped. It is a really difficult and challenging problem to face, but it is worth facing and I wish you all the best on the journey to feeling happier. Oh yes, and I’m not a hippy, I just think being happy is really bloody brilliant and we all should be happier.