Coping with Depression
All my life, people have said to me, “You’re so happy!” followed by the question, “What do you do to be so happy?” Some have even asked me this question with skepticism or annoyance. When I gave an example or two of things I do, they often say, “Well, that’s easy for YOU. You’re a happy person!”
But the truth is, I’m like everybody else. I’ve just been blessed to have stumbled upon some things that worked for me, so I stuck with them! I began learning coping methods when I was a young girl and couldn’t articulate the feelings of sadness or anxiety, which I described to my mother as “that funny feeling in my tummy.” I learned how to make “that funny feeling in my tummy” go away: I drew. I read. I had a friend over for a play date. I made latch hook rugs. I listened to music. I journaled. I spent time in nature looking for salamanders.
It also probably helped that I was raised by a child psychiatrist. But I must say that my father never directly taught me coping skills. They were more a way of life in my household. For example, my family already built time into my schedule for exercising and getting outdoors. My father never said, “Go outside and get some exercise. It will be good for your mental health.” Instead, we simply skied and biked together. He never said, “Talk about your feelings. It will help.” Instead, my parents fostered a safe environment where they welcomed and encouraged conversation, and where we were free to express our emotions. We regularly had family dinners, and my father was a big fan of board games, which is when our discussions took place. Sometimes we would reflect on the day’s enjoyable activities. Other times, we talked about our feelings and resolving conflict. My parents were always accepting and non-judgmental. My mother’s lap was also a great place to privately share my emotions or simply to cry when the words did not come easily.
In 1994, my fiancé and my father died within six weeks of each other. In the days and weeks after their deaths, I seldom felt joy. When I did feel happy, it felt like a foreign experience. However, I never felt like I was going to “fall apart.” In my first book, I Can See Clearly Now: A Memoir about Love, Grief, and Gratitude, I talked about how I was able to rebuild my life after such loss. As time passed, I was able to live my life with more joy than ever before. People would tell me, “I’m so glad you’re OK. In fact, you’re more than OK. You’re happy. Many people don’t recover after what you’ve been through.” They would wonder how I did it.
I was asked these questions many times, in many ways. At first, I wondered, “What in the world do I do to give people this impression?” I began to think long and hard about what I do to “be so happy.” Later, as a mental health professional, I realized if I could share my insights and experiences on what I do to be happy, I could provide a valuable service for others in the world.
Ultimately, I came up with thirty-five different things I do to be happy. Now these are not things I do every day, but they’re simple enough to practice often, especially on your very worst days. This is also not an exhaustive list. Each of the 35 ideas has many smaller ideas, giving you many different tools to choose from. For example, in the chapter on connecting with nature, I talk about several different ways that you can harness the healing power of nature – water, trees, hiking, forest bathing, relationships, sights, sounds, and even using photographs and recordings when you cannot get outside. There’s something for everyone!
Of course, you can do these things on your great days, too, but I truly love the idea of having things to do on “bad” days—when you need them the most. In fact, I was editing this book in the midst of COVID-19, and I really put these strategies to the test. I’m happy to report that they are now “pandemic-tested.”
Some of these practices revolve around mindset. Some are solo activities. In some, you interact with others. Some don’t take much time at all, and some can last a few hours. Some involve planning, and some can be totally spontaneous.
I also want to stress that my goal is not for me—or you—to maintain a high level of happiness all the time. That simply isn’t natural. Besides, trying to maintain high levels of happiness would be quite exhausting—not to mention disappointing! When achieved, happiness is wonderful.
However, it can be short-lived, and it feels elusive when you’re going through difficult times. On the other hand, you can always experience joy. Even on a horrible day, during a difficult situation, in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, it is possible to experience joy.
As you will see in this book, experiencing happiness and joy does not mean ignoring your negative thoughts and painful emotions. Quite the contrary. Addressing your negative thoughts and allowing yourself to feel and process emotional pain are prerequisites to joy. We go over this in the book, too.
In the FEELING Good book, I have given each of my practices its own chapter. Each chapter begins with an inspirational quote, setting the stage for the power of that concept. Within the chapter, I have demonstrated how this idea can cultivate joy in your life through personal examples from myself and others. In addition, I have provided research to support the effectiveness of these ideas. As a psychologist, I know the importance of backing up what I say with scientific research. I don’t want to waste your time, and I don’t want to perpetuate the “be happy” or “be grateful” platitudes. I want to provide you with ideas that have been clinically studied and proven to give you effective access to joy and fulfillment in your life.
Each chapter ends with the most important component—action steps for you to take. These simple steps can help you start to cultivate joy I your life. I have designed these steps so that you can do them even if you’re low on time, energy, or money. By completing these steps, you will be on your way to living in your own happiness.
Consider looking at your happiness as your “job” to do. In my life, I’ve learned that happiness is not a one-and-done deal where you do some simple things and then you’re good to go. No. Happiness doesn’t work that way. It takes practice, just like everything else. All practice is simply (1) focused attention and (2) repetition. Those two things are all it takes to “practice joy.” Focus your attention on finding joy and repeat. Every day.
Here’s the great news. If you do these steps, you will feel good. I’m not going to ask you to do things that feel awful and tell you that you need to punish yourself on the way to happiness. No. You will feel good while you’re on your way to finding your joy.
My goal for you in reading this book is that you see some ideas that you already do, but now you can practice them with increased intention and purpose, knowing that the science shows that action is beneficial for your mental health. I also hope to introduce you to some new ideas that you can incorporate into your life and begin to feel, see, and experience joy in a way you never have before.
As you begin this book, it’s important for you to believe that you have the power to control your thoughts and actions and increase the joy in your life. The more you believe in your power for self-healing and happiness, the more likely you will take action and use these ideas. Now let’s get started.
Each purchase comes with 3 months of free access to the companion online program, also called FEELING Good. You don’t have to do this alone. We’re still in the midst of a pandemic, and let’s face it – life is hard at times. Purchase the book and join the FEELING Good online program and receive the support you need. You are not alone. https://drpeggydelong.com/peggys-books/
For some bracelets to support you, check out The Happiness Bracelet, Happiness and Joy Bracelet, and Healing Depression Bracelet