This article is part of a series. Read Part 1 first.
Make the right choice
Depression may be one of the biggest challenges you will ever have to deal with. In the first part of this article, we have already seem how much damage it can do by affecting your thoughts, feelings and behaviour. And the more you allow your depression to bring you down, the harder it will be for you to believe that you can get better.
But you can take back your life! If you are here now, reading this article, it means that you still have some hope left in you. Maybe you’re not very confident you will become happy again, but deep down, you still want that. And I want you to hold on to that desire and sliver of hope and start taking back control.
When I was depressed, I’ve suffered in ways I can’t even describe. I’ve given up hope too and I was slowly accepting that I will be depressed and miserable my whole life. But I still had some hope left. And circumstances forced and encouraged me to do something to try to find a way to heal. And I did. It wasn’t easy and it took time. But I learned that even if you are depressed, you can choose happiness.
If you can “force” yourself to do the right things for a while, you will begin to heal. At first, it will feel like nothing changes. You will want to surrender. But if you continue to push yourself, you will begin to change. There are many paths to happiness, but I will only focus on 3 right now. You can change what you think, what you feel and what you do to finally find happiness again.
What to think for happiness
As we have seen, one of the problems with depression is that it affects what we think. It clouds our judgment and makes us look for faults everywhere, especially within ourselves. And negative thoughts are the cause of depression.1 So the best thing you can do to heal and become happy again is to stop thinking negatively. You need to learn how to stop those negative thoughts from controlling you!
Step 1: Identify those thoughts
In order to fight an enemy, you need to get to know him first. So you need to become aware of the negative thoughts that are running around in your mind causing all that damage and pain. When you feel sad or depressed, you may not be aware of your thoughts. You only know that you feel terrible. But if you stop and actively try to “listen” to your thoughts, you will usually be able to identify some of them. Write them down!
Some of those thoughts will be about yourself and they may sound like this:
I am not good enough.
I am fat and I cannot lose weight.
I will never make more money and become financially independent.
I am a loser. Nobody will ever love me for who I am.
Sometimes, those thoughts might be about other people or events:
I can’t stop thinking about what my teacher/boss said the other day. What if I fail my exams?/What if I get fired?
I can’t believe he let me down like that. I thought he was my friend. I guess you cannot trust anyone.
Don’t judge yourself for having these thoughts. It’s normal and we both know that you do not think like this when you are happy. Just try to identify some of these thoughts and accept them.
Step 2: Fight them
If you have identified some thoughts that come to your mind very often and are making you feel terrible, let’s fight them! Here are some ways to do that.
If your thought is a lie, focus on the truth! Sometimes when we are depressed, we exaggerate and lie to ourselves. We don’t consciously do this, but one part of our mind is just not thinking straight. So the best defense is the truth! Remind yourself of the way things really are. After a while, it will get easier to defeat that negative thought.
If your thought is a real concern, take it into account! If you are constantly worrying about something terrible that could happen, acknowledge that. Ask yourself: How likely is this? And if it is indeed very likely, think about what you can do to improve the situation. Then do something about it – no matter how small! When you find solutions to your problems, your mind no longer needs to worry and warn you about them!
Step 3: Let them go
Sometimes it is better not to analyze your thoughts. If you try to fight a negative thought and you realize that you are just sinking deeper into your depression, it is better to stop! Do not try to ignore your thoughts since this never works well.
It would be better to acknowledge them, accept them and let them go. Try to distract yourself from those thoughts. When those negative thoughts are overwhelming, try to do something that makes you feel better. You could read a book you enjoy, watch a TED talk, listen to a nice song, go for a walk, call a good friend or remind yourself of a nice moment from the past.
We both know that these steps seem very simple, but are hard to apply! It was not easy for me either, at least not in the beginning. But once you manage your negative thoughts for a few times, you will see that it gets easier and easier. And if this does not work or you want try one more thing besides this, let’s see what else you can do.
What to feel for happiness
When you are depressed, you are usually overwhelmed by negative feelings. You experience everything from sadness to helplessness and despair even in one single day.
But there is one positive feeling that can counterbalance that – gratitude. Instead of suffering for all the things you lack, you can be grateful for all the things you have! And several studies have shown that gratitude helps people overcome depression and increases happiness.2
Write down what you are grateful for
This activity has only one step: write down a few things you are grateful for. You can do this in the morning, at night or whenever you feel very sad. You can use a notebook, an app or your computer. The idea is to write down 3-5 things that you are grateful for. Try to think of something specific that happened that day. For example, you could write something like this:
Today I feel grateful that:
- My mother cooked my favourite kind of pasta
- I watched a great TED talk about happiness
- I have fresh flowers in my room
You do not need to look for anything extraordinary to feel gratitude. That’s the magic of gratitude: it helps us see all the great things that are around us that we usually overlook.
If you regularly write down what you are grateful for, you will begin to feel better. Slowly and surely, your depression will subside and gratitude and happiness will take its place. But there is one more thing you may want to try!
What to do for happiness
We’ve already said that when you are depressed, you usually don’t want to do anything. You feel so tired that even thinking about walking or working out tires you. But that’s exactly what you should do!
I know that it sounds weird, but you CAN work out when you are depressed. And you should! I think that one of the reasons why our bodies slow down during depression is because they know that they can. Our brains think that we should do nothing, we feel that it does not matter anyway, so the body thinks it can…”hibernate”. But if you start challenging your body again, it will “wake up”. And we slowly feel more energetic and happier. I wouldn’t believe it if I wouldn’t have done it!
But if you do not believe me, maybe you will believe what studies show. And studies have proven that exercise can be as effective at treating depression as anti-depressants.2 Moreover, if you choose to work out instead of taking pills, you are more likely to avoid a relapse. So what should you do?
That’s it! You can do any sport or type of physical exercise, so choose something that you enjoy. You can pick swimming, playing basketball, aerobics and so on. Or if you don’t like sports, you could start by walking. You just need to do something about 3 times a week. As with any other “remedy”, you need to do this frequently and it will take some time to see the effects. But you will begin to feel better even after 2-3 weeks!
I know that you probably started reading this article with little hope. Maybe you were more curious than hopeful about what you could learn from it. But I hope that you are feeling better now. I wanted to show you that there are many ways to recover, to heal and to find happiness again. Since depression affects our minds, our feelings and our behaviour, we can find happiness by changing what we think, feel and do.
No matter what your depression makes you think, it is possible for you to get better. You just need to make the right choices a few times to break free from that negative cycle. Once you do that, you will start a positive cycle and find your happiness again!
I want to help you find happiness!
That’s the reason why I have created “Your Path to Happiness”. It is a 30-day challenge that guides you to do one thing to increase your happiness.
How does it work? You simply have to download the file I created, read it and start acting. You will be able to use this file to track your progress during the month. It’s easy to use and free. You only have to subscribe to my newsletter and you will automatically get access to “Your Path to Happiness”. Don't worry, I rarely send emails anyway!
Are you excited? Well, go ahead and take one step towards happiness!
Subscribe and get access to "Your Path to Happiness"!
- “Learned Optimism”, Martin Seligman
- “The How of Happiness”, Sonja Lyubomirsky