I know that I am going to get some angry comments on this one. I get the most “hate mail” when I write posts about depression and creating happiness. It’s okay. I completely understand. It is a very difficult topic and there are many forms of depression. Some are self-induced, some come from hardships in life, and some come from chemicals in the brain getting out of balance. Some forms require medication, some require time alone, and some just require an encouraging word. I know that people who have never had it, could never fully understand it.
The advice I give below comes from years of counseling and giving advice to people who have come to me or e-mailed me asking for help battling depression. I have seen this technique pull people out of depressive and self-destrucive thought patterns and even get people off of medication who thought they would be on it for the rest of their lives.
I am not an expert on depression and I am not a psychologist. My only credential is that I am fascinated with the brain’s ability to overcome difficulties, create new habits, and re-write it’s thought processes. I study happiness and self-improvement constantly. I love it, I try to live it, and I have a deep desire to help as many people as possible.
Now that I have that out of the way…
I have found that there are 2 things that anybody can do that will cure many forms of depression, both psychological and clinical. They are not particularly difficult but they will require you to set some goals and maybe change some routines because you have to be willing to do them every day.
#1 – Do something nice for someone else every day.
One major aspect of depression is a hyper-focus on ourselves and our own situation. We think about how bad our life is, how we don’t measure up, how we can’t see things getting better, how bad we feel, how much we don’t like the way we look, etc., etc.
People who think and talk about themselves every day in only positive ways are considered arrogant and self-centered. People who think and talk about themselves all day in a negative way are considered depressed and, yes, self-centered.
How could I say that someone who is depressed is self-centered? What a jerk!
What I mean is, whether we spend all day thinking about ourselves in a positive or negative way, we are still focusing on one thing, “me”. We have placed ourselves, our problems, our hardships, our emotions at the center of our universe. That makes us self-centered. It doesn’t have to be a bad term. It just describes where our focus is.
Many forms of depression revolve around our brain hyper-focusing on ourselves in a negative way. So the way to combat that tendency is to do the opposite: make somebody else the center of our focus for a little while.
I strongly believe in the phrase, “Charity never faileth.”
When I feel down about myself, I know that I can take a few minutes to write somebody a thank you note, and I will feel better. Sometimes I’ll go on Facebook and give a compliment to the first person that pops up on my feed. Once in a while I get to do something bigger and more time-consuming but usually it is small acts.
Our brains cannot simultaneously focus on two opposing thoughts. So if you are focusing on doing something kind for someone else, eventually you will not be able to focus on the negatives about yourself.
Not only that, it becomes harder and harder to think you are worthless if you have become the type of person who is doing acts of kindness for others every day. Someone who is doing that is an amazing person in anyone’s book.
Service is the world’s greatest medicine. It is universal. It works both for the person giving it and the person receiving it. It costs nothing but your time and effort. It never runs out and it works every time.
I can’t even count the number of times I have seen a moody and depressed teenager turn into a totally different person when I’ve dragged them to work at a food bank or other charity. Something magical happens when they focus on helping others.
Charity never faileth. Find a way to do it every day.
#2 – Decide to learn or do one new thing every day
Now that we have talked at length of the benefits of helping and focusing on others, let’s talk about “me”. I know this sounds like the opposite advice I just gave above but go with me for a moment.
Many people battling depression feel like they are “stuck in a rut”. Life never changes and they don’t feel like they have the energy to do anything about it. That is a terrible place to be. I say it in almost every post: Life is all about constant, forward progress. When we aren’t progressing, it becomes easy to get down on ourselves and slip into depression.
It can be even harder to fix when you wake up every morning with no desire or energy to put into feeling better. It is almost like you feel depressed about feeling depressed and that combination is enough to keep you from doing anything about it. In fact, for some people it keeps them from doing anything at all. And that can be depressing.
How do we fix this?
We have to force ourselves to move forward by learning something new or trying new things. I remember as a teenager, my friend had a car that would only start if we got out and pushed it. Sometimes you have to push yourself to do something in order to get started. This is one of those times.
Set a goal for yourself to learn something new every day. You can try a new food, learn an instrument, pick up a new hobby, learn a second language, watch a documentary on Netflix, click the “Random Article” link on Wikipedia and read the entry, take an online class about something that interests you, etc. There is an infinite number of possibilities.
It doesn’t matter if what you do is big or small, time-consuming or quick. The point is that you do something.
Most people in the world, whether they suffer from depression or not, do not have a plan for continued learning. By the time they are a middle-age adult they just level off with the things they already know and the things they already do. How depressing is that?! You’ve not even lived half your life and you just stop learning. What a waste of a perfectly good life!
Keep learning. Force yourself to do it. When the demons inside try to stop you and tell you to stay in bed, or take away your desire to feel better, tell yourself that whether you feel like it or not, you are going to do it anyway.
There is no stopping in life. We talked about it in my last post. You are either moving forward or going backward. Up or down. Make the choice to move forward in spite of how you are feeling. It will get easier and easier the more you do it. When you aren’t progressing, a feeling of internal discontentment builds and your self-worth starts to drop. Many people become accustomed to that feeling and let it overtake them. That is why you have to force yourself to do something to better yourself every day.
The 2 Questions to Ask Yourself Every Morning
Whether battling depression or not, there are two questions you can ask yourself every day that will help you feel better about yourself and help you create an amazingly rewarding life. They are:
#1 – Who will I do something nice for today?
#2 – What will I learn today?
They seem like pretty small and simple things to do but I won’t pretend that this will be easy for everyone. Many people battling depression have spent many years and thousands of dollars on counseling and medications. So for me to come in and say that there is a cure that is free and not very time-consuming will sound ridiculous to some.
All I would ask is that you give it a try. I have seen it work many times. And what is the worst case scenario? At worst, you have brightened the lives of other people and you have learned some new things along the way.
I would love to hear your comments on this or your experiences as you have tried it. This blog is designed to be a forum where we can give each other tips, encouragement, and advice. If you know someone who could benefit from this, please share it with them or share it using the social media buttons below.