“I believe the key to happiness is: someone to love, something to do, and something to look forward to.”
– Elvis Presley
3 key changes to remember:
- find someone to love in our life
- do something we love to do every day
- have something we love to look forward to
Someone or some thing to love
Appreciation, gratitude and compassion are all ways of expressing love. They are the keys to overcoming suffering when applied to these three simple focal points above. In the absence of a partner to love, it’s important that you find someone or – as mentioned in a previous post – something to love: a pet, for example. The crucial aspect of this step is your expression of love towards another being. It can even be nature.
Start small and persist. The key to recovering from depression is to start small and build up your changes by expressing your capacity to love in different ways. Thinking too big in a depressed state can make everything seem overhwelming or insurmountable in such a way that you give up or don’t even try. Even starting small, you might not feel like doing it, and you probably won’t feel ‘happy’ right away simply because you are depressed, and so it will take a while for your mood to change.
So it’s important to be realistic and to persist and persist, viewing the process – not as a technique for feeling better – but as a new pathway for you and your mind to go in. One similar to shifting the rudder of a boat on a dead calm sea, so that you slowly start to steer your mind and emotions in a healthier direction to the one that is maintaining your depression. Eventually the wind will catch your sail again as your energy returns. Love is energy and action that is central to healing.
What is Love?
Everyone and every living thing needs love. An early, crude psychology experiment proved that newborn babies who did not receive physical affection and loving words eventually died. Start by showing yourself some love through some loving acts – small at first. Odds are that you really need it. Then begin with someone else, using a photograph or memory, and begin to write down or say sentences that begin “Even though I feel sad/ in pain/ angry/ miserable etc, I want to show you my love by…..” and then create some loving action, however small, that you can use to demonstrate your love. Love is an action, not a feeling. Feelings of affection, elation etc may come later.
Appreciation is recognising the inherent value in someone or some thing. Start by beginning to list the smallest things about your life that you are willing to begin to appreciate. It is a simple decision. It could be as simple as a hot cup of tea on a cold day, your favourite chocolate, your eye colour, or a kind word someone gave you. Build upon this list every day, one thing at a time. You are doing more than writing a list. You are directing your mind and thoughts, building a mindset and new neural pathways in your brain.
Gratitude is similar to appreciation, but a little different, gratitude is valuing your experience of someone or some thing. Do the same exercise, scanning your whole life, past and present, for things to be gratful for. List them and actually allow yourself the experience of gratitude by making sentences that begin “Dear God, I am grateful to you for…..”. If you don’t have an understanding of God or have rejected the idea of God then for the time being start “I am grateful for….”
Compassion is an attitude of sympathy or pity for the suffering or misfortune of others. There are plenty people and other beings out there who are suffering loss, hunger or hardship in some way. You simply have to look in order to see. Showing compassion, as with love, appreciation and gratitude, is a way for you to strengthen your mindset and neural pathways in ways that will eventually lift your mood and give you meaning. Find anything or anyone – another person, yourself, a bird or animal, a plant – anything alive, and show some small gesture of compassion towards it.
Something you love doing
Again, starting small, recollect something that you used to love doing. Or start experimenting with anything that even vaguely interests you and stick with it. Sticking with an activity – even one that only vaguely interests you – can help you focus your mind on something meaningful rather than something miserable. Sticking with it will allow you to build up a habit so that eventually you will want to do it every day. It could be as simple as listening to music, practicing a musical instrument, drawing or painting, making things, writing a blog, or walking in nature. If it requires some physical activity or exercise then this carries additional benefits for beginning to regulate your body processes and brain chemistry.
Doing something you love is often the result of sticking with something you kind of like and allowing your love of it to emerge and build up over time so that you can’t imagine living without doing it.
Something to look forward to that you love
Having something to look forward to gives us hope and intentionality. It can help us get through the drearier tasks each of us has to do each day, and provide some small measure of reward. Once again, starting small will help you identify things more easily: a cup of your favourite coffee and a piece of chocolate cake might sound like a trite suggestion when you feel miserable to the point where it feels like the world is ending. But it’s the little things that can mean the turning point and change of direction we need whilst we wait for some great revelation to happen that radically changes our lives from the outside. Big revelations don’t come along very often, so taking a more modest, humble approach to recovery by starting small is essential for being real about our situation, at least as we begin to recover. A hot bath, a film, a plan to go somewhere nice tomorrow, starting a new book or re-reading one you’ve previously enjoyed. Being warm, comfortable, feeling safe and secure and affording ourselves a little pleasure in ways that are good for us: these are ways of meeting fundamental needs that help us get through each day.
These are just a few small steps that you can start on your own. They’re the first crucial steps in your healing and in building yourself back up again as you slowly change the direction of your mind. A good psychotherapist will help you build on this kind of work, but it is up to you to persist.
Sticking with a healing direction, however boring it may initially feel, is better than sticking with a direction that only brings you greater misery and takes you further down a hill that you have to climb back up. The time you spend doing the above activities is also time that you haven’t spent making yourself more depressed.