As the weather begins to get more and more dreary, so too do the hearts and minds of many of my patients. I've noticed a significant increase as of late in the blues and the blahs, and I attribute it to a number of factors: the weather, the upcoming holidays, and the fact that we are still in Lung season. (In TCM, each season is ruled by an organ system. The Lung is the organ in charge of grief.) Regardless of the "why" behind this seasonal depression, everyone wants to know the same thing: How do I break free of this? I know how it feels to be stuck in a deep depression; getting out of it feels like running in deep water. You can expend all of your energy trying to move past it, but it seems like an impossible task.
I'm often told that I radiate happiness, and I truly am happy...but I am no stranger to depression. I have been in that place where the colors of the world are leached away, and everything feels like it's in shades of grey. I've struggled to get out of bed and find any shred of meaning in my seemingly pointless existence. I've been so spiritually depleted that simply socializing with friends was a feat of endurance.
So how did I get past this? I truly believe that my obsession with change and transformation pulled me through. In my mind, everything is fluid and in constant motion, every situation impermanent. Even in my darkest time, my mind was constantly ticking toward what was next. It's difficult to stay entrenched within any situation when you are convinced that upheaval and reconstruction is right around every corner. And sure enough, I was right: by cutting ties with everything in my old life, I was free to pursuit the life I truly wanted to live.
But not everyone thinks this way. For many, the concept of the unfamiliar is terrifying. It feels safer to hold on to what is making you miserable, than to let go and face the unknown. So the question remains: how do you fix what is broken and find happiness?
I'm not going to bore you with ways that you already know: therapy, acupuncture, finding a solid support group...if you are truly depressed you have likely looked into all of these avenues. Are they helpful? Absolutely. But this article is about ways to find your own joy, and to take the reigns to make your life a little bit better, every single day.
Because here is what I see, over and over: people feeling guilty about adding joy into their lives. They are too busy and consumed with responsibilities and reality and other people's needs to even consider giving themselves a chance to experience a few moments of pure happiness. I get it: life is busy. But consider this for a moment: how many minutes a day do you spend online? Watching TV? Staring into space? Sleeping? With a little forethought, you can spare a few minutes every day, trust me.
Here's the first step: stop feeling so damn guilty about taking some time for yourself. Easier said than done, but start working on this. If you can't take care of yourself, you'll be too depleted to take care of anyone else.
Step two: make a list of things that make you happy. And I don't mean all that sentimental crap that everyone spews. We all know that your kids are the light of your life, but right now we are focusing on YOU. I'm talking about what truly puts a smile on your face, and being shallow here is absolutely allowed and encouraged. I'll begin: what puts a smile on my face is a huge cup of Starbucks, Stephen King novels, wine, and Sephora. Shallow? Yes. Who freaking cares, this stuff makes me happy. So I make it a point to buy some lovely but ridiculously priced lipstick every month, I drink my heavenly Starbucks every day, I savor a glass of red every evening, and I spend my nights in bed with Steve. And even when my days are crazy, I still know that I've had moments of pure enjoyment throughout the day to break things up and remind me that, yup, life is pretty damn good.
Step three: Talk about what makes you happy. For some reason, talking about things that make you happy tends to up the experience even more. My patients know that I am ALWAYS talking about things that make me happy, and every time I mention my delicious latte, my session of reflexology, my discovery of an eye cream that hides the bags...I sort of temporarily relive that moment of pleasure or indulgence and it puts me in a better frame of mind. Don't believe me? Seriously, just try it. I have a suspicion that the repetitive factor of talking about a pleasant experience reinforces the "I am pleased/happy/content" message within the subconscious mind...which means that every time you talk about being happy, you are doing your part to make happiness a habit.
Step four: You've heard this, over and over, because it is truth: doing good things for others boosts your own happiness, sometimes through the roof. This doesn't need to require money, either. Give someone a genuine and unexpected compliment. Write someone a letter to tell them what they've added to your life. Or hell, spend a few bucks and buy the coffee for the person in line behind you. Or tell the barista what a great job they're doing. The possibilities are truly endless, and I can promise you that you WILL feel amazing. Keep it up, and you will feel the balance between light and darkness begin to shift.