In a society stricken with depression, lack of joy is evident in people of many different backgrounds. In 2013-2016, the total prevalence of depression in adults over 20 years old was measured at 8% (that’s about one out of every 12 people!), with the prevalence among women being nearly twice that seen in men (AAFP, 2018). Anecdotally, many of my patients reflect on their own mood, either in the present or in the past, as not matching their situation. “I always have plenty, my quality of life is great, but I still feel depressed.”
As long as we’re living from a place of, “I’ll be satisfied when ___,” we will always be too busy living in a possible future to enjoy what we have in the present.
So how do you create more joy in your daily life, and stop telling yourself that you’ll be happy where/when the grass is greener?
1) Ground yourself in the present, in what’s important
In order to be happy with what we have and where we are, we must know where and when that is! Simple mindfulness practices like mindful breathing, yoga, tai qi,
or going for a walk in nature can help us to be more awake to our situation. Consider taking just 5 minutes every day to do nothing but breathe. There are a lot of really great breathing exercises on youtube you can follow to train your brain to be present. While you’re breathing, consider stretching and massaging your upper chest and shoulders. Plant your feet firmly on the ground, and let your mind be present to the area of earth under your feet. Know in this moment that you are breathing in, or out, and that you are supported by the earth. Know in this moment that you have enough, you do enough, and you are enough.
2) Use your vision to awaken a sense of possibility and oneness
This is a particularly wonderful activity to do outside, or with a mandala coloring book. Take a moment to look around. Pick out individual items in your chosen space - a tree, a particular region of your mandala, a chair. Look at this item until the things around it cease to exist. This is how we go about our lives, normally - we look, already deciding what it is we’re looking at before we’ve even settled our vision on the object. Now, look around again, but this time with a soft gaze. The individual objects cease to exist, and are replaced with a more open expanse of possibility. Once your eyes understand this, you are that much closer to feeling that you as an individual are a member of a larger community of humanity. Your individual concerns and stresses melt away on the shoulders of the billions of people, animals, plants, and objects with whom you share this world. This softer vision of the universe creates more possibility for partnership, play, and joy.
3) Make note of the small joys of life
Journaling is a great way to be present to the good in life. We’re hardwired to remember the bad things that happen to us, so that we can learn from them (this is a great adaptation for the survival of our species! But it’s not so great for our mental health). This is known as “negativity bias” and researchers estimate that it takes 5 “good” interactions to override one “bad” one (Marano, 2003). It may feel like only bad things happen, but for most people that’s because the brain focuses so much harder on those negative experiences. Through mindfulness practice and journaling, you can consciously raise your awareness of your positive encounters in life. An example of a journal entry would be to write down five things that happened during your day which you found beautiful, or exciting, or which brought you closer to someone you care about. As you shift your attention to these things in order to write them down, you’ll train yourself to override your negativity bias. And if you’re looking for more things to write in your journal, you’ll soon learn that you have control over the events of your day. Maybe you spend a little more time talking to a colleague over lunch, or you text a friend you haven’t seen in ages, or you just allow yourself more time to feel that much more connected to your pet as you greet them when you get home from work. Before you know it, you’ll have a hard time picking just five good things to write down each day!
If you want help making the most of what life has to offer, set up an appointment with me today! I would love the honor of helping you transform your emotions.
This blog is not intended to replace professional medical or psychological care. If you are feeling depressed, anxious, or unsafe, please talk to your doctor or a licensed mental health therapist.
AAFP, (2018). https://www.aafp.org/news/health-of-the-public/20180219nchsdepression.html
Marano, (2003). https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/200306/our-brains-negative-bias