You might think that happiness is the opposite of depression, but it is not. It’s emotional resilience and here is why.
In hindsight, I have to say, it is rather obvious that they can’t be opposites. After all, opposites can’t follow that closely upon one another, can they? I mean, I can’t count the number of times that the corner of the blanket lifted and I’d be filled with immense joy, only for me to slip back into that sea of misery a few hours, days, or weeks later.
There were even moments when I’d be in the middle of one of these bouts of depression when for a moment the fog would dissipate, the sun would shine in, and I would be laughing out loud, for the darkness to only reasserted itself as the moment faded.
If they really were opposites then that shouldn’t be possible, should it? Then, the one would be the other’s antidote.
So if it isn’t happiness, what is it then?
According to Peter Kramer, author of both ‘Listening to Prozac’ and ‘Against Depression’, it is emotional resilience.
Of course, it is. Doesn’t that make an intuitive kind of sense to you?
Happiness with emotional resilience is robust. Happiness without it, on the other hand, is a brittle and fragile thing – a thing that may well crack and crumble when life smacks into it.
And so, if you want a happy life, then you need to build it upon the bedrock of emotional resilience. But how do you do that? Perhaps you need to drink some kind of strange tea made from a leaf that only grows on the western slopes of the Himalayas? Do you have to embrace the Kamasutra? Or is it a matter of regressing to a past life?
Nothing quite that exotic, thankfully! In fact, emotional resilience is within reach of all of us, if we just know what we have to work on.
We just have to:
Get enough sleep
A tired brain is a depressed brain (to not even mention the dozens of other negative side effects) while getting enough sleep is a fantastic way to build up your mental fortitude and make certain you have the wherewithal to roll with life’s punches.
So how much sleep do you need? More than you probably think. Recent studies have shown we need somewhere between 7.5 hours and nine hours of sleep a night.
Any of the following symptoms mean you’re probably not getting enough sleep:
- You feel very sleepy after meals or during meetings
- You fall asleep the moment your head hits the pillow
- You have to snooze all the time
- On the weekends you feel the need to catch up on sleep
If any or all of those things are happening to you, then you should make time for more sleep. You’ll feel better and more resilient for it!
Food influences your mood. And who is really surprised by that?
Of course, you know what that means. Yeah, that’s right. No Sugar, white flour, caffeine or lots of alcohol. Stay away from processed foods and don’t smoke either.
Instead, get more omega-3, protein, whole grains, beans, potatoes, vegetables and minerals, vitamins in the range of B C, D, and E. All of that will build up your emotional resilience and make it so that the potholes on life’s road are just a minor inconvenience rather than something that can take out your undercarriage.
Try to get them from natural foods if you can, as they’re much more effective sources than pills.
That doesn’t mean you immediately have to go run an hour a day. Start out slow. Then build you way up. That’s better than if you go all out and quit.
After all, one of the ways that exercise builds you up mentally is by giving you the willpower to continue in the face of adversity – and that is a key in the emotional resilience game. But that won’t work if you quit.
As an added bonus, getting enough exercise will help you sleep!
Mindfulness is becoming more centered in the moment. It has a redonkulous number of benefits associated with it, including boosting our immune system, helping us focus, reducing stress, improving the quality of life and – yes – fighting depression.
With mindfulness, you realize that your thoughts and your emotions are not you but instead are transient. And that allows you to do a kind of mental jujitsu that prevents you from being pulled along by – and dwell upon – negative states. Yup, emotional resilience isn’t all about being tough. Sometimes it’s about being clever.
I know it’s hard when you’re unhappy. And yet it is vital that you do – be it with friends or family. The reason is straightforward enough. Friends and family are our buffers, our shock absorbers. They can help us cope when bad things happen simply by being there to listen to our woes. Also, they can offer us advice to get us back on top again, physically help us surmount our difficulties, and even warn us away from dangers and threats.
What’s more, they can give us a great amount of joy.
And so, though the moment that you start coming back up after a bout of depression, start reestablishing your relationships – particularly the ones with people who aren’t judgmental or careless, so as to reduce the risk of being pushed back under again with a misplaced comment.
Depression is a state of mind. Now I’m not trying to say that it’s a state of mind that is easy to change, but it is a state of mind nonetheless. For that reason, if you can change your frame of reference, that can make it far easier for you to absorb life’s shocks.
Finding ways to express gratitude is a great way to change that frame.
Gratitude journaling is probably the most well-known way to express gratitude. This is the practice where you write about what you’re grateful for.
Some quick tips:
- It doesn’t work if it’s a routine, as then you’re just going through the motions. You have to mean it for it to actually do something.
- If you’re finding it hard to express gratitude, then imagine your life without that thing, person or idea. Really explore how that would make you feel. Then let yourself come back and realize that you still have it. Write about that.
- Go deep, not just wide. It’s better to explore one thing well than lots of things shallowly.
- Write about a surprise, as these will elicit greater gratitude.
And here I’m not talking about those mind training apps on your phone. Their benefit is questionable. No, here I’m talking about actually taking the time to learn more skills or improving yourself. That can mean going to school, taking workshops, watching educational Youtube videos or reading books. It doesn’t matter, as long as you keep expanding your horizons.
By keeping your brain active, you are able to constantly work at developing new models for and about the world. These, in turn, will often give you new insights and new coping techniques for when the world tries to clobber you over the head.
What’s more, if you’re interested in something and enjoying learning about it, it is a great deal harder to slip back into depression. In a way, learning can become your purpose.
It isn’t easy to find a purpose, but there is probably nothing better for boosting your emotional resilience. Because if you’ve got this kind of motivation to get up in the morning, if you feel like you’re part of something bigger than yourself, then it is easy to keep going in the face of adversity – in part because you’ll spend so much less time dwelling on them.
You’ve got much bigger fish to fry.
There are many ways to find purpose. Some people find that spirituality helps them. Others find their meaning in art. Helping might be the right thing for you. Giving can do it as well. One thing that seems to be almost inevitably true of purpose is that it is something bigger than yourself.
I’m sorry to break it to you, but one thing that will not satisfy your need for purpose is collecting more things. The research is quite clear on that count. Experiences are far better for us than things. Of course, pursuing experiences for the sake of experiences isn’t much of a purpose either.
Hedonism will only satisfy you for so long.
The pursuit of happiness
So those are some concrete, day-to-day steps you can take to build your emotional resilience. It certainly worked for me! Since I switched my focus from fighting depression with the pursuit of happiness and instead focused on building my emotional resilience, I’ve successfully managed to keep my depressions at bay.
Actually, while we’re on the subject, have you ever noticed how pursuing happiness doesn’t really work? And if you think about it, it is quite obvious why it wouldn’t. You’re either happy or you’re not. And if you’re pursuing happiness, guess what? Then you’re not.
For if you had it, you wouldn’t need to pursue it.
What’s more, the harder you pursue it, the further away it seems to get. You can never seem to catch it. Instead, it seems to sneak up on you exactly on those moments when you’re occupied with other things.
It is, if you will, a side effect. And that’s not me trying to belittle it. I know all about how important happiness is. Instead, all I’m saying is that if you want to be happy, you’ve got to shift your focus.
You’ve got to aim at finding fulfilling– be it to get closer to your family, create something beautiful, or help others. It really depends on the person, but it is almost inevitably something bigger than you, something selfless.
While I’m here anyway, two more things:
- Don’t let the corporations define what will fulfill you. After all, they’re not in the business of creating fulfillment. They’re in the business of selling products.
- Try many different things. I tried being an academic, model, market researcher, editor and party organizer and a dozen other jobs before I found my calling. And how can we expect it not to take many tries? Understanding ourselves and our wants is a skill and just like learning how to play the violin, that means we’ve got to practice.
If your mindset is to try many things, then you won’t be depressed by failure, because you won’t see it as a dead end. Instead, you’ll see it as a stepping stone towards better and bigger things. And with that attitude truly engrained in you, you’ll find that your emotional resilience will have become harder than granite.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Several years ago Jelte left behind the sedentary life of academia to travel the world, experience the sights, sounds and ideas she shares with him, and write from her many corners. In that time He’s written two books and hundreds of articles, seen four continents, lived in six countries, travelled through dozens more and never owned more than fit into two bags.