Why Emotional Resilience, Not Happiness, Is the Opposite of Depression (and How to Build It)

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Express gratitude

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.

Keep learning

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.

Find 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Find out more at Vagabondwriters.com. You can also connect or follow Jelte on Facebook.

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2 Comments

  1. sonja September 15, 2016 at 8:02 am - Reply

    really good (insights) & well-expressed.

    • Jelte ten Holt September 16, 2016 at 8:44 pm - Reply

      Thank you Sonja! I’m glad you liked it.

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