It's possible to curb depression and be happier without therapy or medication if you take a few simple steps. The art of happiness begins with an optimistic thinking style and an optimistic approach to problem solving. And you can use the same optimism-based skills to decrease depression and anxiety.
The Power of Optimism
An optimistic approach to life can work wonders. Optimism enhances self-confidence and instills a sense of self-control while helping us to resist depression. It creates a positive sense of expectancy. Optimists tackle adversity more effectively than pessimists, and see themselves in a position of power... whereas pessimists often see themselves as powerless, or helpless victims. Research shows optimists are generally happier than pessimists, too.
Let's say something goes wrong...
The pessimist quickly denounces the event as more proof that people are untrustworthy or the world is unfair. He tells himself the familiar story this is another unfair setback he will likely not be able to overcome. The pessimist's thought process or "attributional style" does him in. If he believes the setback can't be overcome, or that he'll get more depressed by trying, he'll avoid the problem altogether. Not doing anything about the problem makes the problem worse, which reinforces the pessimist's belief that he is doomed to suffer failure in the situation. The pessimist feels it's hopeless to try to solve the problem or change it in a significant way, and hence he feels hopeless.
A sense of hopelessness fuels depression. And so... the more hopeless the person becomes the more depressed he/she will be.
On the other hand, an optimist will tend to view the same problem in a more productive light. He/she may think of the problem as a challenge to be overcome, and may look for positive aspects of the problem (although they may seem hidden at first). The optimist gets down to work trying to solve the problem, which gives him/her a sense of control. Instead of thinking depressing thoughts, he/she thinks in a way that resists depression.
Let's talk about how to remain optimistic in a pessimistic world. If we are creative and determined, we can weather most storms pretty well... and, if we use reframing, one of the most important skills used by optimists to keep the upper hand and avoid getting depressed, we have the power to gain the upper hand over adversity.
After three years of law school, a woman took the bar exam and failed it. She came to me for help with her depression. She was depressed because she would have to take the "horrible exam" over, and she felt like a failure. Her depression was ill-affecting her marriage. Further, she told me she wasn't sure she could ever pass the test. She sank into a deep depression because she felt she had squandered three years of her life in law school, all for nothing.
How was she framing the event? Quite pessimistically!
Naturally, she was disappointed and upset with herself. And she was expecting the worst. Yet if she would be able to learn to view the event in a more positive and hopeful light, there would be hope. But how?
A Happier Plan
I encouraged my discouraged client to think differently about her "failure" and to see it as a possible success. She laughed at first. How could the worst failure of her life be considered a success?
Well, let's find a way, I told her. Failing the exam could actually help you to be more successful, if you play your cards right!
Because you'll take the exam again, and this time you'll be more than ready for it. You'll have time to review your study materials and learn the subject matter better than ever. You'll not only pass the exam, but you'll master the material, which will make you a better lawyer!
In other words, Failing the test may turn out to be the best thing that ever happened for your career.
Well, she wanted to believe me, but it wasn't easy. Then she took a deep breath and tried to view the failure in less catastrophic terms. She began to realize it was a temporary setback. So things were looking up. Note: We feel more depressed if we think a defeat is permanent. If we view it as temporary, we feel better about it. Most dark situations can be temporary. But either way, we can still be in charge of our reaction to an event. That gives us potential power over the event. Believing you have power is very important.
In the end, my client was able to develop a positive mind-set, and she began to study for her re-test in an enthusiastic fashion. She learned the material better than ever. And she passed the test with flying colors! How happy she was!
Later on... she told me she was actually glad she had failed the first time... because she wasn't ready to practice law before. Now she felt good about herself, her knowledge and skills!
By reframing the event, my client was able to relieve her depression and ultimately replace it with elation. And she had learned an important lesson about the power of reframing a bad situation into a good one. She had discovered the art of mental alchemy, of turning base metal into pure gold, of turning problems into opportunities.
Don't let your problems intimidate you. Problems can almost always be solved. And they can actually make us happier, for by solving them we become stronger... and we gain a sense of fulfillment and success by overcoming.
To Sum It All Up
You can be happier and decrease your depression by employing the techniques of optimism. The skill of reframing can help you to get the upper hand over all kinds of problems. You'll discover the art of happiness, and you'll be stronger and happier in all you do.
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