The Older Dad

The wise and older parent

Your Life Is the Key to Pleasure Over Sadness

Three steps to activate joy and overcome the blues.

All of us feel the blues from time to time. Life can deliver real body blows, and sometimes they really hurt. What is not “normal” is becoming stuck in a down mood. When we find ourselves unable to bounce back, we need to take action.

In psychology, research on the treatment of depression has consistently shown that a strategy, Behavioral Activation, can change a negative mood. When psychologists examine what part of cognitive-behavioral treatments for sadness, behavioral activation often stands alone as effective. For any of us to overcome persistently being blue, we can follow 3 steps to activating our happiness.

Step One: Change Your Hopelessness

When we feel down over several weeks, we unconsciously believe that things will never change.  You can hear your thoughts telling you that things will never change, that life will always be sad, and you are powerless to make yourself happy. Of course, the sadness has clouded our minds and blinded us from seeing any happy moment. We start to forget that we were happy in the past, and we discount a happy moment in the present so that joy is minimize or ignored.

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To overcome the sadness-based belief, we must force our minds to recount earlier happy times. We must challenge the belief that things are hopeless with the truth of our lives:  Times have been better, and we find happiness again. We must also keep notes during the day on moments when we feel joy. The blues tend to rebuff awareness of positive experiences, so that we don’t notice and can’t recall them. To change the hopelessness, we  must force our attention to see the moments of joy, and jot them down.

The final action in changing hopelessness requires that we build a new belief…..one based on the evidence from the past and present. Often, folks find the following kind of structure helpful in building a new belief:  While I ……, the reality is ……, and I know I can ……….  For example, “While I feel really down and hopeless, the reality is that I have bounced back from times like this in the past and I have had moments of joy this week, and I now I can be happy again even if I must work at it a little to get there.” If we write the new belief down, then rehearse it several times a day, we can usually build a new belief that can help us leave the blues behind.

Step Two: Find your Joy

Next, we can build a recipe for happiness from our own experiences. Most people possess three areas in which they know happiness: the past, the present, and the future. First, review your life and write down experiences that used to bring you happiness.  Second, look over the notes you took about current happy moments, and write those down as well. Finally, examine your dreams, and make a list of things you’ve always wanted to do, but just haven’t taken the time yet to accomplish. Once you have these three sections written down, rate how happy you can imagine yourself feeling if you were to do each item on the list. We want to decide the things that can motivate you the most, so circle the items with the highest ratings.

Step Three: Schedule your Happiness

Now it is time to activate your happiness. We must use our time each week to rebuild joy into our lives, so we must schedule time to be happy. Take your calendar, and assign time each day to do the things you circled in the list. For the “future” list, many people use the time to create a plan for their “always wanted to” items. Happiness will usually replace the blues as you build joy back into your life. Whether we feel like following the schedule, or not, we must dedicate ourselves to building pleasure back into our lives.

I often use the analogy of an eroding shore line to help people understand why we schedule happiness. Think of the shore line along Lake Eire—it is eroding. We become stuck in the blues with enjoyable experiences erode from our lives. But, we can schedule happy events into our lives, and rebuild the shore line. We can keep our happiness from falling into the Lake by bolstering the shore line of our lives.

The Final Word

Surely some of us need help reversing the trends of chronic sadness. But, we should remember that our own lives are the best place to find what makes us happy. The blues try to paint our view of life negatively, but we can activate our happiness by using dreams. If we begin doing happy things, we will chase the blues away.

Resources

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16881773

http://www.abct.org/docs/members/factsheets/depression%200707.pdf

http://www.christophermartell.com/ba.php

http://www.abct.org/docs/Home/LeahyTBTunemployment.pdf

http://www.apa.org/divisions/div12/rev_est/beh_depr.html

 

                        

Kevin D. Arnold, Ph.D., A.B.P.P., is the Director of the Center for Cognitive and Behavioral Therapy of Greater Columbus and a Clinical Faculty member in the Dept. of Psychiatry at OSU.

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