What do we do when life feels like it’s piling on top of us? Many times, we bury our optimism, our hope, and our joy and react with fear, anger, or weariness allowing overwhelming circumstances to knock us flat. This reaction can become so ingrained in our behavior that emotional depression becomes an automatic reaction to life’s trials. But depression does not have to be automatic; we can choose to intentionally respond to any circumstance with optimism, hope, and joy.
Carol ran into the house, trying to get the phone. Too late, she reached to disengage the answering machine when she heard who it was—her ex-husband calling to say that he’d be late again on paying his child support. She folded her arms as if to brace herself as she listened to him weave his excuse of “too many bills and not enough money.”
In the past, Carol would have responded to this news with a helpless sort of anger. She’d be fearful that any criticism or argument on her part would mean Jack would just hold the check out longer. He’d done it before and she’d be afraid he’d do it again. She really needed the money. In the past, Carol would have said nothing to Jack. Not today.
“Jack, it’s Carol. I’m here,” she said, picking up the receiver. He seemed surprised to hear her voice. He began again to rattle off his reasons for not paying on time before she quietly, but firmly, interrupted him.
“Jack, that’s not acceptable. If someone’s going to do without this month, it will have to be the cable company, not your children.” There was silence on the other end of the phone.
“Look,” he finally said, “I just called to say I’d be a little late, not that I wasn’t going to pay at all.” She could hear the anger in his voice.
Just keep going, she said to herself. You can do this.
Overwhelmed and Alone
Like many single parents, Carol was overwhelmed by raising three children alone.
From the outset of her divorce, Carol’s ex-husband exacted a penalty for every visitation and every check the court had ordered. It was his way of punishing Carol for having the courage to leave, and his way of maintaining the control he exerted over Carol during their marriage. He quickly set up a pattern of picking up and dropping off the children at the most inconvenient times and places for Carol. When she protested, he made it sound like she didn’t want him to have visitation, and thus was in violation of the court order. Child support checks arrived sporadically and rarely on time, but always with an elaborate excuse.
Intentional Response Versus Automatic Reaction
Carol initially sought counseling for her children. It didn’t take their counselor long to recommend that Carol come in for herself. Carol was anxious, high-strung, and depressed. She needed help switching from an automatic reaction to an intentional response when dealing with the circumstances surrounding her divorce.
Carol needed to find a new response to her ex-husband’s repeated offense. Her solution was best stated by Albert Einstein, who once said, “You can’t solve a problem on the same level that it was created. You have to rise above it to the next level."
The next level above automatic reaction is intentional response. In order to counteract the debilitating effects of anger, fear, and guilt, you need to be intentional in your response to life and its circumstances.
Through therapeutic support, Carol was able to look at her situation with new eyes. She found optimism in the fact that she had been brave enough to recognize an unhealthy situation in her marriage and end it.
If she’d been brave in the past, she could be brave again.
Seeking Happiness With Intention
Carol found optimism, hope and joy. She looked for it and found it.
She stopped waiting for these things to come to her and began to actively, intentionally, seek happiness. She didn’t need to look for trouble from her ex-husband—it had no problem finding her. But Carol took a giant leap forward when she decided to take control over how she responded to the roadblocks from Jack. When she intentionally responded with optimism, hope, and joy, her depression and anxiety lessened.
Does Carol's story ring true with you? It's time to act with intention. Memorize and remind yourself today, and every day: "I choose to focus on optimism, hope, and joy."
2013 Gregory L. Jantz, Turning Your Down Into Up: A Realistic Plan For Healing From Depression, WaterBrook Press.