Fighting Depression with Joy: What Changed When I Made Happiness a Priority

“To get rid of depression, I swim with dolphins.” — Patti Stanger

I’m in my favorite stationery store when I see it.

“Be Happy”

Be Happy framed art prints.

Refrigerator magnets.

Personal journals.

It was etched into practically every item.

Now I, being fifty or sixty days deep into my latest depressive episode and feeling mocked by this simple seven-letter phrase, wanted to smash every last coffee mug in that store, no matter how cute and clever they were.

Be Happy… Sure. If it were that simple.

It was telling me “So you aren’t happy? Well, just BE happy. Make it happen.”

“If I could, I would,” I told those taunting wooden signs and chalkboard displays. I would do anything to just be happy— to pour warm, bright light into the depth of every dark crevice my hopeless thoughts reside. If only I knew how to do that.

My depression diagnosis came years ago, and along with it came a lengthy process of grieving. When I finally gained clarity and acceptance about what was going on in my head, I started taking depression management seriously.

Back in that paper store, I got to thinking:

If I can’t just BE happy, what do I do?

Well, what about doing more of what MAKES me happy?

The idea seemed so simple. But for some reason, it took a teasing display of home decor and several discussions with my therapist to understand this.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that depression can be cured by just doing what you love, but I did learn that it is a tool everyone can use in their self-care routine.

I took a long, hard look at how I filled my days. At the time it mostly consisted of going to college, studying, going to work, taking a yoga class and studying some more. Somewhere along the way, I forgot that I mattered— that I wasn’t just composed of the educational, financial and health pursuits.

What about the activities I did simply because they made me feel happy?

Looking back on it now, it’s no surprise I struggled with feeling empty; I stopped making it a priority to do what made me feel alive.

Despite my hypercritical view of the “be happy” expression, it did usher in some productive self-reflection. Now, I make it a priority to do something every day with the sole purpose of seeking joy. With my very full life, like the life you live too I’m sure, most days my “me” treat is small and not too time consuming like wearing my favorite outfit or cooking a new recipe I’ve been meaning to try. The important part of pursuing joy is not the activity you do or how long it takes; the important part is building happiness into your everyday life. Making your joy a priority means your mental wellness becomes a priority.

My journey of joy completely changed my view of my role in depression management. Taking on daily joyful experiences sends a message to my brain that I am not a voiceless victim of depression; rather, I have a say in how I manage my life. I have more power than I initially knew.

My depression is in no way gone, but I no longer make apologies for making room in my life to do what I love. Depression is an illness that robs people of joy, making it all the more important to use joy as a daily self-care technique.

Nowadays, I make lists of what makes me feel alive and do them every day, free of guilt of how I could “more productively” be using my time. After all, I cannot think of anything more productive than working to maintain positive mental health.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *