At the beginning of every year, there are a lot of “how to get happy” tips floating around and this January’s no different. While these ideas (some familiar, some new—at least to me) are fabulous, there’s one thing to keep in mind: if you’re clinically depressed, none of this will do the trick. That being said, what should we be doing?
We Need to Think About Dying More (Yup)
You all know about New York Times columnist Brooks? No, not that guy. This one. Well, his most recent piece recommends thinking about your, as he writes, “impending demise.” See, he learned when he went to Thailand that Buddhist monks look at pictures of corpses as they decay as a way of staying aware of how temporary physical life is and asking themselves if they’re using their time as wisely as they could.
Of course, as a 2004 study pointed out, people spend five times as long tuning in to the tube as they do engaging in spiritual activities, even though they derive less satisfaction from it. A 2014 study logged that TV-watching-versus-spiritual-activity percentage as 20 times. (As someone who often has to force herself to watch TV because it tends to make me antsy, I feel some pride here but I should also point out that this aversion is far from a depression panacea.)
Back to the corpse thing: contemplating death supposedly makes you funnier and not just if you’re Tig Notaro. Apparently when scholars asked folks to think about death or pain and then write cartoon captions, what they came up with was funnier than those who hadn’t been pushed toward seemingly dark thoughts. Of course, could anything be less scientific than the definition of what’s funny? Still, cool to know.
Brooks Also Recommends Good Old Gratitude Lists
I surely can’t be the first to tell you that sober folks are big on gratitude lists. There are group gratitude lists people have been known to start (not my thing—or at least it wasn’t when I tried it one time), the sponsors who recommend doing them every day (the one I’m with now had me send her mine for our first three months working together) and then, of course, the APM 30 Day Challenge, where we asked readers to make daily lists during Recovery Month and tweet and Instagram the results.
So bless you, Arthur C. Brooks, for recommending this to the masses and telling us that studies indicate that people have greater life satisfaction when they do these lists because gratitude. Yep, you can use this one on a sponsee who asks how a stupid list is going to help with her unending angst: gratitude stimulates the part of the brain that regulates stress as well as the part that produces pleasure.
But What About When None of This Will Help?
There are times, however, when all this advice is as useless as clicking on a story about how Dina Lohan gets lash extensions from celebrity eyelash expert (I am not making that job up) Alicia Hunter. I’m talking about clinical depression—and so is a new Ted-Ed video that breaks down the distinction between depression and feeling depressed in a way that is actually quite adorable.
Here’s what the vid tells us: depression lasts for two weeks or longer and significantly interferes with sleep, work and play. The video explains that if you have five of the following nine symptoms, you’ve got it: low mood, loss of interest in things, change in appetite, feelings of worthlessness and guilt, sleeping too much or too little, poor concentration, restlessness, loss of energy and recurring thoughts of suicide.
Alarmingly, the video reports that it takes the average person suffering from a mental illness over 10 years to ask for help. A God damn decade, people! Thankfully, it recommends the wisest treatment out there: medications and therapy. It also gives a shout out to magnetic stimulation. The point is this: if you’re out there suffering, sure you can gratitude list and death contemplate to your heart’s content but please don’t be one of the decade-long silent sufferers.
Why not make seeking help the new beginning of the year trend?
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