Two Rules

This is a very short Do’s & Don’ts List” for being happy.

  1. Be nice.

    Pretty simple, eh? Just don’t be mean. I’m not even talking about forgiveness or altruism here. Those are great, but they’re topics for another post. Being nice just means, starting off with people by not being mean or rude. Its about giving people the benefit of the doubt. You go into an interaction with other people with the expectation that if you’re nice, they’ll be nice. Usually, this is how it goes. Most of the time if you start off with people by being nice, they respond in kind. The opposite is also true. So think about that when you’re having a bad day, and it might improve your mood. Being nice is  just not going out of your way to be difficult or rude or unpleasant. This doesn’t mean letting someone take advantage of you. It is simply not making the effort to be mean or manipulative. The best thing about being nice, other than being stupidly easy, is that it actually makes you feel good when you are nice to people. Weird.

  2. Don’t do things that make you feel bad.

    A voice somewhere is saying, “Uh, that’s kind of a given. Nobody does things that make them feel bad.”

    Actually, lots of people do lots of things that make them feel bad without even noticing it. This is what makes avoiding things that make you feel bad harder than it sounds. Every now and then I notice that I’m doing something that is ultimately making me feel bad. When I process just a smidgen further and ask myself, ‘why am I doing this thing that’s making me feel bad?’ there is almost never a good reason for it.

    Now obviously I’m not talking about doing things that are hard, like work, or unpleasant, like plunging a toilet. What I’m talking about are things that make you feel bad about yourself, things that add to your overall unhappiness about the world, things that put you in a bad mood (which is not always stuff that is unpleasant), things that make you feel shame or guilt. These are things that destroy your positive self image. Don’t do those things and by default you will think less negatively about yourself.

    The converse of this is also true, but that’s another post.

    Since this one is a bit harder, you might also consider spending some time learning to notice your thoughts and feelings. I really do think its easier to learn this with another person. We are happy to be those people, but we will be equally happy if you choose to do this with another therapist. Or, even if you prefer book learning.

So, there it is, two rules to feel happier. They’re pretty simple and pretty effective. So, go ahead, try it. I dare ya.

The Five Worst Things You Can Do When You’re Depressed

Everyone feels down at times. Sometimes it is a clinical depression. Sometimes it is only situational. Either way it sucks. There are lots of things you can do to help yourself feel better. The trouble is, when you are feeling depressed, you don’t want to do anything. Instead of listing all the great things you should do, but probably won’t. Here are the top five things you absolutely should not do when your feeling down. Even if you don’t feel like doing anything, just don’t do these things and you’ll find yourself feeling better by default.

  1. Dwelling on your regrets

    Don’t do this. If all you think about is the stuff you wish you had done, or the things you think you could have done better, you are going to feel bad. Think about the stuff you did well. If you have been inactive for awhile, you may have to try hard to remember, but I assure you there are things you have done well. Think about these things. I don’t care if it’s being a top level dungeon master in D&D or having good handwriting, you rock at something. If you can’t muster the strength to go out and do the thing you’re good at, at least think about what it’s like when you do it.

  2. Self-medicating

    Don’t do this either. This is tempting because a lot of the time the “medication” we have taken at one time or another actually has made us feel better (that perfect buzz). Thing is, when you are feeling down, it will only make you feel worse later. In fact, even when you aren’t feeling sad, you will never have the same level of happy feelings as you did the first time you tried that particular type of “medicine.” So, when you are feeling down, prescribing yourself drugs and alcohol will not make you feel better and in fact you will eventually feel much worse.

    This is not to say that you shouldn’t take your physician approved medications. Often a little Prozac or other antidepressant will be very helpful. The way these medications work is that they give you the option of being happy. They do not make you happy in and of themselves. They are different from self-medicating because the drug isn’t the happy maker, you are. You are not counting on the drug to make you happy. The drug makes you able to go out and make yourself happy.

  3. Thinking about death

    This is really tempting when you feel absolutely horrible; but don’t do this either. We are all going to die someday, there is no need to dwell on the process. The things you think about have a way of influencing how you feel. So, think about your best possible life and what you want to do with it and you will feel like living your best possible life.

    Now, thinking about death occasionally is normal. However, thinking about how great it would be to be dead is one of the hallmarks of clinical depression. If you find yourself fantasizing about yourself as a corpse, go to the doctor. Now. Don’t finish this article. Don’t take a shower. Don’t give it a little more though. Just go to the doctor and say, “hey, I have been thinking a lot that I’d like to be dead. What should I do about that?”

    Now, if you are suicidal and reading this. There is always hope, even if it doesn’t feel that way right now. Don’t kill yourself. You’ll only be hurting the people who like you or the people who might like you if you live long enough to meet them.

  4. Staying inside.

    So what if its raining. G.O. O.U.T.S.I.D.E. Being inside is the second best way to make sure you stay sad. Not only is experiencing the weather a really great way to gain a little perspective on life, being outside exposes you to a broader horizon. Things do not seem quite as narrow and inevitable when the visible horizon shows the vast expanse of the world. It’s like you’re options are suddenly much larger and attainable.

    There are all sorts of chemical reasons you should go outside as well. Being outside means you will likely be at least walking around; and any kind of physical activity releases endorphins. Endorphins are natural happy makers. When you feel down you want as much endorphins as possible. One great way to get a ton of endorphins is by running. I’m not saying exercises is the end all be all of happiness. But, it helps. If you don’t like running, and I don’t like running, you can lift weights, preferably outside. Or you can go for a hike, also outside. Or you can watch the sunset, from outside. Or the sunrise for that matter, as long as it’s outside. Or meet the neighbors. Fly a kite. Eat snow. I’ll even allow going for a drive as long as it is out of the city.

    The point is, if you stay inside you limit your exposure to the kind of activities that will make you feel good. Also if you stay inside you will deny your body several vital chemicals that contribute to feeling good. So. Go. Out. Side.

  5. Isolating yourself

    This is the worst thing you can do when you feel awful. It’s number one on my list because it is also the easiest thing to do when you feel bad.

    When you are all by yourself, you are bored, you are lonely, you feel like no one likes you, you feel like people are mean, you feel like you are different from everybody else, you feel like you’ll always be alone. The thing is, when you spend all your time all by yourself you are more likely to make all these things come true. Conversely, when you spend some of your time with other people you open up opportunities to engage in activities that make you feel good (like being outside). When you’re with people you’re more likely to talk about the stuff that makes you feel bad and talking about that stuff has this odd way of making us social creatures feel better. So does talking about the stuff that makes us feel good.

Whether you’re feeling depressed or just a little out of sorts there are things that will make you feel better and things that will make you feel worse. While I can’t guarantee what will make you feel better, I can promise that these five things will make you feel worse.Try to avoid these five things and logic (and history) dictate you’ll probably feel better.