Depression Is a Volunteer Activity

De-Mystifying Moods

I was feeling great that day, so naturally I decided to screw it up. Feeling happy was not a common thing for me. In fact, I spent a LOT of time depressed from the age of 15 till I was around 30. After that I mellowed out a bit, and how that happened is a story.

When you can’t seem to control your own moods, you tend to look either for relief or for answers. I opted for answers, and where I looked was in positive thinking books.

I had become familiar with the concept of thinking positive thoughts, but I didn’t fully understand how to apply it. My life was evidence of that lack. Money problems, relationship problems, mood swings; you name it, I was going through it.

But on this day, shortly before my thirtieth birthday, for some unknown reason, I was feeling wonderful. Such a great mood I hadn’t felt in months.

And then a thought crossed my mind. “The books all say that my thoughts control my moods. Wonder what’d happen if I tested it.”

So I started deliberately thinking “sorry for myself” thoughts: “Nobody likes me … I never do anything right … I’ll always be a total failure … What’s the use … It’s hopeless.” All the things you say to yourself when you’re feeling really down.

In less than fifteen minutes, I had plummeted into black despair. I hadn’t felt that bad in years. It was all I could do to put one foot in front of another, I felt so hopeless.

In fact, this wave of depression had come on so rapidly that the contrast really scared me. Here I was in deepest mental anguish, and I’d done it to myself within just a few minutes.

It scared me so badly, in fact, that I did something I’d never done before. I ried reversing the process.

In desperation I began mentally saying things like: “This is just a temporary thing… It’s an artificial thing… I’ve done it to myself… Actually, everybody likes me… I’m incredibly happy… This is a wonderful life… I’m having a terrific day.” I went grasping for anything good, no matter how small, whether it was “true” or not.

And soon the cloud lifted. Within another fifteen minutes, I was back on top of the world.

Following that experience, I was never again able to take my bouts of depression quite so seriously.

I’m convinced that’s why I stopped being perpetually depressed from around the age of thirty.

I still didn’t practice what I’d learned with any regularity (an old dog can learn new tricks, but as long as they’re just tricks, the dog may not think to use them).

However, after that, if I found myself reciting the old “sad, sad me” thoughts, more and more often I’d just chuckle and stop myself.

And that’s how I found out that depression is a volunteer activity. Life never did it to me. Nor did my parents, my co-workers, nor anything in my surroundings. Not even my brain chemistry. I had been doing it to myself all those years.

Who says you can’t fool yourself? You certainly can. And it’ll work in either direction. You just tell yourself about the way you want your life to be, listing all the things you’re glad for. Even if it’s all blatant untruths, as in my case, soon those “lies” will gradually become more real. Yeah, I know, this flies in the face of what many experts would have you believe. But I was there and I felt it happen.

Let me caution you, though, please don’t just take my word for it. Nor the word of some expert with a train of letters after his name.

Now, if you’re on medication, for goodness’ sake don’t stop taking it. You can consider this activity just an add-on — something to be experimented with on the side. It’s a simple thing to check this out for yourself, and that’s exactly what I recommend. And if it doesn’t work for you, okay, then you’ll know. But if it does produce results, you’ll know that too, and fairly quickly.

So if anybody ever asks you the secret of a joyous life, tell them it comes from being glad for all the good things around you. many people call this gratitude. You just fill your mind with gladness — and thanks — for all the wonderful things you can think of. Yep, even the stuff that’s not true yet.

Do this consistently, and you’ll never again be as deeply depressed. Because although depression is a volunteer activity, so is happiness.

And whether you know it or not, it’s you who chooses which one you’ll experience today.