Links to my video series “Learning To Be A Happy Person” may be found at the bottom of this post.
I often get emails and comments asking how I stay so positive. Those who have read me for a while know about my somewhat epic battles with depression in the past and that creates even more questions as people who are in the battle now want to know how I manage to maintain victory over it.
I have truly been at that place in my life where I felt no hope – I have been in the very bottom of that dark pit where I found myself desperately looking for even the smallest ray of light and found none.
To feel totally without hope is one of the most painful places to be and unless someone has been there, they have no idea how excruciating it is. Everything aches, from your heart to your spirit to every muscle and bone in your body.
If you are there now, I have a few things that I would like to say to you – if you are ready to hear them. It is up to you to determine if you are. If you have any doubt, maybe you should come back to this post later because it is not gonna be a soft cushy blanket.
It will be more of a battle cry.
Even though you feel exhausted, if you are ready for this post, it will cause you to have to work harder than you ever have before – But for a goal you’ve longed for.
If you think you are ready, here goes…
I know you’re hurting. I know you’re sad and I know you’re tired. I know you feel like you’ve been fighting, struggling, day in and day out for so very long and yet have gotten nowhere.
I know your heart desperately longs for hope or warmth or some sort of reprieve from the constant ache.
I know because I’ve been there.
I wish I could hold your hand and walk you out of this, but I can’t.
I wish I could look into your life and tell you exactly how to handle each situation, but I’m not able.
But I can tell you how I got through it and I can tell you that if you are in that pit, you are not meant to remain there.
God has a plan for you.
He has a purpose for you.
And He can take this pain and use it for good.
He can take the darkest moments of your life and use them to make you stronger, wiser, and happier than you ever dreamed possible, so much so that you will find yourself years down the road looking back and being grateful for this moment, because so much strength and joy came out of it.
A lot of people end up looking so hard for a person to hold their hand in the darkness that they miss out on the opportunity to hold God’s hand instead. Sure, there might be people in your life you can lean on and that is all good and well, but when it comes down to the big battles…I’m talking the life and death battle between me and the hopelessness, if I have a choice to have the creator of the universe as my coach and team mate, I’m going with those odds.
I learned a long time ago that going to people (friends, relatives, etc) with my problems might help on a temporary level, but they can’t do anything for me. Instead, I started taking my problems directly to God because He is the only one who can actually help me. If He leads me to a person then, so be it, but it is about you and him solving this together.
There is no easy way to get from point A to point B, but it begins by realizing that this is a journey that you are on and you deciding that you are ready to get to point B and dedicating yourself to do what it takes in order to do that.
1. Do you really want to change?
I know this seems like a ridiculous question at the onset, but it is a valid one. Most people claim they want to change but then only really want to do so if happiness drops out of the sky and lands in their pocket like a lucky lottery ticket. They don’t want to do the work it takes to get there. There was a time when I’d rather continue to complain and moan and lay flailing on the ground because that is what I knew and what was comfortable.
I was like that for years. In fact, I blamed my life for every problem I had rather than realizing that it all began with me. Read more about how I changed my view of depression on this post.
Change requires someone realizing that the very nature of existing and being an adult does not validate our personality.
We are a work in progress and if we don’t work on us, we make no progress.
So the first question is, do you want to change and if so, do you want it bad enough to actually start the process and stick with it?
2. Are you ready to accept responsibility for your own actions, thoughts, and words?
I had to learn that me losing it in a traffic jam is not the fault of the traffic jam, it was a lack of self control and character flaw on my part. I had to realize that my yelling at someone was not that person’s fault, no matter how I felt they prompted me to yell. My voice is controlled from within, not without.
A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls. ~Proverbs 25:28
3. Is complaining one of your primary activities and if so, are you willing to give that up?
There is an old saying that some people find fault like there was a reward for it. There are a growing number of people like this in our world today and they love every second of it. They get power trips off of how many things they can find to complain about and a twinkle in their eye when things go the wrong way as they mentally build up their story and how they will spin it.
I used to be like that. There was an odd satisfaction in complaining. In a strange way,it makes the complainer feel superior to a circumstance or situation, or even another person. But you know what? The ability to control my tongue is a much greater satisfaction.
Daily, I see people complain about having a job, traffic, and a house payment and now I can’t help but think “Wow, you have a job, a car, and a house!”
A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit. ~Proverbs 15:4
You have got to want to be happy.
You’ve got to want it so bad that you are willing to do the hardest thing there is, discipline yourself.
You’ve got to be willing to do whatever it takes, chastise yourself when you complain, make yourself step out of your comfort zone.
We’re not talking about having someone hold your hand here. That is what we do for children crossing the street. We’re not kids anymore. We’re adults and an adult that is not capable of disciplining themselves is a train wreck waiting to happen.
Chances are, if you are depressed/negative life right now, you are a current train wreck. You feel it. You know it.
But you can get out. You can be happy.
I PROMISE you.
“Believe in yourself and all that you are. Know that there is something inside you that is greater than any obstacle.” ~Christian D. Larson
To get there, you’ve got to want it like a starving dog wants a hambone. You’e got to be wiling to work for it, to uproot that tree you are chained to and drag it to that bone centimeter by centimeter, taking as long as it takes to get there and then, once you get it, you clench your teeth around that bone and you don’t let it go. You do whatever it takes to keep that because you’re not going back to starving again.
You’re not going back into that pit again.
You’ve got to realize that you are sick and you need to make yourself healthy again. You’ve got to realize that your mind is not thinking right and you have got to train it how to think.
Yes, I do believe that negative people who complain all the time are mentally ill. What is worse, this is an highly contagious mental illness and we are potential carriers.
Medical Disclaimer: To begin, go see a doctor. Make sure there isn’t a chemical imbalance that they can help you with.
Then, no matter what that doctor says, even if they give you a prescription to help,
you’ve still got work to do. A pill may help and may even be needed, but you’ve still got to tidy up this house you’re living in.
Are you ready?
Here is how I did it.
One of the most common threads among depressed and negative people is our ability to blame our lives, our family, our circumstances, and our environment for our misery. Rather than looking inward and taking any responsibility whatsoever for our own crappy thinking process. Pardon my language here, but that word seems to suit best when thinking about how my own thought process used to be.
The world may have been hard on you in the past, but now it is time to get tough with yourself. I had to stop coddling myself, nurturing my sadness and self pity. My inner drill sergeant (which is actually the Holy Spirit) had to grab hold of that blanket I was wrapped up in, pull it off, and say “Stand up. Your life is beginning today and you’re going to live it.”
Before anything could get better in my life, I had to be willing to take responsibility for my life. I had to be willing to say: “I can’t change this but with God’s help, I can change me.”
Until I was at that point, until I was ready to stop blaming everyone and everything else, I wasn’t ready to claw myself out of that hole. For a long time, I preferred to stay at the bottom of that pit and spend my time trying to find someone else to blame for putting me there.
Once I sunk low enough and got desperate enough, through God’s grace, I began my journey out.
But it was not quick and it was not easy. It took a few years (not days, not weeks, not even months) and it took some definite determination on my part and it takes daily consideration to keep from going back.
I realized that I was prone to depression and negative thinking and I needed to find a way to recover from that.
Just as an alcoholic recovers from alcoholism, I had to look about my life, identify triggers, and set boundaries.
You know how some people are meticulous about every little bite of food that goes into their mouth? I had to become that way about what I allowed into my head.
No more tv shows that feature negative people or showcase characters that represent who I didn’t want to be. No soap operas, no “reality” tv with its manufactured crisis every five seconds. I stopped ingesting that mess. It is not shown on a television in my house, I will not serve it to my family, and I won’t be around where it is being served.
I stopped listening to at least three different genres of music altogether.
No more sad songs. No more getting in the car and cranking up the soundtrack to my pity party. Only encouraging and uplifting music.
I had a few friends who were enablers. Like an alcoholic might have to give up the friend who drank constantly and didn’t see it as a problem, those who wallowed in complaining, negativity, and woe is me were just people I couldn’t be around anymore once I decided I was going to live out the purpose of my life. These people encouraged me to stay the way I was and saw nothing wrong with it. I had to get away from them in order to be able to recover (drug addicts who want to recover do not maintain a relationship with their dealer).
I began watching what I read, how I spoke, what words I chose. I began seeking, actively seeking, to find something to be grateful for in every moment, in every situation. For every one complaint I thought – just thought – not even said, I made myself find at least two things to be grateful for.
I began training myself.
I learned how to shut my mouth so that my own voice did not become something negative to my own ears. There have been so many times when I have opened my mouth to say something and I literally forced it shut before I could, because they were words that were not worth the energy of my voice.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. ~Eph 4:29
If any of this seems extreme to you, if there is any step here that you just can’t imagine doing, this is a sign that you’re comfortable where you are, enjoying your depression and negativity, and you don’t want to get away from it bad enough to do anything about it just yet.
Once you are ready to recover, you have to realize that there are things that are fine for other people, but they are not fine for you. It may be alright for someone who has never suffered from an alcohol addiction to go into a bar. It is not for a recovering alcoholic. You will have to be meticulous about identifying your own triggers and keeping those off limits to you.
It is a process, and it won’t be easy but it will be worth it. If you are reading this and identifying with what I am saying, God has brought you to a fork in the road. One path is as dark as the one you have been traveling but the other is bathed in light. It is hilly and unknown, but the views are spectacular and there are gardens of fragrant hope all along the way.
It is time to make a choice.
Pick up your foot and decide where you are going to set it down.
It is possible to take the other path.
But get ready because that day will come when you will find yourself standing in the sun again. You’ll still feel the pull of that dark cave but you will have taught yourself how to stand firm and refuse to go back.
And the moment you turn towards that darkness and declare that the sun is shining, you’ll hear someone in the cave call out “Don’t listen to them, they don’t have any idea what its like in here”
When you hear those words, remember when you were there, and show them grace.
“Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
“Sometimes, if you really wanna be happy, you’ve gotta get stubborn about it.”
For more tips and help on how Learning How To Be A Happy Person, please see the videos below.
- Learning To Be A Happy Person Part 1: Joy Markers
- Learning To Be A Happy Person Part 2: Change Your Soundtrack
- Learning To Be A Happy Person Part 3: Training Your Thoughts
- Learning To Be A Happy Person Part 4: Controlling Your Words
- Learning To Be A Happy Person Part 5: Holiday Edition. Tips to fight depression and feel the joy!
Thanks for sharing this useful information. You are an inspiration and I love you quotes and recipes. They work so nice even though I have to alter them for a gluten free diet. I too find myself looking for a ray of hope these days. I can already attest to what you said in your post. It is helpful to get outside more and look for something to be grateful for in every situation. I started several years ago thanking the Lord each morning for the things that I take for granted so many times. I thank him for the job that I go to each day even if it isn’t the one I had pictured for my life. I was very grateful when things were closed down several weeks ago because my job was considered essential and I had no idea. I worried needlessly about if and when we would get word to go home without pay. There are so many things to just be thankful for even in the darkest storms of life. I am reminded as I type this about two quotes from Corrie ten Boom. The first is: “When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.” This a reminder to me that I am taking on problems that I can’t do anything about, when I should be giving them to the Lord. The second is: “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength.” I love this because it is a reminder of what depression does to our minds and bodies. Maybe this will help someone else.
I agree with all of the above comments. I would have never thought you had been depressed, as you look like one of the most “perfect” people – always smiling & looking so happy, a good wife & mother & great cook & unashamed to talk about your relationship with God. Thank you for being so transparent. I really needed to hear about this part of your life & all the above comments. Sounds like I’m not the only one trying to get out of that pit.
Chris, you are far from alone my sister! We all have things we deal and struggle with!