“If only I could give you some of my happiness so that you would never be sad or depressed again.” ~Albert Einstein
One in four people suffer from depression. Most people with whom I speak these days who are depressed have no problem talking about their medication, their therapists, and their issues. That’s a great step forward. Our society’s historical views and response regarding depression can make those who live it feel ashamed. People with depression feel they aren’t believed because there are no overt physical symptoms of their illness. If one has diabetes there are blood tests to point to as truth of their disease, but with depression it is often thought to be all in your head. There are no blood tests or visible scars to prove that you are sick.
Whether your scars are on your heart or on your face, you can suffer from shame. You can feel as though you don’t belong in a world where happiness and beauty are the prerequisites for acceptance. “Snap out of it,” is a reaction many with depression have heard. Often, people with depression are seen as weak, but their strength is actually what allows the suffering to continue. They seem to have a greater capacity for suffering than those who have found a way to be happy. They are strong people who live in despair, but still manage to live and function in a world that doesn’t accept their despair as real, further adding to their suffering. Just as those with external scars continue to choose to live while feeling that they are damaged and different.
No one has anything wrong with them. Everything we are is worth celebrating. Our pain will, at some point, be more than we can live with. We will realize that we have to change or the suffering will continue. Suffering brings us to spiritual evolution. A large population of this planet is now going through a spiritual evolution because we can’t stand the pain anymore, the collective suffering as well as the personal. If we can accept who we are and that we suffer, then we can use our suffering to grow. The person with the scar across their face or chest can feel as much shame (sometimes more) as someone who is depressed and their lesson may be the same as the person with depression; happiness is not an outside job. It will not be cured externally, but from the heart and soul. Suffering leads us to try another path because the one we are on is too painful. Usually it’s the self hate that is too painful, the shame of being who we are.
To paraphrase Eckhart Tolle, if you aren’t ready to change you haven’t suffered enough. It can be a problem when we identify with our suffering. It is extremely hard work to let go of suffering. It takes constant vigilance over our thoughts, words, and actions. It has been shown that when we smile or think happy thoughts specific areas of our brain are activated and chemicals are released into our body that perpetuate the feeling of happiness. The same is true of depression. When we are sad or angry certain brain centers are activated and certain chemicals released. Not only that, when we repeatedly have thoughts of sadness or anger or resentment, jealousy, or any other negative emotion (or positive) certain neurons in the brain fire, after repeated firing a network is established. This means you become hardwired in that emotion, thought, or feeling. You become what you think about the most on a physiological level. This science of brain formation and emotional brain response clearly shows how important it is to choose your thoughts and emotions wisely. We must even choose our facial expression. Smiling triggers good network connections in our brains. You can change these networks through repetitive positive reinforcement. Seems almost too easy. But, it’s not. Our repetitive thoughts and emotions which got us into this fix in the first place are now habitual and hardwired and we must change the habit, that takes vigilance! Mindfulness of our thoughts is paramount in change. And we need to be aware of our emotions which will let us know when we are having negative thoughts. When we start to feel angry or sad we need to start thinking of something that brings us joy, we must be strict thought-masters. Through repeated focus on an emotion we can become stuck in a gripping pattern of self empowerment or self-destruction. This will not be a popular concept for some. They will want to say that they have no control over their disease, over their emotions, or over their thoughts. But, we all have control. If you don’t believe that then at least entertain the idea that you have control of your thoughts. You can change your beliefs. You have control of your physical actions.
Sometimes we see ourselves as a victim of the outside world when in fact our suffering, as our happiness, is connected to how we think of or perceive a situation. When we choose to stay in our sadness we negate the suffering of others. I am not saying that we should repress our feelings. We need to feel them and observe them and follow our hearts. We all suffer. I’ve told the following story before. A woman lost her child and went to the Buddha and asked why, why did she have to suffer in this way. He sent her to the village to bring back a mustard seed from a home that had not known suffering. She came back empty-handed. The Buddha did not tell the woman she had no right to grieve. Grieving is a healthy process. It becomes unhealthy when we allow it to consume our life. Some people need longer periods of grief, but at some point we must decide that we need an end to our suffering. We all must go through the darkness, but knowing that we all go through the darkness and knowing that we all share suffering can be a help. When Buddha said that life is suffering he meant that we all have our shadows, our sadness, but we must bring them into the light of truth. All of our experiences happen for a reason; to bring us closer to the truth. The truth of who we are. We are all subject to pain and loss. We are all subject to suffering. We are all in this journey together. When we start to accept and love ourselves as flawed beings we can start to remember our true self. If we can accept who we are, with all of our scars, visible and invisible, we will be on the path to self-love and with that comes healing.
Accepting who we are without any shame for past actions, for our weakness, for our addictions, for our faults and imperfections is a simple thing and one of the hardest things in the world to do. This is a truth; we can only give to others, love them unconditionally, and see without any judgment when we have completely accepted ourselves.
Accept your sadness knowing that you are not alone. Accept your scars knowing that we are all scarred. Accept your grief and let it heal you. Nurture yourself and allow yourself periods of sadness and despair. But, come back to hope. Remember what you have to be grateful for. Know that we all suffer and accept the truth in that. Don’t be angry at yourself for suffering. Don’t be ashamed of your sadness. Remember that you have the strength that brought you through your despair and you can use that strength to bring yourself into the light. You who have the strength to suffer have the strength to change. Get help. Reach out to compassionate friends and professionals, if needed. But, please, don’t dwell in the darkness and think that is who you are. You are love. You are joy.
Be mindful of your thoughts and actions. This is not an easy process. It takes vigilance and practice. It takes determination and desire. One of the best ways to connect with the healing light of your soul is through meditation. Meditation, sitting in stillness, brings us closer to our true being, which is love. Peace comes from knowing that only love is real. Don’t let sadness take over your thoughts. Be your own savior and go through your darkness. Meditate daily. Be present in your commitment to be happy. See the light at the end of the tunnel.
When you meditate use the “I am” meditation. Sit quietly and comfortably. Repeat in your mind “I am” mantras, such as “I am peace” or “I am joy.” Return to your mantra whenever you drift to thoughts. Don’t get impatient with yourself. It is a practice. Dont feel that you won’t get there. You will. Take time everyday for physical activity and outdoor activity. See the beauty in the world around you. Smile at strangers. When you have sad thoughts, think of the things for which you are grateful. Know that better times are here. You deserve to be happy. It is your birthright.
We live in a crazy world and it is easy to understand why anyone would be depressed. To be happy in this world seems almost inconceivable. To fit into a world gone mad is not normal or healthy. But, we don’t have to fit in. We can be ourselves. Don’t let the outside world determine your inner life and feelings. You can rise above it and be happy. You have so much power to tap into. Use it. Ask for it. Feel it. Joy is yours.
Some uplifting affirmations you can also use as mantras in meditation on the way to happiness:
- I am loved.
- I am peace.
- I am as good as anyone.
- I am eternally grateful for the infinite abundance in all areas of my life.
- I am love.
- I am blessed.
- I am joy.
- I am loving.
- I am contributing to the happiness and spiritual growth of the world.
- I am a divine and magnificent being.
Imagine yourself laughing with friends. Imagine yourself doing something kind for someone else. Smile and talk with people you don’t know. Volunteer at the local food pantry or animal shelter. Put love in your head. Repeat these affirmations with a smile on your face and feel it.