Fighting Depression with Joy: What Changed When I Made Happiness a Priority

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“To get rid of depression, I swim with dolphins.” — Patti Stanger

I’m in my favorite stationery store when I see it.

“Be Happy”

Be Happy framed art prints.

Refrigerator magnets.

Personal journals.

It was etched into practically every item.

Now I, being fifty or sixty days deep into my latest depressive episode and feeling mocked by this simple seven-letter phrase, wanted to smash every last coffee mug in that store, no matter how cute and clever they were.

Be Happy… Sure. If it were that simple.

It was telling me “So you aren’t happy? Well, just BE happy. Make it happen.”

“If I could, I would,” I told those taunting wooden signs and chalkboard displays. I would do anything to just be happy— to pour warm, bright light into the depth of every dark crevice my hopeless thoughts reside. If only I knew how to do that.

My depression diagnosis came years ago, and along with it came a lengthy process of grieving. When I finally gained clarity and acceptance about what was going on in my head, I started taking depression management seriously.

Back in that paper store, I got to thinking:

If I can’t just BE happy, what do I do?

Well, what about doing more of what MAKES me happy?

The idea seemed so simple. But for some reason, it took a teasing display of home decor and several discussions with my therapist to understand this.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that depression can be cured by just doing what you love, but I did learn that it is a tool everyone can use in their self-care routine.

I took a long, hard look at how I filled my days. At the time it mostly consisted of going to college, studying, going to work, taking a yoga class and studying some more. Somewhere along the way, I forgot that I mattered— that I wasn’t just composed of the educational, financial and health pursuits.

What about the activities I did simply because they made me feel happy?

Looking back on it now, it’s no surprise I struggled with feeling empty; I stopped making it a priority to do what made me feel alive.

Despite my hypercritical view of the “be happy” expression, it did usher in some productive self-reflection. Now, I make it a priority to do something every day with the sole purpose of seeking joy. With my very full life, like the life you live too I’m sure, most days my “me” treat is small and not too time consuming like wearing my favorite outfit or cooking a new recipe I’ve been meaning to try. The important part of pursuing joy is not the activity you do or how long it takes; the important part is building happiness into your everyday life. Making your joy a priority means your mental wellness becomes a priority.

My journey of joy completely changed my view of my role in depression management. Taking on daily joyful experiences sends a message to my brain that I am not a voiceless victim of depression; rather, I have a say in how I manage my life. I have more power than I initially knew.

My depression is in no way gone, but I no longer make apologies for making room in my life to do what I love. Depression is an illness that robs people of joy, making it all the more important to use joy as a daily self-care technique.

Nowadays, I make lists of what makes me feel alive and do them every day, free of guilt of how I could “more productively” be using my time. After all, I cannot think of anything more productive than working to maintain positive mental health.

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10 thoughts on “Fighting Depression with Joy: What Changed When I Made Happiness a Priority”

  1. Great article. I had depression before in my late teens, to the point that I was prescribe with expensive anti-depression meds by the psychiatrist. But it didn’t last long, with the support of my mom and new stepdad, I was okay. And now I keep a positive vibe and find some things that make me happy.

  2. Hi Alexis,

    Nice sharing. If depression is a dark cloud hovering over our body,mind and soul, joy and happiness is the exact ray of sunlight that shines through. I know the feeling of being depressed. It is easier to face life feeling light and joyful than burdened by the depressive mood. The choice is always ours to make.

    Cheers,
    Kenny

  3. Thank you Alexis for sharing your empowering step to claim your joy. I can relate to your story in that I also had to claim my right to feel good in the face of my depression. I started in small steps through a daily routine and it made all the difference many years later.

  4. Very well written article. My experience is that when I’m depressed I cannot even find anything that would make me happy, all seems futile and usually the best thing for me to do is to sleep or meditate – basically not to think :) I would say that whatever gives you sense of relief is a step in the right direction even if it doesn’t make you straight up happy.
    Thank you for sharing, Alexis.

  5. Great article and kudos on fighting your depression. I would say the most effective way on dealing with depression is not just to force joy in your life but also to accept reality as is. We tend to focus on how the world owes us and wish things were different which leads to cycle of negative thoughts and depression. Best cure against this is to meditate, allow this thoughts to run through you without focusing on them and then take life for what it is, not what you wish it was. Once we stop fantasizing and actually live in the moment, we notice all the amazing moments life has to offer and that is what bring real joy each day.

  6. Great article Alexis!
    I can relate to the feeling of guilt when I’m not using my time “more productive”. Time is valuable and we want to spend it on things we really love. =)

    Keep on doing what you’re doing and find the joy and happiness in it!
    Thanks for sharing!

  7. Very cleaver article, and you just inspired me to do a 5 minute exercise each day to purposely do soemthing for jsut the joy of it (and it has to be something that is non-technological, so TV/games doesn’t count;-). Having suffered from depression myself, I know how important 5 min. techniques can really make the different. These days, I practice mindfulness to help covercome negative thinking, and to give my brain the energetic boost it needs. I also try to remind myself of the old quote, ‘nothing can trouble you but your own imagination’ (Nisargadatta Maharaj)

    Thanks for posting

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