“Have you ever noticed how much work it takes to remain depressed?” I asked the young woman sitting across from me.
She looked at me quizzically, waiting for me to continue. Samantha had struggled with depression for years, and I doubt she had ever heard a psychologist say something so ludicrous.
“No, it’s true,” I continued. “My goodness. Think about it. If I want to be depressed—which I don’t—I have to take all of the following steps.” I paused to let my words sink in.
Samantha was still looking at me as if I had three eyes. She decided to jump in before I gave my list of steps necessary to create depression.
“I don’t seem to have to do much to be depressed,” she said sullenly. “It just happens. And it seems to happen naturally.”
“Oh, I have no doubt that you’ve perfected the steps necessary to become depressed,” I said. “But it didn’t come naturally early in your life. Little children aren’t naturally depressed. Go to the park and see if you notice any depressed four year olds. You’re not going to find any there, I can assure you of that. Nope, we have to learn all the steps to become depressed.”
“I still think it comes naturally to me,” she said, her face drawn, with furrowed brows and significantly overweight.
“So, I’ve thought about this and would like to run my ideas by you,” I said, hoping to pique her interest. She had been depressed for the past couple years and was struggling to let go of her deep, dark mood.
“What I’ve noticed is this,” I said. “People who are chronically depressed tend to dress in drab colors, live in drab surroundings, think pessimistically about the future, isolate themselves, work at uninteresting jobs, take boring vacations, limit their fun and let others control their lives. They believe their lives are controlled by external factors rather than believing they have a huge impact on the quality of their lives. They are passive rather than active. Am I right about these observations?”
Samantha thought for a moment and then responded.
“From the list you just gave, I’d have to say that I fit every one of them. I know I let others control my life. I believe I can’t change the things that are bothering me, hate my job, dress in drab colors and, well you can see that I’m fifty pounds overweight. Are you saying that if I change those things I can get over my depression?”
“With the exception of any biochemical aspect of your depression, how you think and live have a huge impact on your mood. So, yes, if you’re willing to look critically at those aspects of your life, you can impact your mood for the better.”
I had one more curve ball to throw at Samantha before we looked at the list.
“Before you decide to tackle these things, I want you to think about one more thing,” I said.
“Sure,” she said. “What is it?”
“I want you to ask yourself if there are any reasons why you wouldn’t want to change those things. Depressed people often say they want to be happy, but then won’t do the things necessary to be happy people. So, ask yourself if you’re really serious about being happy.”
With that we reviewed some of the steps necessary to move from depression to happiness.
First, we must be willing to take responsibility for our depression. Just as we would with any debilitating condition, we must take action against our depression. We cannot wait to feel better. Rather, we must critically examine our lives and determine what are the primary causes for the depression.
Second, we must be willing to tell ourselves the truth about our depression. We cannot afford to live in denial. If our job is sapping our energy, we must change it. If we need to earn more money, we must get the education and experience necessary to get it. If our marriage or primary relationship is less than satisfying, we must seek help.
Third, we must examine patterns of thinking and behaving that reinforce our depression. Depression is rarely something that happens to us, but rather is a combination of factors that leads to depression. We must understand those patterns and acknowledge that change will be frightening.
Fourth, we must be willing to change old patterns of behavior and thinking. This will require reading good material on depression, noticing how happy people live differently than we do, memorize Scripture and seek God’s wisdom. Ultimately we must risk change.
Finally, prepare for growth. Scripture tells us that as we sow to the Spirit, we will reap to the Spirit. In other words, as we invest in spiritual growth we will grow. As we grow, joy and well-being are a byproduct. So, if you are ready to shed the skin of depression, and are ready for change, you are ready to think and act differently, leading to a happier life.