Things just have not been going well at work lately. That new employee is kissing up to the boss something fierce, and the boss eating it up. You can see your shot at the next promotion going swiftly down the drain. Your “task list” (who comes up with these PC cover-ups for more work, anyway?) is ever increasing, and your unpaid overtime with it. And then you come home. Ah, home sweet home. . . Well it would be if you didn’t count the two rampaging teenagers, a spouse as overworked as you are, endless chores and endless bills. And you can feel yourself slumping into that gloomy, drippy, miserable state of being where your motivation dies, you can’t even remember what “zest for life” means, and it’s all you can do to get up in the morning. Your spouse asks “What’s wrong?” but of course you don’t want to burden him/her with your tale of woe and so you fall, landing square into that tar pit called Depression.

Where you stay. For quite a while. As a matter of fact, it seems like forever. Oh sure, you function, and you smile on cue, but inside it feels like you’re carrying around this huge weight you can never get rid of. You see all those ads on TV for “make you happy” pills; you tried those once and all they did was make you feel numb and give you a bad case of dry mouth. You prefer miserable over numb. At least you know you’re alive. Sort of. Oh, you know you’ll get over it. Eventually, the weight will start to lift and you go on.

But you wonder: why is it so much easier to fall into depression than to fall into joy? And why is joy such a fleeting thing, and depression so #$^&*#$ long lasting?

Because you’re thinking about it. Because you’re focusing on it. Because with your every depressed thought, your brain responds by releasing chemicals into your bloodstream that support your mood. Because, as quantum physics has so elegantly demonstrated, like attracts like. So thinking about the things that make you depressed, makes you more depressed. And if you gave as much thought to those things that bring you joy, as you do to those things that depress you, you’d fall right into – joy. If you kept thinking about those things that bring you joy, you’d maintain that state of joy. Your brain would respond by releasing chemicals into your bloodstream that support your mood, and joy would breed more joy.

“Oh, great!” you say, “Plaster a phony smile on my face. Pretend everything’s peachy keen. Wow, there’s an enlightened solution!” Well, no, that wouldn’t be very enlightened. The point is not to deny what’s going on: the new employee is sucking up to the boss, you are given a pile of work to do, your kids are rampaging teenagers. The point is not to dwell on it, not to make it the focal point of your every waking thought. So the new employee is sucking up to the boss, so? You can find that amusing, you can continue to do your excellent work, you can be more proactive about your work. You don’t have to think of it as a threat. You’re given more work to do, so? So appreciate the boss actually thinks you can chow all that down, and either learn better boundary setting techniques, as in: “Which project would you prefer I put on the back burner in order to do this new project? Project A or project B?” which will make the boss pause, for sure, or become motivated to be more efficient so you can actually do the work. Your kids are rampaging teenagers, so? Delve into parenting books, classes, support groups, try different approaches, use humor. After all, you think you weren’t a rampaging teenager? And somehow you grew up OK.

Falling into joy is easy. Staying in a state of joy is easy. No, these aren’t Pollyanna statements, they’re scientifically demonstrable facts. All it takes is a willingness to CHOOSE how you look at a situation, and allow the negative stuff of life to take a back seat, not plant itself firmly in the driver’s seat. Oh, and practice. Lots and lots of practice at thinking joyful or appreciative thoughts, because most of us are so much more used to fixating on what brings us down, but then, what’s more fun – practicing depression or practicing joy?

I’ll take joy.

Author's Bio: 

Noelle C. Nelson, Ph.D., known as "Dr. Noelle" to her clients, is a respected psychologist, consultant and author. Her most recent books is "The Power of Appreciation: The Key to a Vibrant Life" (with co-author, Jeannine LeMare Calaba, Psy.D.; Beyond Words, 2003). For more than a decade, she has helped people live happier, healthier lives with her "compassionate psychotherapy." Dr. Noelle welcomes your comments via email (nnelson@dr.noellenelson.com). You can visit Dr. Noelle anytime at www.dr.noellenelson.com.