“You are constantly told in depression that your judgment is compromised, but a part of depression is that it touches cognition. That you are having a breakdown does not mean that your life isn’t a mess. If there are issues you have successfully skirted or avoided for years, they come cropping back up and stare you full in the face, and one aspect of depression is a deep knowledge that the comforting doctors who assure you that your judgment is bad are wrong. You are in touch with the real terribleness of your life. You can accept rationally that later, after the medication sets in, you will be better able to deal with the terribleness, but you will not be free of it. When you are depressed, the past and future are absorbed entirely by the present moment, as in the world of a three-year-old. You cannot remember a time when you felt better, at least not clearly; and you certainly cannot imagine a future time when you will feel better.”
― Andrew Solomon, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression
Another brief entry from Lyubomirsky’s happiness series. The title may seem all too obvious to anyone struggling with depression. But don’t confuse “takes work” with “just snap out of it” or similar well meaning, but useless, encouragement. Lyubomirsky’s work asserts that these are habits that we develop to maintain and bolster our happiness. We don’t just diet for two weeks. We don’t go to psychotherapy for a month. We patiently and diligently apply ourselves to these tasks, knowing that over time they yield significant benefits.
Some of the approaches are not indicated for those struggling with depression. (Expressing gratitude can be especially challenging and lead to a spiral of self-criticism for lack of gratitude, for instance.) But the notion, according to her research, that 40 percent of one’s happiness is mediated by one’s own actions is a powerful idea — and contradicts the sea of hopelessness that depression pulls for.
It should be obvious that these practices are not a cure for depression. Depression and happiness are not on the same scale. (One writer compared sadness to the common cold, depression to cancer.) But increasing our general level of happiness, can help inoculate us from some of the triggers that lead to depressive episodes.
From Peter Kramer’s There’s Nothing Deep About Depression article, which appeared a while back in the New York Times Magazine. He lays out his argument brilliantly — during Shakespeare’s time it was trendy to romanticize depression — and Hamlet is “arguably the seminal text of our culture.” His point being, romanticizing depression is ingrained in the culture to a point not often acknowledged. Interesting.
In dozens of stage dramas from the period, the principal character is a discontented melancholic. “Hamlet” is the great example. As soon as Hamlet takes the stage, an Elizabethan audience would understand that it is watching a tragedy whose hero’s characteristic flaw will be a melancholic trait, in this case, paralysis of action. By the same token, the audience would quickly accept Hamlet’s spiritual superiority, his suicidal impulses, his hostility to the established order, his protracted grief, solitary wanderings, erudition, impaired reason, murderousness, role-playing, passivity, rashness, antic disposition, “dejected haviour of the visage” and truck with graveyards and visions.
“Hamlet” is arguably the seminal text of our culture, one that cements our admiration for doubt, paralysis and alienation. But seeing “Hamlet” in its social setting, in an era rife with melancholy as an affected posture, might make us wonder how much of the historical association between melancholy and its attractive attributes is artistic conceit.
Not my list. This came last year, from PsychCentral. Check out number 9, Gretchen Rubin’s site (author of The Happiness Project). She focusses on the power of habits, an often overlooked behavioral component to managing depression.