Overcoming Depression and Increasing Life Satisfaction

  1. One of the best antidepressants is good relationships with other people. By a good relationship I mean that people are kind to one another, have fun with each other, solve problems well, and enjoy talking with each other. This situation can be hard to come by sometimes, but those who work at it thoughtfully can usually achieve it sooner or later.

  2. Another important antidepressant is exercise. Several studies have found that a good bit of daily exercise worked as well as or better than an antidepressant medicine.

  3. A very important antidepressant is the “effort-payoff connection.” This means that you have something you want, you are working to get it, and your efforts are paying off. Working at a job and making money, working at schoolwork and seeing a payoff in grades, working to make friends and finding some success – these and many others are examples of an effort-payoff connection. The effort-payoff connection is partly a characteristic of your environment (for example whether it really is possible to get what you want), and partly a characteristic of how you think about things (for example being willing to keep trying long enough to see some results).

  4. The effort-payoff connection often comes from making progress toward goals. This is more likely to happen if you have goals in the first place! What can you achieve that will make you happier and make other people happier? Figuring out “worthy” goals, goals that really are worth working at, is an important ingredient for happiness in life.

  5. Another thing that makes a good effort-payoff connection more likely is somehow getting into a situation where the things you are trying to do are not too hard, not too easy, but in the “just right” level of difficulty.

  6. One simple strategy for being less depressed and happier is to list the activities that make you feel good, either because they are fun or because they accomplish something worthwhile, and then just to try to do those activities more often. When you do them, try to celebrate in your mind having done them.

  7. A very important strategy is to become aware of what you say to yourself, your self-talk, your thoughts. A good first step is trying to put your thoughts into words and noticing what those words are. Thoughts like “I’m so stupid,” or “Why should I try, I’ll never succeed,” or “I’m a failure,” or “I hate life,” or “This is a terrible situation,” or “I can’t stand this,” or “People will always be mean to me no matter what I do,” are depressing thoughts. But, if you notice yourself thinking things that make you feel unnecessarily bad, celebrate the fact that you have discovered this, because this is the first step in choosing more useful self-talk.

  8. Over time, you can cultivate habits of very useful self-talk. Sometimes it’s very useful to remind yourself that the situation is not as bad as you might have felt it was. Sometimes it’s very useful to think logically and decide what to do about the situation you’re in. Lots of times it’s very useful to celebrate, to say “Hooray,” about, the lucky things that happen, the good things other people do for you, and the wise and good things you do. Celebratory self-talk is a major antidote to depression. When you celebrate your own good choices, that also helps you make good choices more often. For more about self-talk, please see another handout on “Twelve types of thoughts.”

  9. Sometimes people are unhappy because they are too self-indulgent and not self-disciplined enough – they do whatever is gratifying in the instant and aren’t able to pass up present pleasure for future payoff. Other people are unhappy because they are too hard on themselves – they don’t make time in their lives for fun, and they are trying to work all the time and deny the wish for pleasure. Having a good balance, where you can be self-disciplined but also have fun, is called the “middle path.” It can be hard to figure out what the best balance is, but it can be very useful.

  10. Bright light can be an antidepressant. This is especially true in the fall and winter months, when there is a lot of darkness. (The farther north you go, the darker the winters are.) Human beings of a long time ago probably evolved a tendency to “sort of hibernate” in the winters. Having to get up and get energetic and accomplish things when the days are dark can feel not right. At least, that’s how some people explain the fact that many people tend to be less happy when it’s darker, and (this is important) get happier when they start getting more bright light, even if it’s from an electric light and not the sun. It’s now fairly inexpensive to buy two types of bright lights. One just provides bright light (10,000 “lux” units of brightness) that you expose yourself to for half an hour or more after waking up. Another type is called a “dawn simulator.” For a dawn simulator, a very dim light comes on at whatever time you set, and over the course of half an hour the light gets brighter and brighter, to mimic the way light increases when the sun comes up. Both of these have been found to improve mood in the fall and winter. In addition, these sorts of lights have been found to have an antidepressant effect at times other than the fall and winter.

  11. Having a regular sleep and waking time is good for the mood. Put another way, it can be depressing when the brain isn’t sure whether to be awake or asleep. One of the ways the brain knows this is by your having a steady rhythm of going to bed at the same time and getting up at the same time, day after day.

  12. We said earlier that celebrating your own good choices is good for the mood and a good way to encourage yourself to make more good choices. It’s good to make the celebration of your good choices a social activity, if you can find someone to do this with. You take turns telling each other about the good decisions that you’ve made and carried out, maybe for a couple of choices apiece, and feel good together about the wise and good things you’ve done.