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Fifteen ways to stay happy during difficult times

Turn "in the dumps" into "take on the world."

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When we’re in good spirits we’re ready to take on the world. When were in the dumps, we’re victims. Here are fifteen things that might help “take on the world” be our everyday.

Tough times drag us down

Well, this is depressing – you can skip to the next heading.

We’re still in the grips of Covid-19, and the holidays should lift our spirits, but for many it means isolation from family and continued lack of income, even food. And for some there simply is no family time—holidays for some are not a happy time. Our families, our friends, our communities, our area, our nation, the entire world has a ton of problems that it dumps on us and we can get overwhelmed. We can’t focus on all the problems in the world. They will drag us down into our graves. Even US politics was too much for many.

Positive thinking doesn’t work for most people. We love to wallow in our mistreatment by life, to declare ourselves victims, and commiserate (share experiences) with others. We love to sing the blues. But dwelling on problems can be a bottomless spiral. We shouldn’t define ourselves and our lives by the tough times. I know because I’ve had a lot of them. Not nearly as many as some, but enough. I can’t let them drag me down because too many people count on me. I can share some insights from my own experience and from others.

Many are unable to look up during difficult times. According to an NPR article, Depression, anxiety spike amid outbreak and turbulent times, “Mental health therapists’ caseloads are bulging. Waiting lists for appointments are growing. And anxiety and depression are rising among Americans amid the coronavirus crisis ….”

Depression and anxiety shouldn’t be taken lightly. Loss of a job has been noted as having the same impact as loss of a loved one (National Institutes of Health (NIH): Grieving for Job Loss and Its Relation to the Employability of Older Jobseekers. Those experiencing problems at work or school, illness, death of a loved one, moving, relationship problems, should consult a psychologist, not wait for it to become an impediment to your life.

If you think someone is at immediate risk of self-harm or hurting another person: Call 911 or your local emergency number. Or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

There are many things we can do to help stay in a better mood

Happiness is well worth going after. It’s not overrated. “… happiness was still associated with a 30% reduction in the risk of death.” – The Guardian.

Following are some helpful things to do to avoid feeling depressed, lethargic, unmotivated. These are supported by science if you want to look them up.

  1. Every night I say thank-you. It sets the stage for the next day. There is so much every day to be thankful for if we stop and think about it. Stuff we take for granted. Harvard Medical School: Giving thanks can make you happier
  2. During a thunderstorm in a tent with the wind roaring and the roof leaking, it’s difficult to keep perspective that the world is actually a dry and safe place. Bad times don’t last. In life, while our youth is often relatively carefree, the responsibilities pile on the closer we get to our 40s, then they lesson as we exit our 40s and happiness increases. “Middle-age-misery” is a worldwide constant known as the U-bend curve. Keep perspective on life. There are a number of times I’ve had to rely on, “This too shall pass.”
  3. Get on a regular schedule for sleeping, taking meds, eating. At home with nothing to mark the time of day, it’s easy to forget schedules. People do much better on regular schedules. The Importance of Maintaining Structure and Routine During Stressful Times
  4. One thing that gets us out of bed and moving in the morning is to have a purpose in life. Even if it’s just learning new things. Set out to do things … anything. This has a great deal to do with making a contribution in life and the resulting satisfaction. Most people want to be part of something with others, and something bigger than their selves. It’s motivating. From University of Minnesota, What Is Life Purpose?
  5. Talk to a friend. This is often just as effective for minor upsets as going to a psychologist. We commiserate and lift each other up. But don’t use your friends for therapy. Understand the difference between when you need a friend and when you need a psychologist. Friend Vs Therapist: Who To Choose & When
  6. A good laugh helps a lot. It’s difficult to laugh and be sad at the same time, although there are days when I try. Laughter even helps hospital patients get better. From the Mayo Clinic, Stress relief from laughter? It’s no joke
    Funny or Die is a good source of laughter
    Facebook has many funny channels where you can get your laugh on.
  7. Don’t fixate on disturbing things, or let your mind dwell on them. Get to something else that requires concentration. Most of the time bad things don’t happen, but if they own real estate in your head, they own you even if they don’t happen. When people dwell on the negative, they find themselves getting depressed, and getting deeper in their depression. Psychologists call this “rumination.” So stop it!
    Stopping is easier said than done when something is on your mind. My wife is convinced I don’t have a brain because I usually don’t worry. But I do sometimes ruminate on little things. We all do. Try these things: Write the worry down on a piece of paper, then set it aside for another time. Find a good distraction. Practice mindfulness and letting go. Rumination: 9 ways to stop dwelling on negative thoughts
  8. Get regular exercise. Exercise increases serotonin, a brain chemical that improves your mood. Being sedentary reduces serotonin, leading to lethargy, depression, and lack of motivation. Just a walk is all that’s required – you don’t need to get a “runners high” from endorphins. This effect persists through the day. Also, morning exercise revs up your metabolism so you burn more calories, helping with weight control.
    According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function. Exercise has also been found to alleviate symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal.”
  9. Avoid allowing yourself to feel helpless and hopeless. It’s difficult, but dwelling on these feelings is destructive and can lead to tragedy. Switch your mental focus to your interests and goals. Helplessness and hopelessness are the result expectations that don’t transpire, and telling ourselves that they won’t.
    I rarely go this direction unless we’re badly in need of money and none is in sight. Generally then my wife says, “Look over there.” Know the people in your life who can say that.
    Felling helpless and hopeless can be dangerous. It can lead to despair and self destructive behaviors. This is especially true for those who feel alienated from friends and society—left out. 10 Things to Do If You’re Feeling Hopeless About Your Future
    Keep things in perspective with the Serenity Prayer: God help me to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
  10. Let yourself cry. It’s not a sign of weakness. It can be cathartic (implies self-soothing). While many claims are made that it does and doesn’t help, it seems from international studies that it may be more helpful to cry with another person. Excessive crying may be worse than not at all. But most studies indicate it can be beneficial. Eight benefits of crying: Why it’s good to shed a few tears
  11. My first real job was being a radio personality. I discovered I had no personality. Well, actually I didn’t know how to invest myself in my work so I lost interest. Investing yourself in the outcome is essential to sparking your interest and motivation. To help do this, set specific goals for yourself with specific deadlines.
    Ask yourself, how can I make this job, this interest, this effort produce something better. I study widely and I find so much in other fields that can be applied to what I’m working on at the moment. Studies often show other things that we might be interested in.
  12. Interact with people regularly, even if it’s only online. Try to get out and make new friends, even if only online. Online you can find more people who share your interests.
  13. You can learn interesting new things for hobbies and careers online, pass advanced placement exams, even get degrees online. Many of the courses can be taken for free, and to earn a certificate useful for employment you can pay a small fee (usually under $100.00 a course) or even get financial assistance.
    The certificates and degrees are real and respected. These courses are from noteworthy colleges and some of the best in the world. I take courses from MIT and Harvard. Another example, computer programming is hot and is a good career. I recommend Edx.org as the source for any course, but there are many companies that offer courses online.
  14. Do something for others. It makes them happy. It also makes us happy. If you don’t know who needs help, ask a local church. During this Covid-19 crisis many people are desperately in need of help. Why Science Says Helping Others Makes Us Happier
  15. Listen to music and dance. Dance music is great for lifting spirits. Singing along gets you involved. Getting your body in motion to the music adds the assistance of exercise. I listen to music a lot as I write. Does Music Affect Your Mood?

Something that has meant a lot to me, and what I find over and over to be true, is that we are what we think. Choose wisely. In the words of the Apostle Paul: “… whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think on these things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me, put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

Some helpful videos and resources

Encouraging examples from others who have overcome difficulty

We’re not alone. Everyone goes through difficult times. Following are some examples we might not expect.

One of the funniest actors in Hollywood, Jim Carrey, on Inside Actors Studio, said that economic conditions drove his father and family to live in a van.

Thomas Edison needed 1000 to 10,000 trials (failures) to perfect the light bulb. The same is true in medical research.

Stephen Hawking, the famous physicist, spent much of his later life in a wheelchair. He was unable to speak but still managed to write profound books

Nelson Mandella led a campaign against South Africa’s white only government, in a nation of predominately black population. He was arrested and imprisoned for 27 years. When fears of a racial civil war emerged, he helped negotiate an end to apartheid, then became president. He encouraged others not to be bitter.

Jackie Chan was left by his parents at a young age in a theater training and production group. He became a fearless professional actor widely known around the world.

Franklin Roosevelt’s legs became paralyzed, but he went on to become Governor of New York, and then President of the US.

Nick Vujicic was born without arms or legs. He can’t even brush his own teeth. But he is a world famous motivational speaker.

Keanu Reeves was abandoned by his father at 3 years old and grew up with 3 different stepfathers. He has had his share of problems. He is dyslexic. A serious accident prevented his becoming a hockey player. His daughter died at birth. His wife died in a car accident.

Reeves is known for his benevolence. He donated more than $50 million to the staff who handled the costumes and special effects – the true heroes of the trilogy, as he called them. He has even given up 90% of his salary for productions to hire other stars.

Age is no impediment to success

Writers often have their biggest success in their retirement years.

25 people who became highly successful after age 40

Please do yourself a favor

The sad and frustrating thing is that most people just read these things and expect to be fixed like this article is a magic wand. Considering my effort in helping you, please make a commitment to yourself that you won’t let yourself be pulled into a downward spiraling vortex of helplessness, hopelessness, and despair, and will pick one to three things and do them, and see a psychologist if your life is being disrupted by these feelings.

Dorian publishes about writing and the human condition on VisualWriter.com, OneSpiritResources.com, and Medium.com

– Dorian

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