Even as I’m not very good at it, I know that gratitude is important and can help a person beat depression. Based on her research findings, University of California psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky believes that keeping a gratitude journal–taking the time to consciously count your blessings–is one of the most effective happiness boosters. According to psychologist Robert Emmons at the University of California at Davis, gratitude exercises improves physical health, as well–including raising energy levels and relieving pain.
Dan Baker writes in “What Happy People Know“:
[Appreciation] is the first and most fundamental happiness tool. . . . Research now shows that it is physiologically impossible to be in a state of appreciation and a state of fear at the same time. Thus, appreciation is the antidote to fear.
I guess my major beef with all those who preach gratitude, gratitude, gratitude as a way out of depression is that they expect a depressive to be cured of her brain disease by counting her blessings, but they would never expect a person diagnosed with stage-four breast cancer to treat herself effectively by keeping a gratitude journal.
Yes, by all means, remembering our blessings can go a far way in recovery. But it’s not going to reverse the brain damage that neurobiologists are finding happens with severe depression, and it’s not enough to pull a suicidal person out of her harrowing thoughts.
Probably the worst thing you can tell a depressive is “Count your blessings!” I can’t count the number of times friends and family, trying to help, told me to practice a little more gratitude. And each time it made me feel so much worse, like I was some greedy spoiled kid sitting on all the goodies, but pouting and moaning because my favorite tv show wasn’t on.
For me, being depressed had nothing to do with not appreciating all my gifts: a supportive husband, two wonderful kids, a stimulating career. I know that I’m blessed, but that doesn’t correct the bad wiring in my brain.
I need to say this because hopefully my honesty will assure readers like Teddie that he need not feel guilty for not rejoicing about the good stuff in his life when he’s in a depression. On the message board of my relapse post (which, by the way, has over 120 really wonderful and loving notes on it … for anyone who is presently in the Black Hole), Teddie wrote this:
I have lots of be happy and joyous about. My only son got married July 6th of this year. I am happy he found a darling girl. There is a calming peace about her for him. Their baby is due November 26 this year. I should be ecstatic. So why has this not put me there? I keep falling and trying to stay up is hard. I am struggling and want my blankie, bear, and to go into my closet.