As a kid who grew up in a chaotic environment, joy wasn’t a word I was familiar with. In fact, things got worse as I got older, and in my early 20’s, when I encountered significant health issues, I could tell you A LOT about depression, but nothing about joy.
I don’t know what’s happening in your life, so I would never presume to tell you what to do to fix it. Here is what I know about depression and joy. I have spent A LOT of time working on these particular subjects. Why?
Because I was so depressed I used to wish I would die. I didn’t understand how people felt joy, but I knew I wanted to feel it. So I searched. My husband calls me a “seeker”.
One of the reasons I feel so much happiness and joy at this time in my life is because I FOCUS on things that create joy. It is a daily practice. Joy is not a feeling, at least not in my case. It is a practice. From that practice flows an abundance of amazing feelings. But I WORK at it, every day.
So what exactly does my practice of joy look like?
- Focus on gratitude first thing in the morning and last thing at night.
- Meditation and prayer – think love, thankfulness, peace.
- Physiology – how do joyful people move, look, talk (check out people at church).
- Increase energy – if you want to be depressed sit on your butt.
- Pain to purpose – do things for other people. Studies show that people who spend hours on Facebook reading other people’s problems are more depressed – EXCEPT if you are helping. I get awesome feedback from my Facebook tribe.
- Ask yourself, “Why is the world a better place because I breathe?”
- Eat for joy – the Brain Warrior diet.
- Having the social support of a like-minded community – I receive amazing messages from my community asking how they can change their lives, how they can be happy, and why I seem so happy.
- Focus on something beyond yourself – leads to hope.
- Listen to inspiring music.
Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that happiness isn’t just a nebulous feeling; it is a physiological state that can be stimulated deliberately. So why is practicing joy and happiness important? Besides the fact that it just feels so darn good, it has a powerful impact on the health of your brain and body.
At Amen Clinics, we published a study showing how meditation affects brain function. The findings were surprising. We expected to see decreased overall activity, as subjects focused on relaxation. However, there were significant increases in blood flow to the frontal lobes (responsible for judgement, impulse control and forethought). The emotional centers did indeed settle down. This could explain why people explain being focused but relaxed, or being in a “flow state” when they meditate and pray. I consider meditation and prayer the cornerstone of my “joy” practice.
People who focus on gratitude, have a support system, help others, have rules about taking care of themselves, hear inspiring messages and believe in something beyond themselves are happier and have less stress. Even if you aren’t a “religious” person, you can make a conscious effort to do the at least some of these activities through a local charity or community center. That is what we refer to as being a Brain Warrior.
If you need a guide to help you decrease depression and increase joy and happiness, my book, The Brain Warrior’s Way incorporates all of these principles as a way of living. Or you can listen to “The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast” – free to listen/subscribe/download. Now get up and move!