There have been times in my life when I have found it next to impossible to be happy. Dark lonely days, where smiles and hugs from family members failed to penetrate my blanket of despair. A pervading sense of disconnection, apathy and complete inability to experience gratitude….
Yup, that was me. I’ve suffered from depression and I’m ok writing and talking about it.
I know I’m not alone.
Depression is the third largest individual health problem in Australia after heart disease
and stroke. (ref)
1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will experience some form of depression during their life. (ref)
Each year, approximately 1,000,000 adults and 100,000 young people in Australia experience a depressive illness. More than 50% will not seek treatment. (ref)
For me, one of the most challenging facets of this illness is the fact that there are many people who would prefer not to hear about it, or acknowledge it as a real illness. Depression may not be as taboo as it was twenty years ago but “mental illness” of any sort is still stigmatized.
How bad does it feel when you attempt to share your pain, only to be told over
and over –
You’ll be ok, you just have to try harder.
Don’t cry – we don’t have to talk about it anymore, ok?
Come on, snap out of it! Think about how this might be affecting your babies!
Helpful, no. Hurtful, yes. Understandable? Yeah, I get it. If you’re depressed, you are a definite fun-assassin!
But that was then and this is now. That part of me has faded into the background and a newer version emerged – genuinely smiling, appreciative and happy.
Most of the time.
So what if that black dog comes round for another visit! I’m far more resourceful and resilient now and the knowledge that I have beaten depression before is both comforting and empowering.
The power of gratitude
Believe it or not, expressing gratitude on a daily basis was one of the most effective weapons in my arsenal for defeating depression.
I was fortunate that even in my most depressed state – I never gave up. I knew that I could fight my way back to wellness even when the actual experience of being happy seemed as far away as the moon.
I took to recording my ugliest thoughts and fears on paper, in a hopeful effort to have them disintegrate into the harried scrawls of ink.
I also began a daily gratitude journal. Maybe I couldn’t feel those sunshine thoughts, but surely I could find a few things to be grateful for?
Writing one or two sentences every day was something I knew I could commit to.
Some days it was being thankful for nothing more than a great cup of coffee or a two-hour stint of uninterrupted sleep. Other days, observing the melodic babbling of my babies or the stoic way my Canadian family braved the brutal winter elements; were enough to keep my feet planted in the realm of possibility.
I also noticed that the act of recording gratitude accumulated to the point where I could soon find five things instead of just one to be genuinely thankful for. My list began to grow and flow with ease and eventually I started to feel the gratitude rather than just write about it.
After six months of committing to this practice and combined with counselling, exercise, medication and the loving support of a few family members and friends – I was able to reclaim my passion for life. Damn, it felt good!
I’m not saying that this daily practice of being grateful was a cure for my depression but I do believe it was a crucial factor for recovery.
How can gratitude increase happiness?
The power of gratitude and its positive effect on mood and well-being has been widely documented (see here).
Being grateful moves your focus from a mindset of scarcity to abundance.
Appreciating and noticing the small blessings leads to a focal point of more – more positive things to take note of and a heightened awareness of the miniscule details that bring pleasure.
Moreover, like many habits – the longer you do it, the easier it becomes and the more powerful the effects can be. Gratitude helps you maintain a more positive outlook and contributes to emotional well-being.
It also has social benefits – we all prefer to hang with positive people, right?
Creating an atmosphere of gratitude in your home
It can be challenging trying to instill an ‘attitude of gratitude’ in your home. Children are notoriously self-centred and unappreciative, particularly when it comes to their own family members.
I have found that the most effective way to increase an appreciative atmosphere is to model the behavior. Children get annoyed when you constantly tell them to thank every person they meet but if they notice you always make a point of giving thanks when called for, they are sure to follow suit…eventually.
Writing small notes or sending emails of Thanks in a timely manner is also an effective way to teach gratitude. Thanking
Grandma on Skype for a birthday gift, or writing a note to a teacher for a fun lesson well taught are recent examples of gratitude my girls have initiated.
Nature provides endless opportunities and spectacles for inquisitive minds to marvel at. A rainbow or butterfly on your walk to the park. Eating lush tropical fruit on a hot summer’s day. Observing natures gifts together is not only fun for kids but also reminds us big kids to take note of the things that we so often take for granted due to years of familiarity.
My favourite, most effective display of appreciation in our household is the ‘Gratitude Prayer’.
We take turns at dinner time to have a prayer of gratitude – a practice that the girls enjoy and add their own flavour to –
I’m thankful that my hair was pretty today and I got to see ‘Barbie in a Fashion Fairytale’.
I really liked the chocolate easter egg I ate and I hope I get some more tomorrow.
Every now and then they also delight with their thoughtfulness and an inkling that they are beginning to grasp the power of gratitude-
Thank you for my daddy who works so hard….my sister who is an angel from the sky cos she plays with me at school…. and my uncle who I miss lots and lots.
That’s it from me today.
Let me know in the comments how you like to ‘get your grateful on’?