Feeling Depressed? Use your Strengths to Find Happiness!
May 6, 2014 by Dr. Neal Mayerson ·
Last week I had “one of those days”. I felt down and unmotivated. The stresses of life had piled up and I just felt like staying in bed. I hated the feeling.
Then I thought to myself, “What good are my character strengths if I can’t use them to get rid of this feeling. They are supposed to be tools I can deploy to make me feel good, but hear I lie stuck in the blues.” And so, another thing piled onto my list of disappointments and frustrations and I sunk deeper into the mattress.
Eventually my dog had enough of this lying around and wanted to go out. So, I dragged myself up and went outside with him. My question about my character strengths kept nagging me until finally I had a comforting realization that I knew I could count on my character strengths to pull me through these blues. I didn’t know how or when exactly, but I knew that I possessed these character strengths and that when they were in motion I tended to feel good. At some point I knew they would kick into action and I would feel better. That realization in itself lifted a certain load. These blues that had grabbed ahold of me were not here to stay. They would pass.
Relieved, I kept on walking. The new Spring growth was evident all around. Flowers were budding. Leaves were budding on trees and bushes. That special green color of buds emerging and unfolding for the new season was a visual delight. And, I thought how the unfolding of buds was like the unfolding of character strengths in people as they go through the seasons of their lives. I imagined time lapsed photography of a rose bud unfolding with the names of the 24 character strengths on different petals. It all made me breathe deep, soaking in all I was seeing, hearing, and feeling.
My dog, unleashed, was running freely with his nose close to the ground. So many fresh smells attendant to having taken him for the first time to the mountains. He had never smelled sage…or moose poop. He had never splashed in a mountain stream running with freshly melted snow. He had never seen a horse. He was ALIVE with excitement and curiosity! It made me so happy to see him so happy.
And, then, I had a second realization. I no longer felt blue! It pleasantly surprised me. Upon just a bit of reflection I smiled with the next realization that my character strengths had indeed come to the rescue. Appreciation of beauty came forward. Creativity turned my experience into a metaphor I could use later in my work. And love. Love got me out of bed and delivered the heartfelt pleasures that came from providing my dog with his amazing new life experiences. Appreciation of beauty. Creativity. Love. I didn’t deliberately summon them. They came forward seemingly on their own. I felt like my gang of internal superheroes had come to the rescue. I had a spring in my step. My character strengths actually took away my blues. What a day!
So, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
1. Trust In Your Tools. Your character strengths are part of who you are and you can depend on them to come forward and pull you forward, even when you are down in the dumps. Trust this truth. They are your built-in recovery tools that never go away.
2. Connect the Dots. Be mindful of how your character strengths affect your experiences in life. I might have noticed that I began to feel better, but without knowing that it was because certain character strengths were at work, I wouldn’t know I can bring them to bear next time I feel crummy.
3. It’s Not Always Sunshine and Lemonade. Accept that life has its ups and downs no matter how good or competent you are as a person. Such cycles are part of the nature of life. Don’t worry that being unhappy means that you are doing something wrong or that you are weak. Don’t expect to be happy all of the time. It is not realistic. Don’t fight your normal everyday swings in mood. It’s only when you get stuck for a long time in one place that should signal you that something has gone awry. Relax.
Everyone has a unique array of character strengths on hand and ready for use. Discover your own personal “gang of internal superheroes” by completing the free, online VIA Survey of character strengths.