Before I get started, I need to tell you that I am not a medical Doctor. Any medications or treatments that you are currently using should not be stopped unless you are directed to by your physician or therapist. If you suffer from severe depression, be sure to review my technique below with your physician or therapist as a possible supplement to relieve depression symptoms.
I received the call at 7am. It was a normal school day and a normal work day and I had just dropped my daughter off at high school. There on the other end of the line was my daughter who was having a bad day. She was having issues with her friends, her schoolwork, and the impending doom of final exams and felt as though the entire weight of the world was bearing down on her. Knowing that she was not going to get anything accomplished at school, I picked her up and we went to go have a coffee and chat. So for about 15 minutes I listened attentively to what was happening in her life at that time, and many of the issues were real concerns. So at a point when she was taking a breath from her troubles, I spoke. "Christy, it sounds like you have a lot going on in your life right now. For a moment, I would like you to try something for me. Can you tell me what you are thankful for?". She paused, possibly a bit taken aback by the question, and then proceeded: "I am thankful that my parents listen to me, and understand me. I am thankful for the house that we live in. I am thankful to be able to go to such a great high school...I am thankful for our new puppy!" and at that moment a broad smile swept across her face. What did I do that enabled her to be able to change a dreary mood that had been plaguing her for hours and possibly even days in just minutes? I helped her with gratitude.
There are a few key points regarding how gratitude that will help you understand why this state of mind is so powerful. The first point is that it is one of those unique and rare states of mind that is mutually exclusive. It does not allow other negative emotions to operate simultaneously. It is possible to be happy that you are going on vacation, but sad that your grandfather just died at the same time. It is not possible to give true, deep, heartfelt appreciation that your neighbor just brought you some hand-me-down clothes for your son and at the same time feel another negative emotion. It pushes out all other feelings when you are engaged in it.
Another point to mention about gratitude is that we are all dependent upon others to have the life that we have. The computer your are reading this on right now was engineered by countless scientists all building upon those technologies developed by still more scientists. There are countless opportunities around us to practice "Glad Dependence" as coined by Robert A. Emmons in his great book that is simply titled "Thanks". This idea is profound, because it allows us to feel good about depending upon others. Now don't get me wrong. Self-sufficiency is a major factor in creating maturity which breeds happiness. However, even the most independent among us must drive a car! Ironically, it may actually be easier for the highly self-sufficient to understand Glad Dependence, as they themselves have likely produced businesses, products, and services that others rely on.
Finally, I recommend that you seek out the institutions in our society that inculcate gratitude. Although I am not a practicing Christian, I acknowledge that The Church is a major player in fostering gratitude among our citizens. I can't think of another social institution that is so tuned into how important it is to be thankful. The religious say Grace before meals, and humble themselves before God at least once a week at Church. The secular do have access to these techniques, and they are very effective. At our dinner table, we all say what we are thankful for before we eat, very much modeled after the way that Christians say grace. It is an effective technique to prevent the dinner table from becoming a complaint-fest.
In closing, I hope that you can remember to temper your bad moods with gratitude the next time you feel that the world is closing in on you.