I think it is important to say, this article is in no way saying depression is not a problem, and simply an excuse. The title refers only to the symptoms of depression such as feeling unmotivated or lethargic. This is intended to help you try a different perspective in those times if you feel this way.
You often hear phrases like “you can’t have light without dark”, “good without bad”, or “happy without sad”. What’s most important here is that whether or not you can have one without the other, it is very hard to appreciate one without the other. If there were no such thing as light, it would be very difficult to imagine it. No matter how you describe what a sunrise looks like, if someone has been blind since birth, it is very unlikely you will be able to describe it in such a way that the exact image of a sunrise will suddenly appear in their mind. Not to say it is not possible, but if it is, it is extremely difficult.
So depression may not be a completely horrible thing. Without it, what would ‘happiness’ be? Would we appreciate it? Would we still be motivated by an eternal, innate desire for it?
There is a lot of negative stigma around depression. Of course, part of this makes sense. Nobody wants to be depressed. No one likes how it feels or the feelings of worthlessness, rejection, failure, or the low motivation that can accompany it. But that does not mean we should view it like a plague; something horrible that you want to avoid that no good can come of. It should not be used as a measure of success (or lack of), seen as weakness, or even covered up. We should embrace it for its positive features.
First, without it, or similar negative states, what would happiness be? We all innately strive to be happy, or at least in a state of “not-suffering”. For many, the pursuit of happiness drives them to improve in what they do, at work, to be kind to others, and try new things. It is a key motivator. Many people would be lost without it as their driving purpose in life.
Consider happiness on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being your ideal state of happiness and 1 being severe depression. If you rate yourself at 7, you may alter things in order to increase this. If tomorrow you rate yourself a 5, you might try a little harder or put more emphasis on it. So if you are a 1-3, naturally, you may need and want to put more into trying to improve your sense of happiness. So don’t see it as a completely negative thing, view depression as a really powerful motivator and use it as a prompt to do more things you love.
Being a little dissatisfied or unhappy can be a good thing if we acknowledge it and use it to understand what to change to become happier. The problem is, when we become too unhappy, it crosses a threshold and stops being a motivator and starts to demotivate you. Just as in sports, a little arousal improves performance, but too much impairs it, too much unhappiness impairs our efforts on our pursuit of happy. Just as a sports professional tries to learn to use arousal in the best way for performance, and gain that optimal level of arousal, we must try to learn to use unhappiness in the best way to motivate ourselves to make the changes we need in our pursuit of happiness. We should always try to be aware of what we are unhappy with, but not become overwhelmed by it and become too unhappy and unmotivated.
So how do you get back up to that optimal point where our dissatisfaction is a motivator and not depression? One thing to do is gain this understanding of how it can be used to actually make you happy again.
Start viewing depression as dissatisfaction, which can help you or inhibit you, depending on how you react to it and use it.
With this awareness, your goal then becomes striving to reach that optimal point, where you can use dissatisfaction to motivate yourself. Whether to motivate you to improve relationships, try something new, do something more, follow an unfulfilled dream, to start being kinder to yourself, or to work on an unhealthy relationship you have with an event from your past, having a constant awareness of your negative feelings or dissatisfaction is key to knowing why you’re unhappy and in motivating yourself to act on it.
Once you start viewing depression more as a cue that there is something(s) in your life you need to change, then it’s time to figure out what you should do that is in your own best interest. Maybe you have been relying too much on someone to make you happy, holding onto the past, or being led by family, friends, or societal expectations. Remember, no one can live your life better than you.
Acting may involve doing more things you love, or doing less of the things you don’t love. Take a good look at all aspects of your life- family, friends, jobs, hobbies, dreams, regrets, and all the opportunities you haven’t even considered taking.
Do this only when you are feeling comfortable enough to look at both what you are happy with and unhappy with. Don’t let this turn into a downhill spiral, looking only at the negative things. If you can’t think of anything positive then you are only looking at it one-sided. Remember, you can only have bad when you also have good. Think about the positive aspects that you want to improve. Perhaps you really like it when you go walking or see a friend, plan to do this more. Then, think of the things you are unhappy with in life and you look at them not as failures, weakness or mistakes, but as windows of opportunity, a starting point, or room for improvement. The more you are unhappy with, the more freedom you have to remove those things from your life and replace them with anything that makes you happy.
There maybe some things you cannot change, but there are certainly more things that you can, starting with your perspective. Don’t say “I can’t afford it” or “I don’t have time”, start saying, “I can afford to do this” and “I will make time to do that”. Appreciate what you can do and don’t get hung up on what you cannot. You have so many opportunities, so appreciate them and don’t take them for granted.
This step maybe the hardest part. For many, turning this understanding into actions can be very difficult. One of the worst things about depression is that when you are depressed and most in need of taking actions, the depression itself may highly demotivate you. Remember the sports analogy? A little dissatisfaction is a good thing, and motivates us to improve ourselves and our lifestyles, too much has the reverse effect and demotivates us. So when you start trying to turn all this awareness and plans into actions, you must constantly fight this struggle of turning the depression into ‘motivating dissatisfaction’. You may feel lethargic, exhausted, or just ‘can’t be bothered’ to start changing things; especially if they involve trying something new or taking a risk. Changing jobs, acting different with your friends, joining a team/group full of strangers, or bringing up problems in a relationship can be frightening or seem like too big a risk. But chances are, not doing those things is the cause of this negative state and it wont go away on its own.
So, no matter what’s in that closet full of excuses you may have filled through the years, if changing something will increase your happiness, then it is worth trying. Don’t let these excuses prevent you from trying to be happy. Certainly don’t let the ultimate demotivator, depression itself, stop you either.