I wanted to share this letter from my father who has suffered with depression for over 35 years. I know a lot of people quietly suffer and I feel like these insights have really helped me to manage my emotional heath. I had a 5 year bout with depression when I hit 30. Luckily with the help of medication and a lot of counseling from my husband, it was something I was able to work through. This letter came at a pivotal point for me and aided me in my recovery. My husband was able to identify behavior patterns that I had learned that contributed to my depression. We worked to change those, I began exercising and the endorphins really helped me. I prayed and turned to the Lord for help. I humbled myself and realized I could not do this on my own. I got more involved in serving others. With time I was able to be medication free and I haven’t had another problem with it for the last 7 years, miraculously, even through the death of my husband.
I can testify that the Lord can make weak things become strong.
I struggled for a long time with questions of ‘Why?’
- Why do I have to suffer with this?
- Why did I have to grow up in a home with a depression?
What I learned was that this was a teaching experience for me. It made me rely on the Savior for assistance. It helped me to have understanding and empathy for others. In my mid-thirties I served in a leadership position for my church’s women’s organization. I found my experiences to be invaluable in counseling and helping others.
There is always a purpose in the trials that we struggle through.
If we can just humble ourselves enough to turn to the Lord, He can let those things change us into the people we need to become.
I wanted to take some time at this time of year and at this time in my life to talk to you all about some things that have been on my mind. Some situations in my life have given me some wonderful time to reflect upon my life and make course corrections. Any good sailor will tell you that periodic course corrections are essential for a successful journey. I would encourage you to do this from time to time.
It seems that in the 90’s about a 100 studies were published in scientific journals on depression, what makes people sad and what makes people happy. This trend has changed and the scientific and medical world has focused on the positive and made some clear if not intuitive findings on what brings joy into everyone’s lives. What is remarkable is that these are principals that have been taught since the time of Adam. I know that The scriptures teach, “Adam fell that man might be, men are that they might have joy.” The literature suggests that each person has a genetic set point for happiness much as we have a set point for weight. This set point is thought to account for about half of our “happiness quotient.” I have struggled with this genetic half all my life. Because of this I feel a need to tell you what I have learned in life’s journey about how to manage the other half of your HQ.
Let me suggest seven areas that can help increase your HQ.
SPEND LESS TIME ALONE: Surround yourself with friends and loved ones. We should all take time by ourselves to think, pray and engage in deep meditation but having a support network of friends and family will ward off the times when we have a tendency to feel sorry for ourselves. Keep and cultivate friendships. With all your outside friends make your best friend your spouse! My wife gave me a mouse pad that teaches me a lesson every time I look at it. It opens like a book to insert a picture of your choice. Above the picture are the words: “Think about….” Below the picture are the words: “… What Matters Most.” The clear window is blank and allows the owner to insert any object he wants. It could be a picture of a beautiful house, a new car, a recently obtained diploma, a new promotion or stylish clothes. It could be a picture of the respect of men or even the envy of your neighbor if such things lent themselves to the photographer. My wife placed a simple picture of her and I in a loving moment together.
DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF WITH OTHERS: It is human nature that we present only our best qualities to the world and hide the imperfections from those around us. If we use others as a measuring stick for our own accomplishments we are destined to fail. This is because we see only the good in others and are capable of seeing us as we really are. It has been my experience that we don’t see all the good in ourselves because we fixate on our mistakes. Take time to forgive yourself!
Only our God sees us in the light of perfect context. He sees us, as we really are, the good and the bad. What is more, he sees us in the framework of the mitigating circumstances that contributed to our good and bad decisions. Thus we can look forward to a perfect judgement. Make goals and have aspirations and judge yourself according to this yardstick and not he perceived accomplishments of a brother, sister or friend.
BE BUSILY ENGAGED IN ABSORBING, ALTRUISTIC ACTIVITIES: These studies that I mentioned earlier have learned, that when polling a representative number of people, those who thought of themselves as truly happy spent little time thinking and doing things for themselves. In short they “lost themselves in the service of others.” This is hardly surprising since the Savior taught, “He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matt 10:39) People feel best when they are doing what they do best. People who deem themselves happy have found strengths in life and immerse themselves in using these qualities to help others. One of my favorite hymns reads: “Because I have been given much I too must give. I shall divide my gifts from thee with every brother that I see.”
WE ARE NOT GOOD PREDICTORS OF HAPPINESS: I read something a few years ago about the lives of six people who had won lotteries in excess of 100 million dollars. These people, as you would suspect, predicted that winning this amount of money would solve many of life’s problems. Without exception the very thing they thought would bring ultimate happiness ruined their lives. Most lost loving relationships with family and friends. Some tried to self-medicate the pain of disappointment with drugs and alcohol to further ruin. Euripides said, “ It would not be better if men got what they wanted.” It is felt by many that even if you knew exactly what the future held, you wouldn’t know how much you would like it when you got there.
BE GRATEFUL: A recent book “ Authentic Happiness” mentions that the showing of gratitude is a trait prominent in the lives of those who rank high on the happiness scale. Is it any wonder that we often sing the hymn “Count your Many Blessings?”
“When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,” “When you are discouraged thinking all is lost,” “Count your many blessings: name them one by one.” “ And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”
I am so grateful to my wife, my children and for the promise of an everlasting relationship. I am learning to find joy through gratitude for little things like the beauty of a still sunrise on the lake.
FORGIVE OTHERS: A University of Michigan psychologist says, “Forgiveness is the trait most strongly linked to happiness.” He goes on to say, “ It is the queen of virtues and yet probably the hardest to come by.” The scriptures tell us, “I the Lord will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.” I struggle with this more than any other part of my character and suffer accordingly. My resolve is set to overcome this and increase my own HQ.
FIGHT MATERIALISM: Especially at this time of the year the “keeping up with the Jones” and the Christmas enjoyed by the Jones’s kids is a set up for disappointment. I think this mentality above all had the potential of hurting our families more than any other. It had been my experience that the enjoyment and joy of material things is satiated easily. If gained and enjoyed too easily or too soon it takes larger and more expensive good to satisfy our appetites. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to help them understand that “things” are not the currency of happiness and may even buy disappointment and depression. Material possessions enjoyed too early in life have the effect of robbing our children of the joy they will experience after hard work had allowed the to reward themselves. My wife had a sampler that was cross-stitched by our good friend. It reads, “Use it up, Wear it out, Make it do, Do without.” I think the last phrase is most pertinent. We could do without more! I would like another sampler to hang next to it that reads, “Less stuff, More fun, Do for others.” A prominent expert in the study of happiness says, “Materialism is toxic for happiness.” The Savior taught us: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt and where thieves break through to steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth not rust doth corrupt and were thieves do not break through to steal. FOR WHERE YOUR TREASURE IS THERE WILL YOUR HEART BE ALSO.” (Matt 6:19)
Men are that they might have joy. Please think about and try to incorporate these suggestions to increase your personal and family HQ. Prayerfully consider each one and decide if you need to change your life accordingly.
This letter has served as a constance reference for me, and I have even sent it back to my Dad when he has had reoccurring bouts with depresion. I feel that it was inspired for our family and that it contains true principles that will allow you to reached an increased Happiness Quotient in your life.
Questions to Ponder:
1. What areas do you need to work on to improve your Happiness Quotient?