What are you doing to have happiness? Notice the question is not: Are you waiting for someone to stop doing or start doing something so you’ll be happy? Or: What situation do you need in place before your happiness can arrive? The question also isn’t: Who are you depending on to make you happy?
Some people are easily soared into joyful spirits. What’s their secret? Some people always seem to be in happy or good moods. But exactly what is happiness? Is this disposition genetic or dependent on specific neurotransmitters in the brain? Is there an unhappiness gene distributed to a select population? Scientists are searching for answers to these questions which means they still do not know what specifically causes depression, or for that matter—happiness.
Previously called Melancholia, depression has been recognized as a common condition for more than three thousand years with documentation noted from the 2nd century. Some experts think that depression is the result of learned experiences. Others say it’s all about brain chemistry. And then there are those who believe it’s all in the genes. I think a state of clinical depression can be a combination of these factors.
Similar to other disorders, there’s evidence to support that depression can run in families like diabetes or heart disease. So if a parent or grandparent experienced episodes of clinical depression that increases the likelihood at some point you will experience clinical depression. A depressed state of mind can also be a learned behavior acquired during childhood, just like negativity or anxiety.
A tendency to be down in the dumps may have described some of the adults surrounding you in childhood. If as a child, you watched adults react to life mostly with sadness and despair; then today you may be more likely to display those same behaviors when things go awry. The body experiences many sorts of problems when its needed nutrients are in deficient supply. And Clinical Depression can be the result when the levels of serotonin, dopamine, or norepinephrine are at a shortage in the brain or off balance.
Everyone knows what depression feels like because all of us at one time have experienced its character traits of hopelessness, tearful hours, helplessness, sleep disturbances, eating changes, heartache, consuming sadness, and an inability to function. For most of us these episodes are not chronic, last a day or two; and usually result from life events. Most of us are able to adjust to the changes in life that are usually uninvited and demanding. We pout for a time, rebel at reality, express our frustration, but then accept “what is” and move on to tomorrow. But for those individuals who have learned to be depressed, experience a neurotransmitter deficiency in the brain, or are genetically predisposed to depression, snapping out of it is like trying to awake from a coma. For these persons a state of depression sags their enthusiasm, interrupts their ability to function, keeps them tearful, and often not wanting to wake up.
The full extent of depressed individuals in our neighborhood, in our churches, in our offices, in our friends and family is unknown because the menacing stigma towards mental health remains strong in our culture. Ignorant people judge mental conditions as being the equivalent of being crazy, so many people do not seek treatment for depression. They suffer quietly because of the fear of rejection they would otherwise experience if more folks knew their struggles. The stigma can trigger attempts to self-medicate. Alcohol abuse or other substance abuse could be efforts to block the chronic emotional pain. Other actions could also mask a deep on-going sadness: obsessive shopping, compulsive gambling, or sex addiction.
This accounts for the strong isolation depressed individuals experience. Our culture still believes on some level that we shouldn’t need help or support for the problems or events that pre-empt our plans and land us in despair. There’s still the idea that it’s a weakness to seek counsel or take medication for mental conditions. On the contrary, it takes strength and wisdom to seek help, and I respect those individuals who do so.
Just like the common cold, the symptoms of depression are generally the same for everyone, but the same can’t be said about happiness. Scientists know more about the state of depression than they do about the state of joy. Taking into consideration that happiness is the most important goal in the lives of people, experts can’t even agree on an explanation for it. What is happiness? Is it being in a good mood? Is it having fun? Is it securing the approval of other people? Lots of money? No worries? What is happiness for you? Americans might say that happiness is a consistent state of well-being, void of stress, worry, frustration, and disappointment. This definition, of course, is not realistic, or is it?
Think about it. In caring, Sandy
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