The opposite of depression
is not happiness;
the opposite of depression
~ Andrew Solomon
The definition of vitality is: "the state of being strong and active; energy." The experience of vitality is one of feeling energized and alive, engaged in what is "vital," essential and important. When you are engaged in your life in a vital way, you may feel that you can take on anything, that you are up for the challenge of whatever comes your way or whatever endeavor you choose to undertake. You are unlikely to be impacted much by fear or doubts.
Depression, on the other hand, is an experience of feeling stuck; energy, motivation, and aliveness feel very distant. It is often described as being trapped in a dark hole and not knowing how to get out of it.
Often people think of happiness as being the opposite of depression, as they seem to be such opposing feeling states: optimism vs pessimism, hope vs despair, energy vs lethargy. If you are feeling depressed, you may yearn for the elusive feeling of happiness. Although depression does include the loss of a feeling of contentment or pleasure which are part of happiness, the true energetic opposite would be vitality.
What has become unavailable due to a situation, trauma or brain chemistry, is that sense of feeling alive and engaged, active and directed. Pleasure, contentment and happiness will follow this state, but the essential first step is to connect to your vitality, your chi, your energy again.
Psychotherapy, possibly medication, meditation, exercise, nutrition, social interactions: all of these will help you connect or re-connect to your vitality.
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
There is nothing I can add to the eloquence of this invitation by the 13th Century Sufi Mystic Rumi, to welcome and accept any and all feelings as they appear. It is very much in line with current ideas of mindfulness and self-compassion.
Call me for a phone consultation
you would like to explore the "guests" who appear at your inner doorstep!
Emotions like loneliness,
envy, and guilt
have an important role to play
in a happy life;
they're big, flashing signs
that something needs
~ Gretchen Rubin
The so-called negative emotions play a very important function: they let us know that something within needs attention, that something in our lives is out of alignment. Yet our culture teaches us not to listen but rather to distract ourselves by staying busy, or by utilizing one or more of the many possible addictions - food, over-work, sex, substances, etc- to not notice, to attempt to over-ride or outrun or drown out whatever the underlying dissatisfaction may be.
Many people think that it's a weakness to feel an emotion such as sadness, anger, anxiety, loneliness, shame or depression ( which is actually a suppression of feeling). They think that if they were stronger emotionally they would be happy and carefree. Many people subscribe to the idea that they should be able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps or will themselves to be happy.
It's often hard to see what a gift these unpleasant emotions actually are in your life. They are messages from you psyche that something is amiss and needs attention. They serve as an internal GPS, trying to reroute you back onto the course that will get you where you want/need to go in your life!
They may be letting you know that something from the past has a hold on you and needs attention so you can make new choices in your present-day life. Or these feelings may be telling you that your relationship with yourself or with another is needing some attention or change. Maybe you are not happy with your job and need to attend to that and make some decisions. Or maybe you are being called to pay attention to your spiritual life.
Whatever the emotions are pointing to, the answers lie within you, if you can allow yourself to relate to these feelings as signposts and wayshowers for an inner exploration, as the starting point for the internal GPS that wants to guide you to a more fulfilling life.
Resentment is like
taking poison and waiting
for the other person to die.
~ Malachy McCourt
It seems to be part of human nature to be resentful of people or situations that have hurt or angered us, of having been "done wrong." We may ruminate about what happened and talk about it in a repetitive way, with no movement toward resolution, like a dog who grabs onto a bone and shakes its head back and forth, over and over again.
There IS value in looking at how you have been hurt, at who or what has been hurtful to you, and allowing and exploring the associated feelings for as long as they are present. This is an experience of feelings moving and flowing through you; after a time, there probably will be less of a charge about whatever happened. What may have initially felt like an open, infected wound, now has a protective scab or has healed into a more or less visible scar.
Resentment, on the other hand, is in reality a refusal to feel the emotions associated with the incident that created the hurt or anger. It is a stagnant experience, a repetitive, often compulsive need or desire to keep the experience alive, like a video looping around in your head.This keeps your stress and flight or fight hormones engaged and continually firing, taking away precious energy from other parts of your life.
The desire to hold onto the anger or hurt about the person or incident is often an attempt to not let that person off the hook; as though letting go of it will undeservedly free them. Yet as the quote above so aptly states, resentment is a poisoning of yourself in an attempt to punish the other person ( who may or may not be aware of how you feel or how they impacted you).
Again, it IS important to feel and work through your feelings about whoever or whatever was hurtful, but carrying around the equivalent of a backpack of heavy stones so that the perpetrator will suffer, really doesn't work, and only serves to perpetuate your pain and suffering, rather than alleviate it.
Grief can be
the garden of Compassion
if you keep your heart open
Your Pain can become
your greatest ally
in your life's search
for Love and Wisdom.
Grief, whether for a an actual death or illness, or for the end of a relationship, job, home, dream or hope, can feel life-shattering. Loss, and its accompanying fear and pain, can be extremely difficult to face. It can be hard to imagine how you will ever pick up the pieces of your life. Life may become difficult as depression (a suppression of feeling) and/or anxiety take over. Some people turn to substances or other addictive activities as a way to escape the overwhelming pain inside.
Yet healing and growth come through keeping your heart open, through feeling the pain and going with it, instead of shutting down and turning away from it. The only way out is through; there is no true avoiding of this. This can feel difficult or scary as it may seem that the pain will engulf you, or that you won't be able to tolerate it. Therapy and meditation/mindfulness can be helpful in this process: both in telling your story and being witnessed and accompanied in your grief and pain, and in learning to be with the emotions without running from them.
When everything is going well, life can be on cruise control, but when there is a loss, suddenly routine and a sense of safety and complacency are thrown out the window. Grief then becomes the doorway into a deeper and richer understanding and experience of life. As the Rumi quote says, pain can be your greatest ally in the development of love, compassion and wisdom in your life. As you are able to stay in your heart, despite the seemingly unbearable pain of grief, there is an opening, a softening, an expansion, a new depth in your experience of yourself and of life.
Peggy Handler, MFT, is a psychotherapist in San Francisco's Noe Valley