What do we do when life feels like it’s piling on top of us? In depression, we bury our optimism, hope, and joy and react with anger, fear, or guilt, allowing overwhelming circumstances to knock us flat. Emotional depression can become an automatic reaction to life’s trials. Reactions are automatic, but responses need not be. Depression does not have to be automatic.
Even if we may immediately react negatively, we can learn to intentionally reassert positive emotions. This may not be our first reaction, but our first reaction doesn’t need to be our only response. Albert Einstein once said, “You can’t solve a problem on the same level that it was created. You have to rise above it to the next level.” Our reactions are on one level, but we can learn to take our responses to the next level.
The next level above automatic reaction is intentional response. You need to be intentional in your response to life and its circumstances. You need to deliberately recognize, promote, and sustain optimism, hope, and joy. In the midst of depression, the thought of sustaining even a modicum of positive feelings may appear overwhelming, a burden too heavy to bear. But aren’t you already carrying around the weight of emotional baggage? Think how much energy it takes to carry around anger, fear, and guilt. When you begin to put those emotions down, you will find strength for optimism, hope, and joy.
Negative emotions may be part of your personal landscape. If that is the case, you’ll need to intentionally seek out and rediscover optimism, hope, and joy. Optimism, hope, and joy are responses that come from within you and are not necessarily derived from your outside circumstances. Regardless of the circumstances, you determine to remain optimistic; you decide to have hope; you derive joy.
Intentionally choosing how to respond to life is not a trivial matter; this attitude can save your life. In his book Man’s Search of Meaning, Holocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl set forth to answer the question why some people lived through the Nazi Germany concentration camps and some did not. He found that it rarely had anything to do with their physical state. Some prisoners who were extremely debilitated or ill continued to live, while some others who were in much better physical shape died. The difference, he found, was in their attitude to life.
Frankl discovered that in the final analysis, strength for living is found in the ability to choose your attitude — your response — to any given situation. The situations he and others dealt with on a daily basis were deprivation, starvation, physical disease, and beatings. Yet in the midst of the hell of the concentration camp, he and others intentionally chose to respond with optimism and hope.
Frankl, who could find positives in the midst of a Nazi concentration camp, demonstrates that each of us has the opportunity to find positives in our own situations. We will not always have control over our circumstances, but we can determine to hold on to optimism, hope, and joy — to recognize them, promote them, and sustain them. This is the challenge for those who are depressed.
Dr. Gregory Jantz is the founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 30 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety, and others.