Not cheerful? The father of positive psychology says you don't need to be.

I spent years of my life existing in a near-perpetual state of cheerfulness.

It was easy. All I had to do was surrender completely to alcoholism.

When I drank, I was happy. I was excited, alert and enthusiastic. I was jovial, self-assured and attentive.

When I didn’t drink, I wasn’t. My natural state was serious and reserved. I tended more toward melancholy than joviality.

But alcohol made it so I didn’t have to. It was a magic elixir that transformed into the kind of person I wanted be, instead of the person I was. It served more as liquid personality than liquid courage.

Why was that so appealing to me? First and foremost, it felt good. I drank because I liked the feeling. I liked taking the weight of my heavy existence off my shoulders and feeling light.

But I also drank because I liked being the way our society told me women should be. I liked being bubbly and perky. I liked being fun and cheerful. And people liked me better. There’s no denying it.

Eventually, the consequences of drinking outweighed the benefits and I got sober.

But I still miss the feelings that accompanied my magic elixir. To this day, as I’m approaching seven years sober, I still feel shame on a near-daily basis for not being perky and cheerful like I “should” be.

It’s hard not to feel that way as a woman in modern America.

But today, while reading Martin Seligman’s Flourish, I got a more empowering perspective.

In the book, Dr. Seligman writes, “I detest the word happiness.”

Why?

Because “the modern ear immediately hears ‘happy’ to mean buoyant mood, merriment, good cheer, and smiling.” And that’s not what we should be aiming for.

Historically, he writes, happiness “is not closely tied to such hedonics—feeling cheerful or merry is a far cry from what Thomas Jefferson declared we have the right to pursue.” Being in a cheerful mood, he continues, “is the rock-bottom meaning of happiness.” Mood is “the form of happiness that the ancients snobbishly, but rightly, considered vulgar.”

After all, there are “effortless shortcuts” to it. My shortcut of choice was alcohol. He says you can also “masturbate, go shopping, take drugs or watch television” to get there.

But the real problem, as he sees it, is that this narrow-minded “mood view of happiness consigns 50 percent of the world’s population who are ‘low-positive affectives’ to the hell of unhappiness.”

Because in the modern world, that’s the viewpoint: if you’re not cheerful, obviously you’re unhappy.

But Seligman argues that, “even though they lack cheerfulness, this low-mood half may have more engagement and meaning in life than merry people.”

And that’s where my heart started racing.

Cheerfulness isn’t the be-all end-all. Just because I’m not cheerful all the time, just because my resting state isn’t pure joviality, doesn’t mean I’m broken. I’m not less-than, I’m not defective.

This obsession with bubbly, perky happiness is a societal construct. It’s en vogue right now. Maybe it’ll stay that way. Maybe it won’t. The ancients would have scoffed at it, after all.

If you’re like me, if you’re not excited and enthusiastic while you’re cooking dinner, not jovial and lively while you’re cleaning the house, you’re not broken either.

Maybe you lose yourself anytime you read a good book. Maybe you have an unwavering commitment to the causes you care about. Maybe you have more engagement and meaning in life than merry people.

Or maybe you don’t, but you will some day.

50% of us are low-positive affectives, according to Seligman. We don't tend toward cheerful joy. We might be more serious and reserved. We might have other things to contribute to the world besides constant smiling.

The main takeaway is simply that we’re not broken if we’re not cheerful. This is so important for people who have struggled with depression. 

I’m committing to being empowered around this. It will take time: I’ll be working against a lifetime of conditioning.

But change begins with awareness. And now that I’m aware of this empowering perspective, I’m embracing it.

And who knows…maybe it’ll even end up making me more cheerful.

15 Minutes of Exercise Can Be Enough to Boost Mood: Neuroscience Explains Why

In The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time, Alex Korb discusses a study that says exercise can boost your mood in as little as 15 minutes:

Just fifteen minutes of biking is sufficient to increase activity in circuits responsible for emotional control and to raise levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin.

Yep, after just fifteen minutes of exercise, participants didn't just report a boost in mood; researchers were able to confirm that there were changes in their brains associated with feeling better.

Best of all (for people like me, at least), the participants weren't exercising vigorously. They spent fifteen minutes on a stationary bike at a Rating of Perceived Exertion of 12–13. That's right at the sweet spot where you heart rate and breathing speed up, but you are not out of breath. For most people, it's attainable by walking briskly and aiming for a heart rate between 120-130 beats per minute.

Allow me to put this even more simply: if you exercise for fifteen minutes, at a pace where you don't even have to get sweaty, it's enough to boost your mood and energy levels.

If you want to get nerdy, here are the specific changes in the brain the researchers found:

1. Increased activity in the ventral prefrontal cortex, which is linked to mood and emotional state

There are several studies indicating that the ventral PFC may be related to mood or emotional state. For example, Drevets et al. reported abnormally decreased activity in the ventral PFC in both familial bipolar depressives and familial unipolar depressives. Kronhaus et al. demonstrated a negative correlation between depression severity and ventral PFC activity in patients with bipolar depression. These previous studies indicate that the decreased activity in the ventral PFC may be linked with an enhanced negative mood. Although this is hypothetical, we thus presumed conversely that the increased activity of the ventral PFC observed in this study may produce a decreased negative mood.

2. Increased alpha band activity, which is linked to a state of wakefulness

The present results concerning mood state showed a tendency of increased vigor-activity after PE, which is contrary to the sleep state, suggesting that the development of high-frequency alpha band during and after PE in this study may be linked with a state of wakefulness or a feeling of vigor-activity.

So, if you want to be in a better mood and feel more awake, exercise for 15 minutes.

This study is powerful because 15 minutes is attainable for people suffering from depression. No one is asking you to exercise vigorously for an hour. No one is saying that you need to get up at the crack of dawn to do it.

Start with 15 minutes of moderate exercise.

If you want to turbocharge your results, I recommend being mindful of your intentions while you're doing it. Before you start exercising, take a moment to give yourself credit for what you are doing: you are taking action to boost your mood in your quest to overcome depression.

You're doing something. You're becoming the type of person who does whatever it takes to overcome depression. That's a powerful type of person to be.

Then, after exercising, be mindful of the results. Be biased: try to focus on the positive benefits you're feeling. 

See where it takes you. See how you feel after doing it for a day. See how you feel after doing it for a few days. Maybe even consider taking your exercise outside so you get the benefits of sunlight exposure while you're doing it.

Overcoming depression is a process. It depends on us taking consistent action when we learn about the things that can help us.

Take action. Feel better. Overcome depression.

Sources:

Korb, A., & Siegel, Daniel J. (2015). Upward Spiral Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications.

Fumoto, M., Oshima, T., Kamiya, K., Kikuchi, H., Seki, Y., Nakatani, Y., . . . Arita, H. (2010). Ventral prefrontal cortex and serotonergic system activation during pedaling exercise induces negative mood improvement and increased alpha band in EEG. Behavioural Brain Research, 213(1), 1-9.

https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/borg-scale/

Neuroscience Explains Why Guilt & Shame Plague Us In Depression...& What To Do About It

Do you struggle with feelings of guilt and shame in depression? I know I did. I spent yesterday afternoon crying my way through an EMDR session that recalled a memory from depression where I was flooded with the feelings.

It was awful. The memory involved me sitting in the passenger seat of a rental car, crying. Snot dripped down my face as I was overwhelmed with feelings of incompetence. Guilt and shame told me that I wasn't good enough, that I never would be.

It's an awful way to feel. And, based on my experience living in depression and now being depression-free, I can report that there's a special kind of guilt and shame that is unique to depression.

Why is that? Alex Korb, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at UCLA and author of The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression talks about the powerful pull of shame and guilt in depression in the book. He writes:

Pride, shame, and guilt all activate similar neural circuits, including the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, amygdala, insula, and the nucleus accumbens. Interestingly, pride is the most powerful of these emotions at triggering activity in these regions—except in the nucleus accumbens, where guilt and shame win out. This explains why it can be so appealing to heap guilt and shame on ourselves—they’re activating the brain’s reward center.

Let that sink in: guilt and shame activate the brain’s reward center.

You know what the brain does when anything activates its reward center? It reinforces the behavior.

So there you are, with a reward center that’s not getting triggered very often, thanks to depression…and your brain learns that every time you activate feelings of guilt and shame, your reward center lights up.

Yoowza. That's a recipe for disaster.

Fortunately, there is something we can do about it. Korb suggests feeding "your brain with gratitude instead.”

Gratitude activates the reward center as well. Let gratitude become the reinforced behavior.

It won’t just feel good in the short-term (who wouldn’t prefer to feel gratitude instead of shame and guilt?). A gratitude practice has long-term benefits, including “the power to elevate your physical and mental health, boost happiness, improve sleep, and help you feel more connected to other people.”

Korb lists a gratitude practice as one of the essential habits to create an upward spiral and get out of depression. And, Oprah credits her gratitude practice with helping her overcome depression. I don’t know about you, but if it’s good enough for Oprah, it’s good enough for me.

What do you think? Are you willing to give a gratitude practice a try? I'm considering offering a 5-day mini course on the power of gratitude to combat depression. If you'd be interested, enter your email address below:

Sources:

Korb, A., & Siegel, Daniel J. (2015). Upward Spiral Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications.

It's Time for a Mental Health Revolution...

Depression has become a global crisis. According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 5 of us will suffer from it in our lifetime. And it’s getting worse. More than 350 million people are now living with depression, an increase of more than 18% between 2005 and 2015.

So what do we do? What do we do when our solutions aren’t working?.

Because they’re not. Conventional treatments are failing us. People are getting worse instead of better. And that shouldn’t be happening.

Here’s my suggestion: I propose we start a revolution.

Just kidding. We don’t have to start it. It’s already taking place.

The way we treat depression is changing. Throwing medication at the problem is on its way out.

The path forward is clear: we need to become empowered advocates for ourselves. We need to pursue root cause resolution, not symptom suppression. We need to take our health into our own hands.

I’m going to use my voice to talk about solutions. Because I suffered for a long time. I thought I was one of those people who was doomed to be depressed forever, since nothing I tried ever seemed to give me lasting results.

I wasn’t. None of us are.

When we suppress symptoms, we stay depressed. When we treat the root causes of our unique depressions, we get well.

Let’s treat our root causes. Let’s work together to spread this message.

You can get well. You can stay well. And I’m going to share as much actionable information as I can to help you in your journey.

 

Sources:

DEPRESSION: A Global Crisis (World Federation for Mental Health): http://www.who.int/mental_health/management/depression/wfmh_paper_depression_wmhd_2012.pdf

What Causes Depression?

How many of you have ever paused to ask, “What causes depression?”

My guess is not many. I know I never did. We don’t ask what causes depression because we already know what causes depression. It’s a chemical imbalance. Duh.

We might not know exactly what a chemical imbalance is, but we don’t need to. That’s what we have doctors for. They find the right med for us, our chemical imbalance gets corrected, then we get better.

Right?

Well...not quite.

It turns out the chemical imbalance theory is just that - a theory. One that’s mostly been disproven. However, it makes for really good marketing material, so it’s stuck around.

The chemical imbalance theory is fantastic for pharmaceutical companies. It’s also good for insurance companies. It’s just not so great for those of us who suffer from depression.

Why? Because we’re staying sick. That’s what tends to happen when our medical care is based on outdated theories. Have you heard of leeching?

Fortunately, there is good news. Lots of really smart people are working on new theories. Ones that will help more of us get and stay well.

The latest research says that depression is far more complex than we once thought. It’s not a simple chemical imbalance. It’s not a simple anything. It’s complicated and can be caused by any number of things, ranging from inflammation to trauma.

What causes my depression may not be what causes your depression and vice versa. When you discover the root cause(s) of your specific depression, you are that much closer to freedom.

Below, I’ve compiled a list of the different things that may cause depression. Some of them are well documented with studies backing them up, others are simply theories. Some are controversial. The list is big. Don’t let it overwhelm you – this isn’t something you have to tackle on your own. No one expects you to become an expert on these topics. The entire point of this article is to show you that there are a mind-blowing number of potential causes of depression. I see this as a message of hope – if you’ve suffered from depression for months, years or decades without relief and you worry that you’re doomed, you’re not. It doesn’t matter if you feel like you’ve tried everything. When you’re not treating your specific root cause(s), you’re going to stay sick. When you do treat them, you’re going to get well.

Please note: I list the cause, then include a link to Google. If you’re a research purist, this may irritate the snot out of you. However, this approach aligns with the purpose of this piece: to pique your interest enough to make you hungry to know more. I doubt there's a person among us who has not gotten sucked down the rabbit hole of Googling. So start there. Once you're intrigued, then turn to studies and books and anything you can get your hands on. But the first step is to develop enough of an interest to want to know more, and I find there’s nothing better than Google for that.

Also: some of these are chicken or the egg things – does substance abuse cause depression or does depression cause substance abuse? Does something else cause them both? Frankly, it doesn’t matter. Like I said, this article is about showing you that there are more potential causes than most of us ever realize, not about splitting hairs.

Without further ado, here are the potential causes of depression:

  1. Inflammation – https://www.google.com/search?q=inflammation+and+depression
  2. Poor gut health - https://www.google.com/search?q=gut+health+and+depression
    1. Related:
      1. Leaky gut - https://www.google.com/search?q=leaky+gut+depression
      2. Dysbiosis (microbial imbalance) - https://www.google.com/search?q=dysbiosis+and+depression
  3. Stress - https://www.google.com/search?q=stress+and+depression
  4. Hormonal imbalances - https://www.google.com/search?q=hormonal+imbalance+and+depression
  5. Thyroid disorders - https://www.google.com/search?q=thyroid+disorder+depression
  6. Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis dysfunction - https://www.google.com/search?q=hpa+axis+dysfunction+depression
  7. Nutritional deficiencies – https://www.google.com/search?q=nutritional+deficiencies+and+depression&oq=nutritional+deficiencies+and+depression
    1. Related:
      1. Omega 3 deficiency - https://www.google.com/search?q=omega+3+deficiency+and+depression
      2. Vitamin D deficiency - https://www.google.com/search?q=vitamin+d+depression
      3. Magnesium deficiency - https://www.google.com/search?q=magnesium+deficiency+depression
      4. Vitamin B deficiency - https://www.google.com/search?q=vitamin+b+deficiency+depression
      5. Folate deficiency - https://www.google.com/search?q=folate+deficiency+depression
      6. Amino acid deficiency - https://www.google.com/search?q=amino+acid+depression
      7. Iron deficiency - https://www.google.com/search?q=iron+deficiency+depression
      8. Zinc deficiency - https://www.google.com/search?q=zinc+deficiency+depression
      9. Iodine deficiency - https://www.google.com/search?q=iodine+deficiency+depression
      10. Selenium deficiency - https://www.google.com/search?q=selenium+deficiency+depression
  8. Food sensitivities - https://www.google.com/search?q=food+sensitivities+and+depression
  9. Medications – https://www.google.com/search?q=medications+that+cause+depression
    1. Related:
      1. Birth control/hormonal contraception - https://www.google.com/search?q=birth+control+and+depression
  10. Trauma – https://www.google.com/search?q=trauma+and+depression
    1. Related:
      1. Adverse childhood experiences - https://www.google.com/search?q=adverse+childhood+experiences+and+depression
  11. Stressful life events - https://www.google.com/search?q=stressful+life+events+and+depression
  12. Environmental/chemical toxins - https://www.google.com/search?q=toxic+chemical+exposure+and+depression
    1. Related:
      1. Heavy metal toxicity - https://www.google.com/search?q=heavy+metal+toxicity+and+depression
      2. Carbon monoxide exposure - https://www.google.com/search?q=carbon+monoxide+and+depression
      3. Pesticides - https://www.google.com/search?q=pesticides+and+depression
      4. Toxic mold exposure - https://www.google.com/search?q=toxic+mold+and+depression
      5. Environmental pollutants - https://www.google.com/search?q=environmental+pollutants+and+depression
  13. Circadian rhythm disruptions - https://www.google.com/search?q=circadian+rhythm+depression
  14. Lack of sunlight - https://www.google.com/search?q=lack+of+sunlight+depression
  15. Substance abuse - https://www.google.com/search?q=substance+abuse+and+depression
  16. Process disorders/addictions (eating disorders, Internet addiction, gambling addiction, etc.) - https://www.google.com/search?q=process+addiction+and+depression
    1. Related:
      1. Eating disorders - https://www.google.com/search?q=eating+disorders+and+depression
      2. Internet addiction - https://www.google.com/search?q=internet+addiction+and+depression
      3. Gambling addiction - https://www.google.com/search?q=gambling+addiction+and+depression
  17. Chronic pain - https://www.google.com/search?q=chronic+pain+and+depression
  18. Chronic loneliness - https://www.google.com/search?q=chronic+loneliness+and+depression
  19. Mitochondrial dysfunction - https://www.google.com/search?q=mitochondrial+dysfunction+and+depression
  20. Sleep disorders - https://www.google.com/search?q=sleep+disorders+and+depression
    1. Related:
      1. Insomnia - https://www.google.com/search?q=insomnia+and+depression
      2. Sleep apnea - https://www.google.com/search?q=sleep+apnea+and+depression
  21. Learned helplessness - https://www.google.com/search?q=learned+helplessness+and+depression
  22. Lack of meaning - https://www.google.com/search?q=lack+of+meaning+and+depression
  23. Sitting/lack of exercise - https://www.google.com/search?q=lack+exercise+depression
  24. Smoking - https://www.google.com/search?q=smoking+and+depression
  25. Candida/yeast infections - https://www.google.com/search?q=candida+yeast+infection+depression
  26. Oxidative stress/free radicals - https://www.google.com/search?q=oxidative+stress+and+depression
  27. Chemical imbalance (it still counts as a potential cause and belongs on this list, though I would argue that most of us have already investigated it) - https://www.google.com/search?q=chemical+imbalance+and+depression

A final note: please don’t take my word on any of these things. Please don’t take any one person’s word as truth. Do your own research.

I hope to write separate articles about the different causes to explore the research at greater depth. If there are specific ones you are interested in learning more about, please let me know below:

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