Today I'm writing an Ode to Joy, about the beauty of indescribable happiness and its effect on our recoveries. Years ago, staffing a reference desk, I fielded a question from a woman who wanted to know if we carried the book Happiness is a Choice. Unless you had clinical depression, I felt the book title was so true, and fetched it for her on the shelf. This blog entry will talk free-form about joy and its manifestations, suggest two books to read and an internet link, and lastly, give links to two blogs of note on the topic.
The truth is we can't rely on others to build up our self-esteem. They're involved in their own lives and looking after number one-themselves. We can choose to act differently. We can do our best to make the people we meet feel better. I consider myself to be in the happiness business. One way to feel good is to decide that you are going to be in service to others, and know who this target market is. If you work for a corporation that sells computers, instead of believing you're pushing papers, you could try to see how what you do ultimately benefits the customer.
Long ago, I decided I wanted only to work for non-profits whose missions I believed in. In my twenties I worked for corporations and was making someone else rich. When I graduated school, I could've gotten a job making tons more money in the private sector. Often, but not always, the level of stress on a job is directly proportionate to the amount of money you're paid, because high earners are expected to be high performers. They sing for their supper, and they have to sing in key.
Searching the Internet last week, I came across a quote from one of the greats, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and I'll quote it here: "If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven played music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well."
It truly isn't about the money. People with schizophrenia often collect disability checks, and that's not a reflection on our worth, either. If we do our best, every day (and that will change, day-to-day), that's the only important thing. The way to heal is to be true to ourselves, and not try to be someone else. When I was younger, I thought if I rose up in the insurance field, it would prove I was normal. I ran a thousand miles in the opposite direction, and the schizophrenia was still there.
A miracle has happened in my life. Try as I might, I can't remember a time in recent memory when I've beat on myself. Oh, I was my own worst critic for my whole life. What changed? Knowing I write the Connection blog entries as much for myself as for you, I printed up the best ones and placed them in my goals binder to refer to when I need a boost. I felt proud that I could use my writing to change the world. Honestly, the internal narrator has been silent for quite awhile. As I realized this one evening, I was filled with joy.
The difference is, when my mood lowered five hours later, I could accept the swing. I go with the flow now-I accept the good feelings, and know that I won't feel so good at other times. A wise friend suggested that "feelings are like waves: they'll crest, and then fall." If I expected a downturn as the natural flow of life, I wouldn't set myself up to believe in an absolute: the myth of ongoing joy at all times.
I'll tell you what acting as if you are in service to others does: it lifts the shelf upon which your self-esteem rests. Having been down low, I know what it's like and I don't want to return there. The point is to reach out to help others, thus distracting from your troubles.
The lowest point of my life was on New Year's Day, 1988. To cheer myself up after I got out of the hospital the first time, I hosted a New Year's Eve party with 10 friends who invited 10 friends who invited 10 friends, and so on. I hoped against hope I could go back to the way things were before. At 6:00 a.m., after everyone had left, I stood at the kitchen sink, washing and scrubbing the pots and pans. Tears flowed. It was the lowest I ever felt.
I haven't felt that low ever since. So the moral of this memory is that when you hit rock bottom, the only way out is up. Though maybe you can't see the sun, it's there, shining for you. Ideas I have for shunning the depression: accept that you could be in the woodshed in your recovery, give yourself all the time you need to mourn, and make a habit of reaching out for support. As you take these baby steps, it will be easier to set goals. Think of happiness as the rope you hold on to climb out of the hole.
Here now, I want to link to the Authentic Happiness Web site, where you can take the VIA Signature Strengths Questionnaire that measures 24 Character Strengths, and also other questionnaires. Click on www.authentichappiness.org to get started. According to the introduction, the mastermind behind all this is Dr. Martin Seligman, Director of the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center, whose research has demonstrated that "It is possible to be happier - to feel more satisfied, to be more engaged with life, find more meaning, have higher hopes, and probably even laugh and smile more, regardless of one's circumstances. Positive psychology interventions can also lastingly decrease depression symptoms."
That's a lot to process. Yet I believe this guy is on to something. My number-one signature strength was optimism, by the way. It's not hocus-pocus. After you take the VIA questionnaire, you can read Seligman's book, Authentic Happiness for interpretations. I haven't read the book; I've placed it on reserve at the library so I will read it shortly.
The second book I recommend is David Niven, Ph.D.'s the 100 Simple Secrets of Happy People: What Scientists Have Learned and How You Can Use It. I bought it in a bookshop in Greenwich, Connecticut 11 years ago, and it's still on my bookshelf. A tiny book you can breeze though yet savor, some suggestions are: don't face your problems alone, have realistic expectations, do things you are good at, and choose your comparisons wisely and share of yourself.
Now, I want to give you the link to a blog I read often, www.dpressedorgettingthere.blogspot.com. The blogger, Nancy, is creating a sculpture, Elation, to celebrate how we can lift ourselves out of the hole of depression. She envisions it as an elevated wooden platform in a park that all people, even those in wheelchairs, can access. Her blog is moving and insightful, so surf on over. Lastly, I've been keeping a personal blog that you can access at http://www.christinabruni.com/blog.html. I'd love for you to stop by and hope it brightens your day. It's a more creative form of writing. I post there at least twice a week.
Hope you've enjoyed this Ode to Joy!
Published On: June 04, 2008