After an emotionally abusive childhood, I am still trying to find happiness. I have been diagnosed with dysthymia. I call it a low-grade depression. I do not find anything enjoyable, other than eating, lying in bed, watching TV and sleeping. When I look back on my childhood, these are the only things I found comfort in then as well. How do I break that cycle? I have tried other things for fun, but nothing feels as good as eating, lying in bed or sleeping. I have tried many different antidepressants and therapy. Please give me some insight as to how I can change. I am not a "whiner" and usually just go with the flow, but this is getting very old, and I don't have forever to get some enjoyment from this life.
— Gloria D., Louisville, Kentucky
Thank you for writing such a candid letter. I can assure you that most readers disapprove. They don't see you as a whiner but as a layabout who enjoys a life of total leisure. I half suspect that you see yourself that way, but it doesn't matter. The relevant part of your letter is the sentence where you say your current way of life is "getting old." This implies you are entertaining the idea of exchanging passivity for action.
At the moment, you are comfortable with your diagnosis. Being abused and depressed fits who you are right now. If you want to move on, you must become different from who you are at this point. Realize you are much more than a collection of disorders and diagnoses. You are an open book, and anything can be written on the next page. But a great obstacle stands in your way: habit, reinforced by inertia. You have spent your whole life inside a small cage bounded by eating, sleeping and watching television.
To break out of this cage, obviously you have to do new things. Here's what I advise.
- Keep a diary titled "What I enjoyed." Any time you find yourself enjoying something other than TV, eating and sleeping, make a note of it. Into your diary include ideas you enjoyed, sensations you enjoyed, sights and smells you enjoyed—nothing is too small or trivial. The point is to get you out of your rut, which exists primarily in your mind. Show your mind you are more open to experience than you think you are.
- Buy a pet and learn to take care of it. Enter into your diary everything you enjoy about your pet, updating the entry every day.
- Get out of yourself. To do that, walk your pet once a day and see the world through its eyes. Note what a cat or dog enjoys about the world, its sights, sounds and smells. Note in your diary what it felt like to be a dog or cat out in the world.
If you do these three things faithfully, you will be surprised to discover you have been fooling yourself. Your capacity for enjoyment is much greater than you claim, and your awareness can be opened even further.
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Deepak Chopra is the author of more than 50 books on health, success, relationships and spirituality, including his current best-seller, Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul, and The Ultimate Happiness Prescription, which are available now. You can listen to his show on Saturdays every week on SiriusXM Channels 102 and 155.
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