Let's say that you fall into the first two categories of short-term and triggered sadness (we won't discuss depression here; that must be handled by a health professional). If so, there are things you can do to change the situation.
It surprises people, but, in fact, the best cure for sadness is happiness. Anything that diminishes your ability to build your own happiness must be avoided or eliminated. For example, don't hitch your happiness to external rewards or postpone being happy until sometime in the future. Don't expect someone else to make you happy. Don't allow your emotions to become habitual and stuck or close yourself off from new experiences. Don't ignore the signals of inner tension and conflict, dwell on the past or live in fear of the future. Most of all: don't equate happiness with momentary pleasure.
In a consumer-driven society, it's all too easy to fall into all the don'ts on this list, because they share the same element: linking happiness with temporary pleasure and external rewards. Of course, we all live for the pleasure that life brings. No one is saying that you must deny yourself. But the most satisfying project you will ever undertake—and a mark of a complete human being—is to discover how to build a sense of happiness that no one can take away from you, because you have taken total responsibility for it. The journey to such happiness takes a long time, yet every step is one of fulfillment.
Step 3: Building Well-Being
Passively accepting your sadness is the same as forgetting to build your own happiness. Happiness is more than a mood. It's a long-lasting state that is more accurately called well-being. Well-being is a balanced state of mind and body that you feel subjectively as contentment, peace of mind and emotional freedom. Well-being opens the door to joy and deep satisfaction with your life. There are practical things you can do to help cultivate it such as: give of yourself (in other words, take care of others, and care for them); work at something you love; set worthy long-range goals that will take years to achieve; be open-minded; learn from the past and then put it behind you; plan for the future without anxiety, fear or dread; nurture close, warm social bonds; and develop emotional resilience.
Developing emotional resilience is perhaps the most important, because that's the ability to bounce back from bad things in your life. How do you encourage it? By being present with your feelings instead of fearing them, by getting past victimization or "poor me" thinking, by making a plan of action when things go wrong and sticking with it, by associating with people who are emotionally mature and seeking counsel from someone who has managed the same kind of crisis that you now face, by focusing on the times you have survived and thrived in the face of tough circumstances, and by appreciating and rewarding yourself for dealing with your difficulties.
Working on long-term, emotionally mature happiness is the best way to insulate yourself from downswings in your mood. Sadness comes and goes. Well-being can be made to last a lifetime. It doesn't matter how close you feel to this highly desirable state or how far. For everyone, well-being is a journey. All it requires is the right vision and devotion to personal growth. You have the inner guidance to support you. The secret is committing to that journey and taking those first steps with hope and belief in yourself.
Deepak Chopra, MD, is the author of What Are You Hungry For?: The Chopra Solution to Permanent Weight Loss, Well-Being, and Lightness of Soul, founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center.
Sign up now for Oprah & Deepak's all-new meditation experience.