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How Do People Just "think Happy" To Be Happy?


Nissala

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Why is it some people, and I know we've all heard this, say "just think happy thoughts and it will turn the depression around". Do they not understand how hard that is when your in the depths of a deep depression and nothing, I mean NOTHING, in your life is going right? I ask this because it was told to me for months by my brother and sister-in-law. My mind doesn't work that way. I can't compartmentalize the bad thoughts, I really wish I could. Another is "stop living in the past, its gone and done and you can't change it so why keep focusing on it?"  For some reason my brain doesn't do this..I relive past issues all the time, especially when the depression is as bad as it is right now. Has anyone here had success in doing these things? If so, HOW? 

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It's never worked with me. On a really bad day nothing will bring me out of bad thoughts. Also it's not easy to just wipe the past out.

 

I can put a brave front on so people think I'm alright but it doesn't change how you're really feeling inside. I have had people say to me "You look alright" if I've said I'm not feeling too good. It's difficult with mental illness as it's something that can't always be apparent. I can smile at people and even have a laugh and joke but inside can be feeling very down.

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Therapy is helping me be able to push the bad thoughts away and have a clear head, it is hard but I am getting pretty good at it. Before therapy I wasn't able to do anything but live the past over and over. Sigh. People tell me to just be happy, mainly my parents, just act happy and you will be happy. They just do not understand. If pretending could make things real I would be "normal" already. I have a whole wardrobe of false faces to put on for all occasions.

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Hi Nissala,

 

     I can definitely relate to what you say.  I have found "the power of positive thinking" to be too superficial for handling my moderate and severe depressions.  Cognitive Behavior Therapy is often "considered" to be a species of this, but I have found that deep Cognitive Behavior Therapy is quite different and is not superficial.  Of course I can only speak for myself.  Cognitive Behavior Therapy uses some "positive thinking" but focally and judiciously in certain cases.  Cognitive Behavior Therapy in theory, at least, aims at doing thought experiments to question certain depressogenic assumptions.  In deep depressions, this is seen as somewhat futile even by CBT practitioners, especially if there is some organic pathology involved in the depression.

 

     I guess one of the major tenets of CBT is to call into question when "mentally beating up one's brain" is helpful or beneficial.  Sometimes people "mentally beat up their brains" over perceived failures to be "ideal" in some way:

 

Failure to be the "ideal" son, or daughter, father or mother, brother of sister

Failure to be the the "ideal" of strength or bravery

Failure to be the "ideal" intelligent, wise or successful person

Failure to be the "ideal" popular or attractive person

Failure to be the "ideal" nice, good or saintly person

 

     Cognitive Behavior Therapy calls into question or poses as a question whether these expectations are "realistic" or "unrealistic" and whether they call for "mentally beating up one's brain."  They also pose the question whether it is possible to love one's little three-pound brain without strings attached and not only "conditionally" if the brain realizes one's ideals or dreams.  This is a small example, a small subset of the approach of Cognitive Behavior Therapy and not the entirety of it by any means.  And there are many, many forms of depression that do not involve this aspect at all!

 

     Many of us were brought up believing it is not enough for our brain's to take care of the 30 trillion or so cells in our bodies and work 24/7 to try to keep up alive and healthy.  Many of us were raised to believe that those millions of brave, strong, wise and good things the brain does every day "don't count," and what only "counts" is the mistakes of the brain to realize our ideals or dreams.  Cognitive Behavior Therapy asks as a question whether this is realistic and good.

 

     A child can say:  "I am bad" because I did not get all "A"s on my report card.  To a CBT practitioner, there have been a couple of men in the last 100 years who caused the demise of as many as 20,000,000 people.  In the grand scheme of things, a CBT practitioner would ask whether not getting a perfect report card is equivalent to the badness or moral failure of sending millions of people to concentration camps or systematic mass starvation plans.  Depression can cause "tunnel vision" where failures are seen as huge and everything is missed.  For example, recently a plane crashed.   This is a fact and one can focus on it and there is nothing wrong with that at all.  It is also a fact that there are other facts.  For example, yesterday as many as 40,000 planes transported hundreds of thousands of people safely to their destinations.  In depression, positive can seem inaccessible while negatives loom.  But this is not exactly "positive thinking."

 

     I think you are right that positive thinking by itself is of questionable value in most cases especially in cases where depression involves pathology of some kind. 

 

Respectfully,  Epictetus

Edited by Epictetus
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Hello Epictetus, 

Thank you for your reply. I have used CBT in the past and it did help with the depression. I also tried again when this episode began five months ago but the dark place I am in doesn't allow for positives. If I happen to develop one, its quickly shot down by 10 negatives... I just don't know what, if anything, will or can help this time... for the first time in my life, I am truly terrified of and for myself.

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I think people who make those comments haven't had the same experiences as depressed people. I've known people who were very upbeat and generally really positive, but they hadn't suffered any real misfortune either, and tended to have a really loving support system. When you don't have that, I think it makes life in general harder to deal with, but life experience also affects how we deal with things, but there probably is a genetic/predetermined component as well. "Turn that frown upside down" IMO just doesn't work for depression but a lot of people think depression means just being a bit down too, they don't get how severe or debilitating it can be.

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I don't understand that either.. My grandfather is like that, he is super positive all the time and he definitely had a hard life, he lost both his first and second wife.. But he never even got slighty depressed. I truly believe it is in your genes for 90% whether you get depressed or not. Even though I am doing fine now I am stil a "the glass is half empty, and it's also broken" kind of person. No matter how much I try to be more positive, when it's not going well with me I always fall back into my true self.

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It's funny because when depression has lifted--with the help of medicine, diet & exercise, I can find it easier to feel happy. I can shift my thoughts a little--it actually feels slightly physical--to think about something in a way that wont drive me nuts.

When I'm depressed, nothing can turn those thoughts around. I can fake it for a while and then no more faking. It's sitting in the comfy chair or going back to bed for me.

I feel fortunate that this combination of drugs is working. My pulse is a bit elevated, but my blood pressure is okay.

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I don't know how people just think happy to be happy.  It is a mystery for me and one I have been trying hard to solve especially here lately.  I have been clinically depressed for as long as I can remember or at least since I was 10 years old when my father died.  Someone mentioned genetic and I believe it to be that in my case.  It seems to run in my family along with a number of inherited traits such as alcoholism, cancer and others. 

 

If I was not on a high dose of Celexa, I would be suicidal and, even so, I am just barely on the edge.  At this point in time, I have absolutely no reason to be depressed but I still am.  This makes me think it is some kind of chemical imbalance in my brain.  I have recently completed a series of hypnotherapy sessions with take home CD's for practice.  I can see the therapeutic benefit but it is so difficult to change that negative thinking. It keeps sneaking back in.  I am also trying mindfulness meditation and trying to be neutral about negative thoughts.  This is difficult, also.

 

I like what Epictetus says about being kind to our brains and that seems to reduce it down to a more manageable size somewhat.

 

 Anyone know of any miracle solutions?

 

Thank all of you for being here for all of us.

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People who say "Just think happy thoughts and it will turn the depression around" are just plain wrong.  People have incorrect opinions and say stupid things about every topic under the sun, not just about depression.  Simply because a person opens their mouth and says a sentence doesn't mean that sentence is correct.

 

Now, on the other hand, correctly treating depression with a combination of medications and therapy does include studying yourself to better understand yourself, to recognize your current patterns of thinking, and learning new patterns of healthy thinking to develop calm and peace of mind.

 

For me, thinking happy thoughts does not mean "Lah-dee-dah, I'm happy happy, no problems."  However, thinking about positive things does help me to feel better.  I'm fortunate that I don't have any serious physical illnesses, so I think thoughts of gratitude like "I'm so glad that I have vision and hearing, I'm glad that I can walk places without a cane or wheelchair."

 

For example, my personal issue was the same as yours: thinking regrets.  People who said one simple sentence like "You can't change the past" or "Stop thinking about the past" were not helpful at all.  

 

However, talking things over with a therapist about ways to keep my mind on today, ways to think about doing something right today instead of dwelling on something wrong in the past, did help.  It's not a simple, happy thought, it's detailed and requires repetition.

 

That's the more complex, harder but more effective way to "think happy thoughts".

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One thing that I'd like to recommend is if you're physically healthy and I guess in the States, over 16, you can donate blood every couple of months. It doesn't hurt much and if you're not donating plasma or platelets, it doesn't take a long time...

The blood donation places make you feel like a hero, and you can have cookies and juice afterwards. And you are truly helping by donating.

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That is pretty cruel advice (although it may be well intended) and I am sorry you've been on the receiving end of it. 

 

I don't have much experience with CBT but am currently in an MBCT (mindfulness-based cognitive therapy) group.  The largest part of the work is mindfulness meditation with a bit of CBT.  It seems the main point is that thoughts (good, bad, neutral) happen b/c the brain thinks them.  That's something brains do.  But we don't have to take the thoughts as the truth.  I know, hard to do!  It seems to take an incredible amount of diligence to be on top of all the thoughts that can lead us into that downward spiral. 

 

Nissala, do you have access to therapy or counselling?  When things are very difficult for me, it is especially hard to do CBT.  It is easier when I can see my therapist to help me get some perspective.  I guess I 'should' be able to do it on my own but that's not my experience so far. 

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That is pretty cruel advice (although it may be well intended) and I am sorry you've been on the receiving end of it. 

 

I don't have much experience with CBT but am currently in an MBCT (mindfulness-based cognitive therapy) group.  The largest part of the work is mindfulness meditation with a bit of CBT.  It seems the main point is that thoughts (good, bad, neutral) happen b/c the brain thinks them.  That's something brains do.  But we don't have to take the thoughts as the truth.  I know, hard to do!  It seems to take an incredible amount of diligence to be on top of all the thoughts that can lead us into that downward spiral. 

 

Nissala, do you have access to therapy or counselling?  When things are very difficult for me, it is especially hard to do CBT.  It is easier when I can see my therapist to help me get some perspective.  I guess I 'should' be able to do it on my own but that's not my experience so far. 

Hi Orso, sorry its taken so long to respond. I do have access to a counselor but the ones that I have or really can afford with no insurance one sees you only once a month and the other every two weeks... I actually purchased a CBT for dummies book awhile back  but had a very hard time trying to do it on my own. I remember using it once before during an episode, but that one wasn't nearly as bad this one has been... thank you for the information though.

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Why is it some people, and I know we've all heard this, say "just think happy thoughts and it will turn the depression around". Do they not understand how hard that is when your in the depths of a deep depression and nothing, I mean NOTHING, in your life is going right? I ask this because it was told to me for months by my brother and sister-in-law. My mind doesn't work that way. I can't compartmentalize the bad thoughts, I really wish I could. Another is "stop living in the past, its gone and done and you can't change it so why keep focusing on it?"  For some reason my brain doesn't do this..I relive past issues all the time, especially when the depression is as bad as it is right now. Has anyone here had success in doing these things? If so, HOW? 

If it was that easy all the shrinks would be out of business

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Why is it some people, and I know we've all heard this, say "just think happy thoughts and it will turn the depression around". Do they not understand how hard that is when your in the depths of a deep depression and nothing, I mean NOTHING, in your life is going right? I ask this because it was told to me for months by my brother and sister-in-law. My mind doesn't work that way. I can't compartmentalize the bad thoughts, I really wish I could. Another is "stop living in the past, its gone and done and you can't change it so why keep focusing on it?"  For some reason my brain doesn't do this..I relive past issues all the time, especially when the depression is as bad as it is right now. Has anyone here had success in doing these things? If so, HOW? 

If it was that easy all the shrinks would be out of business

 

They don,t know what else to say,i sometimes don,t know what to say on here when people are really depressed,they are trying t come up with soultions to your problem and they can,t think of anything else,I know since most of my depression has gone away from my meds I have trouble relating to the mindset unless im feeling it.i don,t think they mean it to be malicious,all they can really do is validate you by asking what your upset about.The advice about not focusing on the past is legitmalety good advice in my opinion,its just very hard to follow and rationalize it when your upset. 

Edited by scienceguy
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Why is it some people, and I know we've all heard this, say "just think happy thoughts and it will turn the depression around". Do they not understand how hard that is when your in the depths of a deep depression and nothing, I mean NOTHING, in your life is going right? I ask this because it was told to me for months by my brother and sister-in-law. My mind doesn't work that way. I can't compartmentalize the bad thoughts, I really wish I could. Another is "stop living in the past, its gone and done and you can't change it so why keep focusing on it?"  For some reason my brain doesn't do this..I relive past issues all the time, especially when the depression is as bad as it is right now. Has anyone here had success in doing these things? If so, HOW? 

 

I think that thinking positively is just one part of recovering from a mood disorder. It will do little by itself but in conjunction with medication, social support, positive lifestyle changes, etc., changing your thought patterns can definitely confer benefits. 

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