What To Do When Happiness Eludes You

By Barton Goldsmith Tribune News Service.

Happiness has become a big deal in the past decade. Hundreds of books, lectures at Harvard, and millions of media sound bites tell us that happiness is within our reach. All we have to do is just follow some simple steps like meditation, living in the moment, and doing yoga. But if you are going through a really difficult time, none of this may feel right. Your sadness may be so engrained that the thought of doing something positive turns your stomach. The fact is that feeling deeply sad is a normal part of the healing process.

The issues that are bringing you down may not be going away for now, and you will have to find a way to continue on in spite of this. I have no reason to be happy right now, despite successes and love. My best friend is dying, and it is just overwhelmingly heartbreaking. I can crack a smile every now and then, but the truth is that the best part of my day is when I'm holding her. So I totally get what being down feels like.

That being said, if you are going through a rough patch, it's important to do what you can to feel better. Here are some techniques that have helped me and many others, and perhaps they can work for you.

-Looking at water in nature can be calming. Being outside is good, and the negative ions in the water actually make you feel better. If you're not anywhere near an ocean, a lake, or a river, looking at images of moving water on TV can be soothing. Even something as mundane as taking a shower will make a difference. And if you are too down to even want to get yourself clean, you really do need to get a full medical checkup, because that's a sign of serious depression, among other things.

-We have to take our happiness where we find it, and if you have lost the ability to find any pleasure in your daily routine or the people around you, something deeper is going on. Get yourself checked out by a medical doctor. Just receiving a clean bill of health could give you a little lift. If your physical health is fine, you just have to get your head and heart on the same program. If something else is going on, it's important to get help.

-Think about the times you were at your happiest. That may sound a little Pollyannaish, but doing this actually sends chemicals to your brain that will make you feel better. Dr. Shawn Shea, a friend of mine, reminds us to "mine the gardens of our childhood," which means remember the good old days and find a few minutes of joy in that process. This exercise is one that I have used with the most depressed patients I have worked with, and it does give them an opportunity to escape the pain for a little while.

It also helps to remember that sometimes you have to just go through what life has put in front of you. I will be happy again, and so will you. Sometimes it takes a while. You have to be patient with yourself and hope that those who love you will understand.

We can't allow natural and normal emotional low points to rule our lives, but we can't ignore them either. They must be processed, so we can move on. ___ (Dr. Barton Goldsmith, a psychotherapist in Westlake Village, Calif., is the author of "The Happy Couple: How to Make Happiness a Habit One Little Loving Thing at a Time.")

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