(Dr. Norquist is on vacation for the Christmas holiday weekend. We are re-running a letter published earlier in this column.)
Dear Dr. Norquist:
I have no idea what is going on with me. One minute I am happy and the next I’m depressed thinking about how bad my life is. I seem to have everything, a very nice girlfriend, plenty of entertainment and a number of friends. When I am around my friends or talking on the phone I’m joking, always smiling, and making others laugh. But I seem to get in these bad moods when I’m not able to communicate with my friends or my girlfriend, whether they’re sleeping or they’re not around. My mother suffers from depression, which she believes is from her having had a difficult life, and she still takes medication pretty regularly. Could this kind of depression have been passed down to me? What can I do to become happy again?
Dr. Norquist responds:
I don’t believe that depression is simply “passed down.” However, it is possible to inherit a genetic pre-disposition toward depression and then learn particular beliefs and ways of perceiving from a parent who is depressed. These two factors combined could make you more vulnerable to depression, especially at stressful points in your life. The beliefs and perceptions behind your habitual responses to day-to-day situations fuel your experience of life.
For example, consider your beliefs regarding happiness, and how to “become happy again.” Where does happiness come from? If you stop to contemplate your experiences of happiness, you’ll notice that happiness is like a well that springs up from the inside. It is not necessarily related to what is going on on the outside. Have you ever noticed how all the outer conditions can appear to be perfect for being happy, yet that does not always result in the inner experience of happiness? Perhaps contentment is a better term for the experience you are seeking. Experiencing one end of the continuum of feelings (for example, happiness) generally sets us up to eventually experience the other end of the pendulum swing. Contentment is a state that is not subject to pendulum swings. Contentment is not dependent on outside circumstances, which is what sets it apart from the pendulum swing continuum.
Maintaining contentment requires not being attached to having to have things be a certain way in order to be happy. Outside circumstances are always going to be in flux. The more desires and attachments to what you have or don’t have rule your life, the harder it is to maintain any emotional equilibrium. Practicing contentment means being willing to openly accept whatever comes your way. Allow yourself to be in the flow of the river, wherever it takes you, rather than trying to hold on to certain branches by the side of the river. Life has a certain way of taking you where you need to go. Holding on to the “branches” only makes the trip more painful and the pain more long-lasting. Contentment is born of being able to accept what comes unsought. Make it a practice to accept whole-heartedly whatever comes your way, and see how your experience of life is transformed.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.)Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. 2015 Chaitanya Counseling Services