Lincoln inspired: 5 steps for a happier you

17May11

It’s May Gray here in southern California.  Apparently that means that I need to prepare for gloomy, chilly days and accompanying mood swings.  Residents here drink a lot of coffee, turn on their heaters and wear layers.  While the rest of the country is welcoming spring, southern Californians are fighting the blues.  Rumor is that next month is June gloom.  Who knew?

Today, we are fighting rain and wind (read: it’s drizzling and breezy).  I’m holding tight to my coffee cup and listening to NPR, my favorite radio station.  I started listening to National Public Radio sometime in my mid-twenties to feel more grown-up.  Having since grown up, I can now admit that I legitimately love it.  I walk away from the station feeling a bit wiser and more worldly.  I share stories with my kids, my husband and can count on at least one friend to call me up every time there is a particularly moving piece on StoryCorps.

One of my favorite pieces was aired by Doris Kearns (presidential historian extraordinaire).  Having spent a grueling amount of time researching Abraham Lincoln, she had discovered that the president had suffered from two severe bouts of depression.  She explained that during what many believe was his second depressive episode he was approached by a friend who told Lincoln that if he did he not snap out of it, he would die.  Lincoln responded by saying that although death seemed welcome, he was afraid he had not done anything memorable yet.  He feared that people wouldn’t remember him and so he resolved to live.

I am recalling that piece today as I sit here trying to fight the blues.  Even if it’s sunny out, this crisis of depression seems to be looming over all of us.  We never really talk about it; hell, that’d mean we were weak.  We certainly don’t talk about our antidepressants or therapy sessions.  Instead, we self-medicate (wine? dessert?) and hope that we can shake off the nagging feeling before someone notices and, be they so brave, asks us what’s wrong.

Instead, maybe we should be asking ourselves how we can be memorable?  If we approach this from Lincoln’s perspective, we should be reflecting a bit more on our legacy in order that we recognize our present day value.  So, in the spirit of optimism and legacy creation, here are five ways to fight your inner demon and create a strong raison d’être.

1) Socialize.  Stop waiting for the world to come to your doorstep.  Fight your inhibitions and meet one new person each day.  It doesn’t mean striking up a conversation with a stranger; it may be as simple as extending a smile and quick greeting to an unfamiliar face – but do it.  You’ll be surprised at the bounce in your step when you walk away knowing that you stepped outside a comfort zone.  If you recall, I stalk people, unabashedly (http://wp.me/sMA1W-stalker); I always walk away smiling.  Spend time with your friends and family, either in person, on the phone or via the myriad of  social media instruments at our fingertips. My guilty indulgence?  People.  Love ’em.  Need ’em.  Can’t get enough of ’em.  Our relationships feed us so take time, everyday, to cultivate one of yours.  People will remember.

2) Exercise.  Study after study has proven that even just a short burst of activity, one that elevates the heart rate for 15-20 minutes, is enough to produce mood-enhancing endorphins.  It’s true.  But you’re tired.  I know, me too.  It’s raining. Heard of an umbrella? The day is over.  No, it’s only over if you throw on your pj’s and sit down in front of the TV. Don’t. Walk outside and let the moonbeams fall on you.  Breathe deeply and move down the street.  It’s that easy.  Not to mention that an endorphin rush can trigger a similar reaction in others.  People will remember.

3)  Volunteer.  We are all busy.  Too busy in fact and there is not one moment of free time we have left to commit to anyone, let alone someone who doesn’t share our name.  Alas, the satisfaction that comes from doing for others, being there for others, creating something for others is deeply intrinsic.  We all need to feel needed and there is no better way to create this than to volunteer for something.  Commit to an organization.  Teach Sunday school.  Make dinner once a month for a friend.  Walk a dog at the humane society (see #2).  Write a thank you note to a veteran.  You don’t need to spend ten hours a week to make a difference; whatever you do will impact another’s world and change yours.  Trust me. People will remember.

4)  Dessert.  When feeling blue, just do it.  I am a huge believer in the happiness of a good dessert.  I am sure that many of you are cringing now; you are angry at me for suggesting it, pissed off that you’ll remember me telling you to go for it later when that chocolate fudge cake is staring you in the face.  Indulge in a cupcake, a hot mochachino, fresh-baked apple crisp.  I’m talking about deliberate, conscious, decision-making for the most decadent delight you can imagine. Go ahead, blame me.  At least when you are cursing me for being a bad influence, you’ll be smiling. And then – I am remembered.

5) Breath.  And, while you are doing this, reminisce on your legacy.  You are children, siblings, spouses, parents, friends; therefore, you are memorable.  You influence.  You love.  You inspire.

You are already remembered.

You’ve conquered Lincoln’s greatest fear.

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2 Responses to “Lincoln inspired: 5 steps for a happier you”

  1. Amazing post. This is great because it’s true and they’re manageable tasks to help combat depression. Nicely done, very nicely done. I have my down days and employ these tactics, but I need to do a better job, a much better job of breathing. 🙂 Thanks for this.

  2. Hi Amy,

    I like this post – this list is so true. I have battled depression in the past and all these points do help – socialising (even virtual if you can’t get out and about IRL) makes you feel less alone, exercise (I love playing tennis, missing it at the moment as we are on hiatus through the winter) gets the endorphins pumping, volunteering (I need to work on this one – I don’t have a lot of spare time but you are right, I can do something for someone, all it takes is action) makes you feel good about yourself and the world, dessert (you are speaking to the converted here!) and breathing which is something I forget to do sometimes. I don’t often live in the moment, too busy thinking of what I need to do next. Taking a step back will make us all a little happier. Thanks for sharing, I really did get a lot out of this – looking forward to reading more!


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