You can’t change others but you can change the way you view the world.
I was diagnosed with depression at 16, though I believe I’ve suffered from it since I was 13. Soon after my diagnosis, despite going through therapy and medication, I wanted to kill myself. I remember coming close to trying something, but being stopped by a single thought that spoke to me in unwavering clarity. It was a shining, peaceful thought. It told me not to kill myself. It told me instead to reach out to someone and expose myself, despite my crippling fears of rejection and isolation. This thought was so powerfully quiet that it shone through the mental sludge and waste of depression and I found myself listening to it immediately.
The part of my mind that this thought came from gradually grew stronger and I found myself happier than I had been in years. I became a more focused and open person, finding it easier to draw myself to outer kindness and inner peace. Through my focus, I got to a place where I was surrounded by external circumstances that I thought made me happy.
Then I got lazy. I stopped working towards happiness. My mental state slowly slid backwards.
I began to feel persistent dissatisfaction. Feelings of emotional unrest and agitation began to build up inside me. However, I had structured my life in such a way where I thought I didn’t have a right to be unhappy. I was unmotivated to improve any aspect of my life. I had a good job, a girlfriend, a handful of close friends, and a car—everything an 18-year-old could want.
I got to college and lost all of that. I finally acknowledged that depression had crept back into my mind. I felt horribly alone. I once again wanted to kill myself.
I went back into therapy and spent the rest of my first semester blaming every possible external circumstance for my unhappiness. It was that everyone at college was unfriendly, or that all of my old friends had abandoned me, or that my ex-girlfriend was a bad person. Though blaming everything outside provided occasional momentary relief, I still perpetually wallowed in that lowness inside.
When I turned 19 in December, I knew I had to change my line of thinking.
I’ve spent the last few months reading on what I can do to change the way I view myself and the world around me. I’ve started meditating. I’ve analyzed my behavior and done my best to improve it.
Two readings in particular, Emerson’s Self-Reliance and the Dalai Lama’s Art of Happiness, have served as direct inspiration for me.
I want to share a few thoughts with you that I’ve had on the power of inner peace and outer positivity.
#1—Change the way you look at others.
Every person on Earth was born and will die. Every person does not want suffering. Every person on Earth is working towards the same goal: lasting happiness. If you focus on the oneness of humanity instead of the differences between individuals or groups, you will find it much easier to connect with others.
#2—Build intimacy with everyone.
In our society we put a huge focus on finding The One. We expect to find one person that we can share our entire life with and often close ourselves off to others in the pursuit. Try to focus on building intimacy with everyone in your life, instead of just one person. You may find it more rewarding.
#3—Be kind to everyone.
Be loving to everyone: strangers, friends, coworkers, family. Be kind in everything you do. Give out random compliments. Volunteer. You’ll feel a quiet satisfaction that is long-lasting and you may even find some kindness thrown right back at you.
#4—Use your body to your advantage.
As you’re reading this, notice your body. Do you feel tense? Try to relax yourself now and in every situation. Make eye contact with everybody you see. Walk with confidence. Take out your earbuds when you walk and listen to the world around you. Smile frequently. Dance spontaneously. You’ll feel great.
I cannot implore enough the value of daily meditation. Center yourself and focus on your breathing in a quiet place. Whenever you are in distress, focus again on your breathing. Find an online guided meditation or go to a meditation class near you and use the tactics in your own private meditation. Your mind will be sharp and focused throughout the day. It’s a wonderful feeling.
#6—Do not linger with negative emotions.
I went to a lovely beginner’s meditation class at the Kadampa Meditation Center in New York City and the lesson that stuck with me the most was that the negative emotions that populate our lives – anger, disappointment, frustration – are delusions, blocking the calm clarity of happiness, like the buffering of a video. We can act to eliminate them from our minds. Try to gently push them away when they pop up. This will take time but is not impossible.
#7—Look at small problems with positivity.
Too often small issues can ruin our day. Whenever something small comes up that really bothers you, try to breathe. Calm and center yourself. Do not let it bring you down. Look at small problems with a smile. It’ll make dealing with the larger problems so much easier.
#8—Seek happiness, not pleasure.
Think long-term. We may seek things that are pleasurable but pleasure is never long-lasting. With a bit of self-sacrifice and practice, you will find yourself desiring things like junk food less and less. You’ll feel happier.
#9—Be self-reliant, but do not isolate yourself.
It’s important to stick to your virtues. It’s ok to do or like that one thing that no one else likes or does. Do not lose that part of yourself, that uniqueness that draws you to the things that bring you the energy of feeling alive. But at the same time, do not block others out because they are different. As previously stated, all humans deep down want the same thing: long-lasting happiness. Be yourself and let others see this. The fear of rejection and isolation keeps us from expressing our deepest thoughts and making real connections. Do your best to work past these fears. The connections you will make will be infinitely more satisfying.
#10—Focus your life.
Set goals for yourself. Try new things. I’ve wanted to dance my whole life and I’ve been teaching myself, practicing every day. I’ve been exploring writing and learning music theory. Too often we find ourselves regretfully spending free time doing nothing of value. If you follow your passions and fill your time with them, you will find that none of your time is wasted. One of my favorite quotes comes from Neil Degrasse Tyson: “Whether or not you can never become great at something, you can always become better at it.”
Right now the peace I feel within is liberating. I know the fight for happiness does not have an end, but I’ve again exposed that clear, calm part of my mind that spoke to me when I was at my lowest and I’m going to fight to keep it exposed as long as possible.
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