Feeling the Blues? Here's the Ingredient You're Missing
Tis the time of year for triggers into depression. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines depression as "a complete loss of pleasure in all, or almost all, activities." Winter and the holidays are a big reminder for me to begin priming my clients' minds toward pleasure and taking steps toward acting on more pleasurable activities in daily life.
Fundamentally, it's adaptive to experience pleasure, we need it and it makes us feel good. Experiences of pleasure prompt individuals to engage with their environments and partake in activities. From an Evolutionary Psychology standpoint, being rewarded with eating certain foods, having sex, and keeping warm has kept the species alive. Pleasure also pushes us toward accomplishment, achievement, and improving ourselves. It's pleasurable to be applauded, get good feedback, better ourselves, or feel safe with a community.
Neuropsychology would agree that our brains are wired to repeat life-sustaining activities by associating those activities with pleasure (i.e., dopamine, beta-endorphins). From the time we are infants we need to experience pleasure. Those infants that do not experience sensory pleasure from a caretaker have been shown to experience poor weight gain, feeding and sleep disturbances, hypersensitivity to touch, be socially withdrawn, and at times, death.
Experiences of pleasure are also adaptive emotionally and are often associated with positive emotions such as delight, happiness, or gladness. In the past, psychological research was mainly focused on the dis-ease model, while in recent years there has been tremendous research in the area of Positive Psychology discussing the positive aspects of the human condition. Most notably, the area of happiness or subjective well-being (SWB) has gained considerable attention. The simplest definition has been the imbalance of positive emotions over negative emotions and a sense of life satisfaction. Increasing a person's perception of daily pleasures, in turn, increases their level of positive affect which tips the balance in favor of happiness.
Psychology professor from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Barbara Frederickson, Ph.D. has done research supporting her claim that improving positive emotions allows an individual to have a broadened sense of coping resources. This broadened sense of coping allows the person to take on more challenges, experience the feeling that s/he can do it (self efficacy), and therefore build more positive emotions. In essence, the spiral goes up.
As humans we experience pleasure in many ways. Our most obvious overall experience of pleasure is that it is something good.
If you are a person who gets affected by the winter and/or the holidays, think about what has been pleasurable to you in the past, or what has been pleasurable to you today! This not only puts what's been pleasurable in short term memory, affecting present moment perception, but primes the mind toward thinking in the direction of things than can be pleasurable. Create a practice of looking back on your day when putting your head on your pillow and trying to think of what things occurred today that were pleasurable. Some days the list may be very short, others a bit longer.
If you feel so moved, please share what's pleasurable in your life. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.