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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
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Depression and Positive vs. Negative Emotional States

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Jan 3rd 2012

Positive_EmotionsHave you experienced feeling really good after helping another person? Perhaps it was carrying an elderly person's groceries upstairs to where he or she live? Perhaps it was helping a handicapped person cross the street? Here, in the United States, we are encouraged to do some volunteer work, in which we are doing something for the community, church or synagogue. There is something about doing these things that feels very good even though there is no pay check. Really, it's all part of being connected to other people.

Depression is a "negative emotional state" in which a person feels sad, dejected and gloomy. Included are feelings of anxiety, and anger. The most most important feature of depression is the absence of "positive emotion."

Happiness is a "positive emotional state" in which a person feels content, delighted, pleasure, glad and loving.

Psychotherapy and anti depressant medications are effective ways available for people to fight depression. In addition to these tried and true strategies, recent research shows that there are additional behaviors that people can integrate into their daily living that either fight depression or enhance a sense of well-being for those who are not depressed. These include exercise, mindfulness living and doing things to help others. This article will focus on helping others.

One of the many symptoms of depression is self isolation. Withdrawal from society and social interaction only makes things worse for those who are depressed or who tend towards depression. Recent research has looked at the factors that promote positive emotions and whether those factors can be used to relieve depression. According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside, who conducted a rigorous review of research on the therapeutic benefits of positive emotion, found that there is "widespread support for the notion that people with a tendency toward depression can help themselves by helping others or otherwise introducing positivity into their day-to-day lives." To be more specific, helping others refers to acts of kindness. These positive activities include such things as:

Being kind to others
Expressing gratitude
Thinking optimistically
Meditating on the good things in life

Positive activities result in people feeling good about themselves, even if only for a couple of minutes. These actions accumulate and help build increasing amounts of good self feelings. The nice things about this is that each individual decides for him or herself what feels good. There is no list of the most or least types of positive activities. Also, there is less time to ruminate about what is wrong in one's life or on all of an individual's problems. Rumination only worsens depressed feelings.

Dr. Lyubomirsky does point out that doing this does require effort and work. However, engaging in acts of kindness, contributes to feeling of controlling one's destiny. For most people, feeling in control is another aspect of aspect of happiness.

What are your thoughts about acts of kindness? Do you engage in these types of activities, if even for a few minutes each day?

Your comments and questions are strongly encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

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