By Joe Boyd
So, a few weeks into 2016, how’s it going? Will it be a happy year or not?
Sometimes happiness is counterintuitive. At 42 years old, I have come to realize I can drift toward unhappiness. There’s a lot that plays into this for me. My personality type (INTP) tends toward melancholy with a chemical propensity to depression. But I’ve also found I can make choices that increase my capacity for happiness.
Here are some practical steps I have taken over the last decade that have helped me. Maybe they will help you too.
I know, I know. But it works. Not magically or instantly, but an active lifestyle over time limits the blue days. If you hate to work out in the gym, don’t start there. Go for a walk. Play paintball. Trade in your riding mower for a push mower this summer. Just start moving. The more you do, the more you will want to do more.
2. Eat better.
I know, I know. I’m not a calorie or carb nazi. I used to be. For me, being “all or nothing” when it comes to my diet is actually something that can feed my angst. I have seasons where I don’t eat well. (Like, say, the last six weeks.) The key is to snap out of it.
Realize this is connected to your happiness. Eat healthier within reason. Have a burger and some pie on the weekend. Some summer days demand ice cream, but not every day. Let treats be treats, not staples. You’ll actually enjoy them more that way.
Remember, God is not just a God of a spiritual universe. He is God of all—and the God of our bodies. It’s all connected.
I avoided any sort of professional emotional care for years. I can point to the day I started seeing a therapist as the turning point in my overall health and happiness. God uses many ways to make us healthy. Some Christians who have no problem going to see a doctor when they have the flu refuse to see one when they are depressed or anxious.
4. Listen to your supporters.
A surefire way to spiral into darkness is to listen to your critics or to obsess on pleasing people you barely know. Most of us have people in our lives who know us and love us despite our flaws. Let them have more sway over your emotions than those who don’t really know you at all. It really can be a choice. Decide who is worthy of affecting your emotions . . . and who isn’t.
5. Follow your dreams (slowly).
Most people aren’t in their dream job. A lot of us have jobs (or are looking for a job) just to survive. There are two ways having a less-than-desirable career leads to unhappiness. The first is to assume you will always hate your job. The second, quicker way to depression is to quit your job hastily without a plan.
Create a long-range plan to get the job you want. It may be five or 10 years away, but having a plan makes today better. It puts today in perspective.
6. Question your beliefs.
What do you believe about God, life, goodness? Many of us have accepted (or denied) the faith of our parents and grandparents without asking the quintessential questions of meaning for ourselves. As a pastor, I have come to believe a large number of people are depressed because they don’t live in step with what they believe. For many, their actions simply don’t match their beliefs. This leads to a stressful, restless life. Living one way and believing another causes great psychological stress.
In short, repent. It may be an old-fashioned word to some, but it’s deeply rooted in the gospel of Jesus.
7. Give more.
Jesus himself taught that it is more blessed to give than to receive. It’s counterintuitive, but the more we give away, the more we are filled with joy. There comes a time—what Richard Rohr calls the “second half of life”—when we realize the world doesn’t exist for us as individuals. Somewhat ironically, we can’t find our individual bliss or peace until we die to needing to be important to be happy.
A life lived for the benefit of others is the best kind of life to live. It frees us from our self-preservational obsessions and allows us to experience the mystery of God’s presence and love. We become part of a whole that is eternal and meaningful.
Joe Boyd is founder and president of Rebel Pilgrim Productions, Cincinnati, Ohio.