Gratitude & Humour: Two Powerful Components for Overcoming Depression




Depression haunts more than 300 million people globally. But these positive emotions can make a difference when symptoms set in.
Travis Mills was a United States Army Staff Sergeant in the 82nd Airborne. In April of 2012, he was on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan when he walked into a situation that changed his life. An IED (improvised explosive device) exploded near him while he was on patrol.

His injuries were critical. Travis lost portions of both his arms and legs in the blast. The injuries left him a quadruple amputee.

But that isn’t where Travis’ story ends.

While Travis was recovering in the hospital, a retired Marine corporal named Todd Nicely went to visit him. Todd welcomed him to “the club” of amputees and told Travis he would be fine.

He got inspiration from the corporal’s words. And Travis’ young wife and infant daughter gave him motivation.

He decided that he wasn’t going to dwell on the past and fall into depression. So, he did what he could to rise above his condition and get his mobility back.

Now, Travis is a recalibrated warrior. This means he used his experience to redefine his mental capacity and moral quality. Yet, he hasn’t given up his struggle to get mobile.

He uses his experience to motivate others who face insurmountable odds. And humour to diffuse potentially negative or awkward feelings others may feel when they see him.

For those suffering from depression, those feel-good emotions that Travis channels can do a world of good. And they can help lessen instances of depressive symptoms.

Depression is like free-falling into a never-ending chasm of darkness. And when you’re in it, it seems like there’s no way out.

According to the World Health Organization, it’s a leading cause of disability worldwide. It’s different from your run-of-the-mill mood fluctuations.

Everyone feels depressed at least once in their life. Short-term emotional responses to stress and challenges are a normal part of life. But chronic depression happens more often and lingers longer than the average short-term response.

Chronic depression of moderate to severe intensity has the potential to be a serious health condition. It erodes your health and takes a toll on your ability to function from day today.

But there are ways to help with the symptoms of depression. And they have nothing to do with undergoing the right treatments.

There’s nothing wrong with therapy and medication to combat depression. However, there are things you can do at home to keep depression at bay. Just like Travis did…

“Never Give Up – Never Quit”

Depression can affect anyone. It has no respect for social, income, or geographical boundaries.

Often, traumatic events like unemployment or losing a loved one can trigger episodes of depression. Depression is a cyclical pattern where depression causes more stress and dysfunction in a person’s life. And that, in turn, makes a person’s life and the depression worse.

Depression isn’t always linked to situational events in life. Sometimes it occurs because of genetics, medical conditions, and even the use of certain substances. Lifestyle factors may also increase the risk of depression, including diet and stress levels.

There are some changes you can make to help alleviate the symptoms of depression.

Tony Robbins once said that “in life, you need either inspiration or desperation.”

Travis was at a low point in his life. Maybe he felt a little desperate.

He couldn’t go back in time or change his amputee status. So, he chose to cope with it using razor-sharp wit and gratitude.

Tony Robbins, on the other hand, used inspiration to change his life.

Tony’s mom wanted him to be a truck driver. If that meant he made $25,000 a year, she was all for his enrolment into a truck driving school. That kind of money was twice what his father made, so in her mind, it was a sound plan.

He had other plans, though.Tony didn’t want to drive a truck. He decided right then to go for passion instead of money.

He took the advice of a personal development speaker he saw when he was 17-years old.

The speaker said, “if you want to change, you have to change.”

Can you make the decision to change if you have depression?

You can make changes in your life to lessen or negate depressive symptoms. But it’s up to you to seek that change.

Depression sucks the life out of people. And that includes their will to live.

But one of the key elements to outlasting depression symptoms is the desperation for inspiration. In this case, it’s not either/or but probably a combination of both.

Making the decision to change depressive feelings is an unwillingness to quit when you’re feeling your lowest. And maybe about finding inspiration to pull yourself out of the darkness that’s trying to drown you.

The Science of Gratitude

Travis Mills likes to talk about his inspiration for his motivation – his family.

When he first sustained his injury, he gave his wife the opportunity to leave him. He understood that life as they knew it was going to change drastically. And he didn’t want to make the decision to tough it out or start a new life for her.

He is very grateful that she chose to stay with him. Their daughter was an infant at the time, so she already had a full plate. But she didn’t think twice about staying with her husband.

Travis also likes to joke that he’s grateful for his first clunky prosthetic arm and the 25 pounds of pressure it can exert. He is saving it in a special bag in the closet for when his daughter starts dating.

He may joke about his situation and life, but there’s very real science that backs up feelings of gratitude.

Robert A. Emmons is a leading scientific expert on the science of gratitude. He’s also a professor of psychology at UC Davis. According to Emmons, the feeling has an enormous impact on your overall well-being. Among the benefits are:

  • Lifetime risk reduction for depression and anxiety
  • Reduced risk of substance abuse disorders

The practice of gratitude can even modify behaviours for the better.

Imagine feeling motivated to exercise more, eat better, and get rid of smoking once and for all.

Studies reveal that grateful people are more likely to engage in positive behavioural shifts.

Gratitude works as a barrier that keeps out toxic emotions like resentment, envy, regret, and depression. These negative emotions can destroy a person’s happiness.

But as Professor Emmons points out, “It’s impossible to feel envious and grateful at the same time.”

So, where should you start?

Keep gratitude in the forefront of your mind. Try some of these techniques to keep depressive symptoms at bay:

  • Keep a gratitude journal – write down three things you are grateful for
  • Hone your signature strengths – try to use one of your best strengths in a unique way
  • Count acts of kindness – keep a counter of the acts of kindness you perform or receive

Everyone has strengths that come naturally to them. For some people, that may manifest as body strength and athleticism. Other people may have an aptitude for music.

These signature strengths can focus your efforts into positive activities and leave you feeling good in the process. So, if you’re musically inclined, why not pick up a new instrument? Or volunteer at an elder care home?

This shift from negative to positive thinking can help release the “feel good” hormones in the body. Serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin make you feel good. These hormones can help combat depression.

Show a Little Humour

Travis Mills jokes about his condition at every turn.

How can he joke about such a serious turn in life?

The answer is simple. His humour is a part of what helps him get through such a serious turn in life.

Research shows that depressed people are at a higher risk of experiencing depressive episodes when they’re exposed to stress. It’s difficult for them to use regular coping strategies. For many people with depression, their ability to regulate emotions is impaired. And when depressive symptoms take hold, it takes less and less stress to trigger more episodes.

The result?

A downward spiral into the abyss of depression.

However, some scientists found that using humour as a strategy shows promising results.

One study showed that humour could lessen the negative emotional reactions in those who have severe depression. In the study, participants viewed a collection of 28 negative pictures. These pictures included images of war and the sick.

The participants rated their emotional response after seeing each image.

Next, the study participants viewed more negative images. This time, though, researchers asked them to comment on them. Researchers alternated between humorous and positive comments.

The resulting data from the study may surprise you. Participants who made humorous comments reported feeling more positive after seeing the image.

So, is laughter really the best medicine?

It can be…

The study concluded that you can use humour to create emotional resiliency. It may also help regulate emotions around life challenges and negative experiences.

You can use humour to diffuse an otherwise negative situation the way Travis does.

You don’t necessarily need to laugh out loud – especially in situations where comedy is inappropriate. But you can keep yourself from spiralling out of control into that depressive state.

So, the next time you feel those dark thoughts pressing in, ask yourself:

What’s funny about this situation?

The odds are that there is something you can laugh at… even if it’s just to yourself.

Take Shelter Under the Gratitude and Humour Umbrella

You can’t always control what happens in life. But you can control your mindset when you encounter negative events.

Find things to be grateful for every single day. Even if it’s simply, “My coffee was hot this morning.” Sometimes it’s the little things that count.

Using humour to combat sadness is another effective tool. You may not be able to stop a negative event from happening. But a little levity may halt a potential downward spiral.

Travis Mills admits that every day is a struggle. But he meets each challenge with the right mindset.

Are you ready for a change in mindset?

Email for a free one-on-one coaching session to [email protected]

This inspiring 1-hour phone call can help you bridge the gap from where you are now in your life to where you'd like to be.

Peter Conna

About the Author

As a business mentor, Peter Conna inspires business owners to apply rapid growth strategies in their businesses. Perhaps more importantly he helps bring more balance to their personal lives, especially their health and relationships.

About the author, Peter Conna

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