Doctoring her seemed to her as absurd as putting together the pieces of a broken vase. Her heart was broken. Why would they try to cure her with pills and powders?
― Leo Tolstoy,
Cigarettes, alcohol, fast cars, red meat, pollution. These are the things we think will kill us. Or else, the slow demise. But what about a broken heart?
For some of my patients, this is killing them faster than anything else.
Did you know you could die from a broken heart? It’s called takotsubo cardiomyopathy, also known as broken heart syndrome. It is normally proceeded by a significant stressful event and mimics a heart attack, but without typical cardiac artery stenosis or blockage. It is quite rare and in most cases, survivable.
Takotsubo means “octopus pot”. The term was used in Japan because of the shape that the heart takes during this event.
While broken heart syndrome is rare, unfortunately broken hearts are not. And I have seen my fair share of them in practice.
Mothers coping over estranged sons. Wives enduring their husband’s alcoholism and downward spiral. Men watching the love of their life leave for another. The soul shattering death of a child. The list goes on and on.
Now, please don’t misunderstand. Broken hearts and Major Depressive Disorder are not the same thing. I like to think of a broken heart as a subset of depression. A possible etiology causing a cascade of neurochemical events in the brain that can lead to a major depression. Often, depression does not seem to have an inciting factor.
But, I think the things that can help the one, may also help the other.
So, it got me thinking. If your heart can be physically damaged due to stress/sadness, could it be physically repaired through emotional “happiness”?
If great sorrow could bring on death, could great joy bring life?
The answer is: YES. I believe it can.
And so, this post isn’t really about broken heart syndrome or depression. And it’s not about curing depression or broken hearts. It’s about creating happiness.
Life is going to throw you a curve ball. Things are going to go sideways. There is no way to avoid it. But you can prepare. You can anchor yourself. You can give yourself the upper hand and increase your odds of successfully navigating the dangerous waters of chaos and sadness.
I know that sounds strange. You are either happy or you’re not. Right? No, I don’t think we FIND happiness. I think we CREATE it. Because, if we are the consequences of our actions, then the right actions can bring happiness. We just have to know what steps to take.
You see, there are 4 essential ingredients that I believe everyone needs in their life to make them happy and fulfilled.
I want to talk about these things. If you are truly depressed, you may not be quite ready to hear some of this. You are going to need some time to process.
But I want you to feel happy and alive. And I want you to feel that way right now. I want you to feel more present in the moment. I want you to see all the options that are under your control. I want you to make YOUR own choices about YOUR life.
But it will take some action on your part.
We have all heard that laughter is the best medicine, and scientists have been looking at the effects of laughter for quite some time. It turns out, laughter can boost the immune system and decrease stress hormones. It may help reduce hostility and stress and could possibly even help with addiction.
Although laughter isn’t the same thing as happiness, it’s a good start. It may be the reset you need.
The idea is not for you to “fake it till you make it” or even try to smile your way to happiness. But, if you can start to add moments of happiness, laughter, and smiling into your life, then you may find yourself healing.
I am not trying to be philosophical here. I want to be practical. It’s about starting new habits and giving your brain new inputs.
So what can you do? Add 30 minutes of stand up comedy to your day, watch cute kittens play with yarn on youtube, go outside and feel the sunshine and smile deep. The choices are limitless. And while you may not be cured overnight, small doses of this “good medicine” can work wonders overtime.
So, the next time someone tells you to turn your frown upside down, (first, resist the urge to punch them in the face) then stop and think about it. Maybe they are giving good advice. Maybe forcing a smile could help. Maybe watching a comedian for an hour on netflix is a better use of time than listening to “Love hurts” on repeat.
Helen Keller once said, “Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” This is one of my favorite quotes. I think this may be the single greatest thought on friendship. And I’m not sure there is anything to add to it.
We are social creatures. We need friends.
You need a friend that supports you and makes you feel better about being alive.
You need a friend that makes you laugh and will be there when you cry.
Oh and this friend needs to be real. Not a Facebook friend. You need a flesh and blood, sweat and tears kind of friend.
(If you don’t have any friends, you need to ask yourself what you can do to make yourself into someone that others would want to befriend)
You need a purpose.
Purpose becomes the answer to the question: WHY?
Purpose is not the same thing as a job. You need to find something that drives you. Then, you need to follow that road.
Pursue your purpose. Stick to it like hair on a biscuit.
When sadness starts to swallow you, if you have no purpose, you will drown. If you have a purpose in life, you will have a rock to hold on to when the waves hit.
Find some way that you can serve others. It can completely change your life.
Your purpose in life may change over time. The key is being mindful of your purpose.
Ask the questions every day: What have I done today to follow my life purpose? What character traits have I developed? Am I a better person today than yesterday? What will I do today to improve myself? How will I help others today?
What are your values? What kind of person do you want to be?
Values can be things like: honesty, freedom, hard work, family, relationships, integrity, peacefulness, bravery. These are just a few examples.
We all have values that we hold higher than others.
Think about yourself. Make decisions about who you want to be. Be pro-active. Write them down.
Make sure your purpose lines up with your values. For example: If your top values in life are honesty and integrity, then maybe your purpose shouldn’t be politics. If your top value in life is family and relationships, then maybe you shouldn’t kill yourself with overtime at work.
The options are numerous. I can’t tell you what’s right for you.
There is a lot of fun in finding out just who you want to be.
And maybe where you start, is not where you end up. That doesn’t matter. Don’t worry too much about specifics.
If your purpose and values don’t line up, then I doubt you will be happy. You will feel like something is missing or like you are a fake.
Now take some time to reflect and remember what Leo Tolstoy said:
If you want to be happy, be.
Those are just a few things that I’d like you to think about and act on. It may seem strange. They may seem un-connected. But who are your friends? What are your values? What’s your purpose? And are you laughing a lot? I may expand on these some more in later posts (depending on feedback).
If you are suffering from depression, please go and see your doctor. But if you are just feeling a glib sense of unhappiness, lack of joy or motivation, then try adding some laughter to your day, figure out a purpose, align it with your values, and pursue it. Don’t let anything hold you back.
Now go and live free.