This post is a response to “Happiness is a Skill” by my friend Sam on his blog.
Mindfulness is in vogue lately. All the cool kids are doing it.
Is that really true? I have no idea. All I know is that mindfulness and meditation have started to seep into conversation in my social circles, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
Before I start, let me point out that my meditation practice is shaky at best. For about the past two and a half years I have had an on again, off again relationship with meditation. I’ve used apps, kept track of daily habits, read books on it, tried different techniques, all with a tiny bit of progress, but never resulting in a firm practice.
Is happiness a skill? Well, I think that depends on how you define “happy.”
I think training your brain to stop reacting with strong emotions is a skill. And learning that skill can lead to you being more happy, because things don’t impact you as much.
I have noticed a difference in my life since I started exploring meditation and mindfulness. Even without a solid practice, I notice that voice in my head more, and have worked on trying to quiet it. I have stopped using social media and my phone on purpose, to force me to be in the moment, to look around, to experience the present. I realized how much I plan out things in my head.
Does this lead to me being happier? I’m more in the moment I think. At least a few times I have stopped myself from being pissed at someone, usually when I’m driving. I think “maybe that person is lost and I know how I feel when I’m driving when I’m lost.” But there are still times when I’m like FUCK YOU, YOU ALMOST CUT ME OFF.
I’d say, cultivating a practice of mindfulness and meditation can definitely make your life more content. Because you definitely feel better being that first person than the second one.
How does this relate to depression? In many ways. Mindfulness can allow you to step back and look at the events in your life more objectively. If you practice, it can allow you a 2 second pause before you react to something, and for me, a 2 second pause could be the thing that stops me from having an episode. Or, it makes it so I’m only a level 5 instead of a level 10. It can also counteract the mean voice in my head, just slightly. I have now noticed, sometimes, a quieter, weaker voice contradicting the loud, cruel one of my depression. Only sometimes, but still, it’s there.
The thing that makes me nervous about mindfulness is that, sometimes, I see it offered up as THE CURE TO ALL THE THINGS. Including depression.
Let’s be clear here: Major Depressive Disorder does not have a cure.
What do I mean by cure? I mean, there is currently nothing that will take away my depression completely. No magic pill, no vaccination, no special sauce to rub on my skull and BAM! I will never have a depressive episode again.
I have gotten much, much better with treatment. I understand my depression more, and my episodes are fewer and far between. But this is because I have treated the disease, not because it is cured.
Often, mindfulness is promised as a cure. No. Mindfulness is a wonderful way to treat depression, or any other mental health illness, but just because you are symptom-free does not mean you don’t have the disease.
Many times, people will think I’m being pessimistic when I say things like this. Well, I’m feeling great today as a I write this. I’m not being pessimistic, I’m being realistic. Mental health illness is misunderstood in many ways, by many people, even those who suffer. Sometimes, I have to defend my disease to people because they don’t think it’s a real thing. I have had people tell me that if I just thought better thoughts, I could stop taking my medication… but that’s a topic for a different post.
What I’m trying to say it, using mindfulness and meditation to train your brain can be extremely effective, and I think it’s a great way to help everyone, especially those with mental health illness, learn how to control their thoughts and reactions. But, I’m wary of people seeing it as a way to magically “fix” their mental health problems.
If you can become so practiced at mindfulness that you can wean off your medication, that is awesome and I do think it is an obtainable goal. But, when it comes to diseases of the brain, every person is different. There is also a LOT about the brain that we don’t know or understand. So, I think it’s important to have realistic expectations, while still remaining optimistic.
Mindfulness can lead to better contentment. Being content, arguably, means you’ll be happier. So, if you can, try mindfulness or meditation.
But, I’m still going to go to therapy.