#NotJustSad: Why we desperately need Positive Reinforcement and Flow to be Happy

Over the last couple of days, the hashtag #NotJustSad has been a trending topic on the German Twitter feed. It was created by a journalist in order to raise awareness for depression and was quickly picked up by mainstream media. The goal was to counter the popular notion that people with depression just need to “get their act together” in order to be “normal” again.

Quite obviously, there are different types of depression – or rather, different ways for depression to “arise”. Some types are clearly endogenous, a sickness of the body, e.g., as a by-product of a strong and continuous imbalance with regard to certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin.

Yet, over the last days, I was also strikingly reminded of how our everyday behavior may either promote or act as a buffer against bouts of (minor) depressive episodes. Today, I was in a very bad mood all day long. I suffered from what typically is called cabin fever. For the last seven days, I had to stay at home because of “hand, foot and mouth disease”, a pretty harmless but highly contagious and annoying children´s malady I acquired from the Little Guru. When it hits you hard, you´re basically unable to walk for a couple of days, and in addition, you´re mostly incapable of using your hands thanks to painful blisters. As a consequence, I ended up watching TV for most of the time, I managed to get through three seasons of “The Walking Dead” and some other enthralling stuff.

So you could say I was pretty amused most of the time. But still my mood declined from day to day, culminating in today´s bout of huffishness. So I finally went out for a coffee and thought about my situation. Seen through the lens of Positive Psychology, I guess this is what happened: over the last days, I suffered from…

For me, this is a strong reminder of how “intentional activity” is crucially important for our (psychological) well-being. Watching TV can generate a feeling of flow, but it is a fake kind of flow. Yes, I was excited and had fun. Yes, I (sort of) met new people (and a lot of zombies…). I might have learned a bit, and I even accomplished something (getting to the end of season three…). But beware – none of that is the real deal.

As I´ve also mentioned in my recent TEDx talk, we have to go out and meet other people. We need to get stuff done in the real world, and the real world has to provide us with feedback. This is not to say that all of us can fight off any kind of depressive episode at all times. But we should all be aware that a stitch in time saves nine…

 

Nico Rose - Flow

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