Depression is hard to define or describe, but we all know what it is and most people know from personal experience what it feels like. No one would ever choose to be depressed. It is a miserable, hopeless feeling. So if we would not choose depression, what emotion would we choose? What is the opposite of depression? We certainly do not want depression to characterize our days, so what do we want to be the banner over our lives? This is a really important question because the answer should determine the approach we take to dealing with depression. And the truth is, the approach most people choose is not leading and will not ultimately lead to the emotional condition they hope for. Many of the depression strategies promoted today claim to lead away from depression, and that is good, for what it’s worth. But just as important as what they lead from is what they lead to, and that is the problem.
If your house is on fire, it is not enough to run from the fire. You should also be running to the exit.
Most approaches for dealing with depression revolve around one of three strategies:
The strategy of denial would involve things like positive thinking exercises where by focus and repetition a person tricks himself into thinking he is not depressed. The strategy of distraction is the subject of many depression books. There are a thousand suggestions from changing the level of lighting in your home and workplace to engaging in more social activities to finding a hobby. The goal of these strategies is to distract a person from his or her melancholy. Doping is the most common strategy people employ today. Doping consists of using drugs to numb the pain of depression. Like taking strong pain medicines to treat a back ache, there are drugs that can mediate the most painful aspects of depression.
Is there value in these three approaches? Yes and no. It depends on the outcome a person wants. It depends on your answer to the question, “What is the opposite of depression?”
If a person’s desire is simply to flee from depression, then there is some merit to each of the strategies mentioned above. But if a person has a desire for something more than getting a couple steps removed from depression, then denial, distraction, and doping are not the ultimate answer.
In the Bible, the opposite of depression is JOY. Joy is the emotional state of peace and contentment that is not dependent on a person’s present circumstances. A person with real joy has joy even when life is difficult. Joy is the gold standard of the emotional condition every person desires.
There is a difference between running from depression and running toward joy. The strategies of denial, distraction, and doping may help a person get temporarily free from depression, but none of those strategies alone leads to the destination of joy.
What should a depressed person do? Is it a bad idea to use the popular strategies mentioned above?
I do not believe there is any harm in a responsible use of any strategy that brings temporary relief as long as it does not substitute for the ultimate pursuit of joy. If I have an abscess in one of my teeth, there is nothing wrong with using medicine to numb the pain and soothing music to distract my thoughts as long as I am also going to the dentist to get appropriate treatment to take care of the underlying problem.
So what is the path to joy?
The answer to that question is a little longer than can be covered in one short blog post, that is why I have written the book, Illuminating The Darkness: A Fresh and Effective Solution to Depression, Stress, and Anxiety. However, the answer is not so complicated as one might think.
Jesus once gave some profound instructions to his followers and concluded his thoughts by saying this: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). We can learn a few things from his concluding remark. First, we learn that what immediately precedes John 15:11 has been given as the pathway to joy. Second, we learn that the joy of Christ can be in each of us! Third, we learn that through these simple instructions that our joy can be full. Full means it cannot be increased. It is at its maximum level.
So what does all of this add up to? If you simply want to escape from depression and hide in the woods of uncertainty, then denial, distraction, and doping may be your ticket, but if you want to run to the place of maximum joy, then today needs to be the first day in you becoming a student of what Jesus said in John 15:1-11.
About the Author: Noel Dear is the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Heath, Ohio. He and his wife, Donna, have been married 16 years. They have three daughters, one of whom they recently adopted from China. Noel enjoys encouraging people in their walk with the Lord through writing. His blog can be found at www.AbideWithHim.com and his new book, Illuminating the Darkness, can be found at local bookstores or Amazon.com.