I’m not a counselor. But, due to the nature of what I do (naturopathic medicine), people end up spilling their guts to me all the time anyway. In general, I can say this: Lots of people struggle with depression and anxiety. Some of them face major challenges, or have a trauma history… but a lot of them are just inexplicably down a lot of the time.
Because of this, I spend a lot of time thinking and reading and studying about emotional well-being. What is it? How can we achieve it? What are emotions, anyway? And for that matter, which come first — thoughts, or emotions? Do we think negatively because we’re already feeling like crap, or do the negative thoughts breed the lousy emotions?
My main characters in The Liberty Box, Jackson and Kate, wrestle with these questions too. Shortly after they meet, Jackson tells Kate that negative emotions tell you there’s a problem in one of three areas: either there’s something wrong in your circumstances, there’s something wrong with your biochemistry (hormones or neurotransmitters), or there’s something wrong with your thinking. Your job is to figure out which it is.
(He doesn’t say exactly that because he’s an ice fisherman, not a scientist. But you get the idea.)
But even though Jackson knows this, all his life he’s struggled with finding his purpose. He’s trained in the art of mind control from a young age, and can control his body and his mind in ways that most people can only dream of. And yet, he wonders, what’s the point of it all? Can he perform these amazing feats for nothing? Or do his skills and abilities set him up to do something significant, something that only he can do?
In my own life (and in watching my patients — assuming circumstances can’t be altered and biochemistry is balanced), what I’ve started to figure out is that true joy lives in the convergence of three concepts:
- Gratitude for the past (i.e. focusing on the good instead of the bad — which according to Martin Seligman of “Learned Optimism” is way more effective than antidepressants),
- Appreciation for the present (i.e. living in the moment — aka mindfulness. Jackson is a MASTER at this), and
- Hope for the future (i.e. working toward a goal which you deem to be worthwhile. Doing the same thing day-in and day-out while striving toward nothing kills excitement and joy. As Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl says,“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.”).
I believe that all three have to be present at the same time for contentment, peace, and joy to follow.
(Not to spoil the end of the series… but Jackson and Kate will figure this out too. Amid lots of carnage and chaos and quite a lot of stuff blowing up. I promise it’ll be spectacular.) 🙂
P.S. Stay tuned for a cover reveal for “The Liberty Box”! It’s almost done and I am SO EXCITED ABOUT IT!!!