Q: Chuck, you seem like a pretty optimistic, happy guy, but I know you must face tough times like all the rest of us. What do you do to fight depression and be happy? — Down-and-out in Des Moines
A: Your chances for a happy and satisfying life are not overwhelmingly determined by genetics, but more by the choices you make in life.
In this New Year's series, I will give you 12 ways to live happier. And it all starts here in Part 1 with your primary relationships.
— Prioritize marriage and family over career and material success.
Marriage and family are prioritized when we draw boundaries first to meet the needs of our spouse and children. (Drawing better boundaries in life is always a path to happier living.)
This is easier said than done, I know. Relationships can seem so nebulous and success so measurable. But the truth is not merely, "If mama's not happy, no one's happy," rather, "When you prioritize your relationships at home, everyone will be happier, including you!"
C.S. Lewis, who was a professor of medieval and renaissance literature at Cambridge University, put it well: "The home is the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose, and that is to support the ultimate career."
Yet professor James P. Marshall, extension family and human development specialist at Utah State University, explained the challenge to balance home and work: "Many couples today are working and doing more than they have ever imagined they would. In approximately 70 percent of all U.S. marriages, both partners work outside the home. This may add up to more income, but may also add up to more stress, fatigue and tension in relationships."
In his online module, "The Busy-ness of Work & Marriage," Marshall gives 25 excellent ways to (better) balance work, marriage and family, including "I love you codes," "family meetings" and "Monday morning foreplay."
— Don't go it alone.
We were created for community, but all too often we try to overcome our hardships and depression alone.
Healthy and happy people have learned to harness the help of others. They surround themselves with people who mirror or motivate how they want to be. They also utilize the expertise of others. Those include therapists and physicians, who can prescribe antidepressants if the depression is major.
In an article on happiness and depression this past week in Men's Health magazine, Assistant Editor Cassie Shortsleeve encouraged readers to reach out to counselors, and particular those who have expertise in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), as a help to alleviate feelings of depression.
CBT is a two-pronged approach: "Half (of the therapy) targets the way you think — your faulty cognitions — and half targets your actions," clinical psychologist Rob Dobrenski, author of "Crazy: Notes on and off the Couch," explained to Men's Health.
— Practice small acts of kindness.
"Practicing small acts of kindness will make you a happier person, and the boost in mood stays with you for months," according to new research out of York University in Canada.
This study examined the effects of more than 700 people being kind to others, in small doses (only five to 15 minutes a day), over the course of a week. It discovered that performing a few simple good deeds per day raised happiness and lowered depression of the study participants.
Lead author Myriam Mongrain, associate professor of psychology in York's Faculty of Health, explained, "The concept of compassion and kindness resonates with so many religious traditions, yet it has received little empirical evidence until recently."
Mongrain added, "What's amazing is that the time investment required for these changes to occur is so small. We're talking about mere minutes a day."
We weren't created to be self-centered, but a blessing to others. Most people tend to believe that by helping others, they themselves will be depleted — but just the opposite is true.
By blessings others, you will be blessed. Helping others actually helps you. And the added benefit is it takes your attention off of your own problems. (No wonder serving others is a critical part of so many recovery programs.)
As the Scriptures say, "In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"
— Belong to a faith community.
A study released in the December 2010 American Sociological Review documented how "attending religious services regularly and having close friends in the congregation are key to having a happier, more satisfying life," according to USA Today.
"Numerous studies have shown that religious people report a higher level of well-being compared with the nonreligious," Chaeyoon Lim, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and lead author of the study, told the national newspaper.
Jeff Levin — distinguished chair and professor of epidemiology and population health, and professor of medical humanities at Baylor University and adjunct professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University and Medical Center — pointed also to "a study of Mexican Americans (that) shows that frequent church attendees report higher levels of well-being and experience less disability, fewer days in bed and fewer physical symptoms than less frequent attenders ... ."
In modern times, a score of clinical studies have been conducted regarding the relationship of faith, prayer, fitness and mental health — most validating the positive role and influence of religion.
For example, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology looked at how faith helped protect patients against symptoms of depression. Another study from George Mason University, published in Psychological Science, demonstrated how meditation could enhance mental abilities.
Ken Pargament of Bowling Green State University summarized what many of my readers have known for years: "There seems to be something special that spiritual resources offer in times of trouble."
Now there's some good news just in time to celebrate Christmas and the real reason for the season!
From my household to yours, merry Christmas and happy New Year!
(In Part 2, I will continue my "12 ways to live happier," with the goal of jump-starting your 2013 in a happier direction!)
Write to Chuck Norris (email@example.com) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com.