aging parents, midlife, personal growth

Finding Purpose Can Help Fight Feeling Down

Finding Purpose Can Help Fight Feeling Down

Everyone has times when they’re feeling down – that’s normal. But to feel down more often than not over a prolonged period of time is not ok.  So how can we pull ourselves up and out of those blues?

Purpose, true and authentic purpose, is one way that can help fight feeling down.

I’m not suggesting it fixes clinical depression. I’m not a psychologist and I wouldn’t dare suggest how depression should be treated.

I’m talking about the sadness we feel on those rainy foggy days (like today if you’re in the northeast!). Sometimes we feel down for a few days or even weeks.

We feel down and sometimes even a little lost.

We trudge through our work day or whatever else is on our to-do lists..but with little to no joy and without even a specific reason for why we feel so blue.

Was it the new line we saw on our face this morning in the mirror? Or the never-ending pile of dirty dishes in the sink? Or maybe the snippy tone of a coworker’s email?

It could be nearly nothing, and it could be almost anything, that makes us want to cry or at the very least, slump our shoulders in defeat.

I feel down some days but I’m seeing it even more regularly in my 83 year old mother. She’s ornery (which is not totally a new thing for her, sorry mom) but she is also frequently sad.

After trying repeatedly to “happy her up” by taking her shopping or by visiting and talking, or bringing the kids with me to brighten her day…I realized that she was only happy momentarily and that as soon as I left her, she was feeling down again.

I figured out it’s not possible for me to permanently fix her feeling down.

So I started thinking about exactly what she had to be down or sad about. She still lives independently and has a nice home not far from me. I visit her and give her a hand with things at least three times a week. She has friends who call her regularly, she is relatively healthy, and she is able to take walks and good care of Coco Chanel (her adoring Chihuahua). So why the heck is she always feeling so down?

Purpose. She doesn’t have purpose.

For decades she worked and cleaned and cooked and shopped and put her family first. She took care of us in whatever ways she felt helpful. In later years, she babysat the grandkids, and was a guidance counselor to our family whenever any of us had a problem to deal with.

Now, although she is certainly loved, she is not needed in those ways anymore. Similar to the blues my newly empty nester friends are feeling.

To her credit, she’s done her job and we’ve all grown to be independent and able to figure out our own stuff…even down to the grandkids (who are not even really kids anymore).

I thought, if she felt she still had purpose, not some fabricated purpose I might come up with and assign to her, but authentic purpose that she believed in – she could fight feeling down far better.

Enter the prayer shawl.

My mom is a knitter and she has been knitting prayer shawls to donate to people with serious illnesses who truly need to feel they have a warm “hug” around their shoulders and know that someone is saying a prayer on their behalf.

Knitting these prayer shawls is purpose. It’s enough to allow her to feel needed and to believe that she is serving a worthwhile cause and still making a difference, even at 83.

“The opposite of depression is purpose.” Cathy Heller

Refocusing on what you got out of bed to accomplish today is a starting point to push past sadness. Regardless of whatever got you out of bed this morning – focusing your thoughts on how what you do today serves you or others is a bee-line to purpose and to fight feeling down.

Serving yourself might the answer. It may take the form of a new career or side hustle, taking up a new hobby or activity that you never had the time for before, or…

Maybe your purpose needs to come from serving others.

Consider volunteering for a non-profit organization that serves those you truly feel compassion for – like a senior center, or animal humane society, or shelter for women, or a faith institution.

But let’s not further stress ourselves out since we may already be feeling down. Purpose doesn’t have to be some super altruistic sainthood-earning thing. It can as simple as just resolving to finally clean out a closet.

“Studies show that one of the best ways to lift your mood is to engineer an easy success, such as tackling a long-delayed chore.” Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project

Whatever purpose you feel fits you best at this moment in time, focus on it and go for it and you will likely begin to feel a little less down.

Cheers! – Marlene

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