Depression is an insidious liar. It tells you that everything is bad. The sun doesn’t shine bright enough, you feel alone even with a phone full of contact numbers, and there is no glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. You can have everything going for you, but you feel like your life is still on pause.
British psychologists have found that reflecting on happier times can lift your mood. That came as no shock to me, but how do you think about good things when your brain has wired you to focus on the negative? Fortunately, those same British psychologists have come up with a way to help people do just that.
To help depressed patients bring back good memories with greater ease, Dalgleish and his colleagues tested the effectiveness of a well-known method used to enhance memory — known as the “method-of-loci” strategy — in a group of people with a history of depression. The strategy involves associating vivid memories with physical objects or locations — buildings a person might see on the way to work every day, for instance. To recall the memories, patients simply imagine commuting to work.For the study, researchers asked depressed patients to come up with 15 positive memories. One group was asked to create associations with their memories, while a second group was simply asked to group their memories by their similarities. At the end of the study, the participants were asked to recall as many of their 15 positive memories as they could.
Those who participated in the study were able to recall almost all of the 15 memories in the short term. A week later, the patients that used the psychologists’ “method-of-loci” strategy found it significantly easier to recall their positive memories compared to those who didn’t use the strategy.
As a Christian, I’m excited by the outcome of this study because focusing on the positive is a very biblical concept. God knew His children needed visual reminders. That’s why the Ten Commandments were carved in stone, why He gave us a brilliant rainbow as a reminder of His promise never to destroy mankind with flood waters again, and why He tells us to remember His death on the cross by participating in communion.
When I was a teenager, I journaled everything. I carried my journal with me to school and kept it next to my bed at night. Back then, I jotted down incredibly dark secrets about suicidal feelings, thoughts about living in a troubled family, and memories of past sexual abuse. It was good therapy – paper doesn’t judge. These days I make every effort to blog about good things. I don’t need help remembering the pain and now it’s time to document the healing and progress I’ve made, and the things God has done for me.
When was the last time you put a marker in a good moment, day, or season? Be deliberate about it. Sketch stuff, glue pictures to the pages, whatever you have to do to give yourself a visual reminder of something joyful that you can return to when despair sneaks up on you again. Philippians 4:8 – “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”