In this episode my guest, Carrie Wrigley, discusses her new book- Your Happiness Toolkit- 16 Strategies for Overcoming Depression and Building a Joyful, Fulfilling Life. Carrie shares what the book is about, how it can help, who it can benefit, and why it is important to build Your Happiness Toolkit, particularly as these relate to making a successful transition into retirement. This is Part 1 of a two-part interview with the author. In the next episode (Part 2), Carrie and I discuss the tools available and how to use these tool to build Your Happiness Toolkit.
RS: The topic for today’s episode is Your Happiness Toolkit.-16 Strategies for Overcoming Depression and Building a Joyful, Fulfilling Life. And the topic of today’s episode is the title of a new book by my guest, Carrie M. Wrigley. Carrie is a licensed clinical social worker, a counselor of over 30 years, public speaker and performer. Carrie loves equipping people with the tools, insights, and inspiration to heal from the inside out. She enjoys gathering and sharing practical strategies that people can use to bring hope, healing and joy to themselves and others.
One of the things that I found really powerful was a quote that Carrie had in chapter one which she said- “Learning how to be happy therefore is perhaps the single most important life skill we can acquire and that we can extend to our children and to our loved ones.” Carrie’s book can be purchased on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble and is available in both paperback and eBook formats.
RS: She also has a companion workbook that is coming out soon and if you go to our website, which is CarrieWrigley.com C A R R I E W R I G L E Y.com- for those listeners out there. If you look under the Books tab, you can sign up for her newsletter and you will receive the workbook when it becomes available. And the workbook is coming out soon, correct. Carrie?
RS: Perfect. Carrie and I are going to cover the book and the topic in two episodes. We will do part two in the next podcast/vlog episode and in that one, what we will do is dive deeper into the tools that are part of the Happiness Toolkit and also how these tools can be used to build your own personal Happiness Toolkit. In this (today’s) episode, what Carrie and I want to do is to provide an overview of the book, what the book is about, how it can help people, who it can benefit and why it’s important to build your Happiness Toolkit, particularly as it pertains to making a successful transition into retirement. So welcome, Carrie. Glad to have you here to talk about your new book!
CW: Thank you. It’s great to be here.
RS: So before we begin our conversation, Carrie, is there anything that you want to add to the introduction? Anything that I missed? Anything you’d like to expand on?
CW: Sure. Well, let’s just show your audience what we’re talking about. This is the book Your Happiness Toolkit- 16 Strategies for Overcoming Depression and Building a Joyful, Fulfilling Life. Now some people might read that word depression right here and think, oh, that’s not for me. I’m not depressed. Nobody has ever given me that diagnosis. You’ll see that’s a little tiny word among many. And, and the image is very much a happy, hopeful, joyous image because really the focus of the book is about moving to a state of happiness or maintaining a state of happiness if we’re already there. And so it’s not a book about the disease of depression and how terrible it fuels and stuff. There’s a few sections related to that, but mostly about moving on from wherever you are to a state of greater happiness, productivity, resilience and joy.
RS: Perfect. So I was excited to have Carrie on as a guest when I saw her new book come out because the book and the topic of the book is so very important as many people struggle with happiness and depression as they transition into retirement. Carrie has a number of years of experience counseling people in this area, but also Carrie is going through some of these issues herself because her husband, Steve, retired recently in the last few years and two of their five children, the last two of their…the youngest two of their five children just went off to college. So they are now empty nesters. So not only is Carrie experienced helping other people in this area, she’s dealing with some of these areas on her own.
CW: Yeah, yeah, that’s accurate. Especially over these last three weeks since the kids left. Um, every so often I, myself, the author of the happiness toolkit, I’ve had my moments of, Oh, what do I do with myself now? Oh, I’m so lonely. Oh, the house is so quiet. And my husband’s like, honey, um, maybe you ought to look at your book. Because this too, you can get through. This too, you can weather.
But yeah, life’s transitions, even the normal ones, the ones we look forward to, you know, retirement and graduation and having a new baby or having that last baby go off to college or getting married or whatever. These are just normal life changes can so easily be that sort of trigger event that pushes us into some of our not so pleasant emotional states. And knowing how to weather those when, not if, they occur, I think it’s one of the most important things we can learn. And especially during this very, very momentous phase of moving into retirement.
RS: Yeah. None of us can be happy all the time. Right. Carrie? Even those who wrote the book on it (the topic).
RS: So let’s jump into the questions, Carrie. And the first one I have for you…and I always find this interesting when I interview authors because putting together a book and just doing all the work that not only just putting the book together, but getting it published and all of that just is just a tremendous amount of work. So what led you to write the book and what was the goal of the book when you set out to write it?
CW: Sure. The fundamental goal of the book is providing a consistent available resource for people to be able to look to, to be able to weather as I mentioned, life’s various challenges and what inspired the writing of it was twofold. Um, first of all here in my counseling office, what I’ve done for years is do what I can for people during the hour or so that they’re paying for with me. But I also, pretty consistently refer people and have referred people for 30 years to books. You can see some of those behind me on my bookshelf. So, if I introduced an idea in that hour they’re paying for. And then they go home and they have hours they don’t have to pay very much for to be able to review concepts in a book and do exercises and work through a workbook or whatever and then come back and we talk about it some more.
CW: So, I’ve had that strategy for years with a number of my clients, if we were working on several different issues, you know, they would come back to me after a while with a huge stack of books and say, okay, so you told me to read all 10 or 15 of these books. So, which one do you really want me to read? I don’t have enough time to read every chapter of every one of these books. So what should I start with? And I finally realized from that feedback from my clients that I didn’t really need them to read every word of every chapter of every one of those books. They were like little snippets, little nuggets that were so valuable, little techniques that I gleaned from this one and this one and this one. And, and I thought, how great would it be to put all of those together under one cover?
CW: And then in a similar way, last summer I was teaching a series of classes on emotional wellness and overcoming depression and so on. And throughout the entire week I had people come up to me, my students, that basically said, I love your teaching, I love your class, but, but where’s your book? You know, because this is one week out of 52 weeks in the year. What do I do the other 51 weeks when you’re not in right in front of me? I need your book. We need your book.
And so between those two things, I decided as the kids were getting ready to leave, it was time to finally gather all of those ideas that have been so helpful to me and to others that I’ve taught and counseled over the years, put them all in one place, organized and integrated in such a way that, um, those, all of those great ideas are, are available and very easy to reference manner.
RS: That’s perfect. That’s so great that people have all of those resources under one cover so they don’t have to go searching in other areas for them. So, who is the book written for?
CW: Basically there’s three intended audiences. The first and central audience of course is those who struggle, you know, with depression, with anxiety, with other kinds of dark moods. People that feel a need for relief from those conditions. Some of those people are in counseling with me, some are in counseling or other kinds of treatment with other practitioners. The vast majority of people of course who struggle with these disorders don’t have access to services of any kind. And so for that large group of strugglers, if you want to call them that, people who struggle with these kinds of conditions, that’s kind of the first and central audience.
CW: And, and if people are in counseling or another treatment, the ideas in the book can help to sort of guide and facilitate and educate and expedite what they’re doing with their established counselor or treatment provider. If they’re not, then it can be a really, really valuable self-help step-by-step model that they can work through. And even if people are in counseling, there’s a lot of that self-help step-by-step stuff they can do. So that’s the first audience, people who are actively struggling with these kinds of problems.
CW: The second audience is people who are trying to help. That might be the counselor, that might be the medical professional, that might be the school counselor or the principal or teacher. I find so frequently that people in those other kinds of helping or teaching professions find themselves in a position of needing to provide some sort of support and assistance. But if it’s not their primary career, it’s not really where they’re trained. And so I intended this book also as a resource manual for those individuals to be able to provide help. Another profession that this is particularly designed for is those in the ministry and in clergy. You know, whether they’re part of a paid clergy that sometimes those individuals will get a certain amount of pastoral counseling, training and experience.
In my particular religious organization, those in my church leadership positions and teaching positions are filled by volunteers, by people who are actually given the opportunity to do that work. And they might be carpenters or plumbers or electricians or preschool teachers or whatever. They haven’t the slightest idea how to deal with these problems. And yet all of a sudden they’re on the other side of a desk with somebody who is hurting and saying, I’m depressed, I’m anxious, my marriage is in trouble.
CW: What do I do? And this plumber or electrician or whatever, is like, ah, I’m not really sure. So, you know, the book is also intended as a resource for those individuals that are trying in whatever capacity, help as well as family members and friends and neighbors and coworkers that… all of us know somebody who’s doing worse than us emotionally. All of us know someone who’s really struggling, it’s the nature of the world that we live in. And so for all of us that are in that sort of helping capacity whether professional or in a more, you know, nonprofessional capacity. This book is intended as a resource manual to be able to refer quickly to a lot of ideas that can help.
CW: And then the third basic audience as people who are essentially doing pretty well emotionally and want to keep it that way. You know, we live in a world where more and more and more people over the process of time are falling into these conditions, you know, anxiety, depression, addiction and so on. And so how do we keep ourselves, our children, our loved ones, our students, those we’re working with in whatever context. How do we keep ourselves happy and productive and well in a world, in a culture where more and more people are kind of going down that downward spiral? How do we keep ourselves well?
Basically, what the book is it is designed to do is inform people as to the difference between patterns and habits that contribute to that happiness, wellness, productivity, and so on versus patterns that may contribute to that downward spiral. And being able to tell the difference clearly between the two so that we can make clear choices to go in the direction of what will help us become and remain happy and well and productive and so on. So for that third group, people who are already doing pretty well, fantastic. You know there are also wonderful audience for this book to be able to maintain that happiness and wellness and to be able to help inspire and educate other people around them.
RS: Excellent. And I will add retirement coaches are a good, group to read the book.
CW: Uh, yeah, absolutely.
RS: As I was reading through the book, Carrie, there’s just so many things that you talk about in there and I…I just…it’s so is relatable to the topic of transitioning into retirement because that’s one of the time periods during a person’s life where things don’t always go as planned. They aren’t always as rosy as we think they’re going to be. And it’s easy for us to slip into becoming unhappier. And if that continues to spiral, then all of a sudden it is depression at some point for a lot of people. So I think that the book, the book is really good from my perspective as a retirement coach that people need to read, again to continue to be happy if they’re happy because that transition into retirement sometimes is the trigger for, for multiple reasons.
RS: And maybe we can cover some of those in our next episode. But um, so yeah, I would just add those people transitioning into retirement. It’s a perfect, perfect book for you and for retirement coaches because we work with a lot of those people who are dealing with those types of challenges.
RS: So jumping into the next question, so you covered this a little bit before Carrie, but I just want to make sure that… because the term depression is in the title of the book… I don’t want that to scare people off. So, the term depression I think oftentimes is misunderstood. I think sometimes it’s viewed incorrectly. Sometimes people look at it as it’s something that other people are affected with or other people have to deal with. It’s not something I have to deal with it. Sometimes we believe that it can only be corrected or made better by counseling and by medication or some combination of those.
So, I think a lot of times it’s just the whole topic of depression is misunderstood. So that’s kind of a lot (to unpack). So there’s kind of three points to that I want to… I want to ask you about. The first one is how is depression defined? So let’s start with that. How do you define depression or how should we look at or define depression?
CW: Well, it’s to distinguish a helpful definition of that versus the more unhelpful version depression that you referred to. In the last 10, 15 years, the advertising industry has made it very prominent (creating) the opinion that depression is kind of this permanent disabling brain disease. You have to, you know, have their product for the rest of your life to, to survive. And that it’s characterized by low energy and they’ll mood and not feeling good and crying all the time.
And it’s assumed, if you’re experiencing that at this moment, that that means you have a chemical imbalance and your brain is basically not functioning properly and it needs their product to function properly. That’s a relatively new idea, historically. Even 30 years ago when I was a counselor in training, the idea of depression was at that point that it was, uh, most often fairly temporary affliction that, yeah, was characterized by low mood and, and so on.
CW: But that in most cases, people would move through it without you even doing a whole lot of anything, you know, within a few months. That’s a very different definition than the one that has become promulgated in the media. And even beyond that, you know, depression, those more serious and…what we often think of is major depression where the person can’t get out of bed and their energy is low and they’re crying all the time and they feel like a failure and maybe they even want to die. You know, that’s the most serious version of depression. Depression is very much a spectrum illness, a continuum, illness. You know, somebody might be, I’d be at that very, very severe level of depression, but they could also be at this very, very mild level, even if it’s for an afternoon or an hour or a day as I was myself a couple of days ago when I was missing my kids and whatever, you know, pretty normal situational stress and I felt depressed, I felt a little hopeless.
CW: I felt a little lost, you know, so all the way from this here to, you know, Kind of just these normal bumps and adjustment situations we may go through might be anywhere in that continuum. The fact that we’re at this moment feeling, you know, desperate and alone and worthless and whatever doesn’t necessarily mean we have this devastating permanent illness. Just because we’re going through something hard right now that we can learn skills to be able to weather and move through it in a way that is more effective for us. And that’s basically what the book is designed to do, is to help us wherever we are on that continuum, this moment to move back towards that happier side of that continuum.
RS: So the second question I have kind of through all of that (long) description that I had was… why is the depression often misunderstood and what are some of the misconceptions about depression?
CW: Yeah, well, depression in our day and age is largely misunderstood because thousands and thousands of dollars have been spent to make sure that we do, you know, that we, that we all know that most doctors supposedly according the advertising theme that da da da. I was shocked when I actually looked at the actual research and what actual doctors and scientists and neurologists and chemists and so on were actually saying, which had nothing to do…they had no resemblance with what I was seeing in the media.
Um, so the concept that if you’re feeling sad or overwhelmed or whatever, today, that means you have a chemical imbalance and your brain is missing certain chemicals and you need our product. That has become virtually a universal almost something quote everybody knows. But like so many things we see in the media, just cause everybody knows it and believes it (to be true) doesn’t mean it’s true or has had ever had any basis in reality. And so, feeling, you know, out of sorts or, or even desperate or alone today does not predict that your whole future is going to be terrible because your brain imbalanced.
CW: It just means you’re having a really, really hard day or week or year or transition or whatever it is. And you know, you can find, you can learn ways of, as efficiently as possible moving through that transition rather than just being numb so you don’t feel the impact of that. So the misconception that depression is this devastating permanent illness is fairly recent. And I think in all honesty, it makes the problems so much worse when people embrace that idea.
Because in addition to, you know, their kid moving out or their retirement or whatever, realistic problem they were having, now they’re told, oh, you have this permanent illness that is going to affect your most important organ, your brain for the rest of your life. And the only thing that you can do is take this product that gives you side effects, withdrawal effects and whatever. That’s super depressing. So, that is my least favorite intervention for depression. There’s so many better ones. There’s so many things that teach people to heal from the inside to weather, from the inside, whatever it is, and gain strength and perspective and courage as people have for the hundreds of thousands of years of human history before these products were on the shelves.
RS: Right? Yeah. And this is a topic for another, another time, but it does seem like in so many areas of the medical industry, whatever it is…that the solution is to give somebody a pill or pills and that’s going to solve their problem and we’re…
CW: They don’t even claim to solve it. It’s like this is how you will manage your symptoms and it can do so much better than manage. You can heal, you can move on, you can grow.
RS: Right. But it’s just that there’s just so many instances of the drug industry kind of…and it’s (really) all about the money (profits)…really is what it comes down to (I have digressed!). But, okay, so question number three on that is… it’s important to identify symptoms of depression and to identify these and, and, um, and. I need to think about where I was going with this, Carrie! So how do we, or what do people need to watch for, to start to identify these…, so now that we understand what depression is and how it’s misunderstood… how do we start to identify some of the symptoms of depression either in ourselves or typically around in, in retirement. A lot of times it’s maybe in the spouse or it could be in (something we notice) our kids or other family members (are struggling with). So how do we go about beginning to identify some of those symptoms?
CW: Well, you know, one of the fundamental things of course is depression is a mood disorder. And so when an individual, whether it’s yourself or someone else or slips into it, you know, a dark, sad, hopeless mood, especially when that mood goes on for a long period of time. That’s of course one of the earliest telltale signs. Along with that dark mood, a lot of times there are sort of, you know, dark thoughts that go along with it. Thoughts of hopelessness, thoughts of this is never going to get better, and all of that, a lot of times will have a physical impact that will kind of drain people’s energy and make it hard to sleep because they’re busy thinking those dark, depressing thoughts and so on.
There’s a lot of symptoms of depression. Those are some of the most fundamental ones. Sometimes people won’t feel like eating or they’ll feel like eating the wrong things too much or, or whatever, but it’s basically a disruption from a healthy emotional and behavioral pattern that we want, that we’re concerned about.
RS: Okay. Yeah. I think a lot of times people go through these phases (have these things occur) and they probably don’t realize it. Maybe there is something there that they need to address.
CW: Yeah. Yeah. And it’s important to address it when it’s still little. Remember I said it was a spectrum disorder. If you catch it when it’s here, then it doesn’t tend to get more and more complicated and more and more deep until it gets to here. You know, every time I’ve dealt with somebody with that full on severe disabling, major depression, it didn’t start here. In the commercials it does because that is the product, but in real life there’s this trigger, this trigger, this trigger, this transition, this loss, this difficulty that finally it all comes together in this.
And because people haven’t had the skills to deal with those preliminary things, it can be one little tiny thing that ends up seeming to bring about this devastating condition. But really it’s tended to be growing over a long period of time. And so, learning to manage it at those smaller levels, is a really powerful prevention strategy so it doesn’t progress in its severity.
RS: Well that sounds like the key then Carrie, is to catch it when, when it is a little bit. (just starting)..I think that’s when it’s harder to identify too because a lot of people think, oh, I’ll be better tomorrow. I don’t have to worry about that. So yeah, I think that’s the key for people is to identify that (these symptoms) early on if you can.
CW: It’s the earliest signs, when you’re starting to feel a little alone, energy feels a little low. So, what can I do, well, if I’m just a little low to get myself feeling better rather than just hoping it’ll go away or anesthetizing it and then having to deal with it.
RS: And that’s part of what we’ll cover in the next episode. Some of those things that the little things you (we) can do to start to turn that around earlier in the process. So, let’s jump into… now that we’ve talked about the topic of depression.
RS: Let’s jump into (talk about) the book and the layout of the book because I think you were very intentional when you laid out the book and how the book could be used by people. I want you to talk about how you laid out the book and how the reader can use the book. Maybe in terms of the table of contents, the five sections of the book, the resources at the end of the book. So tell us about how the book is laid out and how people can use the book?
CW: So as you mentioned, it has a table of contents that I intentionally kept very, very short. It’s like a couple of words for each chapter. The whole thing is two pages so that you can instantly see which of these various topics is most relevant to my current situation. So it’s designed so that whether it’s yourself or you’re trying to help somebody else, you can quickly go to the section that is most useful for you. And if you don’t have time to read through the entire thing.
So, the table of contents is in and of itself an important resource. And then the layout of the book is basically in five sections. Section one I call the Quick Start and just like the name suggests, it’s basically a way of jumping into the information. Jumping into the idea that again, depression is something that you can heal and manage from the inside out by learning things rather than this devastating permanent disability sort of version.
CW: I go into how to assess what exactly is going on in the life of the person who’s struggling, whether it’s yourself or someone else. What are the particular factors associated with this particular stress? What are some of those sort of cultural sociological forces I mentioned before that are making more of us vulnerable. Um, so that we understand where this condition is coming from in, in ourselves or in that other person that’s struggling. And then throughout section one, I also with each chapter sprinkle in a transformational tool, which are practical exercises that you can do literally from the first chapter to start feeling better. So it’s designed very much like the quick start manual that you get with your new DVD player or your new electronic appliance that you read that little quick start first as a, you can hurry in, start doing the things that you most want to do with that device. And then when you have more time, you can get into the full manual. That’s kind of how the quick start is designed.
Then the next three sections, section two, three and four get into the toolkit itself. Level one of that toolkit, describes what I call inborn traits. I realized as I thought back through some of my own hard situations, and those that I love and those that I care for, that some of the things that help the most in, in recovering and getting through those times, aren’t things you need a PhD to understand. They’re literally things we’re born with. I’ve also become a grandmother during this last couple of years and I’ve learned so much from my little grandkids who are currently two years old and four months old. You know, nobody has to teach those little kids how to be happy. They have these wide smiles and they’re thrilled with the world.
CW: And, and so often in my counseling people will…that are struggling and (will) say… Oh, I just saw a picture of myself as a little kid. I was so happy then. Where’d that little happy boy or girl go? And I realized there are some aspects of being happy that we literally are born with. And that’s fantastic news, particularly for somebody that doesn’t have a counselor, that doesn’t have access to resources because those are things because of already experienced them can be pretty easily relearned, reactivated, because we’ve already had some experience with them. So that’s section two which is level one of the toolkit, inborn traits.
Then section three gets into level two of the toolkit, which I call learned skills. These are things we’re not necessarily born with, but that in most cases we have at least some exposure to by the time we’re eight or 10 years old. There are things that we learn as we go through school, as we live in families, as we make friends, and similar to the first category of things, there are things that, because we’ve already… most of us had some life experience with that, they’re pretty easy to activate. Not quite as easy as the inborn traits, but still pretty familiar.
CW: And then, section four of the book gets into level three of the toolkit. That’s advanced skills. These are the kind of things a lot of times you do need professional guidance to really do a good job of (with). And so I’ve tried to put a lot of those professional insights into that last section. I call these the power tools. You’re not going to give a chainsaw or a power drill to your three year old. That would be silly. You know, you’d give him a plastic hammer and then maybe when they’re eight or 10 years old, you give them the real steel hammer and then maybe when they’re 15, 16, 18 year old years old, then you entrust them with a power tool.
Well, in a similar way, those advanced strategies are things that I tend to not even start with clients until those, the skills in the earlier two sections are functional because they’re more demanding. They take longer to learn. They take kind of adult intelligence to be able to master. So they’re harder, but they’re really, really powerful. And so I saved them for last.
And then section five is basically additional resources. And there I have several things in there to be able to expand the benefit of the book. First of all, in a very extensive bibliography that follows the same format of the book, the same chapters, the same topics. So that say if a person wants to learn more about what we want to say… let’s say one of the tools they’re learning about is nutrition, how nutrition affects mental health. have this whole section of the bibliography that’s specific to nutrition. So if they want to go find some other books or resources they don’t have to use… most bibliographies are a to z, everything that’s ever mentioned, the entire book. In this one, it’s, it’s designed to support the content. So, it’s very topically based.
And so, as you mentioned, for life coaches or a therapist or that busy teacher or principal, a church leader or whatever. That’s trying to help so-and-so with such. If what’s in the book doesn’t seem to be enough and more resources are needed. That’s a real great way to kind of expand upon what they’ve learned from the book.
CW: And then the very end of the book is something that I call the quick access guide. You remember I said in the beginning, the table of contents is two pages. The quick access guide is more like 20, and it follows the same structure. But in the quick access guide, the book is designed with, with bullet points or subheadings, for each chapter. So you have like chapter one, you know, one, then chapter one, two, then chapter one, three, you know, so these different headings. So I can go into the quick access guide really quickly and say, so where was that one part where she said that this, this thing, here, find that particular thing or find that particular exercise or that particular writing technique or whatever for myself or that person I’m helping, and instantly be able to follow those numbers back to that exact thing in the book.
In all of these wonderful self-help books behind me, one of the things I was frustrated about is, you read this gem, this nugget, and then you’re sitting there with that client and for the life of you cannot find it. And so with this thing because it draws on so many great skills and perspectives from so many people. I organized it in such a way that it is a resource manual that’s very, very easy in an encyclopedic way to draw back to.
RS: And I, yeah, and I think that’s a key point to is. So if somebody reads the book and then wanted to refer back to it later, it’s very easy because you can go use that search guide to be able to find what you’re looking for. And then the other point too, and maybe you talked about this, Carrie, the book doesn’t necessarily need to be read cover to cover, right? You can jump into certain sections that apply to your personal situation.
CW: Or that situation of that person you’re trying to help.
RS: Correct. Yup. Yup. Perfect. So you may have talked about this before, but let’s try to summarize. So the, the title of the Book Is Your Happiness Toolkits. So, what is a happiness toolkit and how does it work? I think you just covered some of this, but let’s talk about that a little bit more.
CW: Yeah. Basically a happiness toolkit, I define as a set of resources or tools that the person in question uses to create and maintain their own happiness. And that’s going to be different for every individual. One of the things also that I really built into the book is a lot of customization and individualization because what makes me happy and what keeps me happy as an individual may be very, very different than, than what is true for somebody else.
There are some general principles, you know, but for example, I am never happier than when I get to perform. That is one of the things I just love to do. I love to be in the spotlight. I love to sing, I love to act, whatever. For other people, that would be the very, very last thing and it would strike absolute terror into their heart. Or in a similar way, one of the aspects of my son’s happiness tool kit is mountain biking. He loves to go down the mountains and do these really technical trails. You know where there’s tree roots showing. I get on those trails. I literally fall over every time and end up with some wound that takes me three months to recover from. I hate to tell you, mountain biking is not part of my happiness tool kit, you know?
And so being able to figure out what exactly are the particular customized, individualized strategies that I can use for myself to heal from the inside that are meaningful to me that I can, like a literal toolkit, I can take out at any time and use to help myself or to help somebody else. So it’s customized, it’s individualized, it’s portable. You can take it into any situation you need. You don’t need to go to the pharmacist or the doctor or anybody else to use it. Something that you designed for yourself from these various options you have available to you.
RS: Good. Good. Yeah, I’m looking forward to our next episode because we can dive into that a little bit more and help people start to build their, their happiness toolkit. So I think that’ll be fun to jump into that.
RS: So why should somebody build a happiness toolkit?
CW: I call this the fourth whys. The first why is because you and only you can build it. Only, you know, what makes you happy. I just described in that last little segment, you know, things that make me happy versus my son. So, if my son was to try to design my happiness toolkit, he might get me a nice new mountain bike and he might, you know, find some really technical trails and that’s not going to work for me. You know, only I know what really makes me happy.
And so, taking accountability and responsibility for ourselves, we can really, really fine tune and customize what it is that we need. And that’s what I mean by, because only you really can build it. Nobody else, no one knows what it feels like to be in your skin, to have your life experience, have your particular strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes and so on.
CW: So only you can customize to the level that’s needed. The second thing is because it is more and more needed in the world that we live in. I mentioned that we live in a world where more and more people are becoming depressed, anxious, addicted, stressed in their relationships, low self-esteem, um, and behaviorally disordered autistic, sick in general and so on.
We live in a world that is so stressed and becoming so disconnected and where we relate, for example, more to our electronic devices and we relate to other people. We eat stuff that was made in a factory rather than stuff that grew out of the ground with all the enzymes and you know, a natural nourishment we really need and so on and so on. We’re living in a world that makes us sick. The good news is, you know, side by side with, with artificial stuff, the damaging stuff is the same thing that has been sustaining human beings since the first human being appeared on the earth. It’s still there, you know.
CW: But sometimes we can get distracted away from the things that are really helpful by all these sort of new things that have appeared that can distract our attention and where, advertised or otherwise, sort of directed to focus on these things over here, but lose track of these things that are ultimately more important.
So it’s really crucial, more and more crucial, that we teach ourselves, that we teach our children and others, the difference between, again, what helps and what hurts so we can make clear, focused decisions, informed decisions so that we’re not, we’re depending on the media and the advertising industry to inform us of what we need next, which they are very, very happy to do, and maybe very inconsistent with we need.
CW: The third reason was someone should build their happiness toolkit is very simply because a happy life is a much more rewarding, satisfying, and productive life. It feels good to be happy. And when we’re happy, we’re much more productive in whatever we do, whether it’s work or volunteer work or our relationships. Somebody who is in a depressed state, whether it’s the very severe depressed state or even kind of that downers, you know, sort of mild state is simply not as productive. And at the end of the day it doesn’t have as much satisfaction in a job well done. It doesn’t provide as much visible, positive results as somebody who’s feeling happy and confident and resilient and productive.
So, we simply get better results when we feel good emotionally and when we don’t. And so it’s really, really important that we keep ourselves in the best state possible to be able to enjoy the most satisfying and productive and rewarding existence possible at whatever stage of life. But I think that’s especially true again of retirement.
CW: And then finally the fourth why for creating a happiness toolkit is because your level of happiness impacts those around you positively or negatively. Depression is notoriously contagious. And for a while that was assumed to be sort of a genetic issue. You know, if, if my mother is depressed, then clearly she gave me the evil genes, so I’m probably going to be depressed too. That’s the way it was taken. And of course that feeds very nicely into the sort of advertising industry’s version of depression. But more recent research has called that view into question because it’s been found, for example, that if you are a roommate of someone who is depressed, if you are married to someone who’s depressed, if you are a coworker of someone who’s depressed, your chances of depression go up just as much as if it was a family member.
CW: That’s not about genetics, that’s about the contagion of depression. It’s depressing to be around depressive behavior, depressive thoughts, depressive moods, depressive interactions. It’s simply very depressing, you know? And so that’s actually one of the things that ends up being the most motivating why for my clients, because they recognize when I struggle emotionally, I may not think I’m worth enough to do the healing work for myself. But I don’t want to mess up my kid or my grandkid, you know, I don’t want to ruin my marriage. I don’t want to hurt the people that I care about. And so for their sake, if not for my own. And of course, hopefully it’s for both.
But that can be a very motivating for a lot of people that I will be most helpful and serviceable and positive for the people that I love if I’m in good shape. So I need to know how to get myself in good shape, keep myself in good shape so that I can serve and love and support them in the ways that I want to for their benefit as well as my own.
RS: Yep. And all of those four whys really again tie into directly into people in retirement struggling with retirement and why it’s important again to build that happiness toolkit in retirement.
CW: Yeah, absolutely.
RS: So one last question, Carrie. So from your experience, why do people in retirement sometimes have a tough time with their happiness, which of course if that continues on can lead into depression?
CW: Right, right. Early in the book, in the first section I talk about triggers for depression and other emotional challenges. And retirement actually plays into five of the eight triggers that are identified… there may even more given the individual’s situation. I’ll just kind of go through those briefly. One of the most common triggers for depression is grief, losing somebody that’s important to you. Now of course the ultimate version of grief is when somebody dies and, and obviously that becomes more and more and more likely the older that we, I remember my grandfather would spend, you know, at least an hour every day going through the newspaper and the deaths like, well, this friend died and this one, and I’m more and more alone.
But even beyond that, there’s lots of forms of grief, you know, and… I felt this tremendous amount of grief, for example, when I left my graduate school experience at the end of 20 years of formal education to go home that next day and did not have anywhere I had to be or anything I had to do or anything I had to learn or anyone to hang out with. Because school had been my life and all of a sudden my life is over. That is life that I knew.
And I find that in retirement is that even more, you know, common version of grief that all those associations and, and even that the grief over myself, I remember I was the person who was respected and honored. And I had a reason to put on nice clothes every day and people treated me with respect and (I had) grief for that part of my life being over.
CW: Even if I looked forward to not having to go to work every day when it actually hits, you know, the loss of those cherished relationships with colleagues, with clients, with myself as the version of myself I was when I was working, are all very profound triggers for depression.
The second trigger associated with that is transition. And I’ve referred to this a couple of times already in our discussion. Transition is a potent trigger, you know, and I learned that from that very, very difficult time that I went through that I just referred to and I graduated ironically with my master’s degree. I went through the deepest depressive episode of my life up to that point. I didn’t understand until I learned about transition being a very powerful trigger for depression. And then I understood it. And not only graduation, but as I mentioned, having a new baby or sending your child off to college or retirement. Just moving to a new house, your dream house can be a terrible trigger for depression because all of a sudden, again, everything’s new and you haven’t figured out the new rules and what works in this environment no longer really works in this environment.
CW: You have to reinvent yourself and reinvent your relationships and your sense of purpose and identity. That’s hard. It’s really hard. And we go through those normal transitions multiple times throughout our lives, but most of the time we don’t recognize that those normal transitions that we all expect and even look forward to, can be potent triggers for those kinds of emotional upsets.
By definition, retirement is one of the hugest of those normal transitions. The next one is conflict. And, this is one that’s been interesting to learn about first from my clients and then in my own relationship when, when my husband retired last year. I heard from my grandmother that she hated it when my grandpa retired. She hated it. People all of a sudden… she was kind of a private person. She had her little routine, whatever. And all of a sudden she put it, he’s always there. So, you know she no longer has those quiet moments (where) she can just sit on the front porch. He’s coming in,, so whatcha doing or whatever. She finally went back to work so that she could have some privacy again.
CW: What I hear from a lot of my clients is once that newly retired person is home, and let’s say that they were the CEO or they were the auditor or they were the whatever, and now they don’t have someone to boss around anymore. Well, whoever’s in the house a lot of times starts getting bossed around for hours of the day. And so a lot of times that can generate conflict and just, you know, two rational adults have different opinions about things. Have different ways they like to do things, have different schedules, have different ways they like to manage money and when one or both of those people is gone all day, you’re not that exposed to, but all of a sudden the more hours you’re together the more you can literally just collide in those preferences. All of that can create conflict and conflict can be a powerful trigger for depression.
CW: Then the next trigger of that is relevant is loss. Again, loss goes with the territory, with transition and with grief. But, you know, loss almost goes the territory with aging in general. It might…grief is more specific to losing people important to you. Loss can be a lot of things. Loss of freedom, loss of purpose, identity. (Reid chimed in with identity) Absolutely. Identity, loss of familiarity, you know, um, loss of responsibility. We thought we’d be so delighted to be done with, all of a sudden we don’t have them. And it’s like, wow, how do I…what’s my purpose now? What’s the meaning of my life now that that’s gone?
CW: Another trigger relevant to retirement is injury or illness. As we age, we simply become or can become more and more vulnerable to more and more illnesses and injuries. You know, our bones can weaken, our muscle systems can weaken. Now I say can because that is not inevitable. Getting older is inevitable, aging and falling apart is absolutely optional. And the way that we care for our bodies and we care for our brains…I read a book a number of years ago, it’s one of my favorites about the aging processes called Younger Next Year. And the basic idea of this book was our cells…every cell of our body is constantly regenerating itself throughout our lifetimes, including our brain cells.
And you know, from year to year, from month to month, from week to week, even, whether those cells are more strong, resilient and powerful and well or more and more sick and diseased and falling apart and whatever. Absolutely depends what we’re feeding those cells and how we treat those cells with sunshine and fresh air and exercise, all that kind of stuff.
CW: And a lot of times as we age, we’re like, oh, that’s the time I just kind of need to sit and relax and eat whatever I want. Well, guess what, that creates disease. And so our bones weaken, our muscle systems weaken. They don’t have to, but a lot of times they do if we’re not treating yourselves wisely.
RS: And that oftentimes feeds into being unhappy and depression because all of a sudden we can’t do the things that we used to do.
CW: Absolutely. Absolutely. So injury and illness or whatever. And then finally, the last trigger is disappointment. Thinking this thing’s going to be like this (great), this turns out like this (not so great). And I think that is so common with retirement because we think it’s the golden years. One of the leaders of my church, one time in one of his talks said… “Me and my wife have found these so called golden years are laced with lead.”
CW: I think lots of times we don’t anticipate how hard it will be to go through those losses, and transitions and griefs and conflicts. And we don’t expect that. We expect the golden years. Again, the advertising industry teaches us the best years of your life, you get to finally be rewarded by sitting around and doing nothing. And that is not what retirement is. The happiest people I know who are retired. And my husband is one of them, find a new sense of purpose and encore life as you’ve talked about,, a new reason for being and giving, new ways of growing and learning. Those are the people who are really happy in retirement. But we have to find that out. We have to build and craft that. It doesn’t happen accidentally and it doesn’t happen automatically. It’s something we choose. Something that we learn, you know.
CW: So those are the triggers that can be associated with retirement that can bring us down. But if we’re smart, we can make those very same things triggers for new growth, new development, new adventures, rather than just triggers for depression. And, but doing so requires that we know the difference again between what brings this up, what brings us down, what helps us progress versus what helps us, what makes us deteriorate. So we can make educated choices about how to manage our lives, our health, our relationships, all of that. And that’s what the book is designed to do.
RS: Excellent. So Carrie, before we end our conversation today, is there anything you’d like to mention or add that we… I know we didn’t cover everything. We’ve got another episode coming up where again, we’ll be able to dive into a little bit more of the Happiness Toolkit. We’ll be able to give some people some proactive action items that they can take with them to start. So is there anything you’d like to add before we close today?
CW: Sure. I think the one thing that I’d like to add is that I think that your audience, retirees and those who serve retirees and coach them can be so, so powerful, in not just learning these things for ourselves, but sharing them. Again, our kids, our grandkids are growing up in a world that is more and more toxic, more and more depressive genetic. It is becoming normal now for 10-year old’s to be depressed. The highest rate of suicide for example, is in 15 to 24-year olds. That’s crazy. That is crazy, and so, you know, first to learn these things for ourselves and then to be able to pass on that wisdom and life experience, you know, things that can be helpful not just for us, but for those that we love.
Erik Erikson, the great developmental psychologists defined the various stages of human development, and the last two stages correspond with the retirement years are first of all what he called either generativity or stagnation, where you either give back and you’re going to share what you’ve learned or you just kind of close in on yourself.
CW: I’ve seen retirees do both. I’ve seen some people are amazingly generative and those are the ones that are happy and well, and it contributes so much. And the fact that they have all these available hours means now they can volunteer and they can be there for those grandkids and they can do things that they couldn’t do when they had 40 hours of their weeks already spoken for.
CW: And then the very, very last stage Eric Erickson called integrity versus despair and integrity as you look back in your life. And Wow, you know, my life has been so good. I have accomplished this, I’ve contributed that and I’ve helped so-and-so. Despair is looking back and saying, wow, my life really didn’t amount to much of anything, you know. And so preparing for those last two stages well requires that we make some proactive, powerful, courageous choices about how we use these latter years, these latter decades in ways that blessed our lives, that bring joy and that generativity and giving back to the next generation. And I really feel like the principles in this book can help to educate that process in the process of helping us to be happy into, you know, our very, very last moments of life and to bring happiness and joy and meaning and contribute in positive ways to other people as well.
RS: Thank you, Carrie, for joining me today. I really enjoyed learning more about your book, Your Happiness Toolkit, and I’m looking forward to our next episode too, where we can dive into this topic and continue to help people.
So again, Carrie’s book is titled Your Happiness Toolkit- 16 Strategies for Overcoming Depression and Building a Joyful, Fulfilling Life. Carrie’s got (holding up) a picture of it there. Carrie and I will be back in the next episode as I mentioned, to continue our discussion and get into the details of how to build your Happiness Toolkit.
Thanks everybody for listening and watching. We’ll see you next time.