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During my decade and a half of deep depression, my mother often said to me, “Honey, you can choose not to be depressed.”

To which I responded, seething, “Depression isn’t a choice. Why would I choose this? I can’t just turn it on and off.”

And then I’d huff out of the room and stew in twisted satisfaction, my depression a badge of honor. I didn’t believe that depression was a choice, but I did believe that enduring my depression made me stronger than everyone who wasn’t persisting through darkness.

blue orange image with full text overlay

Today, I cringe at my own response. Here was a woman who, after being widowed at 47, survived breast cancer, underwent open-heart surgery, kept a business with 40 employees afloat during the recession, and did it all while raising an only child who spent those years huffing out of the room. My mother had every reason to fall into a hole of depression, and yet she never succumbed. That’s real strength. Some people might look at the difference between my mother and me as a difference in “brain chemistry.” Rather, one of us was “wired” to go off the depression deep end while the other was not.

I don’t buy it. Not only because the chemical imbalance theory has been debunked over and over and over and over and over again, but because in looking at how my mother and I processed the traumas of our individual lives, she chose to exercise the muscle of it-can-happen-to-anyone resilience while I exercised the muscle of moral elitism. Rather, I repeatedly chose to feed my inherent belief that I was special and therefore, tragic.

Part of this was age. I was 15 when my father died, arguably the most self-involved age in existence. And while I’d love to say that my lugubrious swim in the seas of melancholy was unconscious, the reality is that I knew exactly what I was doing. I liked the pity. I liked the attention. I liked the freedom of loss. No one expects much of the grieving, and I was happy to be left alone.

Had I shed this narrative once I graduated high school, perhaps I could have started to build the muscle of resilience. Instead, I doubled down on moral elitism, working that muscle from all angles until I was left with nothing but suicidal thoughts. It was never a choice to To Be or Not To Be Depressed, but the culmination of fifteen years of small choices that atrophied my resilience.

That is the choice my mother was talking about all those years ago. Depression is a beast that rips the reigns from your hands and drags you along for the ride. But it ebbs and flows, leaving pockets of opportunity where it’s up to you to find the strength to pick up those reigns and right yourself back on course.

No, there isn’t an on-off switch. But there is the single choice to commit to making thousands of little choices, building more and more resilience and awareness. Like a muscle, it gets stronger over time. And just like building muscle, it starts slow. One little choice. One little change. One little life.


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Need a little giggle? Order one of my Fuckit Buckets™.

Look, we know that life is a special sort of disaster right now. Your closet is your office, the kids are still at home, and still your mother-law is calling you fat again. Let this little charm be a reminder that sometimes you have to chuck it in the Fuckit Bucket™ and move on!

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After 15 years of depression and antidepressants, my mission is to help people find hope in the name of healing. My memoir on the subject, MAY CAUSE SIDE EFFECTS, publishes on May 10, 2022. Pre-order it on Barnes & Nobles, Amazon, or wherever books are sold. For the most up-to-date announcements, subscribe to my newsletter HAPPINESS IS A SKILL.


Coming September 6, 2022

May Cause Side Effects

Brooke’s memoir is now available for preorder wherever books are sold.

This is a heart-rending and tender memoir that will start conversations we urgently need to have. It’s moving and important.

Johann Hari, author of New York Times bestseller Chasing the Scream and international bestseller 
Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression—and the Unexpected Solutions

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September 9, 2022

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Healing Depression through Factual Optimism

How do we find happiness when we are still depressed or in antidepressant withdrawal? We don’t. At least, we don’t aim for big changes. Instead, we go for getting it right 51% of the time. If we quantify happiness onto a scale that ranges from 0% happy to 100% happy, every decision we make alters our position on the scale. If we can get our life to a 51% Lifetime Happiness Average, our choices are validated by default.

The goal isn’t to reach 100%. On some days, 80% can seem like a stretch. Fifty-one percent, though, is almost always doable. And at 51%, we’re winning.

Little Changes Bring Big Results

Quantifying emotions helps us remain grounded and make decisions rooted in reality, as opposed to the reality created by the chatter in our heads.

If we have one “good” day a week, we are at 14% happiness. By making small changes to bring us to two good days, our happiness average rises to 28%. To hit 51%, we need to have average 3.6 “good” days per week.

To set ourselves up for more good days in a week, we apply the 51% theory to individual decisions.

pinteret graphic for blog post the fifty one percent, or, factual optimism

As long as each singular decision falls at 51% or higher, it puts us closer to our overall 51% Lifetime Happiness Average.

Decisions are based not on logic, but on how they make us feel. When we are faced with a situation, take a moment and simply ask, “Where does this decision fall on the scale? How do I feel when I think about it?

If the decision feels like it will bring 51% Happiness, go with it, even in the absence of logic or practicality. If we don’t know the answer, wait and gather more information. Patience is often the difference between 49% and 51%.

The beauty of the 51% Theory is that all decisions become easy decisions. Even difficult decisions are easy decisions. They may still carry immense consequence, but once the 51% threshold is crossed, nothing else matters. At 51%, we are already ahead. Make the decision and go.

It only takes a 1% shift to create momentum that can change your life. At 49%, we’re still struggling against the current. At 51%, we’re moving with the river.

When in doubt, make a graph!

The 51% Theory is not finite. If, over too many days, a particular decision that started off at 51% or higher begins to fall, something needs to change. If a situation falls to 40% or so, that’s the time to get curious. Is the drop tied to your emotions or external logistics? Did the situation change or did you change? Is the effort involved in getting it back to 51% worth your time?

When you don’t know the answer, focus on a situation’s effect on the overall average. Since the goal is to hit 51% over the course of your life, a situation that sits around 45% for a few weeks only incrementally lowers your overall average, whereas a situation that sits at 5% for a few days can be intense enough to bring the whole average down. The lower the situation on the Happiness Scale, the higher its priority. If I have you nail in your foot, don’t focus your energy on the splinter in your finger. Even if you have 10 splinters in your finger, it’s the single nail is causing the bigger issue. But over and over again, people focus on the splinters while ignoring the giant, rusted nail in between their metatarsals.

In years of implementing factual optimism, my life has changed dramatically. I wanted to see a visual representation, so I made a graph:

chart presenting happines average in 2016

This isn’t a true lifetime representation, of course. My father died in July 2001, when I was 15. Anything before that seems arbitrary since my childhood definition of “happiness” was whether or not my mom packed an Oreo in my lunchbox.

I was a typical teenager until my father passed, so I give 2001 a 35%. The “peak” in 2008 was thanks to a debauchery filled final semester of college that was quickly squashed with the reality and uncertainty of moving to Manhattan on my own. Overall, I estimated around 2.75 good days per week in 2008. I opened my bakery in 2011 but by 2013, I was lucky to get one good day per week. I implemented the 51% Theory in 2014, and by 2015, my day to day massively improved.

The Lifetime Happiness Average only tells a broad story. It’s more interesting to break down by year:

chart presenting lifetime happiness average

As you can see, 2016 was an emotional mess. In February, I made a decision based on the 51% Theory to leave my life in New York City travel around the world. Because one life altering decision apparently wasn’t enough, I also decided to get off the cocktail of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety pills that I’d been taking since my father passed away. Both of these decisions barely squeaked in at 51%, and I ended up creating a perfect storm of logistical and emotional hell that was extremely painful and even more expensive.

Even though the immediate consequences of these two 51% decisions created five of the worst months of my entire life, the after effects are proving to be worth as high as 86%. That’s six good days per week — the highest I’ve ever averaged.

In the depths of those five months, I reminded myself (and was reminded by others) that I made those decisions because of that 1%. Even though 49% and 51% feels similar in the moment, that 1% is the tipping point that creates momentum for positive change. At 49%, you’re still struggling against the current. At 51%, you’re moving with the river. And at the end of our life, however many days away, we can look back and say to ourselves, “It was all worth it. Fifty-one percent of the time, everything was beautiful.”


Need a little giggle? Order one of my Fuckit Buckets™.

three images of the fuckit bcket collection

After 15 years of depression and antidepressants, my mission is to help people find hope in the name of healing. My memoir on the subject, MAY CAUSE SIDE EFFECTS, publishes on September 6, 2022. Pre-order it on Barnes & Nobles, Amazon, or wherever books are sold. For the most up-to-date announcements, subscribe to my newsletter HAPPINESS IS A SKILL.

may cause side effects a memoir book picture and author brooke siem

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In a day and age when information travels at warp speed and lives can be irrevocably changed by one photo or a single tweet, there was something poetic about the speed of the 2020 federal election. All the bandwidth and technology in the world couldn’t move it along any faster than it was going to go. The outcome was too precarious and the stakes were too high for anyone to make an honest call. And so we waited, and waited, for more information to come in.

It is moments like this that pierced through my own fourth wall and grabbed me tight around the chin, forcing me to face the greater collective storyline and apply it to my own. While the United States idled at a crossroads that led us toward two very different futures, I also stood at a major junction. There were two choices, and I needed to choose one. Each somehow felt both beautiful and awful, and yet the rest of my life hinged on this choice.

It was too close to call.

But life imitates life. For all the faults of that election and the missteps of all the people involved, there was one thing huge lesson to learn from it: when a decision remains unclear, it is because all the information has not yet arrived.

We have conditioned ourselves to think that when we are presented with a choice, our only options are to pick one or the other and to do it fast. But there is an ever-present third choice that often holds the most power — the choice to wait.

Waiting is itchy. It prickles at you like a stiff wool sweater on a frozen winter night. But to rip it off too soon is to expose yourself to the elements without having first found shelter. If only you could wait until dawn when the sun rises to light the way. Life might look a little different then, the two paths now illuminated, obstacles in clearer view.

So we waited. And I waited, itchy and squeamish, for the information to come in. Because the outcome was too precarious. The stakes were too high.

It was too close to call.

Coming September 6, 2022

May Cause Side Effects

Brooke’s memoir is now available for preorder wherever books are sold.

This is a heart-rending and tender memoir that will start conversations we urgently need to have. It’s moving and important.

Johann Hari, author of New York Times bestseller Chasing the Scream and international bestseller 
Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression—and the Unexpected Solutions

More articles from the blog

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September 23, 2022

The Flowering of Human Consciousness

read the article

September 16, 2022

Three Weeks

read the article

September 9, 2022

Wanting

read the article

September 2, 2022

The Ashton Manual: A guideline for withdrawing from psychiatric drugs

read the article

No fate is worse for those with anxiety than the act of doing nothing. But there is one tool you were born with that can help calm your mind and body when the weight of a situation becomes too much: your breath.

I am an XPT certified breathwork coach. Often, with my clients going through antidepressant withdrawal, I use my training to teach them how to breathe through the unpleasant side effects. But the techniques are relevant to anyone who suffers from anxiety, and yet little attention is paid to our breath.

Though breath is the single most important life-force on the planet, studies suggest that breathing dysfunction occurs in up to 83% of anxiety sufferers. Breathing dysfunction can negatively impact the body in a number of ways, including reduced blood flow to the brain, and sleep apnea, and higher instances of stress and anxiety.

Anxiety is the body’s way of alerting you to potential danger. It’s that “fight or flight” response that historically, motivated our ancestors to get scared and run away from a hungry tiger. But these days, most people aren’t being chased by a tiger (or its metaphorical equivalent.) Instead, anxiety is created in our minds.

Just because anxiety is created in the mind doesn’t mean it isn’t real. Physiologically, the body doesn’t know the difference between anxiety created because of a physical source and one created in our head. Think of a nightmare, for example. Even though we are safe in our beds without any physical threats, the situation created in our mind can shoot us up out of bed, drenched in sweat, and panting as if the dream was as real as the mattress underneath us.

The breath is like a remote control for the mind, and learning how to harness its power can mitigate the body’s stress response. Several studies have shown that deep breathing, specifically belly breathing that activates the vagus nerve, significantly reduces the stress response in the body. The vagus nerve runs from your brain all the way down to the belly, with branches that extend into your throat, heart, and lungs. When properly stimulated through deep breathing, the nerve regulates the nervous system’s response by turning down the intensity of stress and anxiety.

By breathing with intention, each of us has the power to operate our internal remote control, thereby gaining some authority over the anxiety. With an undetermined future ahead, there’s no better time to gather tools to manage our new uncertain world. You’re going to need every edge we can get, so let’s start with the one you were born with: your breath.

Morning breathwork, to set a calm foundation for the day:

Cadence Breath

Designed to keep you mindful of your breath while also helping your body to kick into a parasympathetic (calm) state, cadence breathing is an ideal breath pattern to ground yourself first thing in the morning.

To begin, sit in a comfortable upright position, either crossed-legged or in a chair. Take a moment to become aware of your breath. Actually look at it. Can you see your belly going out and in? Or maybe your chest moves up and down? Are your lips parted, allowing you to take in air through your mouth? Or is your jaw clamped down tight?

No matter how you typically breathe, commit to spending the next 10–15 minutes breathing only in and out through your nose and into your belly. Keep one hand on your stomach for a tactile reminder, and feel that hand rising and falling with each breath.

Begin with a cadence tempo of 2:2:4:2. That means you’ll inhale through your nose for an honest count of two (one one thousand, two one thousand…), hold your breath for a count of two, exhale through your nose for a count of four, and hold your breath at the bottom of the exhale for two. The crux of cadence breathing is to keep your exhale twice as long as your inhale, so if you’re comfortable at 2:2:4:2, increase the tempo to 3:3:6:3 or even 4:4:8:4. The slower and deeper your breath, the more the vagus nerve is stimulated to lower overall stress.

Breathing for when the anxiety is too much and you need to calm down, now.

4:7:8

If you find yourself on the verge of panic and you don’t have 15 minutes to step away and collect yourself, the 4:7:8 breathing pattern can knock anxiety down in just a handful of breaths.

Simply breathe in the nose for four seconds, hold your breath at the top of the inhale for seven seconds, and exhale audibly out your mouth for eight seconds. This is one breath cycle.

Repeat the breath cycle three more times.

If you find the 4:7:8 too challenging, simply speed up your counting while keeping the inhale:hold: exhale ratio the same.

Breathing for bedtime, because insomnia and anxiety are inextricably linked.

Long exhale + humming

Though humming has long been a staple of yogic breathing and meditation, science has only recently revealed the potential reasons why. Our paranasal sinuses are the main producers of nitric oxide, a gas that plays an important role in vasoregulation (opening and closing our blood vessels) as well as neurotransmission, immune defense, and respiration. When we hum, our nasal passages produce nitric oxide up to fifteen-fold in comparison with quiet exhalation, which leads to lowered blood pressure, heart rate, reduced anxiety, and a grounding feeling of calm that can lull us off to sleep.

Know that there’s a high chance of falling asleep during this exercise, so make sure you’re ready for bed before you begin.

Lying on your back with your head in a comfortable position, simply close your eyes and inhale through your nose, taking in a big breath into your belly. When you’ve taken in a full breath, begin humming and slowly exhale out all your air. Keep the hum deep and low and long, with the vibration coming from the back of your throat rather than your head. Repeat the humming breath for 10 minutes, or until you fall asleep.

Coming September 6, 2022

May Cause Side Effects

Brooke’s memoir is now available for preorder wherever books are sold.

This is a heart-rending and tender memoir that will start conversations we urgently need to have. It’s moving and important.

Johann Hari, author of New York Times bestseller Chasing the Scream and international bestseller 
Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression—and the Unexpected Solutions

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September 23, 2022

The Flowering of Human Consciousness

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September 16, 2022

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September 9, 2022

Wanting

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September 2, 2022

The Ashton Manual: A guideline for withdrawing from psychiatric drugs

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Happiness Is A Skill was created as an outlet for me to reach the kind of people who email me every day. Ever since my Washington Post Article, “I spent half my life on antidepressants. Today, I’m off the medication and feel all right” became the #1 read piece on WaPo National the day it was published, my inbox likes to fill up with people who are struggling to get off their antidepressants or benzodiazepines. I respond to every person who contacts me, and often that correspondence leads to a longer conversation.

About 12 weeks ago, after one of these conversations melted two hours away from my day, it occurred to me that I was spending a lot of time saying similar things to lots of different people. Why not take all that information and distill it down into a digest that could reach lots of people at once? And so Happiness Is A Skill was born. There are two overarching themes of these emails. First, people are desperate to find relief from the pain of withdrawal, all while trying to process the anger they have for prescribed drugs and doctors that were supposed to help them. Second, they are looking for someone, anyone, who understands. Psychiatric drug withdrawal is an excruciatingly long and lonely process that you simply cannot relate to unless you have experienced it. It’s rare to encounter another person going through withdrawal in the wild because people in severe withdrawal probably aren’t leaving their house. (And those who are experiencing mild or moderate withdrawal are likely so irritable that they aren’t exactly projecting warm fuzzies.)

Until recently, antidepressant withdrawal was swept under the rug by psychiatrists and doctors, largely due to a lack of substantial research surrounding long-term use and tapering. (Antidepressants and benzos are designed, studied, and tested for short term use, i.e., weeks. There is not a single study on the effects of long-term antidepressant use, and yet 1 in 4 people on antidepressants have been taking them for more than 10 years.)

But in 2019, a group of American and British psychiatrists came together and urged national withdrawal guidelines to be updated after they “discovered” what many patients already knew: it is a hell of a lot easier to start taking antidepressants than it is to get off of them. In a systematic review of existing research, the authors determined that “nearly half of those experiencing withdrawal (46%) report it as severe, and that reports of symptoms lasting several months are common in many recent studies.”

The authors go on to say that their evidence directly contradicts the position of the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines, which state that “[withdrawal] symptoms are usually mild and self-limiting over about 1 week.” In short, this research shows that half of all antidepressant users will likely experience withdrawal of a substantially longer duration and severity than current guidelines recognize. Shockingly (to this American, anyway), the NICE guidelines were updated to reflect these findings, giving suffering withdrawal patients a smidgeon of validation. All this to say that the tides are changing. My article and others like it are finding space in mainstream media and a new cohort of psychiatrists and researchers are starting to take our claims seriously. But arguably the biggest contribution to bringing this issue to light is the new documentary, Medicating Normal. I had the pleasure of watching a screening a few days ago, and it both broke my heart and fed the fire within me.

A synopsis:

“Combining cinema verité and investigative journalism, Medicating Normal follows the journeys of a newly married couple, a female combat veteran, a waitress and a teenager whose doctors prescribed psychiatric drugs for stress, mild depression, sleeplessness, focus and trauma. Our subjects struggle with serious physical and mental side effects as well as neurological damage which resulted from taking the drugs as prescribed and also from attempting to withdraw. Says one psychiatrist, ’There’s not a chemical on the planet, to my knowledge, that can require years to tapernot Oxycontin, not crack cocaine, not heroin, and not alcohol. But psychiatric medications, any tapered patient will tell you, can take sometimes years if possible, at all.’ … [Medicating Normal] is the untold story of what happens when profit-driven medicine intersects with human beings in distress.”

Statistically, a good chunk of Happiness Is A Skill readers are taking some form of antidepressant or anti-anxiety/benzodiazepines like Xanex or Ativan. For those people, none of this is meant to scare you or bully you into getting off the drugs. You do you. However, if you ever do want to get off these drugs, I implore you to do your research and work with your doctor to create a slow, deliberate tapering plan. Doctors are not required to give patients informed consent when it comes to psychiatric drugs, nor are they well versed in safe withdrawal. It’s not their fault. The medical system simply doesn’t teach them how to take people off these medications. It is possible to wean off psychiatric drugs safely and with few side effects, but the techniques for doing so are being developed at a grassroots level by people who have experienced it, like me. For more information on safe withdrawal, check out SurvivingAntidepressants.orgMad In America, and the Inner Compass Initiative. You can also email me directly. Lastly, Medicating Normal is being screened virtually at several film festivals and hosted events. I would recommend it to anyone who is taking antidepressants or benzos, but I believe it should be required watching for all practicing psychiatrists and doctors. You can find tickets and upcoming screenings here.

Coming September 6, 2022

May Cause Side Effects

Brooke’s memoir is now available for preorder wherever books are sold.

This is a heart-rending and tender memoir that will start conversations we urgently need to have. It’s moving and important.

Johann Hari, author of New York Times bestseller Chasing the Scream and international bestseller 
Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression—and the Unexpected Solutions

More articles from the blog

see all articles

September 23, 2022

The Flowering of Human Consciousness

read the article

September 16, 2022

Three Weeks

read the article

September 9, 2022

Wanting

read the article

September 2, 2022

The Ashton Manual: A guideline for withdrawing from psychiatric drugs

read the article

Happiness Is A Skill is 10 weeks old today! Such a wee milestone in the grand scheme of life, but in internet years, HIAS is entering its awkward teenage years. I’ve been at it just long enough to know it needs some tweaks, but not so long that I know what those tweaks are.

And so I ask, what do you want to see? Tell me how I can help you.

If you prefer actionable issues like last week’s How To Neuter Your Social Media for Optimal Mental Health over more thought-provoking issues like Awakening to the Work of a Human Being, tell me. If you want fewer things to read and more product recommendations, tell me. If you want more of a psychiatry focus, tell me. More philosophy, tell me!

If I am asking, it means I want your input. In fact, I need your input to make this work the best it can possibly be. That is why we ask for help — to get the information we don’t have in order to make our lives and projects better.

And yet, few people ask for what they need, and even fewer ask for what they want. Instead, they sit and wait for someone else to intuit the answer and take action, which never happens.

It took me 31 years to understand the power of asking. For most of my life, I operated in a paradigm of radical competency. Asking for anything, help or otherwise, was not part of my vocabulary thanks to a healthy fear of looking stupid and of appearing “high maintenance.” My strategy, instead, was to keep my mouth shut and — when smartphones entered the lexicon — excuse myself and Google answers in the bathroom.

The problem with this strategy is that it does not expand knowledge or possibility. At best, you get a quick answer. At worst, you get no answer. It does not offer any room for discussion and actually stops us from engaging in the deeply human urge to help each other.

Research (and common sense) tells us that doing good in the world not only makes us feel better but that it is good for us. This holds true for actions big and small and is not confined to altruism or volunteering. Simple actions, like giving someone directions or showing your support for someone who is suffering, benefit you too. These actions, defined as prosocial behavior, create heightened empathy and responsibility toward others, which in turn bring a sense of meaning and purpose to the helper. By refusing to ask for help, you cut off the opportunity for someone else to engage in prosocial behavior that benefits both of you.

I realized the power of asking somewhere in the Portuguese countryside, back in 2017. I was leaving a restaurant with a group of friends, unopened bottles of wine in hand. As we boarded the van, someone realized that we didn’t have a corkscrew. Because there was an element of drinking to the day, this was a clear problem. While a group of us tried to (poorly) communicate with the driver to see if we could make a stop somewhere to buy a corkscrew, a woman named Michelle rolled her eyes and said, “I’m just going to ask the restaurant to give me one.” She bounded off the bus and back into the establishment.

I couldn’t believe the audacity. She was going to ask a restaurant to give her a corkscrew for free? How…rude?

Michelle returned a few minutes later, waving the corkscrew above her head.

“They just gave it to you?” someone yelled from the back of the van.

“Yeah?” she shrugged, befuddled at our bewilderment. “It wasn’t a big deal. People will do anything if you just ask for what you want.”

And it’s true. After the corkscrew moment, I began testing the asking waters. Here’s a shortlist of things I’ve received over the past few years just because I asked:

  • My job as a recipe developer for Working Against Gravity. They didn’t post a job, but I saw a need for my services so I emailed and asked to work with them.
  • Raising my price per word for another client from $.35 to .$50.
  • Countless upgrades in seating arrangements, from tables at restaurants to airplane seats
  • A major medical bill reduction
  • Endless refunds for shoddy products
  • A close friend, after being the first one to ask to spend time together
  • An endorsement blurb for my book from an internationally recognized author (and he hasn’t even read the book.)
  • A short-term rental apartment in Seattle

Of course, it’s important to recognize the difference between asking for what you want and taking advantage. Asking a restaurant to take back a salad because the chicken is burned to a crisp is different than eating most of the salad, sending it back, ordering a steak instead, and then expecting the steak to be comped on the house.

Tone and wording are important, too, which is where the idea of prosocial behavior comes back into play. Asking for what you want — and getting it — hinges on reciprocity. Someone else has to do something for you, and the best way to make that happen is for the other person to benefit, too.

When dealing with a medical bill, for example, asking “Can I have a discount?” sends a very different message than, “Is there anything you can do to help me?” The former is self-serving, whereas the latter asks the other person to be the hero. And people like to be the hero because it makes them feel good.

Asking doesn’t always guarantee a “yes,” but the more “no” you get, the less each one stings. It all becomes second nature after a while, and the universe flows a little easier.

So I ask, what do you want to see? How can I help you? Respond to this email and I promise, I’ll get back to you!


Amanda Palmer: The art of asking | TED Talk
Amanda Palmer: The art of asking | TED Talkwww.ted.com

Amanda Palmer is a controversial singer and artist who garnered media attention—and a good chunk of revenue—when she walked away from her big music label and started giving away her music for free. Her strategy? Ask people for support and give them meaningful work in return. They will always come through.


7 Effective Ways to Ask for Help (and Get It) | Psychology Today Canada
7 Effective Ways to Ask for Help (and Get It) | Psychology Today Canadawww.psychologytoday.com

You know you should ask for help…but how? This article breaks down seven different strategies.


Selfless acts: How Americans are helping each other through the coronavirus | TheHill
Selfless acts: How Americans are helping each other through the coronavirus | TheHillthehill.com

The news only shows the doom and gloom, but all over the wold, people are stepping up and helping each other.


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read the article

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read the article

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read the article

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The Ashton Manual: A guideline for withdrawing from psychiatric drugs

read the article

My mother always told me that I was born to do something big. This idea sprouted just a few months after I was born, when my parents took me to an astrologist my father had been working with for years. According to the planets and the stars, the astrologer said, it would never be enough for me to help just one person. I would want to help the whole lot of them.

While this prophecy motivated me to take risks and aim high, it also set me up to equate recognition with my own definition of success. And not just any recognition. The right recognition. It’s not enough for friends, family, or some no-name publication to tell me that I write pretty or cook well. If it’s not big and obvious, I see it as meaningless.

Obviously, this isn’t a great way to live. And like all stories we tell ourselves, life has a way of taking our bullshit narratives and making us repeat them over and over again until we learn. Case in point: my memoir about antidepressant withdrawal has now been rejected by 16 presses, most of whom work under the umbrella of major publishing houses like Penguin/Random House and Harper Collins. The rejections are fabulous. The editors that read my work are over the moon with the quality and power of my writing, but for whatever reason, they “have to pass but can’t wait to see where it ends up.” These are the gatekeepers with the money and status to take a book about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and turn it into the mega-bestseller and blockbuster movie, Wild. They are my definition of big. And they are falling out of my reach.

Watching the window close to the major publishers is devastating. I quite literally ripped the shirt off my own back and tore it into tatters after I received my last rejection. That’s how much this matters to me. But after weeks of mourning and an uncomfortable amount of anger, 16 repeats of the same pattern is enough to get me to start reevaluating. And so I’m asking myself, what does it really mean to be big?

Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, for example, comes to mind. Semmelweis died in a Viennese insane asylum in 1865 after his life work, The Etiology, Concept, and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fevers, was rejected by a panel of German physicians and pathologists. Semmelweis’s thesis? Disease is caused by a lack of cleanliness, and that postpartum mortality decreases by tenfold if doctors wash their hands before delivering a baby.

It would be another 20 years after Semmelweis’s death before Louis Pasteur’s work on germ theory led to an acceptance of Semmelweis’s claims and practices. Today, of course, washing hands to prevent disease may as well be a global sport. But Semmelweis would never know about his big contribution to the world. His work, through the lens of his own existence, did not make a dent.

I wonder how Semmelweis felt about his work. During his early stages of madness, did he regret all the time spent on a life that amounted to ridicule? Was the fact that he saved a few hundred women from dying of infection enough to offset the knowledge that countless more would die because other doctors rejected his thesis? Or was it the weight of perceived failure that drove him to despair?

***

Do you know of any other ordinary figures whose little known work changed the world? Please send them my way!


Are You Downplaying Luck’s Role in Your Life? - Facts So Romantic - NautilusAre You Downplaying Luck’s Role in Your Life? – Facts So Romantic – Nautilusnautil.us

Think blood, sweat, and tears are the reason for your success? Think again, says Robert Frank, a professor of economics at Cornell University. Luck, he says, is the invisible hand.


Ridding Happiness Contaminants 1: Ego Anxiety | Psychology Today CanadaRidding Happiness Contaminants 1: Ego Anxiety | Psychology Today Canadawww.psychologytoday.com

Russell Grieger Ph.D., breaks down the concept of Ego Anxiety, a never ending cycle consisting of the desire to always do well and be approved, followed by the idea that failure = worthlessness, which in turn furthers the need to always do well and be approved.


Ignaz Semmelweis, "father of infection control," pioneered hand-washing but died before many took his advice - The Washington Post
Ignaz Semmelweis, “father of infection control,” pioneered hand-washing but died before many took his advice – The Washington Postwww.washingtonpost.com

If only Semmelweis could see how his contribution changed the world…

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The following was originally published in my newsletter, Happiness Is A Skill, Issue #01. 

The past few months have gifted us with an opportunity for deep reflection. While the world changes at a breakneck pace, we’ve all been stuck inside, left with nothing but the life we’ve created for ourselves and the emotions that come with facing it.

Turning inward has forced me to take a hard look at how I want to move forward, both in my personal life and public one. Between winning Chopped and having an impactful mental-health piece published in the Washington Post, I’ve turned into the world’s most wee public figure. With my memoir on antidepressant withdrawal now out for submission (which means publishers are considering whether or not they want to buy the manuscript and publish the book), I put myself under considerable pressure to produce on social media in order to tantalize publishers.

The problem, though, is that social media is notoriously awful for mental and emotional health. After four years of doing the deep work to get myself off of antidepressants and out of a decade and a half of depression, three weeks of Twitter sent me back into psychological hell. About 10 days ago, I broke. Social media is simply filled with more pain than I am currently able to carry on my shoulders, and I made the choice to step away. The apps are off my phone, blocked on my computer, and I’m turning to print (gasp!) for news.

Our society is filled with all sorts of viruses. Biological, political, racial, cultural, systematic—they all seep into our cells, etching themselves into our physical and emotional makeup. Unplugging from social media may seem nuclear, but consciously and constantly exposing myself to other people’s pain—which I can neither fix nor control—is the emotional equivalent of licking a bathroom stall at LAX. Why do that to myself? Who benefits from making myself sick? Not me. Not you. Not my community.

I believe that happiness is a skill that must be learned, practiced, and maintained. We aren’t born with it any more than we’re born with the ability to run a marathon or complete a PhD. Some of us may come in with runner’s legs or photographic memories, but the mere presence of aptitude does not guarantee success. The work is the work. In continuing to put myself in the line of social media fire, I was consciously working against the happiness practice I built. And I refuse to do it any longer.

Instead, I am funneling my former social media efforts into a new newsletter dedicated to helping people who want to wean off their antidepressants, recover from depression, and learn the skill of happiness. You can expect everything from relevant articles to inspiring figures to actionable practices to musings on Stoic philosophy. Some weeks may make you laugh, others may make you think. All of it is designed for people who are ready to do the work.

So many of you have stuck with me for so long. Know that I appreciate you, and I hope that each week it brings a little extra value to your life…without the toxicity that comes with so much of the internet. In this space, you won’t find any ads for toenail fungus cream, political bloodbaths, or cruelty. Just little morsels of strength and light in an otherwise dark world.

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