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When I began Happiness Is A Skill early in the pandemic, I imagined it as a space where I could freely share my tips and strategies for recovering from depression and antidepressant withdrawal. Sixty-eight issues later, I’ve decided it’s time to bring in other voices. As much as I’d love to pretend I have all the answers for everyone on the planet, the truth is that the first step to becoming a great teacher is being a great learner.

Happiness isn’t like riding a bike. You don’t learn it once and know it forever. It requires maintenance, and without practice, can slip away. When you return to it, weeks or years later, it can feel like you never learned it at all. I am deeply curious about how other people learned happiness, what techniques they’ve developed to keep themselves on track, and how they know they’re sliding off track in the first place.

I’ve reached out to a slew of people from all sorts of backgrounds. Even though we’re all in different situations, at the heart of it, I believe that depression and anxiety feels roughly the same for each individual, with varying degrees. If you’ve experienced either one, you know what it’s like to feel like your body is made of lead or for your heart to jump into your throat. You know what it’s like to lack motivation and curiosity, for the world to literally lose its color. You may not know how to recognize early patterns that signal an incoming bout of mania or melancholy, but learning to recognize those signals early is part of the practice.

Jenny Blake

This week, Jenny Blake (@jenny_blake), international keynote speaker and author shares her strategy for managing overwhelm—a feeling she is all too familiar with. After launching in 2016 as the top career pick by Axiom Best Business Books, Pivot: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One, by Jenny is now the go-to career development framework for forward-thinking organizations, pivoters, and entrepreneurs. Her next book, Free Time: Lose The Busywork, Love Your Business, tackles all that creates overwhelm in work and life: hustle culture, busywork, and overly-complicated systems.When asked to share a strategy to manage difficult or stressful times, Jenny said:

“As a highly sensitive introvert, sometimes the basics of family life—on top of running my own business—overwhelm me. I check my energy gauge to see if I feel like I’m drowning (as I did recently), treading water, or gliding and in flow. As much as I wish I could consistently be a good partner to my husband and dog mama to my two-year-old German shepherd within the constraints of my day-to-day and our WFH-household, sometimes I just need an escape. Booking a 3-night “staycation” or “workcation” in the city (I live in Manhattan) recharges me like nothing else. I know it’s not always financially feasible for everyone, and it can certainly feel like an excessive luxury (at first) to spend on room-and-board in one’s own city. But if I go into the trip with clear intentions (either deep rest, or deep work), I always come out with a renewed sense of self, feeling like it was a priceless investment.I got this idea from Cheryl Strayed and Maya Angelou, who said it was integral to their writing process.”

Two things stick out to me. First, Jenny stops to check in with herself before making any decision. Is she drowning, treading water, or gliding in the flow? Drowning signals a need to escape. Treading water is manageable, but it could also be a warning that an escape may be needed in the future. Gliding in the flow is calm, easy. All is well.

If she decides she’s drowning, she books a staycation and sets an intention. It’s not enough to mindlessly book a hotel and hope it works out. She creates a plan and sticks to it. After all, we can’t know if we’ve succeeded unless we’ve created parameters for success.

How could you take Jenny’s strategy and apply it to your own life? If a staycation isn’t on the menu, how about a solo hike or an overnight camping trip? Perhaps it’s about asking those around you for an hour a day, away from the kids. Or hiring someone to help you complete a project that’s been weighing on you, like cleaning the house or organizing the garage. Maybe the first step is simply asking for help.


Related resources: 

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

After a marathon few months, I’m headed into a much needed hiatus from all things work. Until then, I wanted to leave you with a selection of books to help you mentally settle into these unsettling times. I ingest the wise words of others during troubled times always helps me re-center.

Here are 10 Books for a Happier You


I recommend this book all the time, including in recent issues of HIAS. If you are depressed or have a depressed family member, this is the one book I’d recommend over all others.

“There was a mystery haunting award-winning investigative journalist Johann Hari. He was thirty-nine years old, and almost every year he had been alive, depression and anxiety had increased in Britain and across the Western world. Why?

He had a very personal reason to ask this question. When he was a teenager, he had gone to his doctor and explained that he felt like pain was leaking out of him, and he couldn’t control it or understand it. Some of the solutions his doctor offered had given him some relief-but he remained in deep pain.

So, as an adult, he went on a forty-thousand-mile journey across the world to interview the leading experts about what causes depression and anxiety, and what solves them. He learned there is scientific evidence for nine different causes of depression and anxiety-and that this knowledge leads to a very different set of solutions: ones that offer real hope.”


Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton, PhD.

Biology of Belief was one of the first books to bring the world of epigenetics and the power of thought to the mainstream.

“The implications of this research radically change our understanding of life, showing that genes and DNA do not control our biology; instead, DNA is controlled by signals from outside the cell, including the energetic messages emanating from our positive and negative thoughts.

This profoundly hopeful synthesis of the latest and best research in cell biology and quantum physics has been hailed as a major breakthrough, showing that our bodies can be changed as we retrain our thinking.”


The Emperor’s New Drugs by Irving Kirsh, Ph.D

“Do antidepressants work? Of course — everyone knows it. Like his colleagues, Irving Kirsch, a researcher and clinical psychologist, for years referred patients to psychiatrists to have their depression treated with drugs before deciding to investigate for himself just how effective the drugs actually were. Over the course of the past fifteen years, however, Kirsch’s research — a thorough analysis of decades of Food and Drug Administration data — has demonstrated that what everyone knew about antidepressants was wrong. Instead of treating depression with drugs, we’ve been treating it with suggestion.

The Emperor’s New Drugs makes an overwhelming case that what had seemed a cornerstone of psychiatric treatment is little more than a faulty consensus. But Kirsch does more than just criticize: he offers a path society can follow so that we stop popping pills and start proper treatment for depression.”


Anatomy of an Epidemic by Robert Whitaker

“In this astonishing and startling book, award-winning science and history writer Robert Whitaker investigates a medical mystery: Why has the number of disabled mentally ill in the United States tripled over the past two decades?

Interwoven with Whitaker’s groundbreaking analysis of the merits of psychiatric medications are the personal stories of children and adults swept up in this epidemic. As Anatomy of an Epidemic reveals, other societies have begun to alter their use of psychiatric medications and are now reporting much improved outcomes . . . so why can’t such change happen here in the United States? Why have the results from these long-term studies—all of which point to the same startling conclusion—been kept from the public?”


This book has changed the way I approach decision making and helped understand what is truly essential, as opposed to a shiny distraction.

“Essentialism is more than a time-management strategy or a productivity technique. It is a systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution toward the things that really matter.

By forcing us to apply more selective criteria for what is Essential, the disciplined pursuit of less empowers us to reclaim control of our own choices about where to spend our precious time and energy—instead of giving others the implicit permission to choose for us.”


A more practical application of epigenetics (whereas Biology of Belief focuses on the science), It Didn’t Start With You explores how the traumas suffered by your family have a direct affect on you.

“The latest scientific research, now making headlines, supports what many have long intuited—that traumatic experience can be passed down through generations. It Didn’t Start with You builds on the work of leading experts in post-traumatic stress, including Mount Sinai School of Medicine neuroscientist Rachel Yehuda and psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk, author of The Body Keeps the Score.”


The Power of Now by Ekhart Tolle

The Power of Now was the final piece in my puzzle of healing. I read it when I was in Prague, in January of 2017, and felt the shift occur as I read the book. It is one of those books that will be over the head of those who aren’t ready, but for those who are, it is transformational.


The Choice by Dr. Edith Eger

I believe this book should be required reading. It is astounding—for those who are ready to receive its message.

“At the age of sixteen, Edith Eger was sent to Auschwitz. Hours after her parents were killed, Nazi officer Dr. Josef Mengele, forced Edie to dance for his amusement and her survival. Edie was pulled from a pile of corpses when the American troops liberated the camps in 1945.

Edie spent decades struggling with flashbacks and survivor’s guilt, determined to stay silent and hide from the past. Thirty-five years after the war ended, she returned to Auschwitz and was finally able to fully heal and forgive the one person she’d been unable to forgive—herself.”


Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach

“‘Believing that something is wrong with us is a deep and tenacious suffering,’ says Tara Brach at the start of this illuminating book. This suffering emerges in crippling self-judgments and conflicts in our relationships, in addictions and perfectionism, in loneliness and overwork—all the forces that keep our lives constricted and unfulfilled. Radical Acceptance offers a path to freedom, including the day-to-day practical guidance developed over Dr. Brach’s twenty years of work with therapy clients and Buddhist students.”


Money is one of the great causes of mental anguish, and yet few people are willing to pick up a book and learn how to get out of debt, invest, and change the invisible scripts that run your monetary life. Whether you don’t think you have the income to save an extra $50/month or you don’t know what to do with your riches, I Will Teach You To Be Rich is as educational as it is entertaining.

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

The Root of the Problem

Over the past few months, I’ve been undergoing a series of extensive and thorough medical tests to get to the bottom of some physical issues I’ve been struggling with for years. Since well before these tests began, I’ve intuitively known two things to be true: something is inside me isn’t right but that whatever it is, it is treatable.

And yet, all my interactions with the American medical system thus far have led me to dead ends. Despite my history of extended international travel, few tests were run, with doctors dismissing my hunches because by most metrics, I’m a functioning individual. Instead, they assumed inconclusive diagnoses like IBS, lupus, stress, age. The solution was to relax! Drink more water! Eat more fiber! One doctor even suggested an antidepressant to help with gut issues, to which I smirked, raised an eyebrow, and resisted the urge to hand over a draft of my book along with my absurd $100 copay.

In September, after five years of this song and dance, the right professionals appeared at the right time. Instead of looking at each one of my issues in a vacuum, as if each symptom existed independently from the rest, my team analyzed my lab results and lifestyle from the perspective of an interconnected organism.

A saliva test, for example, indicated high cortisol (stress) levels but nonexistent estrogen and progesterone (sex hormone) levels. Looked at independently, the answer is hormone therapy that lowers cortisol and raises estrogen and progesterone. Simple, right?

Nope. A urine analysis revealed nearly nonexistent levels of metabolized cortisol, and a blood test showed signs of kidney dysfunction. Therefore, it’s not that my body produces too much cortisol, it’s that it can’t process it, which is a totally different problem that would not be fixed by lowering cortisol through drugs.

Still, this wasn’t the root of my complicaitons. My poor cortisol production was a symptom of a greater issue we discovered: a raging bacterial infection and parasitic presence, likely picked up while I was traipsing around the globe back in 2016. The constant stress of the infection increases cortisol production (and therefore lowers sex hormones because evolutionarily, it was unadvisable for our ancestors to focus on baby-making during stressors like famine or tribal war.) But because my gut is renting out space to unwelcome squatters, it’s not absorbing nutrients or electrolytes. Thus, I’m dehydrated no matter what I drink, which explains the kidney dysfunction, and the kidney dysfunction leads us right back to….poor cortisol processing! Hallelujah! Answers!

Why am I telling you this?

Two reasons. First, my gut bug story is a reminder to follow your intuition when it comes to your health. Half a dozen doctors dismissed my complaints, for years. I get it. They’re trained to look for extremes and to fit people into boxes of symptoms because that’s how we bill insurance companies. But the only person who knows you, is you. If you’re not a hypochondriac and you think something is off, follow that thread. Either you don’t find anything and you can breathe easy, or you turn out to be right.

Second, in going through this process, I was struck by how a whole-body approach to physical health is so similar to successful treatment of mental health. In both cases, few professionals actually look at comprehensive systems. An internist analyzes the gut and an endocrinologist analyzes the hormones, but at no point does either specialist talk to the other. The same is true for our approach to mental health. If you meet the criteria for depression, a psychiatrist gives you a diagnosis and a prescription slip. If you’re lucky, you work with someone who lets you talk a little bit about your wounds and your stressors for forty-five minutes, once a month.

While a series of lab tests were able to diagnose my root physical issues (the rent’s about to skyrocket, gut bugs), it’s rare to find people who are willing to dig around for root issues in their psyche. This work requires radical acceptance, ferocious commitment, and an unrelenting belief that it is possible to heal. It will ask someone to face their deepest shame, make extreme changes to their life, and to prioritize this work above all else. It requires financial commitment. It often gets worse before it gets better. It is hard. But it is also how we heal, how we build the strength to support a beautiful life.

I will be spending the next six months on a strict diet & supplementation schedule to evict the unwanted tenants living in my belly. What if you also spent the next six months committed to your physical and/or mental health? What if you went all in and committed to addressing the issues you know, intuitively, are bubbling inside your mind or body? What if you trusted that the work would pay off? What might your new life be like?


image of Fuckit Bucket™ products

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!

Get your own Fuckit Bucket™

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

Thank you everyone for your support over the past few months. I’ve spent the time in monk-mode, putting the last serious edits into my memoir, MAY CAUSE SIDE EFFECTS (Central Recovery Press, June 2022).

The work paid off. Johann Hari, award-winning journalist and author of the international bestseller Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and Unexpected Solutionssaid my book is “a heart-rending and tender memoir that will start conversations we urgently need to have.” Lost Connections is arguably the best book on depression and depression recovery in the world, and I am honored to have Johann endorse my work.

MAY CAUSE SIDE EFFECTS is available for preorder. If you can, please consider ordering from your local independent bookstore. Not only does it support local business, but bestseller lists rank orders from independent bookstores higher than orders from Amazon.

Barnes & Nobles | Amazon | Indiebound | The Writer’s Block

Ask Brooke: Lessons on Grief

Because so many people reach out to me with questions about depression, antidepressants, and recovery, I decided to make those questions part of my blog repertoire.

If you would like to Ask Brooke a question, you can do so here.

Today’s question is from a reporter at HerCampus who asked:

What advice would you give to a young person about grief?

My father died when I was in high school, so I spent much of my college experience “grieving” his death. I say “grieving” because at that point, I was medicated up to my eyeballs on psychiatric drugs given to me to inhibit the grieving process. The decision to medicate me as a response to grief has had long term consequences on my life (it’s what my book is about), so this is a topic that sits deep in my heart.

There are two key aspects to processing grief, especially as a young person whose mind isn’t fully developed. The first, and arguably most important, is to understand that the response to grief is not necessarily aligned or timed with the trauma itself. 

Hours after my father died, I went to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show and laughed with my friends. The adults around me were perplexed, and I remember feeling like I “shouldn’t” be happy (cue the shame) even though I was happy to be there.

Now, as a 35-year old, I understand their confusion. But as a teenager, I didn’t get what it meant to lose a parent. It was kind of like the first day of calculus. I had a vague notion that it was going to be hard, but because I didn’t understand any of it on the first day of school, the looming difficulty didn’t mean anything to me. It took time for me to understand enough about calculus to even have the vocabulary to describe how difficult it was, just like it took months for me to show any sort of outward grief from losing my father. But by then, I’d been sent to a psychiatrist because I wasn’t “grieving properly.”

What actually happened was that I was in shock from the trauma and slow to release emotion. I wasn’t aware that trauma and emotion can be separated by weeks, months, or years, so everyone (including me) thought I was “doing okay.” When the emotion finally did come out, I blamed it on the circumstance at the time, thinking that because I’d been “doing okay” so far, my emotions were unrelated to grief.

This is tricky because grief is often mistaken for a psychiatric illness, which leads to misdiagnosis and overmedication. Over the years, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has changed its criteria for distinguishing between major depressive disorder and grief. The third edition of the DSM, which governed the psychiatric industry from 1980 to 1994, gave patients one year of bereavement leeway before they could officially be diagnosed with a mental disorder. The fourth edition of the DSM slashed the timeframe down to two months. And the DSM-V, published in 2013, eliminated it entirely. Rather, if you’re not “over” a in a few weeks, you can be officially diagnosed with a mental illness—an unconscionable change, in my opinion.

It’s also important for young people to understand that grieving includes joy. Grief is not necessarily a blanket of blurry darkness in which no levity can get through. It comes in waves, which means there are pockets of time to feel joy. Fully feeling that joy or happiness is just as important as feeling the loss. Joy reminds us that we are alive and that we have something to live for. It honors the person or experience that’s been lost.

Had I known that back when I went to the Rocky Horror Picture Show, I may not have stepped into the shame of experiencing joy during grief. I may not have learned to view the world through a nihilist, depressed lens. I may never have been medicated for a mental illness I don’t know if I ever really had.

What I know for sure is that when I got off all the antidepressants, after 15 years, the grief I’d medicated away for so long was still there. I had to process it, a decade and a half later, which was much more destructive than it would have been had I let it unfold naturally.

Grief will always wait for you. It can be delayed but not avoided. Embrace it when it comes. Process it. Know that by feeling it you are transforming it into light and love.


image of Fuckit Bucket™ products

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!

Get your own Fuckit Bucket™

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.

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

One of the most underrated and useful techniques in creating a steady life is to understand the purpose of priority. And yet, like most things in our hustle harder society, “priority” is a word that only comes up around work. We instinctively know that when it comes to our job, there are certain things that are more important than others. We’re okay with letting busy work fall to the wayside when a deadline is looming, but when it comes to our personal life, prioritization is often replaced with the phrase, “I don’t have time.”

As in, “I don’t have time to work out” or “I don’t have time to cook” or “I don’t have time to write that novel.”

white puzzle and text overlay image for pinterest

This is, to be frank, bullshit. You do have time to work out. You do have time to cook. You do have time to write that novel. It’s just that none of this is your priority. You are not choosing to build these activities into your day, and therefore it doesn’t get done.

Whenever I point this out to people who complain about not getting around to one thing or another, I’m always shocked by how defensive they become. When it comes to things we “should” be doing, we have a nasty habit of defending our own choices in order to rationalize our lack of action. We let the excuses fly, as if not working out or not cooking is somehow an attack on our character.

But if we shift our mindset from “I don’t have time” to “it’s not my priority,” we relieve ourselves of the guilt that comes with not accomplishing a task. Working out simply isn’t a priority. Cooking is not a priority. Writing a novel is not a priority.

And it’s okay.

As long as you’re being honest with yourself about why you choose to spend your time the way you do, it doesn’t matter if you never step foot in a gym or put pen to paper.

This blog is my priority every Monday morning. Objectively, the few hours of dedicated writing are probably better spent on paid work, pitching editors, or trying to build a better following so my book gets bought. But, even though it won’t be winning a Pulitzer and I’m not influencing millions of people with my words, I like starting my week with a low-stakes task that keeps me writing and reflecting. And I know that if I don’t do it on Monday morning before I get bogged down with other jobs, it won’t get done. So I prioritize it first.

What frustration would melt away if you acknowledge that all the things you “don’t have time to do” are simply not your priority right now? How might your life be more enjoyable if you stop beating yourself up for everything you’re not doing? And what might happen if you shift your priorities toward what you really want?


image of Fuckit Bucket™ products

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!

Get your own Fuckit Bucket™

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

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

As I sit here on this gloomy spring morning, the tentacles of a migraine still latched onto the left side of my head, I am reminded of the phrase, “Do as much as necessary and as little as possible.”

wooden doll building wooden wall and text overlay

I first heard this phrased used around physical training. Think of an Olympian, for example, who has a finely tuned workout schedule designed to create gold-medal worthy results. She can’t back off and do less, otherwise, she risks her performance. She also shouldn’t do more, even if she’s capable of it, because doing more interferes with the rest and recovery necessary to perform at a high level. She doing both as much as necessary and as little as possible to reach her goals.

The idea is that doing more for the sake of doing more isn’t beneficial. That extra energy has to go somewhere, and if you’re not careful, that untamed energy leads to overuse and destruction.

Case in point: a Sunday night migraine that bleeds over to Monday because you broke your “no work on Saturday, under any circumstances, because you need to force yourself to rest so you don’t get sick” rule.

“Do as much as necessary and as little as possible” is tricky, though. Not only does it go against the “hustle harder” mantra that has so dominated our culture over the last decade, but it also gives those without much…shall we say, gumption, a route to laziness.

Take parenting, for example. I know one couple who, in all likelihood, will push their kid to take the SATs twice (and the ACTs twice, for good measure), even if the first go around yields scores strong enough to get the kid into her school of choice. I also know another couple whose neuro-typical seven year old can’t read or write his own name, but because they feed the kid and plop him in front of Zoom school for an hour a day, they’ve rationalized that they’re doing what is “necessary” to keep CPS off their back.

Both scenarios are recipes for different types of destruction. The SAT kid doesn’t need to expend more energy when the goal has already been met. Doing so will only lead to unnecessary, and prolonged anxiety, self-doubt, and shame. Meanwhile, the illiterate seven year old doesn’t even have a shot because of his parent’s fundamental disregard over what constitutes “necessary” parenting.

Ultimately, what is “necessary” is subjective and meaningless without clear goals or expectations. Get clear on what you want and what it takes to get there, but stop once you cross that line. Any effort beyond what is required is a liability.


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

gold the fuckit bucket charm

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

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
blue pinterest image with white text overlay

As I was taking my car to get serviced at 7:30 this morning, I pulled onto the highway and was met with a line of cars backed up for miles. I cursed myself for a moment, annoyed that I chose to take the highway at peak rush hour instead of taking the back roads. Whether or not the back roads were faster was irrelevant. My irritation revolved around getting caught in traffic in the first place, as if the thousands of other people on the road were out and driving stupidly just to piss off those of us who had very important places to be!

And then, a thought ran through my head: You aren’t in traffic. You are the traffic.

I think people have a deeply ingrained refusal to acknowledge their role in life’s frustrations. Every issue is turned outward. It’s always someone or something else who creates our problem, an uncontrollable and unpredictable force that befalls us without consent. But how often do we acknowledge that we are actually the willing participant in our issues? What role do we play in our problems?

I would argue that we have significant personal responsibility for 99% of our troubles. Honestly, I can’t think of a single problem in my current life that can’t be traced back to a choice I’ve made or actions I continue to take.

But it’s not just about blame. It’s about recognizing that you are the traffic. When you understand your role, you can harness your power. Do you want to take an exit? Or do you want to chug along, at a snail’s pace, yes, but without the accompanying rage? Next time, maybe you’ll take the back roads instead. Who knows what you’ll find there. Maybe that back road will be closed due to construction caused by drivers like you and cars like yours that day after day, break down the asphalt.

You contribute to the problems in the world. You contribute to the problems in your own life. These are absolute truths that apply to every beating heart.

So ask yourself this: Are you stuck in chaos? Or are you the chaos?


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

three images of the fuckit bucket 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 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.

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

More articles from the blog

see all articles

September 23, 2022

The Flowering of Human Consciousness

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September 16, 2022

Three Weeks

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September 9, 2022

Wanting

read the article

September 2, 2022

The Ashton Manual: A guideline for withdrawing from psychiatric drugs

read the article

I find myself writing to you today from a rather odd place. There is pressure surrounding a particular issue in my personal life, and I can feel my inner world preparing for the earth to crack open. This isn’t unexpected, and the details don’t matter. But it renders a newsletter about happiness as a skill rather paradoxical, or so I first thought.

When I woke up this morning, I wondered what I could say to you when there is a distinct layer of fear and anxiety draped over my own life. I thought about sharing a TED talk, or a poem, or an excerpt from one of the many books I’ve read over the years. I wanted to default to the wisdom of someone else in hopes that they could offer guidance. For both of us.

pinteres blue orange image with text overlay

But as I forced myself into a short meditation this morning, for no reason other than when I want to meditate the least is exactly when I need it most, it occurred to me that although there is a blanket of tension pulled over my heart, underneath it all still beats the pulse of overwhelming gratitude. I get to feel all of this, the good and the bad and the scary and the magnificent.

This has happened, in this capacity, once before. Back in February, I rescued a six-year-old mutt, Bella, from a not-so-great situation in Sacramento. That first bitter cold night, I took her out for a quick walk before bed. She was skiddish and insecure, her little tail like Velcro against her soft belly. Just fifty feet from my front door, a male neighbor came out of his house, clearly drunk and/or high. Bella barked, and the neighbor came toward me. There was another bark, a pull at the leash, then slack. When I looked down, all that was left of Bella was an empty collar. I searched for her until my hands went numb, but she was part of the darkness.

She had only been with me for four hours.

When I got into bed that night, I thought about how my house is surrounded by the Nevada desert. In all likelihood, she was somewhere in those hills. If a coyote didn’t get her, the cold sure would.

The pain and guilt of it all left me in a state of shock, and still, I wrapped the covers around me and thought if something like this had to happen, I’m so grateful I at least have a warm bed to feel it in. Whenever my mind circled back to the thought of my scared little dog, alone in a strange place, I forced myself back to a place of gratitude. A soft bed. A house I love. A mom who drove across town, at midnight, to help me look for Bella.

I awoke at 3am, a faint sound of barking rousing me from sleep. Dumbfounded, I went to the front door. A winter wind pushed the door open and a flash of white and tan scurried past my feet. Somehow, despite being lost for hours in a place she’d never been, Bella found her way back home.

And now here I am again. The waves of life crashing in, steady gratitude providing the foundation underneath.

This, to me, is why we do the work. It’s why we practice happiness as a skill, every day in a million little ways. But the catch-22 is that in the midst of preparation, you can’t know what you’re preparing for. You have to trust that because you’ve put in the emotional work, that because you practice happiness when the seas are calm, you will be able to handle tsunamis. Because the waves of life will always come.

And if you’re lucky, you’ll realize what a gift it is to get to experience it all.

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

three images of the fuckit bucket 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

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

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

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

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

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

No matter what country we live in, what culture we’re a part of, or what religion we practice, everything in our world revolves around a single goal: attaining happiness.

This far-off-but-acheivable-if-you-follow-the-rules happiness is our own personal autocrat. In a capitalist society, the happiness dictator demands that if we study hard to gain a career, we can work hard to earn money to buy things that make us happy. In a communist society, the happiness dictator demands that if we all work hard to produce enough to share then everyone will be equally happy. Meanwhile, a Catholic happiness dictator tells us that if we follow the word of the Bible and repent for our sins, we will hit the happy lottery and win a one way ticket to heaven.

It’s all a rat race to nowhere. A new iPad won’t bring lasting happiness any more than having the same amount of potatoes as your neighbor or confessing to a stranger in a box. And still, we follow the rules of these mythical ideas because somewhere out there, just out of our reach, is the happiness we’re promised.

Happiness is a paradox. The more we look for it, the more we become aware that we don’t have it. And when we’re asked to define what happiness is and why we want it, the answer is unclear. Is happiness just the absence of pain? Satisfaction? Having hope? Experiencing love? To want for nothing?

The Dutch do a better job of breaking down happiness into meaningful definitions. Lykke is the Danish word for sort of elusive feeling we search for, the sort of deep happiness that comes only once in a while but feels so good. It is inherently fleeting and often out of our control. Glad is more of a nothing-out-of-the-ordinary contentment, or general satisfaction with the trajectory of one’s life.

(In my view, lykke is a feeling and glad is a state, which means this newsletter should really be titled, “Glad is a Skill, Lykke is a Bonus.”)

According to Buddhism, most people identify happiness with pleasant feelings, and all of life is a quest to feel more pleasure. The problem, though, is that feelings are fickle. We experience joy, then we are dissatisfied when joy dissipates, which leads to malaise, which prompts us to search for joy again. We rinse and repeat this cycle, never gaining any meaningful last effects and constantly subjecting suffering for it. Hence the Buddhist mantra, “Life is suffering.”

Buddhism argues that the only way to relieve this suffering is to understand the impermanent nature of all feelings which leads us to stop craving happiness. To truly understand that all feelings come and go—satisfaction, boredom, anger, panic, joy, malaise—is the whole point of mediation.

Some people get this concept more than others. They’re the ones who seem to shrug it all off and keep on whistling. Then there’s the rest of us, myself included. I have to put in work to recognize that not only am I in a constant state of craving, but that I am actively convincing myself I can hold onto more happiness if I can just change something out there. But I have also touched on a handful of moments—typically in meditation or walking in nature—where I tap into a state of being that demands nothing from the world around me. In those moments, I know I have everything I need and that who I am is not the home I live in or the job I do or how I feel about the things I have. Gratitude and lykke rush through me and out of me, leaving a hum of glad with no external attachment.

These moments are transient. I am in no way a master of remaining in this state, but they remind me that it is possible stop all the wanting and simply just be.


The money, job, marriage myth: are you happy yet? | Books | The Guardian

One of the biggest issues I’m currently working on is untangling the idea that money and jobs with prestige and praise = success. This article helped unravel some of my mental knots; 87% of florists say they’re happy compared to 64% of lawyers, and the happiest people work 21 – 30 hours a week.


Why Finland And Denmark Are Happier Than The U.S.
Why Finland And Denmark Are Happier Than The U.S.www.youtube.com

What does it take to be happy? The Nordic countries seem to have it all figured out. About those high taxes: When paying hefty tariffs means it costs only $300 to have a baby, homelessness is nearly eradicated, and the government will support you while you quit your day job and go to art school…well, it seems people are more than happy to shell out.


The Key to Finding Happiness: Stop Trying to Be Happy | Mark Manson
The Key to Finding Happiness: Stop Trying to Be Happy | Mark Mansonmarkmanson.net

Though they seem at odds, Manson’s call to stop trying to be happy aligns exactly with my theory of happiness as a skill. Happiness, he says, is not something you achieve. It’s the side effect, rather, of getting your life in order.

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