Have you ever noticed how seems to be absolutely thrilled when there is something to dig up out of the ground or a squirrel to chase? He is totally engaged, tail wagging, movements are focused and quick. He is demonstrating unbridled enthusiasm!
Enthusiasm is how the late great neuroscientist, Jaak Panksepp described the SEEKING system (which he capitalized for clinical purposes). He identified Seeking as the “master” emotion underlying all actions. The circuit of the brain that is engaged when the hound is on the trail of the fox is one that we share with our furry brethren, as we do all primal emotional systems.
As we have noticed in our four footed friends, the experience of Seeking itself is highly pleasurable. The system runs on dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter.
What you find is pleasurable only temporarily. Seeking is deactivated once the thing you are seeking is found. To continue fueling that fun, this activity must be ongoing – as goals are met, new ones need to emerge. So, the most instantly pleasurable seeking activity is one in which the searched-for items are numerous or ever-present.
When we feel depressed, we are inclined to wallow passively, often watching tv or mindlessly surfing social media. But passive activity of this nature does not engaging the seeking system. What’s more, heavy recreational internet use is correlated with depression.
When you feel down, it’s time to engage in some active goal-oriented activity. And to get your body into it in a physically active way double down on the dopamine, as physical activity provides an additional boost of this beneficial neurotransmitter.
So what are some activities that steer clear of the internet and engage our seeking system with continuity, and incorporate some physical activity?
Foraging– Looking for certain things out in nature such as plants, rocks, mushrooms or arrowheads (please photograph these and leave them).This activity is excellent for ongoing stimulation of the seeking system, because you are on a continuous search and the goals are endless
Birdwatching – get a copy of Backyard Birds and comb the neighborhood for familiar feathered friends (and not so) whose names you never knew.
Bookstore Browsing – Have a subject that interests you? Rather than scroll through Amazon, get out and over to your local bookstore. See how many books you can find that tackle your topic.
Flea Market Finds – Big box stores can be dreary due to their homogenous offerings, and there is an efficiency to their organization that doesn’t engage the active searching. Flea markets and thrift stores are a different story, as merchandise is unique and often surprising.
Sort Out Old Stuff – Go to your storage space and tackle that files of old papers or disorganized cds and engage yourself in nostalgia as you discover music you once loved or relive pleasant memories. This activity has the added benefit or organizing out your life, which in itself is uplifting. You could also comb your over-packed closet for things you will never wear again and bag these up for donation.
So here are a few ideas to alleviate a temporary depressed mood by engaging our natural and hard-wired love of searching and adventure.
A caveat – clinical depression is a different story. If you have the blues for 2 weeks or more without an obvious cause, it’s probably time to seek counseling. But if you need to jolt yourself out of the temporary blahs, get out the door on a quest for something, anything that engages the enthusiasm inherent in the SEEKING system!