As we close out the topic of mental attitude, Dale Carnegie provides a very practical prescription for dealing with depression: do something nice for someone, every day for 2 weeks.

Like many of the stories I’ve chosen to illustrate the lessons thus far, Carnegie has some noteworthy anecdotes. For example, Carnegie tells of a woman in deep mourning who helped two orphans discovered in a deserted church on Christmas Eve. He also related the story of a woman who worked her way out of a sickbed, after being called upon to coordinate relief and information flow in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor’s bombing.

We all assume we would rise to the occasion, if faced with a grand event or calamity, but what about depression in regular life? As Carnegie puts it,

But with me things are different: I live an ordinary humdrum life. I work at a dull job eight hours a day. Nothing dramatic ever happens to me. How can I get interested in helping others? And why should I? What is there in it for me?”

A fair question. I’ll try to answer it. However humdrum your existence may be, you surely meet some people every day of your life. What do you do about them? Do you merely stare through them, or do you try to find out what it is that makes them tick? How about the postman, for example—he travels hundreds of miles every year, delivering your mail; but have you ever taken the trouble to find out where he lives, or ask to see a snapshot of his wife and his kids? Did you ever ask him if he gets tired, or if he ever gets bored?

What about the grocery boy, the newspaper vendor, the chap at the corner who polishes your shoes? These people are human—bursting with troubles, and dreams, and private ambitions. They are also bursting for the chance to share them with someone. But do you ever let them? Do you ever show an eager, honest interest in them or their lives? That’s the sort of thing I mean. You don’t have to become a Florence Nightingale or a social reformer to help improve the world—your own private world; you can start tomorrow morning with the people you meet!1

I can personally vouch for this depression treatment. It is impossible to express a genuine interest in the life of a stranger or acquaintance and stay stuck inside your own head. The first time you see the obvious brightening of someone else’s day, you’ll be converted. Even if your bad mood remains, you’ll have had a positive impact on the people around you.

Every little bit helps.

This post is one part in a series on worry. Feel free to dip in anywhere or start at the beginning.

  1. How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie, p. 165. ↩︎