happiness in a bottlePopular commercials depict mental health consumers gleefully picking daisies on a sun-splashed day. Happiness is achievable, if only you insert this pill, embrace this diet regimen, or add this supplement. The sterile blueness — or is it an overcast Seattle grey? — is a temporary inconvenience.

Daisies, mimosas, and sun-kissed days in your future? Not so fast, my friend. In our instant gratification society, we expect to feel good. We glance at loved ones, colleagues, and friends and assume they are faring better than us. Try this cognitive distortion on for size: emotional problems, relationship difficulties, and financial concerns snare them, too. Life is a four-letter word.

Does this provide a measure of reassurance? Glowering at me, you spit out a firm “no” before threatening to change your latest medication. My reaction: a knowing, rueful head shake. I have been there. The shiniest, newest medication will transform your fearful, anxiety-riddled soul into a poised, confident leader.

But maybe, just maybe, our unquestioned faith in medication is a self-serving mechanism. Admittedly, it is agonizing to critique my own ingrained, counterproductive habits. When I am struggling, I slink into bed, scarf down a bag of Tim’s potato chips, and lament my current predicament. My tried and true response: bemoan the current medication, bombard Dr. N with a string of increasingly urgent emails, and cast a beseeching glance to the medication gods. Yes, Dr. N’s latest prescription will be the answer…to all my lingering problems, long-term resentments, and interpersonal drama.

Dr. N — as skilled a psychiatrist as there is — may have stumbled upon a non-medicinal panacea: Dr. M. After eight years without a trained psychologist, I have been unspooling my past and reshaping my future with Dr. M. Feeling good is the process, not necessarily the culmination of these draining sessions.

Bedeviled with intrusive, unwanted thoughts, my mischievous mind spits out creative ideas, cringe-inducing thoughts, and, yes, the occasional insight. Before labeling, judging, and categorizing each thought, I now adopt the all-you-can-eat $6.99 Chinese buffet mentality. If a particular thought is unappetizing, I skip it. I have the flexibility — freedom even — to observe my brain’s background noise without blindly responding.

Meds is a four-letter word; hope is too. Under Dr. N and Dr. M, the latter now eclipses the former.

Girl with daisies photo available from Shutterstock