Q. I’ve been feeling pretty low for the last couple of years. I’ve tried numerous times to pick myself up and look at the brighter side of things, but it just would not work. The motivation of the fresh start would fade away after a couple of days and I’d inevitably slide back into apathy and despair. In some weird way, I wanted to fail and be miserable. It was like there were two different aspects of my personality fighting for dominance. Recently however, I’ve started reading ‘Feeling Good’ by David Burns, and it has been immensely helpful in rising my awareness of the destructiveness of my negative thoughts. Additionally, I’ve also discovered that regular meditation helps me fill the existential hole in my life. I’ve acquired a new zest for life during the last couple of weeks, and have been able to substantially participate in social life for the first time in years. Of course, I’d to maintain and even improve on this situation, but I’m afraid a time will come when I’ll fall victim to another lengthy bout of depression. Do you have any tips on how to avoid this? Any books I might read to further strengthen my cognitive skills? Any meaningful atheistic philosophies that might support me in difficult times? Anything at all that could weaken that pessimistic, apathetic part in me? Thanks a lot for your reply!

A. Many people have found help by reading the Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns that you spoke of. The basic therapeutic framework used in the book is cognitive behavioral therapy. Since you have found this book to be helpful, you can try other self help books that utilize the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy. Also, to avoid a future depression relapse, you can contact a cognitive behavioral therapist to meet with in addition to reading the books.

I would also recommend books by Abraham Maslow. His is most known for discovering the hierarchy of needs. Maslow’s type of therapeutic framework is known as humanistic psychology. One of his best known books is entitled Toward a Psychology of Being. Most of Maslow’s work and writings stem from his studies with mentally healthy people. Instead of studying psychologically unhealthy people like many psychologists, Maslow took a different approach and studied the characteristics of mentally healthy people. In his estimation, these healthy people represent only one percent of our population. His books describe in full detail which personal characteristics are necessary to achieve mental health by describing the qualities of self actualizing people. Many approaches, today in therapy, accept the need for spirituality. I would not give up on this prematurely. It is far more difficult to disprove the existence of god than it is to prove it. The atheist is taking a gigantic leap in his assertion that there is no god. Perhaps the agnostic stands on the firmest ground off all.