I’ve had a few episodes of major depression in my life – episodes when I sunk so low I started feeling like this life just might not be worth all the effort it takes.
The last one came on several years ago, seemingly out of nowhere, taking me by surprise. I had an awesome husband I was (and still am!) very much in love with. After years of fertility treatments, I had finally welcomed three beautiful, healthy children. I had a good job that paid well and gave me the flexibility to work from home. My husband and I were renovating a fixer-upper – a long-time dream come true.
Why would I get depressed? Didn’t I have everything anyone would ever want? Was I just an ungrateful bitch with first world problems?
I got my answer when I started studying the Myers-Briggs Personality Type theory. According to this theory, humans have eight cognitive functions at their disposal. The cognitive functions are eight different ways for our brains to gather and process information. And we are each born with a favorite function (also called the primary or dominant function). Using our favorite function brings happiness. It feels effortless. When you are using your favorite function, you feel “in the flow”.
In other words, if you want to learn how to make your brain happy, find out your Myers Briggs dominant function and start using it!
Let’s see what each personality type’s favorite function is.
(Pssst, if you don’t know your personality type, read this article first.)
Myers Briggs Cognitive Functions: The Dominant Function For Each Personality Type
Extraverted Sensing (ESFP, ESTP)
Extraverted sensing takes in the immediate environment through the five senses – seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and touching. People whose favorite function is extraverted sensing have a gift for being present in the here and now, adapting to different physical environments, and acting in the moment. They are practical problem solvers with a realistic assessment of the current situation, whatever that may be.
- ESFPs pair extraverted sensing with introverted feeling (their second favorite function) and are more likely to find joy in applying their gifts in fields related to people or arts.
- ESTPs pair extraverted sensing with introverted thinking (their second favorite function) and are more likely to enjoy concrete or mechanical tasks.
Introverted Sensing (ISFJ, ISTJ)
Introverted sensing remembers past experiences and constantly compares the current to the past. People whose favorite function is introverted sensing remember what worked and what didn’t and once they have found something that works, they prefer to stick to it. As a result, they are good at following routines and standard operating procedures without getting bored. Because of this ability to stick to a task, they can be very systematic, thorough, and reliable. They can become experts at their field of choice. Introverted sensing is also a function of conserving. It compels people to conserve physical resources and energy. And because people with this function as their favorite usually see past ways of doing things as more efficient than changing and learning something new, their preference is to maintain familiar traditions, customs, and ways of doing things.
- ISFJs pair introverted sensing with extraverted feeling (their second favorite function), which can make them a warm care-taker and give them a concern for human welfare in general.
- ISTJs pair introverted sensing with extraverted thinking (their second favorite function), which makes them well-suited for bureaucratic office work and managerial positions.
Extraverted Intuiting (ENFP, ENTP)
Extraverted intuition is aware of possibilities and open to new ideas. Extraverted intuition asks “what could be” and “what if” and uses the answers to brainstorm ideas for changing the world. People whose favorite function is extraverted intuition have a gift for originality and enthusiasm. They give the rest of us the inspiration to try new things.
- ENFPs pair extraverted intuiting with introverted feeling (their second favorite function), which might make them more concerned with people.
- ENTPs pair extraverted intuiting with introverted thinking (their second favorite function), which might make them more analytical and impersonal.
Introverted Intuiting (INFJ, INTJ)
Introverted intuition is a deep and thoughtful way of perceiving that mostly focuses on abstract ideas and unseen meanings. Introverted intuition produces flashes of insight that come seemingly out of nowhere, and even though there may not be concrete evidence, introverted intuition knows the insight to be true. The insights produced by introverted intuition often turn into visions for the future.
- INFJs pair introverted intuition with extraverted feeling (their second favorite function), which results in their intuitive insights often being related to people, relationships, and human welfare.
- INTJs pair introverted intuition with extraverted thinking (their second favorite function), which makes them more likely to have scientific insights.
Extraverted Thinking (ENTJ, ESTJ)
Extraverted thinking analyzes the current situation, sets goals, and figures out how to reach the goal. People whose favorite function is extraverted thinking have a gift for taking charge, making decisions, and organizing people and systems to get things done.
- ENTJs pair extraverted thinking with introverted intuition (their second favorite function), which can make them leaders who are open to new ideas and possibilities for problem solving.
- ESTJs pair extraverted thinking with introverted sensing (their second favorite function), which makes them more likely to use past experience to solve problems.
Introverted Thinking (INTP, ISTP)
Introverted thinking is all about impersonal and objective analysis. People whose favorite function is introverted thinking have a gift for analysis, organizing, and critique. Because this is an introverted function, the people who favor introverted intuition are typically absorbed in analyzing whatever the problem of the day may be – they are not driven to take charge of the outer world or try to control other people or situations.
- INTPs pair introverted thinking with extraverted intuition (their second favorite function), which means they are most likely to find satisfaction in analyzing and organizing ideas and knowledge. They will have intellectual curiosity and a quick understanding of theory and abstract concepts. They will be most adept at finding solutions to problems rather than the practical application of those solutions.
- ISTPs pair introverted thinking with extraverted sensing (their second favorite function), which makes them more likely to want to engage in tangible (as opposed to abstract or theoretical) problem solving, like mechanics.
Extraverted Feeling (ENFJ, ESFJ)
Extraverted feeling is all about group happiness. People whose favorite function is extraverted feeling seek harmony in personal relationships, and above all else, just want everyone to get along. Extraverted feeling is good at picking up cultural norms and the “appropriate” thing to do in a situation. Extraverted feelers tend to be conflict-avoidant people-pleasers. They seek to meet other people’s needs even at the cost of their own.
- ENFJs pair extraverted feeling with introverted intuition (their second favorite function), which tends to make them more open to new ideas, possibilities, and academic interests.
- ESFJs pair extraverted feeling with introverted sensing (their second favorite function), which tends to make them more practical and conventional.
Introverted Feeling (INFP, ISFP)
Introverted feeling could also be called the conscience. It’s a decision-making function that judges ideas and actions according to an internal value system. People whose favorite function is introverted feeling have strong convictions of right and wrong. They seek to maintain their personal integrity by behaving according to their convictions and help other people do the same. While extraverted feeling focuses on maintaining harmony in a group and in relationships, introverted feeling focuses on maintaining internal harmony. Whereas extraverted feeling prioritizes the values of the group, introverted feeling prioritizes the values of the individual. People who favor introverted feeling will feel compelled to speak out and stand up for what they believe to be right even if it creates tension in a group. They can be very devoted to people and causes they care about.
- INFPs pair introverted feeling with extraverted intuition (their second favorite function), which makes them especially open to possibilities for helping people and improving human welfare. The combination of intuition and feeling also gives INFPs a special talent for language. They are often interested in literature and gifted writers.
- ISFPs pair introverted feeling with extraverted sensing (their second favorite function), which makes them practical problem solvers, who are more likely to be drawn to expressing themselves with their hands either via arts and crafts or as loving and nurturing care-takers of people.
What Does This Have To Do With Depression?
Now that we know about this favorite function business, let’s go back to my depression for just a bit. I’m an INFJ, so my favorite function is introverted intuiting. As an introvert, I not only like, but need, a good bit of time by myself to feel my best. As an introverted intuitive, my favorite things to do are reading, writing, and thinking about ways to change things for the better.
Back when depression hit me out of nowhere like a lightning strike, I was doing a whole lot of things other than introverted intuiting. Taking care of a family, I was doing a whole lot of extraverted feeling (trying to keep other people happy and satisfied) and extraverted sensing (being present and living in the moment). At my job, I was doing a whole lot of extraverted thinking (management) and introverted thinking (analysis).
I can do all these things and even do them fairly well for the most part. But none of them come to me naturally and all of them take various degrees of effort. Extraverted feeling is my secondary (or second favorite) function, so it comes to me quite easily, but it’s still extraverted when my nature is deeply introverted. The thinking functions, which I was using eight hours a day were a real stretch, and therefore exhausting. And extraverted sensing I just suck at even when I give it my best. 😉 Too big a dose of extraverted sensing is guaranteed to result in a tension headache for me.
And most significantly, all these things were taking so much time that I had no time to do anything that puts my brain in flow. I could feel pride in taking care of and providing for my family. I could tell myself I was “doing the right thing” until I was blue in the face.
But none of it ACTUALLY made me feel good, as in making my brain produce feel-good chemicals. If I spend the vast majority of my time doing things that take a lot of effort – things that I have to push against my nature to do – it’s not long before I start experiencing excessive stress and feeling like “life is just too fucking hard”.
How To Make Your Brain Happy
The only thing that puts my brain in flow is introverted intuiting. And when I started setting aside time for just that, my depression lifted almost overnight. I didn’t need to talk to a therapist about my terrible childhood. I didn’t need to take medication to numb the pain. I just needed to do my own thing – even if my thing is not what mainstream society tells me I should need or want.
So yeah, I’m the weirdo who likes to hole up in quiet solitude reading, pondering, and writing. Simply spending some time, most days, doing this one thing that feels best to me gives me positive energy to do the other things that take more effort.
Life doesn’t have to feel good and easy all the time. But if it never does, there’s a problem.
Maybe you are in a situation where you are constantly asked to do things and act in a way that doesn’t come to you naturally.
Maybe you are living a life where there’s no room for “your thing” – whatever your thing may be. That’s an exhausting way to live.
And the way to fix it is to reclaim your right to be yourself.
(Pssst, I like to share my personal experience overcoming depression with the hope that some of my discoveries might resonate with others. Making lifestyle changes has greatly contributed to my own well-being, and as a life coach, I help people make impactful changes in their own lives. But I’m not a mental health professional and I’m not qualified to diagnose or treat mental health conditions. Depression has many potential causes, and if you have questions about the appropriate intervention for you, please consult a qualified professional.)
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