Friday, December 23, 2011

Got the Blues?

This is an interesting article. I think it hits on some key points as to why so many people I know including myself seem to be so sad. Not that I agree with it in it's entirety but it poses some interesting ideas.

Why am I so Sad?
Published on November 19, 2010 by Paul Zannucci
Why am I so Sad? Part One
Despite a thriving pharmaceutical industry promising to change your brain chemistry and make you happy, depression continues to hit all-time highs in western culture.1


Why am I so sad? This is a rather odd question, and modern culture in the west may be the first to ask it on a fairly regular basis, for in asking this question we do not simply admit to being sad, but also add a healthy heaping of neurosis into the equation by admitting that we have no idea why we feel this way. This uncertainty is the point, after all, of the question. Why? My puppy didn’t get hit by a bus, so why? I don’t have a dread disease, so why? It is not that something has happened that caused us to be sad, but, as modern psychology knows, it is something that has not happened that is the problem. We are sad due to an absence, a shortage, a deficiency.

Most popular self-help books ignore the cause of sadness or depression entirely, instead focusing on the aspirin-a-day approach, filling their pages with mostly ineffectual coping techniques. This entirely misses the point and only hopes to alleviate the headache rather than cure the sinus infection. In reality we must acknowledge the symptoms, but then get to the cause. Fix the cause and the symptoms go away.

Four Clues to the Cause of Sadness
Clue One: Infantilism

Did not the infant disappear before the child, and the child before the boy, and the boy before the youth, and the youth before the young man, and the young man before the full-grown man, and the man in the prime of life before the old man–Philo 2

In a recent conversation I had with a doctor of psychology, he spoke at length on the environmentally learned abilities to cope when questioned about depression, citing a Harvard study that looked at children who were raised in what would be considered by U.S. standards to be absolutely horrific conditions. These were children in developing countries torn by guerrilla-style warfare. The study determined that these children coped better, and were generally happier, than their western counterparts. This is significant for one of the other four clues to why we are sad, but the upshot to maturity is demonstrated in the portion of the study that found that infantile behavior and thinking persists in western culture far longer than it does anywhere else, with a significant number of mid-lifers existing in a persistent state of childhood. Essentially, it’s all about us and moment-to-moment happiness. We want things now without the difficult stuff in between.

There are many other aspects of childish thought, but these will suffice until Part Two of this series.

Clue Two: Misunderstanding the Concept of Cause and Effect: Or Misunderstanding the Meaning of Happiness

[A] modern trend is a change in what people mean by “the good life.” From Old Testament times and ancient Greece until this century, the good life was widely understood to mean a life of human flourishing constituted by intellectual and moral virtue. The good life is the life of ideal human functioning. 3

Today we have changed the meaning of happiness to something that comes instantaneously from visceral stimuli rather than the result of living in a manner that generates happiness. We want our happiness to fall out of the sky and land in our laps with no effort on our own parts. When attempting to be happy, we tend to do shallow things that create temporary happy feelings. We watch a movie. We engage in sexual relationships or become addicted to pornography. We read escapist literature. Generally, we spend much time doing the things that bring immediate but ephemeral, positive stimuli that creates short bursts of happiness. Whenever we are away from these things, our happiness goes away. This cycle of sensory-based happiness spirals out of control until even the things that used to cause happiness no longer work.

Prior to modern culture, we saw happiness in a different light. We saw happiness as the result of a life where we lived the right way, living with meaning and doing the hard things, as opposed to a cheap thrill that we must pursue at all costs as often as possible. When we live not for greater meaning but for instant gratification, we become what is called an ‘empty self.’

Clue Three: Self-Absorbed Narcissism

A healthy form of individualism is a good thing. But the empty self that populates American culture is a self-contained individual who defines his own life goals, values, and interests as though he were a human atom, isolated from others with little need or responsibility to live for the concerns of his broader community. The self-contained individual does his own thing and seeks to create meaning by looking within his own self.4

The narcissist is superficial and devoid of meaning outside of his own pleasure.5 If you asked parents what they wanted most for their children, the vast majority would say ‘happiness’ (85 percent answered this in a recent survey). Happiness is a wonderful thing, but it is the end result rather than the main activity. By teaching our children to principally pursue activities that generate pleasure, we have created a generation of self-absorbed pleasure seekers who have not the slightest clue what it takes to generate lasting happiness.

Clue Four: A Thin World

George Mavrodes has has identified and divided the ‘types of worlds’ that people live in. A world with an overarching meaning, even one with great strife, as in the struggles that persist in some developing countries, is called a ‘thick world.’ Meanwhile, a world where meaning is derived simply from pleasure is called a ‘thin world.’ 6 A thick world generally includes something much bigger than the individual himself, for instance a strong religious life or some great cause that involves many people.

The key to happiness can be said to be moving oneself from a thin to a thick world. This is not an easy task in a culture dominated by naturalist and postmodernist meaninglessness, but then again things that are worthwhile, such as happiness, do not simply fall from the sky, as we are all too aware of when we ask the question, “Why am I so sad?” But to have true happiness that comes not from without takes this sort of effort and movement. We must strive for a thick world, a world with meaning, real and lasting meaning where our behaviors have consequences. We must live our day-to-day existence within this thick world doing things that we may not want to do, but the result of having done them will be something that does not come from external stimuli raining from above, lasting and true happiness.