How Do You Cope with Depression?

I had a conversation with a depressed friend that centered on the question of happiness. In short, my friend asked me in no uncertain terms: “why does life suck so much?”

My contrarian instinct kicked in and I immediately responded that life does not have to suck. On a very fundamental level we choose to be happy or not, although often we do not perceive this to be a choice.

I am not trying to blame someone for feeling unhappy; however, I do feel the need to lay some responsibility at their feet. Unhappiness can be the result of action or inaction. Rarely does someone actively seek unhappiness, however, tacitly we often find it. Being unhappy may be the result of a failure to act. We fail to do things that make us happy, often we fail to stop doing things that make us unhappy. These things can be quite simple; perhaps I spend one hour every day doing something out of pure enjoyment. They can also be maddeningly complicated; perhaps I refuse to quit a job that saddens and limits me. Obviously, in the latter case other considerations cannot be overlooked. Personally, I have lost jobs and later realized that I should have quit years before, although financially it can be difficult to do so.

There is a huge dichotomy in the United States: on average we are exceptionally materially wealthy, but often we are poor in the currency of happiness. If you disagree that we are exceptional wealthy, consider the vast stretches of human history where the luxuries now enjoyed by the poor were once beyond the contemplation of a King. Clean drinking water was once a luxury.  I do not want to make light of someone’s personal difficulties, but why don’t you consider expounding on the travails of your day-to-day existence to Anne Frank, Joan of Arc or Mahatma Gandhi? People would kill to have the things we take for granted, and in the past people have.

On the other hand, surveys indicate that happiness among American’s has largely stagnated (http://www.scholarpedia.org/article/Psychology_of_happiness – See Attached Figure). Discussion of this topic could be the subject of an entirely different post, but sufficed to say that material wealth and happiness have completely decoupled in America over the past sixty years (the reference above was before the financial crisis [published in 2007], thus there is a case to be made that the trend could be stronger or weaker today). I think the conclusion from this data is clear: wealth is not correlated with happiness thus poverty should not lead to depression. Indeed, some of the poorest people in the world are probably the happiest.

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So my response to my friend’s query has an intention. If life is making you unhappy, you need to change the way that you approach life. Life is not going to change to fit you; instead you must strive to pursue happiness. Without a doubt this task is more difficult for sufferers of depression. Unfortunately, society often emphasizes the wrong things, preaching material wealth as a panacea for all our problems. If happiness depends on the size of your house, the make and model of your car or the brand of clothing you wear, you may be setting yourself up for failure.

While there is clearly not one solution to the problem of depression, I personally enjoy making life into a game. Watch silly YouTube videos, play sports, read, reflect and enjoy movies that speak to you – ideally you should use these hobbies to relate to other people and build lasting relationships. For the cost of an Internet connection, late fees at the public library and gas to drive to beautiful places, you can increase your quality of life far beyond simple monetary considerations.

Don’t be ashamed, life is short: make it fun…

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