How to Ease Depression and Increase Happiness
Two years ago I was the head of a small but busy university psychology department. Today, I work for myself. At first, the transition was financially costly, but it was planned well in advance so there were no surprises. I can't say I went through a midlife crisis so much as sensing there were other things I wanted to do, at a time and in a way I wanted to do them. The thought took hold, developed, and the rest as they say, is history.
In making this life change I follow a long line of people who have done exactly the same thing. Why do we do it? Are we running away from something, or simply looking for something better and more fulfilling that will make us happier? The issues are probably interlinked in ways that might be difficult to disentangle. But there are other things that include:
Stuff. How much of our lives do we spend acquiring stuff? It's natural to want things in order to make life secure and comfortable but there's a point where people can strive too hard. The psychologist Oliver James points to the fact that chasing material goods can make high achievers prone to depression. Indeed in one study involving 15 countries it was found that people who place high value on possessions, fame and social or physical appearance are more at risk of depression. The things we think are worth having often bear little or no relationship to the things worth being.
Hitting the Rocks. It can take a really hard knock before some people seriously question their lives. Psychologist, Steve Taylor, refers to such people as "shifters". It's not until these folk hit the bottom that they experience a kind of internal eruption that tips the balance in favor a new life of calmness, happiness and sense of wellbeing. What Taylor calls "suffering-induced transformations" require the courage to let go of all those attachments that we've spent a great deal of our lives acquiring. Such desires, powers, jobs or roles have no particular substance. The stress that usually accompanies these attachments first builds then ultimately begins to implode in wave of anxiety, panic and depression. For such people letting go is still a choice but it's an effortful one because it will leave the person exposed and vulnerable. After all, if we choose to define ourselves by what we do, then what do we become when these things are removed? But, once made, the mental health benefits quickly start to stack up.
Most people get along just fine with their work. They may not always like it but they do alright, and that's fine. My own life change is an example of a planned and measured outcome. This contrasts with the previous example of how things can go out of control but where it may just be possible to step back from the edge of the precipice. Not everyone recognizes the need to change and not everyone is able, or feels able to change, when they would like to. Sometimes a compromise can be reached, the results of which lift mood. Cutting out irritations and attending to lifestyle factors is a good place to start.
‘Blame, insatiably demanding parents in our materialist society', Oliver James, Times 2, The Times (20 January 2006).
Taylor, S (2011) Out of the Darkness: From Turmoil to Transformation. Hay House Publishers