In a previous article I shared some of the books that have been life changing for me. I am presently re-reading one of these books, “The Saints’ Guide to Happiness” written by Robert Ellsberg. I would not identify myself as a person who is religious or of any particular faith or denomination. But I do feel that we can learn a lot from people of all faiths who have written about how to handle life's challenges. Some of my favorite passages from this book remind me that depression is multi-faceted. Is depression caused by biology? I believe so and so do many doctors, therapists and researchers. Yet biology only gives us part of the picture. Depression is also deepened by loss, trauma, and stress.
Yet probably the biggest overlooked contributor to depression is incongruence with our values and how we actually live our life. In many ways depression may be a wake-up call that something is not right in our life that we need to change.
If you are in a bad relationship, have a job, which is toxic to your mental health, or you are living life unconsciously like an automaton, all the antidepressants in the world will not solve your problems. A pill or even therapy cannot translate to change unless you take that first step. I am in no way minimizing these tools. Antidepressants and therapy can help you to reach that point where you feel strong enough to take risks and enact change. There is a saying, which has been attributed to both Albert Einstein and Narcotics Anonymous that states: "Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results." If you keep living a life that is incongruent with your values and beliefs and sit around hoping for a change to occur from some external source, it is guaranteed that you will remain unhappy.
In the Saints’ Guide to Happiness a story of transformation is told about a man named James Martin. Martin, who would later become a Jesuit priest, began his life in a very different way than one would expect. He had very high ambitions as a young man and dreamed of a high powered career and making mountains of money. By the time he was in his mid-twenties he had attained some of the “success” he had aspired to achieve. He became a junior executive at General Electric and was quickly becoming a corporate star. Yet despite getting to where he thought he should be in life, Martin felt empty and unhappy. Something was wrong.
He wondered as some of us do, “Is this it?” If this is it, then why aren’t I happy? Martin was searching for that missing essential piece to his life but he didn’t know at the time what that piece was.
It is reported that James Martin felt the wake-up call to change his life when he opened his eyes to how impersonal and callous corporate culture can be. Cold-hearted downsizing and the constant pressure to increase profits at any cost caused Martin to rethink his direction in life. He was feeling a lack of meaning and purpose to his life that money and career could never fill. Martin was inspired by a documentary he saw on TV about a spiritual leader named Thomas Merton, a poet, writer, social activist, and monk. Martin could identify with Merton’s self professed short-comings of vanity and placing ambition above purpose and meaning prior to his life in a monastery. Both men would find their calling in faith.