Wednesday, September 17, 2008
What makes for a happy life?
I see that it's almost 10:30 and I'm still "waking up". I'm also not doing my schoolwork. A few days ago I would have chalked this up to depression. While I'm going about my business (or not, as the case would seem), I'm thinking, "Am I really depressed?" The answer is both yes and no.
In some post that I'd have to dig around for (and you're welcome to find, if you have time), I wrote about the idea that much of depression is actually a normal response to difficult times and lousy situations. Of course, people have wildly different responses to negative environments and bad life experiences, but until recently, researchers have mainly studied the "unhealthy" people (probably because there's more money in that, since remedies usually come in the form of a pill).
My psychiatrist is of the opinion that much of what we call depression could be remedied quickly with making healthier choices about how we live. I agree with him, but suspect that he doesn't get how difficult this is to do. He has said that most psychiatrists don't ask the so-called easy questions, like "How's your relationship with your husband?" or "Do you enjoy your job?" Well, one reason they might not ask these simple questions is that there are usually no simple answers to these supposedly simple questions. And so, it's far easier to chalk problems up to childhood damage and psychiatric "illness".
For instance, I know that it's psychologically (and physically) unhealthy for me to be living in a no-man's land of a town where I can't get up and walk to a library or any other place where people congregate (and no, I'm not counting the General Store, for even though there are a bunch of stools there upon which people can sit, I don't chat about shooting deer and felling trees).
So, what do I do with this knowledge? Nothing. There is nothing I can do. The real estate market is flat (or worse). I can't afford to live somewhere else, even if I could sell my house. The only thing I can do is deal with the fallout from living somewhere that isn't good for me (see "The Geographical Cure May Be Real".
This is true of so many people. Whether it's an inner city ghetto or a house in the hinterlands, they are ground down on a daily basis with no hopes of getting out. To make matters worse, in America, where we are taught that anyone can make something of themselves, we do see (and know) people who beat all the odds and extricate themselves from ghettos and rural poverty. They go on to persue their big dreams. Some succeed spectacularly and others, well, I don't know about the others, for we don't hear much from them. But there's an awful message in the American dream: if you aren't able to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, you are a failure. There's something wrong with you.
The truth is, I think it's fair to assume there's far more people who are not able to rise above their circumstances than people who do. But we don't look at that. If we did, we'd have to start wondering how useful this American dream is. And in my opinion, this dream is more of a delusion (or a bludgeon) than some great idea.
But getting back to depression (whilst pulling myself away from one of my favorite subjects, the danger of the American dream), what do we do when we realize that what ails us is our lives? What if there is no remedy?
And though this is tangential, another danger of the American dream is the belief that anyone can become anything. We're watching this in action right now. I wrote that I was tired of hearing her name and we should stop talking and writing about her, but Palin is a great example of the American dream gone awry. The idea that anyone can grow up to be President of the United States is a powerful one. But, even if you do love Palin, it is clearly obvious that she doesn't have a heck of a lot more knowledge about economics or foreign policy than the above average informed citizen. I agree that it's great that "anyone" can aspire to the Presidency, but somewhere we lost the collective agreement that that includes any solid credentials and education.
Maybe this is an outgrowth of the American gambling mentality. A poor person can win millions of dollars in the lottery,by suing someone for being served an overly hot cup of coffee, or by playing the stock market (notice the word playing). When one gets a lucky break, they think they deserve it in some way. You can get something for nothing in America. Oh, the mixed messages are incredible! On one hand, we're told that if we work hard enough, we'll get everything we want. On the other hand, we're told that if we pray hard enough, we'll get everything we want. Which is it, prayer or work? Though the obvious answer is "both", I rather think it's just another bunch of crazy-making messages that keep the bulk of Americans unhappy. And if you think we are a happy lot, think again.
Then again, I may be totally wrong. I just spent some time perusing statistics charts, and the recent coverage in the newsmedia that Americans aren't so happy after all is not all that accurate. We're just not in the top ten, where a superpower ought to be (right?)
I realize the post title seems to have nothing to do with the post. It's a question that I do not even touch upon. So, what do you think? What makes for a happy life?
Painting note: James Ensor. (Belgian, 1860-1949). Masks Confronting Death. 1888.
I was looking for a happy painting of some kind of festival, found this first, and well, it does seem a bit odd with the title above it. I don't even particularly like this painting.