Happiness, it’s only a feeling
On the eve of his appearance at Sydney’s World Happiness Conference last week, Edward de Bono was asked what type of people he thought would attend the annual two-day series.
“I don’t know,” he replied. ‘‘I do know, however, that people are becoming more interested in happiness. Happiness as an industry is becoming more visible.”
A kind of warming observation on the surface, but dig a little deeper and I think you’ll also find that our “pursuit of happiness’ is beginning to resemble more of a crazed quest. But it won’t get us anywhere until we accept that feelings of sadness, bewilderment and loss are also a completely normal part of the full experience of life.
As Rebecca Traister, wrote in her column for Slate, aptly titled “Screw Happiness”, “dissatisfaction has its own rewards”.
“You know what I think? It’s all bullshit. Not just the trend stories and the self-help stuff, but the laser focus on happiness itself…I’m just not sure that “happiness” is supposed to be the stable human condition, and I think it’s punishing that we’re constantly being pushed to achieve it, she said.”
Not to mention how much money we spend doing it
Take last week’s happiness conference, for example. Close to 1500 people attended (70 per cent women, 30 per cent men, and an average age of between 30-35) at a cost of $275-300 per workshop; $1500 for a gold pass to see the whole thing.
At that price, it’s probably a good thing that conference organisers claim most people attending were seeking a “life-changing” moment. But can you really purchase that kind of experience?
One person probably not at this years conference, but with recent experience of this kind of thing, was Allison Pearson. Now an ex-Daily Mail newspaper columnist in the UK, her decision to quit her job sent ripples of debate about the nature of depression and happiness in modern life - especially amongst women.
Note to Eric: the rest of this discussion is specifically about women, however I am not suggesting in anyway that men do not experience these feelings too.
In her last column for the paper, previously celebrated for its “warmth” and “humorous” approach to modern life, Pearson launched a brutal truth at her readers.
After admitting to years spent waking up at four in the morning to stare at the ceiling and grill herself over not living life “properly” she wrote:
“Is it women who are mad, or is it the society we live in? We always suspected there would be a price for “Having It All’, and we were happy to pay it; but we didn’t know the cost would be our mental health.”
Her honesty was met with myriad of response.
Pearson’s colleague Lorna Martin revealed that three quarters of Britans population were suffering from depression, 300 million were taking anti-depressants and warned that if rates continued to soar, it would be second only to heart disease on the list of “most disabling conditions” by 2020.
And Guardian journalist Kira Cochrane claimed that women, regardless of their social standing, were diagnosed with depression at twice the rate of men.
Um, scary right. Or is it?
Dr Brett McDermott of Brisbanes Mater Hospital, who is also a director of Beyond Blue, said we need to be very careful about making a distinction between feelings of sadness and depression.
And while statistics show that Australia has a “much smaller rise’ in depression when compared with rates in the UK, he believes our “increasing identification with the public experience of depression” and “increased community awareness of the disease”, can account for it.
“Depression must diagnose relentless symptoms over a period of two weeks and may include a combination of lowered mood, feelings of helplessness or hopelessness, loss of appetite and disturbed sleep,” he said.
And it’s treatable. “With competent therapy, a person can expect to be symptom free,” he said.
In the meantime, you could do a lot worse than to consider these wise words from Minette Marrin, a Times Online columnist who rebuked Pearson and women like her:
“Women should just stop. I don’t mean they should stop working or having babies or trying to do things they really love. They should just stop being so unrealistic (unless they are very rich). They should do less. Drop their standards. Accentuate the negative. Fortunately, doing a lot less is quite easy when you try — or, rather, stop trying. It can even be pleasurable, which is just as well because with the coming austerity we will all have to make a virtue of necessity and aspire to a great deal less of everything.”
Amen to that. Giving yourself a break every now and then is bound to make you happier right? And it’s free.
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