Look, I’m not saying people who live in more primitive societies have less problems. And I understand using the term “primitive societies,” begs a question in itself, but what I’ve perceived, and come to understand, is that the more time people have in which purpose and meaning is solely the individuals responsibility to create for him or herself, depression is much more of an issue.
We don’t address this, as a society, often enough, but the type of world we live in, especially in developed countries, where we don’t have to worry about food, where we will sleep, how we will stay alive, people are suddenly relied upon to create their own meaning. When chance was a major aspect of survival, God was a much easier entity to believe in. If I could pray to God and hope to not become sick–which was really just praying to chance–then I could find meaning in anything that happened. But with God out of the equation meaning is more difficult to find. Some people might say this is reason enough to believe in God, but if you believe in God solely on the basis of convenience of purpose–do you really believe in God at all? I’m not sure.
I don’t mean to say I think people who have rejected God are more depressed–though they might be. Perhaps in the same way people who believe in God are oppressed by the weight of guilt or the prospect of sin. But the evolution of a secular culture has evolved much as monotheistic culture did so long ago. People couldn’t dream up God without time on their hands. Of course they didn’t have too much time on their hands or they would have understood and found the logical fallacies of the existence of a God, just as Bertrand Russel did. Now, given even more freedom of time, people have looked at the likely hood of God or gods, and many–and in the generations to come, I believe this will grow–have decided, meh you know what? God is contradictory.
And this is not a problem for those who can give themselves purpose. When an individual has purpose and believes their actions carry meaning and worth, depression is nearly impossible. Just as a farmer who believes in God, believes that being a farmer was God’s plan for him and so is content with being a farmer. Purpose and self worth dispel depression. But what happens when so much of the work we do in society feels meaningless? Psychotherapist Mel Schwartz, wrote a piece in Psychology Today that outlines the reason why a capitalistic society would lead to societal depression. He states the circumstances in which many people must live and work, as well as a goal and material oriented society that marginalizes those who cannot reach the levels of “success” and “accomplishment” deemed worthy or worthwhile in our society.
How then do we decide what our purpose is?
Look, I could work at a coffee shop as I do now, then spend my money on beer and going out at night, I could brainwash myself in front of my TV or Netflix, and I could make excuses for myself about why I don’t have the energy to write. Don’t have the drive to do what I love. And many people do this. It’s difficult to discipline yourself to do something you feel matters even when you’ve worked all day. But the sense of accomplishment, when you finish the task each day, created another small piece of something you love, will give you meaning. Will give you purpose. I’m not saying you shouldn’t relax. I’m saying that relaxing is only something that will make you happy after you’ve accomplished something you feel is important. A coffee shop job doesn’t do that for me. Writing a post here, working on my novel, novella, a graphic novel–all those things make me feel accomplished and then, when I relax, I do so knowing I did something worth doing, for myself, not for others.