Several years ago I had lunch with a psychiatrist and we spent some time talking about the issue of depression. He made it clear that clinical depression is a very complicated mental health issue and there are no easy solutions. He also recognized from his work there is a great deal of general unhappiness in this life.
What is so troubling is that the rate of depression in the Western World has exploded. As Greg Easterbrook has written in his popular book, The Progress Paradox,
“People are not feeling better today, but worse. Throughout the United States and Europe, the incidence of clinical melancholy has been rising in eerie synchronization with rising prosperity. Adjusting for population growth, unipolar depression, which is simply the condition in which a person always feels blue, is today 10 times as prevalent as it was 50 years ago.”
I recently read some interesting observations on depression by Dr. Beran Wolf who was a psychiatrist in the early twentieth century. He thought often about his patients who came to him for help, all bitter frightened, anguished and confused. They were terribly unhappy and naturally were seeking some tranquil adjustment to life. Wolf believed his patients were;
“unhappy because they look inward instead of outward. They think too much about themselves instead of things outside themselves. They worry too much about what they lack—about circumstances they cannot change—about things they feel they must have or must be before they can lead full and satisfying lives.
But happiness is not in having or being; it is in doing. That was a point he must emphasize and make clear in the book he was writing. Almost every human being could be happier at once if he realized this basic truth and accepted it.
He thought again of those ghostly malcontents, crowding the corners of his room. Most of them had one trait in common; a selfish concept of life. Absorbed in their own interests and desires, they failed in their human relationships, and so created their own unhappiness. He must make them realize that the only ambition consistent with happiness is the ambition to do things with and for others—that the only way to find happiness is to look for it in a focus outside themselves.”
Now I don’t believe this can be said about all who struggle with depression, but I do know this is true of many people living in the modern world. We are selfish people.
Hans Selye was a scientist from Canada who was a true pioneer in discovering the impact of emotions on a person’s health, writing more than 30 books on the subject.
In his landmark publication, The Stress of Life, Selye’s research uncovered a principle that is crucial for a person to have if they are to be emotionally healthy. Creating a fancy term for it, he named it altruistic ego-ism.
As complex as that may sound, it is nothing more than the Biblical truth–“helping others helps you.”
In Luke 6:38, Jesus says, “Give and it will be given unto you.” In Proverbs 11:25 we are told: “A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.” In other words, when we enrich someone else’s life, we find our own lives enriched. Selye observed this principle at work during years and years of research.
This principle in its simplest form states, “We receive in this life by giving.” God designed the human heart to give and we receive great joy in this life when we give.
This may sound self-serving to some, that I should give to others so that I can receive. But in reality, God is telling us this is the way I designed you. This is the way you will function best as a human being.
So, if this is true, then the inverse of this principle is also true, that self-centeredness leads to misery in life.
Several years ago, an interesting book was published, selling thousands of copies. The Narcissism Epidemic, was written by two American psychologists and focused on the significant shift that has occurred in our culture’s psychology; the relentless rise of narcissism.
Narcissism is defined as “an excessive interest in oneself and one’s physical appearance.” The authors contend that this epidemic of narcissism has resulted in people being more depressed, more discontent and more unhappy than ever before.
When we fail to do what God designed us to do, it is just a matter of time before we malfunction.
The story is told by Dr. M. Scott Peck, the famous psychologist and author, who describes a woman patient who suffered from extreme depression. One day, when she was scheduled for an appointment, she called and told Dr. Peck her car had broken down. He offered to pick her up on his way into work, but explained he had to make a hospital call before he got to the office. If she was willing to wait in the car while he made the call, they could have their appointment. She agreed.
When they got to the hospital, he had another suggestion. He gave her the names of two of his patients who were convalescing there, and told her that each of them would enjoy a visit from her. When they met again an hour and a half later, the woman was on an emotional high. She told Dr. Peck that trying to cheer up the patients had lifted her spirits, causing her to feel incredible.
Dr. Peck responded by saying, “Well, now we know how to get you out of your depression. We know the cure for your problem.”
The woman answered, “You don’t expect me to do that every day, do you?”
When you enrich someone else’s life, you find your own life enriched. However, when one is consumed with themselves, it is just a matter of time before they find themselves depleted and emotionally impoverished.
Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.