depression through the ages

Discussion in 'Tasawwuf / Adab / Akhlaq' started by Unbeknown, Mar 28, 2015.

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  1. Unbeknown

    Unbeknown Senior Moderator

    So what causes depression? Well, after thousands of years of theorizing, and tons of modern research, the short answer is: we still don’t really know.

    Depression is complex. While it’s tempting to point to one specific cause, the reality is that depression is the result of several factors intermixing in ways that are nearly impossible to untangle. Because the causes of depression are so complex and varied, we may in fact never be able to precisely pin down its origins, especially on an individual, case-by-case basis.

    Whether the evolutionary theory of depression turns out to be accurate or not, the actions it prescribes to cure it are decidedly some of the most effective for leashing the black dog: living more like our forebearers by eating healthy, exercising, reducing stress, getting out in nature, belonging to an intimate community, etc.
  2. Unbeknown

    Unbeknown Senior Moderator

    Modern culture is dominated by what psychologists Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener call “smiling fascism,” in which if you don’t feel happy 24/7, something is wrong with you.

    Another possible reason for the uptick in depression is that we really aren’t suffering from it more, but that we simply think we are because we’ve set the bar so high as to what it means to be happy. And what begins as what would have, in an earlier age, been considered a passing bout of mere unhappiness, can then lead to the real article.

    If you haven’t noticed, modern culture places an inordinate amount of emphasis on bliss and comfort. There are thousands of books and blog posts out there on how to hack your happiness, and the subtle message is often this: if you’re not perennially chipper — and living your best life now! — then something is wrong with you. In their book, The Upside of Your Dark Side, psychologists Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener call today’s overemphasis on happiness a “smiling fascism.” And this push to march in lock-step with the beat of an ever up-tempo drum might actually be making us feel more miserable and depressed.

    Research has shown that if you make happiness your goal, you’re less likely to be happy. There are a few reasons for this. For starters, cultural expectations of what happiness looks like are typically unrealistic. Happiness, as it is currently defined, is a fleeting feeling that comes and goes. Being downright giddy all the time is impossible for most people. So when they set the goal of being constantly happy, they fail, which makes them feel disappointed and deficient. The repetition of this cycle can lead to a prolonged funk.

    The other reason making happiness your goal can actually backfire is that we’re really bad at knowing what will make us happy in the long-term. Kashdan and Biswas-Diener call this the “time travelers” problem. When we set a goal that we think will make us happy in the future, we do so from the view of our current self. But the problem is we change over time and that goal might not make our future-self all that happy.

    At the same time that we’ve raised our standard as to what it means to be happy, we’ve also increased our expectations in regards to comfort and ease. Fast internet, comfortable beds, climate-controlled rooms, and smooth and painless customer service aren’t just luxuries anymore, but self-evident human rights.

    But the desire, nay, demand, to live a frictionless life may be setting us up for crippling anxiety and depression. As comfort in a society increases, its tolerance for discomfort decreases. This is true not only in regards to inconveniences we encounter in the external world, but for the darker feelings that happen within us as well. As we discussed in our post about the history of depression, sadness was once seen as just a natural part of the ebb and flow of life. So too, a gloomy mindset was just one of several temperaments people were born with, each with their unique advantages and drawbacks. Fast forward to today, where we view feelings like sadness, anger, and guilt as negative because they make us feel bad, and we experience them as a deviation from what we should be feeling. Instead of learning how to live with our more challenging emotions, we label them as psychologically abnormal and do what we can to root them out. When we’re unsuccessful in doing so completely, the gap between our high expectations and the reality of our stubbornly melancholic temperament can make us feel frustrated and even more miserable than before.

    Thus, in not being comfortable with being uncomfortable, we’ve fragilized our psyches and made ourselves more susceptible to the very emotions we wanted to avoid in the first place.
  3. Unbeknown

    Unbeknown Senior Moderator

    The way we live now is very different from how we lived for thousands of years. Increasing rates of depression may be a result of this mismatch.

    “Why is it that in a nation that has more money, more power, more records, more books, and more education, that depression should be so much more prevalent than it was when the nation was less prosperous and less powerful?” –Dr. Martin Seligman, Learned Optimism

    Mood scientists suggest that the evolutionary origin of depression may explain why rates of it have increased tenfold in the last 100 years. Our bodies, minds, and mood systems evolved for an environment that no longer exists today, and this mismatch is likely making more and more people feel miserable.

    Evidence of this theory can be found in the fact that depression is extremely rare in communities and tribes that live similarly to our primitive ancestors. Dr. Stephen Ilardi, clinical psychologist at the University of Kansas and author of The Depression Cure, notes that, “researchers have assessed modern-day hunter-gatherer bands — such as the Kaluli people of the New Guinea highlands — for the presence of mental illness, and they found that clinical depression is almost completely nonexistent among such groups.”

    The reason depression is so rare, llardi argues, is that peoples like the Kaluli live a lifestyle that’s congruent with their evolved biology and psychology; their way of life essentially acts as a natural antidepressant. Says Ilardi: “They’re too busy to sit around brooding. They get lots of physical activity and sunlight. Their diet is rich in omega-3, their level of social connection is extraordinary, and they regularly have as much as 10 hours of sleep.”

    In contrast, modern folk are sleep-deprived, sedentary, and rarely venture outside their fluorescent-lit cubicles. Crucially, we people of the 21st century are also highly isolated. Ancient tribesmen were part of close-knit communities; today we exist as fragmented individuals who often must bear life’s disappointments and setbacks on our own. In our lonely echo chambers, with our primary focus on the self, waves of melancholy become magnified many times over.
  4. Unbeknown

    Unbeknown Senior Moderator

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