Its rare that I feel the need to espouse a bit of new age philosophy, but I came across this recently and it seemed very relevant. At some time or another we’ve all been in that situation where we are a bit low and go comfort shopping to make ourselves feel better. We get a real high out of the buying process but it tends to be quite a fleeting feeling and then we get worried abut how much money we have spent, and wonder why exactly we now have a new pair of trainers, some luminous headphones and the BeeGees remastered back catalogue.
What I found particularly insightful was the idea that lack of things isn’t what makes us unhappy, its the wanting. People who do not want aren’t unhappy. Think about all the times you have been unhappy; whether its because of an unrequited love, for self esteem issues, having no money … in all of these situations we are in a state of wanting – a person, a thing, a response. While we are in the process of buying, we shift out of that mindset for a short time – we are no longer wanting, which is why we feel better.
This makes sense in the context of explaining depressive activity, where the wanting aspect is magnified out of proportion to the scenario. Being alone is magnified into extreme isolation, the need to connect escalates to show what can be branded attention-seeking behaviour. So you’ll often see extreme responses to whatever the wanting state is; strings of one night stands to counteract the feelings of being unloved, or excessive spending sprees when you feel that more things will make you feel happier.
And of course those astute enough will recognise that for the bipolar sufferer, they’ve created an extreme high to counteract a low and therefore what happens next …. the inevitable backswing. It has been very helpful to me to keep in mind the question “What am I wanting?”. Taking time not to make snap decisions. Am I buying this because its something I need, or to make myself feel better? Am I talking to this person because I want some attention or because I actually have something to say? And, more importantly am I lying to myself? – at the end of the day we all have a hundred different ways to justify our own actions to ourselves, but deep down we know when we’re lying about our motivations.
Certainly my own experience of wanting is quite astute. I want a flash car because in my mind it will make me feel beter about myself, and how I think people will perceive me. I want to talk to a pretty girl for much the same reason. And the list goes on, – gadgets, musical instruments, clothes. It could well be that the reason depression is so rampant in the West is that we are subliminally fed this information via advertising, that X product will make us happy, kickstarting the whole cycle. Many companies actually employ the ethic that their advertising must only every include happy, smiling, beautiful people. This is a powerful construct as it works on a very deep level. It comes as no surprise that as this ethic spreads and the East adopts more Western attitudes, so the incidence of depression in those countries has risen alarmingly.
There is a simple demonstration that you can do for yourself. If you are out walking when it is cold and raining, you feel miserable. Not because it is cold and raining but because you want to be warm and dry. If you can let go of that, if you can accept that that is just how it is at that moment and stop focussing on the thing that is not as you would wish it, you’ll find that it becomes a less unpleasant experience. The trick is to be able to apply this to more than just the weather, and it can be done. Buddhists devote most of their time to essentially this pursuit, and I’ve yet to encounter a miserable one. My own small step in this direction has been to dispense with television, so that I’m no longer led down that path by advertising!