Last night I was chatting to a friend about depression. As someone who is still recovering from depression she kept referring to it as “her weakness” which bothered me a little. This lead to her sharing with me a perspective on depression she had encountered recently: that depression was a method by which nature would rid a tribe of weaker members. Presumably it worked something like this: a person who couldn’t meet the expectations placed on them by their tribe would develop depression and end their own life so that only the strong members would survive. Thus it is a form of eugenics programmed into our psyche to effectively off ourselves for the benefit of the rest of the tribe. Now, I am trained as a biologist and such a genetic trait is unlikely to be passed on via natural selection because it actually lowers the probability of an individual passing on their genetics. Such genes usually die out quickly. However, this got me thinking about something: if so many people have the potential to get depression – why would such a trait be preserved by natural selection? What survival advantage does a propensity for depression actually have? Here is my case on why depression is helpful rather than harmful.
The Roman god Janus, for whom the month of January is named, had two faces. One looking towards the past, and the other towards the future. Each new year the typical god fearing Roman would make a selection of promises to Janus. Promises to do his duty, to be honest, to do better work, to make a better sacrifice, to be a better person. Thousands of years have passed since this Roman tradition started and Europeans across the world to this day carry on the tradition of making special promises to themselves to do better in the new year. Surprisingly this tradition is not going away, but actually getting stronger. A century ago only one in four people made resolutions each year, but today half the population of Western countries make new year’s resolutions. I take this as a hopeful sign that we are living in an age of a new awakening in terms of self-awareness and self-responsibility.
A resolution is an act of rebellion against mediocrity within oneself. It shouldn’t be about recognising that one isn’t perfect, of course one isn’t, but instead about recognising that one can do better. I am a poor cook for instance, off the top of my head I know about ten recipes that I can make with confidence. I do find myself making the same things over and over again and I would like to learn how to make more interesting dishes. So one of my new year’s resolutions this year is to learn one new recipe each month. That’s merely a total of 12 new recipes for the year. It’s not particularly hard resolution on the face of it, but it would improve the quality of my life in many ways. Firstly, it would more than double the number of dishes I currently feel confident making. This would bring more variety into my meals, pleasing me, and increasing my quality of life, but it would also increase my value to other people as an entertainer or guest to a pot luck dinner party. Having new recipes I can make for my friends means that I can give more to them and enjoy the giving experience as well as the increased respect that comes from my increased value as a friend. Continue reading
A common question people ask is where their problems come from. Why do they have sudden panic attacks at work? Why do they yell at their spouse when they don’t want to? Why do they lie when they mean to be honest? Why do they tell people get lost when they really want them to stay? Why do they choose to spend so much time with people who cannot help them to be happy? Why do they not have the motivation to get up in the morning to deal with their problems? The root of all these problems lies in childhood.
This answer appears surprising to many people, though. Most people tend to assume the reason why they feel uncontrollably sad, angry, or guilty is because of the situation or person immediately facing them. In fact, they often think it is all to do with the person or problem facing them and not anything to do with their childhood at all. The other person or the situation is making them feel sad, making them feel angry, and making them feel guilty (See “Who Makes You Feel?”). They are helpless puppets responding to the behaviour of people and situations around them. The idea that their now long distant childhood had something to do with it is actually far from their minds, if it is even something they are aware of as being a factor in their present unhappiness.
How do events that happened to them so long ago continue to affect them? Continue reading