We Have So Much. So Why Aren’t We Happier?

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Depression is on the rise.

Current research tells us this is so, which may not be too much of a shocker. In fact, by some estimates depression is 10 times more common than it was 60 years ago.

And before you think this is because 60 years ago most people didn’t have the term “Major Depressive Disorder” in their personal dictionary so couldn’t actually identify it as such, much of this research is based on tens of thousands of door to door surveys asking people about histories of crying for days on end, making attempts to kill oneself, and other questions of this nature without ever mentioning the actual word “depression” (Seligman, 2012).

This means depression has been significantly on the rise and many believe it will continue to climb.

What’s this all about? There has been no time in history where in many parts of the world, including North America, people have had bigger houses, more disposable income, more vacation time, more opportunities for world travel, have advanced quicker and further in their careers, have had easier access to communication with a wider range of individuals, and have many more products and procedures to help make them look more attractive and appealing

60 years ago the average onset for depression was about age 30, now the average onset is around 15 years old.

What the heck is going on? This doesn’t make any sense – especially because most of us believe happiness comes from a prosperous environment – which, by all accounts, the vast majority of us have.

If you think about it, pretty much everything is “better” in every wealthy nation than it was 60 years ago.

The average house square footage has doubled in size, we have 3 times more disposable income, we have more cars than there are drivers, and in 1950 one out of five youth went on to further education after high school: now 1 in 2 do.

Clothing, makeup and cosmetic surgery are able to make people more attractive, we have more access to the arts, to music, to books, and information, there are more women’s rights, and less racism. We have more opportunities for entertainment, and almost endless access to items and experiences promising to facilitate pleasure and enjoyment.

If people were told 60 years ago how much things will have changed within the next half century, most would have responded by saying “Wow! That sounds amazing! There will be no more pain, no more struggle, and no more problems. Only freedom and fun!”

In reality, however, there is much more depression and emotional pain and suffering, and it’s affecting people who are much younger. You’d think happiness in most countries would have improved and progressed at least to the same degree as the material world has. But, in fact, it has not.

Research shows that the average North American today does not report being any more satisfied with life than were found in reports 60 years ago.

What gives? What is this all about?

I share this information to encourage. To encourage us all to take a critical look at the things we invest our valuable and limited time, energy, and effort in toward our pursuit of genuine happiness and satisfaction with ourselves and our lives.

I share this in order to challenge the mistaken and misguided belief that things like earning a higher income, having a bigger house, being better looking, owning a faster car, having more opportunities to travel, owning more pairs of shoes, getting the latest smart phone, or a fancier set of sunglasses will allow us to experience more joy and fulfillment in life.

Even having more choices doesn’t make us happier (I actually believe it makes us unhappier, but that’s a topic for another day).

So my question to you is, and I’m really curious to know: What do you find gives you genuine feelings of happiness, well-being, and contentment in your life?

You Are A Lot Tougher Than You Think.

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Remember that time when that thing turned out to be not as bad as you thought it would? AKA – pretty much each and every time with pretty much each and every thing?

So what makes us worry our precious heads and hearts to pieces thinking about how things, circumstances, or experiences in our lives could go terribly awry, thereby causing us to lose sleep, fun, relationships and quality of life over?

The truth is, if we take a moment and reflect on it, often most situations in our lives go at least somewhat according to plan.

It’s true, though, sometimes they go slightly off course and every once and awhile they even go WAY off. Yet, even if and when stuff actually does totally hit the fan, we tend to be able to deal with it and handle it with some degree of dignity and poise, or at least we get through it without leaving too much of a mess behind.

Yet most of us get so wrapped up and caught in the “Oh my gosh, what if this happens???” mind spiral which then leads to quite unpleasant feelings of anxiety, worry, and fear.

If you think about it, how many times has life offered you something you absolutely could not handle?

For the majority of us, that count is quite low, if not non-existent. So what does Worry want us to believe? That for some unfounded, unproven, and mythical reason we are far more helpless, weak, and incompetent than we really are? Why does worry get to have all of that power of us? Who said it could?

Worry can debilitate and paralyze us to such an extent sometimes, but in reality rarely has any basis or justification for its presence in our thoughts, beliefs, and actions.

Give Worry the boot and say “buzz off!”  It’s big, it’s bold, and you’ll feel empowered.

Being able to say “Guess what, Worry? Things might get tough, might get challenging, and may not go exactly according to my plans or expectations, but I can handle it. I have many times before and there’s no reason I won’t again. I am strong, I am resourceful and I am capable” So take THAT, Worry.

Turn A Bad Day Into A Good One With One Simple Exercise.

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As you’ve probably heard, Mindfulness is all the rage right now. And if you haven’t heard, Mindfulness is all the rage right now. So what is mindfulness? According to Wikipedia, “Mindfulness is the intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment, which can be trained by meditational practices.” Basically it’s about living in the now. It’s a great skill to hone and really helps with stress reduction, focusing and becoming more production. It sounds easy, but it’s not always.

Personally, I’ve always had a bit of a psychological block to the word ‘meditation’, and I’m not just sure why. And if you’re like me, when you’re told to do some sort of really amazing, wonderful, life changing practice and then given instructions which include the words ‘sit quietly and meditate’ you are as good as checked out from that point forward. You can’t imagine how long it took me to just be able to do the ‘lay still and do nothing part at the end of a yoga class’ referred to as shavasana without sneaking in a few ab crunches or leg squeezes.

I guess I’m not so good at connecting with myself and being in the moment while laying prone, and motionless on the floor, which probably means it’s something I really need to work on, but that’s another topic for another day. I do, however, believe there are really helpful and effective mindfulness exercises that do not involve meditation – well maybe they do in some way, shape, or form, but I’m just going to tell myself they don’t – at least until I’m more enlightened.

I’ve had quite a bit of experience through my work as a therapist in treating mild to moderate anxiety, depression, and stress management and what’s clear is that many people struggle with getting caught up and sometimes unnecessarily worked up with their own negative and upsetting thoughts. We often believe that our thoughts are an accurate, incontestable and objective portrayal of reality, and the good news is that this is not always true.

I’m going to try and not get too heady and philosophical on you now, so stay with me. Quite simply, our thoughts are just that. Thoughts. They are our perception of what’s happening in that particular moment and are also subject to change. Again, that’s the good news – they are likely and almost always guaranteed to change. The down side is that sometimes our thoughts are unhelpful and at least somewhat inaccurate or unproductive ways of viewing what’s going on around us, which can make us feel pretty crummy – especially if we’re already in a foul mood.

So next time you notice yourself feeling bad, mad, sad, frustrated or angry try this simple exercise: Tune in to what you’re thinking about that’s causing you to feel said unpleasant emotions, and instead of saying to yourself something like “everyone is out to get me,” or “I’m never going to find a job I like,” or “It’s too hard to get healthy and take care of myself,” or whatever it is that you’re thinking about that’s spinning you in to a state of no good, simply change one little thing.

And no, I’m not going to tell you to look on the bright side or count your blessings or play the glad game (not that any of those are bad things). But not today.

I am, however, going to tell you to simply re-start and re-state your thought by saying “I notice I’m having the thought that…” For example: “I notice I’m having the thought that I’m never going to find a job I like,” or ”I notice I’m having that thought that everyone is out to get me,” or “I notice I’m having the thought that it’s too hard to get healthy and take care of myself.”

The other day I was awoken much MUCH earlier than usual by my 18-month-old daughter who figured it was a good idea to wake up before sunrise and NOT go back to sleep no matter what I did. When this happened I remember thinking “Oh no, today is going to be a really hard day because both of us are going to be so tired and cranky.” This thought immediately made me feel really defeated and discouraged.

Quickly though, I caught myself and just simply changed that thought to: “No, I notice I’m having the thought that today is going to be a really hard day.” It was just that: a thought.  And if I’d stuck to it I probably would have stayed feeling defeated and discouraged and then approached the day from this negative perspective which likely then would have become a self-fulfilled prophesy.  Instead, just by calling the thought out as just a thought, it was amazing. I immediately started to feel much more relaxed and relieved and it automatically made me feel a lot more empowered and in control as opposed to feeling doomed to a hard day – which was actually not even guaranteed to happen.

Since then I have been catching myself and making this exercise a more regular practice and have been noticing big changes in how I react to any unhelpful thoughts that sneak in there and try to grab hold.

Try it and see what happens. What do you notice? It might not make you go from boo hoo to woo hoo! in 3 seconds flat, but it will give you a little space from your thoughts, make you feel quite a bit better and help remind you that this is just what you’re thinking right now, and the day is actually not doomed… unless you want it to be.

Why Facebook Is Bad For Us.

 

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When I hear something once I listen closely. When I hear something twice it seems like a theme might be forming. When I hear something three times in the same day from three different clients I start to become concerned that we have a bigger problem here than I had originally thought.

Word has been spreading, but I’m not sure if everyone has received the message yet – More and more evidence has been coming out saying that Facebook is really not good for us – in many ways. But the one I am talking about here is how it heightens, exacerbates, and triggers social comparison – in a bad way. (Is there a good way?). And because this is already something a lot of (read: all) people struggle with to greater or lesser degrees, especially since that’s what capitalism requires of us in order to survive, the good old book of faces doesn’t make things any easier on us.

It used to be about Keeping up with the Jones’ and now it seems like through Facebook we are being pushed and pressured to keep up with the Jones’, the Sarah’s, the Ryan’s, the Amelia’s, the Scott’s, the Mason’s, the Lindsay’s etc. etc. You get the idea.

In a recent poll that was done regarding motivation behind posting particular photos on Facebook, 60% of the study participants admitted to taking photos of themselves in not-so-exciting-situations and making themselves look like they were having a really great time with the sole purpose of posting said photo on Facebook. And to that I say: Who’s real life can compete with that? The answer is: many people try by doing the same, which obviously doesn’t really help the situation, it simply perpetuates the problem.

Not only are most people posting only the best looking, most interesting, and most fun and special photos of themselves, now many are simply looking for opportunities to make it appear as though they are having the time of their lives simply to show this to their friends. But really, let’s be honest: who’s going to post the photo of themselves getting their feelings hurt after being snapped at by their partner? Or a photo of themselves sitting at home feeling bored and lonely on a Friday night? Or a photo of themselves working extra long hours at a job they don’t always like so much?

Facebook Depression is a real thing. And because many people have literally hundreds of “friends” (picture BIG air quotes here), if a few people every day post these wonderful images of themselves having the time of their lives and this is what we see each time we log on, who wouldn’t soon start to feel like everyone else has such a fun and fulfilling life? And here you are, going to work every day, having a few close friends to spend time with, and taking a little holiday once or twice a year. Now, compared to the seeming daily excitement of everyone else, your life sucks. And now you feel really bad about yourself. And now you feel ugly and lonely. And now you feel like you got the raw end of the stick in life. And now you can’t stop thinking about it. And now you’re depressed.

You might be thinking: “Oh come on Julia, you can’t tell me that everyone who has a Facebook account is clinically depressed. If that were the case much of the developed world would be suffering from depression and clearly that’s not true.” And yes, you’d be right. Not everyone who has a Facebook account has been, is, or will become clinically depressed, but I will bet you money that 98% of people have logged out of their Facebook accounts at least a few times and thought: “Wow, my life is kind of boring and it seems like everyone else is so much happier and has so much more fun than I.” Oh, and the other 2% are lying.

This is not a slander of Facebook – well maybe a little because I have researched and witnessed its real and significant ill effects on the human psyche. So the take home message here is that even things that seem relatively benign can be hurtful and harmful. It’s important for us to be asking ourselves in all kinds of situations: Is this good for me or bad for me? Does it bring out the good in me or the not-so-good-feelings in me? If it’s working – do more of it. If it’s not, stop doing it.

 

Why People Treat Us the Way they Do.

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There’s an idea out there in the psychology world that we create, to a large extent, how people treat us. This is a big one that I’ve recently been finding myself thinking and philosophizing about more than usual. Now obviously if we are rude and mean to someone most likely they will respond to us with anger or resentment… nothing profound there. And, sometimes bosses, coworkers, friends, loved ones, and even complete strangers will be overtly rude to us for no apparent reason… I’m not saying we necessarily caused them to treat us in this way… sometimes people are just having bad days and they decide to take it out on the next innocent person who unknowingly crosses their path.

I’m talking here about something a little more subtle and below the surface where there is always so much more going on. I’m talking about things like being talked down to by our partners; like feeling as though we’re always the one taking responsibility for coming up with ‘the plan’ with our friends; like we don’t get included in social get togethers at work or in our personal lives very often; Like our partners don’t trust us to make good decisions… I could go on but I think you get the point.

People don’t treat us the way we want them to.

It’s kind of a hard and painful concept to really look at and reflect on. Could it really be true that I’m largely responsible for setting up how others treat me? Perhaps, and often most unintentionally, but the truth is that we play a pretty major role in shaping how others approach us… especially those with whom we have closer relationships.

Think about this: Are there certain friends who you would never cancel plans on, but would on others? Have there been bosses that you find you want to impress and please and others you don’t really care to? Are there certain people who you would call the day off to make plans and others you only plan with a week or two in advance? Are there some family members who you feel you can be straightforward and honest with and others you often skirt around or avoid the issue with? Are there some friends you trust with your most personal secrets and others you would never go to in confidence?

What have they done to influence how you approach them?

This idea can be really challenging, or even upsetting for some – especially if we often find ourselves being treated poorly in our relationships and instead of then blaming others for their wrong doings and pointing the finger 100% outwards, we might have to take some pretty major responsibility and look inward, or at least partly inward and share some of the onus.

The good, if not GREAT news is that we are NOT helpless victims.

If we have the ability to play a major role in how others treat us for worse, then we can recast those roles and create opportunities for others to treat us how we actually want to be treated!

I’m not saying it’s easy, or that we will always be successful with every attempt, but we do actually have a lot more control then we might think.