Why are there so many people in United States who are depressed? Of course there are hundreds of legitimate answers to this question and my intention is not to find a ‘one size fits all’ conclusion. In this post I will be laying out a hypothesis for how the US’s value of freedom and individualism may be affecting our national depression rates.
I started pondering this subject after observing that, for some people, having children and/or joining into a committed relationship seems to make certain people more depressed… for others it has the opposite effect – why?
If your values are oriented around self-centeredness then relationships and children are actually a hindrance to living in congruence with the self-centered value. It is harder to live a self-centered life when you have a partner or children.
In such a situation you have more time available for collective pursuits and less time available for individual pursuits.
If you value yourself more than your relationships to others then the ‘responsibilities’ of a relationships become kindling which stoke the fire of your depression.
Additionally, the hypothesis stems from the consistent answers to the following two questions as portrayed in the media. In other words when you are watching a movie or a tv show the protagonists generally have similar implied answers to the following questions.
When you are happy how are you spending your time, energy, and money?
The protagonist is generally happy when he gets what he wants, achieves ultimate control, proves he is objectively right, relieves himself from the ‘burdens’ of compromise, obtains objects or alliances which promote his superiority, and wins.
What do you want more of in your life to make you happier?
The protagonist generally would be happier if they had ultimate control over the environment, obtained more personal wealth, had more time to engage in behaviors that suite only his needs, had the ability to make decision that only took his interests into account, and gained philosophical allegiance and validation from the majority.
What if I asked you to honestly answer this question?
People often will answer this question in ways that their religions or social circles have told them that they should… but their actions tend to be different.
Let me ask another somewhat eerie question… in relation to political elections, could you often substitute Politian with protagonist and still have the same answers? Does that answer have anything to do with depression in this country?
What is the point?
The point is that it may be possible that we have unconsciously chosen a way of life in which selfishness or self-centeredness is that highest ideal or value. We use the euphemisms ‘independent’ and ‘free’ to help us to avoid the detriments of those very variables(which are the detriments of selfishness).
Often our subjective purpose in life is to live in a way in which we are true or congruent with our value systems. This poses a problem if your value is selfishness, as the goals related to selfishness (listed above in italics) are both relatively unattainable and will likely create moral and social discord.
Not being able to fulfill your purpose creates an existential anxiety and apathy resulting from feeling that life in meaningless or hopeless… this can be depressing.
Living a life in which we put more emphasis on the self than on relationships will lead to feelings of detachment and loneliness… this can be depressing.
Living a life in which actions done for others has minimal importance means that most of our time is spent doing something which we do not really value… this can be depressing.
Perhaps there is an innate knowing that we have a choice to align our values with the greater good or with self-centeredness, and not being able to choose the value which feels more authentically profound may lead us to believe that we are helpless in directing own life… this can be depressing.
And finally living a life in which selfishness is your highest value may lead to an internal conflict or dissonance as your self-assessment of your worth may feel morally immature… this can be depressing.
The Solution would be seen as relatively controversial to many people in the psychotherapy community… The solution would be to allow people a safe place to reflect upon and to change their value system.
Do you believe this is even possible? Do we choose our values? Are there values which are more in the best interest of the collective?
In a country that values rugged individualism such a suggestion will often be met with aggression… and so I move forward cautiously. If values are chosen and not fixed we are then forced to deal with the reality that our egos lack permanence… egos will fight this till their death.
Perhaps Systemic theory is not simply a theory but an orientation… the planet seems to have a systemic orientation… life moves towards homeostasis or balance.
I will let you all come to some conclusions on your own by allowing you the space to reflect upon what changes you would experience in your own life if you made the following subtle changes to your operating value system.
I want good for me
We want good for all
I want greater security and safety for me
We want greater security and safety for all
I want greater happiness for me
We want greater happiness for all
The additional value would be humility… to honestly accept our own limitations and thresholds so that we do not burn ourselves out… and thereby further burden the system.
If our values are focused on the system they are also focused on the prosperity of the self… as we are all part of the system. With humility and collective focus we can understand that our place is to offer what we can and not more… burning one’s self out in efforts towards a value is detrimental to the entire system (as the system now has to accommodate a relatively broken part).
And if we do what we can (and not more) with actions that operate towards collective good, collective success, collective wellness, collective safety etc. then we are giving ourselves more opportunities to:
Experience fulfillment from accomplishing a self-defined ‘purpose’ any time that we contribute to the collective (as opposed to only feeling fulfillment when we contribute to our own advancement).
Experience security through the promotion of a healthy system (as opposed to endless efforts aimed at protecting ourselves from an environment we claim to be separate from).
Experience a sense of moral authenticity which is unburdened by pride (as we would be focused on a greater good and not on perpetuating the vane assertion that our subjective good is most noble).
I will end this post with a humble acknowledgment of an unresolved issue.
Suggesting the path of collectively defined universal good has, for some reason, been the ego’s method to successfully outsmart the collective empathetic knowledge in the end… The ego has a long history of claiming to hold universal good; it uses this claim as a tool to oppress and dominate the collective while covertly accomplishing congruence with the value of self-centeredness.
In other words promoting that we all fallow a “collective good’ is a method that the ego uses to trick us into unconsciously and unintentionally acting selfish… and this selfishness unfortunately usually causes us to oppress and judge people the our ego’s label as ‘different’.