The following response was triggered by on online post which discussed depression amongst musicians.
My view : Depression, whether medical, mental, social has received increased attention in recent times as a condition that needs attention and various health/social professionals propose solutions – identifying it, and hoping to solve it. I’m adding mine to the pot.
By its very self description, depression is some kind of gap between where we are and where we would like to be, or where society thinks we should be. A gap between expectations and reality. A place in life where fulfillment is absent. Something is missing and it is almost impossible to figure out why.
Once upon a time, where I live, it was good enough to just have a car, any car, as long as it was serviceable. But now we aspire to much more – with German or German owned manufacturers and Japanese brands being the preferred choices, for very good reasons, but must it be a BMW or Mercedes? Is it because we really need one or cos you also need to show it off to others, to increase our own sense of worth. Symbols of status and upward mobility. Have we increasingly veered into a world where worth is determined more by other’s opinions of us, than what we really think of ourselves? How much of our time and energy is expended to please others, hoping that some of this expressed effort will be reciprocated by their praise or enhanced attention to us?
My deux cents. In summary a focus on unseen personal private success has been subsumed by an externally focused effort to achieve public success – to be seen to succeed becoming the priority – a focus on external appreciation that is an unsustainable energy sap – which erodes and depletes rather than refreshes.
Every person benefits from acknowledgement, affirmation and acceptance, having their opinions understood and accepted, and being able to achieve some of their hearts desires, and of course living in some measure of comfort/quality of life.
The challenge with these aspirations in today’s world is establishing a realistic personal set of goals for these targets. Why? – society’s benchmarks for these targets is such a moving target. If we tie ourselves to these moving targets usually brought on by the success of others, it drives us continually from our core – who we really are and want to be, to a place where we are no longer ourselves but try to be like everybody else – Elton John, Steve Jobs, Prince Harry, Ed Sheeran, Usain Bolt, Slash, or whomever else our heroes are.
It is good to be accepted, however it should also be ok to think differently, sometimes so differently like certain scientists and artist whose work was only understood or appreciate long after they had died. In other words how much of our own acceptance must depend on being accepted by others. It’s wonderful if this happens but so much of who we are, and know, and have, or can be, will never be seen, heard of, understood by others, and it is increasingly important to rest in this quiet acknowledgement of who we are, without seeking external validation. A very significant component of acceptance must come from within.
This is the fundamental heart of depression – a gap between where we are and where we would like to be. Sometimes also including a realisation that the world is demanding you to be something that you are not, or are looking for skills and attributes which you do not have and this gap creates a disjoint. The final aspect of depression is discovering that people(and things) are not all that they claim to be, when promises are broken, by us or by others.
I give a small example – discovering that so many products and services are “sold” as having extra features that have absolutely no benefit and it is not worth paying extra for them, or the truth is tucked away in fine print. Throughout life, we discover that people are almost certainly not all that they claim to be, and this includes ourselves, as we all without exception portray or expose only a subset of the real person, also known as being civilised or cultured, masking the truth behind our choice of masks – cosmetics, clothes, accents, mannerisms, affectations that portray us in one way or another as we would prefer to be seen, this includes our public lifestyle.
Negative peer influence – doing things to be appreciated by others, is very exhausting.
We are not helped by the mainstream media and social media where a relatively small number of reviewers and presenters and icons drive so much of the opinion/focus across very large swathes of our human experience – e.g Simon Cowell – I appreciate what he has achieved and love him- great man, but in many respects, every budding “producer/music executive” sets their sights on such large end results like Simon Cowell, without fully grasping that Simon has had 20+ years of honing his success – following a unique path that he created for himself – before Simon Cowell, there was no other person who created similar success in the same way as he has done. This is the same with every other person we look up to as ideal or the pinnacle of our chosen area of improvement – We cannot follow in the footsteps of any other, we must create our own path, to that which will fulfil us, and which we are perfectly comfortable with.
The only success that society is increasingly predisposed to acknowledge is the kind that is very public, global in nature – industry awards, in-company awards – best employee of the month or year, Oscars, Grammys, Gold medals – no one remembers the silver and bronze winners, Nobel prizes, Queens honors lists, etc. In all of these someone else is responsible for our acknowledgement. Even where these honors are well deserved and well earned, we still need others to say well done to us! What if they never do?. There is also an overt competitiveness that can be somewhat disconcerting – the ones who lose out on the top award, which the majority of contenders – feel like a bit of a loser. It’s pretty much like a lottery – the public reward mechanism has most participants becoming losers…. Must we not rethink this assumed human societal norm of external praise, to rather teach people to appreciate themselves and not just wait to be appreciated or recognised. I dare to add – money and wealth have become such a significant sign of public acknowledgement of our value, and retaining it consumes our energies.
What is the remedy – establishing realistic goals that fit in with who you really are, to succeed in the things that really make you happy and do not need anyone else to acknowledge you – doing and being things that give you a sense of achievement for yourself – a sense of your own worth each day – that does not need anyone else to appreciate or know about it. It starts with enjoying the simple things – sleep, fresh air, being alive, being relatively fit and healthy and mobile – you do not have to be or look like Arnold the former governor of California, having a decent meal each day, enjoying your abode however small or humble, recognising that greatness starts with very small but consistent steps, and much greatness, like an iceberg, is submerged – rarely seen by others.
We need a recalibration from this overwhelmingly public notion of success acknowledgment, which is also fuelled unconsciously by our window into social media, where everyone else posts only their successes but much of the truth is hidden away and we never really know the people we interact with virtually – only the “clean” images they portray of themselves – ramping up a desire in us to match what we see or hear which may all be contrived – like an act for the camera/audience…
Society, including our immediate social network, sets so many of our targets – we want a new toy or piece of gear, cos someone else has one, same with a dog, car, house, wife, children, a particular job/professional achievements. So much advertising by those who profit from selling us or enabling these “assets”. No harm in wanting these things for yourself if that really is what fulfils you and not because we want to impress anyone else with these achievements – but we really need to think through what we really want, to be certain that upon achieving these things – they have real value, and are not a mirage of disappointment, which for example is why many marriages end – unfulfilled expectations.
Our ambitions should be for things that really make us happy – even when no one else is aware of their achievement.
Surprisingly – when you start to fully love yourself, accept yourself, value yourself no matter how undervalued others may have thought of you, this assurance becomes infectious and others will begin to value you the more. But we must never revert to seeking external affirmation – it is only a bonus, we must not depend on it. May I add that this applies to all relationships including the closest ones – family, wife, children, friends, co-workers, where sometimes appreciation of who you are could still surprisingly be quite lacking, cos they really do not know (or care that much about) who you really are, or hope to be – shocking but true.
Avoid the temptation to expend too much charity on others, which leaves you drained with very little in reserve for yourself, else everyone will happily take advantage of your generosity and as you will discover, rarely give back.
For me, at the heart of all of the above is a foundation in a personal lifelong relationship with Jesus Christ, which in its purest form, gives you a confidence that is beyond whatever affirmation society can provide to you, and beyond any negative self images that society may have inadvertently hung on you, from their uninformed opinions of you. Society(including much of what we call the church or religion today) will fail you, but the confidence that Jesus gives does not fail.
We also live in this interesting world where “feedback” from others needs to be taken with caution, cos the intentions of some of this feedback may not be as altruistic or genuine as they appear. Whatever our situation in life, including our mistakes, we need a very positive image and knowledge of ourselves to have the confidence to take each next step to our own personal joy. We must balance what others say of us with the truth we know of ourselves, a truth which we create each day by our thoughts, conclusions and actions to develop who we are, in the direction we wish to be fulfilled in.
Ultimately a life where we can achieve complete personal joy, with absolutely no need to depend on others to acknowledge us, cos we already have confidence in God’s acknowledgement of who we are, and we also acknowledge that we are valued, is success indeed. The world can never know who you really are – not even your closest friends and family know all that you are – but you do, and God does.
Loving others is wonderful but not at the expense of loving yourself, which is the prerequisite. It is only when you know and love yourself fully and have taken care of your own needs, that you can truly love others.
As I consider it, there is something especially important in the bible account where God explicitly acknowledges Jesus as one in whom He is well pleased. What is our desire, to please man – who will never be pleased – their pleasure is transient, or to please God who demands very little really, in comparison to the insatiable demands of man, and in God’s case he provides us with all we need to fulfil His demands, as he did for Abraham.
By pleasing God I also refer to that inner conscience of right or wrong, when we do those things that are right, not because of any reward, or public praise, not even because we seek a reward from God, but do the right things because that’s the best thing to do, not just to please God, but also to please ourselves, because we know the truth.
This is contentment indeed, the antidote to depression, living for yourself and God, not according to the dictates of others. If others join you on this journey great, and even where you are the only one living this way, you are content in being alone in living right. Content with yourself under all circumstances, secure in the knowledge that God is aware of your situation at all times and He has your best interest at heart.