I read a LinkedIn post today about depression amongst athletes and it struck a chord with me. Not because I’m an athlete but because an athlete I followed took his own life. At first the usual questions arise about how could anyone with so much going for them take their own life, the same questions that arise whenever someone with wealth and fame kills themselves. I then got to thinking about the celebrities of the past who killed themselves at the height of their fame and how the same questions are always asked.
I have asked the same questions myself and it is only as I’ve got older that I feel I have answered it to my own satisfaction.
Before I go on I want to acknowledge that I am in no means an expert on depression, brain chemistry, suicide or brain injuries. I am just a guy with an opinion but I recognise that this opinion is only valid in some cases. I don’t see this as true for people suffering great external torment but for most of us I feel it is relevant.
The answer I came to though is seemingly simple and one much cleverer people probably discovered a long time ago but it is this: Happiness is internal.
Most of us now have most of Maslow’s needs taken care of. We aren’t starving, we aren’t freezing and we live in luxury compared to our ancestors but we are still unhappy. A lot of this comes from our association of happiness to an external factor.
We want a high-flying job title, we work hard, we get it, we are happy for a while but we want the next step up. We want a nice car so we save or borrow, we get the car, we feel brief happiness and then maybe buyer’s remorse, then we see a guy in a nicer car. We are chasing the next external factor to make us happy when this external happiness is like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, always a little further away.
Whenever we ask how a talented and wealthy individual could take their own life we are using the same mindset. They have all the things we think would make us happy but they aren’t. What’s wrong with them we ask?
We rarely stop to look at their journey chasing rainbows. As a kid they dreamed of playing in the big leagues or filling a stadium for their concert. They work hard moving up the divisions and playing in bars. They get drafted or land a record label and have a short-lived shot of happiness. Then the pot of gold shifts.
They earn money, they spend money but still the happiness slips away. They know they have more than they ever thought they get. They become isolated because having so much and feeling so little feels selfish. They don’t have cancer and they aren’t starving so they feel guilt for feeling down.
They spiral and maybe they turn to drugs or other addictions. Addictions are great givers of short shots of happiness but they erode us slowly. They know there addicted and that they have everything, everything but happiness.
There is no loneliness like that you feel when surrounded by people. They may find themselves surrounded by people they know who will never know them. Eventually they may crash into depression or worse. Then everyone will ask the same questions again and everyone feeling the same lonely isolation will see just how selfish they are for feeling down when they have everything.
I am far from an expert on finding happiness but what I have learned is that it can’t be found through external factors like addiction or consumerism.
Hopefully this resonates with people or if not, maybe you won’t jump to the conclusion that there must be wrong with someone who has everything feeling like nothing.
© 2018 David G Chambers. All rights reserved.