Johann Hari: This Could Be Why You’re Depressed and Anxious

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From TED: “We are the loneliest society in human history. There was a recent study that asked Americans, ‘Do you feel like you’re no longer close to anyone?’ And 39 percent of people said that described them. ‘No longer close to anyone.’ In the international measurements of loneliness, Britain and the rest of Europe are just behind the US . . .

. . . We’ve all been fed since birth, a kind of KFC for the soul. We’ve been trained to look for happiness in all the wrong places, and just like junk food doesn’t meet your nutritional needs and actually makes you feel terrible, junk values don’t meet your psychological needs, and they take you away from a good life . . . I thought, isn’t this kind of obvious? Isn’t this almost like banal, right? If I said to everyone here, none of you are going to lie on your deathbed and think about all the shoes you bought and all the retweets you got, you’re going to think about moments of love, meaning and connection in your life. I think that seems almost like a cliché. But I kept talking to professor Kasser and saying, ‘Why am I feeling this strange doubleness?’ And he said, ‘At some level, we all know these things. But in this culture, we don’t live by them.’ We know them so well they’ve become clichés, but we don’t live by them. I kept asking why, why would we know something so profound, but not live by it? And after a while, professor Kasser said to me, ‘Because we live in a machine that is designed to get us to neglect what is important about life.’ I had to really think about that. ‘Because we live in a machine that is designed to get us to neglect what is important about life.’

. . . I kept thinking, you know: Why did it take me so long to see these insights? Because when you explain them to people — some of them are more complicated, but not all — when you explain this to people, it’s not like rocket science, right? At some level, we already know these things. Why do we find it so hard to understand? I think there’s many reasons. But I think one reason is that we have to change our understanding of what depression and anxiety actually are . . . what we’re implicitly saying to people is, ‘Your pain doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a malfunction. It’s like a glitch in a computer program, it’s just a wiring problem in your head.’ But I was only able to start changing my life when I realized your depression is not a malfunction. It’s a signal. Your depression is a signal. It’s telling you something.”

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