>> Thursday, April 15, 2010
I am not a psychologist, but I do think about the way people think because I'm a writer, particularly a character writer. In addition, I spent nearly three years dealing with a fairly severe depression that still rears up and bites me once in a while.
So, I've discovered, thanks to my daughter and her friends, that teenagers seem to live perpetually in a world of melodramatic extremes, whether real or imagined. Every setback is devastating and their reactions are just as severe as my toddler's even if they aren't throwing themselves on the floor in despair. I suspect there's a certain air of misery being "in," but I'm skeptical that that's all of it. So, why?
So, I thought back to my own depression - what were the key elements that made it so hard to break free? And how might they apply to my daughter and her friends?
In the end, two elements seemed applicable and, given the power of these elements and the unhappiness that can result, I thought I'd mention it. I'm not trying to dismiss depression - I know from experience that it can be very hard to break free from its grip - nor am I implying that these are the only elements . . . but I think these are very destructive. I'm of the opinion that understanding a problem is key to battling it.
So, today's element is: focusing on what you don't have rather than what you have.
It seems silly, probably, and obvious. But I think it's far more subtle. I think, in fact, that this element is a key divider between parents and children as children (particularly teenagers) note everything their friends have from gadgets and permissive rules and money and whatever that they themselves lack whereas parents shake their heads noting all the wealth of things their children have that they never dreamed of having at the same age. A teenager complaining about not having something to do or oppressive isolation despite game consoles and computers and cell phones, etc. is unlikely to find much sympathy from a parent who had three TV channels (on the family TV) at the same age.
Everyone, of course, has moments when they think about what they don't have - money, experience, youth, whatever. Striving for more is a key ingredient to ambition, so it's not all bad. However, focusing solely on that, obsessing on that, is very very unhealthy. Because there's never an end to it.
Everyone - everyone - has something they don't have. Being rich doesn't exempt you from loneliness or boredom or misery. You can be rich and never find true love or a family or self-respect. Being deeply in love doesn't preclude you from arguments or differences or misunderstandings. Having children doesn't save a marriage (in and of itself, seriously). Unfortunately, those obsessed with what they lack always think they can "finally" get happiness if they could just get "X".
'Cept that doesn't work. Once they get "X" they discover they're not as happy as they thought and decide they only need "Y" to make it all better. It's a cycle with no end because there's always another something else they don't have.
Ironically, they never enjoy X or Y or whatever because they're immediately consumed with what they don't yet have. People who are content with themselves understand that it's not one thing that makes one happy but learning to appreciate what one has. It doesn't mean they never want anything else, but they enjoy their children while they're home (instead of obsessing over what those children will become) and appreciate the characteristics in their spouses they admire instead of obsessing over the flaws. They are happier working for a living and making do than many are with an obscene amount of money.
Let's face it, there's an infinite supply of what we don't have, but we really don't need it all to be happy. And appreciating what one has is a good way to help keep from slipping into the endless and self-feeding maw of unhappiness.