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Affluence and depression: Does living it up get us down?

Here is a very interesting article discussing the problem of depression in wealthy cultures.

Gittins (the author) sums up the general attitude towards the economy (and political-economy) in most developed nations (and developing, I'm looking at you India and China):

THE dominant view among our politicians, economists and business people is that society's central goal should be economic growth. Keep our material standard of living rising and the rest will look after itself.

But is this expansion and growth model the best way to go? Is our desire for growth and expansion part of the reason we are more depressed?

Gittins seems to think that they are related. He turns to Professor Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia (who wrote Authentic Happiness and The Optimistic Child) for his "four best guesses" as to why we are so depressed:

First, the rise of individualism - what he calls "the big I and the small we".

"The more I believe that I am all that matters, and the more I believe that my goals, my success and my pleasures are extremely important, the more hurtful the blow when I fail," he says.

And life inevitably brings occasions of failure and helplessness.

In earlier times we had more comfortable spiritual furniture to sit in - belief in causes bigger than ourselves, be it God, nation, family or Duty - and this brought us consolation in times of adversity.

Second, the depredations of the self-esteem movement. This is the notion that the job of parents and teachers is to make children feel well about themselves. It started in California in the 1960s and has been hugely influential in rich countries, particularly in schools, where it's led to grade inflation and pollyanna report cards, and the abandonment of class streaming and IQ testing.

But its psychology is wrong-headed. Rather than encouraging kids to feel good we should be teaching them the skills to do well in their commerce with the world. Warranted, self-esteem comes as a by-product of doing well in our relations with other people, our exams or our sport.

So telling kids they're doing well when they're not involves "jiggling the meter". It leaves kids in the lurch when their failures can no longer be brushed aside. It leaves them deficient in the skills that fight depression, and ends up eroding their sense of worth.

Third, the rise of victimology. Increasingly, we're encouraged to blame our problems on someone else - our parents, the government, The System - rather than accepting responsibility and finding ways to overcome them.

This is a formula for what Seligman has pinpointed as "learned helplessness" (nothing I do matters) - a concept that helped make his name. "Notions of responsibility are importantly preventative," he says.

Fourth, the growth in "short cuts to happiness". We're encouraged to do all manner of things that bring instant pleasure but require almost no effort on our part: junk food, television, drugs, shopping, loveless sex, spectator sport, chocolate and more.

The trouble is that the pleasure they bring is fleeting and they soon leave us feeling empty. Nature built us in a way that we gain more lasting satisfaction from things we have to work for. A lot of the satisfaction comes from the work itself.

A life spent pursuing short cuts to happiness allows our strengths and virtues to wither, rather than develop, and sets us up for depression.

What do you think?

Interesting article. For

Interesting article. For more on this topic, go to