Loneliness is harming our society and self help happiness cures are creating chronic ill health and isolation
We can not be happy all the time. There is a multi billion business pressurising us to be so. It is not working. All it is doing is making those who are profiteering from it very very happy or at least better off financially than we are. For those of us who think we are lost and anxious we can be so vulnerable to the addiction of self-help crap. It is as mad as religion having all the answers. We are constantly being bombarded and sucked into shallow instant solutions through social media. These self- help regimes take us all away from our own intuition and emotional intelligence, even though they may be advertising to bring you authenticity and happiness. They also discard history, philosophy, sociology, economic, political and environmental reasons and do not speak to the poor and working class or encourage community cohesion, change and activism. Neither do they seek to look at why so many of us are lonely, anxious and depressed. It there are more of us suffering from loneliness and depression and anxiety could it not be that so many things in the world are horrendous and very worrying and you would have to be a cold hearted person not to be deeply concerned about the future of this world and our place in it. In this, we as depressed people, have more in common with each other; self-help gurus are trying to isolate us and undermine a potential for healing change. Depression can be more authentic than happiness.
When I was a teenager and trying to understand my mothers manic depression and my own isolation I read “The Road Less travelled”, by M. Scott Peck and “Fear of flying” by Erica Jong alongside: Drabble, Murdoch, Steinbeck, Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. These books were revolutionary at the time and philosophical. I have continued to be interested in self- help books and now apps, but I believe, perhaps because of the plethora of them and their shallow solutions – the antithesis of philosophy – they have now become as dangerous, if not more so, than my so called mental illness/depression. They are creating anxiety and stress because of the way they are delivered through social media. They not only do not heal but they often create more anxiety and depression as they delude us that they have a cure; what they are actually doing is creating a problem – telling us we are not good enough and there is a shinier life – so that these people can profit from our addiction and ultimately our suffering and pull us away from political change. We need to listen and embrace the old, the wise, the different, the anarchists, the young, the bullied, the mentally ill for the lessons they can teach all of us, not try to make them into commodities for happiness projects. We will seek out more unregulated, unscientific,emotionally thick self- help twaddle to heal the mess we have got in too because we are being told we must be happy. It is a another way of telling depressed or normal(whatever that means) people that they are abnormal because they are not happy, clean, shiny, positive; in other words perfect. It is a form of oppression. More money is made by the self made gurus and more self made gurus appear creating more anxiety by telling us they have the key to happiness;what they have and all they have is the key to making money out of you/me.
Round and round it goes in ever decreasing circles. It is the same with the clean eating gurus who put pressure on so many who can not afford to eat their food, don’t have the time and may not have access to it and who also imply that if you are not clean you are dirty. Never mind the lack of science and outright falsity behind so many of their claims about clean and super foods.
For more on this I really enjoyed The Angry Chef’s blog and book.
Rather than seeking to be constantly happy can we not seek to be authentic. Embracing mindfulness not to leap to a state of bliss, rather to release stress and pressure and find our true selves even for a moment. Our truth may not be pretty; it may be angry, nasty, dirty, guilty, confused, sad,messy,painful and downright miserable. Loving ourselves, all of who we are, our raw emotions, is not narcissism. Being kind to our dark side is a necessary part of being authentic; a painful commitment to growth. Knowing, feeling we are part of a community, we are not special, we are human like everyone else and our depression, misery, flaws and joys are what connect us and may actually be a force for change. There is a bigger picture that if we change our way of seeing can show us what it is to be human and what connects us to each other. There is no easy way out or through dis-ease. Well-being does not come in a sales pitch on Facebook, a new theory invented by someone because it works for them, or does it? Now these self made gurus are training others to be their ambassadors, charging ridiculous sums of money, that frankly only the middle classes could ever afford, for you to train in their totally non validated systems; their panaceas for unhappiness and mental ill health. They will make your life wonderful and you will, like them, stay forever young, have shiny skin, a perfect career, relationships and even your children will be happy and perfect; no teenage traumas for your children. Oh and I forgot, most importantly you and all of your children will, of course, have big white teeth smiling faces like your Guru of choice. I was horrified to see a new app offering coaching for well-being and the author/coach has no therapy or coaching training at all. I am sure she is not the only one.
So is there another way to look at wellness/well-being. In mindful movement classes it is not always possible to feel great and shiny after each class. Some movements may cause a dis-ease before you move through to ease, change and fluidity. Mindful movement and restorative classes are lighthearted and kind and may challenge all our ideas of perfection and goal orientated movement at the same time they are not a religion and do not have the answers, each class can feel different, it’s a different day. They enable authentic movement for each individual and this can be accepting our limitations as our strengths; this is advanced body awareness and open to all. We may laugh, we may cry, or we may feel nothing, who knows but we will move.
As we write freely and wildly, go for a walk in nature or on a City street, listen to music,play music, we can be mindful that we don’t have to be happy, we don’t have to change, get better, improve; just be kind and non judgemental to yourself and this really does mean not judging whether you are happy or not. It means being empathetic to yourself and others and maybe thinking about how we and communities can grow and move, maybe seeking equality, rather than seeking individual cures to happiness which, whatever these business people posing as spiritual leaders tell us, are unattainable.
For more on Positive thinking I am really loving Barbara Ehrenreichs book: Smile or Die – How positive thinking fooled America and The World – really changing my perspective and bringing me back to earth which is always a great place to be, even when I am depressed
For more on communities and change; George Monbiot – the age of loneliness – and The town that’s found a potent cure for illness – community both in the Guardian on line.