Meaning vs. Happiness

I've given a lot of thought to depression lately. How politics influences it. How we maybe have gotten a lot of the causes it around it wrong, and that our current solution-- to medicate one's self out of depression-- is misguided and misses the point. That there's a reason that so many people are depressed and that suicide rates are rising at alarming rates.

I think part of the problem is distinguishing between happiness and meaningfulness. Happiness implies a life of pleasure. It means being able to sleep in late, and drink with friends and travel and buy things that you want. It's a life of thrills and leisure. It is about the individual. It is about making us feel some sort of joy. It often does not concern the rest of the world but concerns the self above all else. 

Meaning is a different ball of wax. I turn to Aristotle and his concept of "Eudaimonia," which is often mistranslated as "happiness" but implies much more. It suggests a meaningful life isn't selfish but has selfless elements. It implies virtue and sacrifice but also kindness and good relationships. It has little to do with materialism and the accumulation of wealth. 

I think this part of where the problem lies. Our culture stresses individualism as a way to reach happiness. Success and fame and wealth are overvalued and rarely seen for its superficiality.  Our world tells us over and over "this is happiness" in magazines, in movies and even the news. But maybe happiness is overrated. And maybe what happiness is often at odds with what is meaningful.

I often think of my work. There is plenty of sorrow and trauma and heartache in it. And I often come home feeling emotionally spent. But I still live for it. I remember when I worked as a copywriter many years ago and feeling miserable because the work felt meaningless, although I was paid just fine. 

So what does this have to do with depression? Well, I think that stressing individualism above all else means that people often feel isolated from a real community. And technology only isolates us further. We can sink into our couches and watch hours of television or play video games or use our phones without having to interact and share our lives and vulnerability.

So many of us are lacking a community of people we trust and love. So many of us are lacking connection in our work and daily lives. And as religion becomes less and less important for many people, so many of us have nothing that we truly care about to wake up for every day. How can we not feel depressed?