Well this is awkward…expecting to be happy makes you depressed

As I’ve asked rhetorically in the past, when did Buddhism become the religion of happiness?

And now the grand irony: expecting that you ought to be happy is enough to make you depressed. See here.

As I recall the Dalai Lama having said somewhere, it is natural to want to be happy, and it is good to want others to be happy.

But when happiness becomes the norm, and not being happy is treated as a symptom of some problem that needs to be solved, then the ground is set for selling a lot of self-help books, and workshops, and so on. This is the logic of capitalism: create a felt need (whiter teeth, shinier hair, newer car, whatever), and then sell a product to fill that created need. Here the logic is: not happy? you should be, and we’ll make it yours!

Maybe I should close with :-), see I’m happy.

1 thought on “Well this is awkward…expecting to be happy makes you depressed

  1. I don’t necessarily disagree with the argument advanced in the article linked to above, nor do I disagree with the implicit argument you’re making in this post, Richard (which, if I understand it correctly, is that capitalism creates the conditions whereby we define a lack (unhappiness) and its commodified solution (therapy, the self-help industry), thus perpetuating a self-fulfilling unhappiness loop); in fact, I’m completely on board. However…. however…

    I want to ask a question, and explicitly elicit the help of mental help professionals. Isn’t there, at the very least, a conceptualization problem and, at the very worst, a danger in the juxtaposition of “happiness” and “depression”?

    By that I mean the following: in the vernacular, these two words are antonyms, sure. However, from within the field of clinical psychology, the opposite of “depressed” is not “perpetually happy.” In other words, “depression” has a very specific clinical definition, and “overcoming depression” (or whatever current psychological terminology dictates here) is not that the patient learns to be always and forever happy but, rather, to mitigate the effects of traumatic mood swings and the lower ends of the emotional spectrum. I will admit that “the lower ends of the emotional spectrum” might be put into the logic of capitalist systems (i.e., mitigate the symptoms of depression so you can be a more productive worker) and therefore be supportive your point here. But I also wonder if there aren’t legitimate biochemical and psychophysiological events happening in the mind-bodies of “depressed” people that are serious and worth examining and that fall very far outside a simplistic “happy-depressed” dichotomy?

    I admit that this question is outside the boundaries of your post (to the extent that it would rely on a certain expertise from those working in the field of clinical psychology — and lord knows I’m not an expert). But if I’m reading the source article correctly, this is what the authors are doing, no? Making a loose comparison between terms that are not actually comparable? At least within this field? (Unless I’m wrong. Always happy (haha) to be proven wrong!)

    Another way of putting what I’m after here is this — what is the *relationship* between biochemical or psychophysiological events and cultural conditions or contexts? In other words, as this article states, depression is more prevalent in societies that value happiness. But depression, to put grossly, is also measurable. So there is something *happening* that is not just cultural. Again, to put it grossly, if I were suffering from acute depression, would I be “cured” if I moved from Berkeley Kyoto? Maybe. But that’s hardly a sound therapeutic method (insofar as not everyone who’s suffering from depression can move to Kyoto without Kyoto becoming, inevitably, a very depressed place).

    Thoughts? Correctives?

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