You can find out how happy you are by asking yourself: Would you re-live every moment of your life in exactly the same way?
But maybe the thought of pleasing your boss is depressing you, because you think working from 9 to 5 makes you miserable altogether. In that case, you would’ve gotten along great with Friedrich Nietzsche. For a number of years, he concerned himself with answering the question: “If I had to live this life over again, would I be able to stand it?” But the thought of pleasing your spouse is different - a pleasure. Might be the thought of pleasing your son or daughter is not as great!
Friedrich coined the doctrine of two worlds, which says that next to the real world, we all conjure a fantasy world in our minds, in order to escape from the boredom and depression of our real lives. These mass hallucinations of better partners, better work, more money and fancier lives, however, are signs of weakness, he claims.
To abandon the herd and live on our own terms, we must ditch the fantasies. It’s the only way to see the world as it is, master our destinies and start making them a reality. Friedrich calls the person who does this superman (or woman) – those who embrace their non-conformity, aren’t afraid to be different and start living in a way that’d make them happy to live every moment again in exactly the same way.
Would you re-live every moment of your life in exactly the same way? The answer will tell you if you’re a superman (or woman). This Breakfast With Socrates summary shows what Sigmund Freud would say about your morning routine and how Friedrich measures happiness.
The link between boredom and depression:
Viewed through an existential lens the two states are the same and only differ in degree. They share the underlying characteristics. This is why if you find yourself bored often it’s a strong warning sign to look deeply into how you are living because depression has a good chance to develop. Anyone (everyone, perhaps) who has been bored, knows it is a pretty unbearable state of being. We resort to all types of diversions in trying to avoid it. Boredom is the lack of interest, the lack of feeling, and the lack of connection towards life and people. But there are people, senior aged, with 'lack of interest, a lack of feeling, and a lack of connection towards life and people' but, substituted with pure, unadulterated, 100% love and closeness with God and happily living, with no boredom, at all.
Depression, unlike boredom, is a state of total hopelessness and a total lack of belief that life can improve. Any symptom is often severe. Even so, the solution is much more severe. The way to beat boredom or depression is to find the conditions that make you feel authentically fulfilled and connected.
Let's think about the link between depression and boredom. Is there any link at all? Viewed through an existential lens the two states are, in fact, the same and only differ in degree. They share underlying characteristics. This is why if you find yourself bored often it’s a strong warning sign to look deeply into how you are living because depression has a good chance to develop.
When you feel bored, which is often these days, you are aware it is often a pretty unbearable state of being. Then you resort to all available types of diversions and try to avoid it. Boredom is a lack of interest, a lack of feeling, and a lack of connection towards life and people. When you are bored often you are not plugged in. you get tempted to try to solve the dilemma by attempting to sleep. This is an attempt to eradicate consciousness because the conscious state of being bored is so unnerving.
The parallel to depression is a thought - and almost driving one to a decision on committing suicide. Death is often referred to as the eternal sleep or eternal rest. A common expression when we are free to 'do as we please' - is 'to kill time’. Isn't that so! The psychological mechanism of going to sleep to escape boredom is the same as attempting suicide to escape depression. In both cases the goal is to change a state of conscious being that is unbearable.
The tragedy in cases of severe depression is that there is no waking up from killing yourself, while there are always ways, even if you feel completely hopeless, to turn your life around and get plugged in. I'll be glad if this helps people feel more compassion for those who are severely depressed and try to attempt suicide. We have all attempted to eradicate our consciousness in a much less intense way in the form of sleep. But depression, unlike boredom, is a state of total hopelessness and a total lack of belief that life can improve. Just as the symptoms are indeed severe, the solutions too are much more severe.
“Boredom is the average state of melancholia, whereas melancholia is the pathological state of boredom that one finds in certain individuals” ("The Pathology of Normalcy" by Erich Fromm). Fromm calls it the ‘pathology of normalcy’, a clever term to encapsulate the idea that trying to be just like everybody else is its own form of sickness. We call ourselves individualistic but the term is almost 'a laugh out loud funny’ in light of the fact that most people are terrified of being individuals and spend their lives following popular opinion, trying to fit in, looking, talking, thinking, and acting like everybody else, hoping to pass themselves off as whatever ‘normal’ is. We can see that rather than being two distinct entities they are the same entities at different stages of a continuum.
The desire to fit in stems from the deeper feeling of existential isolation that we all have transcended nature and are aware of our separateness from it as well as from one another. This fleeting feeling dancing at the edge of conscious awareness of being totally and utterly alone in the universe is unbearable and we feel compelled to do something to bridge the chasm.
The solution that many take is to become clones. By being perceived as normal, by thinking, talking, and acting like everybody else they protect themselves from the threat of ostracism. Being ostracized is pretty unbearable for intelligent. Being excluded from our fellows, to not just feel isolated but to be isolated from the group, is cruel and unusual punishment. The conformist attitude decreases the likelihood of it happening.
The next time when you feel bored, instead of trying to escape the state by working, socializing, or sleeping, you may try looking deeply within to see what boredom is telling you about the structure of your life. The way to beat boredom or depression is to find the conditions when you could feel authentically fulfilled and connected. This connection might be to life, people, nature, a cause, a job, or anything else you can think of.
You may sometimes like to think of being plugged in to life and relationships as the psychic equivalent to cardiovascular exercise. Then you may put a lot of effort into your workout and hence you can expect to feel tired afterwards. But then even if you feel physically worn out you are usually energized and more ready to confront the tasks ahead. The key is to discover what makes you feel connected instead of going and listening to friends, or psychologists. Ultimately is it not you and you alone who can discover the lifestyle and relationships that fit you? The first step is having the courage to look at the situation as it is rather than how you would like it to be!
But there’s a massive difference between clinical depression and feeling sad. It’s actually important to make the distinction since ‘I’m depressed’ has become an integral part of the lexicon, something people say to express negativity in the face of all manner of unwanted happenings.
One of the major differences between clinical depression and feeling sad actually centers around the emotional output itself. We might define depression as the lack of feeling, the lack of being connected to life and people. This inability to turn towards life, this inability to feel motivated by life or to respond deeply to it, really cuts right to the core of what depression is from our existential point of view. So in a paradoxical sense if I'm feeling really sad, if I'm negatively charged by this or that unwanted circumstance, this is a proof that I'm not depressed. Therefore whenever I feel sad, when I'm feeling down in the dumps, when those negative emotions are surging up in me, the path of mental health is to let myself experience an existential state without censure or judgment. The human condition is inherently tragic. Though I wish for positive, pleasant emotions all the time can the wish always be realistic? When I'm plugged into life, when I care deeply about things, some stimuli would make me really happy, irrespective of some might make me really sad.
But when I'm depressed the path of mental health is definitely not to let myself continue to experience my existential state. The problem isn’t ‘negative feeling’ but ‘no feeling’. The solution is discovering the necessary conditions to feel connected to life and people once again. Connection to life is an ‘all or nothing affair’ in the sense explained above that you can’t cherry pick which emotions are going to arise out of this connection. Some will be pleasant and desirable while others will be unpleasant and undesirable.
Activity - 'Key' to 'Beating Depression'
A loss of energy is one of the central features of depression. When I'm depressed I often find it hard to get out of bed, or interact socially, or take care of even myself, or any other of life’s myriad activities. Erich Fromm calls it the ‘pathology of normalcy’, a clever term to encapsulate the idea that trying to be just like everybody else is its own form of sickness. We call ourselves individualistic but the term is almost laugh out loud funny in the light of the fact that most people are terrified of being individuals and spend their lives following popular opinion, trying to fit in, looking, talking, thinking, and acting like everybody else, hoping to pass themselves off as whatever ‘normal’ is. Energy is an ambiguous term. It’s worth delving into where it comes from, whether it’s self-renewing, and how to get more of it. It’s indeed a sad irony that the path to overcoming depression is increasing energy, connection, and zest for life; when, in fact, energy is what is lacking in the first place. Does it really seem fair? Depression is a state of having given up. It’s hopelessness about life and my place in it.
In order to beat depression I must change many facets of my life; change my perceptions of the world, how I relate to others, and how I behave. One place to start is exercise. Again, it’s a sad irony that the activities with the best chance of lifting one out of his depression require the most energy output. One thing science has shown me about depression is that the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin show up in smaller quantities in the brains when I'm depressed. Cardiovascular exercise increases levels of dopamine and serotonin. If I'm not ready to start exercising every day then a part of myself might want to stay ill. It’s a difficult truth to swallow but it’s as simple as that. Exercise, healthy eating, and meditation are three of the fastest ways to give us the energy to start making all the other necessary changes in our life. But all it takes is dedication and perseverance.
Exercise needs to be at the top of the list. We are only talking about thirty minutes a day. This is the length of an episode of ‘The Simpsons’. We can do it in the morning before we go to 'a schedule’, or on our lunch break. Why whenever we choose to do it (!), now is the time to throw the gauntlet down and decide we are willing to do whatever it takes to get our life back.