Money won’t buy you happiness. How many times have you heard that? It’s become a cliché because it’s true. Accumulating or consuming material stuff won’t make you happy either. The same goes for seeking out stimulation.
Then it stands to reason that removing material things won’t make us unhappy. Yet right now, during the massive shutdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us are grieving for “stuff” we can no longer get, use, or consume. We think we’re unhappy because of this situation. But in reality, we’ve long been unhappy. This situation is revealing just how unhappy we really are.
What we have are limitations on love, not things. Those love limitations are why so many of us are suffering more intensely right now. Limitations on love are also at the core of mental illness.
Have you noticed during this lockdown that we miss interacting with other people most of all? We’re doing our best with things like video chat, but realizing it’s an inadequate substitute. Modern technology and social media once made us think we had everything covered, even though depression rates skyrocketed. We could talk, text, order stuff, play games, be entertained, and more. But as we go through isolation we still have those things and aren’t happy. We’re understanding that we need actual human contact. We need to connect. We need love.
Happiness is not something we can get. It’s not a commodity. It’s not even a thing or a destination.
Happiness is a state of mind that we have to work at and nurture. And it starts with self-love. Happiness originates from loving yourself. Which therefore means that unhappiness comes from not loving yourself.
Depression is also a state of mind – one that has a powerful effect on brain chemistry and the entire body. Depression is the result of believing that you’re not worthy of something, that you’re no good, and then disconnecting from other people. You think you suck and you withdraw. How do you learn to believe something? By repeating it. Whatever has caused your depression, or whatever is causing your mental health problems, comes down to repeating unloving thoughts about yourself. Sometimes you’re not aware of them. That’s because depression sneaks up and becomes progressively worse.
My depression stems from fear of people rejecting me and leaving me. As a result, I withdrew from people and frequently rejected/left them as a defence against them doing it to me. Depression started not because of what happened to me as a child, but because when I was rejected or punished, I was isolated in shame and conditioned to think I did something to deserve it. I was conditioned not to love myself. In my isolation, those thoughts repeated over and over until I believed them. I wasn’t given tools to understand, which would have made a huge difference. The belief and the disconnect from human love were the keys. After years of looking only at my depression symptoms and scratching the surface, I did the hard work with a professional to get down to the very cause of my depression and unhappiness. It was unpleasant and confronting, yet necessary.
If somebody abused you, physically or mentally, the abuse alone didn’t cause your depression. Their actions took love away from you and conditioned you to think that you were unworthy of love. If you became depressed after a loss or different kind of trauma, repeated thoughts of “Why me?” or “Life sucks” or “That’s just typical” made you believe you were unworthy and caused you to isolate.
During this pandemic isolation and quarantine, how frequently have you been thinking that you’re unhappy or that life sucks? What you repeat becomes what you believe. You may have lost your job. But that hasn’t made you unhappy – your mental reaction has, your state of mind has. I know some people won’t like hearing that. I certainly never did enjoy hearing that my state of mind was the issue. I rejected that idea over and over for years. Don’t get me wrong. Being stressed and upset about losing your job is understandable and normal. But it’s not what makes you unhappy in yourself.
When we’re unhappy or depressed, we seek out “things” to distract us and numb our pain. We drink, use drugs, gamble, buy stuff, disappear into virtual distractions, aimlessly scroll social media for hours, pick fights online, and so on. These things sustain us in the same way that eating fast food sustains life (poorly) but does nothing good beyond that. When those activities are removed or unavailable, we think that’s why we’re unhappy.
None of the activities I mentioned in the previous paragraph involve love. Drinking, drugs, buying things, gambling, online stuff, fighting, trying to shame people online… they are not loving to you. They cannot love you. You have to love yourself if you are to be happy.
So, how do you go about learning to love yourself and believing you are worthy of love? How do you find love for yourself amid this pandemic shutdown and isolation. I’ll cover that in the next blog.
Meanwhile, please continue to praise and thank healthcare workers, grocery workers, government people, first responders, and everyone else who is under enormous stress and doing amazing work for all of us.