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Holiday Depression

Greetings All, 
     I know Christmas is coming, and thus it may seem strange for me to send out a 'thought' taken from a book entitled: "Depression, A Stubborn Darkness," by Ed Welch. Yet, interestingly Christmas -- though a time of joy for many, and a time of busyness that can make others forget their problems for a while -- can bring on depression in others. And what this week's thought does is share some of the reasons, or aspects of our culture, that actually breed and feed depressive tendencies.
So, if you're wrestling with such feelings and wonder why, I pray his words might give you insight into the culturally-induced parts of depression bred by an ill society. His book is well worth the read, and if you know of any good friends suffering from depression it might be a good option for a stocking-stuffer! Enjoy.

Depression Has Its Reasons: Culture

"Over the past twenty years, those who study depression have observed that depression is on the increase. The incidence rate of depression for those born after 1950 is as much as twenty times higher than the incidence rate for those born before 1910. Like all statistics, these can be molded to suit many different agendas, but it is a commonly accepted observation that depression has significantly increased over the last three generations. The question, of course, is why?... The best explanations point to some kind of cultural changes that have been shaped by us, and seek to shape us in return... Infused throughout culture is what Scripture refers to as 'the world.' ... In the New Testament the term 'world' is used to denote the order of things that are alienated from God. In this sense it is morally corrupt (II Peter 1:4), peddling foolishness as wisdom (I Cor. 1:20), and interpreting God's wisdom as foolishness (I Cor. 1:23). The world can be defined as the 'corporate flesh,' as if our sinful tendencies were singing in unison... Not only do we have to fight against our own sin, we also have to fight against aspects of the culture that applaud our sinful tendencies rather than rebuke them. The following list identifies features of our culture that have been linked with depression.

A Culture of Decisions
Martin Seligman, a world renowned researcher on depression, has suggested this explanation for the increase in depression: 'The modern individual is not the peasant of yore with a fixed future yawning ahead. He -- and now she, effectively doubling the market -- is a battle ground of decisions and preferences.' In previous generations, an implicit system kept us in the same jobs as our parents, and most of the major decisions in our lives were made for us before we were born... It was a system that had its problems, but the pressure of decisions was not one of them. Now, education, career, marriage, and even sexual preference are up for grabs. Life is a maelstrom of decisions.

     And if the decisions don't get you, the pressure will [in our highly competitive world]... Although life before a sovereign God assures us that God is in control, accomplishing his good plans even through our poor decisions,... an understandable response to such a pressured culture is withdrawal, paralysis in the face of decisions, fear of making wrong ones, fatigue, and feeling like you could sleep for days and still be tired. In other words, depression is a fitting response for these cultural pressures.

A Culture of the Individual

In 1984, Edward Scheiffelin studied a primitive tribe in New Guinea. Among his findings was an absence of despair, hopelessness, depression and suicide. Studies among the Amish have found similar results. What is similar in these two cultures is the way individuals are part of a larger community. While Western culture is a pseudo-community [false-community] in which we occasionally cluster in like-minded groups, these cultures have extended families of different people with different interests who learn how to live and work together.

Think about it: how would the statistics on depression change if people felt they were part of a community? Part of a family? In modern Western culture there is nothing bigger than ourselves. Satisfaction doesn't come from serving others in our extended circle of relationships. Instead, we think it comes from consuming and gratifying personal needs. If a relationship doesn't suit our desires, it is expendable; we can move on to another. 'How do I feel?' is the national obsession.

A Culture of Self-Indulgence

A corollary to the culture of the individual is the culture of self-indulgence. Whether you look at past slogans of popular culture, such as, 'If it feels good, do it," popular psychology's, 'Follow your feelings,' or the advertising that fuels our economy, we are surrounded by the belief that we can find something outside ourselves to fill or satisfy us. The myth is that 'one more' will finally bring satisfaction. The reality, of course, is that it leaves us with a desire for two more, and then three, because we find that one didn't satisfy.
       A law of diminishing returns is always at work when our appetites run amok. For those with stamina, the cycle of craving and indulgence can go on for years, but many people glimpse the vanity of these pursuits before they are ruined by them... When we think about things that can satisfy our lusts, we tend to think of things that satisfy physical desires, like drugs, food, and sex. But self-indulgence can also feed more psychological appetites. The most common desire has been called the need for self-esteem. It's the endless quest to feel good about ourselves. Some students of depression suggest that the increase in depression is due in part to the backlash of the self-esteem teaching. The reasoning is straightforward: What happens when people are raised on a steady diet of, 'You are great, you can do anything, you deserve it, you are the best, you can get what you want'? Sooner or later they find they are not great, they can't do everything, they are not the best, and they can't control it all. Depression and denial are the only options left.

A Culture Where Happiness Is the Greatest Good

Ask those living in Western culture what they desire and you will begin to hear, 'Happiness.' Look through the senior pictures in a high school yearbook and the frequent ambition is, 'I want to be happy.' Even Aristotle's 'Ethics' suggests that happiness is the greatest good.

Given such a goal, it is not surprising that we have an ambivalent relationship with hardship. People who have experienced war have learned to accept the trials and sufferings of life. Among many wise, older citizens in American society, there is no desperate flight from suffering. Instead, there is a recognition that it is a part of life that can have some benefit. Yet among the post-World War II generation, a wisp of happiness is the goal, and suffering must be avoided at all costs. If there are hardships in a relationship, end it. If there is an unpleasant emotion, medicate it. It is a generation that perceives no value to any hardship. Like a pampered child who never experienced the regular storms of life, we lack the skill of growing through our trials. I'm not suggesting that we should pursue hardships. When the pain can be lightened, it is usually a good thing to do. But we live in a culture that idolizes happiness, and if we idolize happiness, it will always elude us.

A Culture of Entertainment and Boredom

    Another feature of modern culture that has been linked with depression is our quest for the new and exciting, which, for many, is a frantic flight from boredom. 'Amuse me,' is the theme. If we are not amused, we have the dreadful quiet to fill. As Pascal noted, 'I have often said that the sole cause of man's unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.'
  Boredom is a malaise that hangs over the younger generations. Perhaps it is because they have compressed sex, drugs, and money into a shorter period of time and found them unsatisfying. With nothing new to entertain them, they are dreading the decades to come. With no particular purpose, their goal is to tolerate and survive a boring, goal-less existence that will probably be less affluent than that of their parents."

       Welch goes on to show how God made us for himself and we are ever incomplete without him. The Bible has laid out the problems within people, and their cultures (individual and corporate sins), that lead to disintegration, despair and depression. Though apart from the obvious physiological causes of depression, the primary self-induced, or culturally-induced cause, is a life lived solely for the self.
      As I read somewhere just last week,
"If you want to live a life of purpose and joy, you must live for someone or something other than just yourself." It's so true. But even that can lead us into an unsatisfying altruism when we think that somehow God can be excluded from that picture as the primary Being we should live for, learn from, serve and adore.  
Blaise Pascal (mentioned above) was right when he said,
"There once was a true happiness in man (before humanity's Fall), which he now vainly ties to fill with things from his environment. Yet the infinite abyss in the human soul can only be filled with an infinite and immutable object, that is, God Himself." Only He supplies the longing soul with its true purpose. Only He gives it its true object of endless adoration and satisfaction -- infinite perfection and love deeper than knowledge can grasp. Only He can provide us with the reason above all other reasons for why we are here. And only He, when seen in Christ, and embraced in faith, can satisfy the gnawing emptiness the human soul craves to fill.
       Mark Twain once wrote:
"There are two all-important days in a person's life: the day he was born, and the day he discovers why."
This Christmas I hope you discover the latter, or recapture it once again, and as you do watch the clouds of depression begin to evaporate like the morning mist exposed to the rays of the rising sun.

In the Bonds of Christ's Love, Pastor Jeff