Welcome to December, everyone! As we draw nearer to Christmas, the days get shorter and the weather gets colder, and the snow starts to stick to the ground. In some ways, the lengthening nights can be a bit depressing, as it starts to get dark before 4 p.m. However, I’m also reminded of warm, delicious turkey dinners and the joys of spending the holidays with those we care about.
As we draw to the close of one year and to the beginning of another year, I look back and see how things went, and try to think of what I can do to further myself in the new year ahead. As human beings, we are always acting to move towards a state of higher satisfaction and attainment, and I don’t just mean money or material attainment. At each step of the journey, we wonder “what’s next?”, and “where do I go from here?”
The road isn’t always easy going! There are a lot of challenges to face along the way, and some of the biggest are inside our heads. Jeremy, a blog buddy of mine, recently shared some of his thoughts on depression, and how he’s dealt with it over time. His post resonated with me, as I’ve been prone to depression and anxiety myself. Sometimes I wonder why our brain switches this on — don’t we still live good lives, with warm homes and food to eat? Many of our ancestors had to struggle just to have that, and many people around the world still struggle even today.
Sometimes, the simplest life can be the happiest life of all. Buddha once wrote that suffering comes from desire and longing, and maybe part of depression is a result of having too much longing, longing for the wrong things, or blaming ourselves for the things that we cannot change. I believe that a big part of it is relative — it’s the relative differences that upset us, even if we are not doing so badly in absolute terms.
When I travelled to the Ethiopian countryside, I found that the further off we went and the less exposure that people had to Western culture and Western tourists, the happier they were. Western culture isn’t itself to blame, but imagine living a life where even a plastic bottle, something most of us don’t think twice about discarding, is something to be treasured. Might put the relative differences into the spotlight, yes? And so it is with most of us, on a lesser scale.
Whether it is wealth, income, social status, beauty, social attainment, or even our very own imagination and the expectations that we grew up with, much longing comes from the relative differences that we perceive between where we are and where we think we should be.
Each of us has something valuable to add to this world
What can we do to combat these feelings that we all face at times? I don’t think shame or just telling oneself to “get over it” works, because that doesn’t really address the root of the problem; it’s natural to feel longing, and it’s even natural to feel depressed at times. Rather, I think there are ways to reduce the longing and add some good to the world at the same time.
I think the first step is to realize that each of us has a purpose in life, and a unique value that we bring to the world. I don’t mean this in the sense that “everyone is special and a unique snowflake”, but rather, I mean this in the sense that there is a path out there that will help each of us get closer to the light of self-actualization. The most basic truth is that each of us has the power to do good in this world, and we have the choice to do our little bit to make the world a better place; it can be as small as deciding to give your waiter/waitress an extra tip the next time you go out to eat. It can be finding your passion, and deciding to work a little bit harder and produce a little bit more. There are many ways to give forth, even extending beyond regular charity.
I believe that giving support to the causes that one believes in is one of the most important ways that we can self-actualize and add to the world. There are many victims of violence out there, people in abusive relationships, people that have been bullied, and as we know from the tragic events of recent history, there will be many parents who face the prospect of a lonely Christmas this year, without the smiles and joy of their loved ones. The causes that you believe in are private, and they are for you to decide. In supporting these causes, you can bring more justice and compassion to the world.
There are so many ways that this can be applied, and this works even if the sources of your longing might be quite vain!
- Did you ever suffer from parental or spousal abuse, or were you bullied when younger? Help to right the injustice by providing much-needed support to abuse shelters, the Big Brothers and Sisters, and homes for runaways.
- Are you upset because you got laid off, or you feel your career is stagnating? Help mentor a student on the ways of the work force, or better yet, hire them for a personal project and get something off the ground.
- Wishing you could drive a Mercedes, but drive an econobox instead? Imagine if you didn’t have a car at all. Donate or volunteer to help out a less fortunate family with their food & transportation needs this Christmas.
To me, this is one of the most powerful cures for depression and longing. Sometimes donations and charity can almost feel a bit trite, especially when it feels forced or it feels like a social obligation; that’s why I think it’s important to find the causes that you really believe in! Look beyond the traditional sources of charitable giving to the areas that also mesh with your personal values, and where you believe that even small funds can make a meaningful impact.
Sometimes, we also just have to help ourselves by developing a greater appreciation for the wonder around us, so we develop the capability to later help ours. Many people don’t look forward to the cold of winter (myself included!), but you know what, there are a lot of great things about it. We can enjoy winter sports, such as snowing and skiing. We can sit in a dark park at night, and look up at the stars of the crisp and clear night sky, and then come inside and enjoy the warmth of our homes. Each cycle of the seasons brings renewed life and hope to the world.
We can all contribute something valuable to this world. Even if we’ve suffered great wrongs, or even if our longings are merely vain, even if we don’t have everything that we want, we still have the power to make a difference.
How do you feel about how the year has gone for you, and how are you coping with your own feelings as you strive toward personal fulfillment? I am thankful that the first year of my leap has gone well, and I have learned so much; I feel much more capable than I ever have at any previous time in my life. I still sometimes get a bit depressed, mainly over things that are beyond my ability to change, and to work through it, I think of some of the causes that I believe in, and what I can do to make a difference.