• CasKev
    383
    I have a history of major depression, which I seem to have moved past, thanks to a combination of medication and cognitive behavioural therapy. I found what I was left with was a mildly depressed feeling (unpleasant, but not unbearable), seemingly based on thoughts of mortality, pointlessness of life, and lack of meaning.

    Recently, I came across some writings by Peter Wessel Zapffe, that seemed to ring true with my current core beliefs. What I got from it was that humans are basically animals with highly evolved intelligence and consciousness, who develop coping mechanisms - mainly rejection of negative thought, anchoring on items or ideas of importance, and distraction - to deal with the absurdity of life. In the absence or rejection of such coping mechanisms, one can end up over-thinking life, and searching for meaning where no such meaning exists.

    My hope is that the same 'over-evolved' brain that finds despair in lack of meaning can move past this dilemma in a positive way. Perhaps if I can accept that life has no great purpose (or none that will be undeniably proven during my lifetime), I can be content with focusing on satisfying what seem to be our basic instinctive needs - food, shelter, family, community, love, freedom from pain, etc.

    Is this a common philosophical approach to life? In your experience, have people achieved long-term contentment or freedom from despair looking at life in this way? Are there any readings you would recommend on the subject of cultivating a relatively stable peace of mind?
  • 0 thru 9
    453
    Hello, welcome, and thank you for sharing your thoughts and situation. Would it help to hear that your feelings may be more of the norm, rather than the exception? Hopefully so. Understanding that each person's particular situation is... well, particular and unique. Definitely not trying to downplay your situation at all (quite the opposite), because it seems like a crucial crossroad that might be a make-or-break moment for you. There is a recent thread concerning this general area that I found helpful:

    https://thephilosophyforum.com/discussion/1440/philosophy-of-depression-

    Several other similar threads too. But please feel most free to continue your discussion here! I'm not familiar with Zapffe, thanks i will check out his work. If it helps you, then that is good. And thanks again; best wishes and peace to you. (At the risk of annoying everyone by quoting the Tao Te Ching yet again, i'll just say that i find it most helpful and clarifying. YMMV).
    :)
  • OglopTo
    121
    For me, awareness was the necessary first step to trying to make some sort of sense about life. It's still difficult to deal with the realities of life at times, but then again, that's part of reality for me for now.

    I'm inclined towards having Buddhist [and related] ideas though I haven't really done any decent reading on the matter.
  • Bitter Crank
    5.8k
    Welcome to The Philosophy Forum.

    I have a history of major depressionCasKev

    You, me, and a billion other people. Welcome to this club too.

    ... humans are basically animals with highly evolved intelligence and consciousness, who develop coping mechanisms ... to deal with the absurdity of life...CasKev

    Yes. The universe does not supply a ready made meaning for life, and for 99.9999% of all earthly species, that is not a problem. Birds and bees and four-legged beasts go about their day whether the universe has any meaning or not. For our species, however, whether or not the universe has a meaning can become a problem.

    People who are depressed sometimes fixate on the meaningless of the universe, but it is important to remember that depression caused the fixation. The universe neither makes one depressed, nor is so fascinating in its meaninglessness that it attracts our fixated stare. People who are (mercifully) not depressed generally don't worry about these kinds of problems. Like the birds, they just get on with their day -- hoeing the corn or teaching math or doing the laundry--whatever it is we do.

    I was chronically depressed for decades; medication and talk therapy helped. That and a major (unplanned) change in life circumstances have largely eliminated the problem--and just in time--I'm in my 70s and maybe don't have a long time to enjoy not being in a funk all the time. The less depressed I feel, the less a meaningless universe is a problem.

    It is our task to create meaning. This isn't an unmixed blessing. Define the universe as one big meaningless pile of garbage and that's what one is stuck with -- so be careful.

    Or, maybe, never mind the universe. Just give your life meaning you can actually live with. We are only here for a while, and we don't have to solve all the problems a meaningless universe can give us.
  • Wosret
    3.2k
    Then, forgive me if I'm wrong, but you probably also have a history of inactivity, and laying around. Move around me, get up and dance.

    I hold too much weight in my upper body, and am prone to anger. Compassion/ da love energy comes from the hips. So that walking around, dancing around, and just being up on my feet long enough makes me a lot calmer, and happier, and enjoyable to be around. Laying around, or sitting driving, and stuff like that, the longer I do it, the easier I'll be to enrage.

    Working on it, ideally I'm going to move my weight lower, and get more compassion, and less fury.

  • CasKev
    383
    @Wosret Precisely the opposite! I regularly practice jiu-jitsu, play soccer, and lift weights. I am in prime physical condition, eat reasonably well, adhere to a pretty strict sleep schedule, have a great girlfriend, a wonderful 2-year-old son, two amazing daughters (10 and 9 years old), a decent relationship with my ex-wife, a comfortable home, a loving and supportive mother, and so on. Yet I am left with this low-grade feeling of apathy toward life in general, and low motivation for change.

    The only major external force I can identify that may be regularly affecting my mood is my boss at work, who is quite heavy-handed, and has taken away much of the autonomy I enjoyed working for my previous boss. To deal with this, I believe I have the necessary CBT-based tools.

    So I'm left wondering if it's my system of core beliefs about how I think the world should be (or how I've been conditioned to think it should be) that is resulting in this residual feeling of depression, and whether there is some way of thinking that could bring my beliefs more in line with how the world really operates.
  • Wosret
    3.2k
    You're repressing yourself was going to be my second guess. Quit that job, take less money or whatever, the things aren't worth the misery for yourself, which trickles down to your family.

    If your beliefs are that you have to be certain ways that you rarely feel, and pursue goals that you don't actually want, then yeah those are wrong -- but I think that you already know that it's the reduction in autonomy, and a reduction in leash length.
  • TimeLine
    2.7k
    What I got from it was that humans are basically animals with highly evolved intelligence and consciousness, who develop coping mechanisms - mainly rejection of negative thought, anchoring on items or ideas of importance, and distraction - to deal with the absurdity of life.CasKev

    The key here is that we have coping mechanisms that enable us to reject negative thoughts, the problem itself being the rejection and that we are instinctually compelled to avoid negative feelings. When you think of victims of PTSD for instance after a car accident, the increased production of glucocorticoid along with amygdala (limbic system) causes the individual to be unable to turn the emotional experience of that car accident into a past-tense experience, so they may go on for months after the event continuously feeling similar sensations - anxiety, stress, fear - even though their day-to-day activities are normal. We have defence/coping mechanisms to suppress experiences that are not wanted or that we are incapable at conscious level to articulate and thus ignore or avoid the experience that becomes visible in sensations of ongoing anxiousness. Both depression and anxiety are defence/coping mechanisms but in two very different ways so I am not confident that it is a 'higher evolution' as you say when it comes to depression, but a rather talented variation of confronting trauma. If you think of PTSD again, the continuation of feelings of sadness and doubt is caused because one has not been able to turn the emotional experience of the trauma into past-tense and thus confronted it (brought it to consciousness), so they go on living day-by-day feeling the same way even though their circumstances may not render those feelings justifiable. These feelings of both anxiety or depression are actual thoughts that you have not yet brought to conscious level and so you are experiencing it emotionally and because you cannot articulate those emotions, you use justifications for them; so sadness and despair equates to existential pointlessness, when really that is not the case but just your way of trying to explain the feelings. Only honesty can motivate any sense of genuine recovery.
  • darthbarracuda
    2.8k
    My hope is that the same 'over-evolved' brain that finds despair in lack of meaning can move past this dilemma in a positive way.CasKev

    You might be interested in the work of Colin Feltham. He's a psychologist and counselor who is working in the field of depressive realism, with an emphasis on integrating the thought of Peter Zapffe.

    He's certainly not one of those positive psychology people, but he is trying to find ways of coping with the human condition that isn't disingenuous or fatal. I think one of the things he critiques Zapffe on is his underappreciation of love and intimacy.
  • Bitter Crank
    5.8k
    The only major external force I can identify that may be regularly affecting my mood is my boss at work, who is quite heavy-handed, and has taken away much of the autonomy I enjoyed working for my previous boss. To deal with this, I believe I have the necessary CBT-based tools.

    So I'm left wondering if it's my system of core beliefs about how I think the world should be (or how I've been conditioned to think it should be) that is resulting in this residual feeling of depression, and whether there is some way of thinking that could bring my beliefs more in line with how the world really operates.
    CasKev

    Real depression is a disorder of the brain. Maybe it is endogenous. If so, external changes might not make that much difference. If it's exogenous, then changing your life might well reduce your depression. To a large extent, you did that with medication and CBT. Good.

    Some people's depression is clearly endogenous. People with severe major and chronic depression usually can't point to an exterior cause. It's internal chemistry.

    For those whose depression is exogenous (it's still real, however, mediated by internal brain chemistry) it's difficult to generalize about whether a change in life will reduce depression or not. Changing jobs might make a difference. Depending on the next job, things might be better or worse...

    It is certainly worthwhile to resolve cognitive dissonance, but I don't think most people are depressed by such a cause alone, but doing so might help a person feel better.

    I tried to make major changes in my life, I tried therapy, I tried medication. It all helped to some degree. What made the most difference was retirement from work, and the end of a spouse's difficult and finally fatal illness. There was a period of grieving, but then I discovered I was free of many burdens, and what had been a steady drain (depression) finally was gone.

    This was serendipitous change. I hadn't previously been successful in engineering a sufficiently dramatic change in life.

    However, one can carry on reasonably successfully, depressed or not. Care in managing one's choices and feelings is essential. Good luck.
  • T Clark
    3k
    What made the most difference was retirement from work,Bitter Crank

    I was going to write the same thing. I'm 65 and working part time, 20 hours a week. I've been lucky enough to work where I can do the things I love and stop doing the stressful and unfulfilling stuff. Unfortunately, stopping or reducing work is not an option for most people. I don't know what to suggest for those who can't.
  • Thinker
    200
    I will tell you two stories or ideas that were told to me:

    1- There is a man – depressed – who walks to the edge of a cliff in order to jump and end his misery. When he gets to the edge he sees a ledge below with another person. This person has no feet. There is always someone worse off than you.

    2- I had a psychology professor who said: you know, people study psychology thinking they are going to fix themselves. What you find out is that it does not quite do the job. Want to fix yourself – help someone else.
  • mcdoodle
    984
    Ataraxia is the ancient Greek word for the kind of equanimity you're seeking. The fact that it was first brought to prominence by the arch-sceptic Pyrrhus encourages me. It was central to both the Epicureans and the Stoics. You might like to google for modern Stoicism, as the founders of cbt were influenced by it. I believe I'm more of an Epicurean, and the place to start that journey is an edition of Sextus Empiricus.
  • Bitter Crank
    5.8k
    Pyrrhusmcdoodle

    Is he the one who invented the pyrrhic victory?
  • Bitter Crank
    5.8k
    There is always someone worse off than you.Thinker

    And the guy two ledges down had no hands or feet; on the third ledge down was someone who had jumped, didn't know the third ledge was there, and ended up too injured to finish himself off. So sure, there is always someone worse off. I find knowing that some people are worse off singularly unhelpful.

    Want to fix yourself – help someone else.Thinker

    This, on the other hand, is the very model of modern good advice. At least for the problems that stem from self absorption, isolation, loneliness, alienation, and all that -- making meaningful, helpful connections with other people has great value--to both parties.
  • Bitter Crank
    5.8k
    I don't know what to suggest for those who can't.T Clark

    Workers of the world unite? You have nothing to lose but your chains and a world to gain?

    Tie the boss up and tell him he stays in the broom closet until he is ready to meet your non-negotiable demands?

    Seize the means of production and begin production for human need instead of profit?

    Corral the Board of Directors of Apple Corporation and give them a deal: Meet our non-negotiable demands (distribute the $100+ billion in cash you are all sitting on to the poor) OR you each will be forced to eat one IPhone 7. Don't want to eat a phone? Then start writing checks?
  • T Clark
    3k
    Workers of the world unite? You have nothing to lose but your chains and a world to gain?Bitter Crank

    People forget that unions gave American workers many of the positive aspects of work that we enjoy today - 40 hour week, benefits, health insurance, and so on. Unfortunately, the level of worker organization you are talking about no longer seems possible.
  • mcdoodle
    984
    Is he the one who invented the pyrrhic victory?Bitter Crank

    Sadly, a different Pyrrhus, although roughly a contemporary, won a battle against the Romans but couldn't afford the casualties.

    I slightly mis-spoke, the sceptic is known as Pyrrho.
  • Agustino
    11k
    I believe I'm more of an Epicurean, and the place to start that journey is an edition of Sextus Empiricus.mcdoodle
    Sextus isn't an Epicurean though?
  • Bitter Crank
    5.8k
    People forget that unions gave American workers many of the positive aspects of work that we enjoy today - 40 hour week, benefits, health insurance, and so on. Unfortunately, the level of worker organization you are talking about no longer seems possible.T Clark

    All true.

    Why? For one, employers have gained too many legal protections against worker organization, and are themselves alert and and organized. Their anti-union activities are effective. Two, the unions that do exist are too often a.) in bed with the boss; b.) corrupt; c.) ineffective d.) too small. Militant members make for militant unions, and workers are not, at this point, militant.

    Workers are not militant because the concepts which make strong resistance possible have been buried. Public relations efforts portray worker organizing as conflict that is undesirable, disruptive, unproductive, against the public good. The public has become well educated in the corporate, pro-capital view of the world.

    A new element -- the marginalization of the low and semi-skilled worker in the US--and even some skilled and professional workers, by automation (computers and robots), is game changing, not for the better, from the perspective of a worker seeking a good job.

    What bothers many professional workers is that tighter management control often diminishes the intellectual satisfactions of work. One of the bastions of intellectually satisfying work -- the college faculty job -- has been degraded by replacing full time teachers with low-paid term-to-term temp-teachers.

    One could go on for pages and pages...
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