Tuesday, June 20, 9950

Existential Despair / Depression

There are two types of depression: the “normal” type, where we fail to attain things we want; and existential, where we realize that there is nothing worthwhile to attain. This post focuses on the latter.

Let’s do a chronology:

1. As children we have natural enthusiasm that makes mere existence wonderful. Most things are interesting, and we feel frequent joy and wonder.
2. Then we get indoctrinated with the idea that we must “attain” things. We must study and take exams in order to get good grades. We must compete in sports in order to conquer others. We must dress or act a certain way in order to gain others’ acceptance. This becomes our way of life. No longer can we simply go with our natural, inner motivation to catch frogs or play with dolls or chase butterflies; now we must force ourselves to adopt an unnatural, external motivation to strive for things that other people tell us we must strive for. It is all based on desire and fear.
3. Eventually we start to see how unimportant things such as climbing the corporate ladder, consumerism, and social status are. We realize that the reward-punishment system we had subjected ourselves to is a silly farce. We stop jumping through other people’s hoops and become (mostly) free of that system of slavery.
4. It seems that nothing is important or worthwhile. The system we broke free of might have been ridiculous, but it gave us a reward-punishment scheme that provided incentives for doing things. Now it’s gone. Now what? What’s the point of living if nothing ultimately matters?

This sort of existential despair/depression can happen when we’ve seen through the normal illusions of consumerism, accomplishment, and status, but have still not let go of the idea that our reason(s) for living must be external. We no longer have external incentives, so we feel that life is pointless.

We might believe that we can solve this by replacing the old external incentives with new ones. For example, we might strive to become a great author, martial artist, or meditation guru. But if we choose an endeavor just to give us something to do, it is nothing more than an artificial goal, a way to attain accomplishment. That will merely perpetuate our slavery. As long as we keep looking outward for reasons to live or to do anything, our sense of well-being will be at the mercy of our environment, and we will remain blind to our own natural joy. It is this loss of joy that defines any kind of depression.

We need to find the natural joy that lives inside us. We can do this by focusing within. It might take practice because we have to learn to stop looking outward for incentives. Only when we have found our bliss will our natural enthusiasm return. Only then will we know what we truly want to do, because we will feel it from within rather than being persuaded by external forces. We will do things we have a true passion for rather than what were told we “should” do. We will return to the natural joy of existing that we had before we got brainwashed. Life will once again be good not only when something exciting is happening, but all the time, because our joy will come from our very selves and hence not be dependent on “peak” experiences.

So, the solution to existential despair is to stop expecting external rewards and to find the joy that naturally accompanies being.