The 7 Crucial Questions Unhappy People Should Ask Themselves
Want to fight depression?
Yesterday, a lot of people were talking about a study that suggests depression IS NOT caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Can you look at one study and say that an issue like this has been definitively decided? Absolutely not. That being said, at a minimum, I have long thought that MOST depressed people aren’t depressed because their brain chemistry is off.
On the contrary, most people are depressed because our culture constantly feeds the populace false ideas of what will make them happy. In our society, the message we get is that wealth, fame, buying a certain product, voting for a certain politician, or outright hedonism is what you need to be a happy person. Of course, all of this is completely wrong. There have been so many stories that have gotten out about old, unhappy, extraordinarily wealthy people that it’s starting to feel like a cliché. The same goes for famous people that end up overdosing or acting like lunatics because they’re so miserable. Anyone with half a brain can tell you that there’s no politician that is going to deliver on happiness and no matter how many commercials featuring people grinning like maniacs as they use dishwashing liquid or drinking a particular beer come out, those products never quite fill the gap and always leave you wanting the new and improved version.
As to hedonism, we have one of the most hedonistic populations in human history. Almost our entire population has easy access to advanced games, pornography, movies, TV series, music, and delicious food available. There are Roman emperors that would have burned whole cities to the ground and slaughtered their entire populations just to get access to the sort of luxuries many lower-middle-class Americans take for granted at this point.
Of course, it is worth noting that there are some people who may have good reason to be unhappy, at least for a while. I’m a happy person, but I certainly wasn’t happy right after my dog died. Additionally, very few people are going to be happy while they’re feeling extremely physically bad because of say torture or a severe illness. Since all of us are different, no one can give you a perfect roadmap to happiness, but there are some important questions you should be asking yourself.
1) What is your purpose? Why are you on planet earth? What are you here to do? What makes you want to get out of bed in the morning and get to it? Maybe it’s taking care of your family, being a good servant to God, helping people have better lives, making your small business thrive, or being the best Italian chef in NYC. I don’t know what that answer is for you, but I do know that most people that don’t have an answer to that question on some level tend to drift through what they increasingly come to see as a meaningless life. Breaking Bad is one of the greatest TV series of all time and perhaps the best scene in the whole series is when Walter White, a science teacher with cancer who starts making meth to leave his family something after he dies, becomes indignant when he realizes his wife still sees him as that same old, dying science teacher when he’s found something that gives his life more meaning:
Who are you talking to right now? Who is it you think you see? Do you know how much I make a year? I mean, even if I told you, you wouldn't believe it. Do you know what would happen if I suddenly decided to stop going into work? A business big enough that it could be listed on the NASDAQ goes belly up. Disappears! It ceases to exist without me. No, you clearly don't know who you're talking to, so let me clue you in. I am not in danger, Skyler. I am the danger. A guy opens his door and gets shot and you think that of me? No. I am the one who knocks!
Now, I’m not saying to go out and sell meth, but I am saying find something that fires you up, that can give you that kind of pride in your worth. All of us NEED that to reach our potential and be truly happy.
2) Are your rules fair? All of us have personal rules in our heads for what makes us feel like we are winning, succeeding, or doing well. This can become a problem if our rules are unfair. You can be winning everywhere in life except on the scoreboard in your own mind. You can be making 200k per year but feel like a failure because it’s not 250k. You can have a fantastic boyfriend who treats you like a queen but feel like you “settled” because you MIGHT be able to find someone better. You can be the prettiest girl in the room but feel unattractive because you used to be even prettier 10 years ago. You can eat healthier than anyone else you know but feel like a screw-up all week because you ate a piece of cake on your girlfriend’s birthday. I’m all for pushing yourself to be better and do more, but human beings aren’t perfect, and they desperately need to have some perspective about how they’re doing compared to other people. As legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith once said:
3) How do you talk to yourself? Over the course of my life, I’ve had several people tell me that they have chemical imbalances that cause depression. This new study says that’s not a real thing, but as I noted, the jury’s still out. What I will say is that in most of those cases, I couldn’t help but notice that those people talked to themselves like abusive parents. They’d say things like: “Why I am such a loser?” “Why can’t I do anything right?” “Why can’t I feel normal?” The answer to that last question is, “Because you keep talking to yourself like an evil stepmother trying to break the spirit of a willful child.” People in that situation should try refusing to say a negative word to themselves about anything for a week, and MAGICALLY, most of them will find that they start to feel much better. Most people don’t need to go to that extreme, but if you’re not on your own team, who is? Accept your failings and try to do better but be more like an encouraging coach who pushes yourself, not a comicbook villain talking to his henchmen.
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4) Are you making the lives of other people better? What are you contributing to the world? I’m not talking about virtue signaling and tweeting trendy hashtags either. Are there people whose lives are actually better because of you? Are you teaching Sunday school at church? Coaching little league? Working at a homeless shelter? Running a business that helps your employees pay the bills? Are you giving advice to your kids and helping them succeed? Trying to get humanity to Mars? Did you write a book designed to help get young Americans twenty years ahead of their peers? A life designed to benefit only you is not a meaningful or well-lived life. Helping others gives you a sense of accomplishment and helps you feel like the world is a better place because you’re in it.
5) Are you making connections with people that matter? Do you have family? Close friends you can talk things out with? Someone you’re dating or married to that you’re sharing life with? Kids? Those connections are a big part of what makes life worth living. You can “have it all,” but if you have no one to share it with, does it matter? Also, because it needs to be said in 2022, we’re not talking about “online-only” connections either. Your “followers” will hear that you were hit by a bus tomorrow, go eat lunch, and forget you ever existed within a week. It’s fine to meet people online, but almost all relationships need a real-life component to deepen and become extremely meaningful. If you don’t have it, start pursuing it and in the process, your life is likely to get better.
6) Are you waiting for something to happen to be happy? That old saying about happiness being a “journey,” not a destination, couldn’t be more right. People think they’re going to get a girlfriend, a new car, a fancy house, retire, or go on vacation and happiness will be there waiting for them. Well, maybe for a few days, but long term, you’ll just adjust. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that you should never do anything you hate or grit it out for a while, but if what you’re doing day-to-day makes you miserable, will you be good at it? Will miserable years really be made up for by some glorious triumph that you’ll soon cease to appreciate? It’s doubtful. Life is just a collection of moments, that turn into hours, days, weeks, and years. Make sure most of those moments are things you can at least feel good about.
7) Are you growing as a person? As McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc said:
Are you adding skills? Getting stronger? Learning new things? Becoming a better person… OR are you in a rut? Are you stagnant? There’s a reason people want to break out of ruts and that’s because it doesn’t feel good to feel as if you’re staying in the same place in life or worse yet, going backward. What are you doing to improve yourself? Classes? Seminars? Are you picking up new skills from YouTube videos? Trying new things? Perfecting your craft? There are very few unhappy people that are continually growing as human beings and you probably won’t be the exception to that rule. If you wanted one piece of advice that would ultimately pay off more than any other on this list, this is it: Grow and you will be happy.