Thought for the Day – Anne Atkins

In happiness, what i'm reading on December 9, 2009 at 10:55 am

Anne Atkins’ Thought for the Day yesterday morning reflected on the Young Foundation’s report into the psychological needs of people in Britain today – Sinking and Swimming: understanding Britain’s unmet needs, which dwells on the nature of depression.

We know a great deal more about depression than we used to. It’s an illness – some people get it and some people don’t. In many cases it’s treatable and there are tremendous success stories in how, as a society, we are dealing with it. Still, it’s now reckoned that 1 in 4 of us will experience depression of some sort during our lives. I find that a rather shocking statistic, and a very sobering one when I’m presently dwelling on what makes us happy, not what makes us unhappy.

Through my research into the nature of happiness and from talking to lots of people about what makes them tick it has become clear to me that, for many, the only way to truly understand what makes us happy is to to understand what makes us unhappy.

Anne Atkins thinks she knows where the root of this unhappiness lies in the very nature of society itself. She says:
“Depression is linked to two objective factors: relationships, and material well-being. As society becomes more fractured so we become more wretched. And the greater the disparity grows between rich and poor, the more dejected we become. The way to happiness would seem clear, if not easy. Better relationships and a fairer world.”While acknowledging that the theraputic treatments available for those who are depressed are valid, she seems to suggest that people just need to man up and get over their depression. That tears are good for us sometimes and, as I suggest here, the happier moments in life have to go hand in hand with the unhappier ones.  But I think she’s confusing unhappiness (a state of mind for many) with depression (an illness). She’s surely getting confused when she suggests that to get over depression, all you need do is find happiness. I’m no expert on the subject, but I’m pretty sure it’s more complicated that than.

She quotes Oscar Wilde: “Where there is sorrow, there is holy ground.” Depression is much more than sorrow, more than feeling down or simply being unhappy. It’s a chemical inbalance that affects an entire person. Unhappiness and depression are different beasts.

Of course, Thought for the Day is a moment of religious contemplation and yesterday’s speaker seems to suggest that looking forward to a time when there will no longer be any sorrow (I assume she means the end of time for Judeo-Christians) we will have something positive to focus on.

I really don’t agree with her conclusions.  You can read the full transcript of what she said on the BBC website.


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