Why America is the Most Depressed Nation on Earth

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SaulChanukah

Why America is the Most Depressed Nation on Earth

Post by SaulChanukah » Sun Mar 14, 2010 8:59 pm

Monday, March 01, 2010

By Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

Why America is the Most Depressed Nation on Earth

It’s kind of incongruous to be the world’s most prosperous nation but also its most
depressed. According to the Washington Post America consumes three quarters of the
earth’s anti-depressants, with one out of three women popping Prozac, Zoloft, and
Paxil. What makes the phenomenon even more curious is the recent study, published as
a Newsweek cover story, which suggested that anti-depressants are no more effective
than a placebo, which means that Americans take these pills in the belief that it is
always something outside of them that will make them happy.

How could a nation of such wealth foster such unhappiness? The question is
compounded by the fact that this republic was founded, as articulated by Thomas
Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, as a place where ‘the pursuit of
happiness’ was paramount. And by that count America, for all its other successes,
has ultimately failed.

I believe that two are intertwined, that the very mechanism that has made America so
rich has also made Americans so miserable.

What everyone most wants in life is to be special. Noone is born feeling ordinary.
We all believe that there is something about us that distinguishes us, that makes us
different, that makes us irreplaceable and unique. Most of our lives are dedicated
to proving that uniqueness. Whether it’s through getting A’s in Algebra or winning a
race at the swim meet, or getting into Harvard or being hired by a top law firm, our
pursuits in life are designed to substantiate our uniqueness. We all want to be a
success because success proves we are not, and never have been, ordinary. Our
successes make us stand out from the crowd.

But specialness-through-success must always be balanced by
specialness-through-being-an-object-of-love. In other words, when you’re born your
parents don’t think your special because you aced the SAT. They think your special
because you’re their child. And you don’t have to work at being extraordinary. In
their eyes you were born singular and exceptional. No matter how unsightly your
doodling with crayons, your parents will still put them up on the refrigerator door.
And no matter how disruptive the math teachers says you are in class, your parents
will still tuck you in at night, read you a story, and tell you how much they love
you. The message you get is that there is noone in the world like you. You are given
love as a free gift.

Later this feeling of acceptance and specialness will continue as you are slowly
embraced by friends and community. It constitutes the principal reason why we Jews
make a big deal of a bar and bas mitzvah. We’re telling an adolescent that there is
a community of which they are a part that embraces them by simply and passively
coming of age. This corroboration of specialness-through-love will culminate when a
complete stranger chooses to devote themselves to you unconditionally as their
spouse.

This past weekend I had a gall bladder attack and had to be rushed to hospital for
emergency surgery. My wife had to witness me in all my ugliness, from screeching in
pain to losing any vestige of basic hygiene. Yet, there she was, comforting me and
doing her darndest to make the pain go away.

The message behind all of these actions is that you are special. There’s nothing you
have to do to become that way. It’s your birthright. No person is ordinary.

But in America, prosperity was bought through precisely the opposite message. You’re
not born special but only become unique through achievement and acquisition. Hard
work, financial rewards, big house, elected office – these are what really make you
count. Love is not something given freely. Rather, it is something earned.

Michael Jackson summed it up best when he told me, as recorded in our conversations
for publication, “I think all my success and fame, I have wanted it because I wanted
to be loved. That’s all. That’s the real truth. I wanted people to love me, truly
love me, because I never really felt loved. I said, maybe if I sharpened my craft,
maybe people will love me more.”

As an engine for material success, making people who feel unworthy work had to prove
themselves is unimaginably successful. Just look at how many Olympic athletes were
quoted in Vancouver as saying that they won gold because they were told they were
washed up, passed it, ordinary. But as an engine of human happiness, I can’t think
of anything more depressing that the feeling that you are a big zero until proven
otherwise.

This is what led Tiger Woods to feel, as he confessed, that success and a feeling of
specialness was always outside him. He had to devour, first championships, and later
women, in order to prove himself worthy. It’s also what led Vyacheslav Bykov, the
Russian hockey coach, to respond to President Medvedev’s rebuke, when his team left
Vancouver without a medal, to say, “Let’s put up a bunch of guillotines and gallows.
We have 35 people on the hockey team. Let’s go to Red Square and dispatch with them
all.” Because in this Pax Americana world we inhabit, where people are distinguished
only when they win, if you lose, you’re dead.

Parents these days withhold their approval in order to motivate their children to do
better. The thinking has become that too much validation will give the child nothing
to strive for. Friendships today are likewise highly selective. We have ‘contacts’
rather than friends. As for community, well, the more fame you acquire the more
love you’ll get. Just look at how Canada highlighted, in the closing Olympic
ceremony, a parade of Canadians who actually abandoned their country to live in the
United States. The message: they’re famous, so we’re proud of them even if they’re
not proud of us.

America, and now the rest of the Western world, has become successful by playing on
people’s insecurities. Contrary to the Biblical message that every person is born
with a spark of the divine, we’ve instilled within them the belief that they are
ordinary until proven otherwise. The result is millions of people who are ambitious
not because they believe they are born with an innate gift for singing that can
bring others joy but rather that they are faceless unless they win American Idol.

Corlyss_D
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Re: Why America is the Most Depressed Nation on Earth

Post by Corlyss_D » Sun Mar 14, 2010 9:20 pm

It's a kind of low-grade fever. We can never believe things are as good as they are until they get worse, which is usually less bad than everyone else is experiencing, but we aren't even comforted by that awareness.
Corlyss
Contessa d'EM, a carbon-based life form

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