By Andreas Cvetkovic Destounis
I’ve been struggling with mental illness for a large part of my life. Both depression and anxiety have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. During my worse periods I’ve self-harmed and been suicidal. Today I can say that I’m happy for the first time in a very long time. I don’t want to say I’m completely free from anxiety, because I would be lying. But I’m happier than before, and even though I still today get anxious, I am free from depression and anxiety is not nearly at the extant it used to be.
But how did I get here? I have been to therapy several times, but it didn’t really help. Often times I would wonder why and even feel guilty over being depressed and anxious. Because I lived my life just as our modern society expected me to and I have everything our modern society tells us we need to be happy. Money, an education, a job, material possessions, everything. And also, our modern society tells us that it’s the best one that has ever been, and that we are happier than ever before. So why, then, am I not happy? Why do I self-harm? Why do I so often feel that life is just not worth living? All this while living up to society’s criteria for being happy, in the supposedly best and happiest time that has ever been. And at the time I sincerely believed that this was the case, we were the best and happiest time that has ever been.
The first time I started doubting that we live in such a great society, and maybe therefore I shouldn’t feel guilty over being depressed, was when I read the book Lost connections by Johann Hari. In the book Hari, who has suffered from depression for several years while growing up, argues that it’s actually our modern society that makes us unhappy and depressed. It’s because of the way we live. To even think that the way we live in the modern world might have something to do with my depression had never occurred to me before. It was the first time I started questioning our modern society, and started doubting what I’d been told so often, that our modern society today is the best one ever.
I later read the books The healing land by Rupert Isaacson, Affluence without abundance by James Suzman and Child of the jungle by Sabine Kuegler. The first two books are about the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert. They are about their traditional way of life. They are also about the life of misery that they live today, because the modern way of life, which is supposedly the best, has been forced on them. In the third book, Child of the jungle by Sabine Kuegler, Kuegler writes about her upbringing. Her parents are German, but she grew up, from the age of 5 to 17, in the jungles of New Guinea where she lived with an indigenous tribe. Kuegler also explains her life, at the age of 17, when she moved to Europe, and her difficulties adapting to the modern society.
These three books taught me a lot about happiness. It made me realise that what our modern society teaches us about happiness and wellbeing is wrong. Also, I realised that all the good things that our modern society tells us about itself are also not true. It’s not true that our modern society is the best one and the happiest one that there has ever been. It’s not true that if a society embraces modernity, its people become happy. On the contrary. Our modern individualistic doesn’t make us happy. Our modern society that makes us think we are above nature and not part of it doesn’t make us happy. Our modern society that makes us work at least 40 hours per week doesn’t make us happy. But the societies, like the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert who have traditionally lived a simple life in nature, are way happier than us. And when our modern lifestyle have been forced on them, their lives have turned into misery.
With this realisation, things started to fall into place. I don’t have to feel guilty or find it strange that I’m depressed anymore. And I could change the way I live to make my life happier. I spend more time with loved ones. I spend more time in nature. I spend more time exercising. I find it ok to do something I enjoy for a living, even though the job doesn’t require a PHD. I’ve chosen to write for a living. And today I’m a much happier person for that.
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By Andreas Cvetkovic Destounis