Don’t Worry, be happy?

A few months ago a column I had written , “Holidays and the Meaning of Life”, prompted a correspondence between me and a very delightful man who was not only periodically struggling with bouts of depression, but with existential concerns as well.

After a brief period he decided to take the plunge and start talk therapy with me. He had just recently stopped taking the antidepressant medication that his psychiatrist had prescribed and was hoping that psychotherapy might be more effective than pharmacotherapy – something I am a proponent of because antidepressants can be a little like applying a small band aid on a large wound if the underlying psychological issues are not dealt with.

To his dismay the psychiatrist he was seeing was impatient with his existential concerns and was not willing to engage him in such discussions because she considered them futile.

So it was to his surprise that I not only engaged with him in discussions pondering the big existential questions regarding the existence of God and the meaningfulness or meaninglessness of life, but I did so with great enthusiasm.

It just so happens that I favor an existential-humanistic approach to therapy. And moreover, I enjoy engaging in such talk in my personal life as well.

Part of his problem was that it was not only his psychiatrist who was not willing to discuss, at length, the big existential questions, but the people in his life in general – friends, foes, and loved ones weren’t willing either. The shared consensus among them was “ don’t worry, be happy”. They were proponents of the belief that one is happier surfing in the shallow level of life than going into the existential depths of it.

Their advice was that he should take a happy-go-lucky stance on life. After all, what would be the point of asking questions to which we are in no position to receive conclusive answers. Some even advised him to turn to religion and trust that one day God would answer all his questions. Of course, that one day would be after his death.

Actually, nothing seems to be further from the truth. A study published in the journal Psychological Science found that the happiest persons in the study were people who did not engage so much in small talk but rather in more substantive discourse, such as current affairs, philosophy, the state of the world and the meaning of life.

By frequently engaging in meaningful conversation people bond interpersonally. Interpersonal connection and integration are a core, fundamental foundation of happiness.