1 April 2019 • Gideon Wille
Living with your black dog (depression)
The series of talks ‘The science of happiness’ kicks off on 2 April with a session about depression. Is that logical? It is, according to lecturer and researcher Bert van den Bergh who is giving the talk. He wrote a book about depression. “If you know what makes you unhappy, you also know what makes you happy.”
“My daughter threw a party for her sixteenth birthday”, said Bert. “On the following Monday, she saw selfies on Instagram that her friends had taken during the party, but without any reference to the party. I think this is typical for these times. The party was just a background for the pictures of the gorgeous individual. Why don’t these photos have the caption ‘look at us’?”
Bert, who is a psychologist and philosopher, approaches depression from the perspective of cultural criticism. According to him, depression is caused by a lack of harmony. Depressed people feel completely alone. Connection with others is essential for happiness. However, this connection is under pressure in our present culture. “We are total loners. You need a great deal of network connections, but ultimately the message in our society is that you are alone, you have to make it and you have to be successful.”
In our society, happiness is a choice and if you are not happy, it is your own fault. Bert: “It doesn’t work like that. You can create the conditions for happiness, but it is something that you chance upon, or not. Our entire culture revolves around the delusion that you can create happiness. I think that we should question the image of the successful individual. We should take a close look at our institutions and entertainment culture, just think of all of those talent shows, and ask ourselves whether we shouldn’t strike a different chord.”
What about the learning community?
Take education for example. Bert: “Students feel they are being put under pressure and are left to their own devices. We should study how this community functions. Is it a satisfactory learning community? Or is everyone working on themselves and do we see education as an individual matter, in which we should facilitate everyone, but students should mainly do their own thing?
If depression arises from a feeling of being completely alone, then the solution lies in searching for new connections. “In his book Lost Connections, Johann Hari gives countless examples of how we can reconnect. When you feel miserable, you have a tendency to pamper yourself. You eat something tasty, or buy something on the internet. But when the enjoyment of that purchase has gone, then you have that nice thing but the negative feelings hit you twice as hard. Hari does something smart. When he feels that he is becoming blue, he will do something nice for another person. In return, you get positive reactions and you reaffirm the connection with a person.”
The talk ‘Living with your black dog’ will be on 2 April from 4 pm to 5.30 pm in Speakers’ Corner. There will be a social get-together afterwards. Please register. If you would like to know more about Bert’s book, contact the publisherBoom .
Philosopher/psycholgist Bert van den Bergh: ‘Being connected with others is an important prerequisite for happiness.’