If you are over twenty-five years of age, and sensitive, there is a good chance that, like most of the rest of us adults in the Western world, you are living in chronic depression.
What is chronic depression and why am I suggesting that most of us live in it?
Depression is one of those things that can be understood best by examining its opposite. The opposite of depression is delight. When there is delight in my life, I am not depressed. Conversely, when there is no delight in my life, I am.
However, delight itself should be correctly understood. Real delight is not be confused with the kind of upbeat optimism and the life-of-the-party zip that is peculiar to certain temperaments. In fact, often times these can hide a deep depression. Delight has little to do with being the life of the party and even less to do with who sees the bottle as half full instead of as half empty. Delight has to do with this: If on any given day, particularly on a very ordinary day, in an ordinary situation – walking home from work, driving my car, washing dishes, getting out of bed, eating a meal with my family, pausing for a breath at work – I feel my life, my body, my sexuality, my mind, my soul, my purpose on this planet, and I breath the air, look around me, and spontaneously say: “God, it’s good to be alive!” then I am experiencing delight.
Conversely, I can be a good person, can work hard and unselfishly for years, can genuinely help others, be faithful, admired, and spend years doing altruistic things and never have a thimble full of genuine delight in my life. All that goodness and effort can be too work-driven, duty-driven, and compulsive to give me much in the way of delight.
Today, among adults, not very often does one hear the expression “God, it’s good to be alive!” Not very frequently does one witness outbursts of spontaneous delight at the goodness of it all. Depression is more the rule. Where one does still see delight, spontaneous joy in the goodness and excess of life, is among children, the very young.
Go to a primary school playground sometime and observe little children who have just been let out for a recess. What you hear is a din of shrieking – laughter, shouts, crying, and mostly screaming just for the sake of screaming. Not very many of these sounds are conscious attempts at communicating anything; mostly it is simply spontaneous outburst, frequently expressing delight. I say this, not to idealize children’s playgrounds, more than enough cruelty, selfishness, and bullying happen there, but to point out that all that shrieking is what an un-depressed atmosphere looks and sounds like.
There is no small irony in the fact that today we are all too often irritated by children shouting. All that shrieking is interfering with a depression. It is an affront to the serious business of living. Best to classify the louder children as hyper-active and sedate them. Few things irritate a depression as much as does spontaneity.
I point this out because today, both in the world and in the church, it is politically correct to be depressed, unhappy, heavy, sullen, and hyper-serious – all in the name of being adult, searching for or defending the truth, having a proper sense of reality, working for justice, and taking the Gospel (the “good news”) seriously! Small wonder everyone is off searching for his or her inner child!
Moreover, no ideological camp is better or worse than the others here. At the end of the day we all appear equally depressed: Conservatives with all our anger and over-seriousness, liberals with all our self-hatred and hot-wired intensity about justice, there are precious few spontaneous outbursts of “God, it’s good to be alive!” within our civic, academic, church, or government circles.
I say this with sympathy, as one whose spontaneous feelings too frequently vent themselves in outbursts that do not exactly bespeak delight. It is hard, in our culture, to be adult and not depressed, too much conspires against delight. But recognizing, and admitting, our chronic depression can be helpful. Like an alcoholic who cannot be helped until he admits he has a problem, so too our culture. Delight cannot be forced, but at least I should know that it is far from ideal to go through life saying: “Be it ever so humdrum, there’s no rut like my own!”