To appreciate this post, you need to know a little of how it came about. Yesterday morning, in my dentist’s waiting room, I started reading an article in the Nov. 14 Newsweek by Dr. Andrew Weil. He and others have noted that modern affluence breeds depression. They have also observed that the Amish, with a 19th century lifestyle centered on simplicity, have only 1/10 the amount of depression of other Americans. Just as I hit this tantalizing statement, the dentist, who was running ahead of schedule, called me in. After my appointment, I finished the article. “Our brains aren’t equipped for the 21st century,” says Weil.
One of the things we are not equipped for is our 24/7, hi-tech, multi-tasking world, a point that made me chuckle as I pulled out my smart phone, photographed the pages, and emailed them to myself. Just call me a poster boy for the legions of technically savvy neurotics. It turns out I didn’t need to send the page to myself. Weil’s article is available online, and I highly recommend it: http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2011/10/30/andrew-weil-s-spontaneous-happiness-our-nature-deficit-disorder.html.
The article is taken from his latest book, Spontaneous Happiness, just released this month, where Weil says it’s not just technology that’s the cupric in our epidemic of depression. Increasing numbers of psychologists and therapists identify one of our key problems as Nature Deficit Disorder. Weil says:
“Behaviors strongly associated with depression—reduced physical activity and human contact, overconsumption of processed food, seeking endless distraction—are the very behaviors that more and more people now can do, are even forced to do by the nature of their sedentary, indoor jobs.
“Human beings evolved to thrive in natural environments and in bonded social groups. Few of us today can enjoy such a life and the emotional equilibrium it engenders, but our genetic predisposition for it has not changed.”
Weil discusses the bad news in detail, but doesn’t end there. He is firmly in the camp of “positive psychology,” the discipline that concentrates on human wellbeing rather than pathology. He summarizes positive measures we can take, things he discusses in greater detail in the book.
- Find a mindfulness practice. (I was impressed that Weil listed this as suggestion #1. I’ll follow this up by posting some resources soon).
- Spend as much time as possible outdoors.
- Find some form of aerobic exercise.
- Sleep in total darkness, if possible, and avoid very bothersome noise, even if it means wearing earphones. Weil discusses why uninterrupted sleep, and freedom from noise pollution are important.
- Attend to diet – he has written of this in detail in previous books.
- Cultivate social relationships.
- Spend some time each day unplugged from all forms of gadgetry.
Finally, Weil, like almost everyone else who writes on wellbeing, cites gratitude as a critical factor. This morning I ran into an acquaintance who has had a number of physical problems. He has paid a price, but also found something diamond-solid that is now at the core of his life: three times he has been clinically dead, and he’s seen and experienced “the light,” that people in that extremity sometimes encounter. He knows it is waiting for him, and meanwhile, shares his experience with others he thinks will benefit. He says he intends to do so, “as long as God decides to keep me around.”
Simply encountering him put me in tune with the theme of the season, and reminded me of all I have to be thankful for. That is my hope for everyone reading this – may you find unshakeable joy in your life just as it is, and may you be able to share it with others.