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Monday, January 12, 2015

Psychotherapy Blog: How Unrealistic Expectations to Always "Feel Good" Contribute to Depression

Depression is one of the most common problems that bring people into therapy.  Despite all the new antidepressant medications, which were touted to be "the answer" to the problem, depression continues to rise in the US.

How Unrealistic Expectations to Always "Feel Good" Contribute to Depression

Depression manifests in variety of ways for different people on a spectrum from "low mood" to full blown major depressive disorder that can be incapacitating for people suffering with it.

As I discussed in a previous article, people who feel depressed often blame themselves for feeling low (see my article:  Overcoming Guilt and Shame About Feeling Depressed).  This is due, in part, to a societal distortion of thinking that we "should" feel happy all or most of the time and if we're not feeling happy, it must be our fault.  Needless to say, for people who are feeling depressed, this adds to their emotional burden.

I think there are many reasons, too many to enumerate here, for the increase in depression, including an increase in loneliness, social isolation and an overall decrease in life satisfaction.

An Increase in Social Isolation and Loneliness Contributes to Depression

Connecting with other people in a meaningful way after college is more difficult now, it seems to me, than ever before.  After college, making friends and finding a romantic partner can be a daunting process these days.

While it's true that you can "meet" many more people online than you ever could in person, for most people, there's something awkward and emotionally disconnected about "meeting" people online.  That being said, I also know many people who met their spouses online.

The Pursuit of Happiness and Having "More"
Although I think there are many contributing factors to the increase in depression, I'd like to focus on one that seems pervasive in our society--the expectation that all of us "should" be "feeling good" all the time, and if we don't, there's something wrong.

How the Continual Pursuit of Happiness and Having "More" Can Increase Depression

The pursuit of happiness is a fundamental part of our society in the US and in other parts of the world.  There are more self help books, motivational workshops and online courses about "feeling good" and becoming happy than ever before.  It's a booming business because of how increasingly dissatisfied and unhappy people are feeling.

This focus on happiness and "feeling good" all the time comes at a time when we're telling children that they can "be whatever they want to be" regardless of their circumstances, their effort, their talent or aptitude. It's made to so sound easy and there is no end to the success stories that are used to show children that "anything is possible."

While these strategies are meant to be motivational, it often becomes discouraging when children grow up to be adults who thought it would be easy and then realize that it actually takes, at the very least, hard work, perseverance, preparation and skills as well as some luck to succeed.

So, what happens when expectations to always "feel good" meet with a very different reality?  For many people, who hold onto this expectation, it often means that they push themselves even harder to pursue their idea of happiness without really contemplating what they're pursuing and if it will really make them happy.

For Many People the Pursuit of Happiness Often Means the Pursuit of Money

The pursuit will often involve an acquisitiveness of wanting "more"--more money, more possessions, more prestige, more "likes" on their Facebook page, and so on.  This can become a mindless, vicious cycle where, even when someone gets "more," it feels empty and increases the drive to seek "more" of whatever it is he or she is pursuing (see my article:  Is That All There Is? When "Having It All" Leaves You Feeling Empty).

Contemplating What is Meaningful
For many people, this can lead to depression because this pursuit for "feeling good" and having "more" is endless.  For those who are able to stop and reassess their lives, they have an opportunity to reflect on what's really meaningful and question whether they've been running on an endlessly turning wheel and going nowhere (see my article: A Search For a Meaningful Life).

Unfortunately, many people never get to this stage and remain on the wheel.  The faster they run, the more happiness eludes them.

For other people, symptoms of depression, which can stop them in their tracks, brings them to therapy and to reassess their lives, their expectations and what's really meaningful to them.

Contemplating What is Meaningful
If they stick with it and therapy goes well, they develop an understanding that they're not always going to feel happy, "feeling low" at certain times in life is common and it doesn't necessarily mean that something is wrong with them.

Therapy can help with an exploration of what might be unrealistic expectations as well as what's truly meaningful in life which, in the long run, is more significant than focusing on being happy all the time and having "more."

Therapy can also help you to be grateful for what you have.

Discovering what is meaningful in your life is often neither quick nor easy, but it can be the most worthwhile pursuit of your life.

In a future article, I'll continue to explore this topic and give a composite scenario to illustrate some of the points that I've discussed here.

Getting Help in Therapy
People don't often stop in their daily lives for self exploration and to consider what's meaningful.

Among its many benefits, psychotherapy provides you with an opportunity to stop doing what's not working for you, explore what's meaningful, and develop the skills and capacity to create a more meaningful life.

Getting Help in Therapy

If you're feeling lost or dissatisfied with your life, you could benefit from seeing a psychotherapist who can help you to discover what's meaningful to you so you can have a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.

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