Depression: Thinking Too Much and Doing Too Little

Why do dogs never appear to be depressed? Why do they always seem to be happy, no matter what it is they are doing? Well, the answer might be very simple: because they are always doing.

Dogs are always involved in one activity or another. They always got their little heads occupied with all kinds of biologically induced juices – whether they (consciously) know it or not. And it is because they’re always ‘busy’, doing whatever seemingly irrelevant activity it is they’re doing, that they are happy. It’s because they’re always busy, that they feel the effects of that constant stream of dopamine, rewarding them for their evolutionary beneficial action: the act of acting itself.

Not acting frees the mind from the duty to allocate resources to the execution of actions. However, the mind cannot simply do nothing. In fact, doing nothing – as in thinking about nothing – might be one of the hardest things to do for the brain. And that’s what you expect, right? After all, not thinking about anything can hardly be beneficial to our – and therefore our brain’s – survival. While we’ve got our brain, it’s better to use it, than to let it be idle, like an empty fridge waiting to be filled with postponed protein-intakes. That’s why the brain will do anything in order to try to be busy, even if there are no actions it has to be focused at. It is at those moments that the brain ‘thinks’ it is good idea to use this ‘break’ to think about your worries, your goals in life, your purpose and other fundamental questions. And it is at these moments that your mind explores the deepest purposeless of life, and triggers the feelings of depression that haunt us.

So – in case we want to get rid of the seemingly unproductive (and surely depressing) reflections on life – we must keep the mind, and therefore the brain, busy. We have to make sure that there’s no time – or no capacity – for it to become filled with soul-searching thoughts. Because although a little soul-searching might be good, and might point us to what it is that we should do with our lives, too much of it inevitably results in feelings of purposeless and depression. Hence it is only by being busy, by avoiding boredom and by don’t risking to become drowned in the most existential questions of our being, that we can live a  ‘happy’ life. It is only then that we can unleash the dopamine flows triggering those feelings of happiness we’re longing for. Or, to return to the fridge, it’s only by filling the fridge to the maximum, that we feel it is a worthwhile investment.

But what do you think?

Note: this article has been published at Rod Peek’s “Finding Personal Peace“.

Quantity versus Quality: Which One to Choose?

Quantity versus quality; an everlasting trade-off. The “system” in which this tradeoff is most prevalent is our economic system. You are more or less forced to specialize yourself because no-one wants a mediocre plumber who also happens to be a mediocre tennis coach, blogger and husband. No; we want the best plumber; the best tennis coach and the best blogger. But what if you want to do it all? What if you want to be a plumber, tennis coach etc…..What then? Then you have to make a decision; you want to do it all “a little” or you want to do one thing “good”. But is this a fair dichotomy? Is it really true that when you are engaged in more than one hobby, profession or relationship, you cannot be good in a particular “instance” of these “categories”? Can’t there be a sense of complementarity? A sense of “1 + 1 = 3”? Maybe…let’s take a look at why this could be the case.

What if being a plumber, philosopher and husband would make you better in each one of these “fields”; that is, better in each one of these fields than you would be if you wouldn’t be involved in these three activities “at the same time”? Could that be so? Well, for the philosopher and husband it might be rather easy to see the “benefits” of also being a plumber: it will make you more social, it will give you an idea of “how a day in the life of an ordinary man” would look like and it could make you more respectful towards others fulfilling likewise jobs. But what about the plumber? Would he be better of by being a philosopher as well? Well that “depends” – although I hate this word – on how you define “plumber”. Is “plumber” merely the profession of the man, or is the “plumber” the man itself? If it were the latter, it should be clear why the plumber would benefit from studying philosophy: it would (very likely) make him a more “reasonable” person; more respectful towards the ideas of others. But regarding the former; would he also become better at doing his plumbing job? Well, it doesn’t make him any worse at doing it, right? But that’s not a fair response. However, the real question should be: would he have become a better plumber by “more plumbing” or instead of reading Plato? Well, maybe at first he will be “better off” plumbing more; that is, until the “marginal utility” in “plumbing more” would become less than the “marginal utility” of reading philosophy; which is something that – given “the law of diminishing marginal utility” – will inevitably happen.

But this example of “the plumber” can also be applied to other matters in life; after all, it doesn’t make sense to keep on focusing on one specific area if there are still so many other areas to discover while knowing that gaining in these other areas is easier – see the “learning curve” – than gaining in only one area. Thus, in order to become a person with a high “overall utility” – which is the utility indicating “how good of a person you are” – you have to expand your “intellectual” – and other – horizons.

The “fun” thing is that this logic of “learning curves” and “diminishing marginal utilities” can be applied to pretty much every activity in life. An example? Well, I could have decided – as I did when I started this blog – to write one “very decent” article per day. However, I felt I could contribute more “utility” by “tapping into my creative source” and just let it flow out of me, like diarrhea from a sick person. And if that means that the articles would become a little shorter; who cares?

So; quantity or quality? Which one to pick?

The Link between Inspiration and Trying to Grasp Gas

Have you ever tried to capture gas with your bare hands? If not, I can tell you that it isn’t very effective. You might “sustain” a little gas after you’ve “caught” it, but the biggest part of the gas cloud will just vanish in thin air. But that’s no problem; at least, not if you aren’t dependent on gas to make your money However, it might become more of an issue if you are fully dependent on this gas in order to make a living, and especially if you don’t have anything besides your bare hands in order to capture the gas. Well, that’s how it is with artists trying to “capture” sudden bursts of inspiration.

People in creative professions – like arts and poetry – are dependent upon an intangible “well of inspiration” in order to come up with tangible results. Their inspiration is the fuel that keeps their “production process” going; pretty much in the same way that a construction worker needs food in order for him to continue doing his job. However, the main difference between food and inspiration is quite obvious: the first you can produce, take care of and provide, while the second “just” happens to you or “just” doesn’t happen to you. While you can water your plants, and cultivate the soil, all to make sure that your potatoes will grow; putting your head in the ground in order to “grow inspiration” might not be the best of options.

So what then? Are artists just doomed to wait on a sign from above in order for them to create their products? Well, that would be an imbalanced power-relationship to say the least, right? It nonetheless seems true that this “waiting for an (external) sign” is for a big part the manner in which artists go about their business. Why else are artists disproportionally often high on drugs, and exploring “higher spheres”, looking for that glimpse of inspiration? There must be some kind of correlation between the two, right?

However, maybe artists aren’t fully dependent upon the mercy of the Gods of inspiration. Maybe the artists can help the Gods a little by feeding them with suggestions; by pouring information into their own artist minds and hoping that the random connections in their artist brains might lead to a flash of insight. At least a little support from the side of the artists is needed, right? After all, who do you think would be more inspired: (1) the artist laying in bed all day thinking about how awesome it would be if he would become inspired, or (2) the artist that proactively takes part in his life, reads, observes and absorbs whatever the world has got to offer him? The answer seems pretty clear to me.

So maybe inspiration is more of a constructable product then we might thought it was; maybe there is some kind of “production line” in our heads, pumping out ideas, if only it would be fed with raw materials a.k.a. experiences. And although the raw materials might be intangible, and not capable of being exploited like mines, they are still there. But it’s only for the true artists to find.

But what do you think?

Note: this article has been published in the first edition of the Carnival of Inspirational Lifestyle.