Reasons Why Meaningless Values Lead to Depression

In the previous post I explored Johann Hari’s discussion of the research demonstrating that disconnection from meaningful values – expressed as obsession with materialism – leads to depression and anxiety. In this post I will explore the reasons why this occurs. 

Four reasons why meaningless values lead to depression

In identifying why materialism leads to depression, Johann draws on the research of Emeritus Professor Tim Kasser and his colleague, Professor Richard Ryan, one of the acknowledged world leaders in understanding human motivation.  Based on their work and his own research, Johann identifies four main reasons for the consuming sadness experienced by people who relentlessly pursue materialistic values that focus on extrinsic rewards (Lost Connections, pp. 97-99).

1. Damages relations with other people

The research shows that people who primarily pursue materialistic values experience “shorter relationships” that are of lesser quality than their peers who focus more on intrinsic values.  Materialistic-oriented people are more concerned about superficial things such as another person’s looks, their ability to impress others and their material possessions, than they are about the innate qualities of the person.  Their focus on external qualities makes it more likely to end a relationship because they invariably find someone who possesses these external qualities to a greater degree.  Their self-absorption also means that their partner in a relationship is also more likely to separate from them.  People who are out to impress others as their major motivator are very poor at reflective listening as they are more likely to interrupt and divert a conversation so that the focus is on them and their accomplishments.  Listening is the lifeblood of a sustainable relationship and has profound effects on the its quality.

2. Deprives them of the joy of being in the present moment

Because a materialistic person is always seeking more or pursuing an elusive goal over which they have no control, they are more likely to be frequently frustrated and disappointed.  They tend to be driven and impatient in the pursuit of their external goals and they experience time-pressures continuously. It is difficult for them to be fully engaged in the present moment and to experience the joy that derives from present awareness.  The researchers point out, too, that the pursuit of materialistic values results in the inability to experience “flow states” – being in the zone where you are hyper-focused and highly creative and productive. 

3. Become dependent on how other people think of them

Other’s opinions become the driver for the materialistic person’s words and actions.  They seek to gain positive assessment by others of their looks, their possessions (e.g. clothes and cars) and their income and social standing.  They tend to pursue relationships for what they can get out of them in terms of extrinsic rewards.  They can never be satisfied and often engage in attempts to outdo others.  The researchers point out that materialistic-oriented people are also more sensitive to feeling slighted, even when no slight is intended – because of their sensitivity to others’ opinions, they can more easily feel criticised and be hurt by seemingly harmless comments.  This can result in their being “on edge” all the time when with other people.  Their sense of self-worth becomes “contingent on the opinion of others” which, in turn, can lead to negative self-evaluation and self-deprecation.

4. Frustrates innate human needs

Tim Kasser observed that a core reason why materialism leads to depression is that it ultimately frustrates a person’s innate needs – needs such as the desire for meaningful connection with others; realising a sense of competence in their endeavours; a sense of autonomy and being in-control; and wanting to do, and achieve, something meaningful in their lives.  Depression and anxiety will grow over time when these real, innate human needs are not met.

We can choose how we spend our time and energy

Johann observes that time is limited and that our day is like a pie with defined parameters.  The way we carve up our day – how we allocate our time to aspects of our life – will significantly affect whether we realise joy and happiness or depression and anxiety.  If we can align the way we spend our time to the pursuit of meaningful values, we can experience mentally healthy states of positivity, joy, happiness and gratitude. The more time we spend on materialistic goals, the lower will be our “personal well-being”.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and reflection, we are better able to notice the impact that the pursuit of materialistic values has on our quality of life – our relationships, our joy, our sense of self-worth.  We will have a clearer idea of how well we meet our innate needs and how we can improve on their fulfillment.  Importantly, we will better understand the sources of our frustration and anger and be able to improve our self-regulation.  By developing mindfulness, we will more often experience the joy of being in the zone – of experiencing “flow states”.

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Image by KarinKarin from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Can Your Experience Compassion Fatigue?

Kelly McGonigal in her presentation for the Mindful Healthcare Summit challenged the widely held belief that you cannot experience compassion fatigue. Many people contend that compassion fatigue does not occur because the heart is capable of endless kindness and love for others. Kelly maintains that motivation and goodness of heart are not sufficient to prevent the depression and burnout that can result from compassion fatigue. She asserts that compassion has to be supported by adequate self-care if it is to be sustained.

Compassion and the stress response

Kelly argues that compassion is like the stress response when viewed physiologically. Compassion floods the body with hormones such as dopamine and marshals the body’s energy to relieve the suffering of others. However, while this can be very energising and exciting in the short term, compassion takes its toll in the longer term both bodily and mentally, as we do not have endless physical and mental reserves.

The possibility of compassion fatigue can be increased where a helping professional or carer experiences vicarious trauma or moral distress – the latter being defined as being required to do things that clash with a person’s values or moral perspective, a frequently occurring ethical dilemma within the medical profession.

Compassion fatigue

Kelly suggests that compassion fatigue occurs when a person lacks the energy and resources to pursue their motivation to care in such way that it achieves personal satisfaction (activates the reward system). Outcomes achieved fall short of personal expectations and/or the expectations of others, despite the strength of the caring intention. The compassionate person feels exhausted and feels that the more they give the less they experience satisfaction – the gap between input of energy/time and the expected satisfaction increases, leading to burnout. The depletion of energy and satisfaction could be the result of factors outside the helper’s/carer’s control – such as structural blockages, breakdown in information exchange, overwork or under-resourcing.

Compassion needs nourishment

One of the issues that exacerbates the problem of compassion fatigue is the belief in the endless capacity of an individual to be compassionate through the goodness of their heart or the purity of their intentions. As a result of this false belief, helpers/carers fail to take the necessary actions to nourish themselves (and their compassionate action) and/or are reluctant to accept compassion extended to them by others.

Personal nourishment can take many forms – getting adequate sleep, meditation (especially self-compassion meditation), listening to relaxing/inspiring music, prayer (whatever form it takes) or drawing strength and healing from nature. It also requires an openness to receiving compassion from others – challenging false beliefs such as “no one else can do this”, “I will be seen to be weak if I accept help from others”, “I really shouldn’t pander to my own needs by having that short break or having a reasonable period for lunch”, “I can’t afford to become dependent on others for assistance”. Additionally, positive social connection– to offset the tendency to withdraw under extreme stress– is a critical source of self-nourishment.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation our awareness of others’ suffering and our motivation to help are heightened. The capacity for compassionate action is not limitless and needs nourishment. Central to this nourishment is self-compassion.

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Image by DarkWorkX from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Reprioritising Your Mindfulness Practice

In my previous post, I identified five strategies I could use to establish and maintain a daily practice of Tai Chi. The strategies can be applied to any form of mindfulness practice, whether some form of meditation or a practice such as mindful walking, mindful eating or open awareness. In reflecting on these strategies, I realised that underpinning them was the need to reprioritise my mindfulness practice according to its level of importance to various aspects of my life. Reprioritising means
to arrange things in a new order of importance.

Identifying the importance of your mindfulness practice

A starting point for reprioritising your mindfulness practice is to identify what it brings to your life, how it improves your life in its various aspects and what its importance is to your overall quality of life.

You can ask yourself a series of questions that will serve to highlight the importance of your mindfulness practice:

  • does it give you clarity, confidence and creativity in your daily work?
  • how does it help you to manage your stress at work and home?
  • in what way does it improve your significant relationships, e.g. with your partner, your children or your work colleagues?
  • what does it bring to your favourite sporting activity? (e.g. my practice of Tai Chi develops balance, coordination, timing and control in my tennis game)
  • does it help you to appreciate your life more and build a positive outlook?
  • what does it do for your physical health?
  • how does it improve your mental health and sense of equanimity?

If you can truly and comprehensively identify the ways in which your mindfulness practice contributes to your quality of life, you will build the motivation to reprioritise your mindfulness practice so that it assumes a regularity and consistency that reflects its importance to you.

Reprioritising your mindfulness practice

If you want to reprioritise your mindfulness practice, it means that you have to create space in your life to enable this to happen. This means that you have to give up something else if you have a life characterised by busyness. Again, you can ask yourself a series of questions and be honest with yourself:

  • do you really need to spend the time getting and drinking the extra cup(s) of coffee or tea?
  • do you feast on the news, forever checking what is happening in the world around you and beyond?
  • how often do you access email and divert your attention from your task at hand?
  • are you wasting time by multitasking?
  • how much time do you devote to watching television shows, movies or sports events?
  • how much time do you spend on social media and what does this activity add to your quality of life?

If you review how you spend your time, you can invariably find a way to reprioritise your mindfulness activity so that it assumes a priority that reflects its importance to your quality of life.

As we grow in mindfulness, we can become more aware of the importance of our mindfulness practice for our quality of life, identify how we spend our time and learn to accord our mindfulness practice the priority it deserves. This is, undoubtedly, an ongoing learning process.

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Image source: courtesy of Alexandra_Koch on Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Creating a Journal to Declutter Your Mind

Ryder Carroll in a TEDx Yale Talk titled, How to declutter your mind – keep a journal, highlighted the role a journal can play in helping you to overcome the busyness in your life and lead what he calls an “intentional life” – a life lived with intent, focus and purpose. He maintained that we cause ourselves stress and anxiety by cluttering our minds with things that are not important and as a result lose sight of things that matter to us.

Our thoughts are discursive – one thought follows another in an endless stream. These thoughts and our busyness are often driven by expectations – our own and those of others in our life. As discussed previously, expectations can hold us captive and erode our freedom of choice. In some organisations, busyness has become a sign of importance – where the expectation is to be “seen-to-be-doing”, rather than being and achieving.

Ryder states in his presentation that today we suffer from “decision fatigue” resulting from “choice fatigue”. At every moment of the day we are confronted with choices and decisions – you only have to try to buy a simple product at a supermarket to experience this at a micro level. Decisions take time and energy and time is a non-renewable resource – the very words, “take time”, indicate that we consume time in our lives as we live out our choice-making and act on our decisions.

Create a journal to declutter your mind

Journalling has been shown to be beneficial for many reasons – not the least of these being to improve our overall well-being. Ryder, however, emphasises the necessity of a journal to help declutter our minds and free our thinking to focus on the things that are important to us. He suggests that a journal can serve the purpose of a “mental inventory”, where you record your tasks, events and notes as a way to better manage the present, track what has happened in the past and plan your future.

He provides a simple approach to journalling that he calls a “bullet journal” and provides a very brief video to explain this approach. The name derives from the methodology of creating different forms of bullet points to identify tasks, events and notes.

Ryder highlights the importance of reflection to underpin his approach to mind management. He suggests that it is not enough just to record the relevant information but also to review what has been written. He offers three considerations that can form the basis of a daily, weekly or monthly review of your individual journal entries:

  • does it really matter?
  • is it important to achieve or realise?
  • is it merely a distraction?

Recording without reflection is just reinforcing busy behaviour – without review there is little development of self-awareness and self-management. The review can be strengthened by consciously developing a focus for our time and energies.

Developing focus and productivity through small projects

Ryder’s approach to developing focus is to identify things that are important to us to achieve and to frame them as small projects (breaking down larger projects into smaller parts or milestones). He then suggests that these are incorporated in the monthly plan of your bullet journal, while the relevant tasks that make up an individual project can be collected in a project plan or what he describes as a “collection”.

The small projects act as a point of focus in any given month, serve as a way to channel time and energy, engage your curiosity and build a sense of self-efficacy through achieving identified milestones and project outcomes. Breaking goals down into achievable parts is a proven approach to increasing your productivity. Ryder suggests that the small projects should be something that is within your control – they are free from externally imposed barriers, they are expressed as achievable tasks/outcomes and can be done in the limited timeframe of a month (which lines up with the monthly planning cycle that he recommends). These small projects give us a sense of control and increased agency which serve as a foil to the sense of losing control which comes with endless busyness.

As we develop our journal to declutter our mind and manage our time and energy, we can free ourselves to grow in mindfulness through reflection and meditation and open our lives to less stress and more creative opportunities.

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By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of raydigitaldesigns on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog. 

Christmas: A Time for Kindness and Reflection

Christmas is a time for kindness and reflection. It brings out the kindness in people of all persuasions and provides a time to reflect on the year that has almost passed, as we count down the days to the end of the year.

A time for kindness

Christmas seems to bring out the best in many people – thoughtfulness of others and kindness towards to those who are less fortunate. I recall last year being in Bologna and watching a group of young people moving around the streets on Christmas Eve singing songs to homeless people and offering them gifts. This thoughtful action brought smiles to the faces of people who received this kindness, particularly as they sat huddled in blankets on a cold night approaching zero degrees.

Christmas is a time when families get together and share gifts, when mothers shop with their adult daughters and children wait with gleeful anticipation. It is really a time of giving not only of gifts but also time – time for others whether family, friends or those in need. Christmas is very much a testament to the human heart.

It is also a time to be mindful of others when we are driving in traffic, pressed for that parking space in the shopping centre, and queuing for high demand public transport or taxi/Uber services. It’s a time to take a break from the hurly-burly of the festive season and get in touch with our breathing and appreciate the many things we have to express gratitude for. We have only to think of people less fortunate than ourselves, e.g. experiencing loneliness at Christmas, to realise how much we have to be grateful for. There is so much that we take for granted in our daily lives.

A time for reflection

As we reflect on our past year, we can ask ourselves, “What have we done that contributes to our own mindfulness and that of others we interact with?” Have we been able to maintain a regular form of meditation, mindfulness practice or activity such as Tai Chi or yoga?

I know for myself it is easy to read about mindfulness and to write about it, but it is another thing to maintain regular mindfulness practice. It is difficult to sustain such practices in the face of daily pressures from work, family or the community generally. It pays at times like Christmas to reflect on our practice and identify ways to better maintain our chosen technique(s) for building mindfulness. The benefits can extend to every facet of our lives.

Christmas is a time to reflect in terms of what we have done to share the benefits of mindfulness with others who we come into contact with, either informally or more formally through workshops and training activities. If we have developed the gift of mindfulness, how can we best share this with others who are in need of its benefits – because of mental health issues, stress or time/work pressures?

As we grow in mindfulness, we can more readily extend thoughtfulness and kindness to others, reflect on what we are grateful for in our lives and seek ways to share the benefits of mindfulness with others. Sustaining our mindfulness practice provides the foundation for this growth in internal and external awareness.

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By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of agnessatalalaevO on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Writing: A Pathway to Mindfulness

Albert Flynn DeSilver has written a book titled, Awakening through Writing:  The Space Between the Words, as a wake-up call to the power of writing as a means for exploring our inner landscape.

In an interview with Tami Simon, Albert identified some of the key messages in his book and I want to reflect on them here.

Time as a Construct

The concept of time is a human invention to enable us to communicate, collaborate and manage our lives singularly and collectively.  We need this agreed convention to be able to function in our world (and across the world).

However, own own sense of time – “I don’t have enough time”, “there are not enough hours in the day” – is a personal construction.  It is a consequence of choices that we make – the kind and level of work we choose to do, our commitment to the quantity and quality of our work, our family structure and established norms and rituals, and how we choose to spend our leisure or “left-over” hours.  It is a reflection of our prioritising, our sense of self-esteem and empowerment (“my time is not my own”), our goals in life, our need for recognition, our willingness and ability to negotiate “time” to meet our own needs.

When we discussed what you are going to do with the surplus in your life, we highlighted the need to create space in your life.  Albert reminds us that to realise the benefits of writing and meditation in terms of being able to achieve awakening or to grow in mindfulness, we need to look at the way we spend or “expend” our time.  We have to “make time” to engage in writing and meditation on a regular basis.

Assess your motivation – why write?

If your writing is aligned with your personal goals and values, you have a better chance of sustaining the effort through the ups and downs of life and the writing cycle.

I have to constantly remind myself why I write so regularly.  I’ve found that having multiple reasons for writing (some primary, others secondary) enables me to maintain the momentum.  So I have reflected on my motivation and identified the following:

  • to keep mindfulness at the forefront of what I am thinking about and doing
  • to use writing as a journey in self-exploration
  • to learn more about mindfulness and mindful practices
  • to engage my mind in learning new things
  • to share what I learn with others so that they can better handle life stresses and overcome the negative impact of depression and anxiety
  • to integrate what I have learned from my various roles in life – as a student, manager, trainer, educator & consultant
  • to help myself and others realise our creative potential
  • to better understand what I can contribute to creating a better world.

I used to say to my doctoral students, “Do your research on something that you are passionate about, otherwise you will not be able to sustain the effort through the vicissitudes of daily life”.  The same applies here if you are going to write on a regular basis, you need to be passionate about the topic and the audience.  The motivation has to come from you – not from what other people say you should write about.

Reading

Many of the great writers were great readers and this is often reflected in their books or novels.  You will often see writers quote poetry or the works of other authors to reinforce a point or introduce a new idea.

Reading can become a source of personal reflection, offer new perspectives on an issue, illustrate key ideas or points through life stories or act as a stimulus to your own writing.  I would include here podcasts and videos as a source of ideas.

I find that if I am stuck for a topic to write about or for something to say on a topic, I will read an article/ report that is relevant, watch a video or listen to a podcast as a way to stimulate my own thoughts and reflections.

Discipline

Albert stresses the importance of discipline to advance your writing and insights.  He points out that most great writers have a routine that fits their own lifestyle and personal work style.

You need to develop your own writing routine that will enable you to sustain the effort of writing.  Great writers often warn about not just writing when “you are in the mood”, but pushing through the emotional barrier in a disciplined way by sticking to your routine, even if ideas are not flowing.

It may sound trite, but the reality is to become a great writer, you need to write…write…write.

The immersive element

If you are able to persist with researching and writing about a topic or an area of interest, you gain the benefits of immersion – you see connections that you did not see before, you deepen your knowledge and understanding of yourself and the world around you, you improve your self-management (via discipline & insight) and you are better able to make a significant, original contribution.

You also gr0w in mindfulness and your capacity to be fully present to what is happening in your life and world.   Albert maintained, in his interview, that to make the commitment to develop mindfulness through writing requires courage:

I think for people to look inside, and to pause, and to really show up and be present in the world takes a tremendous amount of courage. And it seems to be more rare than ever, which is alarming. That’s why I’m so devoted to this work. Because I want to keep reminding people this is the most important thing we can do as human beings. Without changing consciousness and awareness, and having that positive influence, we’re really going to be kind of screwed as a species.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of  Engin_Akyurt on Pixabay

What Will You Do With the Surplus in Your Life?

Seth Godin – the famous internet marketer, author and daily blogger – suggests that if we have personal safety, good health and food to sustain us, we are living with surplus in our lives – we have spare time and energy to devote to making a contribution to others and to the community at large.

In a recent blog post, he challenges us to think about how we will spend our surplus:

You have enough breathing room to devote an hour to watching TV, or having an argument you don’t need to have, or simply messing around online. You have time and leverage and technology and trust.

When you stop to think and reflect on your life, you begin to see what eats up your time.  Some things become a compulsion – they take over your life.  Meditation and other mindful practices can help you to see how you spend your time and help you to identify ways to expend the surplus that should be in your life.

Mindfulness also enables you to understand the leverage for change that you do have and to appreciate the trust that you have built up over time.  Technology, itself, provides incredible leverage power and opportunities to build trust and relationships. So whatever your surplus situation, as Seth suggests, there is opportunity to contribute – rather than just consume.

When you move into semi-retirement as I am starting to do, you have even more surplus on your hands.  It’s a challenge expressed eloquently by Jeri Sedlar and Rick Miners in their book, Don’t Retire, Rewire.  They argue that on retirement you have to find creative ways to expend the energy that you previously used in your work environment.  If you don’t find a way to use this surplus energy, your energy reserves can decline rapidly and you can also find that your life loses meaning.

When I confronted this challenge of using my surplus, I decided that a key way for me to contribute to others is to help people to grow in mindfulness through this blog and mindful workshops I run.  This way of spending my surplus enables me to utilise the core skills I have developed over my life – writing, researching and facilitating workshops – to help others deal with the winds of change in their lives and to build resilience, wellness and mental health.  Hopefully, it will also help others to overcome or stave off depression.

Of course, one of life’s lessons is that true happiness and fulfilment comes from helping others.  While my plan is altruistic, it also has resounding benefits for me – it gives meaning to my life; helps me to learn, grow and develop my mind; keeps the need for personal mindful practice at the forefront of my mind; and staves off depression (that can be precipitated by loss of work identity).

So, how will you answer Seth’s challenge – what will you do with the surplus in your life?

 

Image source: Courtesy of fancycrave1 on Pixabay