Despondency is a normal reaction to life. Who can live in our society without moments of despair and frustration?
Every morning, the headlines scream of scandal and chicanery. Television relentlessly drags crime, violence and inhumanity into our living rooms. Indeed, the person who does not, from time to time, experience feelings of pessimism must be considered abnormal.
In addition, our own life experiences often lead to disappointment. Our careers are thwarted, our expectations blunted. Sickness attacks us and our loved ones. Pain and insecurity are unwelcome but inevitable callers. There is the tragedy of final parting and death. Is there any wonder that depression is a common experience?
How can we face up to our moods of despondency? In the first place, we should try to achieve a sense of proportion. Why do we so often select the dark and unhappy experiences of our lives and make them represent the whole of it?
Life presents an uneven pattern of health and sickness, love and hate, success and failure. There are times when we reach the apex of the mountain, and there are moments when we languish in the valley. We are born into all of it. There is no cure for life and death, save to enjoy the interval. If we are unwilling to accept life as it is, then we are in the wrong place.
In the second place, we must avoid the temptation of blaming others for our inadequacies and failures. This is not the road to equanimity. A man whose business is failing suddenly decides that his wife is the cause of the downfall. The annoyed citizen finds temporary delight in flaying the bureaucrats. This kind of gratification is understandable, but short-lived.
Blaming ourselves or others is an unworkable escape mechanism. It nurtures the dark side of our nature and blinds us to the possibilities of affirmative and fruitful action.
We are not only shaped by our environment; we shape it. We are not only the creatures of circumstance; we are also the creators of circumstance.
In the third place, although there is no way to deny the tragic sense of life, depression can be lessened if we realize that most situations are not as desperate as they seem. It’s not simply a matter of picking ourselves up by our own willpower and moving ahead. It is rather a matter of insight into a dark situation and becoming aware of possibilities.
Life is full of coercions. Indeed, life itself is coercion. And the young never tire of reminding their parents: “I didn't ask to be born.” One of Sholom Aleichem's characters makes this wry observation: “The way life is, you’re better off not to be born. But who can be so lucky? Maybe one in 10,000.” Life is indeed a matter of coercion, but we must accept it gladly and use it wisely.
How can anyone nurture feelings or defeat pessimism in the face of the mammoth tasks that lie before us? We cannot prevent the birds of depression from flying over our heads, but we can prevent them from building nests in our hair.