In late 2012, I had what the glossy magazines might call a 'late-twenties crisis'. A series of important life events combined with a general feeling of malaise towards life as a City lawyer created a catalyst for change.
After years of jogging obediently on the social treadmill, I found myself jumping off it with gleeful abandon. Suddenly, I could afford to spend quality time with family and friends without checking my smartphone obsessively. Instead of walking with my head bent, eyes tracing the lines of the pavement as I hurried to keep up with the rest of the crowd, I found myself walking tall again and noticing the pattern of the clouds rising above the skyline. I no longer felt such an obligation to look or dress a certain way, or to care what other people thought when they saw me. It was a very liberating moment and it enabled me to consider a different career as a writer of crime thrillers - a dream I could never have allowed myself to indulge before then - and five bestsellers later, you could say I haven't looked back!
So, what caused this momentous life change?
Had I been depressed? Probably, a bit. Had I been anxious, unable to sleep at night? Yes, undoubtedly. Thinking back, the period immediately following my decision to change felt like a time for recovery. But, from what ailment? On the face of it, I had succeeded. I'd done everything I was supposed to do: performed well at school, then at university, then on the career ladder. I'd found a partner in life who I adore. What, then, was the matter? It wasn't until I read a book called 'Affluenza' that my introspection began to make sense.
Back in 2007, Oliver James offered a searing critique of advanced, largely capitalist societies and how their systems impact negatively on the mental health of the people within them. His contention is that emotional distress is best understood as a rational response to 'sick' societies, where education and upbringing are geared towards making progress.
Better schooling, better cars, better holidays, better houses...just, better. According to James, all this striving for material success is harmful to individuals and the societies developing around them. He offers no quick-fixes, but he does suggest that we look inwardly, not outwardly. In other words, we should stop being so damn superficial.
There is a correlation between higher levels of depression in countries demonstrating higher levels of social inequality, which is why the Danish are happiest of the lot of us (higher taxes and all). Life is too short to waste fulfilling meaningless expectations, so go out and seek a different kind of happiness without so much 'keeping up with the Jones's'.
His book struck a real chord, echoing the thoughts already circling inside my head. It seems so horribly simple, but we only get the one life; a few short years, at the end of which we must look back and ask ourselves: did I make the most of it? The good news is that we're all in it together, so if our society is 'sick', we can heal it together.
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