30/01/2014 12:23 GMT | Updated 01/04/2014 06:59 BST

The Pursuit of Happiness...

...has nothing in common with the mindless pursuit of money.

Sad news this week of two City bankers who committed suicide, both in the prime of their lives. We have all visited that dark place where we have contemplated whether life continues to be worth living. Just this week, a friend send me a plaintive message that read something like this: 'life, job, love, all suck'.

One of my previous incarnations involved compiling reports on economic forecasts so that the marketing function could plot future demand. I sat alone in darkened rooms with the whir of computers only for company and my daily task was to churn out figures. I also used to do market research for a publishing company many moons ago where I interviewed people ad nauseum on their likes and dislikes. Both of those jobs involved statistics, statistics and more lies. And those lies were no different to the many lies we tell ourselves every day.

Take my friend who thinks that every single aspect of his existence 'sucks'. Or the two bankers who decided an end was a better option that carrying on. Plato sums it up best: Nothing in the affairs of men is worthy of great anxiety. In other words, our lives are full of useless worries. Why not do a quick tally and you'll see that 99% of what you worried about over the years never actually came true. The expectation that a shower of shit or rather a deluge will follow us wherever we go is a poor metaphor, I know, but it imparts the image of the negative stereotype.

The City of London is a place best avoided unless you are young, totally lacking a spiritual or moral core and see life unilaterally as a challenge to make as much money as you possibly can and to the detriment of all else. I've met City types who juggle a parallel and false economy to suit their own ends. They're proud of what they achieve and even happier when they check their bank balance. I know one fabulously rich trader who lost £800,000. in one sitting playing poker. What could be worse, heh? I've chatted to the wives and girlfriends of these men and they tell a different story - the husband who is never there, and who they can never talk to anymore because he is so preoccupied with anything but them. These women get bored rigid with only themselves for company and end up having affairs, drinking too much and generally wasting away. And when the divorce inevitably happens, these ladies want everything. Money suddenly becomes the only barometer to measure once loving relationships. The good times never happened. Is it any wonder that in an age where the inner life is a dying ember rather than a burning flame, that when the going gets tough, we reawaken and acquiesce to bitter inner demons?


Photo copyright S. van Dalen

Another acquaintance of mine has been sectioned after having a breakdown which she described as 'wanting to die'. I am amazed at the number of drugs she has been prescribed by a psychiatrist - four different antidepressants per day! She is now officially a zombie whereby if she forgets to take her pills, she really will be off her head. The drugs control her but that stark, blank stare of hers tells me that the pills are a false dawn. The cure, according to the medical profession, would seem to force the patient to run screaming from their own reflection rather than learn to like what they see.

I recently met a woman who has so many things wrong with her that she is lucky to be alive. She still holds down a full time job and asks only that she will live to see her nine year old son grow up.

We are never better or worse than anyone else. It might be easy to feel relieved that we don't have such terrible health problems but all of us have challenges to face during our time on planet earth.

The greatest irony is we have everything we need and yet we're more unhappy and more tormented than ever before. Is it too much of everything that has driven us to the edge where we teeter perilously in our high heels as we stare into the abyss? This is not my revolutionary theory but rather one that has been around for literally thousands of years: know thyself (Solon of Athens, B.C. 638). Who are you? What do you represent? What do you stand for? If, like the market researcher, you fail to ask the right questions, the results will always be skewed. Just because it walks like a duck and talks like a duck does not make it a duck. We might have it all but until we figure out that 'nothing' has a greater value than 'a lot' and that the peace we make with ourselves is worth more than all the tea in China and all the gold bars in Fort Knox, then indeed, we should avoid looking in the mirror at all costs.


Photo copyright S. van Dalen