We came across an interesting study recently about goals and their role in depression. Dr. Randolph Ness has a hypothesis. It is that mild and clinical depression is akin to normal and chronic pain.
Here is the Economist summing of his view:
“Dr Ness’s hypothesis is that, as pain stops you doing damaging physical things, so low mood stops you doing damaging mental ones – in particular, pursuing unreachable goals. Pursuing such goals is a waste of energy and resources. Therefore, he argues, there is likely to be an evolved mechanism that identifies certain goals as unattainable and inhibits their pursuit – and he believes low mood is at least part of the mechanism.”
Others have tested this idea and have found that a detachment lowers your risk of depression. People who disengage from unreachable goals are less likely to be depressed.
“Mile depressive symptoms can therefore be seen as a natural part of dealing with failure in young adulthood,” the Economist continues. “They set in when a goal is identified as unreachable and lead to a decline in motivation. This period of low motivation, energy is saved and new goals can be found. If this mechanism does not function properly, though, severe depression can be the consequence.”
Other researchers have tied this to heart disease, not only depression.
So, put bluntly, it is healthy to give up on overly ambitious goals. While ambition and dogged pursuit of goals may translate into success – as society generally defines success – it can be bad for your health.
Is it any wonder that America – the nation of go-getters – has the highest level of clinical depression in the world?
We hold that absurdity then – the complete realization that life has no meaning, to celebrate and find liberation in that truth – casts all such goals as fruitless. The absurd man does not worry about goals. He does not set them except out of convenience. And he certainly does not take them seriously. He sees the futility, but it does not concern him. The absurd man is content to just “be.”
Absurdity, then, may be the ultimate anti-depressant.