listening to the signals

[Johann Hari continues with what he would tell his teenage self who was being led to believe an overly confident story about chemicals:]

You aren’t a machine with broken parts. You are an animal whose needs are not being met. You need to have a community. You need to have meaningful values, not the junk values you’ve been pumped full of all your life, telling you happiness comes through money and buying objects. You need to have meaningful work. You need the natural world. You need to feel you are respected. You need a secure future. You need connections to all these things. You need to release any shame you might feel for having been mistreated. Every human being has these needs, and in our culture, we’re relatively good at meeting physical needs—almost nobody actually starves, for example, which is an extraordinary achievement. But we’ve become quite bad at meeting these psychological needs. That’s a crucial reason why you—and so many of the people around you—are depressed and anxious. You are not suffering from a chemical imbalance in your brain. You are suffering from a social and spiritual imbalance in how we live. Much more than you’ve been told up to now, it’s not serotonin; it’s society. It’s not your brain; it’s your pain. Your biology can make your distress worse, for sure. But it’s not the cause. It’s not the driver. It’s not the place to look for the main explanation, or the main solution. Because you have been given the wrong explanation for why your depression and anxiety are happening, you are seeking the wrong solution….

No, I would say to my younger self—your distress is not a malfunction. It is a signal—a necessary signal. I know this is going to be hard to hear, I’d tell him, because I know how deep your suffering cuts. But this pain isn’t your enemy, however much it hurts (and Jesus, I know how much it hurts). It’s your ally—leading you away from a wasted life and pointing the way toward a more fulfilling one. Then I would tell him—you are at a fork in the road now. You can try to muffle the signal. That will lead you to many wasted years when the pain will persist. Or you can listen to the signal and let it guide you—away from the things that are hurting and draining you, and toward the things that will meet your true needs.

– Johann Hari, Lost Connections

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