More people die of suicide each year than in car accidents, yet there remains something of a taboo when it comes to broaching the subject. In that respect, the one good thing that has come from the tragic death of Robin Williams is that it has once again put the public spotlight on depression and suicide.
In addition to Williams, other examples of rich and famous people who have suffered from depression include Mike Wallace, Terry Bradshaw, Art Buchwald, Mike Tyson, Woody Allen, Jim Carrey, Calvin Coolidge, Marilyn Monroe … the list goes on and on. Thus, the empirical evidence strongly suggests that neither fame nor fortune makes one immune to depression, though either or both of them might actually increase one’s chances of becoming depressed.
I would venture a guess that virtually everyone — even the most outwardly positive folks — has experienced depression at one time or another. It’s part and parcel to the kaleidoscope of human emotions.
That said, the causes of depression vary widely. Some of the more common of these include natural chemical imbalances in the brain, drugs (both legal and illegal), brain injuries, loss of a loved one, and an infinite variety of personal disappointments, rejections, and failures (especially financial failures).
However, when people tell me they’re depressed, the most common reason they give for it is boredom. So the question becomes, what causes boredom? In looking back over my life, I’ve tried to identify those times when I was the most bored, and the period that pops out at me most glaringly is when I lived in Beverly Hills.
Once I began to experience a taste of fame and fortune, I quickly became addicted to buying stuff — especially expensive stuff. It was as though I were on a mission to outspend my ignorance. I must have shelled out close to a quarter of a million dollars on clothes during a five-year span — Armani, Versace, Gucci — you name it.
Today, I don’t have a stitch of that quarter of a million dollars’ worth of clothing left. And, on reflection, I can say that, other than a temporary high, I experienced zero happiness from either buying or wearing any of it.
I also remember my wife and I spending hours on weekends leisurely strolling on Rodeo Drive, the jewel of Beverly Hills. I don’t know the precise time, but I recall at some point telling my wife that I was bored stiff, that there had to be more to life than just buying clothes, pounding the pavement in the “Golden Triangle,” and eating poached eggs topped with caviar at Café Rodeo for brunch.
Some people believe (or want to believe) that the best antidote to boredom is spontaneity … lots of fun and excitement … you know, “let it all hang out.” I know about this kind of mind-set, because when I was single, I dated a gal who was obsessed with “having a good time.” She constantly talked about how bored she was, and was totally convinced that spontaneity was the solution to her boredom.
She talked incessantly about activities like hang gliding, water skiing, skydiving, riding in hot air balloons … the more dangerous the activity, the better. She also loved to get smashed, which reduced her feminine appeal by a factor of ten.
Try dealing with that kind of personality when your own idea of an exciting evening is a quiet dinner at a gourmet restaurant followed by watching a good movie at home. Hmm … I think they refer to it as incompatible.
If you look at life through the wrong prism, there’s no question it can seem very boring. After all, life is endless repetition — getting up in the morning, shaving, brushing your teeth, showering, dressing, eating breakfast (especially my breakfast, which has been an apple and banana for the past twenty years), and so on through the day.
But since all of these tasks come under the heading of things you cannot change, why bother to think about them? After all, even Bill Gates has to shave, brush his teeth, and shower.
With all due respect to my girlfriend of long ago, my own experience has convinced me that the solution to depression is not spontaneous living, engaging in daredevil activities, traveling, or shopping to the point of exhaustion. And it’s certainly not drugs or alcohol.
Nor is it vacations. Living for the next vacation is a bad idea, because vacations have a short shelf life. It’s what’s in between vacations that is known as real life.
For me, some of the more important keys to keeping boredom at bay include:
- Having a meaningful purpose in life. If you don’t know what your purpose is, think about it for as long as it takes to figure it out. Hint: It’s probably connected to something you’re naturally good at. There is nothing more boring than meaninglessness.
- Developing a daily routine and learning to enjoy having your life under control. Routines do not stifle; they liberate. The most boring life I can imagine is one in which you are in a constant state of turmoil — projects not getting done, having to spend inordinate amounts of time looking for a document (either in your computer or a file cabinet), encountering car problems because you haven’t gotten around to servicing your vehicle for an eternity … you get the idea.
- Making a conscious effort to feel good about the important things in your life — your spouse, your children, your skills, etc. Materiality is way down on the list.
- Being conscious of (but not dwelling on) the bad things that you don’t have to deal with — such as a terrible disease, illness, or other serious medical problem. Everyone has health issues, but that should not stop you from appreciating the health issues you don’t have. The reason that thinking about the absence of something takes conscious effort is because we normally take for granted an invaluable asset such as good health.
- Learning to focus on, and enjoy, whatever you’re doing at any given moment. Live in the here and now by developing the self-discipline to take your mind’s chatterbox off autopilot. Say no to mental time travel!
- Making it a habit to consciously think about how great it is just to be alive. Take some deep, relaxing breaths throughout the day. Look closely at nature’s endless wonders. Think about how remarkable it is that, through one method or another, you (along with the rest of the human species) are the only collection of atoms that have been put together in such a way as to be able to reflect on your own existence. That’s big!
Finally, overarching the above items is that boredom, to a great extent, is a matter of perception — i.e., how you look at things. And, as I’ve pointed out many times, when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.