My life sucks. It has always sucked ...
... and will never get better.
Most of you reading this have at some point experienced ( or are currently experiencing ) a sensation of complete hopelessness about your life, and your future prospects for happiness.
The belief that everything about your life totally sucks, and can't get better.
It's a heavy feeling.
It's a sense that you are somehow worthless.
A sense that no one appreciates you, and has no reason to change their opinion of you.
A sense that there's nothing you can do about the situation.
It's a sense that the universe hates you, and that must be somehow fundamentally flawed, or incredibly unfortunate.
We're good at finding explanations for this...
"I was born with the wrong skin color"
"I'm introverted... probably even Aspergic."
"My metabolism is too slow, or too fast... so my body is too fat / thin. I'll never look sexy."
"I'm too smart, and people can't relate to me." or, "I'm too stupid, and people don't accept me."
Sometimes this feeling gets really bad.
Sometimes... we get a sense that maybe, just possibly, we should stop trying altogether - and just throw in the towel.
And just end it all.
Depression is a Global problem
Even in my country of New Zealand, with its idyllic scenery, beautiful fresh air, warm people, comfortable and healthy lifestyle - suicide is at a ridiculous level - currently at the highest level ever recorded in this country, and it has increased for the fourth year in a row.
Yet... the economy is good. There is no war. No obvious big social impacts, like mass migrations or social rebellion. No big new changes like new drugs, or drug legalization.
So what the heck is going on in the World?
I'm going to suggest some very debatable personal theories here.
These are my own. Feel free to reject them, or to call me a total loon.
I'm fine with that.
Flame the hell out of me, there is a comments box below.
But maybe, just maybe, like me, you'll develop a greater appreciation of how your mind works, and an understanding of how you can entirely change the weather inside your head.
Depression, and the mammal brain
To understand what's happening in your head, let's take a trip back about 200 million years to the late Triassic period, to the point at which mammals first appeared.
In the reptilian world, life was very solitary. Individuals were concerned only with their own survival.
Reptiles don't even raise their young... they lay some eggs and walk away. If they see their young hatch, they'll probably find them a tasty snack.
There's absolutely no social connection between reptiles other than the brief sexual encounter in which they're probably lucky if they both walk away unscathed. ( some insect species are far less fortunate in this regard ).
Then at some point a reptile mutated, and a key change turned this selfish paradigm on its head.
Mother Nature discovered that there is strength in numbers.
Welcome to a new, socially-centered world
The mammal brain evolved with this central understanding, and developed core features that enabled social groups.
A more highly developed language was one- I think you can identify a fairly direct correlation between language development, and the level of socialization of a species. Even frogs show some early social behavior, and language.
Birds and mammals blew the lid off the pot.
Also, the brain evolved to employ key chemicals - known as neurotransmitters and hormones - to strongly motivate social behavior.
Two neurotransmitters are especially central here-
- Oxytocin. for pair bonding, between couples, as well as between parents and their children.
- Serotonin. which encourages formation of social groups, as well as hierarchy within the group.
When your oxytocin is high. You feel that giddy sensation of love. That all-consuming desire to be with someone specific. Oxytocin bonds form between romantic couples, as well as between parents and their children.
Even pet owners and their pets can form this chemical bond. Mammal pets, like your dog, can love you just as much- because all mammals have oxytocin. Your pet snake, however, not so much.
We know and love the feeling of high oxytocin - that crazy feeling that the world could not possibly be a brighter, shinier place.
And we also probably all know the crushing lows, when we lose a special relationship that we felt very attached to. Love sickness, heartbreak.
Even homesickness can probably be attributed to your oxytocin system, complaining that something is wrong with the world.
When your serotonin is high, you feel socially accepted, validated, and approved of.
All feels right with the World and you feel liked not only by yourself, but by everyone. Even by the Universe.
Like oxytocin, we feel fantastic when we have good serotonin levels, and terrible when we have low serotonin.
When you win that trophy or get that applause, or that wolf whistle as you are walking down the street, you probably feel great. Other people approve of you therefore you must have value and you feel good.
Conversely, when you feel disapproved of, serotonin becomes low, and you feel emotional pain.
We experience this when we feel rejected, or are craving validation and approval - lonely and desirous of the attention of others.
The "not good enough" story has some roots here as well.
None of this feels great.
What are these chemicals for?
In a word, Survival.
Among mammals, survival of the individual means seeking the protection and companionship of a group.
My guess is that this evolved largely from a need to protect and teach vulnerable young, and ensure survival of the species.
Having others around helps protect you against predators, enemies, and also enables you to potentially collect and protect food & resources more efficiently. Think of a pack of wolves taking down a large moose, which a single wolf could not do alone.
Your survival also means having your own tribe like you. You need them to want to protect you.
See the addendum for some musings on why social development may have happened.
Survival of the species means...
- Maximizing your mating opportunities ( by being around potential mates ) - serotonin motivates the formation of the group.
- Attracting potential mates, in part by being approved-of by the group. - serotonin also appears to have a role in the hierarchy within the group, all the way up to the alpha male & female.
- Building a relationship with a mate that lasts long enough to raise the young. Oxytocin.
- Building a relationship with your children so that when they annoy you, you don't just ditch them in the forest. Also oxytocin.
- Protecting the young from predators, by surrounding them with larger, stronger adults.
In the mammal brain, the desire for social approval is likely part of the survival mechanism. If you rely on your tribe to survive, then having the disapproval of your tribe means your life is at risk - if not by your tribe itself, then through abandonment or expulsion,
Being booted out of your safe network of allies and left to fend for your own was not an ideal survival situation.
This is particularly true for women - who are more vulnerable during pregnancy, and while protecting young children. This reasonably explains why women seem more socially in-tune, more cognizant of fashion and behavior, and are generally better communicators.
who seem even more reliant on their social networks and sense of social approval.
So what happens when serotonin is low?
Everything we've discussed so far has set the stage for this part of the discussion.
Low serotonin is painful, and it closely resembles fear. Most likely, low serotonin is accompanied by heightened cortisol levels, which is the hormone released when you are fearful or stressed.
The level of intensity can vary, anywhere from uncertainty or agitation, to self doubt, self-loathing or even self-hatred.
A deep sense that somehow you are not acceptable, that you should be doing more, or that you need other people to approve of you.
Low serotonin, and poor social relationships, are likely among the primary causes of depression.
Fortunately, this can be fixed.
Absolutely nothing is wrong with you, depression in this situation is simply your brain trying to motivate you to seek the companionship of others.
You are human, and you are designed to be social.
Now I'm about to go way off the rails here, and share a deeper conclusion I've come to in my research and reflection.
This will be harsh
You have been warned.
I believe that it's even possible... that the extreme depressive state we associate with extremely low serotonin itself has a function.
Those suicidal thoughts, which all of us have experienced at our lowest points, may well have a purpose.
Because mother nature is a harsh bitch.
She's much more concerned with the survival of the species, than the survival of the individual.
It makes sense therefore, that an individual who is an extreme burden on the tribe would be considered unacceptable. Members who are unable, or unwilling to contribute to the success of the tribe are a disadvantage in the survival of the tribe.
My suspicion is that among mammals, extremely low levels of serotonin could lead to emotional despair, and thoughts of suicide.
This is because in a purely natural situation, in a mammal pack, low serotonin only happens when someone is considered unfit to be part of the group, or when a member becomes extremely ill, injured or old.
You can see this even in the case of a dog- when it becomes extremely ill or old, it will often leave its family, to die alone.
Low serotonin is painful, and strong motivator.
Why it's so important to understand this effect
Lucky us, as humans we've inherited all of these mechanisms from our mammal ancestors.
As an ironic twist, we've developed a human brain which can have huge impact on our emotional brain. Negative self-talk will lower your own serotonin- something mammals don't suffer.
The lives we've built are uniquely weird. We live in huge cities, but are afraid to talk to each other.
We crave companionship, but never talk to strangers because we fear rejection.
We rarely exercise.
Even lower serotonin.
We engage in high dopamine activities- sugar, alcohol, fast food, cigarettes, recreational drugs, Facebook, and porn. Want to guess the impact of high dopamine on serotonin? I think you already know.
Even further lowered serotonin.
Are you beginning to see a pattern here?
Our lifestyles and social behaviors are extremely unhealthy to our serotonin system.
Reflect deeply on this.
If you have ever thought...
I have no value to anyone.
My life has no purpose.
No one would miss me.
Life won't get better.
The world is probably better off without me.
You know exactly what I'm talking about.
What's wrong with society today
Let's be real, today's society doesn't know how to encourage healthy social behavior. We sit behind computers and phones, texting and messaging. Even our most deeply valued relationships- our "soulmate"- usually gets a few characters a day.
Acceptance and rejection have become binary. Yes or no. Left swipe, or right swipe. Literally.
Most of us live our lives heavily isolated from other real humans. Even in crowded cities, we live in cubicles and micro-apartments, drive our cars alone to work, and only talk to others when we have to.
Even making eye contact is difficult.
What do you imagine this kind of isolated lifestyle does to your serotonin levels?
Is it any wonder depression is skyrocketing when we are more "connected" than ever before?
But this is the harsh reality of being human...
... you are also still a mammal.
If you don't respect this, and understand what your mammal brain is doing and where these feelings are coming from, you're likely to try to rationalize it and find reasons why you should no longer be alive.
This is the crucial point to understand.
Low serotonin does not mean that you are a useless human.
Low serotonin means that you have low serotonin.
And that's it.
Not one bit more.
When you're feeling depressed...
Some key tips.
First, recognize what is likely the root cause- low serotonin. Fixing that will fix pretty much 100% of your depression.
Do things that raise your serotonin.
- Be social. Go into public and say hi to people. Hang out with your friends. Join a dance class. Go to more BROJO sessions. Be around cool people.
- Exercise. Especially weights and hard strenuous muscular exercise.
Cut things that lower your serotonin directly.
- Stop isolating yourself
- Stop negative self-talk, identify 5 things that you like about yourself, say them out loud every day
Stop things that raise your dopamine excessively, which lowers your serotonin.
- Porn. Kick the habit. When you're craving it, go to the gym, or be social instead.
- Facebook and social media. These give an artificial feeling of connectedness, which is based on dopamine. Minimize it.
- Nicotine and alcohol.
- High sugar foods, processed foods, and fast food.
- Recreational drugs- those which heighten dopamine, like cocaine, follow with huge depressive crashes. It's not worth it.
For some of you, these are big changes, and every piece of marketing is against you, because they want your dopamine.
But you deserve better.
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It's possible that one reason mother nature evolved social traits is that as the brain became more complex, it needed more sleep. If you sleep for 8 hours a day, then 1/3 of your life, you are quite vulnerable, not even counting infancy, childhood, periods during which you are injured or sick, and old age.
Building social groups would make these vulnerabilities far more manageable.
Similarly, if dad goes off hunting, the tribe can protect his family until his safe return.
I've got your back, bro.