There is no doubt about it: we live in the best era to be alive. The quality of life is higher now than it has ever been. The opportunities we have available are almost endless. Modern society has made convenience the norm. But despite all this, people are not happy. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), about 18% of Americans adults have some kind of anxiety disorder each year. That means 1 in 5 adults has anxiety, depression, OCD, PTSD, or a phobia. That is a large chunk of the population.
Why are people like this? What happened? According to the AADA, these disorders come from ‘a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events.’ We can all agree that these are some of the biggest factors that cause anxiety, but I think it runs deeper than that. We need to look at our society as a whole.
Earlier I talked about how we are living in the best era in human history. But ironically, some of these same factors are also causing people to be depressed. The big three things I mentioned are: 1. A high quality of life 2. Endless opportunities and 3. Convenience. Let’s tackle each of these and see how they can actually cause people to be more depressed instead of alleviating depression.
A high quality of life means that people are doing well and have all the essentials. Most people have a job, an apartment/house, and usually a car. We have safe drinking water, decent community services, hospitals we can go to, and everything else needed to live a good life. Unfortunately, this makes people complacent. When people are used to living the good life, they have a harder time dealing with adversity and weathering the hard times. We don’t have a lot of the problems we had in the past. And this goes across the board. No matter your gender, age, race, religion or any other category you can name. Your life would’ve been much harder if you were born in 1900. And even harder if you were born in 1500. Problems that were around for thousands of years virtually don’t exist anymore; they sound silly if you even bring them up. When was the last time you were worried about bandits raiding your village? Or a new warlord taking over your farm and taking your children as prisoners? When everything is good, people expect that it will always be good. And when it isn’t, that’s when anxiety and depression can start creeping in. Someone losing their Wi-Fi for a day suddenly becomes a big deal. Or if their boss asks them to work 6 days next week instead of 5.
Endless opportunities sound great, as they should be. But just like having a high quality of life, it creates the inverse for most people. With so many opportunities at their fingertips, people don’t know what to do. This is a concept that author Mark Manson talked about in one of his books. The more opportunities people have, the more time they spend thinking about what to do instead of actually doing it. Then they feel more anxiety or regret about their decision because they will wonder if they picked the best one. This is especially true with social media today. People see others who are way more successful than they are, or at least they pretend to be, which causes envy. They start to wonder if they should’ve made better decisions or taken a better opportunity. Because there are so many paths they could’ve taken, it is impossible to know if their decision was the best.
Finally, we have convenience. Life has really become convenient and easy in the 21st century. We have smart phones, internet, Netflix, Amazon, flavored dental floss, and selfie sticks. What more could you want? But just like having a higher quality of life, people start to expect convenience and, in turn, can’t deal with inconvenience. People still have to work hard and long to live a good life, but modern technology has made everything easier. We can get our groceries delivered right to our house. We can text a family member who lives 1,000 miles away in 2 seconds. Because of this convenience, people have less real problems to worry about, which is a major theme for all three of these. There are less REAL problems, ones that we would actually be concerned about (think warlord and bandit example from earlier), so our minds make up problems.
I’m not saying your problems aren’t legitimate. There are millions of people who have been raped, abused, had a terminal condition, lost a loved one, or any other tragedy that would be tough to overcome. Those would cause anyone with a soul to be depressed for a period of time. What I am saying, however, is that modern solutions also cause modern problems, and depression is one of them. Even though we life in a much better world than we did just 50 years ago, modern society and technology have caused new problems and new reasons for depression and anxiety.
Stay tuned for part II, coming out next week!