NZME’s Great Minds project will examine the state of our nation’s mental health and explore the growing impact mental health and anxiety has on Kiwis while searching for ways to improve it. Video / NZ Herald
Herald columnist and Radio Hauraki breakfast host Matt Heath is taking on a new role as Happiness Editor for our Great Minds mental health project. He explains why he can’t wait to get started.
‘The easiest way for us to gain happiness is to learn how to want the things we already have.’ -William B. Irvine
Why are there so many miserable, rich, famous, and good-looking actors and rockstars? I’ve read a few autobiographies that tell a similar story.
A talented young person starts out with a hole in their heart, they attempt to fill it with ambition, stardom, groupies, overspending, and substance abuse. Everything goes great until addiction catches up. They destroy all their real relationships, get ripped off by management, squander their talent and discover they owe millions in tax. Just when all seems lost they find happiness in everyday domestic life.
They realize the most important thing is real friends and family, not mass adoration. Cuddling your newborn baby is more meaningful than getting wasted. Dropping your child off at school in a station wagon is better than playing Wembley.
Meanwhile, the rest of us, with our normal lives, feel like we’re missing out. We struggle to appreciate the family and friends we have because there “must be something better”. We spend our lives fantasizing about bigger houses, nicer cars, popularity and new partners. Any content we get is immediately broken by the devices in our pockets. buzzing and dragging us into a FOMO loop. We are bombarded with images of people living perfect lives, products we need, and holidays we should be on. There’s always something reminding us that we’re ugly and less successful than we should be.
Social media punishes us with “friends” pretending to have better lives than we do. No matter where we are or what we have we fail to appreciate it. It’s as if humans don’t know what they really want. Special people are miserable until they find a normal, life, normal people are miserable because they aren’t special enough. Instead of comparing ourselves with the most unfortunate and feeling grateful for what we have, we hate ourselves for not being the richest, most beautiful and most talented people we can possibly imagine. Our instincts around happiness are completely wrong.
Of course, none of this is news to anyone. The question is what do we do about it?
‘Sadness and the pain are coming. The time to train to get better is now’ – neuroscientist Sam Harris
In his book, School of Life, Alain de Botton talks about an ancient view of education that included techniques to live a contented life. Young people could join a school of philosophy that taught them how to deal with whatever comes their way. Skeptics, Stoics and Epicureans offered an instruction manual for being human. I studied philosophy at university for four years and the idea of using it in everyday life never came up. That seems odd to me. What’s the point in philosophy if it’s never applied.
A few years ago my relationship ended, and the most important person in my life died. Things were grim. After some bad times, I figured out that running made me feel better. That put me in the headspace to set out on an amateur version of one of these ancient educations. I decide to read up on how to be happy.
Avoiding gimmicky self-help books I went straight to the 2000-year-old source, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca and Epictetus. It was good stuff but pretty dry so I found some people who are still alive.
Professor William B Irvine who teaches how to appreciate what we have and enjoy insults; neuroscientist Sam Harris who promotes meditation and honesty; Dr Judson Brewer whose clinical research shows anxiety is an addiction just like nicotine; Zeynep Tufekci on what tech is doing to us; Professor Scott Galloway an entrepreneur and marketing expert who discusses the inverse relationship between work and family; and Yuval Noah Harari on how we humans ended up like this.
These people became my unwitting mentors. I read everything they write and listen to every podcast they appear in. I berate my friends and family with their ideas daily.
I never shut up about these brilliant thinkers and I don’t intend to. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be Zooming them (the ones who are alive and will talk to me) and sharing what they have to say here in text and audio form. Hopefully, these chats will help. At the very least it’ll be fun for me.
WHERE TO GET HELP
If it is an emergency and you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
For counseling and support
life line: Call 0800 543 354 or text 4357 (HELP)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: Call 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
Need to talk? Call or text 1737
depression helpline: Call 0800 111 757 or text 4202
For children and young people
youth line: Call 0800 376 633 or text 234
what’s up: Call 0800 942 8787 (11am to 11pm) or webchat (11am to 10.30pm)
The Lowdown: Text 5626 or webchat
For help with specific issues
Alcohol and Drug Helpline: Call 0800 787 797
Anxiety Helpline: Call 0800 269 4389 (0800 ANXIETY)
Outline: Call 0800 688 5463 (0800 OUTLINE) (6pm-9pm)
safe to talk (sexual harm): Call 0800 044 334 or text 4334
All services are free and available 24/7 unless otherwise specified.
For more information and support, talk to your local doctor, hauora, community mental health team, or counseling service. The Mental Health Foundation has more helplines and service contacts on its website.