A fantastic book hits the UK market tomorrow. Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression-and the Unexpected Solutions is written by my friend, NY Times bestselling author Johann Hari. It offers a much-needed rethinking of our current epidemic of depression, which continues unabated despite the widespread availability of antidepressant medications. The book is getting rave reviews and I am so thrilled for Johann.
Being genuinely happy for someone else–the quality of sympathetic joy–is precisely what I discussed with Johann when we met up a couple of years ago in Indianapolis, after years of not seeing each other. Johann had been busy researching and writing a brilliant book (Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs), whereas a divorce, relocation, and single parenthood had occupied me. When we saw each other again, I couldn’t help but gush about my meditation practice, which had taken off since I had last seen him. The practice got me through dark times and was bringing forth the best in me. And the capacity for sympathetic joy is one of the most rewarding qualities I’ve cultivated throughout this process.
I was excited when Johann decided to incorporate some of my remarks into Lost Connections, and to present meditation as one of several things we can do to help ourselves in the face of depression. But I have to admit, it made me squirm a little too. In order to talk about sympathetic joy, I had to bring up its opposites. I had to speak candidly about my own envy, insecurity, and depression. No one likes to admit to being envious and insecure! Despite it being a universal experience, we fear it makes it pathetic or loathsome in the eyes of others. We can talk about our anger, our grief, our anxiety…almost anything is easier to confess to than envy, jealousy, schadenfreude, and the like.
I’m really thankful for this experience. I can only be of service to others if I’m honest and fully human. And I believe envy isn’t discussed nearly enough in our culture, so you can expect to read more about it on this blog going forward. We can investigate our envy and come out the other side actually happier as a result of doing so. It’s an unconventional path to happiness, but a real one that’s available to us all.
I’m wishing Johann continued success–after all, it makes ME happy!–and I look forward to January 23rd, when his book hits the US market. I’ll be re-reading it, smiling, and yes, perhaps squirming a bit.