Great Minds: Mental health – New Happiness Editor Matt Heath explains how not to be miserable
NZME’s Great Minds Project will look at the state of our country’s mental health and explore the growing impact of mental health and anxiety on Kiwis while looking 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 mental health project Great Minds. He explains why he can’t wait to get started.
“The easiest way for us to be happy is to learn to want the things we already have.” -William B. Irvine
Why are there so many miserable, rich, famous, and handsome actors and rock stars? I have read a few autobiographies that tell a similar story.
A talented youngster starts with a hole in his heart, he tries to fill it with ambition, fame, groupies, overspending and drug addiction. Everything is going well until the addiction catches up. They destroy all of their real relationships, get ripped off by management, waste their talent, and find they owe millions in taxes. Just when all seems lost, they find happiness in everyday domestic life.
They realize that the most important thing is true friends and family, not mass worship. Cuddling your newborn makes more sense than getting a bloodletting. Dropping your kid off at school in a station wagon is better than playing at Wembley.
Meanwhile, the rest of us, with our normal lives, feel like we’re missing out. We find it hard to appreciate the family and friends we have because “there has to be something better”. We spend our lives fantasizing about bigger houses, nicer cars, popularity, and new partners. Any contentment we get is immediately shattered by the devices in our pockets. buzzing and pulling us into a FOMO loop. We are bombarded with images of people living perfect lives, products we need, and vacations we should have. There is always something that reminds us that we are uglier and less successful than we should be.
Social media punishes us with “friends” claiming to have a better life than ours. It doesn’t matter where we are or what we have, we don’t 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 are not special enough. Instead of comparing ourselves to the most unfortunate and being grateful for what we have, we hate ourselves for not being the richest, most beautiful, and most talented people we can imagine. Our instincts around happiness are completely wrong.
Of course, none of this is new to anyone. The question is what do we do about it?
“Sadness and pain are coming. Now is the time to practice to improve” – neuroscientist Sam Harris
In his book, School of Life, Alain de Botton talks about an ancient view of education that included techniques for living a contented life. Young people could join a school of philosophy that would teach them to deal with anything that comes their way. Skeptics, Stoics and Epicureans have offered a manual for being human. I studied philosophy at university for four years and the idea of using it in everyday life never came up. It seems strange to me. What good is philosophy if it is never applied.
A few years ago my relationship ended and the most important person in my life passed away. Things were dark. After a few bad moments, I realized that running made me feel better. It put me in the headspace to embark on an amateur version of one of those ancient educations. I decide to read how to be happy.
Avoiding fancy 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 people who are still alive.
Professor William B Irvine who teaches how to appreciate what we have and appreciate insults; neuroscientist Sam Harris who promotes meditation and honesty; Dr. Judson Brewer whose clinical research shows that anxiety is an addiction like nicotine; Zeynep Tufekci on what technology does to us; Professor Scott Galloway, 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 involuntary mentors. I read everything they write and listen to every podcast they appear on. I berate my friends and family daily with their ideas.
I’m never silent about these brilliant thinkers and I don’t intend to. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be zooming in on them (those who are alive and talking to me) and sharing what they have to say here in text and audio. Hope these discussions help you. At least it will be fun for me.
WHERE TO GET HELP
If it is an emergency and you or someone else is in danger, call 111.
For advice and support
Lifeline: 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
Youthline: call 0800 376 633 or text 234
What’s Up: Call 0800 942 8787 (from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.) or the webchat (from 11 a.m. to 10.30 p.m.)
The Lowdown: SMS 5626 or online chat
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 speak (sexual abuse): 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.