Wisdom for Life by Prof. Bob Number 01: Why am I Unhappy, Depressed and Angry?
Because your parents didn’t or couldn’t love you enough. After plenty of anguished self-scrutiny, therapy, meds, relationships, you might stumble upon this simple answer. Your parents did the best they could to love and nurture you. It was probably good enough, but not good enough for what you thought you deserved. And, they could have been bad parents too.
Raising kids in any society is very hard and ours especially. Parents need time, money, a supportive community and a good upbringing themselves to carry it off. Many parents today lack all four. They withhold love and caring because of their own mismanaged childhood and pass down their fears and insecurities to you. Many are too busy making a living to love anyone.
You then will likely search for a parent replacement in your adult life, a problem since you are no longer a child, but you will try to repair your broken chain of love and nurturance. Lovers, mates, significant others have to stand in for parents who failed you and that gets pretty boring or conflicted so they leave. Your parent, now a departing surrogate, fails you again.
You may also search out a charismatic leader, power figure, guru, or savior who offers a means of rescue. Old piece of wisdom: when you see someone coming to save you, hold onto your wallet. No one can save you–except yourself.
Traditional religions, esoteric cults, pure balderdash societies evangelize for their way, their prescriptions, their wisdom, their scripture, their magic potions, their ladders to transcendence and wholeness. They are mildly to radically flawed. Their gross and alarming failures make the evening news.
What to do instead? Ask yourself this question. What could give my life meaning? What do I want to dedicate myself to? What work? service? and life course do I need to take to make my life meaningful and complete? Without reflecting on that big question, you may never get to know yourself or what you really need.
Answering that can be a life-long process. Prescribed formulas or ready-made answers can get in the way, short-circuit the ongoing, sometimes painful self-questioning and life changes it might entail. Philosophers call it an existential pursuit.
The only help I can prescribe is to read great literature. As an English and Humanities prof., that may be my bias. Great literature usually traces the development of a character through all sorts of confusions and doubt but rarely sums up or proposes a self-help guide to wisdom–that’s up to the reader. Even if the characters we follow don’t finally claim their life’s purpose, or reach a profound understanding of themselves, we can try to state the self-discovery they may have missed or were unwilling to articulate. We don’t have to adopt their life meaning, but we learn from their journey how fascinating, dangerous, and necessary that search can be.
Will you be less unhappy, depressed, and angry when you articulate and enact your purpose in life? Your childhood damage will fade in the light of adult critical awareness and in conscious acceptance of the necessity you define for your life. That’s the promise and the hope.
(Note: Wisdom is what you get when you have lived long enough to make enough mistakes and have enough time to reflect on what they taught you, so you can wise up through them.)