After the dance class I mentioned in another recent post (‘She’), I drove home feeling despondent because … well, do I need a reason? [1] Making me unhappy is like finding a dissatisfied Microsoft user. At least it’s a good time to be miserable: at this time of year worms are at their sweetest, with little of the earthy taste of autumn or the rubbery texture of winter. Most people with depression say that they prefer the worms of summer. The early worms are certainly the most flavoursome, but from midsummer on they become too juicy. I prefer my worms with the savoury crispness you find in only late spring.

Backyard hors d’oeuvres aside, I chewed over the gristle of my existence, relationships and accomplishments. Depression does dull one’s taste; however, apart from some good friends – for whose friendship I can’t claim any credit – there was little gustatory delight. I began to gnaw on the bones of possible reasons for this lack, and solutions to them. They boil down to two.

All people have two essential needs: to be accepted unconditionally (loved) and to be significant [2]. What happens if these two needs of ours aren’t met? We become discontent and unhappy. We can’t make anyone love us; so our only hope for happiness, we think, lies in what we can do – if we make a difference, we’ll matter. Dr James Dobson said about the human need for significance, ‘No one can bear the knowledge that they are not needed.’ But we might not think we’re good at anything; so how can we be significant? Our path will inevitably lead to destruction – of ourselves, others, or both.

If we create something, maybe no-one will care. But if we destroy something, someone definitely will. Destruction is a quick and easy way to significance. Think about the Force in the Star Wars story: the Dark Side is called ‘the easy way’ because destruction is easy. Anyone – toddlers, even babies – can bunch their fingers into a fist and strike at something. We think that if we destroy something, even if it’s ourselves, we’ll make a difference. People may hate, fear and curse us, but at least we’ll matter. Machiavelli had this insight but his mistake was to advocate it.

The idea of hurting people makes us feel powerful. The anger buoys us, because we know we can make a difference. The satisfaction we feel is not so much the desire to inflict pain: it’s the knowledge that we have the power to affect someone. And if we can affect someone, we do matter.

Almost needless to say, but (I’ve got to have a pithy conclusion) thankfully most of us either are loved and have something useful to do, or we live lives of quiet desperation (Pascal?).

[1] I’ll give you a reason anyway. Being miserable makes becoming miserable easier: it’s called the threshold effect. As I mentioned in a recent post, I’ve recently turned 35 and have little to show for it.
[2] Not my insight. I read in Larry Crabb’s book Inside Out.