Have you noticed that people around you appear to be really trying to have fun rather than randomly enjoying themselves in un-constructed ways? A festival here, a show there, a pub gig, a long weekend, a reason to go out, a planned holiday. But its all so constructed and contrived, like the smile on that TV host later reported as having died suddenly of a self inflicted injury.
If what’s on TV is any indication of how so many spend their time (or so we’re told) these sources of TV amusement rely on us seeking vicarious pleasure in someone else’s pain. Programs exposing sloppy home videos to make us laugh at unfortunate people being injured through their own stupidity, ubiquitous reality shows of stressed out chefs ‘tearing up’ instead of ‘plating up’ and DIY junkies flogging themselves like dead horses to win the chance to have their mortgage paid out. Then there’s the slips and embarrassments of the famous. Not that they don’t amuse me sometimes but where has the raw fun gone?
We know communities can suffer en mass the same psychological ups and downs as individuals and that the well-being of communities are severely effected by trauma, violence and those additional often ignored emotional harms perpetrated both from within and without those communities. America is desperately trying to stop the latest ‘down’ caused by their extended invasion of Iraq. Not enough to have annihilated the country over the last 23 years (yes 1991 Gulf War Bush 1) they now have to deal with Jihadist Sunni lunatics rampaging across their newly ‘democratised’ state. If they believe In the completely believable conspiracy theory about their own government setting them and the Sunni Jihadists up they would be even more inclined to be feeling traumatised.
When emotional pain is not caused by the obvious as in war, famine or environmental catastrophe, its much more difficult to recognise, but its no less there. Perhaps we also don’t recognise it when we are a part of a suffering community feeling despair alongside our neighbours. I suppose you’ve picked up the increased media concern and concurrent raised public concern around the numbers of people suffering with depression. The distinction between the medical definition and the understanding of the general population is often chasms apart and we are being educated about what constitutes being sad and what’s a medicatable diagnosis.
Then there’s…….Anhedonia – a distinct lack of pleasure in what are or have been typically enjoyable things to do or share. Anhedonia can be an element of depression. It is also I believe a socially absorbable phenomena, it can be ‘caught’ just as hysteria can be. Anhedonia often gets overlooked amongst more readily acknowledged elements of depression like low self esteem, isolation, irritated mood, or low energy, but can play a huge role in maintaining these other elements because it becomes nearly impossible to find things to do to alleviate those feelings of depression. Leo Tolstoy is believed to have suffered from it, (and probably passed it on through his writing of War and Peace!) and I would like to suggest, on a broader community level anhedonia is increasingly being ‘shared’ by the poor.
The challenge for everyone in being constantly bombarded with the ‘amazing’, the ‘phenomenal’, the ‘awesome’, and dare I say the ‘iconic’ is not to be completely underwhelmed by everything and not to become anhedonic. Things are so often less like their advertised selves and more like a complete con. This challenge is more complete for people with zero ‘disposable income’.
I remember when being asked to complete a form on my financial expenditure there was a section set aside for ‘entertainment’. This might have meant movies, videos, music venues, the costs of holidays or the purchase of a football ticket. None of these things are available to anyone on ‘benefits’ especially if their rent, utilities, transport, food bills and increasing debts are paid. Reason? Zero excess.
So with zero excess ‘entertainment’ means finding amusement in the little things, the crazy guy on the bus, the dog that barks strangely every day when you walk passed his gate to get to that job interview, the time you answer your friends phone with a stupid voice when their granny with dementia calls. With zero excess, reliance on being ‘entertained’ as the working class are has been forcibly removed.
The other thing that has changed is the capacity to measure your experiences against the ones you cant afford. Descriptors have become so far removed from the reality of our experience everything we do becomes mediocre in comparison. Words like awesome used to mean awesome now they just really mean ‘that’s great’, whereas words like ‘great’ just mean ‘sure I’ve seen or heard that one before’. This next example came across my desktop this morning… “Entrepreneur Natalie Archer has a policy of doing three “extraordinary” things each day. For the founder of $8 million strategic advisory firm Bendelta, this might mean watching the sunrise on a morning jog down Bondi Beach or having a meaningful chat with one of her staff……… “If you want an extraordinary life, you have to do extraordinary things.”
If that ‘entrepreneur’ thinks either of those things are ‘extraordinary’ she must have been particularly boring before deciding to change her ways. So having a case of anhedonia could well be causing me to have lost interest in her dull little existence. Or maybe I just don’t carry youths exuberance about such dull shit being described as ‘extraordinary’. Then again perhaps her belief that she is telling anyone anything other than she is rich because she does the extraordinary and only the mundane are poor!
More annoying than believing a jog in Bondi as the sunrise is ‘extraordinary’ (which it probably is if you have to get a bus from Punchbowl to do it,) is that talking to your employees is something out of the ordinary! Perhaps it is! Perhaps I am wrong and this is the real reason people are feeling depressed they have no connections to their work or their colleagues or their boss, or indeed they have none of the above. I think the person who wrote that drivel and the millionaire strategic adviser they wrote about are both very underwhelming and have had more than enough of my time and are distracting me and my community of the great unwashed unemployed from our anhedonia.
I will leave you with a quote from Tolstoy about those who do not appear to suffer from anhedonia and who live off the work of others:
I sit on a man’s back, choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means – except by getting off his back.