Chasing “The American Dream” is Depressing… Literally.

teen me 2_LI

Awkward, lanky, less scruffy, teen me.

My wife and I actually got to have a meaningful conversation this evening (a less frequent occurrence than should be). She asked me my thoughts on the increased incidence of teen depression (suicide as a side topic).

One reason I gave was an increased focus on diagnosis (much like my thoughts on ADHD and autism). Not only do I think the idea of depression (specifically, that affecting teens) as being less stigmatized, but I think there is probably a better range / accuracy of diagnostic tools. In some part, this apparent trend is probably driven by individuals looking to capitalize on a market not thought about decades ago. I’d like to think the increase in diagnosis is driven by need rather than greed.  It is my belief that individuals feel more comfortable seeking help.

That said, I think much of this increase in prevalence arises from entitlement and the “microwave” culture. Instant gratification and “They have that. So, I should too!” are incredibly apparent social norms, unfortunately. Given my minimalist concept, I can’t help but blame materialism and the consumerist culture, in very large part.

You name any aspect of our lives and it is being targeted by someone looking to sell something. You aren’t “somebody” unless you have these clothes or this car or those shoes. These things are used to judge others, using the barometer of social status.

Many of my friends are in direct sales.  Most, if not all, of these businesses are built on helping others with self-image.  ALL of my friends who are affiliated with such a business are well-meaning and do great work.  That said, these businesses and the products they offer are often geared towards those looking to live up to some kind of social standard.  You name the product being sold and it depends on someone feeling that what they have or who they are isn’t good enough.

Don’t get me wrong.  I like the idea that these businesses are a shift from inflating the profit margins of giant corporations to helping my friends stay at home, supplement their income, or live the lives they want to.  Also, it is undeniable that feelings of inadequacy would continue to pervade our culture in the absence of direct sales, but that doesn’t negate the fact that they depend on others feeling less than ideal (not skinny enough, not pretty enough, not having enough energy to conquer the world, etc.).

When objects / images of popular culture aren’t financially obtainable, we feel inadequate. We’re unhappy with the perfectly acceptable items we own and how we look / feel. As teens, we feel slighted because our parents aren’t able to buy the latest gaming system or take us on extravagant vacations. As adults, our jobs are unfulfilling because we aren’t making enough to buy the things we “need”. This comparing ourselves to “The Jones (and their kids)” leaves us feeling inadequate compared to our peers.

We too often look for happiness in all of the wrong places. We’ve based our self-value on things rather than what we are able to provide to those around us. We make money to accumulate stuff and, in essence, buy friends.

Advertising has been described as “the gentle art of persuading the public to believe that they want something they don’t need to make them spend money they haven’t got for things they don’t want to impress people they don’t like.”

I was blessed (I know now) to have a single mother that raised two kids, sometimes working three jobs, to support us by purchasing what we needed: food, clothes, housing, etc. To be fair, we were more than well taken care of and probably got more than what our mom (and, eventually, step-dad) could comfortably afford. Luckily, I came through those critical years (middle school / high school) without really missing the social circle that others had. There weren’t parties to go to every weekend, there were events I couldn’t attend, and I didn’t always have the grooviest (shout out to my boy James for the use of that term), but I didn’t have this ingrained sense of worthlessness that seems to permeate today’s teen culture.

One of my greatest hopes, regarding an outcome of this minimalist lifestyle, is that our children grow up seeking fulfillment from relationships and experiences rather than new shoes and gaming systems. It is my belief, this will lead to much more well-rounded adults and, decades from now God-willing, parents. We all want a legacy. Good or bad, my children will probably be my most recognizable legacy. Hopefully, this philosophy of a well-guided search for fulfillment outweighs my loud “pleading” for them to clean their incredibly cluttered rooms.


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