Five Reasons This is the Best Time Ever, Why You Are Still Depressed, & How to Fix It
By Shane Trotter
Three out of four Saturdays, I call the police. I’m immediately routed to their emergency call center where I speak to a different, while always exceptionally polite officer. They have the patience and compassion of a jovial grandmother recently returned from a Zen retreat. These are the best-trained people on the planet. It is always a little embarrassing, but these officers assure me that my call is no trouble at all.
No, I’m not a paranoid schizophrenic and, no, my wife does not turn drunk and abusive on Saturdays. I call the police because Saturday is the day I mow the lawn. You see, I use my phone to listen to podcasts. To hear over the buzz of yard equipment, my volume is turned all the way up. When I finish weed-eating and go to sweep the sidewalks, I feel for the volume buttons within my short pockets in an effort to save my ears. More often than not, I’m hitting the button on the wrong side of the phone. Hit that button 5 times, as you would if you thought it was the volume control, and the phone automatically calls 911.
A few things occurred to me after my most recent chat with the girls and boys in blue. First, I must be the world’s slowest learner. There is no rush. Take the phone out and look at it while you turn down the volume. I’m like a kid constantly trying to open a locked door while dad gets out the keys. Patience, dude. But more importantly, we live in a mind-blowing, amazing world. My iPhone alone can save my life in 9,487 ways. My wife even monitors my location when I bike to work to make sure I arrive safely. Crazy.
I know I’ve gone on repeatedly about the costs of our very unnatural world. In fact, most of my inspiration comes from seeing our environment and being terrified by the normalization of self-imposed human degradation. How do I best raise kids in this environment? With great exceptions, the masses are less physically and mentally capable than ever, maligned to seeking convenience and maximal consumption, at the whim of impulses exploited brilliantly by mass marketing manipulation. And still, this is, without a doubt, the most amazing time to ever be alive.
“Only the paradox comes anywhere near to comprehending the fullness of life.”
– Carl Jung
This apparent contradiction of thought marks an important interplay. At our fingertips, we have the collective wisdom of ages. Yet, most haven’t heard of Seneca, the Tao Te Ching, or even Tim Ferriss. We have an incredibly malleable world of far more opportunities for creating flexible, purpose-driven lives, yet most follow a failed standard model obsessed with a linear pursuit of money to buy the things that are supposed to bring happiness. Our standard of living is inconceivably high. Yet, suicide rates, drug overdoses, mental disorders, school shootings, obesity, and lifestyle-related diseases, have gone up drastically. We’re rife with signs of a human spiritual crisis. Less intentional, less growth-minded humans will continue down the hedonic treadmill that only ends in dissatisfaction, superficiality, and poor health. However, for those who are willing to think differently, this world offers more magic and possibility than any previous time and its only getting better.
Gratitude is a virtually universal practice of the successful and fulfilled. Our brains are programmed to scan the savannah for predators. Anyone not inclined to these false negatives was eventually eliminated from the gene pool. We seek what’s wrong, numb to the incomprehensible beauty smacking us on all sides. Yet, our brains are mutable. Everything in this world is constantly changing and there is nothing we can do to stop that. Grow or die. Tire out or rust out. We can train our brains to better amplify the positive by setting a daily time for practicing gratitude. This is not some fru-fru, “power of positive thinking” rant. Gratitude training rewires the brain for more optimistic and positive interpretations that translate into seeing more possibilities in the world. The negative focus is narrow and stuck. The positive is open and makes broad, creative connections. With that in mind, let’s celebrate a few mind-blowing perks of being alive, today!
First a little context. Just over 300 years ago, Queen Anne of Britain saw only 1 of her 18 pregnancies result in a child who survived to adulthood. Carrying a baby to life, only to have it die within the first couple years was such a common occurrence, many parents reacted with surprising detachment- like buying a car that turns out to be a lemon. You simply try again. In this time, disease was thought to be an affliction from God, royalty and church officials were typically the only literate people, and the clothes you wore were those made in your home. Love that refreshing shower at the end of the day? Yeah. That didn’t happen. Most were farmers, hungry during poor harvests, while never tasting sugar or traveling more than 30 miles from their home. Options for marriage were limited, as was any hope of a life other than that of your parents, parents’ parents, etc.
It is staggering how recently in the scope of human history we saw women burned at the stake for witchcraft, Galileo Galilei sentenced to house arrest for proposing the sun was the center of the universe, bridesmaids who wore white so that possible raiders could not tell who the bride was, governments ruling without any concept of citizenship, voting, or human rights, and human sacrifice to appease angry gods. Dilly Dilly! Even air conditioning and heat have only been appreciated by most Americans in the past half-century. Crazier still, there are places today practicing similar traditions.
That crack on your iPhone screen doesn’t seem like such a nuisance anymore, does it?
Context is important. Rather than feeling jealous for our rich friends’ amazing vacation, remember that we’ve all hit the lottery just by being born here and now. Ok, I hear you. You’re lying on your Tempurpedic mattress, eating a bowl of ice cream, with the Bachelorette on in the background, and I’m about to lose you to a scan of today’s Snapchat filters. Without further ado, here are my 5 reasons this is the greatest time to be alive:
Knowledge is Power
Access to Information: We have access to all the information we’ll ever need. Honestly, you’ve never been more empowered to make yourself great and never had more possibility to become that person. If you are willing to think differently and act differently, this world offers magical possibilities. Google whatever you want to know. Find amazing books and read them. You’ll have a tremendous leg up. Don’t like reading? Get them in audio form. Find online courses to learn any skill you’re passionate about. Coming this July, IHD will release 7 of our own online courses. If you want to learn coding, writing, nutrition, cooking, investing, how to re-do furniture, or anything else your heart desires, there are online courses and connections to mentors at your fingertips. With some dedication, almost any of these can become free-lancing opportunities to bring in some extra scratch, or maybe even a new career.
Even if you like the separation of hobby and money, this mass information network only enhances your hobbies. Love to hike? The Trails app will blow your mind and quickly connect you to amazing local trails. Love history? For less than $100, you can buy the world’s most prestigious professor’s courses; the same ones those college kids are spending thousands of dollars to resent. Interested in learning to play tennis, to swim, to train with kettlebells? You can quickly find and compare great coaching options. Feeling overwhelmed by all the options? There are experts to help you prioritize and get your house in order.
Tony Robbins has outlined the Six Human Needs. Of these, the most often neglected are that of growth and contribution. If we would all commit to the passionate pursuit of growth, we’d be amazed at the opportunities our amazing world provides! Unfortunately, most allow the information overload to pull them away from growth. It can also lead to echo chambers of confirmation bias and incessant distraction that pulls us away from production. Seeking growth feeds our spirit and makes us capable of contributing. Constant consumption conspires to convince us that the good life is one of seated entertainment and gossip overload. They are both available to us, but only one path leads to a fulfilled life.
The Age of the Miracle Cure
2. Modern Medicine: More than likely, the fact that you are here is miraculous. A startling number of events, many only possible because modern medicine, came together to allow you to exist. Sure, that girl with the hacky sack outside Whole Foods has crafted a convincing argument about why vaccines are the devil. But in reality, you wouldn’t exist without them.
Today, we have people with H.I.V. living long, full lives, an increasing cancer survival rate, prosthetic legs, and seemingly constant progress in the fight to cure diseases and improve living standards.
Sure, there are flaws and consequences. Our healthcare costs are outrageous, “big pharma” is often as evil as it is essential, far too many use medical progress as an excuse to abuse their bodies, and we’ve developed a cultural tendency to seek only treatments while feeling no responsibility to remedy the causes. Yet still, we should all thank our lucky stars for modern medicine.
My Instant Gratification is Taking Too Long
3. Instantaneous Hunting & Gathering: I forgot my brother’s birthday is tomorrow. Amazon Prime! Right to his doorstep. I want a fairly nice, cheap bike. Boom- Craigslist. “Neely, I want to hear Dave Matthews’ Live at Busch Stadium rendition of Two Step.” Done, thank you Spotify. Grocery shopping? That’s so 2016. Curbside pick-up!
As with all developments, there are costs that we should account for and actively remedy. The ability to delay gratification may be the most important indicator of long-term success and fulfillment. Furthermore, the expectation of instant gratification is a sure route towards entitlement and dissatisfaction. There are costs to living in a world where the barriers and time it takes to get what you want increasingly diminish. You can get everything you need to survive while hardly moving or interacting with the world.
Having said that, life is made up of time and we all feel ever-increasing demands on our time. These developments can greatly enhance your life, given that you have purposeful, challenging projects, a wide array of people to interact with, and ample physical activity. If you food prep and have active hobbies (which is easier to arrange than you’d think) you will create more freedom and flexibility to engage in enriching activity and spend time with the people you love most.
Check it Out Where the Grass is Greener
4. Home sharing services: A 20-year Cornell study concluded that to be happier you should spend your money on experiences, not things. This is becoming far more affordable and enjoyable through services like VRBO, Airbnb, and many other home-sharing services. Rather than being surrounded by tourists, you can immerse yourself into life at whatever destination you choose. Recently, my wife and I took a spontaneous 3-day winter getaway to a cabin the Texas Hill-Country (VRBO), a cozy Amarillo cottage (Airbnb) that we used as a jump point for Palo-Duron Canyon, a Pueblo in Santa Fe (Airbnb), and (our favorite place in the world) an amazing farm on Kauai (VRBO). Each came with more amenities than we could have expected- from lawn chairs and beach equipment to grills, local history books, hammocks, and amazing suggestions for adventures. We save money shopping and eating as we would at home and have all the tools and guidance of a local. If you haven’t yet, it’s time for you to test out these services.
You Can Say Anything, Except That... and That
5. Freedom of Speech: It is essential that we remember freedom of speech is still the most vital and wonderful element of living in modern Western society. You can call the president a chauvinist, snake oil dealer and live to do it again. You can question any religion, code, or creed, attack big pharma, big tobacco, or big oil, rally to support higher minimum wage or the legalization of marijuana, or even claim that cats are better pets than dogs (who are these monsters?). Neo-Nazis can march in the street, the Westboro Baptist Church can picket soldier’s funerals, and college professors can clamor for safe spaces. This is as it should be!
Free speech opens the door for progress. The marketplace of ideas mixed with basic logical training is what allows good opinions to rise to the top; it’s what has allowed our nation to overcome prejudices of past times to take previously insane ideas, like women’s suffrage, and make them obvious, irremovable standards.
For all their faults, our founders got this one right. They may have owned slaves and denied women the right to vote, but they left the door open to remedy these injustices by demanding Freedom of Speech as the very first amendment in the Bill of Rights. In their eyes hearing offensive opinions and engaging in dialogue with other citizens, however dimwitted, is a vital part of liberty. This is not to say that we should needlessly hurt feelings, but it is your responsibility as an adult to develop the emotional wherewithal to deal with unsettling speech. To claim that you are such a feeble creature that you cannot bear to hear certain opinions is an admission of incomprehensible cowardice and immaturity.
“If someone succeeds in provoking you, realize your mind is complicit in the provocation.”
What we don’t have is a right to not be offended. We have no right to be shielded from uncomfortable opinions, or to limit the scope of acceptable thought. When you live life you run the risk of getting hurt and being hurt. How you respond to ideas is your problem. Being an adult means having the resilience to take responsibility for your response and not just hear, but explore unsettling ideas.
When we limit acceptable speech, we preclude any possibility of dialogue and striving for truth. Critical thinking skills are lost to a new form of McCarthyism that prioritizes short term comfort over the infinitely more fruitful desire to seek truth, understand multiple perspectives, and work for tough, nuanced solutions. Is hierarchy evil, or an inevitable development of any meritocracy? Could you at once accept that many women have been terrified to speak about terrible injustices at the hands of men in power, while also firmly believing that America has a crisis of poorly raised men? Could you care about women while also believing a growing number of men have no idea how to be men and our current culture has manifested in an academic achievement gap? There are long-term costs to painting all opposing views as bigotry, while never engaging the very real foundations of these beliefs. Simple narratives never approach truth, but they are the norm of our environment. This serves only to preclude any possibility of growth while driving the masses to increasingly extreme corners.
Our culture is becoming the 25-year-old on his mother’s couch. He needs to hear the truth: it’s time to quit feeling sorry for yourself because you aren’t making six figures right out of college. Listen dude, you are an overgrown child. Wake up and make something of yourself! For your own good, I want you moved out within the month.
Instead, Mom cleans up after the slob, pays for an expensive camera so he can be a “YouTuber,” and brings him pizza rolls when he’s hungry.
“The truth will set you free, but first it’s going to piss you off.”
Currently, we have the right to freedom of speech, but we’re developing a social climate where people are not empowered to have honest conversations that strive for truth. In this inauthentic climate of carefully curated social media image, we’re dealing with the consequences of mass posturing. Today, our speech is at greater risk than it has been in some time. The university climate has ardently promoted the policing of language and ideas to the extent that dialogue and the mutual pursuit of truth are hardly possible. Popular culture has quickly followed suit limiting acceptable speech, by calling out any who’d not dogmatically accept the simple narratives of identity politics. These trends only serve to promote the extremes and make it possible for reality TV hosts to be president.
Instead, we should strive to understand the personal experiences that shape peoples’ biases so that we can work from a place of respect rather than hostility. While there are injustices to right, the highest directive of any great society is critical thinking, emotional intelligence, dialogue, and the mutual pursuit of truth. These values, combined with freedom of speech, create a climate where any problem can be solved. If history has shown us anything, when dogma reigns over the pursuit of truth, injustice and insanity quickly follow.
If we are intentional about creating our lives, this is truly the most magical time one could ever hope to live. But there is a caveat. When we don’t understand the expectations and natural inclinations of our bio-evolution (as a human animal transported to a bizarre world our biology could not have evolved for), when we don’t honor our humanity and chase authenticity, then this becomes the least fulfilled, least happy time in human history.