Thursday, December 16, 2004

Necessary illusions

On the other hand, a measure of illusory thinking may be necessary for our wellbeing. In comparisons between "normal" and depressed people, research revealed an interesting tendency towards depressive realism in depressed people - sometimes also referred to as the "sadder-but-wiser" effect.

The comparisons are fascinating - whereas normal people overestimate how well liked and how competent they are, depressed people do not; normal people recall past activities in a positive glow, whereas depressed people tend to remember successes and failures equally; depressed people often accept responsibility for both successes and failures - normal people deny responsibility for failures; depressed poeple are not prone to an illusion of control, but normal people believe they have more control than they do.

In explaining these tendencies, the basis happens to be a negative explanatory style. More specifically, failures are explained by a depressed person as the result of states or events that are (a) stable ("it will never change"), (b) global ("nobody loves me, everybody hates me"), and/or (c) internal ("i am to blame"). The result? A sense of hopelessness, even despair.

So it appears that when things are tough and you're feeling down, it's kinda beneficial to believe that good things are on the way, that someone is looking out for you, that the world is your oyster, and the sky is the limit ...

So does it take more courage to look a sad thing in the eye, and see it for what it is - or see it for what it is, and still determine to be happy in spite of it? You decide.


Kat said...

But objectively speaking doesn't it look as though the better-adjusted person is your depressive? Does a state of stable, general happiness sedate us beyond the realm of full cognizance? Because to me that seems both scary and worthy of being depressed over. I mean, don't get me wrong, our Scorceses and Spielbergs accomplish no mean feat, but this endless internal editing sounds more to be feared than revered. Imagining myself blameless -- movie star grin, triumphant soundtrack and all that -- seems like an invitation to make the same kind of mistakes I'd just edit out all over again.

A non-stop psychological propaganda factory in peak luftwaffe season.

Maybe I'm just thinking this because I like to glorify my bouts o' depression. If it were lighter outside or my computer suddenly transformed into a crackling hearth (and my mouse into hot chocolate with a peppermint stirrer, natch), I'd probably agree that selective memory is the ally of optimism and, by extension, that terrifying blanket word 'happiness'. Or maybe the study really is terrifying because it proves that depression isn't so bad...

Mm, either way, keep writing because your selfish readers need something to take their minds off their trivial little lives. (Haha, and by third personal plural I mean first person singular... ;-) )

thundercomb said...

Feeling depressed is by itself not the same as a clinical depression. It is normal to be gloomy after, say, some failure - and to brood a while. Brooding may provide insights that help next time around. Perfectly adaptive.

Make no mistake though that during clinical depression normal, healthy functioning - including creativity - is for most people impaired.

But to answer your question - I am not sure. I suspect that mood is involved here, which is not obvious from the depressive realism statements themselves. The wisdom gleaned from a previous mistake is not the same as responding in the original frame of mind (including the mood). And that is maybe the difference. The newly adaptive person has again gone on beyond, tackling the next challenge - the maladaptive is still stuck there where it's gloomy. From that point of view, being
realistic does not exclude being optimistic (a more realistic optimism perhaps). Which again is a different thing from blind bravado in re-encountering the former situation - then acting in the same old
maladaptive way.

If that sounded like a bit of semantic acrobatics - you may be right! ;-)

And here is my topic-related offering from old Mr. Cohen - who himself used to complain of depressive states (but now not - and he seems to me in his advancing age beautifully wise yet alive, not just wise):

"I lift my glass to the awful truth
Which you can't reveal to the ears of youth
Except to say it isn't worth a dime"

(from Closing Time)