06 Feb There are some great lessons to be learned from these famous, historical figures about overcoming depression
Although we talk a lot about happiness here at The Happiness Institute we're well aware that life for many (including us) also includes unhappiness…depression, anxiety, stress and more.
In fact I've often said that enjoying real and meaningful happiness involves managing and learning from the negative AS WELL AS maximising and promoting the positive.
With that in mind, and firmly focusing on living better and happier lives DESPITE the experience of depression, I share with you today a fascinating article focusing on 7 famous people from history who wrestled with depression but still found ways to enjoy happiness…
By Bruse Levine via Salon
What did Abraham Lincoln, Georgia O’Keeffe, William James, Sigmund Freud, William Tecumseh Sherman, Franz Kafka, and the Buddha have in common? According to their biographers, all suffered from depression. And they utilized antidotes—some of them forgotten in the modern age— that helped them overcome and transform their depression without doctors.
1. Abraham Lincoln (1809 -1865)
In Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness, biographer Joshua Wolf Shenk reports that Lincoln experienced two major depressive breakdowns at age 26 and age 31, which included suicidal statements that frightened friends enough to form a suicide watch. When he was 32, Lincoln wrote, “I am now the most miserable man living.” Lincoln’s longtime law partner William Herndon observed about Lincoln, “Gloom and sadness were his predominant state,” and “His melancholy dripped from him as he walked.” And another Lincoln friend reported, “Lincoln told me he felt like committing suicide often.”
Lincoln’s Antidotes: Abraham Lincoln, along with other famous sufferers of depression such as Winston Churchill and Mark Twain, used humor as an antidote to depression. To boost his spirits, Lincoln told jokes and funny stories. Lincoln said, “If it were not for these stories—jokes—jests I should die; they give vent—are the vents of my moods and gloom.” Shenk concludes that “Humor gave Lincoln protection from his mental storms. It distracted him and gave him relief and pleasure . . . Humor also gave Lincoln a way to connect with people.” In addition to humor, Shenk discovered that Lincoln utilized other major depression antidotes, including his love of poetry and a strong belief that his life had an important purpose.
2. Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986)
Artist Georgia O’Keeffe suffered significant periods of depression during her life, according to biographers Roxana Robinson (Georgia O’Keeffe: A Life) and Hunter Drohojowska-Philp (Full Bloom: The Art and Life of Georgia O’Keeffe). At age 46, O’Keeffe was admitted to Doctors Hospital in New York City following symptoms of anxiety and depression that included weeping spells and not eating and not sleeping. At the time, her breakdown was attributed to the stress of not completing a Radio City Music Hall mural, but her biographers now conclude that O’Keeffe was caught between fear of public failure and her rebellion against her control-freak husband, the renowned photographer Alfred Stieglitz, 23 years older than O’Keeffe and who had an affair with a woman almost two decades younger than O’Keeffe.
O’Keeffe’s Antidotes: O’Keeffe’s biographers do not report any great positive transformations due to her hospitalization. Instead, an essential part of her recovery was travel, first to Bermuda and then Lake George in New York where she ate and slept well. Later, she would also enjoy herself in Maine and Hawaii. O’Keeffe renewed her regular summer trips to New Mexico, and biographer Roxana Robinson concluded, “Warmth, languor and solitude were just what Georgia needed.” In addition to travel, another antidote for O’Keeffe was her relationship with the poet and novelist Jean Toomer. Ultimately, O’Keeffe relocated and redefined herself in New Mexico, and her art was her best long-term antidote.
3. William James (1842-1910)
One of America’s greatest psychologists and philosophers, James suffered periods of depression during which he contemplated suicide for months on end. John McDermott, editor of The Writings of William James, reports that “James spent a good part of life rationalizing his decision not to commit suicide.” In The Thought and Character of William James, Ralph Barton Perry’s classic biography on his teacher, in the chapter “Depression and Recovery,” we learn that at age 27, James went through a period that Perry describes as an “ebbing of the will to live . . . a personal crisis that could only be relieved by philosophical insight.”
James’ Antidotes: James’s transformative insight about his personal depression also contributed to his philosophical writings about his philosophy of pragmatism, as James came quite pragmatically to “believe in belief.” He continued to maintain that one cannot choose to believe in whatever one wants (one cannot choose to believe that 2 + 2 = 5 for example); however, he concluded that there is a range of human experience in which one can choose beliefs. He came to understand that, “Faith in a fact can help create the fact.” So, for example, a belief that one has a significant contribution to make to the world can keep one from committing suicide during a period of deep despair, and remaining alive makes it possible to in fact make a significant contribution. James ultimately let go of his dallying with suicide, remained a tough-minded thinker but also came to “believe in my individual reality and creative power” and developed faith that “Life shall be built in doing and suffering and creating.”
…keep reading the full article, which includes reference to Freud and Kafka – HERE