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A Modest Proposal to the Universal Dilemma of Human Melancholy
What is melancholy? What does it mean to experience melancholy? Is it just depression—or overwhelming sorrow? Or, to be more precise, is melancholy just insurmountable sadness and despair accompanied by feelings of hopelessness and the lack of belief in a promising future worth living for? Granted, the answer may vary somewhat from individual to individual, but one can safely and almost invariably say that melancholy in all its myriad forms almost always involves the sense of hopelessness and helplessness—the feeling of having no reason to live beyond the present and being impotent and powerless to do anything about it. Because human beings are endowed with a soul that transcends their physical bodies, they need more than any other creature in the animal kingdom a reason to justify their existence beyond that of the mere need for food, or for self-preservation. Unlike animals, which live forever in the here and now, humans need meaning and purpose to sustain them. When they lose their sense of meaning and purpose, is it no wonder then that they come to feel a strong sense of hopelessness? And because life is not simple, but a rather complex maze of extremes, like joy and sorrow, love and hate, and victory and defeat, with near-infinite degrees in between, they find themselves in numerous emotional encounters (more than they care to experience) with melancholy and all of its painful ramifications. Needless to say, for human beings melancholy can thus assume infinite forms. A cause for melancholy is different and varies from individual to individual. And what may be a source of melancholy for one person may be only a temporary setback for another, an obstacle to be overcome with the proper effort or resources. However, melancholy can be generalized into a handful of manifestations common to just about every normal human being. Every person will at some point in life face the upsetting events of existence, such as the loss or death of a loved one; a reversal of fortune; defeat; failure; the end of a relationship; rejection; impoverishment; a disadvantaged existence; an unhappy childhood; the infirmities of old age; war; disease; natural disasters; being the victim of a violent crime, atrocity, or abuse; wrongful humiliation, shame, or disgrace; undesired and chronic isolation from others; and, not to be overlooked, chronic bad luck. The above litany of potential causes for melancholy is by no means exhaustive, but should nevertheless give one a fair idea of the unwelcome and unexpected surprises that life can provide individuals with. Clearly, unless one lives in a bubble sheltered indiscriminately from both potentially good and bad encounters one can see that facing some melancholy in life is not a matter of if, but is just a matter of when. Thus, it becomes increasingly imperative that people realize that it is not so much what circumstances that life deals one with as it is how one chooses to respond to those undesirable circumstances. This conclusion sounds understandably cliché and existential—that we humans are creatures of choice and are therefore responsible for those choices and their consequences. On the contrary, such a dismissive assumption could not be farther from the truth, as one's desire to view one's life circumstances responsibly and constructively is practical and surprisingly empowering as well. Unfortunately, because no one ever guarantees anyone that life is fair, one has very few alternatives to pursue otherwise. But the up side is that choosing to respond to one's life challenges and hardships positively and constructively—rather than negatively and destructively—is practical and empowering; practical in that it helps one to realize that ultimately they and their destructive attitudes are the only real roadblocks to their solutions and to their successes; and empowering in that by changing their attitudes toward their difficulties in life they are released from a victim mentality which otherwise prevents them from seizing control and responsibility for their choices and actions; from being passive to being pro-active about life; and, ultimately, from inability or unwillingness to realize that it's their choices and their attitudes which really shape and determine their fate. So, taking charge and making choices based on a positive outlook cannot be over-emphasized. After the individual has been given all the necessary tools to cope with the problems of debilitating melancholy, he or she must take the final and most difficult step of shedding his or her negative and self-destructive self-talk and outlook for a fresher, healthier, and more accurate viewpoint on himself or herself and on his or her chances for a happier, completer, and more rewarding existence—one that he or she can come to classify as nothing short of an actual "life" which is capable of limitless promise, purpose, direction, meaning, and fulfillment.
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