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What is melancholy? What does it mean to feel melancholy? Is it just depression, or overwhelming sorrow? Or, to be more precise, is melancholy overwhelming depression and sorrow accompanied by feelings of hopelessness, the lack of belief in a future filled with promise, a future worth living for? Granted, the answer may vary somewhat from individual to individual, but one can safely say, almost invariably, that melancholy —in its myriad forms—almost always involves the sense of hopelessness, the sense of no reason for living beyond the present.
Because we humans are endowed with a soul that transcends our physical bodies, we need more than any other creature in the animal kingdom a reason to justify our existence beyond that of the mere need for food, or for self-preservation. Unlike animals, which live forever in the here and now, we need meaning and purpose to sustain us. When we lose our sense of meaning and purpose, is it no wonder then that we 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, we find ourselves in numerous emotional encounters—more than we care to experience—with melancholy and all of its painful ramifications. Melancholy thus, needless to say, can 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. Everyone 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 list 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 us with. Clearly—unless one lives in a bubble, sheltered indiscriminately from both potentially good and bad—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 important what circumstances that life deals one with as it is how one chooses to respond to those undesirable circumstances. Understandably, this assertion sounds insensitively philosophical, like a case for existentialism, the explicit belief that humans are creatures of choice and are therefore responsible for those choices and their consequences. On the contrary, such a hasty assumption could not be further from the truth, as one’s desire to view one’s life circumstances constructively and responsibly is practical and surprisingly empowering in addition.
Regrettably—because no one ever guaranteed us that life is fair—we have very few alternatives to pursue otherwise. But the up side is that choosing to respond to one’s challenges and hardships positively and constructively—rather than negatively and destructively—is practical and empowering; practical in that it helps us to realize that only we and our destructive attitudes are the only real roadblocks to our solutions—and to our successes; and empowering in that by changing our attitudes toward our difficulties in life we are released from a “victim mentality”—which otherwise prevents us from seizing control and responsibility for our choices and our actions—from being passive to being proactive about life, and, ultimately, from inability or unwillingness to realize that our choices and our attitudes really shape and determine our fate. In the treacherous game of life, taking charge and making choices based on a positive outlook cannot be overemphasized. After the individual in question has been given all the necessary tools to cope with the problems of melancholy or debilitating depression, he or she must take the final and most difficult step of shedding his or her negative and self-destructive outlook for a fresher, healthier, and more accurate outlook on himself or herself and on his or her chances for a happier, completer, and more rewarding existence—an existence that he or she can come to classify as nothing short of "a life," one that is infinitely capable of promise and fulfillment instead of a mere life-time of meaninglessness and lack of purpose or direction.
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