I’ve struggled with low-grade depression for about as long as I remember. It always hits its peak around this time of year, and starts to recede by March or April. Sometimes when I’m in the grips of depression, I have thoughts along the lines of, “maybe the world would be better off if I weren’t around any more.” Never to the point where I would actually do anything about it, but there is that point of despair where life doesn’t really seem worth living, and I seem to hit it once or twice a year. Fortunately, I’ve gotten better and better at managing my mental state over the years. So here’s what I’ve started telling myself when I’m in one of those moods.
First, I look at the consequences of me taking my life. In that case, a bunch of people would probably be sad for at least a little while, so that would probably result in a net negative effect. And, assuming that I the work I do has some positive impact on peoples’ lives (and I have pretty much no doubt of that), then there would be some loss of value if I made a grand exit. So, I can definitively say that I would not make the world a better place by leaving it right now.
Then, I start to do some cost-benefit analyses relative to that point. Let’s assume that I keep on living for the rest of my natural lifespan, and resolve to do absolutely nothing, other than making the minimal amount of income required to sustain myself while doing absolute nothing. This seems like it would have at the very least a net neutral impact, and would definitely be better than killing myself. But that’s pretty much just the base scenario.
Now, let’s assume that I continue to be as miserable as I am when in the grips of depression, but dedicate the rest of my life to serving others. Then, even if I’m unhappy, at least everyone ends up better off (even me). That seems like a better overall outcome than either of the others. And, when I think about that, I realize how lucky I am, and how much I have. And, once I run myself through that exercise, it's hard to keep repeating the same old negative thoughts. And, if I do find myself still running negative though patterns, I just run through the same exercise a few more times, and that inevitably works.