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FireMadeFlesh's avatar

Why do many successful people suicide, while none seem to be happier than a malnourished Somali child with AIDS?

Asked by FireMadeFlesh (16543points) May 29th, 2009

I think it is a failure of our culture that depression rates in developed countries are far above those of countries where the people really have a reason to be depressed. What is wrong with our society? What is it that makes someone truly happy?

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28 Answers

skfinkel's avatar

Last night I saw a guy on public TV saying we suffer from a desperate need of certain vitamins and healthy organic food—and our guts are telling our brains how miserable we all are. It kind of made sense. No real actual studies or statistics or anything, but lots of stories of his now happy patients.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

“True happiness” is not universal. It depends entirely on the individuals. Many people tend to believe that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. They think they know what will make them happy – until they have it and it doesn’t.

shrubbery's avatar

I think that it is just a function of our culture that we expect too much. We are consumer whores. They have been brought up to be happy with the little things, and don’t expect anything else. If you never expect anything, you will never be disappointed. They are happy that they have a family and a community and any kind of food, even if it does not seem much to us.

Likeradar's avatar

How many malnourished Somali children with AIDS do you think would agree that they are very happy?

DrasticDreamer's avatar

@Likeradar Yeah, that’s what I was thinking.

nikipedia's avatar

I’m pretty sure the whole point of depression is that it’s a disease in which something is wrong with your brain—it’s not sadness because something is wrong with your life.

MacBean's avatar

[deletes answer] Yeah. What @nikipedia said.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@Likeradar From my own observation on my trip in India, the poorest people were constantly happy. Even beggars who had acid burns and scars from whips.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@nikipedia I should have specified, in this question I mean depression as an emotion as opposed to clinical depression.

nikipedia's avatar

Gotcha. Thanks for the clarification.

I’ve read some papers (like this one) that suggest that happiness is relative. So if you’re rich, but all your friends are richer, you might be less happy than a Somalian child with AIDS whose friends all have AIDS and malaria.

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

What culture are you talking about?
I’m an American and my view is this: it’s probably a comparison thing. Your example of poor Somali children not acting out in suicides may have to do with they don’t know a whole lot more in their lives than what they’ve got. Adults who experience great fluctuations in social standing or standards of living are more prone to suicide, look at the increase because of the current American economy- whole families killed because of no more house, car or kids’ college funds.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@nikipedia A good point, thanks.

@hungryhungryhortence Also a good point, thank you. If it is a matter of vision, then do you think it is better to have a vision or not? If it were a choice between the two (not saying it must be), would you rather be successful or happy?

rooeytoo's avatar

It seems to me that suicide is a sort of abstract theory unless someone you know does it, then it becomes more of a viable option.

Perhaps the Somali child does not realize suicide is a possibility.

I think hungry also made a very valid point above. Well said.

I try to remind myself often of a line from the book “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.” It says “Would you rather be right or happy?” I would rather be both and I would like to be successful and happy as well, and I don’t think that’s an impossibility.

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh: I don’t think it’s a matter of vision, I think it’s more a matter of experiences or at least exposure. Would I rather be happy or successful (success is subjective so I’m going by what it means to me), I’d rather be happy- I’m happier now than when I had a lot of the things I equate with success but I’m too tainted with ambitions to honestly say I feel “happy”, I haven’t figured out the balance for myself yet but I do know suicide is not a concern or an acceptable option for me.

YARNLADY's avatar

People with too much time on their hands, and with unrealistic expectations are the most likely to suicide.

casheroo's avatar

@YARNLADY Thats pretty judgemental.

YARNLADY's avatar

@casheroo I’m not talking about any specific person, but simply an overall generalization in answer to the question. There are indeed other explanations. Very few people who have to work in the fields or struggle for everyday needs have time to think about how sad their life is, and how they would be better off dead.

Jack79's avatar

Happiness and grief are all relative. A malnurished child with AIDS can find happiness in discovering a cockroach to play with, while a successful film star who just won an Oscar may get depressed because her best friend did not show up for the nomination. Or showed up and didn’t clap hard enough. It’s all relative.

dynamicduo's avatar

I’m going to share with you a concept that will very much enlighten this question.

It is the concept of the Hierarchy of Needs. The premise, proposed by a very interesting psychologist Abraham Maslow, is that humans need to fulfill a certain amount of needs before advancing to the next tier and fulfilling those.

The malnourished kid with AIDS is still working on fulfilling their most basic needs, the physiological rung. They are trying to secure food and shelter and water and not be diseased by flies and what else. When they do secure this, they will move on to fulfilling their next rung of needs, safety, then love and belonging, and so forth. Anyone born in such a place, namely parts of Africa, stands a high chance of starting at the bottom rung in life.

Somebody in a first world culture though, they start well into the middle of the pyramid. Their family structure provides the first and third, the government and society provides the second and various overlaps on the first. Thus a person can start immediately working on the fourth level, self esteem, respect, achievement, as well as the fifth level, being creative, solving problems, using logic, etc.

What does this have to do with suicide? I believe that thoughts of suicide, or thinking that can lead to thoughts of suicide, start occurring around the fourth and fifth levels. Simply put, one is too busy trying to survive (finding food, reproducing) to care about questions such as “Why am I here? What is my purpose? Will I ever be happy?”. But these thoughts are much more likely when you start out halfway up the pyramid.

Of course, it really is all relative. If Africa were to become a first world nation, their people would likely sometimes turn to suicide as they too start questioning their existence and purpose.

So I do not think it is a product of our culture at all, but a product in our nature of being huge brained creatures. We are built to think, and sometimes our thoughts can lead us down interesting or dangerous paths, especially if we are under some type of chemical disruption (such as depression, drugs).

YARNLADY's avatar

@dynamicduo yeah, what I said

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@dynamicduo Great answer. I had never considered it in the light of Maslow’s work before.

Clair's avatar

@dynamicduo i was just studying that and i would have never even thought of it. shame on me and awesome on you! so very true.
i agree with @dynamicduo. make note!

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

here’s my theory on it.

those that grow up with several opportunities, money, education, etc. are conditioned to hold such things in a very high regard in terms of importance or rather, to be thought of as essential for happiness. All these things, they’re easy to lose. you can lose the car you’ve had for years, your wife can leave you, your house can burn down, you can flunk out of school, all very very very easily. So when you put such a high importance on such fleeting and unstable establishments, you’re creating a very fragile support structure for the foundation that is existence. You put just as much of an importance on having money, a pretty S/O, a shiny car as you would the most basic essentials for survival.
People in extreme poverty, however, survive on literally the bare essentials. They’ve never had a car, many have never seen the inside of a four bedroom house. Growing up and living in the worst of conditions, unfortunately, is what they are accustomed to. Survival is their daily occupation. when you live with nothing, you don’t lose a whole lot, you don’t fail a whole lot.

Post comment: after rereading this I realize that I haven’t worded this comment very well as I am unable to find the proper words to describe my thoughts in their truest manner, so if there is any confusion I apologize.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@ABoyNamedBoobs03 Thank you, that seems to be the general consensus.

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

should probably read before interjecting next time huh? lol my effort is lagging today.

DarkScribe's avatar

They say that suicide is the ultimate form of self criticism. On that basis I suppose that many apparently successful people don’t see themselves that way. Many people might regard me as successful, but I don’t. I am very aware that if I really wanted to, I could do a lot better in a great many areas. I just don’t want to – I am happy the way I am – less than ultimately successful but very fortunate. I have all that I need and I lack the ambition to want more than I need. I guess that I am not a very good suicide prospect.

dynamicduo's avatar

@YARNLADY Uh, no, not what you said at all. Note the different number of words, for example. And supporting links.

YARNLADY's avatar

This ” Very few people who have to work in the fields or struggle for everyday needs have time to think about how sad their life is, and how they would be better off dead.” is essentially the same thing as Maslow’s concept. I love his work, by the way.

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