Learning > Inspiration

Laughing through minor - and major - trials of life

Lower expectations of yourself and the world to avoid depression

Gary Hayden on 15 Aug 2017

The Straits Times


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During breakfast yesterday, my wife read me some advice from an article in The Guardian newspaper about avoiding depression.


"Don't try so hard, lower expectations a little, stop judging yourself, change your relationship with your thoughts. Take proper holidays, nurture your friendships, try not to worry so much about things beyond your control."


The July 3 article was titled Drugs Alone Won't Cure The Epidemic Of Depression. We Need Strategy.


What good advice, I thought, not only for those prone to depression but also for anyone who wishes to cope more calmly and cheerfully with the challenges of life.


I was struck by the first three suggestions, which I mulled over and modified into a two-fold mantra to suit my own purposes:


•Don't try too hard


•Don't expect too much of yourself or the world




A lot of unhappiness, I believe, stems from an unhealthy fixation on failures and misfortunes.


Some people fret and fuss over every little thing that goes wrong in their lives, careers and relationships.


And when big things go wrong, they rage against themselves and the world, oblivious to the fact that big things can, and do, go wrong in every life.


This is a recipe for heartache and disappointment.


As the late British philosopher Bertrand Russell observed in his book The Conquest Of Happiness: "Even in the pursuit of really important objects, it is unwise to become so deeply involved emotionally that the thought of… failure becomes a constant menace to peace of mind."


Far better to lower our expectations of ourselves and the world, and to accept the rough with the smooth.




With these thoughts floating around in my mind, I was delighted to stumble across the following passage during my bedtime reading. It is taken from the introduction to The Collected Songs Of Cold Mountain, a book of poems by the 9th-century Chinese poet Hanshan, translated into English by Red Pine.


"I am soon to become an emperor - ha-ha-ha-ha! I am destined to be a lousy beggar - ha-ha-ha-ha! It's all a game. Any part will suit me fine.


"I'm bursting with energy, so I'll jog or climb Mount Hua. I'm too ill to move, so I'll enjoy my warm bed and meditate.


"My wife loves me; 'O what joys behind the hibiscus curtains!' My wife has left me; how peaceful it is now.


"You are a funny creature; so am I - ha-ha! Who isn't?"


These humorous and inspiring words are intended to express the attitude that a Taoist sage from bygone days might take to the vicissitudes of life.


Of course, few, if any of us, will ever achieve that level of sageness. Perhaps few of us would want to. Even so, we might usefully profit from adopting a little of that attitude.


It is always sensible to keep a sense of perspective and a sense of humour about the minor trials of life. And, sometimes, it is necessary to maintain a sense of perspective and a sense of humour, even about life's major trials.


As Hanshan himself observed in one of his poems: "Ha ha ha. If I show joy and ease my troubled mind, Worldly troubles into joy transform. What guest and host can bear a lack of joy? Both high and low, in joy, lose their woe before long. Ha ha ha."


The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.


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