(Today's post is a guest post by longtime reader Matty P. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines. We look forward to publishing reader posts on future Thursdays.)
We stepped cautiously through the door at the behest of an Orange County Sheriff. Our patient, a fifteen year-old girl who took a razor blade to her wrists, walked down the stairs to our gurney with pressure dressings on her forearms, teary-eyed. We wheeled her out of the multimillion dollar home on the gurney, past the BMW her father bought her for her upcoming sweet sixteen birthday party, and loaded her into the ambulance so she could be evaluated for her wounds and depression.
I struggled to understand this phenomenon for a long time, wondering about kids or adults who have more than we even aspire to have are depressed and attempt to kill themselves. EMT’s working for minimum wage, I’ve noticed, find it particularly difficult to grasp. “Like their life was so hard,” we would say bitterly.
Why is it that America has little more than five percent of the population controlling more than thirty percent of household wealth, but has a higher rate of depression than any other country? The most reasonable hypothesis would seem to confirm the adage that money cannot buy happiness. In fact, is seems money only buys discord.
Abraham Maslow suggested human beings have a hierarchy of needs. At the most basic are the biological: food, water, air, etc. Following in that pyramid are needs of security, belonging, self-esteem, and finally self-actualization. When one level is attained, a human being struggles with ensuring the next. For example; a person is unlikely to worry about finding a permanent shelter if that person cannot guarantee a steady supply of nourishment. In the case of my patient, once food and safety are ensured, she struggled to fulfill higher level and more abstract needs such as belonging and self-esteem.
Maslow’s theory has evolved and my explanation is of course overly simplified. But the core concept remains the same: humans long to fill needs in accordance with what they have and what they do not. Happiness is then a counter cultural abstraction of faith and value, rather than the ownership and property. Complexity of thought rather than of trappings and lifestyle.
My patient’s life was full of everything money could buy, yet it wasn’t enough. Entanglement in the material, investing in our culture of more and better and faster as the means of happiness only revealed her wanting; her own solitude and disconnection. As for me, though at the time I lacked an understanding with what made her attempt to kill herself, I was happy with something simple. I was just happy that she didn’t succeed.