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The Happy Depressive: In Pursuit of Personal…

The Happy Depressive: In Pursuit of Personal and Political Happiness

by Alastair Campbell

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When Alastair Campbell was asked to give the annual Thomas Baggs Memorial Lecture on happiness, his family and friends laughed in incredulity as Campbell suffers from depression and is widely known to be rather grumpy and glum. In this book, Campbell outlines what he has discovered about being happy and what the pursuit of the same entails (it's a "long game"). The book is short, but it contains a lot in the way of ponderable thoughts and ideas. It's not (or shouldn't be) surprising that it seems as if material wealth is not the way to make people feel content, but rather a close connection with family and friends and a sense of professional achievement. More interesting is that giving (to friends and family or charitable) is one of the most important aspects in creating feelings of happiness. His past in politics also makes Campbell discuss how government could and should concentrate on creating policies that enhance its people's sense of well-being, physical as well as mental. As someone who suffers from mental illness himself (depression), Campbell is very active in raising awareness and working on removing the stigma and discrimination that is commonly associated with mental illnesses. Whatever you think about Campbell's politics, I don't think it's possible not to come away from this read without a high respect for the man and his ideas. ( )
1 vote -Eva- | Dec 27, 2015 |
(Bought 13 January 2012 – Kindle)

“I hope that by the time I die I will have played a part in ending the stigma and taboo surrounding mental illness”. Alastair Campbell, I think you’ve played that part already, and this book will help you do more to achieve this goal.

I bought this book on a whim, because a friend Tweeted that she’d bought it (internet marketers, take note: it wasn’t even a review. It was a note that she’d bought it). And I’m glad I did. Loosely based on Campbell’s Happiness Lecture at Birmingham University (my alma mater and ex-employer, but no, I didn’t manage to get to the lecture), this extended essay is a very honest and personal discussion of what it’s like to be depressed: what it’s actually like, in detail. It’s also a musing on what “happiness” is and whether a depressed person is every truly happy, and a discussion of the things that help Campbell, and might help other people. He’s careful to avoid preaching and telling people what to do, but the concrete examples about how altruism, exercise and the application of his mind to new things help him will surely bring comfort to people who aren’t so used to managing their depression. I’d forgotten he’s a runner, but that made sense – running certainly keeps me sane, and not just because I’ve got a busy lifestyle. And there’s much more to identify with, personally – I’m glad I’m not the only person to sob my way through Olympic or other major sporting events, for a start!

But it’s not all personal stuff: the political features heavily, too – but that shouldn’t put people off, as it’s the author’s main arena, or was for many years, and he has much to say that’s of real and practical interest. I was pleased to find an actual explanation of the Bhutan Gross National Happiness idea rather than the usual glib reference to it – spelled out and explained, it makes a lot of sense with its discussions around sustainability and support. There’s a fair treatment of Cameron’s aim to improve happiness in the UK population, and a notable discussion of the way newspapers have become more and more negative, feeding, to some extent, a culture of miserable envy.

Brave, intelligent, moving – often funny – well-written … the only fault of this book is that it’s not long enough! I’ve already recommended it to someone looking for resources on how to explain their depression.

This should be required reading for anyone who deals with the political, medical and social implications of depression and other mental health issues. Anyone who is or has been depressed (I’ll count myself in that band: this is about honesty, after all). Anyone who has a friend or family member going through depression. Oh: that would be everybody, then. ( )
1 vote LyzzyBee | Feb 2, 2012 |
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