“Our ancestors believed in two worlds, and understood this to be the solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short one. We are the first generations of man that actually expected to find happiness here on earth, and our search for it has caused such unhappiness.” Peggy Noonan, 186
It’s a strange paradox, this world–America and the rest of the West–we inhabit. We have advanced technology and medical care, round the clock entertainment we carry in our pockets, and more food than we can (or should) eat.
We drive air-conditioned cars on well-maintained roads. We drink clean water and have central heating and indoor plumbing. Most of us have little to fear from terrorism and war. We are comfortable.
And even if we are poor, there are programs to feed us, house us, and clothe us.
Yet we are unhappy.
And because we are so unhappy, more of us are deciding that life is not worth living. More of us are killing ourselves.
It’s a shock when someone takes their own life (even though usually there are signs). Afterward, you learn they crafted a plan and carried it out to the smallest detail. Or they had no plan at all. Some small thing happened that turned out to be a breaking point.
They were invisible or too visible–ignored or bullied.
American suicide rates are up in every age category. Between 1999 and 2014, the suicide rate for teen girls went up 58 percent. Rates for women of any age committing suicide have risen 45 percent. The largest rate increase occurred in middle aged men and women.
Some experts blame the economic crash of 2008 and a lack of mental health care. Other reasons include trauma, bullying, abuse, addiction, loneliness, and physical pain.
Economic conditions explain some of the increase. The increase in women committing suicide might parallel the numbers of women now financially responsible for supporting themselves and their families.
The rise in female suicide also relates to abortion. Abortion increases a woman’s risk of “mental problems” by a whopping 81 percent.
But then, the young people. They prove that it isn’t just a reaction to a bad economy. Rates of young people killing themselves outpace the rates of their young peers from the Great Depression. A time when poverty was much worse than it is today.
We are more materially comfortable than we have ever been. But we are lonely. We lack meaning and hope in our lives–even if we are young.
Society responds to the increase of self-murder with public service announcements, with websites designed to reassure the hopeless. Cheerleaders urge us toward hope but offer no true connection, the only medicine for our malady.
We connect to others via social media. But the connection is not intimate. We see smiles and joy. We see what others want us to see. A great gulf spans the emptiness between us.
This hopelessness comes at a time when some lobby for right to die laws. We don’t have to die alone and hopeless. We can die with the assistance of a ‘compassionate’ person who tells us we can choose to die. Who tells us to embrace our hopelessness. Who won’t tell us what we most need to hear.
“Life is worthwhile and you have much to offer.”
We’ve made a great many mistakes in our times. The first was forgetting that there are two worlds, and we live in the imperfect one.
The second one was putting our own happiness above all else–above others, above our unborn babies–and by doing so, we taught our born babies that they are at the center of their own universe.
We didn’t teach them that, in order to be happy, they have to try to make others happy.
If we can recapture our knowledge that we live in one world–but for the other–we can turn our suicide rate around. We can help people become content.
Because happiness isn’t found within. And for some, it won’t exist in this life. It comes when we look beyond ourselves and to that other, all-wonderful world.
“You know plain enough there’s somethin’ beyond this world; the doors stand wide open. There’s somethin’ of us that must still live on; we’ve got to join both worlds together an’ live in one but for the other. Sarah Orne Jewett.
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