Johann Hari is the author of Lost Connections, Uncovering the real causes of depression and the surprising solutions. In the book, he posits the theory that there are nine causes of depression and anxiety. Only two of them are biological and seven of them are to do with the way we live our lives. Loneliness. Lack of purpose. Disconnection from nature. These are just three of the causes of our poor mental health.
“If you’re depressed and anxious, you’re not crazy nor broken – you might just be a human being with unmet human needs,” says Hari in his TED talk.
However, we each have it in us to develop positive wellbeing.
Over many years, I’ve been delivering my Talk on Purpose course with both young people and adults. The course helps participants unearth and articulate their purpose and bring it to life through digging into their stories and sharing them with each other.
I’ve noticed that very soon after the course begins, there’s an energy shift. There’s an ‘aha’ moment of realisation that relieves the tension people feel between delivering to other people’s demands versus working on projects that tend to their innate human need for purpose and meaning.
There’s a sense that fulfilling one’s purpose is possible, even if it’s a small project they devote themselves to for just 20 minutes each morning or at lunchtime. People come to believe that purpose is a practice, like brushing their teeth. It’s something that can turn helplessness and inertia into hopefulness, action and and therefore a greater enthusiasm for life.
However, a sense of purpose alone does not provide the answer to wellbeing. Humans need a robust environment for their purpose to grow and thrive, one that is brought to life through the power of stories that connect, a supportive community who share the common purpose and a deep connection to the natural world.
Purpose + Story + Community + Nature = Wellbeing.
This year, I’ve adopted a project that fulfils each of the four elements through an immersive year-long Nature Based Leadership Training course. It’s being facilitated by Claire Dunn (author of Rewilding the Urban Soul) and Sieta Beckwith (Narrative Director at CERES Environmental Park). I’m fulfilling my purpose by learning through stories with a community of 25 kindred spirits in the natural world. The course is proving life-affirming and game-changing. It’s bringing joy and fulfilment to each day in ways I couldn’t have imagined.
Taking up a project that brings into play purpose, story, community and nature all at once, is a powerful solution to the problem of anxiety and depression caused by our unmet human needs. If your people are struggling with mental health issues, please reach out to explore The Four Elements of Wellbeing and its role in your school or workplace.