Dark Woods and Crumple Zones

A line in a Radio National interview (March 2011) with Jonathan Franzen made me catch my breath.

You know, you enter a dark wood at a certain point in your life and things start falling apart; your life is not what you expected it to be.

The line took me back to a post I wrote last October to coincide with R U OK? Day.

I had been thinking about both these posts and the emotions they stirred after learning about a paper by Jan-Emmanuel De Neve titled Functional Polymorphism (5-HTTLPR) in the Serotonin Transporter Gene is Associated with Subjective Well-Being: Evidence from a U.S. Nationally Representative Sample in the Journal of Human Genetics.

A press release from the London School of Economics about Jan-Emmanuel’s work notes:

A related paper prepared by Jan-Emmanuel De Neve and co-authors Nicholas Christakis (Harvard Medical School), James H. Fowler (University of California, San Diego), and Bruno Frey (University of Zurich) further develops this research and looks at the evidence produced from a study of twin pairs. This work shows that genetics explain about one-third of the variation in human happiness. This paper is currently available as a SSRN working paper at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1553633. A TED talk on the link between genetics and happiness delivered by Jan-Emmanuel De Neve on March 18th, 2011 is now available online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Po_YJZW7VJs

A retweet from our son, Sam, refocussed my attention too. Sam pointed to:

Ben Pobjie’s post is titled Crumple Zone. I read this paragraph and had to wait to read the rest of the post. It was too difficult to go into a dark wood on first reading:

To say depression has only just wrapped me in its loving embrace would be wrong. I’ve been falling into that pit off and on for most of the last 20 years. But it was this year that everything came to a head. It was this year that, as I spun my wheels frantically trying to deal with the release of two books, the writing of two regular columns, my first-ever comedy festival show, a full-time night job and the accompanying sleep deprivation, and providing for a wife and three children, I finally cracked open, and lost my ability to keep it together. Thankfully, this also meant I stopped pretending everything was OK. The meltdown came suddenly, frighteningly and with devastating force, but it was the meltdown I had to have.

and then get to this paragraph:

Because I know now the desperate flailing, the horrific suffocation that comes when those black waves come crashing over and you find yourself just about incapable of keeping your head up in the face of the merciless tides. But we’re all capable. We may have to lean on others from time to time, but we don’t have to fall. Tomorrow I may feel them crashing again, and become convinced that none of this is true, but now I have to affirm that it IS.

When I read Ben’s post on 12 May there were already 164 comments. Reading Ben’s post and the comments gave me the opportunity to realise how fortunate I am.

I do need to speak with Sam about this too. He is far away in Liptovsky in Slovakia ready to race in a canoe slalom event. I am very grateful that he drew my attention to Annabel and Ben.

I need to look at 5-HTTLPR too. The Telegraph quotes Jan-Emmanuel:

Of course, our well-being isn’t determined by this one gene – other genes and especially experience throughout the course of life will continue to explain the majority of variation in individual happiness.

But this finding helps to explain why we each have a unique baseline level of happiness and why some people tend to be naturally happier than others, and that’s in no small part due to our individual genetic make-up.

Photo Credit

Dark Woods

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