As you might expect, the Oxford definition of self-indulgent is “characterized by doing or tending to do exactly what one wants, especially when this involves pleasure or idleness”. The not so politically correct Cambridge dictionary states it a little more plainly “allowing yourself to have or do anything that you enjoy”.
It is this second definition that I wish to discuss for a few minutes… particularly the phrase “allowing yourself to do anything that you enjoy.”
Now I am sure you think you know where this heading, but you would be wrong. I am not going to talk about the typical indulgent vices such as chocolate and shopping. I am not even going to discuss drugs or alcohol. What I want to discuss today are depression and negativity.
“Wo-ha! Depression is a medical condition not a self-indulgence,” you protest.
Let’s think about this for a minute.
While I am not a doctor and I have no doubt that the medical profession is correct in that, left un-checked depression becomes a complex illness that is difficult to treat; I dispute the idea that it is initially anything but an indulgence that turns into an addition.
Think about the onset of depression. No one gets out of bed on a sunny day in the midst of happy life and says to themselves, I think I’ll be depressed today. Far from it – a body in motion tends to stay in motion and balanced happy people tend to stay happy. … At least until something bad happens.
It all starts with a blow – some sort of unwanted, unwelcome, unexpected tragic news or event. One moment we are happy and then suddenly we are not.
What happens next determines a lot.
You can choose to get back on your happy horse and gradually let the sunshine back in, or (ready for it?) you can indulge yourself by wallowing in the grey muddy sadness of your circumstances. And ironically, the more you wallow … the more you want to wallow.
People who are depressed, don’t have trouble getting over stuff – they have trouble deciding to get over stuff. This is a subtle but huge distinction.
Believe it or not, as miserable as they are, there is a tradeoff for all that misery – they get to be irresponsible and in a weird way they subconsciously enjoy this. They stop expecting very much of themselves, and sooner or later so do the other people in their lives. Their non-contribution almost becomes accepted and they get out of doing all sorts of things that are expected of the rest of us – working, child rearing, cleaning the house, even being civil.
The temptation to wallow is particularly challenging after the loss of a loved one, because the good and the bad memories are all stuck together in one tangled ball and sometimes you cannot separate your thoughts enough to recall a happy thought without ending up in tears.
That is normal in the beginning, but you still have to be disciplined. When you start getting depressed you literally have to tell yourself – “Stop, you are being self-indulgent”. Then consciously decide ti think of absolutely anything else that is more positive.
In time you will realize that it really is ok to let go of some of the bad stuff, but until you figure out how to do that; start collecting happy thoughts in a shoebox. This can be a mental list in your mind or physical collection, it doesn’t matter. The point is, if you catch yourself starting to wallow, lift the lid on your shoebox and indulge yourself by playing there instead.