The Cure for Depression? Have Fun!
By James Kent / h+ Magazine
Modern cosmetic pharmacology focuses so heavily on eliminating depression that it entirely misses one essential point: depressed people are suffering from a lack of fun.
Nobody ever describes depression as a "Fun Deficiency Syndrome," but lack of fun is clearly the root cause of all depression. It is impossible to be depressed when you are having fun, yet modern therapies for depression seek only to minimize depressive symptoms while doing nothing to maximize the daily intake of fun.
This backwards approach to treating fun deficiency syndrome — or FDS — is not only dangerously ineffective, it will be viewed by future generations as one of the greatest failures of medicine.
The Science of Fun
While depression has been studied under a microscope, science has barely scratched the surface on fun. The scientific study of fun is considered to be a frivolous exercise, and this assumption would be correct because fun is frivolous. The mistake made by science and academia is in underestimating the value of fun, treating fun as a non-serious diversion instead of a rational goal worthy of scientific examination.
This oversight is unfortunate because fun is arguably the greatest thing a human can have. Everyone likes to have fun... no, we love to have fun. When we are having fun we forget ourselves and become one with our actions in a moment of pure playful enjoyment. Having fun goes beyond being happy. Happiness implies a baseline level of contentment and good feelings but it does not include the amusement, exhilaration, laughter and joy associated with fun. If depression is the illness of our age, fun is the cure.
The Roots of Fun Deficiency Syndrome
The roots of FDS can be traced through human developmental stages. Most people have plenty of fun as children, but the onset of adolescence and high school creates a perfect storm of jaded anxiety that dampens the levels of fun easily found in childhood.
The onset of FDS in adolescence leads teenagers to naturally seek extremes of fun behavior to counteract their social anxiety. These extremes include partying, fighting, competitive sports and mating behaviors where risk is maximized to produce the most fun.
Most people do not consider this adolescent fun-seeking activity to be a neurologically-wired behavior to cope with developmental anxiety and depression, but it obviously is. This fun-seeking stage lasts well into early adulthood when chronic FDS becomes more problematic.
By middle age, most people are chronically low on fun and this is when depression becomes most acute. If lack of fun is constant and goes untreated it can lead directly to mid-life crisis and, eventually, grumpy-old-fart syndrome.
Fun can be scientifically reduced to two distinct variables: risk and reward. It is easy to understand why reward is fun, but risk is the key to maximizing the impact of reward to produce fun.
The most extreme examples of this dynamic can be found in compulsive behaviors that can become highly addictive, like sex and gambling. Sex and gambling are both fun and risky, and the higher the risk the more satisfying and more fun the reward.
Also, consider horror movies or amusement park rides where a constant level of fear and anxiety is sustained throughout the experience until the resolution brings a safe and satisfying reward. Fun is thus the science of using risk to build tension, and then strategically releasing that tension with a pleasurable reward to maximize enjoyment. Fun is therapeutic because it reduces anxiety and produces neurochemicals that combat depression. Fun is one of nature’s best and most powerful medicines. If you could put fun in a pill it would almost certainly be illegal.
The Pharmacology of Fun
The major pharmacological variables of the risk/reward fun dynamic are adrenaline and dopamine, the key catecholamines produced in response to stress. By now we should all be familiar with the manic exhilaration of an adrenaline rush and the self-satisfied clarity of a dopamine high.
Of all the drugs in the world, amphetamines may be the best at stimulating this specific chemical cocktail. It is no mystery why amphetamines lead to risky behaviors. Risky behaviors are even more rewarding under the influence of amphetamines and thus more fun. One side of the dopamine cycle leads the subject to seek out new and fun activities; the other side stimulates the satisfying feeling of reward in response to new experiences.
Increasing the levels of risk in these fun-seeking behaviors increases the adrenaline rush and thus increases the sensual intensity of the reward and emotional impact of the resulting memory. The experience of intense fun is therefore more than a trivial diversion: it is a pivotal psychological landmark in the lifetime of an individual which can create long-term changes in selfimage, mood, and behavior.
If we follow a simple clinical spectrum for FDS, it can be assumed that the longer individuals go without fun, the more depressed they will become. Chronic lack of fun over time will always result in low self-esteem and the inability to enjoy activities that were once fun when they were new but have now become mundane.
People suffering from chronic FDS will claim to lack the time or motivation to seek out new activities, and at the extreme end of the disorder, subjects will claim that seeking fun is a complete waste of time. This is a chronic lack of dopamine talking, and the only cure for people with FDS is to force them to go out and have fun.
Unfortunately subjects with undiagnosed FDS may actually think they don’t deserve to have fun, and that they don’t even deserve to have friends, so snapping someone with chronic FDS out of their cycle is not always easy. In extreme cases the only solution may be dancing, a surprise party, or a spontaneous and poorly-planned road trip. Bring beer.
People are the final component in fun... other people. Fun is always more fun when it is shared with other people. This is why partying is an essential human behavior for regulating feelings of self-esteem and social worth. Having fun with other humans in a social setting stimulates serotonin and oxcytocin, two neurochemicals essential to feelings of security and being loved. So if you’re feeling depressed and nothing seems to be working, the only solution is to call some friends and go out and have some fun. It is clinically proven to make you feel better.
James Kent is the former publisher of Psychedelic Illuminations and Trip Magazine. He currently edits DoseNation.com, a drug blog featuring news, humor and commentary.