by Dr Paul Dobransky
Erik Erikson is cited as espousing that one’s source of happiness comes from “the capacity to work, and the capacity to love.”
Now we have empirical evidence that relationship quality and job satisfaction have a significant impact on men’s happiness, as demonstrated by the Harry’s Masculinity Reports on men in the UK and US.
We also know that when relationship quality and job satisfaction go wrong, this can lead to poor mental health and even suicide, not to mention collateral damage to the lives of spouses, children, and communities. Three quarters of all suicides in the UK in 2016 were by males, a majority by hanging, and in the US in 2016, seven of ten suicides are by white males, a majority by gunshot wound, the highest rate being in middle age, at a cost of 69 Billion Dollars, annually.
While men are well known to avoid mental health treatment, they appear to be suffering to the degree that any rational person would desperately seek help, not shun it.
Rather than living in silence, men might take more notice if there were more inspirational stories available to them that spoke directly to their unique experiences and troubles. The data and theory on men’s depression might intersect on the stage of such dramas, especially those with themes of “work” and “love.”
One word is a good candidate to define a link between these two drivers of men’s happiness, and that word is, “passion.”
We relish our “passion for life.” Our sense of “survival,” or “being alive.”
This word also draws our minds to high-quality work that we strive for: our “life’s passion,” or our “passion project.” Many men consider the process of progressive achievement in their work efforts to be more representative of their actual, true “self,” their “identity,” than their physical body is. Men are their “life’s work,” or “body of work.”
Yet people also say that they feel passionate when referring to romance, love, sex – as in the feelings we have for a deeply desired other.
It is then, passion – what is life-affirming about satisfying work and fulfilling love relationships – which is part of the cure for the depression and melancholy that rob so many of the feeling of being fully alive.
An example of two parables that inform us on the lives of men and their sense of passion are Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) by Antoine de St Exupery, and a reinterpretation of the story of The Pearl of Great Price from the Christian Bible.
The Little Prince is a tale of both the horrors of war and the rescue of the human spirit from it, through love and friendship. It centers us on the symbol of the Rose, which throughout art and history has represented passionate romantic devotion. The lessons of love learned from the Little Prince’s struggle with “his rose” teach men timeless and useful principles of romance, and its pitfalls.
If there were one practical maxim in the parable of the rose in The Little Prince, it would be:
“Love the one you’re with.” – that we cannot truly love “roses,” plural, but only “our rose.” A focus on the one, special other in our lives, causes us to grow more mature and resilient through the lessons learned with one, long-time love.
In so doing, men make inroads in subduing their own narcissism, overcoming their jealousy and competition with others, and growing the character maturity to become both a generative but also, self-respecting partner.
However, “love is not enough,” to sustain our happiness.
The tale of “The Pearl of Great Price,” from the Christian Bible – can be interpreted for men seizing an opportunity of both great cost and great reward – but also taking a leap of faith in one’s self, willing to “bet it all” on a “life’s passion.”
The passage says:
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”
At the time this parable was written, a pearl was considered the “deal of a lifetime” to a merchant – a man with a challenging career for that time period, only for those who could stomach the risk.
A pearl is also symbolic of great value acquired through strenuous effort, or even suffering – much as the irritation of an oyster by a single grain of sand, over many years, produces the scar tissue that becomes a pearl.
The parable warns that those who do not believe in the kingdom of heaven enough to bet their whole future on it are unworthy of the kingdom. Likewise, men who do not recognize an opportunity knocking – unique to them and their life’s passion – or who simply can’t, or won’t act upon it, may suffer the melancholic bitterness of failure.
One “pearl of wisdom” we can pull from it is:
“Go for it!” – seizing a clear opportunity, the moment it arises, with all you have in you.
The same lesson was once written by John Anster in his translation of the philosopher, Goethe:
“Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it; for in boldness, there is genius, power, and magic.”
Such inspiration helps men take personal agency in the definitive cure of their own mood problems, through stories of independent thought and achievement.
What if “passion” – vitality in the male experience of life, is precisely what “masculinity” is?
Such Jungian analysts as Jean Shinoda Bolen have written of “masculine archetypes” seen in world literature and myth. What if we could dig even deeper to find actual “masculine instincts” that can be systematically codified, and developed into repeatable, reliable, therapeutic models that help men more successfully overcome mood problems?
Men would seek out treatment, willingly, even eagerly, because they could shun the natural male shame and stigma of “getting help,” to instead embrace autonomy in healing.
Therapy then becomes a life-affirming discussion that speaks to their deepest sense of identity.
You can vote for a Male Psychology of the BPS between 7th May and 20th June.
Dr Paul Dobransky is a psychiatrist from the US, specializing in the psychology of love, work, and character growth. He is author of the book, The Secret Psychology of How We Fall in Love, from Penguin/Plume. Dr Paul will be giving a talk on this topic at UCL on June 1st, where he will go into more depth with Q&A. Therapists and members of the public – men and women – are welcome to attend.
Dr Paul will be giving a lecture at UCL on Friday June 1st 6.30pm. This is a free event, and tickets can be booked [here]
Gods in Everyman: Archetypes That Shape Men’s Lives, by Jean Shinoda Bolen, Harper Paperbacks, July 14, 2014 (new edition.)