While ultimately I believe that labeling a specific time of year as the most depressing is actually an insult to those in our community who experience tragedy, or suffer from depression and other illnesses, I do think that there's something to this. But we're not experiencing depression; we're experiencing loneliness.
Loneliness is its own kind of demon. You can live in a city with 500,000 residents and be lonely. You can live in a house with a spouse and be lonely. The worst part is that it's very difficult to recognize and can be devastating to an individual. In fact:
Researchers at the University of Chicago looked at 229 people aged 50 to 68 and found that over a five-year period the loneliest individuals saw their systolic blood pressure rise by 14.4 mm more than those who were socially contented. That rise could push anyone with normal blood pressure, that below 120 mm, into the category called pre-hypertension. (See Globe and Mail).Loneliness can give you a HEART ATTACK? Loneliness makes us less effective, less healthy, and simply robs us of our experience in life. But whether you are lonely or not, there's one simple thing you can do that helps to solve the general problem. Get out there, and build relationships.
"Wow," you respond sarcastically, "Why didn't I think of that?" But the problem isn't that the solution is too simple, but the strange way that our culture works against us.
This is a scary thing in our culture. For some reason getting out there and getting to know your neighbors makes us feel like we're invaders, or at least breaking some unwritten law in society. We don't want to be 'pushy' or 'needy' or 'intrusive.' In fact, everything we do seems to work against a community building type of society. We don't work with the people we live near. We don't work with the people we grew up with. We don't see the people we're related to. Do you feel strange thinking about working with someone you grew up with, and also living beside them?
The weird thing is that, historically speaking, we're the weird ones. For most of history, people lived in small communities with other people they knew their entire lives. They lived near these people, they worked with these people, they died with these people. Community was not just a necessity, it was an assumed reality. Humanity always needed each other to survive and so always had each other. The problem is that we don't need each other to survive anymore. And yes, I mean that. It's a problem. Because we actually do need each other for more than just survival. We need others for the meaning, joy and fulfillment that naturally comes from being with others.
But there are arguments for not getting out there too. Sure, there's definitely something to be said about sitting quietly and having time to reflect, pray, meditate, or simply be. But the reality is that we're often flooded with opportunity to do this which we waste away on all sorts of other things. You may want to respect an individual's privacy, but if privacy is all they ever get than loneliness is their only reward. Until we take the step, we'll never know whether or not our neighbors are longing to finally have some time alone, or finally hear a knock on the door.
I believe that a big part of the Christian calling is to be a community builder with the people around you. To bring people to us to create something and experience something greater than ourselves. With this being our mission, I don't think that something like "blue Monday" would ever hold any power over us again.
Here are some quick suggestions on how to make community happen:
1) Make your home a community spot:
This isn't for everyone, but if you take the leap, it's worth it. Invite people in, and don't make it formal. Eat, drink and be merry with your community. Play games, talk, really talk. Make your home a center.
2) Serve at every opportunity:
Most of my neighbors I got to know during the dark months of winter by shoveling driveways. I wasn't afraid to jump over and shovel before they got up, or to help them out when they had already started. But we don't just serve without purpose, we serve with the purpose of building relationship.
3) Pray for those around you:
You may or may not believe in the power of prayer, But even if you don't you must admit that having people intentionally in your mind on a regular basis, thinking and hoping for them in a positive light will undoubtedly work towards positive community building.