Sunday, April 22, 2012

Rethinking Depression Blog Tour with Eric Maisel

Welcome Dr. Eric Maisel

There are inevitably bumpy times in the life of a creative. You know those curve balls that life throws challenging us to stay focused. When the going gets tough, I turn to author Eric Maisel for insights into the creative process. I am convinced that with understanding, moods can be trumped and replaced with creative action. Dr. Maisel is author of 35 books on a wide variety of subjects, including many on the challenges of the creative life. His insightful books offer a look into the creative process and personal meaning making.

In his new book, Rethinking Depression: How to Shed Mental Health Labels and Create Personal Meaning, Dr. Eric Maisel invites depression sufferers and their service providers to consider whether human sadness has been monetized into the disease of depression, as he introduces practical tools for working with this common human condition. His book does two key things: 1) it disputes the prevailing view that depression is a disease and 2) it introduces a complete program for addressing human sadness.

While Rethinking Depression takes on the “manufacturing” of mental disorders and the over-medication of our society, Dr. Maisel does not discount the real sense of sadness, frustration, exhaustion, and lack of motivation that have been rolled into a “diagnosis” of depression. However, he does challenge those who are dealing with it to acknowledge the reality of unhappiness as an inherent part of life, and to begin to take control of their well-being back from the medical establishment by having their own existential program in place for dealing with it.

In part two of Rethinking Depression, Dr. Maisel turns his focus to practical advice for dealing with sadness and offers practical tools for taking as much control as possible of our thoughts, attitudes, moods, behaviors, and orientation toward life. “If you would like to try to live that strange, shining ideal — the authentic life…this is the program for doing so,” writes Dr. Maisel.

I am very happy to welcome Dr. Eric Maisel as my special guest today.

Q & A

Why is recognizing the role of unhappiness in our lives an important feature of “rethinking depression”?

To acknowledge the reality of unhappiness is not to assert the centrality of unhappiness. In fact, it is just the opposite. By taking the common human experience of unhappiness out of the shadows and acknowledging its existence, we begin to reduce its power. At first it is nothing but painful to say, “I am profoundly unhappy.” The words cut to the quick. They seem to come with a life sentence and allow no room for anything sweet or hopeful. But the gloom can lift. It may lift of its own accord — or it may lift because you have a strong existential program in place whereby you pay more attention to your intentions than to your mood. One decision that an existentially aware person makes is to focus on making meaning rather than on monitoring moods.

What does your Existential Program offer people who are hoping to shed the mental illness label of depression?

I ask that people take as much control as possible of their thoughts, their attitudes, their moods, their behaviors, and their very orientation toward life and turn their innate freedom into a virtue and a blessing. Even if people decide to take antidepressants or engage in psychotherapy to get help with their unhappiness, they will still have to find ways of dealing with their meaning needs, the shadows of their personality, their consciousness of mortality, and the facts of existence. This book offers guidance in all of those areas.

How does following your Existential Program make it possible for people to take control of their lives?

Living authentically means organizing your life around your answers to three fundamental questions. The first is, “What matters to you?” The second is, “Are your thoughts aligned with what matters to you?” The third is, “Are your behaviors aligned with what matters to you?” You begin by removing the protective blinders that human beings put in place to avoid noticing the many painful facts of existence, including painful facts about their personality shortfalls. You decide to understand “what meaning means” to you so that you can proceed to lead your life in ways that feel personally meaningful. You choose to take responsibility for your thoughts and your actions and to lead life instrumentally. You accept and embrace the fact that you are the final arbiter of your life’s meaning. With this approach to life, each day is a project requiring existential engineering skills as you bridge your way from one meaningful experience to the next. By accepting the realities of life and by asserting that you are the sole arbiter of the meaning in your life, you provide yourself sure footing as you actively make meaning.

How does being one’s own meaning-maker affect how one approaches important decisions about life?

You weigh your actions against a vision you have of the person you would like to be, the person it would make you proudest to be; you take action; you learn from your experience to what extent you guessed right; and you make use of what you’ve learned as you weigh your next decision. We can give this a shorthand name: the principle of personal pride. We use the principle of personal pride to make our meaning. This may be the beautiful, imperfect, harrowing way — the way of making meaning.

How do you suggest people go about creating a life-purpose vision?

You might start by creating a life-purpose sentence or statement. In one great gulp you take into account the values you want to uphold, the dreams and goals you have for yourself, and the vision you have for comporting yourself in the world, and then you spend whatever time it takes turning that unwieldy, contradictory material into a coherent statement that reflects your core sentiments about your life. Your life-purpose vision is the inner template by which you measure life, and it remains that measure until you revise it. When you agree to commit to making meaning you agree to participate in a lifetime adventure. As you live you gain new information about what you intend to value and what you want your life to mean.

Why is embracing responsibility for making one’s own life meaning so liberating and such an antidote to depression?

As you become expert at existential self-care you begin to understand the extent to which you create meaning and the extent to which meaning is a deep, inexhaustible wellspring and an infinitely renewable resource. You can invest the increments of time that rise up before you with appropriate meaning: there is always another meaning available. You make it; it comes out of you; it is new each day; it is infinitely variable. You arise each morning and make your next meaning decision. When you arm yourself with your intentions and act this bravely your unhappiness can’t linger.

To sum up our discussion on his new book, Rethinking Depression, Eric Maisel states:

“The experience of unhappiness is not one you want to prolong or, if you can help it, repeat. How to avoid that? Work your existential program. You take as much control as possible of your thoughts, your attitudes, your moods, your behaviors, and your very orientation toward life and turn your innate freedom into authentic living."

"Life is a project. One excellent way to deal with your life-as-project is the way that I’ve been describing: by following an existential program that focuses on your ability to create the psychological experience of meaning."

Thank you Eric for your insights and for your passion in helping others to create a meaningful life.

To learn more about the author and his work go to

Eric Maisel, PhD, is a licensed psychotherapist and the author of Rethinking Depression and numerous other titles including Mastering Creative Anxiety, Brainstorm, Coaching the Artist Within, and A Writer’s San Francisco. He blogs for Psychology Today and the Huffington Post and writes for Professional Artist Magazine. Visit him online at

February 15, 2012 • Pychology/Personal Growth • 256 pages • Trade Paperback
Price: $14.95 • ISBN 978-1-60868-020-7

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