Rethinking problems as opportunities

We like to have everything under control, to strive for a perfect life. But Damiaan Denys, philosopher and professor of psychiatry at the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, says the imperfections and bad times take us further in life, by helping us embark on a new path.

In recent years, there has been an enormous increase in the number of people with psychological problems. Why is this?
For one thing, the taboo surrounding psychological problems has disappeared, and we are more open to acknowledging them than before. Recognition of various disorders has increased too, which can make it appear as if more people are suffering from them. We also have better diagnostic methods nowadays.

Have changes in society in general also played a role?
Absolutely, and in particular the way individualism has become the norm. Fewer people now identify with a group on the basis of a shared religion or ideology. It’s every person for him- or herself. This makes people think about themselves more. The improvement of our living standards also plays a role. As paradoxical as it may sound, our wealth is causing an increase in our psychological suffering. The moment our basic needs are being met—food and drink, a roof over our head and a basic level of security—we can start questioning other aspects of our life. Only then do we get around to pondering issues such as happiness, or the lack of it, and the meaning of life.

  • You can find the interview in issue 19.

Text Sjoukje van de Kolk Hand-lettering Valerie McKeehan