Posted by: thealienist | February 23, 2010

The “Menu for Living” Project

I have started a new project that I would appreciate your help with.  I call it the “Menu for Living” Project, and I would like to explain how I came up with it.

Patients with major depression and anxiety disorders suffer greatly under their illnesses.  Most assume that the cause of their suffering is the emotional pain that they experience, but in fact, the major cause of most of their suffering is the restriction that they place on their lives in an effort to try to avoid suffering.  If you look back at the happier times in your life, you will likely see that you were involved in a variety of meaningful and satisfying activities.  You may not always have been happy, but the emotional and physical costs of your activities resulted in a sense of accomplishment and enrichment of your life.  Those who have experienced the intense suffering of depression and anxiety, however, often retreat from stressful situations in order to try to control the amount of strain they are under.  As a result, their lives become smaller and smaller as they give up formerly pleasurable and rewarding activities.  Unfortunately, as they learn to limit their short-term stress, they also sacrifice their long-term happiness.  This is the trap found in anxiety and depression.

Many of my patients have been trapped in their anxiety and depression for so long, that they cannot even remember what kinds of activities they used to engage in.  They cannot remember the feeling of satisfaction in exerting themselves to achieve their goals.  Their lives have deteriorated to long days in a dark house with only the drone of a television to distract them from their pain.  Even when I have begun treating them for their illness, they often find that their medications are not as effective as they would like.  Many times they have come into my office and told me that they have been taking their medications but that they are not happy.  I ask them, “What do you have to be happy about?”  “Nothing, ” they say.  I then reply, “Well then, not being happy seems to be a normal response.”  I tell them that antidepressants won’t make you feel anything, but they will let you feel things if you have things to feel.

As I try to work with them to find activities they can participate in, they are often at a lost to think of anything meaningful to do.  Until now, I have urged my patients to take an interest in what others do to find satisfaction and meaning in life.  In this way, many have discovered new ways to live their lives and new sources of satisfaction and meaning in their daily activities.  However, some have become isolated and only have contact with others by telephone or by computer.  This is where I would like to enlist your help.

The Project

Please go the my website, “Menu for Living” and take a look at its layout.  I have just started setting up the pages and have provided some descriptions of the categories of activities I am considering.  I hope to recruit you and others like you to contribute ideas for activities you find rewarding, satisfying, and meaningful.  They do not have to make you happy.  Depressed and anxious people don’t need a steady diet of happiness any more than we do.  We need a variety of activities to experience a variety of emotions.  Sometimes we need to laugh, sometimes to cry.  We need times of tension, excitement, and anxiety in order to feel the pleasure of release.  We need people to love and care for, and sometimes we need an enemy to struggle to oppose.  Please visit the website and come back here.  Leave comments about activities you enjoy and what these activities do for you.  I will add them to the website (and will give you credit for your suggestion if you like).

The website is set up as a menu (cheesy, I know).  If you have a set of activities that go together in some way, they will be included under the “Combinations” section of each page.  If you simply want to suggest individual activities, they will be included under the “A La Carte” section.

My patients will greatly benefit from any suggestions you have.


  1. John,
    I think your website is a wonderful idea. I have always been drawn to art and “crafty” activities. I get much satisfaction in creating. Many emotions can be expressed through your artwork.

    It can be as simple as picking up a pencil and paper and starting to sketch. Or, go to a craft store and browse-what looks interesting? Many projects are there for “beginners”. Check out books at the library on art and crafts. Visit art museums. Look at objects you see in a different way-what are all the colors you see in that “red” apple?

    When you are ready and have the resources, consider taking an art class. I took one at a craft store learning about chalks and watercolor.


  2. A brilliant idea! (Not sure of “family-style”, even though you gloss that at the page itself – “family” can be a real boo word for singles whose depression is linked to their very singleness.)

    For column C…

    Listening to music: my preference is something engrossing and classical, but that may not suit everyone).

    Knitting or learning to (whether man or woman!) Great displacement activity! And can be done with others too…


  3. Thanks, Fizzog.

    I have tried to tinker with the gloss on “family-style.” I have also added your suggestion to the menu along with an idea of my own. If you have any specific examples of music that you particularly enjoy, please feel free to let me know.

    Thanks again.


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