We're a nation of depressives. According to Randolph-Macon College behavioral neuroscientist Kelly Lambert, author of Lifting Depression (2008), we're ten times more likely than our grandparents to suffer from the blues. The clinical blues, that is – not the my-girlfriend-dumped-me sort.
Why? We've abandoned physical interactions with our environment. “A lot of our mental illnesses are about the perception that we have no control,” says Lambert. She proposes that, thanks to our affinity for computers and drive-throughs, we don’t engage the brain’s “effort-driven rewards circuit” enough. Our ancestors made plans – “build shelter; plant potato; kill elk” – and executed them with well-evolved hands. It’s called controlling your environment. When we do this, our brains reward us with dopamine.
But these days we've stopped using our hands for much beyond pushing buttons. So curing your mood may mean putting down your BlackBerry and pulling on some work gloves. A few suggestions: Grow a tomato plant. Be your own bike mechanic. Catch a fish. Clean it and eat it. Learn guitar. Call next in pickup basketball. Just don’t lose – if you don’t execute your plan correctly, well, you don’t get the dopamine.