The recent discussion about suicide and mental health has uncovered many past articles and studies around the subject. An episode of the Freakonomics podcast piqued my interest and revealed something powerful to me.
In the episode, Steve Levitt, economist and co-author of Freakonomics, examines the homicide and suicide rates in America and found that there are more suicides than homicides. Twice as many, in fact! Levitt also noted that cities with a higher homicide rate tended to have a lower suicide rate. And conversely, those with a higher suicide rate had a lower homicide rate. So why are these two inversely proportionate?
This comparison wasn’t initially evident because homicides are much more scrutinized. They are often reported by the media and investigated by law enforcement. Homicides have a story, a narrative. There’s a villain. In suicide, there is only a victim.
Dr. David Lester, a professor of psychology at Stockton University, looked into suicide rates worldwide and compared them to quality of life (health, education, culture, geography, income, etc.). He noticed something surprising. The higher the quality of life for a nation, the higher the suicide rate. While there are undoubtedly many factors that lead to suicide that shouldn’t be ignored (like physiological disorders) Lester believes that this phenomenon is because wealth and success might reveal a void in one’s life that they feel cannot be addressed.
“If your quality of life is poor you know why you’re miserable,” he explains. “As the quality of life in a nation gets better, and you are still depressed … well, why? Everybody else is enjoying themselves—getting good jobs, getting promotions, buying fancy cars. Why are you still miserable? So there’s no external cause to blame your misery upon. Which means it’s more likely that you see it as some defect or stable trait in yourself. And, therefore, you’re going to be depressed and unhappy for the rest of your life.”
So should we be seeking a higher quality of life?
I once read that comfort isn’t feeling good, comfort is feeling nothing. I believe God wants us to feel good. But He doesn’t want us to feel nothing. He wants us to be motivated. And comfort isn’t very motivating. It’s the struggles in life that motivate us. They motivate us to work harder to provide for our families. To right wrongs. To seek justice. To help the disadvantaged. So trials and struggles are good things.
First Peter says to “rejoice in various trials” (1 Peter 1:6). James seconds this by saying “the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:3-4). Trials and struggles are not just something we have to face in life. They are integral to it! If you have all your earthly wants and needs met, but have not God, you might find yourself asking Lester’s questions above. But if you are actively and perpetually seeking God, you will always have a purpose. And because God is so vast and infinite, you will always struggle to comprehend Him. But this is a good struggle. Probably the most rewarding. One that will ultimately make you “perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”
When a caterpillar is finally transformed into a butterfly, it must work to free itself from the cocoon. But this struggle is also part of the transformation. It is the final step in becoming a butterfly. You see, the effort forces vital fluids and chemicals into the new wings. Without this, they would be weak and useless.
So be thankful for your struggles and trials. They serve to transform you and give you wings. And they may even be saving your life.
Phil Baker is a writer and a creative living in Nashville.