How We Got Happy by Jonathan Nabbs and Eve Macfarlane
Mental illness was once a taboo word in our society. It was something to be feared, loathed even, and something that was to be shunned from. Thankfully those days are over, and mental health is recognised as any other physical issue would be - with compassion and treatment. However, some stigma remains as mental health is still so misrepresented or misunderstood by so many. In this book by Jonathan Nabbs and Eve Macfarlane How we got happy: Stories of health, hope and happiness from 20 young Kiwis who beat depression there are real signs of the huge progress that has been made, and still can be made, to support those who are struggling.
Taking a selection of New Zealanders from all walks of life and all parts of the country, the book revolves around their personal stories and the challenges that they have faced for mental health. It is a reminder of the many many forms that this illness can take, and offers some strategies that may be used to combat such issues. There really is something for everyone in this selection.
Each unique story has a unique way of dealing with the stresses and issues that they face. There are ideas around healthy eating, about exercise, and the connection with spirituality all playing a part in recovery from the looming threat of depression in the modern world.
And it is the modern world that many discuss quite openly as having such an impact. The proliferation of social media, of work and social expectations and of the growing need to be ‘busy’ in our lives that lead to such a deep need for responses that support the struggles that come with depression. It is great to have such positive commentary around such topics. The normalisation of these ideas creates a world where difference is accepted, and help is offered.
How we got happy: Stories of health, hope and happiness from 20 young Kiwis who beat depression captures something quite special in our society: The importance of wellbeing in our community. To make it OK to connect with others and call out our problems so that help can be made available. These young people are brave enough to share their journey in such a public forum, in order to benefit others.
At the close of each story (and a wonderfully cross sectioned selection of people is included) is an opportunity for the individual to write to their former selves and offer themselves some advice. Shaun Kerr’s example is a standout - drawing on a well known quote from the Outward Bound course:
“You can be cold, wet, and miserable or just cold and wet”
Overall, the pleasure of this book comes from the positivity that exudes from the pages. The way that these people overcame such adverse conditions and want to share their learnings with others. It is a testament to the enduring spirit of support that exists in New Zealand, and long may it grow.
Reviewer: Chris Reed