Henry is 25. He lives with his parents. Henry’s parents are worried about Henry. He doesn’t seem to have motivation to go on living, or rather, to go on being an active participant of society. They think he is depressed. Henry stays mostly in his room and plays his piano a big part of the day. Parents often say to Henry that he can’t just play the piano all his life. “You can’t make a living that way,” they say.
But Henry doesn’t care. Not that Henry hasn’t ever been away from home. Quite the contrary, actually. He has dropped out of two universities. Not because he couldn’t manage, but because he felt it was mostly nonsense that didn’t interest him much.
And it isn’t that Henry is socially awkward or anything. He does have some friends.
But something seems to be wrong.
Parents see in Henry this talented boy who has all the doors open for him in the world, but for some reason he just doesn’t have the motivation to go and take advantage of those opportunities.
They have become exceedingly worried, and they feel a growing urge to do something, not just watch their son go down with the “sinking ship of his life”. They decided to make an appointment to a therapist.
Henry didn’t really have anything against it.
AT THE THERAPIST’S OFFICE
THERAPIST: Good afternoon, Henry.
THERAPIST: I am Mr. Fairhead, I’m a trained psychologist, and my job is to help adolescents and young adults get back on track, so to speak, not only in their educational and professional lives, but also in things concerning the inner workings of their minds. This for the reason that the science of psychology believes that our mental state has a profound effect on everything that goes on on the “external” level of our lives. They go hand in hand. If we can get the inner right, the external will surely follow.
THERAPIST: So. Here’s how it’s going to go; I will ask you simple questions, and I would like you to answer them to the best of your abilities. All right?
THERAPIST: You parents told me that you like playing the piano. Is that correct?
HENRY: Yeah, I guess so.
THERAPIST: Okay, good. I also heard that you have been studying in two different universities before. How did it turn out?
HENRY: What do you mean how it turned out?
THERAPIST: What I mean is how did you like it? Was it difficult? Was it hard to make new friends, to fit in to the competitive environment?
HENRY: Well, I can’t say I enjoyed it. I mean, I had been sitting in classrooms since the day I turned seven. People told that university was going to be different somehow, that university is the place where “the real stuff” happens. So I thought that the lecturers in university would actually be different, and that there truly was something special there, but it turned out to be just the same old memorise-and-repeat kinda stuff. I was there just enough so that I could see what it was all about. I don’t see any point why I should’ve stayed longer.
THERAPIST: But you never graduated. Don’t you think that it could help you in life… to have a degree?
HENRY: It’s just a piece of paper. What I think of it is that it’s mostly just a proof for some employers to see that a specific person is obedient enough to have accomplished all the nonsensical tasks and tests during a four to six year period, that you’ve had nothing better to do during this time than to sit in a classroom and listen to some weary old professor who probably doesn’t care shit about you. It certainly doesn’t prove that you are any more mature or intelligent than you were before. It just proves that you are obedient and in some occasions also that you have a better-than-average memory. But of course the institution has to have degrees. If they didn’t, no one would ever leave. They’d all stay indefinitely. There must be some way to trick the students to believe that now they’re ready. Come on, that’s the very reason they applied in the first place; because they didn’t believe they were “ready for the world”. Not that you are any more ready or un-ready after you get the paper in your hands, but at least you can make yourself believe that you are. It feels better that way.
THERAPIST: Well, that’s an interesting point of view. Maybe we move on to the next subject… Umm, okay. I would like to ask you, Henry, something about your social life. Please tell me if I’m going too personal. You parents told me that you’ve never had a girlfriend — or at least not that they know of… Do you feel somehow that there are some kind of obstacles or challenges to forming social bonds with other people?
HENRY: I don’t think I have challenges. I think that most people just have a very odd attitude towards what they call social relations. Most people place so much importance on other people, no matter whether it’s about people they like or dislike. They are so personal about it. I mean, look at death. It’s such a big deal for us that we cannot even speak about it, even when we know perfectly well that everyone and everything is eventually going to die, one way or another. We look for other people to somehow satisfy us, to make us happy, and then we try so hard to cling to them. And because we cling, we suffer. We are so fixated on the so-called personal aspect of the social life. This is also the reason we have enemies in the first place. We have our in-group that we draw our sense of identity from, and then there is everybody else, the people who don’t belong to our in-group, and we might as well regard them as our enemies. I don’t have challenges, I just don’t seek other people to somehow make me complete.
THERAPIST: But Henry, you certainly cannot deny that social relationships are one of the greatest cornerstones of human life, can you? Without our family and without our friends, we would be quite lonely and miserable.
HENRY: You only feel lonely to the extent to which you feel alienated from the world, or, should I say, from the universe.
THERAPIST: What do you mean, Henry?
HENRY: If you feel that you are not part of the world, but that you are just some separate observer looking at the world, then of course you are going to feel lonely. But then, no amount or quality of social relations is truly going to make that loneliness go away. And because of this, we cling to other people, and when they eventually leave us, it is so difficult and painful to let go. I don’t feel that I am separate from the world. I feel that I am deeply part of the world, and thus I don’t ever feel lonely, even when I am utterly alone without no one around. I’m perfectly content by myself.
THERAPIST: That’s interesting. I heard, Henry, that your parents believe you might be depressed. They said you don’t seem to have the drive to, should I say, go out there and build a life for yourself. Even though apparently you are a rather talented and intelligent young man. Would you concur if I suggested that maybe this is caused by a certain kind of despair or hopelessness?
HENRY: No, I wouldn’t concur.
THERAPIST: Hmm. But it is a fact that you are still living with your parents, isn’t it? And isn’t it also a fact that you are already twenty-five years old?
THERAPIST: So Henry, if I proposed that maybe when you are seeing many of your friends advance in the world, some even building families, careers, and so on, that maybe for that reason you feel a little blue, would you agree that there might be a sense of truth in that?
HENRY: Umm… No, I wouldn’t say that.
THERAPIST: What do you want, Henry? Don’t you see any point in life? Don’t you see that life has any meaning for you?
HENRY: I don’t think life is meaningless in the way that you are probably implying. But on the other hand, it seems that many people have a deep need and urge to find some superficial meaning to their lives, as if life itself wasn’t enough as it is. And those people are often very unhappy. To me the meaning of life is just life. The beauty of life is the meaning. And when you see the life’s beauty, you don’t need to try to find some superficial sense of meaning to life. When I play music, that itself is the meaning. Just to play, or to listen, is meaning in itself, and therefore satisfactory.
THERAPIST: You are a tricky one, Henry, I tell you that. I feel that there is something you are hiding from me. And not only from me, but also from the people closest to you. You parents, maybe your friends too. I just cannot figure out what it might be.
HENRY: Why do you think that?
THERAPIST: Because you are, first of all, a rather handsome young man, you don’t seem, at least on the surface, to be as disturbed as your parents suggested, and you appear to be quite smart too, but even then something seems to be not quite right. With all these qualities by your side, you refuse to take part in the game of life. That is what remains a mystery to me.
HENRY: Does that bother you?
THERAPIST: Yes, it does. It does bother me, Henry.
HENRY: I’m sorry.
THERAPIST: Are you?
HENRY: I guess so.
THERAPIST: Tell me, Henry, if right now you could be anywhere in the world doing anything you’d like, where would you be?
HENRY: Well, now that I’m here, I might as well be here. I don’t mind being here.