What Olympic Athletes Teach Us About Depression and Happiness

Like many people, I love watching the Olympics (which just set a ratings record for a non-US-based games). I regularly tune into both the summer and winter games. And just like so many of us, I'm a sucker for the carefully crafted story lines of hardship and triumph (and sometimes despair) that NBC feeds us. And like most everyone, once the games are over, I quickly forget about them (and most of the athletes) until next time.

So it's easy to forget that not only are these Olympians real people with real lives and real emotions but also that there are some deeper lessons that we can learn.

The Daily Beast has posted a timely article about Olympic athletes after the games are over. It chronicled how many of the athletes--including, perhaps especially, the gold medal-winning "heroes" that become the toast of the world for a couple of weeks--are highly susceptible to post-Olympic depression. A two-time former Olympian termed it Post-Olympic Stress Disorder (POSD).

On his blog, he explained it thusly:

None of that can light a candle to the thrill of that torch, to the sense of fate, destiny – being a part of something so BIG, universal. You are on stage and the WHOLE world is watching YOU!

The only thing better is the weight of a gold medal hanging around your neck as the crowd goes wild….

But the higher you make it, the harder the fall…Everything seems sickeningly mundane. Ordinary life is a LOT different than viewing the world from the lofty vantage point of “Mount Olympics”. Back out here in the real world, NOTHING feels like it can ever “go back to normal.”

This is what happens to all of us, sometimes in very dramatic ways, sometimes in smaller and quieter ones.

When we put too much emphasis on external things--worldly success, fame, money, sex, beauty, the adulation or approval of others--we guarantee ourselves that along with whatever highs we achieve, there will also be crippling lows. This is the nature of the external world: happiness is fleeting, it comes and goes, ebbs and flows. For every high, there must be a corresponding low to balance it out, just as every wave in the ocean requires a trough of equal depths. It's the very nature of the thing and there's no escaping it…at least not externally.

The only real, lasting solution is internal. Instead of the relentless pursuit of external satisfactions we must look within for the only permanent super-satisfaction of the soul, pure bliss.

When we finally discover that genuine happiness and even life purpose is primarily internal, then the peaks and troughs of the external world cease to bother us. No matter how big or small, we learn how to ride the waves of the external world with inner peace, contentment, and joy. It's only then that we've truly become gold medalists, having triumphed in the greatest competition of them all--the one inside ourselves.