Rav Avigdor Miller Zt”l On How To Beat Depression

Q: How can I overcome depression?

A: Now, it depends on a number of circumstances. First of all, what kind of person is asking that question – the age and health and social circumstances of the person – but if we had to give one general answer, there is no question that to be busy is the very best method to combat depression. There are also mental attitudes that one could learn, but they take time. There are medicines, but that needs a physician. But this is one thing that everybody agrees; that if the concerned party becomes busy and has no time to think, then that is the very best therapy.

Now there’s a reason for this. The human being is built physically and mentally in peculiar ways, in ways that are peculiar to the human race. And one of the peculiarities of Mankind is that atzlus and atzvus go together; laziness and sadness go together. You see that from the Gemara. And that’s one reason the Gemara tells us, גדולה המלאכה –Work is a great thing (Nedarim 49b). And in one place the Gemara says, גדולה המלאכה שמחממת את בעליה – Work is great because it warms up the one who is working (Gittin 67b). It’s a play on words – on the mishna which says mechabedes, that work brings honor to a person, so this statement adds on that work is mechamemes. But it also is a great truism – work warms up a person. It mean that it gives enthusiasm to a person.

That’s because Hakadosh Baruch Hu made it that man should be an achiever – he should desire to achieve. Now, his true achievements are in ruchniyus. The real achievements are the achievements of the spirit – ma’asim tovim and above all Torah, Torah and mitzvos. However, when a person does something that looks like achieving, like bricklaying or sewing clothing, anything that’s creative, then that person has a sensation of achieving. And even though he’s not fulfilling the prime achievement of life – it’s only a shadow or a substitute for achievement, but to an extent it stills the hunger, the craving of the soul. And therefore, people are happy when they’re doing something – even when they’re doing things that are in themselves almost valueless. And therefore being busy is most important.

Now this person will complain, “But how can I do anything? I don’t have the spirit to do anything.” It’s the same as saying, “I’m so weak, I don’t feel like pulling myself out of the water when I’m drowning!” Well, you’d better muster energy and you’d better start swimming with strong strokes or floating. Do something before you go down! And the same is when someone is too weak to do anything, the first thing is, do it, whatever it is. And that’s going to take you out of the mental weakness.

​There’s no such thing as being happy when one is entirely unoccupied. No one could give you better advice, even if he charged you a hundred dollars an hour.

TAPE # 40 (October 1974)

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