Updated on 11.13.07

Melancholy and Spending

Trent Hamm

I often dip into melancholy moods, triggered by any number of things. One of the most regular triggers is a sense of detachment from my family, or else a feeling that I’ve done something really wrong as a husband or as a father. From what I’ve seen, this is a fairly common human experience – most people go through periods when they’re down, sometimes lasting several days.

Right now, I’m feeling this way, actually. I’m worried mostly about my son, who is generally pretty well rounded, but has been having a bit of trouble the last few days because of an incident over the weekend where he thought that we had abandoned him (we hadn’t – we left him in a group with the children of some of our friends and he couldn’t quickly pick us out of a crowd of other people). Since then, he’s alternated from being overly independent (trying to do stuff far, far beyond his motor skills, like pouring milk and refusing to allow us to play with him) to being clingy and a bit regressive (clinging to me one night and insisting on being rocked to sleep). Seeing him so deeply bothered by this has dragged down my mood as well.

In the past, I bought stuff as a balm for this feeling. In fact, right now I’m very much tempted to do the same – I want to go to the store, buy Super Mario Galaxy, take it home, and hole up in the basement by myself playing it for hours.

In fact, I used to buy something relatively expensive each time I felt a down mood. I’d go to the bookstore, buy a few books (and usually not cheap paperbacks, either), and go home and read them. I’d go buy a pile of CDs or DVDs. I’d buy video games. I’d even buy clothes on occasion.

All of these purchases were meant for escapism – a weak attempt at making myself feel better. That idea, I later figured out, was planted in my head by advertising – repeatedly seeing happy people enjoying products would convince me that I might be happy enjoying products. It cost me a lot of money – and for no real benefit.

Instead, I’ve come up with a lot of other things that sustain me through my down times, things that don’t cost a lot of money and make me feel even worse. Here are some of the things that I do – perhaps some of them can help you get through melancholy moods without succumbing to spending frivolously.

Take long hot shower. I’ve stood in a hot shower for over an hour before, just scrubbing myself very clean and letting the hot water pour down over me.

Play with my children. I find that if I’m down and sit down to play with my son or hold my daughter, they are able to easily lift my mood, almost without effort.

Get some exercise. I find that getting some serious exercise, enough to get my heart really pumping and my lungs out of breath, usually raises my mood. It’s often a prelude to a warm shower, after which I often feel much better.

Look at a “happy folder” of pictures on my computer. I have a small set of my favorite pictures stored in a folder on my computer, and when I’m down I go through these pictures. They consistently raise my mood, as they depict memories and scenes of happiness from my life, reminding me how many good things I have.

Avoid media sources. Especially anything with advertising on it. I avoid television and magazines like the plague; instead, I read books or listen to NPR for entertainment.

These tactics often go a long way towards lifting my mood. In fact, this evening, I’m intending to get a big dose of exercise, then follow it with a long shower just before my family comes home for the evening.

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  1. leslie says:

    I agree that everyone goes through these sorts of moods. I certainly do.

    As the mother of a 5 year old and a 21 month old, let me tell you not to read too much in to your son’s behavior. 2 year olds are notoriusly moody and back and forth. I am not discounting your father’s intuition about what is causing it but it could just have easily been just about anything. That is just the way they are. That age just brings out a struggle between independence and dependence.

    Good Luck.

  2. Diane says:

    Trent, as you acknowledge, what you are experiencing is common to all parents. What your little boy is going thru is more likely a response to a new baby in the house than anything that happened over the weekend. You are a fairly new parent and don’t have the luxury of the perspective that comes to all parents after about 20 years. Applaud (as I know you do) his feeble attempts at independence. His wanting to be rocked to sleep sometimes is his recognition that you make a scary world, which he is awakening to, less scary. Enjoy the rocking. I would give a year of my life to be able to rock my babies again! Worrying shows you care.

  3. Writers Coin says:

    I get depressed all the time and the happy folder is always a surefire way of feeling better. It makes you realize how our bodies are really just a series of nerves firing and chemicals mixing around.

  4. Mark says:

    Congratulations, you son’s behavior is actually a good sign the he is developing very well emotionally. He is learning coping skills and trying to understand his environment. A child that never experiences “difficult” situations or moods will never grow into a well-rounded person.

  5. MsKim says:

    First step–relax. Having your child freak out because he can’t find you or having a parent freak out because they can’t find their child happens to all parents at one time or another; it certainly doesn’t make you a bad parent. This is actually an excellent opportunity to practice ways to resolve stressful situations that are bound to come up as you (and your child) go through life.
    While your child is a little young and may not understand what you are saying, explain to him what happened, reassure him that you won’t ever leave him, and talk about what he and you will do if you ever get seperated again. Like I said, he is pretty young for that now but it may be quite cathartic for you and will let you practice how you will approach problems as he grows up.
    What you don’t want to do is run out and buy him (or yourself) a toy. When expendable income started becoming more avaialble to the middle class in the ’60s and ’70s, parents did this and it has created a nation of debtors who to this day soothe themselves with purchases while digging them further into debt.
    From your posts you sound like a very concerned, very good dad so don’t be so hard on yourself!

  6. Jim says:

    Trent, I read your blog via RSS, and I was a bit puzzled that you would say:
    “Avoid media sources. Especially anything with advertising on it.”
    Then just a few lines later, There is an Ad just waiting for me to click. I haven’t seen the ads before in the RSS feed, is this a new “feature” of your blog with a poor choice in timing? Or just perhaps an anomaly?
    In either case it seems a bit odd to suggest avoiding ads when your blog has several of them.

  7. janewilk says:

    Trent, I’ll just echo what the first two posters said. I am an early childhood development educator and can assure you that one incident a few days ago is highly unlikely to be the cause of the new behavior you’re seeing. Your son is testing his limits and his abilities and watching to see how you will react. If you can continue to be consistent and keep your emotions in check while in his presence (not continually reassuring him that you didn’t mean to worry him by leaving him in a group of friends) that will go a long way towards helping him gain stability. You will probably continue to see this behavior on and off for awhile – and then when he’s 6-7 years old you’ll see it again, in a different way. Ain’t parenting fun? :-)

  8. LC says:

    Sometimes when I am in the shower and want to stay in longer just to relax, I am tempted to think of all the money I am wasting (the perils of frugality :) ). But when I think about it, it is really a very cheap way to relax, especially considering that you could be out buying things instead.

    I’m no expert but I echo the fact that you seem to be an excellent parent and your son is acting as expected for his age.

  9. Mike says:

    Your own guilt is by far the hardest thing to deal with. I’m sure your son will be fine. We’ve had many similar moments with our kids.

    My parents did leave me at an event once when I was three. They came in separate cars and each thought the other was taking me home when they left. Apparently it took them an hour to realize what had happened. I feel like I remember it, because it has become such a common family story, but I think it’s really just the telling of the story that I remember.

    Great post on not letting guilt or any emotion drive us to overspend.

  10. Andrea says:

    Rats, I could have used this reminder one day earlier.

    I was feeling lousy yesterday, and went to the mall for a winter hat and scarf, but of course I ended up buying more than just what I went for. It was only $30 worth of clothes, but that’s still $30 that could have gone towards my credit card instead.

    At least I didn’t USE the credit card to buy them.

  11. scott says:

    Interesting info. Thanks for sharing, however, NPR would actually make me depressed, not entertain me. I found that the less I actually paid attention to the media regarding news, the happier I became because of the ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ syndrome.

    Playing with the kids is definitely a picker upper.

  12. Along the same lines I was flipping through the channels at the last two minutes of a Pokemon cartoon was running. I haven’t really seen the show so I don’t know if this is a regular occurrence, but they listed all the characters at the end of the show a hypnotic fashion. It’s hard to explain, but I was in a trance myself. To further prove my theory, my niece, who was dozing off on the coach, lifted her head up and said, “I want that.” Scary.

  13. Red says:

    Also watch out for comfort eating, the times when I’m down are the most difficult times for my waistline.

  14. Heidi says:

    Hi Trent, I’m simply speaking from my own experience and not professional at all. My parents kind of abandoned me when I was very young. Not financially, I was fed very well if you might ask. They did provide me with shelter and bought me expensive toys, clothes and stuff. I’m talking about the emotion thing, spend quality time together as a family. I’m not going to tell you boring details of my childhood. What I’m trying to say is, as long as you care about your kids, they know…even if they are as young as 2 years old.

  15. guinness416 says:

    Exercise is absolutely the cheapest and most satisfying way that exists of ridding oneself of “the blues”.

  16. Trent, I echo the exercise suggestion for dealing with melancholy. I’ve also recently started to use a technique called Tapping or EFT. It’s a very odd-looking technique, but it only takes a few minutes and I’ve had success decreasing negative emotions very quickly.

  17. Adam says:

    Man, I used to LOVE long showers as a way to decompress. Unfortunately, I think that if I took an hour long shower these days I would empty what’s left of the Atlanta water supply…

  18. jenw says:

    While I applaud your efforts to find ways around consumerism, I don’t agree with the 1 hour shower. We’re under water restrictions too in my area and even if you have a low-flow showerhead that’s gallons and gallons of water you’re using. Even if your area is not experiencing water shortages, we all need to conserve as a way of life so that resources are around for everyone. Try a long hot bath instead, you’ll be using much less water and you could put some scented bath oils or bath salts in if you so desire :)

  19. Mrs. Micah says:

    I do the shower thing too. It’s not the most environmentally responsible, but I save it for really awful days. It makes me feel like I’ve cried–cleansed and tired.

  20. Amanda D says:

    I can totally relate to this article & I enjoyed the psychology of spending. Since I’m child-free, I regularly have to use my pup to bring my blood pressure down or lift my spirits. Music makes me pretty happy too. Great advice though!

  21. Katie says:

    Hey Trent,
    Pat yourself on the back for being a caring, involved parent. You’re doing sooooo many things to make the future bright for your children! As many comments have pointed out, 2-year-olds have moods, and your son is expressing his. He feels safe testing his abilities and retreating to the familiar with you (and his mom!) there to support him. Good Work!
    Those of us in the “northern latitudes must also consider Seasonal Affective Disorder if the down days don’t ease.
    Hang in there, Katie

  22. Sylvia says:

    Believe me, your little son’s needed for your attention is normal. Your children are going to test you the rest of your life–there is no escaping. All of their disappointments, you will surely feel. They will love you all the more, if you continue to listen to them and show them unconditional love. My grown children still have things that happen to them that pull on my heart strings.

  23. J.D. says:

    Trent, I’ve experienced something like this myself. My recent post on compulsive spending addresses some of these issues. So too does this article that somebody sent me (but I haven’t yet written about):


  24. Carol says:

    Sometimes when I am feeling down, I count my blessings. I have so many things I am greatful for. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because of this.

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