Over the last hundred years, countless studies have been conducted in order to find out what causes depression, and other mental health issues.
One of the more interesting ones was done on a bunch of rodents who had a shower installed in their cage, together with a button. The minute the rodents pressed the button, they would receive a cold shower — a decidedly unpleasant experience.
It didn’t take long before the rodents had figured out not to press the button.
So far, so good.
But then, things changed.
The researchers rigged the shower to turn on at entirely random moments. And so the rodents would get a cold shower every day, through no fault of their own, despite staying away from the button.
And lo and behold, these rodents started developing mental health issues.
Researchers concluded that depression and mental health issues are (at least partially) caused by experiencing a lack of agency. The feeling like it doesn’t matter what you do or don’t do, because it seems to have no bearing on the positive or negative outcomes you experience anyway.
That is bound to make you feel depressed.
Job hunting can feel very similar.
When I was first on the job hunt, about six years ago, I have to say I felt a lot like these rodents. I felt like it didn’t matter if I spent four hours writing an excellent cover letter, or if I just copy-pasted an old one, because I was always going to get that dreaded automated rejection email.
It felt like the game was rigged, just like the shower in the rodent’s cage.
And yes, I started feeling real down real quick.
So what’s this ‘key to happiness’ thing in the title that I lured you with?
Well, unsurprisingly, the key to happiness is the opposite of the key to depression. Lack of agency causes depression, and agency causes happiness.
Having control. The power to affect positive change in your own life.
That’s the key.
And the beautiful thing is, you already have it.
Because you are not a rodent. You are not in a cage.
The game may be rigged, but you don’t have to play it.
You are free.
You don’t have to participate in the resume lottery and fail a million times before you may possibly win at some point.
You are free to play a different game.
You can burn your resume, and create something entirely different, today.
You can stop browsing job boards, and approach companies that aren’t even officially hiring.
You can ignore the application portal, and just send something awesome to the hiring manager directly.
You can do all these things. Literally nobody is stopping you. You can start winning, today.
So what are you waiting for?
Screw the cold shower.
Break your cage.
This post originally appeared in the DJH newsletter.
Subscribe to DJH to get content like this in your inbox daily or weekly!