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Matt Haig’s “Notes on a Nervous Planet”

The fairly recent increase in awareness and willingness to discuss the realm of mental health might be one of the brighter lights shining within all the difficulties of modern living. With so much going on that’s difficult to grasp and figure out responses to, investing energy into understanding our minds and the effect life’s having on them seems invaluable.

As part of that, this year’s “Notes on a Nervous Planet” by Matt Haig is a noteworthy contribution. His having lived through and battled toward an understanding of the mental challenges and obstacles of living within modern society has given him hard-won insight and clarity into the workings of the mind and its delicate relationships with reality, existence, and the sense of ourselves.

Taking a deliberately fragmented route through the various problems being thrown up by technology, social media, politics, news, consumerism, and other sources of overwhelm we’re all facing, Haig’s focusing in on what we might make of it all – how best to interact, filter, and determine how we let these things into our precious inner worlds.

And it’s surely one of the most important things to get our heads around? This sense of how the world’s affecting us, of trying to see what’s going on and where the potential risks might be. Rather than charging on and assuming it’ll all be fine, listening to those raising concerns – from within industries themselves or those already experiencing difficulties – seems sensible.

There are many things I genuinely love about this book. How it’s somewhat disjointed yet also clearly organised. That it’s broad and well-informed, but extremely accessible and easy to read. Its conversational tone, striking a rare balance between despair, humour and disarming perspicacity. It’s cutting to the quick of so many modern problems, while remaining curiously optimistic and constructive.

Depression and anxiety are some of life’s darker subjects (“I either needed a new me. Or a new planet. And I didn’t yet know how to find either. Which is why I felt suicidal”), but perhaps that’s partly the mind seeking sense in a dark world (“how can we live in a mad world without ourselves going mad?”). Reality raises hard questions, and establishing balance between honesty and hope is something Haig navigates well.

If the mind and sense of self arise, somehow, through our complex interactions with the world around us, it’s conceivable to view mental difficulties, at least in part, as developmental or environmental concerns (Notes One). Taking such a broad view, unpicking the threads flowing through our individual and shared lives, contemplating the influences acting upon us at a relentless pace is a daunting and admirable task.

Finding the right attitude toward genuine and serious problems is perhaps one of life’s greatest lessons, both personally and socially. It’s something Matt Haig’s clearly spent time grappling with, and I’m truly grateful he’s managed to articulate it this eloquently, powerfully and humorously. Sometimes in life the best you might hope for is to feel a little less alone with such truths.

Notes and References:

“Notes on a Nervous Planet” by Matt Haig, (Canongate, Edinburgh), 2018.

Note 1: How it feels to be alive
Note 1: “Ecological Intelligence”
Note 1: Working through mind & society
Note 1: David Bohm, thoughts on life
Note 1: Conversation as revelation
Note 1: “Paradox of Choice”
Note 1: We’re all vulnerable

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