Stepping Back From the Future

If you are a Chunzi (a virtuous, noble person), you know that the ways in which Westerners cope with depression are  faulty and often ineffective. Pills and programs are the frail tools that are based upon  the Western perspective on human existence and its place in the dynamic domain of the universe.

Other cultures have a great deal to teach us about ourselves, the people close to us and the expanding universe around us. We have looked at depression through a wider lens of cultures whose traditions inform us that the Western perception of the human experience, the environment and time itself can be transformed into a view that leads to joy, hope and compassion and peace.

Ancient words of wisdom enable us to put emotional burdens aside, derive comfort from our families and constantly expand our understanding about the dynamic universe that is our home. With these teachings, we may leave depression by the side of the road.

The wonderful thing is that the modern science of psychiatry agrees with the ancient philosophers.

“Positive psychiatry” is making its entrance and embraces the therapeutic benefits of relationships and holistic principles in even the most severe states of emotional distress.

The dominating focus upon medication is weakening and comprehensive treatments are being re-invited into the office. This step is a major one in the journey towards understanding emotional pain as being part of a larger context. But there is a long way to go.

 `Depression and Prospection’

A  recent article in the British Journal of Clinical Psychology entitled “Depression and Prospection”   reports that “faulty prospection” causes and drives depression.

This view continues to locate depression as inside of the human mind and dismisses the context of human experience. It takes the position that a person’s opinion about what the future holds can shape his/her mood.

Other cultures view the future as an unknown and ever changing domain and something that we need not frantically fear.  Our negative predictions about the future sometimes lead to depression.

The Asian culture’s belief about time and the future, as we have seen from Confucius, is that changes are inevitable, time flows and that planning ahead and worrying about something that may or may not happen is futile.

In Asian and other cultures, the focus is on the present: building and strengthening close relationships, practicing humility and generosity and being honest and faithful to friends and family.

Past traditions are honored and learned from and one always hopes to continue to be vigilant and adhere to the values of the culture. Projecting oneself into future events, however, is considered an exercise in futility and often, despair.

While thinking about the future, Western cultures put great value upon setting up all kinds of plans to avoid disaster and attach a positive future to their lives.

People in this mindset try to control fate, plan for retirement and for vacations. They set goals all of the time for various things and continuously become stressed when they have to change or eliminate these goals.

It is a cycle of elation and then frustration, a roller coaster of emotions as people constantly adjust goals and plans to meet changing dynamics in themselves and their lives.

They attach emotionally to future goals and live upon future dreams and nightmares. Through this attachment, people can lose sight of the present and, often the past history of successes and failures that could re-direct their attention.

Traditionally, this cycle leads to shame and results in actions that could be driving them into deeper depression.

In the research described earlier, the authors categorized prospection into two types: faulty/negative and the less damaging–prospection gone awry. They further subdivide faulty prospection into three types: generation of possible outcomes, evaluation and negative beliefs about the future.

What Drives Depression

The faulty/negative prospection is the category that is focused upon as driving and causing depression.

The authors state that negative thoughts about the “self” are not what primarily drive and cause depression, nor do negative thoughts about the past.

A person becomes and stays depressed when he generates negative scenarios about the future and sets up the “if –then” situation that ends in disaster.

According to the article, the pessimistic predictive style can be changed with cognitive behavioral therapy and treatment that re-formats the person’s thoughts and images about future experiences.

This approach is a move away from the dominant medication model that has not made significant progress in the fight against depression. But, it is no match for our other culture’s progress through the decades of tradition.

If Confucius was present, he might quote from his scrolls from 551 B.C:

Study the past if you would define the future.”

He might point out that lived experiences and traditions are important in shaping our cognition and behavior, but he might agree that helping a person see a brighter and more satisfying future would be a positive thing to do.

A person from the Buddhist sect would agree. Most Buddhist sects believe in karma, events that occur are believed to be the result of prior events both good and bad.

“People know you for what you’ve done, not for what you plan to do.” –  Anonymous Indian

Consider the following prescription for health:

  • Build relationships, take a holistic, interconnected view of man and nature
  • Focus on the present, listen to others, use creative and expressive communications
  • Keep yourself from extremes and embrace change in a dynamic universe
  • Engage in care giving, practice humility, generosity, honesty and endurance
  • Use natural and spiritual resources and keep moving forward.

Stack of pebbles photo available from Shutterstock

Stepping Back From the Future

Margaret Altman, LCSW, MSW

Margaret Altman is a crisis intervention specialist and has intervened in many explosive situations within jails, emergency rooms, suicide prevention centers and psychiatric units. She is a featured writer on the Mad in America website and has more more than 35 years of experience as an LCSW in psychiatry, corrections and private practice. Her book, "Developing Your Child’s Emotional Intelligence" is on Amazon. Margaret currently focuses on issues of minority and marginalized populations in order to give them a voice in the mental health domain.


APA Reference
Altman, M. (2015). Stepping Back From the Future. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 19, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 23 Aug 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 23 Aug 2015
Published on All rights reserved.