How To Be Happy

“Count No Man Happy Until He Is Dead”

– Solon

Happiness sometimes seems to be the most elusive part of our lives. It always seems as though it’s just out of reach and when we do achieve it, it proves to be all too fleeting and short-lived.

We like to think that continual happiness is something we can actually realize; who wouldn’t like to live life in perpetual bliss and joy, wandering around every day with a goofy smile on your face?

 

... of course, this does have the effect of making other people want to smack you.

… of course, this does have the effect of making other people want to smack you.

But the reality is that happiness is occasional. It’s an accumulation of moments rather than a constant… and that’s part of what makes it so valuable. If it were a persistent state, we wouldn’t be able to appreciate it; we would soon learn to tune it out. It’s part of the human condition – we’re extremely good at acclimating to anything. Once something becomes a part of the background radiation of our lives, we start to not notice it.

And it’s a good thing, too. If we lived in constant joy, we’d never have any motivation to strive or achieve. We’d stagnate and whither away. There’s a reason why the pursuit of happiness is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence as an inalienable right.

It’s just a shame that we’re so damn bad at actually finding it.

More often than not, we just don’t know how to be happy. Instead we make ourselves miserable and let happiness occur seemingly at random.

So we have to learn how to be happy.

 Step Away From The TV

The first step in being happy is to get away from the things that deliberately make us unhappy.

And that means getting away from our televisions.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not about to tell you that TV is evil or brag about how I’m so much more enlightened because I barely watch TV; in fact, I think television is reaching a golden age, especially as it starts to embrace long-form narrative as an art rather than a curiosity.

 

Not to mention doing horror far more effectively than anything movies have done in a decade.

Not to mention doing horror far more effectively than anything movies have done in a decade.

But at the same time, the point of television isn’t the presentation of thought-provoking shows or pleasant entertainment. The point of television is to sell you shit. Everything else, from the quality of the shows you watch to the news you see is calculated to sell, sell, sell.

That show you loved that was cut down so cruelly in it’s prime1 ? It may have been amazing, but it wasn’t bringing in “the eyeballs”. That is: it didn’t capture enough attention that marketers felt would allow them to sell you things.

That cartoon you love isn’t an experiment in crafting art through the medium of animation, it’s to sell you toys. I loved Young Justice2, but the reason it got yanked was because it just didn’t move action figures the way Warner Brothers Animated hoped it would.

What does all of this have to do with happiness? Well, ignoring the fact that bringing back Firefly would make me fucking ecstatic, the point of marketing is to make you desire things you don’t have. Marketers want you to believe that their product will fill a need in your life.

And if you don’t have a need, they’ll quite cheerfully create one. Marketers aren’t just selling you a product, they’re selling you a solution. A lifestyle. They want you to think that you’re missing out and the only way to catch up is to buy their stuff.

Watch any beer, soda or car commercial. There may be the head fake towards the quality of the product, but the images are all about selling the lifestyle. Wouldn’t you love to party like these young pretty people do? Wouldn’t life be great if you were as cool as the guy charming everybody on his way to the bar to get a Heineken? Couldn’t you imagine conquering the back-country in this Ford F-150, living the rugged life of manliness? Too bad you’re not like them

You’re perpetually bombarded with the message that you’re inadequate. You’re not as good as the pretty people in the ads. There’s a hole in your life that only Gillette razors or Budweiser can fill. The only answer is to spend, spend, spend! Buy more, consume more, only then will you be happy.
Of course, that’s never going to be enough. After all, if you’re satisfied, they can’t sell you more things. So there will always be more. You’re a dog on a treadmill, chasing after a bone it can never reach. You’re running as fast as you can and getting nowhere in the process.

So disconnect. Take a step away from the noise that tells you over and over again that you’re just not up to snuff and tries to sell you literally impossible lifestyles.

Speaking of which…

Stop Comparing Yourself To Other People

Take a look at Thomas Jefferson. He was a classical polymath – a scientist, an archeologist, a philosopher, an engineer, a business man, a farmer. By the age of 33 he had not only helped found a country but drafted the Declaration of Independence and forged treaties with sovereign nations.

So… what have you done with your life? Got a mid-level job? Maybe won the office football pool? Came in third in your fantasy basketball league? Bought a Toyota hatchback? Used?

Trying to start your own business? Tim Ferris beat you there; he figured out how to minimize the amount of work he needed to do per week AND got a series of New York Times bestsellers in the bargain.

Want to be a writer? How’s that screenplay of yours coming along? Got an agent yet? Sold a project? Hey, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon won a goddamn Academy Award in their 20s.

"SUCK IT, FRESHMAN YEAR CREATIVE WRITING!"

“SUCK IT, FRESHMAN YEAR CREATIVE WRITING!”

 

Feeling a little inferior now? Kind of hard to measure up to one of the founding fathers, sure, but a couple of yahoos from Boston? Feeling like you’ve wasted your life, like you should’ve done more by now?

That right there? That’s the feeling of you robbing yourself of your own happiness. Comparing your life to someone else’s, using them as a metric for your own level of success is a trap. And it’s going to make you miserable.

To start with: you’re not seeing the whole picture. As I always like to say, you’re comparing your unedited footage to their highlight reel. That guy you see with all the hot women? You don’t know his story. You don’t know that he’s surrounding himself with women in order to make him feel better about himself because deep down inside he feels like that’s the only way to prove he has value.

That guy with the corner office, the expensive luxury car and the six figure paycheck? The one who struts around like he’s King Shit? The one who’s also up to his eyeballs in debt because he’s constantly trying to live an insane lifestyle, who’s alienated his family because he’s worked so goddamn much that he never sees them? That’s the guy you’re  comparing yourself to?

 

"And the insider trading. You didn't mention the 'about to get arrested for insider trading' part."

“And the insider trading. You didn’t mention the ‘about to get arrested for insider trading’ part.”

Moreover, you’re telling yourself that unless you reach that level of success, that unless you are like that celebrity or that stranger who seems to have it all, that you’re worthless. Denying your own accomplishments because they’re not as rarified as somebody else’s is a great way to be miserable. You’re trying to compare your achievements to things that are actually startlingly rare. You’re picking the best of the best and assuming that this is the standard to which you should be measured.

Herein lies the paradox: if they were commonplace, you wouldn’t give a damn about them. If everyone could win Oscars or be born into insane wealth, it wouldn’t be remarkable at all.

And yet you’re telling yourself that unless you reach that elite level, you’re a failure.

Instead, you need to focus on you’ve done, not on how it matches up to other people.

Appreciate What You Have

That focus on other people blinds you to your own accomplishments in life and how remarkable they are. You may not be keeping up with the Kardashians, but that doesn’t mean that you haven’t done things that are worth celebrating.

You wrote a novel? Congratulations: that’s really goddamn cool. Even if you never sell it, you’ve accomplished something that most people never manage. Got a girlfriend who loves you? That’s awesome. Won the office football pool? Dude, high-five!
Take a look around your life. There’s a lot you should be proud of. Even if it seems silly or minor, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t count. Just because you’re not a Fortune 500 executive or an internationally famous celebrity doesn’t mean that you’re not important.

From one doc to another...

From one doc to another…

 

You need to realize that you have things that other people would gladly shank a hobo for. Even when you don’t have a lot, it can be more than it seems. A few years ago, I went on a tour of temples in Ankor Wat and it was an eye-opener. The reign of terror of the Khmer Rouge can seem like ancient history to us, but Cambodia is still healing from the scars. Walking around the marketplaces and neighborhoods of Siem Riap drove home just how deeply the country has been wounded.

One of our first stops on the tour was the infamous torture camp Tol Sleng, where our guide had been incarcerated. Seemingly every third or fourth person missing an eye or a limb from the landmines that still litter the countryside.  And I’m walking along in clothes that cost more than they’d make in a lifetime (Gap jeans and a t-shirt in this case), with all of my limbs intact, never having to worry that one day I was going to put a foot wrong and be blown to smithereens by a 50 year old remainder of a conflict that ended before I was even born.

Suddenly things were put very firmly in perspective. I learned to be much more grateful for the opportunities I had… and the problems and frustrations of my daily life weren’t as bad as I’d thought.

Obviously I didn’t suddenly become the Buddha, but understanding that even as frustrating as things may seem, they weren’t that bad helps keep everything in perspective, and I learned to take much more pleasure in what I did have instead of focusing on what I didn’t.

Practice Positivity

As odd as it sounds, positivity is a habit. So is negativity. If you’re the sort of person who only sees the worst-possible outcomes, who views everything as a precursor to failure and why everything is pointless… well, part of that is the way you’ve worn a groove into your brain. At some point,  you’ve gotten into the habit of seeing things in the worst possible light. It may make sense to you because confirmation bias causes you to filter out the positive while leading you to focus on the areas that confirm what you already believe – that life is full of fail and AIDS and we’re all going to die anyway so who the fuck cares?

Much like comparing yourself to others, this is part of how you rob yourself of your own happiness. By constantly looking on the dark side of life3 you’re choosing, however unconsciously to be miserable.

I actually have a remarkably atavistic hate for The Life of Brian that has absolutely nothing to do with the movie itself.

I actually have a remarkably atavistic hate for The Life of Brian that has absolutely nothing to do with the movie itself.

One way to break the habit of being negative is to take on the positivity challenge: be absolutely positive about everything for seven days. It’s very simple: you simply, consciously make the choice to think positively, all day every day, for seven days. If you have a single negative thought, no matter how fleeting, you start over from day 1… even if you were in the last ours of day 7. It’s actually surprisingly difficult; a negative outlook on life is hard to overcome, even when you’re trying to force yourself out of one mind-rut and into another. But then… that’s the whole point. It’s to show you just how much you’re letting your own pre-conceived notions and self-limiting beliefs control every aspect of your life.

Much like luck, a “good” life is in how you look at it. You can get fired from a job and see it as the world ending – “How am I going to pay my bills? Where am I going to find a job in this economy?” – or as the kick in your ass that you’ve been needing;  in fact, we often retroactively change how we felt about critical events in our lives. My getting dumped by my supposedly “perfect” girlfriend after being fired from my “perfect” job sucked at the time… but now I actually find myself happy that it all went down the way it did.

You don’t have to be a full-on Pollyanna, but you do have to be willing to assume the best about everyone and everything… including yourself. Even when things go badly – and they will; a positive outlook isn’t a Protection From Bad Shit spell – you have to be willing to think “yes, this sucks, but all will be well in the end”.

Get Lost Inside Your Own Mind

One of the best ways to increase the amount of happiness in your life is to find peace. There are few easier ways of finding that peace than through meditation. Being able to silence the constant stream of noise and insecurity running through your brain and just enjoy ten minutes of quiet and tranquility will do amazing things for your life.

Meditation is one of the most powerful tools for improving your life. Ten minutes of meditation a day dramatically reduces your stress levels, helps control your anxieties, soothes away the tension in your life and even can improve your physical and emotional health.

More often than not, we’re the biggest obstacle to our own happiness; the voice of our jerk-brain loves nothing more than to remind us of all the times we’ve fucked up, tell us over and over again how we’re horrible people, how we’re failures and how nothing we do will ever measure up. That chatter is so constant that often we don’t even notice it any more; like chronic pain, we become so accustomed to it’s presence that the only time we are aware of it is by it’s absence.

 

... rather like my jacked up shoulder, really.

… rather like my jacked up shoulder, really.

Meditation is how we learn how to control our jerkbrain and make it shut up. It gives us control over our own minds, makes us aware of our moods and emotions and the reasons behind them and thus gives us power over them.

Taking ten minutes a day to give us inner peace? A refuge from being our own worst enemy? That’s amazing. And it will make you happier than you realized you could be.

Stop Being A Victim

There’s nothing like believing that you’re powerless to make you miserable. I’ve talked before about Martin Seligman’s experiments in behavioral modification, using electrical shocks to condition them to specific behaviors.

The dogs who were taught that they had no control over their lives – that they couldn’t escape from the pain, no matter what they did – gave in. They sat there in abject misery, bracing themselves for the shock… even when they could escape.

They had become victims. They had been taught that they had no control and thus could only endure the pain.

 

As opposed to these puppies who really just want you to bury your face in their fur until you die from cute.

As opposed to these puppies who really just want you to bury your face in their fur until you die from cute.

People fall succumb to this misery as well; they surrender their autonomy under the belief that there’s just nothing they can do.

Except you don’t have to be the victim. Being the victim means you’ve given up your ability change. You’ve ceded your responsibility for your life; nothing is your fault, but instead is done to you. By giving up responsibility you’ve lost your ability to take up arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing, end them.

While you can’t control everything that happens to you, you can control how you react to it. You lost your job? You can wallow in your misery or you can ask yourself what you’re going to do about it. You face nothing but rejection from women? You can whine about the unfairness of it all, or you can take control of your life and fix things.

It’s not going to be easy. Some people will have an easier time than others; some people will have a far harder time.That’s life. Life isn’t fair. Life just is. But you have a choice between guaranteed misery and the pursuit of happiness. Happiness isn’t something you’re given, it’s something you earn.

If you want to be happy, you have to be willing to go out and create it.

Shit happens. And when it does, you have a choice. Are you going to cowboy up and fight for a happier life, or are you going to just lay there and bleed?

 

  1. Looking at you, Firefly & Arrested Development []
  2. RIP… []
  3. De do, de do, de do de do…. []

Comments

  1. gaaaaaaaah. "last ours of day 7" bro do you even proof? No seriously this one has a few typos in it. Also a few errant it'ses.

    Also, why do you hate Life of Brian? Or is that an article in itself?

  2. The word happiness is over used. Rather than seeking happiness, which is temporary and elusive, people should focus on contentness. Being content is much more permanent and satisfactory feeling, the acceptance that you can live with your life as it is and that things aren't too bad. People should not go over board with contentness, if your life is terrible or at least bad in one respect or another than you should do something about it rather than live with dull and passive acceptance. Too many people stay in horrible situations because they confuse fatalism and contentness.

    • I do think simple contentment is far underrated. (I wonder how much culture would have changed if it was "the pursuit of contentment" instead of happiness?") Learning to be happy with the small beauties of everyday life is a cultivated skill that too few people have.

      On the other hand, there is something to be said against the dangers of complacency. Contentment and striving to better yourself aren't mutually exclusive, but many people have a difficult time balancing "I'm happy and things are good, why change?" with "I'm not as good as I could be, let's try and get better."

      Actually, in a slightly related tangent, I just read an article on how positive thinking, if taken too far/done excessively by neurotypical folks, can actually make you less productive because it tricks your brain into thinking you've already done the things you were visualizing you'd do well in, and thus you're less worried about getting it done. (I say neurotypical because there's been a good number of case studies/anecdotes on the effectiveness of positive thinking on folks with depression.) Probably great if you're about to dive into a situation where being relaxed and positive is the main benefit, like in public speaking or going on a date or an interview! Or for situations where there's actually nothing you can do, like looking back on past issues or after you've sent off your resume/script to that awesome company/agent. Probably not so great if you're going to do something tricky that doesn't really care how relaxed and confident you are, like programming or conducting experiments in a lab or writing up TPS reports. (This doesn't really have anything to do with the rest of the comment, I just thought it was interesting.)

      • I personallly think that positive thinking is a type of snake-oil psycology so I'm not really that into it. If anything, I somewhat but not very pessimistic outlook tempered with determination, hope, and contentment is the best way to go through life.

        Complancency is the word I'm looking for rather than fatalism. I just couldn't think of it at the time. People can't confuse complacency and contentment.

    • I don't think trying to be happy is a horrible goal. For example, I used to be mildly content with my life. It was okay, nothing great. After much thought and reflection, I decided to change this. I started to focus on things that I thought would improve my life. It took a bit of trial and error but I learned a lot about myself and figured out what kind of activities really enhance My life (may not work for others). I have gone from being mildy content all of the time to being Very content with awesome burst of happiness occurring fairly frequently in my life. I think it is definitely worth the effort to find what little (or big) things that make you happy but you have to evaluate yourself to figure out what would work for You. (i.e. learning to crochet makes me happy while learning to knit is a form of personal tourture)

  3. The section on television is inaccurate. It presumes an American model where television is strictly the province of commercial businesses. In most other countries, there is at least one state owned or charterered broadcaster that is at least somewhat to very immune to commerical pressures. The BBC is the most famous example of this. Doctor Who basically started as a product of the Brtish government through the licensing funds the BBC gets. The BBC isn't completely immune to commercial pressure but can be more experimental than NBC or even HBO because of its guaranteed source of funding.

    • Whilst the UK government can freeze/lower/increase the license fee, the BBC is not a department of government. None of its programmes are the products of the British government.

      Dr Who began as an education show for children.

      • The BBC operates independetly of the British government but it receives its charter and primary funding from the government. It can fall under government pressure more easily than a commercial broadcaster in some ways. That makes it close enough to an agency of the state in my opinion and its shows are in away provided by the government.

        That being said, being immune from commercial pressures isn't a guarantee of quality. NHK receives its funding from the Japanese government but basically operates on the level of an ordinary commercial broadcaster without commercials.

        • I think the Hutton Inquiry pretty much proved the BBC is not an agency of the state. Also, it's news output certainly isn't some sort of "kiss ass" to the government of the day. It can fall under government pressure but it can also put the government under pressure and isn't afraid to investigate the government, politics etc.

          It's shows are not provided by the government. The government is not in editorial control of the BBC. At least not directly. It's not like North Korean TV. The British people fund it through the license fee. The BBC is a powerful enemy of people like Rupert Murdoch and more likely to care about content and quality than ratings even though it has shown itself to hold its own against the likes of ITV and Channel 4.

  4. Christine says:

    My experience is that it's not so much creating positivity as short-circuiting the negativity. After one of my siblings forced me to read The Power of the Subconscious Mind (very old book, never out of print, strangely written yet contains value), I learned that every time I said something negative out loud, I was conditioning my brain to believe it. In order to stop doing that, I had to learn to find reframe the thought. For example, instead of saying "I can't…" I started saying "I'm still learning how to…" or "I want to be able to…"

    It sounds like nothing, but once I started doing that, my life changed very much for the better. I think it might be something like the way that people who are lucky notice more opportunities and are able to take advantage of them.

    • We had a rule in my martial arts dojang that you weren't allowed to say the word "can't" for a similar reason. I (more or less) followed that rule, but it really didn't do much for my frame of mind…. If anything, I just ended up even more frustrated because I couldn't *express* my frustration that after weeks and weeks of practice, I STILL couldn't do decent knock-bop. I dunno, maybe I'm weird, but those sorts of mental techniques don't seem to work on me.

      • Christine says:

        Interesting. I'm glad you gave it a try, though. I remember that it was torture for me for the first few weeks (or months? not sure) until I felt a kind of mental shift take place. After quite a long time, it did become second nature.

      • I think the whole "never say 'can't'" thing works for some people in some situations. For me, I actually became a lot happier through the exact opposite: when I'd spent years ignoring my limitations and bashing my head against the same wall over and over again because I knew I /ought/ to be able to do something and so responded to continual failure with "I just have to try harder", finally going "okay, screw what society is telling me I'm /supposed/ to be able to do, I CAN'T DO X. Now what?" was an incredibly uplifting experience, and framing things in terms of "can't" instead of "won't" has really improved my life and done wonders for my mental health. Nowadays I will wax eloquent about the power of accepting your limits and finding ways to work around your problems instead of trying to push through them because you don't think they should be there.

        So, y'know. Definitely not a universal.

  5. Geekavenger says:

    While your point about TV is valid, the problem isn't watching TV, it is letting the advertisements exert power over you. If you are avoiding ads, good luck. If happiness means avoiding TV, Movies, Magazines, Radio, The INTERNET, outside, the men's restroom and my phone then I guess I don't know what I could do, besides become a Hermit or a Monk or something…

    I think the message should be try and step above consumerism not to avoid or minimize exposure to it. Even acknowledging that an ad is a shallow attempt by a corporation to create a false need in my life, reduces its power. That is not to say products and services can't provide value in our lives, but seeing them as wants and not NEEDS is important.

    • I think the ads are the worst of the problem, but that (in excess, or if taken too seriously) there can be some problems with the content as well. Most shows are populated by people who live in huge houses or gorgeous apartments, have limitless wardrobes and lots of fun toys (thanks, product placement), never go to work or don't do much work while they're there, have way more sex with way more attractive people than the norm, and are constantly having either exciting or amusing things happen to them. This is the case even for characters who are alleged to be poor, overworked, unattractive, geeky, or boring.

      There are still some great shows on, but I think they also need to be recognized as trying to sell something, even if it's just the writers' idea of the world.

      • Geekavenger says:

        Agreed, the same can be said of almost all media and especially in "popular" fiction. I think painting TV as the bad guy is an easy scape goat for the overall issues with consumer driven media production. The same criticisms on content could be thrown at Twilight, or The DaVinci Code, or Dracula. Stories about poor normal rational people don't sell, because they aren't (Typically) interesting.

        So I think you are correct but it is probably fair to expand the "be wary of the image TV is selling" warning to "be wary of the image Anybody is selling"

        • I agree, and I wouldn't even limit it to popular media. There are a lot of things considered classic or at least highbrow that can inspire envy if someone spends too much time with them, either because the works themselves contain idealized characters who have happy endings, or because readers or viewers miss the point and take the wrong lessons from the piece (women who swoon over Mr. Darcy, dudes who idealize Patrick Bateman, anyone who thinks The Great Gatsby was presenting something to envy).

          I think TV, pop fiction, romantic comedies, and action movies get the most criticism on this front because they're the most common forms of escapist entertainment, not because they're so much more likely to lead to unrealistic expectations than other things.

          • Paul Rivers says:

            Yeah, exactly, just take Romeo and Juliet.

            "So two people from different fueding families fall in love, indirectly cause the death of someone else, and then both kill themselves in a misunderstanding when just having a cool head and waiting a couple of days would have meant they could have been together rather than both being dead?"

            "Yes. It's very romantic!"

            lol

          • Gentleman Horndog says:

            I feel like idolizing the romance Romeo and Juliet ranks right up there with throwing Great Gatzby parties in the pantheon of "Misunderstood Cautionary Tales."

            Yes, yes, young love is very intense. It also makes you DANGEROUSLY STUPID. Thank CHRIST we grow out of it.

          • In other news, the sun rises in the east. I long given up hope of people interpreting Romeo and Juliet and the Great Gatsby correctly.

            No, I don't believe in the death of the author theory. Why do you ask?

          • hobbesiean says:

            always reminded me of the bit in Con Air "Define Irony" with a bunch of guys dancing to a song made famous by a band that died in a plane crash..

          • Dr_NerdLove says:

            I always preferred the line from Family Guy.”Remember last week when you asked me what the definition of 'irony' was?”

          • Why do you assume the idolization of extreme passion or grandiose decadence are necessarily the result of misunderstanding? I find it needlessly uncharitable towards people to assume that they didn't understand whatever work because they idolize these desirable things.

            It's a massive oversimplification to say that there is nothing to envy in Gatsby or Romeo And Juliet, or nothing appealing about Bateman. Rather, these works become infinitely more interesting when you take that idolizing reaction as a part of the work itself, as a reaction they meant to induce. They're not sermons or propaganda, you shouldn't try to reduce them to cautionary tales status.

            I mean, yeah sure, maturity and stability are great, and being stupid out of loven is dangerous, but would you really prefer indifferent contentment to unbridled passion (and with it, perhaps, misery)?

        • I think that TV and to a lesser extent movies get depicted as the "bad" media because its a very visual media. With books, its difficult for many people to really visualize the characters even if the author gives a very detailed description of a characters appearance when we first encounter them. So when a book describes a man as handsome and having brown hair, you could still have a wide variety of variables in how fans see him. Some might see straight hair and others curly, some slender and others muscular, etc. Books usually leave more the imagination and in part the reader gets what he or she is selling to him or herself.

    • Christine says:

      In the book Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, the author describes why television is different from other media. As I recall, he says that because of the way our brains perceive and assemble the signals, the message (advertisement) is already received and in our brain before we have a chance to reject it, so it takes extra effort to fight the mental infiltration of television advertising. The author spent years in advertising and has interesting insights for consumers.

    • I would also say that TV is a good thing as long as it's moderated. While there is merit in absorbing stories and all forms of art, high and low, I think many happy people make the most of their own authentic experiences. Taking a walk on a nature trail or in the urban jungle, working with your hands, or even playing with a pet; these things offer more to the senses and brain than sitting in front of a screen. It's also difficult to compare your life when you're too busy being fully engaged in the world around you. So I support getting away from the TV, at least until after I've had my own adventures.

  6. While I think it's great and inspirational to say all of us have something someone else would happily have, I don't think that's necessarily true. I think it's a rather gross over-simplification, because 1) every silver lining comes with a cloud, so even that great thing another person would want would perhaps not be something they wanted after they had it (example: people might be envious of me because I don't live with a roommate. But they probably wouldn't enjoy the price tag that comes with not having a roommate….) and 2) it's still not true for everyone.

    I have racked my brains, and I cannot come up with a single unique thing I have that other people would be envious of. Sure, I have a job…. but there are far better jobs out there to be envious of, that I cannot imagine why anyone would spend an iota of a second wishing they had mine. I mean, if you're gonna be envious, be envious of the best, ya know? But either way, it isn't something that is unique *to me*, so convincing myself that I should be happy that I have this unique thing other people would want falls on its face when there is no uniqueness to be had. Not all of us ARE special little snowflakes. Some of us are, down to our bones, boring, average folks.

    Also about the "well at least you're not in Syria" positive philosophy; boy, do I really hate that line of thinking. Our life is lived in context, and insisting someone be grateful for their life unless they can prove they have the worst life on the planet is a race to the bottom. If we shouldn't compare ourselves to the top, then we shouldn't compare ourselves to the bottom either. I just really hate the idea that we are all in competition with each other for the validity of our own feelings; it's as if you're not allowed to feel anything negative or bad, even if it's extremely bad or agonizing for you, because it isn't the worst thing out there that anyone has experienced.

    • As you say, our life is lived in context – that's true for the envy side too. I think people tend to make a lot of comparisons to the people they know rather than on a huge scale. So, they probably wouldn't be comparing themselves to the person with the best job in the world, they'd just be like "man, look at Marty, why can't I manage to get a full-time job like hers? She's doing so much better than me."

      It's like, when you're feeling insecure about looks, you don't just compare yourself to the supermodel in the magazine, right? You'd also look at the woman sitting beside you who's pretty average-looking but still wish your hair was as nice as hers or that you had legs like hers or whatever, even though in the grand scheme of things they might not be the objectively best hair or legs (assuming that, you know, there was such a thing as objectively best hair or legs, which there ain't)

      • Sure, but even in context, I don't really have anything people would want that they couldn't get a better deal elsewhere. Even among my friends and social circle, my job is like bottom-barrel.

        • But I think you never know what other people are envying. Like, maybe they don't envy your job but they envy some particular aspect of it, or a skill of yours, or your eyebrows, or anything – even if from your perspective, they have it better than you in that aspect, they may see it differently.

    • Does it have to be something big? I'm not in Syria, but I wish I had the patience and talent for sewing and costume design. Sometimes focusing on small things makes it easier to pick out things that might not be completely unique, but that aren't universal or common either.

      • It actually does not take that much patience to sew; it only takes patience to make it look good, which I obviously don't worry about, going by how my projects turn out.

        • I have attempted to learn how to sew in the past (my mother enjoys it, and there was a long period where she hadn't realized her youngest got all the crafty genes). It might not take much patience on an objective level, but it takes far more than I have. I remember lots of throwing things across the room when I got bored or they didn't look like I'd imagined them. :)

          This isn't unique to you by any means, but I'd also happily trade cities with you!

        • …if that's true, than my patience must be in the negatives, because two seconds of sewing makes me start screaming!

        • Marty, I can't even sow on a button and I'd dearly love to know how to sow on a botton.

    • I also live without roommates. I think people are not morons and are aware that it costs more, they are envious that I can afford to live on my own. They have every right to be envious. I am envious of people who live with a partner because I think with two salaries you can pull in a far better one bedroom than mine. I know a ton of people who are drowning in student debt and can't find even a decent job. Yeah, they sure as shit are envious of you and your mediocre job and ability to pay your bills. You know how to sew clothes. I have long wished I had the time to learn that.

      Why be envious of the best? Why strive for something unachievable? I would rather think "man, I wish I could afford a better apartment like Marty," and then try to make that happen. You shouldn't be happy because you have some unique thing, you should be happy you have a thing. I'm not saying it should bring you loads of joy to the point where you want nothing else, but come on, give yourself a break. Let yourself see the good you have. When I was single, I used to go out a meet guys and if I had even one positive interaction where I left feeling like I had enjoyed myself, I considered it victory. Score! I talked to an interesting person and it was a good conversation! Not thinking about going in terms of success = a dude I like asking me out made going out way more pleasant. For a while, I had a friend I was casually sleeping with. I knew he didn't particularly want to take things to a serious level and I didn't either, but if I was getting upset that my romantic life was basically this dude I knew I wasn't going to date, I would be so depressed. Instead, I saw that I was having a fun time with him and he was a really cool person, and that having him in my life at all was pretty kick ass. He's now one of my best friends. No one is saying you have to be grateful when shitty shit happens to you, but your life is not shitty 100% of the time. It's about finding the times it's not shitty and actually kind of great, and really appreciating that. Why is that somehow not giving yourself validity to acknowledge bad things? We acknowledge bad things way too easily and good things not nearly enough. If you're going to bitch about the things that aren't going right, fine, but take the same effort and put into seeing the things that ARE going well. That is much much harder to do.

      I had a professor in college who used to say "We all want to believe that we are filet mignon, but in the end most of us are meatballs. And there is nothing is wrong with a good meatball."

      • …and now I want meatballs.

      • My life isn't shitty 100% of the time, but when it's not shitty it's fairly mundane, boring and blah… and that's because I'm in it, and I as a person am rather mundane, boring and blah. Like the sewing thing. Sure, I can make clothes-out of manufactured patterns, where the clothing still comes out wonky and I just spent $30 and 10 hours making a really ill-fitting top. Hurray me?… I just finished a pattern-making class, and while it was really fascinating, I was the worst of the bunch, and the dress that was supposed to be custom-made to fit us made me look like a bloated, fat, ugly monster.

        And sure, I can afford an apartment on my own, but that's also because I sacrifice in lots of other areas (live far away from friends or interesting places, have to drive everywhere, can't have a dog), and I am also still drowning in debt and barely able to pay my bills.

        See, I get looking on the "bright side" and being grateful for good things…. but when all your life does is fluctuate between "sucky" and "meh", how are you supposed to be grateful for that?? There's nothing wrong with being a *good* meatball, but what if in the end, you're an extremely bland, tasteless and sometimes gross meatball? Who would be happy eating that?

        • I feel like your example of the pattern-making class is really off-putting, because it seems like you're grading people on their performance instead of seeing them for their essential humanity – and it seems that you believe other people behave the same way. This, right here, is the big cognitive block I'd love to see you overcome. This attitude would certainly be a big issue for me in becoming friends with you; if I performed "worse" than you at something, I wouldn't want that contempt turned on me, and if I performed "better" then I wouldn't want it turned on you.

          Here's an essential-humanity example from my own life. I'm taking an art class with my partner and a dear friend of ours. We are all pretty terrible at drawing! But I do a great job at capturing the energy of a model's pose, and my partner has a great eye for proportion, and our friend is fantastic with color. We all have things to learn from each other as we develop our individual styles in a way that reflects who we each are. We may never be any good at drawing, but we are very clearly improving in every single class – and drawing together is so much fun because we get to spend time with our favorite people.

          The apartment thing is, well, the kinds of tradeoffs that everyone has to make – no matter how "objectively good" their life circumstances. For example, my partner and I live with another couple. It's an affordable, fabulous space in a great location, but the kitchen is perpetually dirty (unless I clean it, and I won't play maid), I often feel socially overloaded, and we had to stop fostering cats. There's no such thing as a perfect life; you just have to learn which tradeoffs are acceptable to you, and which aren't. I wonder whether you might be happier with trying a different set of pros and cons for a while, like finding a roommate and putting more money away.

          • I don't think their performance merits their value as people, but the point of a class/project/ability is to be, ya know, good at it. And I guess I really don't see how what I'm doing is different than what you're doing when evaluating yourself/your friends in your art class…. aside from the fact that I state quite clearly I have no advantages over the other ladies in my class. When it comes to my hobbies and activities, I'm one of those people who folks really can't come up with a good compliment for (like "You're so good at capturing the energy of a pose!") because there is just *nothing.*

            That's where the contempt comes from… that other people have at least something they can bring to the table, and I bring nothing.

          • Well, what's different is that the point of taking our drawing class is not to BE good at drawing, but rather to enjoy the process of drawing, the challenge of improving our skills, and the company of good friends. It's not that we're good at color / proportion / energy in any absolute sense – everyone else in the class is WAY better than all three of us at all of those things. We have no advantages over them! But by attending to where our skills seem to be, we are each learning to draw more like ourselves. It also means I can invest my energy wisely. I don't worry too much about my proportions being terrible when I'm focusing on playing to my strengths (energy), and I know that when I want to improve my weaknesses (proportions) there are people I can ask.

            I'm not going to respond to "I bring nothing to the table" by arguing directly with it. Not only does that insult you, it also implicitly validates the underlying thought structure behind the claim. Instead, I'm going to gently encourage you to notice that once again, you're framing what you "bring to the table" in a competitive, absolutist, universalizing way. I promise you that there are people out there who blow your classmates out of the water; does that mean they bring nothing to the table? Or do these rules apply only to you?

          • The rules apply in context. King of a mole hill is still a king in a land of mole hills, even if he isn't as much a king if you move him to a kingdom of mountains. The only thing I see that applies to me is the idea that I am *never* king of the mole hill, or the ant hill, or any kind of hill. I have absolutely nothing in which I am near the best, even in context.

            Yet again we run into that issue of why you do things. I've mentioned it before, but I don't enjoy activities that I'm no good at it, or it seems that I'll never get better at. The frustration and stagnation just sucks up too much of the enjoyment for me. For example, this pattern making class…. I was very excited about it, but found myself walking away from the class dejected and deflated. I didn't want to run home and get right to work on making a new pattern; I wanted to sit quietly in a corner and mourn over yet another thing I can't do. It's an experience I don't enjoy, and thus avoid whenever possible.

            Some people can enjoy things they aren't good at, though I still insist no one would enjoy activities they were the worst at with no improvement for very long, so I don't get why people treat my particular perspective on hobby-enjoyment with such surprise.

          • So what about finding a context where you are the best? For example, you could join a beginner class in an area where you already have expertise.

            Also, I get that it's no fun to be the worst and not feel like you're improving. But you talk a lot about being the worst, and not a lot about whether you improve or not. That's pretty much exactly the piece I'm trying to challenge.

          • Wanna know something sad? I'm not even the best as a beginner.

            Worst, not improving… I see them as the same.

          • Right, and I'm suggesting that they aren't actually the same. For example, I don't mind being the worst as long as I'm improving.

            I think you might benefit greatly from reading Carol Dweck's work on mindset.

          • Er, that is not meant to imply that YOU should be okay with being the worst as long as you are improving – just to show that the two do not have to be identical.

          • But my point is that because I am not improving, I remain the worst. It wouldn't be so bad if I started off poorly (I am very game for trying lots of different activities), but *staying* awful is what's exhausting.

          • Yeah. Hmm. Well, I've heard you say things like "I got to be a green belt" (improving!) and I'm guessing you weren't born knowing how to use a sewing machine. So while I believe you feel this way, I don't think it's useful for me to respond to this as if it were an accurate description.

          • Getting a colored belt is not really that significant. I once watched a girl forget her long form 5 times in a row *during a test* for a high belt, and they still passed her. Achievement doesn't start getting impressive until you get much further up the ranks.

            And no, I wasn't born learning how to use a sewing machine. But showing minimum improvement, the very base amount, of a skill is really not what people mean when they say "improvement." The idea is that you learn the thing, and then you get better at it. I learned the thing, and then got stuck there.

          • What I observe here is that you're dismissing and minimizing the achievements you've got, and only counting the things you have trouble with as "improving."

            I recognize this pattern because I have a very similar pattern around "working hard." (If I worked at a certain intensity, it clearly wasn't hard so doesn't count. What matters is that I didn't work harder.) This pattern is really crappy because it erases anything you might possibly feel good about, and makes it impossible to actually perceive your strengths and weaknesses accurately. For example, it took me a long time to realize that I work best in the morning because I was so busy hating myself for being lazy.

            That's just what I see. YMMV.

          • I see this same pattern, too, Marty. The pattern of short-circuited thinking is extremely clear from the outside and I really think it's something you can change and start to feel better in your life rather than a reflection of an absolute, external truth. It's often easier for outside people to see where we're going wrong in our thinking — especially since our jerkbrains are so good at convincing us that we're possessing some capital-T-Truth that other people just don't get.

          • Ok well my poor wording and confusing phrasing I can't blame on the iPad. Sorry! I think ya know what I mean though :)

          • Marty, I agree with everything kleenestar and ethyl have to say and I hope you can sit with their words for a while and process them. It makes me really sad to see you comment on every post about how nothing seems to work for you.

            I think the point kleenestar is trying to get at is that happiness and love aren't built on being the best, or even good, at something. I have way more fun with my friends who just enjoy the experience, even when they are terrible, than I do with friends who are hung up on being good, even when they are really good.

            You seem to have no joy in your life, and I think a big reason is that you are seeing everything in black and white set achievements that are either won or failed. Life is fluid, and it happens in the grey areas. You have the power to choose how you interpret and experience every moment of it. Learning is that way, too. Learning is a process, it's not like BOOM! Knowledge dropped and suddenly you have a new skill. Like me with Borderlands: I've been playing that game (well both games) for YEARS and I just now started to get kind of good-ish at it. I'm still way way way below other people but I can finally play and get through on my own. A lot of it was practice, some of it was luck and how prolific the rare drops have been lately, some of it was finally trying the Siren class and realizing she's my favorite. But if I gave up the first time I tried and was pretty terrible when I used to play with my ex, I never would've discovered the joy of being ok enough at it to play alone.

            Sometimes when you keep at it, you finally discover some trick or different way of doing something and it breaks it open for you, but you'll only get there if you are curious and enjoying the process. Learning from mistakes is the most valuable, meaningful way to learn but you can't take anything from your mistakes if they fill you with frustration.

            I used to be a perfectionist (still am but not as bad), so this is coming from a place of deep empathy. I used to have a miserable eating disorder, and I could only see how fat I was or wasn't. I had no joy in my body, or my life. I was so set on believing that my value was in whether I achieved a certain number on the scale that I missed out on YEARS of my life. I'm still not at a weight I like, in fact I'm at my heaviest right now, but I've come to realize that when I take and give joy, nobody cares. I'm the only one who truly cares about my weight. I could be at my dream weight and my friends still wouldn't give two shits, all they care about is how I treat them and what kind of energy I put out when I'm with them. People only truly care about the experience they have with you, not if you are great at something.

            I would suggest trying the Doc's challenge of positivity for 7 days. If you can embrace the spirit of the challenge, I think it will help a lot. Also maybe watch some videos on http://www.self-compassion.org to see how insanely critical it is to be compassionate and kind to yourself.

            Try seeing yourself in a different way. Instead of being the woman who isn't good at anything, be the woman who is down for trying anything. That is a really cool personality trait, in my opinion. I LOVE people who are game for trying new things, especially if they can laugh with me when we're terrible at them. If I met you somewhere and you told me about how you tried all these different classes and could talk about it in a positive way, I would think you were insanely interesting. I would never even think to ask you if you were good at any of them. I would only ask, "Did you enjoy it?"

            My last suggestion would be to maybe go to classes that are demos instead of hands-on – that way you can learn and enjoy the process but since you are not doing anything yourself you won't have that judgment in the way. Try a cooking class or something where you go watch someone do something, and then get to reap the rewards of eating it or whatever. Maybe this will help you practice learning to enjoy the experience over the outcome.

            Anyway, sorry for the novel! I've been meaning to write something to you for a while now and finally got motivated by this thread. I hope something in here made some sense to you, and please know this is all spoken gently out of empathy and compassion.

        • I come across a lot of people with non-mundane lives in my work and believe you me, many of them would sell their souls for a boring and ordianry life. Usually when life isn't average; its extraordianry in a bad way like a really horrible home situation or crushing poverty or war.

          • That old curse: May you live in interesting times. I think "May you have an interesting life" is just as valid.

          • Gentleman Horndog says:

            Jill Sobule has a really funny, heart-rending song about how she wishes she was some member of the audience who HADN'T followed their dreams and who was working a 9-to-5 instead of being a singer living a life of poverty in a crappy New York apartment. "I wish I was you!" is, as I recall, one of the lines — and she seemed to be putting some sincerity behind it.

            I suspect she doesn't feel like that 24/7, but from a certain perspective, "mundane" can appeal to people you wouldn't think wanted it.

          • I sincerely doubt that's true, since a boring and mundane life really isn't that hard to achieve.

          • People who live extraordinary lives tend have the extraordinariness through at them by life rather than selecting it on their own accord. Usually, not always.

          • I meant thrown at them by life.

          • Niteynite says:

            ^
            This times 100.

    • Hobbesian says:

      Well see case in point. I’d look at what you have being basically what I want. To have a full time job and to live on my own. You also live in a place I think is awesome. Even though I know of your hardships because you have shared them with forums. That being said if I had things of a comparable nature I wouldn’t be any happier than I am now, once I have something or have accomplished something it simply becomes as it was supposed to be. Only things that are lacking are still desired.

      • So, does that mean you only want them for the achievement badge?

        Because I would think that things like a full-time job, living on your own and living in an area you like would have concrete benefits that would usually affect a person's happiness. For example, you hate driving, right, so living in a city and having access to public transportation would probably reduce your stress and make it easier for you to get out and do stuff you want to do, wouldn't it?

        • See, the funny thing is, I don't even necessarily want these things (apartment on my own, full-time job that I have), but I have them because I *have* to have them. I live alone because I couldn't find any roommates who would have me, and I have this job because I have to pay the bills and can't get a job anywhere else. They don't feel like achievements to me, so much as "things that are part of life's grind."

          Things like a job I like, a house, even a dog, would be achievements for me-but they are things I also can't hope to achieve for years. So these "achievements" I should be grateful for, I feel like are things I don't even want, and I can't get the things I DO want.

        • Hobbesian says:

          Not exactly. It’s more like I simply consider those thing I should have. Is it possible they would make me momentarily happy? Maybe. But I’d just a quickly find something else to long for. A better neighborhood, more money, a better job, less time on transit. Etc. I just don’t think it’s really possible for me to ever be happy. No matter what I do.

          • Gentleman Horndog says:

            You've come to the conclusion that chasing something better will literally never make you happy. You may be right.

            So what are you doing to teach yourself to enjoy what you already have?

          • hobbesiean says:

            How do I answer this without sounding completely assholish.. I can't really think of a way so I'll just do my best.

            I can't 'Enjoy' nothing, and right now that's precisely what I have, nothing. So that's exactly what I'm doing to teach myself, Nothing.

            learning to enjoy my current life would be learning to enjoy being broke, having no friends, going 2 weeks without talking to anyone except my therapist, eating nothing but Peanut Butter sandwiches and ramen cause it's all i can afford and still put enough gas in my car to get back and forth to school, having a nearly constant toothache/headache which I cannot get looked at cause I have no money.. no I don't have anything to enjoy right now.

          • This sounds like something CBT might be able to help you with. Maybe bring it up with your therapist?

          • hobbesiean says:

            I don't think she can graduate me from college, give me a job and set me up in an apartment in a city with good public transit.. and as i said somewhere else these are things which I consider to be the bare minimum of living standards that I need to have met in order to even begin proceeding on anything else. the problem is that in order to even attempt to get these things.. I have at minimum another 3 years before i can even start.. and by that point I'll be nearly 60,000$ in debt for school. and that's just for a Bachelor's degree in a useless humanities subject.

            but a BA in History beats a GED 10 ways from sunday, and that's about the only thing that keeps me going.

          • I meant the "I just don't think it's really possible for me to ever be happy" part, not the situational part. I think you're working on the situational part pretty well yourself.

          • hobbesiean says:

            To borrow a meme… "Ain't nobody got time for that"…

        • hobbesiean says:

          To further this.. if all i wanted was the achievement badge then I'd have the achievement badges unlocked even though I no longer possess the object that unlocked them.

          What I want is to have those things in a state of permanence. They are the absolute BASE level things I need in order to even begin to not feel like a complete loser 100% of the time, and I honestly feel that I cannot even begin to make progress on any other issues until I have these things. These are not desires, these are mandatory foundation stones.

    • I think you're completely right that nothing comes cost-free. Every strength has a flipside weakness; every opportunity has a flipside challenge. But that is not just true for you – it's true for everybody!

      I also think uniqueness is overrated. For example, I am more than a little jealous of how videogenic you are. There are so many things I would like to do if I didn't look like an idiot on film! You are hardly the only person out there who is videogenic, and you're not the most videogenic person in the world, but it's still something you've got that I would love to have.

      (If it were something learnable, I'd try to learn it from you; sadly for me, looking strange on film seems to run in my family.)

    • I guess to me the way I get around it is by not thinking "Well at least you're not in Syria" but by recognizing that I'm struggling just as much as everyone else. Maybe we struggle differently, but we all struggle. You ever play the Sims? Unless you use a cheat code, you can only be so good at some things and you improve in one area to the detriment of others. I don't like simplifying life down to a video game too much, but I think this is a pretty good analogy. The thing is, just like with the sims (or heck, skyrim) there's no right way to divvy up your skill points. Sure, you need to have some points in most categories or you'll have a hard time (say, enough money to eat, basic social skills). But ultimately it's all about your play style.

      So maybe it's not about thinking "Man, someone else would kill to have my life" but thinking "Everyone has their own skill point allocation, so we are all unique, even if we aren't all maxed out in some category."

      • See, it doesn't really seem to me like a lot of people struggle. Maybe I'm just blessed in that I hang out with really exceptional people, but a lot of the folks I know seem to have it really frigging good: no debt, nice places, frequent vacations, a really enjoyable social life, fun hobbies, loving-and-committing relationships OR adventurous-and-playful single lives…. Sure, there are some frustrations and stressors, but overall, they really DO seem to have it really freaking good.

        It's like in high school, I hung out on the periphery of this one particular crowd. All of them (except me!) were amazing artists (painted, played at least 2 instruments), A students (we had 8 valedictorians), brilliant, funny, got along with most everyone…. If this was a sitcom, I'd have discovered each of them had some deep, dark struggle with substance abuse or had secret attic-wives, but nope, they were just exceptional, happy teenagers with very little drama who grew up into exceptional, happy adults.

        I know you're not supposed to compare yourself with others, but good Lord, hanging out with the crowds I do, I just cannot wrap my head around how the people I envy struggle like I do cause there is NO evidence of it.

        • It's just fundamentally not true. Everybody struggles. If not at this instant, then tomorrow or yesterday. If not at what you see, then at something you can't. Everyone. Struggles.

          • Is it really a comparable struggle if you're trying to decide which amazing college you should go to, when they are both prestigious and offering you amazing scholarships, and for which your parents can afford to pay for your loans what your school won't cover so you never have to work while in school?

            Sure, everyone struggles….. but I think it's dangerously dishonest to suggest we all struggle *equally.*

          • But you're worried that you won't cut it because you've been the top dog of your high school and now you're about to dive into a pond in which you are a very small fish. Or you're worried about moving so far away from home because you've never made it to summer camp. Or hell, you have clinical depression or all those years of getting good grades has given you so much anxiety and control issues that you have an eating disorder. Or your boyfriend didn't get into as good as school as you by far and he's pressuring you into going to the local state school so you can be together and your relationship isn't maybe the healthiest thing in the world but you're 18 and scared and dependent and can't imagine breaking up with the love of your life. Or or or.

            Point is, you. just. don't. know.

          • Gentleman Horndog says:

            "I think it's dangerously dishonest to suggest we all struggle *equally.*"

            Agreed. But nobody's saying that, so hooray!

          • fakely_mctest says:

            And, honestly, how would you even quantify "equal" struggling? It's like pain tolerance: each person has a different set of life circumstances and coping skills that contextualize their struggle. Just because a certain something is easy for me doesn't mean it's easy for others; just because it seems like something is easy for others doesn't mean it actually is.

          • And if we aren't struggling equally, then you have to acknowledge that there are also people struggling more than you.

        • I've actually been having a thing recently where people are making this assumption about me a lot, listing the visible parts of my life like you're doing for your friends and telling me how much they envy some aspect of my life or that I've got it so easy. And it makes me want to hit them.

          Because I am struggling. They're making all kinds of assumptions about how Thing A comes with Benefits B, C and D as well when they don't for me, and they assume that if they don't see it, there's no problem, however distant an acquaintance they might be and however unlikely I am to elaborate on my personal struggles with them. You can't know what other people are going through.

          • Yes, people do this to me too. When I list my accomplishments people are often like "Wow, that's so great" but I struggle with so many things in my life. People just don't know. I know I say on here that people's relationships are black boxes but so are other people's lives.

        • Are these the same people who behave like horrible human beings to you?

          • No, different group. Though even the people who were mean to me seem to have it made pretty well (at least they have more savings, less debt, and far better social lives than me.)

          • Sure, but they're also assholes who have to live with a) people willing to spend time with assholes and b) themselves. I'd pick you anyday. :P

    • OtherRoooToo says:

      “I have racked my brains, and I cannot come up with a single unique thing I have that other people would be envious of.”

      Really …??

      From what I’ve read of your comments here – and elsewhere –

      You are still in your twenties, and therefore have more time to search for a relationship than women in this culture who are perceived as “past it” or “on the shelf” because they have passed thirty.

      You identify as 100% Caucasian, and therefore do not have to deal with *any* of the crap mixed-race women and women of color have to deal with when searching for a long-term relationship on this continent.

      (I know you read OKCupid; you know exactly what I'm talking about.)

      And that’s just two things, off the top of my head.

      • I admit I benefit from white privilege, in that I don't have to deal with racist messages (or any messages or harassment, hardly ever, then.) Though (and I admit this is twisted) sometimes I get envious of how non-white women are seen as exotic and cultured, buuuuut I know that comes with the dark side of being "Othered" and never know if your partner likes you, or just likes you as a fetish object.

        I don't get the twenties thing, though. I'm only 2 years off from being "on the shelf," and I could even make an argument that I currently *am* because of my geographic location.

    • OtherRoooToo says:

      Oh – and you have an ENTIRE FORUM AND SITE FULL OF PEOPLE who have been patiently, endlessly helping you with your relationship issues, no matter how much you argue with them or discount their advice and suggestions.

      So that’s three, and I’m not even trying hard.

  7. Gentleman Horndog says:

    Back in my college days, I ran into a paper about a psych experiment about how optimists and pessimists see the world. The subjects had a button and a light bulb. Sometimes the button would control whether the light bulb came on, sometimes the button was nothing but a prop and the light would blink on and off at random, sometimes it was a mix of the two. The subjects were allowed to play with the button, then asked how much control they had over the light bulb.

    As I recall, the optimists responded the way you'd expect — they consistently overestimated how much control they had over the bulb. Even when the blinking was pure random, they still insisted their futile button-pushing was having some effect.

    The surprise came from the pessimists: they nailed it. Rather than undershooting, as expected, the pessimists were consistently accurate reporting the degree of control they actually had.

    The cynical interpretation of the study — and it's one you're entitled to, I suppose — is that optimism is inherently delusional. That if you think life sucks, it's because you're seeing things as they REALLY are.

    But I don't buy it. I can't afford to. I have clinical depression, meaning that, sans anti-depressants and therapy, my brain chemistry's natural inclination is to occasionally kick the shit out of me just to watch me bleed. So the lesson I choose to take away is that delusional optimism may be the easy way to happiness, but it's not the only way. That it's possible to teach yourself to both acknowledge your world for what it is and keep your focus on the good bits rather than obsess over the crappy stuff.

    I treat optimism as a choice. Yes, I would have much preferred a full glass. But the water filling half that glass looks clean and refreshing, and I'm THIRSTY goddammit, so I'll accept it with sincere gratitude.

    Seems like it's working out pretty well. (But the counseling sessions and psychoactive drugs help, too.)

    • Pessimists tend to describe themselves as realists, but if they're being honest they'll acknowledge that they have to work to maintain a sense of control over their world or they'll just fall into a funk.

      I think it boils down to the AA thing: Change what you can control and accept what you can't and know the difference. There are definitely things you absolutely cannot change, but can at least change how you react to those things. You can't make the people in your life better at being human, but if they're toxic you can limit your time with them and their influence on you. If you have some aspect of your physical appearance that you can't change, you change how you relate to it and how you present it to the world. Taking active control over your life and your world is the most empowering, depression-fighting, happiness-gaining thing you can do. It ain't exactly easy though.

      • The things you mentioned that can be changed are still things that can only be changed depending on perspective and talent. I feel that telling people "accept what you can't change, and change what you can" is a really simplistic take on it, because while you acknowledge that it's not easy, you don't give allowance that for individuals it may not be possible.

        I'll use my body as an example, since it is one of the biggest stumbling blocks I have about "accept or change it." I just cannot accept how I've looked. I've tried everything I can think of, but every time I get even an inch of self-acceptance, I step out the door and am confronted by a world that is absolutely NOT willing to just let me be fat and somewhat-accepting of myself. Forward an inch, back a mile…. and after so many miles, it's just not possible to inch yourself forward.

        So, then, the answer is change. But sometimes you literally CAN'T change (physical appearance is a good example of this.) Your example of "changing how it presents to the world" sometimes isn't an option. Sometimes bodies are just too weirdly shaped*. Even with a custom-dress that is made to fit me by "the rules", I still look awful. I defy fashion and proportion rules. I could get plastic surgery, but surgery is 1) ungodly expensive and 2) still won't change everything.

        So if you cannot accept, and you cannot change, what option DO you have before finally giving up, throwing up your hands and saying "Screw it"?

        *Weirdly shaped in this case means, my actual measurements are different than how they actually *look*; parts of my body are not proportional to other parts, which makes properly fitting clothing nearly impossible. Just for fun, I've always wanted to present myself to one of those "fashion dress up" shows or Tim Gunn or something, because I think they'd be absolutely flummoxed on how to dress me.

        • Change how you relate to it was an option there, Marty.

          • And how would you suggest doing that, considering I can't accept how I look?

          • Well that's precisely the issue. Frankly, Marty, you could change how you look all you want, the problem is 100% how you feel about how you look. We get forcefed all sorts of media BS about how we're supposed to look and no one fits in mass-market clothes because the average woman is a fiction of industrial expediency, but that's not your issue. You know it, we know it. You're a person who pretty much hates herself, and until you stop hating yourself, you will always fall short of your own expectations: in appearance, in work, in activities, in dating, in whatever.

            Your issue is that you don't love yourself, you hate yourself. I don't know why. If a friend or significant other insulted me and denigrated me as much as you do yourself on these forums, my friends would be staging an intervention.

          • Except I don't hate myself. I hate myself in relation to how other people treat me.

            For example, would I be as hung up on my looks if I didn't live in a culture where a woman's value is still decided primarily on her looks, on if she can "bag" a guy (which is, again, depend on looks, since it's the alpha and the omega of relationship advice given to women)? Would I hate myself if I wasn't constantly being told what a failure I am, because not only do I have a weird body, but I lack the talent and ability to dress in a way that hides it? Would I hate myself if I constantly feel pressure to improve my looks…. even here on this blog, which is about as un-look-ist a place as I have found?

            I hate myself in context and in situation. I hate myself because I have a long, long, LONG history of being told by everyone around me *that I should.*

            And that's why articles on happiness that make it solely the responsibility of an individual really get my hackles up. No one can escape their environment, their context. None of us live in isolation or a bubble. We are all the product of millions of life experiences and circumstances…. so throwing out simplistic sound-bites like "well just change how you relate to it!" is like telling an exhausted person to continue pushing a boulder up a hill. It's inspirational, but it's also ultimately superficial.

            Boiling my problems down "well you just hate yourself; stop that, and everything will be hunky dory!" is similarly shallow. Maybe that's just the nature of advice blogs, that they will be by their nature somewhat superficial, but that doesn't mean I can't be just a little affronted when someone offers simplistic, bland (non-specific) advice, and then gets offended when I don't immediately jump up and declare it the truth.

          • Alright, fine. We'll go deeper. What I hear is you've basically got some voice in your head saying "They don't like you." That voice says it a lot and it's loud. Maybe the voice is right and there are people in your life who don't like you. But then there are lot of other people in your life (and I've seen it) who are very affirming of you. But the voice doesn't LIKE those people, it drowns them out. It tells you that they're wrong, they don't know you like the negative nancies do. You shouldn't listen to them, the voice says. Basically, you are picking which people to listen to and you're choosing the negative ones because they coincide with what you already think.

            Making mental health diagnoses over the internet is always a challenge and a bad idea. But I can say that this sounds 100% like what my fiance describes as his inner dialogue. Which he takes SSRIs for.

            We can tell you 70 times 7 times that you're fine if not great, but we can't overcome the voice in your head that preferences the negative. Therapy and/or drugs might be able to.

          • See, it's odd you mention therapy, because my therapist actually *believes me* when I say I don't hate myself. What she thinks is that I have difficulty reading signals and understanding human communication, and that my personality draws particular personalities to it (not necessarily toxic, but toxic *for me*) because I present a lot of juxtaposing personality traits. She also thinks I draw people because I am actually *too hopeful.* I know, the mind, it boggles. (Granted, this is only after 3 sessions; maybe if she knows me better, she'll change her mind.)

            You are somewhat correct; I don't take my mother's affirmations very much to heart. I feel it's cheating to believe your mother's opinion of you is in any way reflective of reality.

          • That's entirely possible that you're having a hard time reading signals and understanding how people communicate. What worries me is the clinging to the bad and denying the good. Most people tend to go the other way (to their occasional detriment, like whoever thought that fake spray tans were a good idea probably should have been a bit more… self-loathing).

          • How do you know I'm not just trying to self-correct in the way you suggest other people should? I've longed suspected I am not hard *enough* on myself, and that I give myself far too much credit when I should really be way more self-loathing for my behaviors and personality.

          • That's not sound thinking, though, that sounds for all the world like depression talking. I know you probably don't "feel depressed" the way the common usage implies, but that right there is a pattern of thought you should really consult with a professional about. I'm not a doctor, just someone struggling with my own issues and learning to see my bad thought patterns for what they are — an illness, not a mysterious truth that only I can see and understand.

          • hobbesiean says:

            Oddly this is very similar to some of the stuff mine has told me.

          • Eh, then maybe it's the just the baseline observation they give to all new patients.

          • hobbesiean says:

            I dunno, we do have an awful lot of similarities in a lot of ways..

            Basically been told that my generally hopeful and optimistic attitude towards people who I identify as 'friends' leads me to make bad choices in who is really my friend and who is taking advantage of me..

            at the same time I've been told that I'm 100% negative about myself in that I basically find myself to be the foundation of all things wrong with the world and therefore the only way to pay penance for that is through good works and self-chastisement..

            I'm extremely self aware to the point where I get stuck in my own head, I scowl too much because I do that when I'm thinking.. which is basically always as I'm constantly stuck in my own head..

            I don't hate myself, I simply hate that I can't live up to the standards I set for myself. It's the same thing that bothers me about other people, other people rarely live up to my standards.. but I'm FAR more forgiving of them typically because they aren't me.

          • Hmm, Marty, maybe you should seek out some body-positive spaces? It just seems like it would feel good to spend some time in a place where people aren't hung up on that.

          • I don't know why I'm chiming in but here goes. I don't know why you hate yourself either, Marty. I think you are a fabulous person. You give such good advice on the forums and comments. Cait is right–until you love yourself you'll always fall short.

            In your comment above you keep saying "Sure I [accomplishment]" but you never focus on the accomplishment. Ever.

            How about this. I cannot sew. I think it is incredibly difficult and hard. I made my first costume from a manufactured pattern last year and it was a complete nightmare. All that tissue paper! What in the world. The fact that you can do that is AMAZING to me. But you move the goalposts. Yes, you can do the machine patterns but not make your own? What in the world? Most people cannot sew at all. It's really amazing that you can do it–yet it's not enough.

          • Here's the thing though: most people COULD sew if they just did what I did. I took at least 3 long (3 hours for 3 times a month) sewing classes before I ever tackled patterns on my own. The only, ONLY advantage I have over other people, is that I just put the work in. I don't see that as an "accomplishment," because it is something literally ANYONE could do with some classes. Sewing really is the least impressive thing about the whole clothing-making process.

            It's not that I move the goal posts, it's that I compare myself to people who took the same path. If we're going to start giving out Accomplishment Badges for just learning basic skills that anyone could learn with the right resources, then the term "accomplishment" becomes meaningless. It's like those participation trophies…. if *everyone* could get one, then why is it impressive or even worth mentioning?

            I feel like the things people keep pointing to that I've done as "accomplishments" are moving the goal posts in the *opposite* direction, as if I should pat myself on the back for sub-par skills in useless fields.

            I'd love myself a lot more readily if I had any real-life evidence that someone agrees that I should. How easily could you love yourself if you were constantly getting a message back from the world that you aren't deserving of love?

          • You are getting good messages, you're just not listening to them. On the forums, on Facebook. Maybe the other ones sound louder to you, maybe they are more numerous, but they aren't the only opinion of Marty. You can decide which to listen to. Maybe you need help drowning out the bad. Maybe it'll take a lot of effort. But you have to know that people are saying good things about you all the time.

          • Like I said, I really don't think messages from my mom count. And while I appreciate the forums, y'all are getting a very…. narrow view of me. Chalk it up to my years of writing, but I am fairly sure I'm not coming across in writing the way I actually am in real life. (I am much, much more spastic and awkward.)

          • Has it ever occurred to you that we're getting the real view and they just have the spastic and awkward public view? To put it in Christian context, they see the broken body and we see the soul?

          • Dr_NerdLove says:

            Well there's an easy answer to prove or disprove this:Time to organize a Dr. NerdLove Minneapolis Meet-Up.

          • We actually have one tonight! (Am I allowed to say that, person whom I am meeting?)

          • It's meeeeeee!

          • Though it'd be awesome to meet you all!

          • Fiance applied to a job in Minneapolis. Just saying.

          • You know, I might actually brave my fear of driving in the city were this to happen. (Suburbs gal. City-adjacent, but we have way less aggressive drivers, one-way streets, and difficulties finding parking.)

          • How are these fields useless? No one on here has ever said that you aren't deserving of love. These are the messages that you pick out because they are what you want to hear and what you want to believe.

            If anything, I hear those messages way more than you do. As OtherRooToo says above, it's really hard if you are an over 30 WOC and I am both of those things. I've seen your pictures and I am way bigger and much less cute than you are. Believe me, society is constantly telling me that I am ugly, unworthy, and nothing more than a whore. But, and here's the difference, I don't believe those messages. They simply are not true–not of me or of anyone else.

          • Cute is a matter of opinion, and bigger is not the only deciding factor in beauty. Proportions and curves in the right places (by right places, I mean you curve in the expected spots) have a lot more to do with it.

            What's WOC?

            Well, sewing is kinda useless, since it's a hell of a lot of time and money for not a lot of returns. For example, I spent 8 hours at my parents' dining room table sewing a knit wrap dress that turned out rather badly, and my father just could not understand why I'd dedicate so much energy, time, and frustration to something when I could just go out and buy something much better, for cheaper. I do it anyway because I hope to someday actually be good at it (and ya can't get good without slogging through it), but no denying it's not a very practical use of my time or money.

          • Woman of color.

            And all sorts of women with all sorts of bodies find partners.

            I think my friends getting masters degrees in costume design and costume technology would disagree with you about sewing. Who cares if your father doesn't understand? Were you sewing it for him? It's for you.

            I've long speculated that a lot of your attitudes come from your parents. They see to have very set ideas about right timing/right actions and you've internalized this over the years.

          • Oh I'd agree that costume design and technology are not useless. But that's different than what I am doing. I'm just sewing (and not doing that well.) It's like…. costume design and technology are the swimming at the Olympics, and sewing is sitting in the shallow paddling pool.

            Not sure what ya mean by "right timing/actions," but I also feel bad about thread-jacking, so please don't explain if you'd prefer not to.

          • Here's the thing. It really didn't matte what I said about sewing. No matter what, it wouldn't be enough to convince you that you have a skill that other people do not have.

            Re your parents: It doesn't matter that your father didn't understand what you were doing (i.e., right actions) you wanted to do it and that's all that counts. The right timing thing would take more time to explain but you've mentioned that your mom asks you about dating at whatnot. It just seems like you've taking a lot of their criticisms to heart.

          • Re: sewing being useless. You're the same height as me. I can't imagine that you have a particularly easy time finding pants the right length. What do you do? I'm guessing you shorten them?

            I can't do that, because I have no sewing skill. I'm scared of ruining clothes by sewing buttons back on! I know people who have some sewing skills and can shorten their pants so they look passable but not perfect. And then I know one person who's a pretty good sewer who can make them nice. That's a great thing to be able to do!

            And if you're going to dismiss that as too easy to count, I imagine you can also do some more complex alterations, thus causing your clothes to fit better in all kinds of awesome ways!

    • GH, read "The Luck Factor" by Richard Wiseman if you've not already done so. Interesting data on how being an optimist can change things in the real world around us.

      Also, there's fairly strong evidence that, if the outcome depends on human behaviour, our expectations can influence outcomes. Meaning we don't just observe the world with out filters/beliefs etc but we also directly use those filters/beliefs to influence the world around us.

    • Right. Depression and pessimism and realism aren't the same, but our brains do a fabulous job of conflating them.

      • hobbesiean says:

        well as soon as reality stops being so crappy I suppose I'll be more optimistic about it. I mean.. I'd love it for some of you people who are constantly on about how it's really not so bad.. come try my life out for a few weeks and then we will see how you feel.. then imagine living the same life of constantly being beaten down by EVERYTHING for 20+ years.

        • Hobbesiean, I validate your pain. I don't have the first clue how bad your life is or isn't.

          In some ways I don't have to imagine a life of constantly being beaten down for 20+ years. But if we are going to swap lives (me living yours, you living mine) I should warn you: you're gonna have to break your left elbow. It's not the worse thing in the world by any means. It'll scare the living daylights out of you and hurt like hell but there are worse things. Oh, and the physio is gonna hurt too. And for a few months you'll have what is basically an arm of a child because the muscle has wasted away a bit due to not being used.

          And nobody will believe you didn't do the damage to it in a car accident.

          Your best friend will stop talking to you and actively hate you, you'll be attacked by a crazy person, manage to accidentally upset your mother by being a very nervous person prone to panic attacks. There will be a time when you feel like you don't have a friend in the world, scared of going to social occasions etc…

          There will be more than one ex who you've done the "ball of pain" thing with who'll give you the "you're hard to get over and also a twat sometimes" speech. And at some point in all of this you'll disappear up your own ass. Plus a pain killer addiction if you have time.

          Now, I don't know if my life is worse than yours. This is not a pain competition. Just that that's what you'd get if we swapped. UK TV reference but: deal or no deal?

          • hobbesiean says:

            I don't think that would really solve anything do you?

            Considering my last year.. we already are pretty much 1-1, I haven't broken my elbow though.. the rest of it just about spot on.

            I just get so frustrated dealing with people who endlessly don't seem to have a clue.. my frustration on this is reaching epic levels because of the kids I'm in classes with.. who are so amazingly entitled yet they've been given EVERYTHING their whole lives.. they went to schools that not only didn't lose their accredidation, but actually had international baccalaurete seals.. they all have perfect teeth.. they live on campus, they had the meal plan, they all have nice clothes and most of them are getting what amounts to a totally free ride to school..

            After having actually seen how Georgia's Hope Scholarship works.. It's amazingly perverse. It uses proceeds from the lottery, overwhelmingly played by the poorest georgians.. and then uses those funds to send kids who are overwhelmingly white middle class kids from the richest counties in the state.. in other words the ones whose families are best equipped to pay to send them to school.. aren't having to spend a dime.. it's perverse.. it's the only way i can describe it..

        • Didn't you just say above that even if there were concrete improvements to your life, you don't think that would make you happy?

          • hobbesiean says:

            Yeah. I think we are working at slightly cross purposes here. I'm not saying 100% for sure I'd never be capable of being happy.. but i do know that with those baseline improvements, steady income, independence, living in a place I didn't totally hate.. those would make me marginally less miserable and might allow me to see the forest for the trees a bit more as it were..

          • Gotcha, problem A. is improving your situation to one that isn't contributing to unhappiness, and then there's the question of problem B of having trouble being happy with what you've got.

          • hobbesiean says:

            exactly because right now my situation is basically just shy of being completely destitute and homeless and I basically got snubbed by the financial aid office today when I went to talk to them… they didn't even want to see me.. and then all the guy did behind the desk was check his watch and fiddle with his mouse.. he never even checked to see if the school had anything I could attempt to get.. and my grades are REALLY good.. I have a 3.7 and I'm basically a Junior. most scholarships only require a 3.0 or 3.5..

            step 1 is basically get through school
            step 2 is get out of georgia
            step 3 is get a job & apartment
            step 4 is beggining to repay the assload of student loans I'm taking out to pay for school..

      • Absolutely. I found that as I have recovered from my depression (at one point I was in so much misery i would cry every morning because I hadn't died in my sleep) my optimism has increased, but not at the expense of realism. The world, in lots of objective ways, is completely awful. However, as I have gotten better and my brain is actually capable of feeling happiness again, I don't ruminate on the awfulness so much. I am more optimistic because I don't spend every minute of my life thinking about how much everything sucks.

    • eh, in the end we'll all die. the pessimist is always right in the end

    • I think the rush comes from realizing how much control you have. And being right about it.

  8. How do you avoid what makes you unhappy in real life? Whats making me unhappy is my lack of romantic and sexual success. I can avoid romance and sex in my media as much as possible, although thats kind of hard. What I can't do is not come across on the streat in the form of couples being affectionate in public from simply walking near each other to PDAs or sexy advertisements. The only way I can avoid this is through abandoning civilization and living alone in the woods.

    • Maybe focus on the bits you control, rather than the bits you can't?

      People aren't having relationships AT you – you say your lack of relationships upsets you, fair enough. So why do other people's relationships make you unhappy? If no one ever did PDA in your presence, or everyone around you broke up, it still would have no effect on whether you were in a relationship or not.

      • Why does a person living in crappy, vermin infested apartment feel jealous of people living in gorgeous suburban homes or luxurious urban apartments? They have something that he or she does not. If you want something, its really natural and human to have at least a ping of envy at the people who have what you want. I know they aren't dating at me or that I'm even getting the entire story. For all I know, they could be fighting constantly in private. It doesn't stop my yearning.

        • No one is saying you have to magically turn off your yearning. But dwelling on people who have what you don't have isn't particularly helpful or healthy for you.

  9. OldBrownSquirrel says:

    "While you can’t control everything that happens to you, you can control how you react to it." (immediately following a paraphrase of a line from Hamlet)

    "[T]here is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." (a different line from Hamlet)

    "Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things." -Epictetus

    "Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions." -Epictetus, again

    As I see it, I can control my actions and my own reactions, but I *can't* control how other people react to me; that's outside my control, and I need to come to terms with that. My best option for happiness, then, is not to try to date but rather to learn to be happily single, which has the virtue, unlike attempting to date, of being within my unilateral power, and if I can achieve complete happiness while single and thereby lose all desire to date, that's all for the best.

    • Gentleman Horndog says:

      Fun bonus: people who are fundamentally happy with themselves are REALLY appealing as potential romantic partners. So if you still have the desire to date when you get to that point, that perk will be waiting for you. :-)

      • Especially to other people fundamentally happy with themselves. People in bad places emotionally are like injured baby seals to the great whites of abusive, toxic, or other sorts of "romantic partners" who mean years of therapy. You don't want to attract those people.

        • …That’s a really unfair thing to say. ALL people are deserving of love due to their fundamental status as a fellow human being, no matter how awful or wonderful they may be. In truth, maybe you should want to attract those people, if you’re not a toxic person yourself. Wouldn’t you want to be a kind, trustworthy person they could grow to rely on, maybe even someone who could change how they view relationships?

          • I 100% disagree with you on this. Some people need to not be abusive before they can be in a healthy relationship, and there's no such thing as throwing yourself on the grenade for humanity by getting into a relationship in order to fix a toxic person. In fact, the idea that you A. Can and B. Should fix toxic people is exactly what gets people into abusive relationships. So basically, no.

          • I think Anon was more reaching to not to the notion that you can love or fix someone toxic, but that only those people who are optimistic/have no emotional-mental flaws are deserving of love. The idea that if you struggle with depression, negativity, or mental health issues at all, you are fundamentally unattractive is a rather hurtful one for people who feel these are life-long struggles they will never be rid of.

          • Ah. People with mental health issues aren't automatically toxic, no, nor are they incapable of being in healthy relationships.

            Emotional "flaws" like having depression do need to be handled somewhat before you throw yourself into a supportive relationship with another person. They are incurable, but you can manage them (my fiancé has depression, it hardly affects us when he's on meds). You DO have a responsibility to at least make an effort though. Not only because you owe it to your putative partner, but because relationships are very good at becoming stressors for mental health problems. Even the best ones introduce problems that you just don't have as a single person.

          • I don't disagree with your comment, but I think that's too generous a reading of Anon's point. S/he specifically talked about non-toxic people dating others to be kind, trustworthy people they can rely on and change how they view relationships, in response to a comment that included the word abuse. That line of thought leads to all manner of bad things.

          • No, I wouldn't, because you can't fix people. They have to fix themselves. It doesn't work if you try to push it when they're not cooperating, and they'll often resent you for trying.

            As for everyone deserving love, I agree – if we're talking about agape type love for our fellow beings. Some other types of love require reciprocation, and some people aren't capable of being healthy, reciprocal partners. You don't need to be perfect to be in a reasonably healthy romantic relationship, but you need to have at least some of the work done.

          • Perhaps a better way to put is that some people can't be trusted with the love of another person.

          • That might be a better way of phrasing things than talking about what people do and don't deserve.

            On the other side of things, I think people who date imperfect partners (so, all of us who date) have some responsibility to accept their flaws and especially any ongoing health conditions. If you're not going to be happy with your partner until they've banished poor self esteem or depression forever due to the saving power of your love, then you're not going to be happy with your partner.

          • For my part, I just get really twitchy about the word "deserve." It has some serious moral connotations, and ties into the idea that if you don't have a romantic relationship, then you are somehow broken (undeserving) in some way. I agree that people should strive to be healthy and not place too much mental burden on their partners…. but then again, I always kind of thought that one of the big benefits of a partnership was to support each other, mental flaws, low self-esteem and all. The idea that you must have that "sorted" before you're "deserving" of a romantic relationship suggests that 1) all people in romantic relationships are automatically healthier and 2) therefore better.

          • No, I don't like using the word deserve either when it comes to whether or not any particular person has a romantic relationship. Not only does it stigmatize the unpaired by labeling them as undeserving but it also leads to that entitlement thing. So maybe I'd say that no one "deserves" a romantic relationship as in no one has an automatic right to one, but everyone deserves to be treated decently, regardless of their relationship status?

          • I never used the word deserve, or not deserve. But I will use it here: Everyone deserves respect and care from their significant other(s).

          • No, all people are not deserving of love. All people might be deserving of pity but not love. There lots of horrible people out there who really only live to inflict pain on others or be the center of some sort of drama of their own making. A lot of them get love anyway but they don't really deserve it because they can't contribute anything back. These people might deserve at least a modicum of pity.

            The best love is participatory and, I'm assuming monogamy here, flows both ways. If I ever meet a woman and get into a relationship, there are going to be times where she is going to be having a bad day and give comfort. If I am not able to that than I'm not really deserving of her love. Likewise, there might be a time where I had a really bad day and will need comfort. If she can't even give me a little solace when I really need it than why should I love her?

      • hobbesiean says:

        So.. people who have things to be happy about.. then get more things to be happy about.

        Can't make money without money i guess.

      • What does it mean to be fundamentally happy with yourself? Overall, I say that I'm satisfied with my life and was told that I'm going to paradise but its basically like my life now, I could live with that. I have family, friends, a job that usually gives me satisfaction, a decent place to live, and interesting hobbies that I enjoy. There are elements that could be improve but if I was told that life in paradise would be like my life now than I'd be fine with that for the most part.

        At the same time, I feel that the one area in the life where I'm not successful as I want to be is leaving a big grasping whole of melancholy.

  10. I've known I've had PTSD for more than two years now. We went through the diagnosis in therapy and the therapist was asking me if various things had happened in my life recently. I kept having to reply: "well…now you come to mention it…."

    I've not been happy for a long time but its worse than that. I've been going around making sure other people feel my pain. I'm so worried/frightened by whatever's going on with my arm that I managed to upset my mum. So that's my Mum, my ex, my former friend, other family members and also my God. Ordinarily, I'd just feel depressed and bad about myself for upsetting people but that's not going to help. Had a chat and apologized. I need to change behaviours. This thing opens up a hole in my life and sucks stuff into it. I don't really register love for me in my head so sometimes I don't realize that stuff I say can upset or panic those who do love and care for me.

    I'm trained as a therapist and it annoys me that I can't sort this out by myself. I think sometimes there's a reason why people I've loved and cared about don't really like talking to me. Personality wise I'm big and I can turn that into fire and chuck it at people if I want to/feel hurt and that's not good.

    • Coming this fall…..Trixnix's book: "don't do this". A guide to life which basically tells you what not to do. Stuff I did do which is a really bad idea. Like hooking up your Dad's model railway transformer to the back of your black and white TV and turning it on. The smoke that created was fun though…

      • Barrett's Privateer says:

        Like hooking up your Dad's model railway transformer to the back of your black and white TV and turning it on. The smoke that created was fun though…

        I'm enjoying the thought of the smoke — but did you have a specific result in mind? It reminds me of the older scientists on our research ship and how much fun they said their chemistry sets were.

        You know, the sets from the '40s, '50s, and early '60s, before society became litigious :)

        • "I'm enjoying the thought of the smoke — but did you have a specific result in mind? It reminds me of the older scientists on our research ship and how much fun they said their chemistry sets were. "

          I wanted to invent a new type of TV. Succeeded too. Made one that was almost on fire.

          • I put powerful magnets to the TV screen because it changed colors. I was going to be in trouble until my dad told my mom what I'd done and she said "So?" He figured if his doctor wife didn't know what magnets would do to a TV, his 8 year old wouldn't either.

    • I hope you start to feel better soon, trixnix. I know as a fairly intelligent person how frustrating it is not to be able to sort out my anxiety by myself; I can't imagine how much more frustrating it is when you're an actual therapist! Be gentle with yourself, though — if you were a surgeon, you wouldn't necessarily be able to operate on yourself, either :)

      • Thanks. I wish you the very best, Ethyl, in sorting out your own anxiety. As it happens I do have heaps of resources and therapist contacts relating to anxiety and if they could be of any use let me know and I'll pass them on.

  11. The Mikey says:

    A wise man by the name of Bobby McFerrin once wrote "In every life we have some trouble, but when you worry you make it double. Don't worry, be happy."

    It was then followed by a catchy chorus and melody.

  12. I'ma put a quote here that kind of sums up this article a bit. It's from Haruki Murakami's autobiography called "What I talk about when I talk about running." In it, he was talking to another runner and they said these words that he uses as a sort of mantra:

    Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

    I want to get those six words tattooed on me after I get published, because its true. Even though it's so hard for me to do what you say we should do Doc, these words me a lot to me. While I want to easily let go, the pain is strong and I am trying hard despite the shit I still deal with. But I know those six words are true, and they mean so much to me. I hope to forgive and let go someday, but right now I am just taking it as I can.

  13. I forget who said but I always liked the phrase 'happiness is feeling, not a lifestyle'.

  14. I don't feel that this was one of the doc's better articles. Yes, some important and inspirational points were made, but all in all, it was very lackluster. Many of the points made leave me with the impression that you just have to do *something* and you'll see results, but the truth is, it doesn't work like that. Yes, this article is good for people who are sort of stuck in a rut, wallowing, and not making any changes in their lives… but what about the rest of us who are, and are still seeing zero results?

    • The Simple Man says:

      Define "results" as it you are improving as a person, such as being more comfortable with yourself, having more confidance and so on, then you have results.

      Those are the results of your work. If you thought this stufff would say hand you a relationship, then you have skewed what self imporvement is about, imporving you.

      • To be honest, I'm not getting results.

        Working out? My belly's slimming down, but not making me more confident or comfortable.

        Being sociable? I'm going out and meeting new people every day, trying to make friends, and it just makes me feel even more alone.

        It's not fuckin' working.

        I thought this stuff would make me happy. Instead, it's made me less happy than when I had a belly and didn't care about having friends.

        • The Simple Man says:

          Of course you are unhappy, you want to be your older self because it is easier then being a new version of you.

          You may not be losing your belly but I bet you can lift, run and do things much better becasue you are more fit then you were before. That's a result and a worthy one.

          Question are you meeting people because you think they look interesting or because you want them to some how make you happy?

          You need to shift what your goal is, as I am guessing the point you are improving is to get a relationship? If you instead shift it to learn new things and become the best person you can be, you may become more happpy as once you look back at your older self.

          I look back at the way I acted like a teenager and cringe as a 21 year old. I am gald I've change my attitudes from my old miserable self. I'd be the new me and a constantly improving me then my old "I am great, I don't need to change" Teen self.

          • I am losing my belly. But given that I'm female, I'm not looking for a six pack or to lift weights. Also, I'm in a lot of general pain and am sore throughout most of the day, and I've been doing this for months. It's keeping me down. Being fit hasn't made me feel better, it's made me feel worse.

            I meet them because they're interesting.

            No, I'm not even improving for a relationship. Fuck relationships, I don't even care. I just care about having a social circle and group of people I can rely on. I already "learn" new things. I'm teaching myself Latin, Japanese, and Egyptian heirogylphs. I read often, and widely. I apply myself. But I did all of this before, anyway.

            My previous self was happy because I was content, even if I was lonely and awkward. Now I'm NOT happy, I am NOT content, and I'm just generally scared, overwhelmed, cranky, and am not seeing results.

          • …Then go back to having belly fat and not talking to people. I mean if that made you happy, no need to change your ways just because it doesn't fit the mold of happiness society sells you (assuming no one is getting hurt). If it isn't broken, don't fix it.

          • I agree. And I'd ask why you want a wider social circle? Is it because you think it'll make you happier or is it just that what's you've told will make you happier?

          • Because when I had friends, you know– back in elementary or middle school, for example– I had people I could have fun with. People you could trust, hang out with, have and give emotional support, etc. that wasn't your family. In high school, I got used to not having that. Now that I'm in college, I want that back, because I want to be able to call someone up and ask if they want to grab dinner or go see a movie or even just study together. Basically, I remember how happy I was when I DID have friends, albeit when they dynamics were somewhat different, and I want that back. If that makes sense?

          • I get it and I think LeeEsq. is right, that maybe it hurts more because now you know what you've been missing.

            But I also think you're being too hard on yourself. You are making progress, changing isn't an overnight experience.

          • I empathize withe the fitness thing so much. It's like it replaced one big source of misery with a bunch of smaller ones.

          • Yep. I'm in constant pain. I finally made it down to 110lbs and am still aiming for 100, and I'm still working out in the hopes that my body will eventually adjust (e.g: my arms will get strong enough that it doesn't feel like they'll pop out of their sockets when I do pushups). I mean, on one hand, the weight loss was nice. On the other hand, it just hasn't really solved anything. And the constant soreness/pain/feeling like there's a jack-knife in various parts of my anatomy isn't very rewarding. The cumulative pain feels like it overrides the satisfaction of progress.

          • Maybe there's something else you can do to be fit that doesn't hurt so much? Or if you want to stick with strength training, maybe you can be a bit more gentle about how you train. I started with wall push-ups, for example, and scaled from there.

          • I should look into that. Trouble is that I don't know where to start, and the stuff I'm doing shouldn't even be that strenuous in the first place. But yeah, I'll look into that. Thank you!

          • If you are trying to firm up/re-shape your body, have you tried Pilates or Callanetics? They are gentle movements, so you don't get sore, but you are moving way down at the core muscles, so over time, you see results (better shape, better posture).

          • I'd suggest letting go of "shouldn't." Everyone's body is different! For example, I have weird knees; I can't do even one squat without risking major injury. That doesn't stop me from walking, hiking, biking, lifting, dancing, doing push-ups, etc. Part of the process of becoming fit is getting to know your specific body, its strengths and limitations. If things are surprisingly strenuous, that's great information – don't ignore it!

            As far as finding out where to start: if you're in college, there might be a fitness club or something like that? Or you could try using your questions as a way to meet people, like asking someone you see at the gym a lot who looks friendly.

          • For me it at least solved the problem of avoiding mirrors while naked.

        • Its really not that unusual to feel more alone as your social life improves. Before I started going out more, I was fine alone and lived a life-style that could be semi-hermetic almost. When your social life increases, you find out that you like it and it gets harder to spend time by yourself.

          • That makes sense, yeah. That's exactly my problem. I've gotten attached to having someone to hang out with, and then on evenings when I don't, it makes the loneliness ten times worse.

  15. I feel better and operate better when I'm not trying to be happy and when operating from the pessimist point of view. Positivity ain't for everyone.

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