Apathy has a bad rap because we assume it refers to a passionless, passive, lazy loser. But it doesn’t have to. Apathy is a great emotion to feel. For instance, think of an ex you had a bad breakup with — it’s a welcome emotion when we can finally let go of anger and hurt and blissfully feel nothing towards that person. Apathy means you’ve finally found freedom from the bondage of anger and resentment.
More commonly, think about the person who reads the news all day. They can read story after story on Gawker that viciously rips apart people who aren’t as morally superior and intelligent as audience presumes itself to be. You become outraged precisely because you are paying attention. But what does outrage get you? An emotion that makes you feel temporarily superior, but is overall toxic to your health.
Apathy is a beginner’s mind. It allows us to start at zero. To see things in terms of whether or not they are really important or whether we have just been socially conditioned to think they are important. It removes the cloud in our minds that passion and emotion bring. It lets us see things as they really are.
You can’t be happy without mastering the art of being intentionally apathetic about certain things. You need to be apathetic about what other people think of you, apathetic about comparing yourself to others, apathetic about a whole range of things that can only produce worry, not happiness.
As I saw someone put very wisely on Tumblr:
“Start ignoring people who threaten your joy.
Literally, ignore them.
Don’t invite any parts of them into your space.”
What threatens your joy? What should you be ignoring?
When I asked myself that question earlier this month I realized a few of my daily internet habits were sucking the life out of me. I worried about being less than other girls when I checked Instagram often, even though I also enjoyed keeping up with my friend’s everyday lives and faving their selfies. I felt stressed out, angry, and sometimes hopeless when I read Gawker and Jezebel. I needed to check of what was going around me more often.
In the weeks that followed I weened myself of the habits that were making me unhappy. I logged out of Instagram each time I used it to make it harder to idly check it. I made myself read books or at least happier places on the internet during lunch and eventually the desire to hate-read Jezebel left. I unfollowed or muted the people anyone on Twitter who talked aggressively about current events. And I genuinely felt happier and lighter as these new behaviors became habit. I was no longer carrying other people’s anger around with me.
I think it’s very hard to be happy in our culture, so I recommend opting out like this wherever possible. Give yourself permission to not care, no matter how socially impermissible it sounds.
If you think you need to watch the news to “stay informed” remember that all but very uncommon methods of getting the news are entertainment news. They can pay their bills only if the cover the news in a way that attracts people. The story you are getting is the most entertaining form of the story, not the most truthful one. All news is tabloid news. Why risk your happiness to “be informed” when you’re getting mostly misinformation anyway?
You should be ridiculously happy if for no other reason than you only get one life and that option is available for you. No matter what your external circumstances are you can choose your response to them, you can choose happiness. What is more important than your own self-preservation and quality of life? Being a martyr for the nobility of it? I’ve got news for you, that’s just another form of pleasure seeking and it doesn’t work as well as mine does.
Be ruthless about your happiness. Whenever you figure out that something is causing you to be unhappy, work aggressively at figuring out how to eject it from your life. Most of the time, you can adjust your attitude or your actions to eliminate the stress — notice my response wasn’t to ask people not to post “triggering” Instagram photos or try to get Gawker shut down. I control my life and what stimuli I put in front of me — just like you do.
When in doubt, this is an oldie but a goodie:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”