1. I’ve been thinking a lot about Eysenck’s hedonic treadmill (that is, the theory that we all have a ‘base level of happiness’ we return to over the course of our lives) and how it plays out for different people.
A lot of the past five years of my own life have been focused on recognizing the ways in which I actively throw obstacles in my own way to put a ‘cap’ on my own happiness level – because there’s a point at which it rises too high and I start getting anxious that something is going to go wrong.
This point in my life is like that. I’m feeling incredibly excited and motivated and overwhelmed by positive opportunities lately, and that part of my mind that wants to keep my base level down keeps yelling at me, ‘something is going to go wrong.’ In the past, I’d have listened to that voice. I’d likely have created problems for myself (either consciously or not) to appease it. But I’ve been learning not to do that in the past several years. I’ve been learning to let myself be happier than it feels like I deserve to be.
And that base level’s changing. It’s changing in ways I genuinely didn’t think were possible ten or fifteen years ago.
I wonder how many other people still think it’s not possible for them.
2. I’ve been thinking a lot about the alternate lives that we create for ourselves. When we have to make a choice and we watch two paths stretch out before us, but we know that we can only pick one.
I think it’s so profoundly odd how hung up we tend to get on the non-existent path we didn’t choose. How easy it is to envision ourselves walking down it, problem-free, carefree, wrapped up in this alternate reality where everything is effortless and easy.
When in reality, most of our problems are of our own making (we just don’t like to acknowledge that very much). So for the most part, in most other Universes, we’d probably be about equally as happy as we are right now.
Maybe there’s another world where some tragic thing didn’t happen to us, sure. But maybe there’s another one in which something inconceivably tragic DID happen to us, that never happened in this one. Maybe a different version of ourselves is walking down a much more painful road, filled with more sadness and heaviness and stress than we’ll ever come to know in this life. Maybe we’ll never have to understand what kind of burden that person is bearing. Maybe they’re dreaming of the Universe we’re in.
The point is, we always over-exaggerate how happy we’d be if we’d made a different choice. We don’t stop to consider that maybe we’d be less happy. That maybe other-us is even more miserable down their road than we are down this one. And I think that’s so important to keep in mind. I think that realism, rather than idealization (as nice and escapist as idealization feels) is a really important thing to hold onto, when we start comparing the lives-we-chose to the lives-we-didn’t-choose.
3. I’ve been thinking a lot about how egocentric we are as human beings. And how hard it is to separate ourselves from those egos (Consider, for instance, the pride you just felt when you read that sentence and thought ‘not me! I’m not egotistical like everyone else!’ Or the pride you just now felt from not having thought exactly that, or how angry you’re now getting at me for consistently trying to label you as egotistical. Consider how clever I feel for having tricked you. Consider how impossible it is to bat down any of these feelings at all). And that’s totally normal. It’s a natural part of being human. But our egos also wildly warp our concepts of what’s true.
Even our quest to determine the truth limits us from finding it a lot of the time – because we become so invested in being right that we settle on the first answer that seems right and then mentally pat ourselves on the back for being so clever. Or so well-read, or so informed and up-to-date on world issues.
I grow frustrated by the fact that 99% of the time, we’re just big walking egos having conversations with other big, walking egos. How 99% of the time we’re just sitting their talking to our own egos when we’re alone. I grow frustrated by how many of the world’s problems are caused by exactly that. And how hesitant we are to consider actual solutions to those problems, because doing so would mean putting down our egos.
And even the most wildly intelligent people have trouble doing that. It’s in equal parts fascinating and horrifying.
4. I’ve been thinking a lot about how boring it is to be happy.
Not personally boring per se, but interpersonally boring. As in, when I started writing I was coming out of a five-year relationship and finishing college and moving away from my closest friends in the world and everything felt very scary and uncertain and raw.
And people loved that. They gobbled it up. I had an endless plethora of things to write about, because my heart was broken so I put every shattered piece under a microscope and dissected it.
But now I’m older and more stable and my emotions feel about 500% less erratic than they used to, just in general.
I’m healthier now and I take better care of my mental state and I date people who are actually right for me and I know how to manage my money and my friendships and my time.
But none of that is interesting to read about. Heck, it’s not even interesting to write about. It’s just a funny thing to consider, because the Internet is so full of outraged people and heartbroken people and distressed people and it’s so easy to look at that and think that the entire world must be suffering. But maybe they’re not. Maybe the rest of the world – the healthy, balanced world – is just out there quietly being happy.
We just don’t want to read about their happiness. So the happy people keep it to themselves and we keep getting off to the misery of sad people and the cycle continues. And the Internet continues to be this very odd, very victim-complex-laden place.
5. I’ve been thinking a lot about equality. And how the entire world has divided itself into either ‘victims’ or ‘oppressors’ and nobody wants to identify as an oppressor so everyone is finding a way to identify as a victim, instead.
And that’s not to say there are not true victims – there are and that’s what spurred the equal-rights movement in the first place – but I don’t think it’s really helping any of us to do all the finger-pointing that we’re currently doing.
I’m tired of my female friends continuously telling me that they hate men. Maybe this is a wild coincidence, but many of the men I know are really wonderful people. And many of the women I know are really not-wonderful people. In fact, I’m almost inclined to believe that there’s not a huge correlation between how good of a person you are and what genitalia you have.
And I get being frustrated with sexism. I just don’t think we’re helping things by trying to shame the living hell out of the people who aren’t like us, in order to re-solidify our status as a victim (not an oppressor!!! never us!!!). Because shame brings out the worst in people. All of the time. As an almost concrete rule. Whereas encouragement of positive behavior brings out the best.
So if what we genuinely wanted was a more equal society, we’d probably be encouraging men or other privileged groups to be more involved in fighting for equality. To appreciate the strides they make in the direction of acceptance and equality- even if they shouldn’t *have* to make them. Because yes, things should already be equal. But they’re not. And so we can either spend forever defending our egos and discussing how things should already be or we can put those egos aside and start looking at what might actually make things better. So that our kids won’t have to deal with the same issues we deal with today, because we were too busy defending our own positions to worry about actually changing things for the generation that will come next.
6. I’ve been thinking about how all the most important things in life are difficult to articulate through writing.
How all the conversations I want to have are best had over a steaming cup of coffee, with a real, live human being in front of me, and how little we prioritize making that happen.
How easily we form opinions and judge each other (did you notice the ongoing thread of judgements I threw out over the course of this article alone?) but how little time we really take to get to know each other. To understand each other. To see where each other is coming from.
I’ve been thinking a lot about why we don’t bother to prioritize that.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how the world might be different if we did.