Sunday, January 25, 2015

a defense of misery

buddy, you haven't lived until you've been completely effing miserable. And I don't mean that in a way like "you should face adversity because it will make you a better person". I mean it like "Man, you gotta get in on this!" I'll give you a little background on what makes me say that. In most of my social circles, I'm the one that "hates everything". I'm everybody's Sheldon Cooper, who somehow finds faults in everything they love.

Ba-zing ..................... Screw it.
I'm exaggerating, but I sometimes get asked "Why can't you just enjoy things?" It's a fair question to ask the guy that's incessantly telling you that your favorite things are dumb. Most just seem to have an inclination to focus on the positives parts of things. I'm a little weird, and one of the many consequences is I just focus on negatives instead. I could come up with a few reasons, if pressed. It's productive for me, and a skill I've developed over the years. If applying a little thought allows me to see life's unpleasantries coming, I can step around them. When something bad does happen, you're just as bummed, but you usually at least knew it was coming and can put up with it better. Most people can understand the value in thinking that way, but it's not their default setting because they'd hate having to live that way. I ... do too, but I have a talent for it.

A lot of people misunderstand and think I hate life, or at least think too much. But I don't. I just don't find happiness very interesting as a goal. I think happiness gets a little too much credit. I've never trusted it. Finding it is the singular goal of most peoples' lives. It's so important that the right to pursue it was included in the goddamn Declaration of Independence, up there with the right to life.  It's what everyone wants, and just about everything a person does in his or her life is a manifestation of that, in some way. People want it regardless of whether they think existence ends at their physical death, or whether they believe eternal happiness is waiting on the other side anyway. It's one of the few things that is constant when looking between genders, races, and what team you took in Twilight. I was team Jacob myself.

Because cross-eyed werewolves are people, too

But I think that's a little misguided. One of the primary reasons is that our current understanding of it it is a very recent thing, with that certain "go out and get it" attitude. But how many times, after getting something you wanted, would you have called yourself truly "happy" because of it? I feel like most of us are out of touch with what that even means. The most popular version of it that I see people going after is accumulating wealth, so you can have and do what you want. But in my own experience, that's tolerable for about ... 4 hours. If I'm allowed to watch TV, play videogames, and such to my heart's content, that's about how long I can put up with it. If I'm home because I took the day off (I recently took a small vacation because my hours for it had reached their cap), I start to wish I had work to do at around 2:00 PM. Put simply, I need errands, I need chores, and I need problems. For me to truly enjoy myself, something has to go wrong or need fixing. The bored, stale, and unfulfilled feeling you get after a day spent in front of the TV is worse than any depressing realization you'll have while actually using your brain.

I speak from experience on both fronts

Just like how people actively pursue happiness, they actively avoid discomfort. We're not talking about the kind of turmoil that disasters and significant losses cause. That's another thing entirely. I'm talking about the kind of misery that comes from things like blaming yourself, having feelings you can't express, feeling trapped, and having generally no confidence. I know it sounds like I'm trying to do the exact opposite of make a case for it, but I have to tell you, in all honesty: It's good stuff. I blame myself for things, based on what I've seen others do. That is, I deliberately avoid doing certain things if I hate when others do them. I try to not be confident because it used to bother me to see others act over-confident. A small dose of self-doubt is healthy. So a lot of it stems from just being fair, and not wanting to imitate the bad examples of others. Disliking a trait or action of others, but then doing it yourself, would be wrong.

Human beings are capable of a complete range of feelings and emotional states. That we would spend 100% of our time focusing our attention on only one of them is a huge limiter. We treat misery like a disease; you'd be hard pressed to find a single TV commercial break that doesn't have an ad for antidepressants.But I wouldn't change that part of me if I could. I can tell you that I've been the most legitimately alive when I was miserable. It was what fueled so much of what I did; it was my creative and emotional spark. When I had that, I was also the most perceptive I had ever been. It was what got me started with writing in the first place. It came from a place of idealism. I would get angry at things that I thought were dumb, which would get my wheels turning and lead me to some kind of philosophical nugget, inspiring me to write. And I'm not alone; there are tons of other people who achieved some pretty amazing things, and managed to make others happy because they were so very un-happy. Communicating your own experience with those kinds of emotions helps others deal with their own. Poe never would have written Telltale Heart if he was high on life. Nine Inch Nails wouldn't exist, period.

"I wanna [adore] you like an ani-maaaaal!"

It comes with other benefits too. My most prized and dare-I-say distinctive attribute is my sense of humor. I would not have that piece of myself if I was a happy person. If I didn't have a general resentment towards things, I wouldn't look at them so critically, and I would miss a lot of the details that go into making a joke. So that joke I made up yesterday or the day before, which got others to laugh out loud, never would have happened. To have a "need" to make fun of something, you kind of have to get pissed off by it first. Nobody writes a joke about Starbucks's ubiquity unless something about that bothers them. Nobody writes jokes about being married unless their spouse annoys them in some way shape or form. And I never would have written an article about advertising to gamers, unless one of the ads I saw made me chuck my monitor out the window. It also allows you to bring a relatively fresh perspective into some situations, which can be really helpful. I've helped others avoid some really stupid mistakes on more than one occasion, because (without giving myself too much credit) I was the only one who saw a problem with what they were planning.

I've managed to lighten up in the past few years, which is actually what's brought this to my attention in a new way. I think exercise had something to do with it. I've always thought this way about misery, but as I mellow out and feel generally "happier", I can't shake the feeling that something's missing now. I get the value of mellowing out; misery is definitely the sort of thing that's best in moderation, but I simply don't have as many insights as I used to. Consequently I have way fewer things to contribute to discussions. I'm less idealistic now and don't mind a compromise here or there because eff it, I'm tired. And having that attitude actually makes me sad. As much as misery can be frustrating and at times unbearable, the emotional dilation you feel as a result is pretty incredible. Sadness isn't a negative emotion to me. Neither is heartache. Or melancholy. Each of them, while having their own ranges of pain, are all wonderful parts of being human the way anything else is. South Park probably communicates it better than I can:

So the next time you encounter someone who to seems to have a general sense of melancholy, don't treat them like they're diseased. They have something to offer just like anyone else; they just see things differently than you do. If you think it sucks trying to handle being around them, try living that way. And the next time you're feeling down, don't spend that time wishing you were happier. Use that new mental state to do something different. Chances are you won't be there for long, and that part of your humanity will be lost forever if you just up and forget it once things get better. Don't turn your back on an entire facet of yourself. Paint something. Write something. Watch that movie you bought but forgot why. It's the only way to fly.

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