Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Shortcuts to Unhappiness

After my many discussions with Mark K and my dad (Lee) over the Thanksgiving weekend, I thought it might be fun to write the happiness (or unhappiness) corollary to the Miss Management Pageant which I've entitled Shortcuts to Unhappiness.

If you have a strong commitment to and strive for unhappiness, please know that proper and regular application of these simple and easy-to-do techniques can lead to sustainable and high quality depression and anxiety. If you're someone who wants to become happier, please know that regular application of these simple and easy-to-do techniques can lead to sustainable and high-quality depression and anxiety.
  1. Attribute everything you do to either genetics or environment
    There's nothing so fundamentally disabling and dis-empowering as attributing everything that we do to either our upbringing and environment, or to our genes. If you want to keep challenges in your life like worry or fear or jealousy or anger or anxiety, simply pronounce, "It's just who I am!"

    If you're struggling with addiction, take comfort in knowing that there's nothing you can do about it. You're genetically predisposed to overeating or drinking excessively. You're just wired that way. It's just your lot.

  2. Remind yourself and others that optim-istic is not real-istic
    Whenever you encounter someone who is sickeningly optimistic, write them off as a flake and remind yourself that you're not pessimistic, you're a realist. Optimism just sets us up for disappointment. It's better to never try than to try and than to have tried and lost.

  3. Avoid meaningless activity
    A common theme among happy people is that they are active people. The specific activity doesn't matter as much as the being active part; it can be climbing mountains or washing dishes or walking around the block with your kid. Simply knowing that activity can improve your outlook on life, could pose a significant threat to your unhappiness. No worries! Simply dismiss anything that you're capable of doing as not worthwhile or meaningless.

  4. Dwell
    A beautiful side-effect of low activity is that it gives you plenty of time to dwell on the past. When dwelling try to focus on those things that you regret or people who have "hurt" you or treated you unjustly. If you find yourself slipping into happy memories, pull a little unhappiness jujitsu and flip it into how sad you are that the happy memories are now just memories.

  5. Kill curiosity before it kills your cat
    One of the more powerful weapons in both Mark's and Lee's arsenals of unhappiness is boredom. While sharing this with Jonathan, he wondered aloud how anyone could every be bored. (Jonathan is a man of a million ideas with the wherewithal to actually do them.) He then said, "What happens to people that they lose all curiosity?"

    Even if you buy into the whole genetics thing, each of us at least starts with a modicum of curiosity. A key to sustained unhappiness is killing it. Learn to find nothing interesting or inspiring.

  6. Make every situation a dilemma
    The most effective way to stay stuck in a situation is to force-fit all decisions into a dichotomy (an either/or decision), in which both alternatives are wrong. Simply forget the fact that their are infinitely many solutions to any problem by insisting that there are always two, neither of which appeals to you.

  7. Put obligation before desire
    A critical success factor in achieving unquenchable unhappiness is to always place your obligations before the things you want, especially when it comes to relationships.

    Start by recognizing that only people who are related to you genetically are your family. Remind yourself that the strangers whom you meet along the way, (the ones with whom you share dreams and passions, the ones with whom you can say anything, the ones that you love to be with) are not your family. Your family is your blood. You're genetically bound. These are the people you should be with, especially on holidays.

  8. Jump to extreme examples of why something won't work
    I have two words for you, "Michael" and "Jordan". For some reason, people with a strong commitment to unhappiness frequently site Michael Jordan when attempting to prove that they're stuck with their lot in life. The statement basically takes the form of, "Thinking that you can simply decide to be something or do something is a load of crap. For example, you can't just decide to play basketball like Michael Jordon!"

    Alternatively, there's Tiger Woods. In the end, whenever someone proposes that you can step beyond your existing boundaries, that you can simply decide to be something you're not, remember "Michael", "Jordan".

  9. Keep guilty secrets
    One of the things that I learned from my dad is that guilt and regret are powerful sources of unhappiness, perhaps the most powerful sources. You can turbo-charge guilt and regret by keeping them secret. If at all possible, never share them with anyone.

  10. Answer personal questions with references to others
    Sometimes it becomes difficult to keep your sources of guilt, remorse and regret secret. Some pesky son or interested daughter-in-law may may persistently ask you questions about yourself and what's going on inside.

    If you find these questions impossible to avoid, the simple solution is to answer them with examples from someone else's life. By never answering personal questions with personal answers, you can guarantee that your secret guilt and regret never surface to see the light of day. You can maintain a source of perpetual unhappiness.
But wait, there's more...
Here are a few other tips that might come in handy.

  1. Surround yourself with low energy people with a keen eye for what can go wrong
  2. Know how to become obtuse and literal suggest an abstract concept that might work
  3. In the event that someone tries to help you, insist that you do it yourself
  4. Take everything personally
  5. Reserve words like every, all, never and always for things you don't like
  6. Dissect, pick-apart and scrutinize things you do like
  7. Keep an account of what people have done to you
  8. If someone does something nice for you, question their motives
  9. Always end conversations just before reaching closure
What About...
It just occurred to me that you could almost reverse my list by making it an unhappiness calibration tool rather than a guide. All you'd need to do is look at each of the techniques, and then determine to what degree you (or the subject of calibration) practices them. For example, technique number one might become: On a scale of one to ten (ten being quite often), how often do you attribute things to genetics or environment?

Whether your goal is deep dark depression or unquenchable bliss, I hope that my little guide will make getting there more enjoyable.

Happy Wednesday!


  1. Hey Mark!
    As I sat down this morning to write today's post I came across yours. I was going to write about our conversation Friday morning as well, but I have to say that your "Shortcuts to Unhappiness" summary is a much more useful takeaway than what I had in mind. Excellent Job!

  2. Mark K!, Please don't let me get in your way. I humbly defer to your expertise in these areas.

  3. Hi mark.

    I was reading your letter today and realised it was what i was doing a few days ago.
    After some talks white iris en others i pickt myself up.
    Your letter gave me more understanding thank you for that

  4. Hey Karin! That's great! Thank you for letting me know. I'd love to hear what changed for you specifically.


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