Friday, March 30, 2012

Shortcuts to Unhappiness

In 2009 Iris and I spent Thanksgiving weekend with with Mark K and my dad (Lee). Mark and Lee share a finely honed skill set that allows them to transform any silver lining into the darkest storm cloud. After careful observation and analysis, I believe I've codified their methods into something that 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 to genetics or environment
    There's nothing so fundamentally disabling and dis-empowering as making everything you do a result of your upbringing or your genes. Healthy maintenance of challenges such as worry, fear, jealousy, anger and anxiety requires no more than saying, "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 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 a pessimist, you're a realist. Optimism just sets you up for disappointment. It's better to never have tried than to have tried and been disappointed.

  3. Avoid meaningless activity
    Psychologists tell us that happy people 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. Just knowing that activity could improve your outlook on life, might 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 a happy memory, pull a little unhappiness jujitsu; flip it into how sad you are that the happy memory is now just a memory.

  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 about my weekend with Jonathan, he wondered aloud how anyone could ever be bored. (Jonathan is a man of a million ideas with the activity levels required to actually implement them.) He then said, "What happens to people that they lose all curiosity?"

    When it comes to unhappiness, Jonathan's a lost cause. However there may be hope for you, even if you buy into the whole genetics thing. The problem is that each of us is born with at least a modicum of curiosity. To sustain unhappiness you must kill it. You must 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. Forget the fact that there are infinitely many solutions to any problem by insisting that there are always two, neither of which appeals to you.

  7. Obligation before desire
    The buddhas of unquenchable unhappiness have a secret they want you to know about: always assign higher priority to your obligations than the things you want, specially 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, specially on holidays.

  8. Jump to extreme examples
    I have two words for you, "Michael" and "Jordan". Those 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 someone or do something is a load of crap. For example, you can't just decide to play basketball like Michael Jordon!"

    Alternatively, you can use "Tiger Woods" or my dad's favorite, "Bobby Fischer". 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
    My dad discovered early on that guilt and regret are powerful sources of unhappiness, perhaps the most powerful. Through years of experimentation he learned that you can turbo-charge guilt and regret by keeping them secret. If at all possible, never share your sources of guilt and regret with anyone.

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

    If you're stuck with them for a weekend and can no longer avoid the questions, answer them. Just use examples from someone else's life, or better yet, people generally. When asked how you feel about a specific event say something like, "You know, anyone who went through an experience like that would..."

    By never answering personal questions personally, you can guarantee that your secret sources of guilt and regret never see the light of day. This will establish a limitless wellspring of unhappiness.

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. Become obtuse and literal whenever someone suggests an abstract concept that you think might just 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, 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

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

Happy Friday!
Teflon

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