Welcome to The Complete Guide to Misery!
Each post in this absurd series will promote a different form of human suffering and encourage readers to adopt self-destructive habits that will bring them mountains of anguish.
This silliness is intended to be satire, not self-help. However, if readers’ lives are enriched in some way beyond laughter, all the better.
Despite the attempts at humor, this is not meant to make light of the suffering of blood-filled people by the world’s myriad forms of abuse.
Please assume that you have free will.
Of all the choices you make every day, one of the most important is: where do you focus your attention?
Because how you focus, and on what, make an enormous difference in your quality of life.
Attentional focus is also one of the easiest things to change. Following is an exercise to illustrate the point.
Take a moment to think about something to which you’re looking forward.
Maybe you can’t wait to get together with friends you haven’t seen in a while.
Or are eagerly anticipating seeing the leaves change colors.
Or fantasize about your upcoming trip to Cancun. Or is it Cozumel? I can never remember which is which.
And notice what focusing on an enjoyable future does to your mood.
Now take a moment and focus on an aggravating or disappointing moment from your past.
You might remember the person who didn’t say, “Thank you” after you held open a door for them.
Or that time when you tripped and dropped an arm load of dishes.
Or when your least favorite cousin gave you a charley horse.
Now how’s your mood?
Hopefully you got the point: changing where and on what you focus can alter your internal experience of this moment.
As you go about your day, notice where your attention automatically tends:
- Do you concentrate on the past, present or future?
- Do you focus your mental energy on yourself or others?
- Do you zero in on things you can control or those things you can’t?
- Do you revel in tasks and accomplishments or feelings and relationships?
Whatever your tendencies, it’s important to know you have options. You can choose to focus on something different and, in time, it will become as much of an unconscious habit as your current practice.
Optimistic types fool themselves by focusing on a positive future that they can control, while maintaining an awareness of their place in the wider social context, and are alert to the needs of other human beings. They claim it is part of their larger mission of being “happy.”
Is it just me or does that sound exhausting? Planning and thinking ahead, delaying gratification, monitoring progress, being mindful of others, showing empathy, etc.
No, let’s leave all that happiness for the uptight, obsessive types who have too much to prove and don’t have anything else to do with their lives.
Much better to filter out that naïve nonsense and get right to heart of the matter. Because you don’t want to convince yourself that life is going well only to have the universe kick you in the teeth.
Better to disregard the positive and concentrate on the miserable. And that brings us to our first skill: Filtering.
To filter means to discount any evidence contrary to your beliefs. And the beliefs you’ll want to protect are those that maximize misery.
Look for trouble.
Mentally note anything that goes wrong in your life and how miserable every setback makes you.
Overlook the hundred things that go right every day.
Take for granted all the stuff that works in your world.
Remember: Gratitude is for quitters!
Encircle yourself with negative people who can help you notice and remember all the ways the world has treated you horribly.
Or just continue to spend time on social media. Those algorithms will take care of the rest.
In summary, the most effective filter to increase your misery is anything that makes you a victim.
CASE STUDY: KEN’S DAY AT THE PARK
Ken got together with friends at a local park one afternoon. On the way there, someone cut him off in traffic. He got to the party without any other problems and made good time doing so.
When he arrived, he was greeted by some buddies, who helped him carry and setup his Foosball table. He played a couple rounds of Cornhole and, like a lot of people, wondered for just a second about the person who named that game.
A new person arrived, was introduced to Ken, and gave him a bland, distracted greeting.
Ken got back to the festivities and crushed a few games of Foosball. He had an amazing dinner of ribs, corn-on-the-cob, baked potatoes, and pie thanks to everyone’s collective contributions.
While he and his buddies sat around their campfire and chatted about this-and-that, the guy with the lousy greeting disagreed with Ken’s point about the negative economic impact of COVID on small businesses. The moment passed, the party continued and Ken left a couple hours later when things were winding down.
The next morning, Ken made his weekly call to his parents. He knew they were looking forward to hearing about his time at the picnic.
He appreciated their interest in his social life, but felt like they didn’t understand him. They’d admitted to him multiple times over the years that they didn’t understand all his misery.
When his parents asked how he enjoyed the picnic, Ken said, “Oh, what a waste of time. First, there was this jerk-face who cut me off on the road. Ohhh, that idiot made me so mad. People like that shouldn’t be allowed to get a license.
“But that’s not even the best part. Next was this new guy who totally ignored my greeting and was about as exciting as a dishrag. Why did some like that even bother coming to a party if they aren’t going to try to have a good time? I hate people like that; they shouldn’t be allowed at parties.
“Oh, and then, and then, the kicker was that this same dishrag thought he was suddenly some kind of expert on economics and attacked me about some stuff I was saying about small businesses. People like that jerk always seem to have something to say. He’s just a know-it-all. Damn, people like that just make me so mad. He should know when to keep his stupid mouth shut. Seriously, I’ve got a subscription to The Economist, for Pete’s sake and I’ve actually read some of the short articles. I mean, I own a copy of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and plan to read it one day. What has the dishrag ever done?”
Ken was proud of himself for giving his parents such a complete picture of his day.
What We Can Learn from Ken
Ken narrowed his memory of the picnic to the parts he didn’t like and framed himself as the victim each time. He told his parents he was cut off by another driver, ignored upon introduction, and intellectually attacked by a new arrival to his social circle.
Ken didn’t mention, because he didn’t notice it in the first place, what went right, such as the entire drive to the party except the moment he was cut off, freedom to gather with friends, blessing to have people to help with the Foosball table, chance to play Cornhole, opportunity to meet a new person, and joy of sharing a great meal.
Ken demonstrated his expert-level misery skills by repeating how others made him mad. This disavowal of responsibility is one of the sine qua non for a lifetime of misery.
Please note Ken’s relentless consistency. He framed himself as the victim and blamed others for making him mad three times in that short tale.
Remember readers: the key to lasting change is practice, practice, practice!
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for the next installment of The Complete Guide to Misery!