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. Because the jokes don’t work otherwise.
What is your relationship with the present tense?
How do you approach this moment, what Eckhart Tolle refers to as The Now in his book, The Power of Now?
Do you narrate the moment to yourself?
For example, if you are in your kitchen, pouring milk into a bowl of cereal, you hear yourself say to yourself, “Here I am, in the kitchen again, pouring milk into another bowl of cereal.”
Do you distract from this moment?
Same scenario as above, and, in your mind’s ear, you silently wonder, “What’s the right amount of milk anyway? How much cereal should the milk cover? All of it? Eighty-three percent?”
Do you reject it?
Still in the kitchen, you think, “This breakfast business is boring. I’m going to sit here and wait until there’s a better moment for me to enjoy. Something more exciting, a moment with a funny romantic twist and the discovery of a great fortune. Oh, yeah, and chocolate.”
Do you run from it?
Back in the kitchen, you don’t even notice that you’re pouring milk because all your mental energy is tied up in anticipation of what will go wrong later today. Or tomorrow. And definitely the day after tomorrow.
Maybe you do all of the above depending on your mood and the context. Well done. It’s important to be flexible and have a variety of strategies.
What Not to Do
To maximize your misery, the one thing you must NOT do is accept and experience the current moment. This is lately known as practicing “mindfulness,” wherein the alert, aware practitioner allows thoughts, feelings, and sensations to pass through consciousness without internally passing judgment or even commenting.
Mindfulness is about noticing the nuances of this moment without the additional burden of applying values, meaning, or even language to the experience.
Don’t be fooled by the recent popularity of this mindfulness business, especially in psychotherapy and self-help communities.
And don’t be misled by the centuries of disciplined meditation that Buddhist monks practiced in order to learn how to restrain their wandering mind so that they could live in a perpetual state of alert acceptance of this moment.
When’s the last time one of those monks had to deal with the thorny question of how much milk to pour in their cereal?
I hope you get my point.
Get Out of Here. Now.
So the general strategy for maximizing your misery is to run from your experience of this moment. Get out of the here and now. Hurry to the there and then.
Live in the past, mentally jump to a parallel universe, or fly into the future.
The last is my personal favorite skill, and the subject of this post: awfulizing. Also called catastrophizing.
To catastrophize is to assume the outcome of this moment will be much worse than it actually will be, or even could realistically be.
You know that friend of your that always thinks that something awful is about to happen? Same one who shoots every idea out of the sky with an exhaustive list of what could go wrong with any plan. Channel their restless and savage pessimism for this skill.
Whatever is going on in your life, good or bad, it’s about to get a lot worse. Whatever is working, won’t. And when things go wrong, they will go very wrong. It will be your own private hell on earth.
Repeat this daily to enjoy a lifetime of crippling anxiety.
Since anger is sometimes a secondary response to anxiety, if you want more anger, create more anxiety.
Treat every minor setback or problem as a devastating, life-altering disaster.
Exaggerate whatever challenges you’re facing until they’re unrecognizable.
For example, if you need to make a phone call and might be on hold for twenty minutes, convince yourself before you dial that you’ll probably be on hold for five hours, have a nervous breakdown halfway through, be hospitalized against your will, taken to court, lose everything you own, and die soon thereafter, of course suffering in some horrid way.
Imagine how angry you’ll be at the company you’re calling, the VP in charge of customer service, and the specific representative you speak to if you’re convinced that the result of you being on hold during this phone call is that you will soon perish in a manner that secures your spot on The Hundred Worst Ways to Die.
To streamline your awfulizing, just consult the following list and insert each qualifier into each statement about your future:
- A disaster
- The most horrendous
- The worst
- The most worst (I’m hoping this one catches on).
CASE STUDY: KEN’S FENDER BENDER
Ken was sitting in gridlock on his way home from his last appointment, at The Vanity Spa for Rich Narcissists. He was relieved because, just today, he had met his quota for the quarter. He had freaked out at a few months ago, as he did at the beginning of every quarter, when he saw his updated quota. “It always seemed to be updated upwards – This quota system is a disaster waiting to happen,” Ken thought.
And that’s when his car was bumped from behind. Ken and the other driver pulled over and exchanged information. No one was hurt, and the damages were minor. Even the information exchange was uneventful. They both had current insurance and IDs. Ken got back in his car and could barely contain his runaway thoughts.
“Sure this was just a minor fender-bender,” he decided, “and they bumped me, but this will ruin me. My insurance company probably won’t believe that it isn’t my fault and will try to charge me to repair the other car’s damages. Then everyone will take me to court and I’ll lose everything.”
His internal disaster continued. “I’ll have to sell the house to pay my attorney’s fees and will still lose the case. I mean, I might as well already go turn myself in at the nearest maximum security prison. And I never learned to fight. Damn, I’m going to be locked up any day now and don’t even know how to make a shank. I’ll be dead in a week.”
Ken was so livid at the prospect of his upcoming death sentence that he ran to the other car, still parked in behind him, and yelled into the windshield, “Your stupid driving is gonna get me stabbed to death!”
What You Can Learn from Ken
Ken jumped from one conclusion to another, each one exponentially more horrid. He’d be blamed for the accident, get sued, lose his house, be sentenced to incarceration and murdered in prison.
And he responded to each as though it was already a reality. This brought the future horror into the present moment and provided ample fuel for Ken’s misery.
Students of all levels can benefit from this simple demonstration. To create more misery, convince yourself that the future consequences of this moment will be more than you can bear.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for the next installment of The Complete Guide to Misery!