“It is not despair, for despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt. We do not.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien
The apocalypse is an easy sell.
If you feel hopeless you'd probably welcome the end.
This isn't anything new. Every generation thinks it's coming to the end of the line, that it's reached the place where the water is starting to recede on the shoreline. Ever since culture has existed doom has been used to market ideas, products, revolutions. If you have no hope then you're an easy target for anyone who wants to use you for their cause. If you believe nothing good can exist then it's easy to inspire you to tear it all down. Then that old world can be replaced with whatever new world is being proposed.
You want to keep your mind. You want to keep your soul. You want to know what causes you should devote yourself, and what only wants to suck all the resources out of you because you're desperate. These whitepills will inoculate you against the bullshit. They'll inspire you to choose your own path. They'll help you keep a sound mind, sound body, and an intact conscience.
1. Go Outside
Don't roll your eyes. The human animal isn't above the material needs of the flesh.
This is the most obvious but most important little whitepill. You should be trying to get some sunlight at least every day, even if it's in your backyard or on a balcony outside your apartment. Ideally you should be leaving your house, walking the streets, hiking, swimming, going where other people are. You want to inundate yourself with atmosphere and experience.
If you see the world for how it really is it's difficult for other people to tell you what you should be seeing. The Internet is a mythological wasteland of drama. It's an epic battle of good and evil where the enemy must be hunted down and eliminated. It saturates you with doom, because doom gets clicks, and optimism is boring. It's easy to get twisted into knots thinking there are innumerable problems that you need to solve.
The easiest way to figure out if something is actually a problem? If it's a real problem, it won't go away if you stop thinking about.
When you turn away from the screen and let the sun fall onto your face and shoulders it tends to illuminate everything that's actually important. Not to mention the vitamin D.
Working out, eating healthy, and maintaining good relationships also falls in this category. But I'd say out of all this, the sunlight that falls upon the face of reality is the most important thing you should be exposing yourself to.
2. Recognize That Everyone Else is Just Searching for Happiness
It's easier to hate someone if you think they're evil. It's easy to inspire people to violence, rage, vitriol, if they believe that they're united against a corrupting force. Politicians have been using this fact for thousands of years. It's harder to kill someone that you know is like you. They need to become monstrous in your mind.
Dehumanizing language is just one aspect of this, like calling political opponents "NPCs." If you can strip someone of their humanness then all of your attacks against them will be justified.
We tend to attribute corrupt personalities and dark motivation to other people while forgiving ourselves for the same actions. If someone cuts us off in traffic we imagine that they're stupid or incompetent. If we did the same thing ourselves we justify that we were tired or had a bad day.
In social psychology this is called the fundamental attribution error. We overestimate people's personality and underestimate the situation or context.
The easiest way to convince yourself to commit evil is by believing those around you are evil. It's difficult to feel hatred if you recognize that even people you disagree with are just human beings trying to find the best way to achieve happiness.
You're not alone. You're not surrounded by a sea of enemies. Those people that disagree with you are just people. Everyone around you is trying to fumble toward enlightenment.
3. Your Body is The Heuristic
Sometimes being an intelligent person can make you really stupid. You tend to overationalize or rely on textbooks and theory to tell you how to feel. You're also often surrounded by other intelligent people who have a certain theoretical framework for how other human beings should live and behave.
Except the body doesn't lie. You can't override your base instincts with prefrontal cortex rationalization. People can convince themselves to starve but their bodies will suffer the consequences. In the same way they can convince themselves that happiness is attained by whatever theoretical framework of life they've created, but they will still be prone to depression, suicidal ideation, and panic attack.
Ask yourself: Have you really figured out the way, the truth, and the light? And if that's true, why is your primary emotion anger and irritability?
While it may be true that "Facts don't care about your feelings," your feelings are also facts in themselves. Whenever you do something explore how you feel, both your mind and your body. A chili dog may seem tasty in the moment but leave you feeling bloated, tired, and gross afterward. Your "dream job" may seem good on paper, but it's driving you to need antidepressants and alcohol to cope. You may think your girlfriend is wonderful but spending time with her tends to leave you feeling sad and drained.
Your body has been created by millions of years of evolution. Your rational brain is relatively new in comparison. If you're feeling lost and confused your body can become a compass to show you in which direction you can start moving.
4. Free Will is Real
One of my most unpopular opinions, and the one I've gotten the most backlash on, is that people can do things to change their current situation and improve their own happiness.
In the depths of my depression I experienced this myself. If my husband suggested that maybe I could be doing something differently I'd feel pure, blind rage. How dare he suggest that maybe I was doing something wrong? This was all outside of my control.
Well I found out it wasn't outside of my control, and once I started taking responsibility for my well-being my mental health improved dramatically. I went from a suicidal, anorexic, alcoholic mess to a mostly functioning being. Not because I got therapy or took pills, but because I took control of my own life.
What I've come to learn is that the mind has its own psychological defense systems. When the mind is encountered with an idea that it finds dangerous to its well-being it will react with rage, defensiveness, lashing out, shutting down, and even violence. Even if the idea is a good one. Even if your life would be improved.
I'm often told I'm "lucky" to have the advantages I do and for a long time I believed that luck was the main component. I was born with a healthy body, a healthy mind, in a country that didn't oppress women or free speech, with relatively free economic opportunities.
Yet I've seen people get the same opportunities I've had and squander them. They let their own rage, bitterness, sadness, laziness, or lack of care let those opportunities slip away from them. They lose good jobs. They don't follow up. They fail to maintain relationships. They pick life partners that don't support their dreams. They make little concessions to their own happiness and inch by inch, year by year, find themselves living a life they never wanted.
It doesn't matter if free will "really" exists. At the end of the day, who fucking cares? You were built to exist as an agent that at least has the illusion of free will.
And the more you exercise that free will to improve your life, the more of it you'll seem to have.
5. No Matter What You Do You Contribute to Humanity's Wellbeing
We are not just ourselves. We comprise a system of every human being in existence.
Humanity is like a great machine. It runs on evolutionary principles. The good ideas survive and the bad ideas die. We don't have to be particularly smart to survive, we just have to keep replicating, over and over again, until we find what sticks.
You can do a lot of things to make life worse for others. You can be a Minister of Propaganda who casually ruins people lives with a gesture or a whim or a tax accountant who regularly commits fraud to line his own pockets.
But each time someone makes an error it helps others learn how to protect and guard against continued error. With each act of evil, society only improves over time.
Even if you're trying to do something and you fail you'll serve as a warning to others. Even if you contribute to an awful atrocity you'll provide the rest of us with information on how to keep it from happening again. If you do something truly stupid and take yourself out of the gene pool you're improving the overall quality of life.
We don't always know how something goes until it goes wrong. So even if it sucks to be a failure case, you can take comfort in the fact that each failure was necessary on the path toward success, and that our future children may live in a better world.
6. If There Wasn't an Answer, You Wouldn't even Be Able to Formulate The Question
Human beings are object oriented creatures. We can’t process any information in our environment in a way that doesn’t relate to our own survival. That’s why we can look at a tree and see a shelter, or look up and see a bird and desire to survive.
This is necessary because the amount of data in reality is infinite. In order to function at all we need to restrict the flow of information to what’s integral and important.
That means that question that gnaws at you at night, that hurts and haunts you? Whether it be “What’s the purpose of my life?” or “How do I find happiness?”, there’s an answer out there. Maybe the resources aren’t available for you to find it right now, but the answer exists. It took thousands of years to walk on the moon but we figured out a way to do it. And questions right now that seem impossible to answer will one day be commonplace knowledge.
If there wasn’t an answer, you wouldn’t be able to comprehend the question. The question would be so far outside of your understanding it wouldn’t even occur to you.
7. Music Exists
The Sibelius Violin Concerto with Maxim Vengerov never ceases to make me happy to be a human being and appreciate that particular moment of existence. Music is an expression of the inexpressible.
8. Sometimes The Only Thing Stopping You is the Story You Tell Yourself
Narrative is the vehicle of consciousness, and narrative is what allows us to move through space and time with the awareness of our own self. Each of us has a "story" that we tell about ourselves which is as integral to our existence as breathing, eating, and sleeping.
But this story we tell ourselves isn't "real." Sure, it's probably be comprised of facts and things that actually happened in the past, but we have to pick a very small subset of information out of a near infinite data stream around us to formulate the story.
This story often feels immutable and unchangeable. We've gotten so used to the story that we've mistaken it for the truth about ourselves, and we move about the world as if this is the case.
June tells herself that she is a 38 year old single mother who can't find a man because she's too old. Mary tells herself that she's a hopeless failed writer because she's disabled and never got an MFA. Terry says that because of childhood abuse he can never have a healthy relationship, so he tries to content himself with living alone even though it makes him unhappy.
These are just stories.
And a story can be changed.
If you don't like something about your life ask yourself the kind of story you're telling yourself about your life and the world around you.
Your existence is more malleable than you might think. You can learn to transform that wall inside of yourself into a door.
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Autumn, what a wonderful post. It does feel like doom and gloom have taken control. That seems to be the story that people are drawn to in this moment. I think what scares people about accepting that they are in control of their story is that once you accept that, it becomes nearly impossible to blame others for your perceived shortcomings.
I recently changed the story I tell myself. I opened up to the idea that I was doing it wrong. It took a few years of therapy and the support of my wife but I’ve been doing a lot better. Last week I read A Return to Love. For most of my life I would have shit all over this book. I would have viewed it as a scam. A huckster trying to dilute my ego. Sometimes a book is good because you are open and ready to receive it’s message. The timing worked out. But it wasn’t the timing. It was me, I was the one who worked out.
Since reading A Return to Love, I have been more patient with myself and others. I don’t obsess over my flaws, and the flaws of others. It’s only been a week and I know that it will take a conscious effort on my part to continue the story.
Thank you for your thoughtful post, I hope that it can reach someone who is searching for an alternative to doom and gloom.