Monday, 27 February 2012

Should we be achieving things in life?

As humans we strive like woodlice crawling away from light to get away from unpleasantness and towards happiness. So in short, for most of us, the simple answer to 'Should you be achieving things?' is 'Yes, if it raises your utility'. And it just might*, since working towards a goal fools our minds into thinking we are doing something potentially evolutionarily valuable (I think, at least), and hence our bastard brains cut us a bit of slack, as they say.We're not trying to fool you, genes' interests, honest! So potentially, even, if you are not quite badly depressed, I wager that goals COULD be an easy way to attain infinite good mood (though not, I might add, infinite pleasure). I don't know though, being one of those depressives who can't feel any pleasure at all, but we'll come to that later.

What if the effort is too much? What if you prefer escapism? The problem is, unless you are someone who does not care whatsoever about completing any such goals**, you will be negatively affected by NOT completing them in the future. And that's not all, folks. Completing goals isn't all exciting gene-hugging. Some people even say a lot of following their goals has been blood, sweat and tears. The key is effort. If you are adverse to putting the effort in, you better start learning to not give a crap quick, because otherwise you are going to die with a lot of regrets, and it's possible that while you live every couple of weeks you'll get a painful reminder of how you aren't 'doing' anything in life, whatever that means. The balance is between effort, goal-punishment, goal-achievement and escapism.

Goal-accomplishing is slow-release positive utility that remains more or less constant - like an IV bag. Escapism, however, is quicker, and doesn't really provide any lasting effects, sort of like recreational drugs. Now, luckily for you there is an almost limitless supply of escapism in the world - limitless as far as you're concerned, at least, so there's no issue of begging for escapism or stealing the neighbours' television for some album-money. It's also not fair to say that escapism doesn't provide ANY lasting benefits, because you can talk to other people about what you've watched, reminisce over it, etc. But I think that achieving goals would probably have far larger lasting effects as long as the goal you pick is one that helps you develop useful skills.

But is it really one or the other? Probably not. This is because too much of one tends to make us a little sick - sick of working ourselves to the bone, or sick of wasting away like some two-bit junkie.But what about the balance? That really, as I've said, all depends on how much you get out of things: how much effort you need, what the effort feels like, how punished will you feel for not accomplishing your goals, how happy will you feel for accomplishing them, how will you feel when you perform escapism, etc.

But what if you are so messed up that you can't actually feel any pleasure at all? Well for anhedonia, the only thing you really can do is achieve things. Both methods of dealing with the world are rendered equally useless, BUT, if you do get better, you will have a much easier time in the world if you have spent all that time in exile studying than sleeping. This, I am trying to convince myself to do. It is not really working all that well.

On another note, I notice how I keep getting hits from people wondering about why they 'can't follow through with anything'***. This, if think, is probably because you are in the wrong sort of mood to do so. As I've said earlier, you may be adverse to effort (in which case either get used to not following through with anything or seek therapy), but in the case that you are in the wrong mindset, then you have a couple of options that have been shown to work: 1. See a therapist or psychiatrist and acquire medication or 2. If you don't have the money, find natural antidpressants or nootropics (check out forums on the internet for this) or 3. Meditate like crazy. I sincerely doubt that anything else will work, though I could be wrong. Hopefully whoever searches for this term and finds my blog shall be disappointed no longer! But probably not.

*Unless you are more inclined to find escapism more enjoyable, in which case DON'T achieve your goals unless not achieving them will make lower you utility in the future. Urgh! It's a conundrum.
**And trust me, even I, a person who does not value his life particularly much - almost negligible as an amount in fact - would lose utility if I ended up dead without completing my goals, sort of.
*** Just so google bots detect it: WHY CAN'T I FOLLOW THROUGH WITH ANYTHING? Caps lock doesn't help, but it's better someone sees it on the page before they think it's all some horrible cheap scam.


  1. imho the only things worth doing are those that (greatly) reduce suffering. one could argue that "achieving things", too, reduces suffering, but that's quite an egotistical view point.

  2. Anonymous, it's not just achieving things, but also having things on the To Achieve list that can take our mind off from contemplating life, and relieve some suffering.

    However, there's another problem, things which naturally find a place in the To Achieve list are often so impossible that looking at the list itself can be quite depressing. =(