Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Sometimes the only thing to be positive about in life is a HIV diagnosis

I've been reading a couple of posts by people in forums about their lives being stupendously horrible. Moved, I scrolled down. What was the first thing I found? "What good things are there in your life?" The post is obvious: there are few to no good things in his/her life. This is the actual purpose of the post, and why they are saying life is horrible. Lives are not all created equal. People with piss-poor lives do not think this because they are focussing on the 'negative', it is instead because they are seeing what is actually there. But to the cult (a cult of billions, but a cult nonetheless) of life-loving suicide-denying and misery-ignoring people, the only way to rationalise the fact that some people have lives not worth living, is to pretend that they are mistaken and that their lives are in fact worth living, as every life is worth living. No I am not saying if there is nothing or next to nothing good in your life you should commit suicide right now. You probably shouldn't, because of your family/friends. But I am saying that simply flat-out pretending that people are lying when they tell you about how nothing good has happened to them is evil, and provides them with no comfort other than the comfort in the fact that the people around them probably understand less about the universe than they do (shallow comfort, I know).

You aren't making people better by telling them the bullshit you tell yourself everyday. This may sound like it will work in theory, but in practice you can convince desert nomads that rain never happens, but you can't convince someone living in the middle of Ireland of this. So what should you do when someone is feeling miserable? Well the comfort I'd like best would probably be for someone to say 'yeah, my life sucks too [story of life]' (misery loves company, which is horrible, but true), but if I had to settle for a happy go-lucky walking happiness well that drools pure laughter, I would ask them to say something like, "Yeah, your life really does suck. I'm sorry about that". That's all. You don't need to tell me I'm wrong or that I can fix all my problems by doing X. If I could do that, odds are I've tried it already and it didn't work. When you are feeling down, you spend most of your time trying to get back up there (not Cloud nine exactly, but at least above the centre of the Earth). Now I don't know about other people in my situtation*, or in other equally or MORE horrible situations, but I'd expect that those things are also what they would like to be told (and who knows? Maybe I'm right).

You see, happiness to the happy feels as if it is something they can control. It feels as if even when they are sad, they can just turn the whole life-mobile into reverse and start being happy again. Maybe they can. But I sure can't, and most people in various terrible situations can't either. Happiness is not a social construct. It is not something that everyone can be regardless of their situation (without drugs). This very 'fact' is used to oppress the depressed everywhere, with questions of "Why don't you cheer up?" and "Can't you stop being so depressed?" - along with refusals to believe, of course, that it doesn't exist, or it's just a phase, or that people are choosing to be that way.

*I'm not going to be modest about my life. It IS pretty horrible, though there are a lot of worse lives. A lot of people with most things going wrong can still feel pleasure. This is not a good thing to think about if you are me.


  1. You see, happiness to the happy feels as if it is something they can control.

    This is an important insight. I have recently become aware that this is also true of thin/healthy people (of whom I am one) - we feel like our weight is within our control, that we have done something virtuous to deserve to look the way we do. In reality, it's mostly environmental and genetic, and we're just lucky - including lucky to be able to have some control over our weight. But most people lack that control. It's cruel for us to project our own experiences on them.

    Ditto sad/happy. I think it is true that happy people think you can just turn that smile upside down. They genuinely don't know how hard it is for sad people to do that.

    1. (^smile^frown haha)

      I think it's a broadly applicable psychological phenomenon that we attribute more agency to our own good outcomes (especially happy/cheery people) and less agency to our own bad outcomes. When you combine the self-serving bias with the fundamental attribution error, not to mention the just world fallacy, you get this kind of projection of agency onto others, especially for bad outcomes in others in which the observer has had a good outcome. "Defensive attribution" is a similar phenomenon.

  2. This is without a doubt the best entry I've read in a long time in the blogosphere. To the point, brutally honest and true. To hell with brilliant and attractive people, I want rational ones.