The problem we face as people living in western society isn’t that we are failing to succeed, it’s that we’re playing a game that’s not worth winning.
We work harder and harder to acquire more status, more money, more things, and all the while never realize that winning the game isn’t just impossible, but will ultimately yield nothing but more frustration.
Even these sayings have become banal platitudes that serve to shield us from the fact that we might say things like “you don’t need all that stuff to be happy” but we don’t really fucking mean it, because if we did, we would actually do something about it.
We don’t live it, we just buy some piece of overpriced wood from Target that says some stupid shit about happiness, that way all our friends won’t think we’re shallow consumers.
We do the same thing in relationships. We’ve been told all this crazy bullshit about how we need to look, what we need to say and what we need to wear, because otherwise people won’t like us. Yet we never stop to consider that maybe the game of trying to make everyone like us isn’t a game worth winning.
Do you want to see what happens to people who fully commit to trying to make everyone like them? Look at every politician that has successfully run for president in the last 20 years. That’s what happens when you win a shitty game, you become an inauthentic, pandering robot.
So why do we continue to try and win this shitty game if it doesn’t make us happy? I think there’s two reasons.
Reason 1: We’re too afraid to shake things up
Right now I’m typing this from Medellin, Colombia where I’m spending a month living and working. Isn’t that fucking crazy?!? Oh my god, I’m living in another country… and guess what? They don’t habla ingles here! How did I manage that?
Traveling has been one of my greatest joys in life, and it’s done two important things. It’s allowed me to see other perspectives, but more importantly, it’s allowed me to see my own perspective.
That’s right, you can’t see your own perspective unless you get out of Dodge and experience something else. In fact, what we do instead is surround ourself with people who agree with us, and have them reinforce our one unexamined opinion, slowly convincing us that it’s the gospel, because we rarely hear or see anything else.
Now I get it, it’s nice to be around people who agree with you. I do that too. It’s good to surround yourself with a community that shares your values and opinions, but every group is dangerous, so it’s our job to maintain both a sense of community and a healthy a sense of individualism.
George Carlin so brilliantly said this when describing people.
People are wonderful. I love individuals. I hate groups of people. I hate a group of people with a ‘common purpose’. Cause pretty soon they have little hats. And armbands. And fight songs. And a list of people they’re going to visit at 3am.
So, I dislike and despise groups of people but I love individuals. Every person you look at; you can see the universe in their eyes, if you’re really looking.
Groups of people are inherently dangerous, because when humans get together we quest for power and status, we do our best to look good and not look bad, we adopt arbitrary standards of success and we start believing that the game we made up is real.
Reason 2: We forgot what it feels like to be alive
Isn’t it ridiculous how the human brain will resist doing the things that we know will make us happy?
When was the last time you had the thought “I should go workout” and then you didn’t? You know you’ll feel better after working out. In fact, no one in the history of exercise has ever regretted it. Even if we got injured working out, there is still some part of us that would have rather been nursing a broken bone than suffering the “blah” feeling of being lazy and out of shape.
The reason we do this is our memories are designed to protect us, they’re designed for survival. If we get abused as a ten year old, we can move on to live functional lives because while we may remember the event, it won’t trigger the same level of trauma as when the event actually happened.
It’s the same reason that although we “know” it would be a good idea to work out, we don’t really remember the good feeling associated with it, because our brains are designed to minimize past experiences.
In 2011 I took a bicycle across Europe from London to Greece. It was absolutely life-changing, and on that trip I felt more happy and free than I’ve ever felt. So why haven’t I planned another trip? Do I not like life-changing events that help me feel happy and free? No.
It’s simply that I’ve forgotten what it feels like to be alive.
I imagine you can say the same for yourself. You may not be able to fully recall the feeling, but you may remember some thoughts like “I want to live this way forever”, or “I realize now what I’ve been missing”.
Then what do you do? You go back to the thing that sucks. We all do it! So what do we do about this?
We have to constantly remind ourselves that to live a happy, fulfilled life we must push ourself outside of our comfort bubbles. We have to shake things up, we have to fight the urge to do what’s easy, and exchange that for what might be scary, or dangerous, or hard, or unfamiliar.
Only then will we remember what it truly feels like to be alive, and then our job is to hang on to that feeling as long as we can, for it’s our precious reminder of what has always made, and what will always make, life worth living.