Friday, December 30, 2016

When Happiness Is Sabotaged By Too Many Choices

We're told that having lots of choices make us happy.  It seems that it should because people have different tastes. However, turns out that this isn't quite true.

Check out this TED talk by Barry Schwartz, who presents the conclusions of various studies that explain how too many choices make us doubt ourselves and can cause a kind of mental paralysis.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Suffering From Weltschmerz? A Tip To Cheer You Up!

Hell in a wheelbarrow, courtesy Thomas Staub pixabay
Hell in a wheelbarrow, courtesy Thomas Staub pixabay

Do you feel that the world is a mean place, filled with wicked people, lazy youths and altogether heading for hell in a hand basket?  

If so, read on for some discussion of what might be going on, and tips for managing the issue.

Weltschmerz meaning world-pain in German was coined by Johann Paul Friedrich Richter, a German author who wrote fun, upbeat romances in the late 18th century.  

Known by his pen name, Jean Paul, he suggested that our wishes about a perfect world can never actually come true, hence our pain when reality falls short of our expectations.

Jean Paul by Heinrich Pfenninge
Jean Paul by Heinrich Pfenninger

Weltschmerz is also used in the context of the kind of anxious depression we feel when we contemplate the ills of the world. 

At present, this type of reaction is the subject of some research and so far the leading impression is that connectivity is at least partly to blame.

So how does that work?

Many opinion makers point out that depression has risen at the same time as the internet has become generally available. They say we are swamped with information, a lot of it is pretty negative, and that this is one of the things that makes us more prone to depression. 

However, is this really new?

Many people point at the media as highlighting bad stuff that's happening. However, in the 1700s, newspapers were popular, especially the yellow press that relied on scandal mongering.Nasty news back then was just as hot as it is now.

I think this points to our human nature. Positive news attracts very few readers; horrific news is extremely popular. As news agencies are companies that rely on sales, they focus on death, war, torture, rape, cruelty and so on. (Although some add in the odd cute kitten to mitigate all the negative stuff.)

While the type of news we see has stayed constant over time, it's true that we have the capability to see more bad news today than ever before. I watch "on the hour" headlines from several live news feeds and read the top stories of twenty or so newspapers and magazines every day. 

That's a lot of bad news.

However, many people don't watch the news, don't read newspapers and get their information from social networks instead. They are not in touch with world events at all, and sometimes not even local ones.

It may be that the other things about being connected, the pressure to keep up with the Jones's, bullying, and so on, are factors, however, these pressures aren't new either and I'm not convinced they're very much different now than they were pre-internet.

I think there are two more important phenomena at work. 

Gumibears, courtesy Ronile, Pixabay

First, we are increasingly lonely.  Our homes are smaller, so we live alone or in small family units rather than with three or even four generations. 

Few of us can afford to live near our work, so we tend to live further away from our friends and relatives than ever before. 

We also work more hours than we used to, have fewer days off, and commuting means even less time with loved ones.   

This type of isolation leads to increased stress and depression.

Second, we underestimate our own changing sophistication. 

When we're young, we tend to be naive and more optimistic because bad situations are new to us. Of course, the more experience we have, the more we become aware that happy endings aren't always the rule.  

This means that when we are mature, we understand that victims won't always leave their abusive partners, that rape victims are blamed because others choose to attack them, ... and on and on it goes.

However, we confuse our own increased wisdom with moral decline in the world.  We think, "This didn't happen twenty years ago," instead of, "Twenty years ago I would have thought differently about this."

Put it all together and you have a pretty powerful negative punch, with or without connectivity.

If you suffer from Weltschmertz, simply understanding what you're feeling, what your personal triggers are, and how you can uplift your spirits with simple exercises like uncovering your own inner needs as well as pleasure scheduling will help. 

However, there is another very simple realisation that helps me when I'm having dark thoughts:

In the Book of Isaiah, written around 700BC, the author wrote, "How the faithful city has become a whore! Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not defend the orphan, and the widow’s cause does not come before them."

Horace reads before Maecenas, by Fyodor Bronnikov
Horace, a Roman poet working around 20BC, wrote in Book III of Odes, "Viler than grandsires, sires beget Ourselves, yet baser, soon to curse The world with offspring baser yet."

Look throughout history and you'll find similar examples of older people moaning that the world used to be terrific and is now horrible.

I take that as a very good sign. If people have been moaning about how wicked everyone is for thousands of years, we're probably looking at thousands more years of the same thing.

So when I'm inclined to think, "The world is becoming awful" I say to myself "It's my increased wisdom saying that, and I'm just having a Horace moment."  It works for me.  Hope it works for you!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

How To Survive Christmas

It's confession time: Christmas has lousy associations for me and New Year is even worse.  I do survive them but the ways I use are a mix of conventional and unusual. So I thought I'd share.
Punch you for Christmas
Thanks WeKnowMemes

First, for those of you who know me, you might wonder how come it's even an issue, seeing I live in South East Asia.

Well, although Malaysia has oodles of non-Christians, and we have at least four New Year type holidays that I can think of, there's no getting away from the fact that the holidays are big here - especially in shopping centers, pubs and on TV. 

Also, people like to party! Our local supermarket was playing Jingle Bells last month, and the hairdresser was at it before Thanksgiving. 

I find it all a bit much sometimes, but it needn't be all depressing all the time. Here's what I find works for me.

1. Accept That You're Allowed To Hate The Holidays - And Maybe Make A Game Of It

The world is happy and you're not. That's okay. It's nothing to feel guilty about. Unless you live in a place where fun is dictated by law, you can feel however you like.

However, it helps to separate what you feel from how you want others to feel. I enjoy watching people be happy and I recognise I don't need to feel the same. I find this cheers me up.

Also, when you're down, any problems that crop up seem much more major than they really are. This is a classic issue that comes with depression. If you can recognise that, it makes being down about the holidays easier to live with.

I have a fairly dark sense of humour at times, so I not only recognise when my world is distorted, I make a game out of it.

Like yesterday I had several computer problems that meant I couldn't get my work done. The courier didn't turn up, an interview was cancelled... it just went on and on.  

Usually that stuff doesn't bother me but with the holidays coming up, I was just doom and gloom. Then, when my smallest cat threw up all over the laundry I'd just done, I began tallying up Bad Things That Happened Today and was able to laugh about it.

2. Feel Free Not To Join In

If you don't like the holidays, you don't have to pretend to celebrate them. When you get party invites say you're busy or you have a prior date if you want to be polite.

I find that with friends it's easier to be open and say, "This time has bad associations for me so I don't celebrate." The advantage of this is that you don't have to repeat yourself every year.

There are also people who refuse to accept a no to their invitations.  "I hear you don't celebrate but you simply must come to my house. I insist!" 

Remember, it's okay to say no but it's controlling not to accept no. Feel free to give them a cold stare and to icily refuse.

3. Don't Celebrate The Holidays; Celebrate Having A Day Off

As we have days off work, this is the perfect time to do stuff you normally wouldn't do. Spend the days baking, taking fencing lessons, trekking in the wilderness. Basically, do something you love and treat yourself kindly.

Also, if you're in a place like Malaysia, there are plenty of shops that are open and not celebrating. This may be the perfect time to go and eat a Chinese dum sum buffet or to find a place that does the world's best Bak Kut Teh.

4. Arrange for Marathon Film Fests, Junk Food And Sleep

The holidays consist of a limited number of days. You can totally avoid the period by switching off your phone and social media, stocking up on films and going totally bear-like.

The Terminator

I like to watch all the Jaws films (yes, even that 3rd one!) and then all the Predators, and then Terminator 1 and II (III was a disaster and IV was just arrrrggghhh!). 

Add in all the original Robocop films and you have two or three days of film heaven. Roll into bed and have Technicolor dreams about sharks eating you up, afterwards.

Note: junk food is salty so stock up on loads of water, and make ice cubes if you like it frosty.

5. When You Really Are A Mess

If this is a time when someone close to you died, or you can't see your kids, or some other serious issue, then you need to be practical and make yourself a rescue plan.

If there's a friend who's willing to be on stand-by, arrange for that support. You know yourself so anticipate what you may need and when. Then ask if your friend is willing or able to back you up. If necessary, work it like a team.

If you don't want to talk to a friend, then jot down the numbers of the many charity hotlines that remain open at this time of year. Don't be ashamed to call them up; it's what they do that's fantastic.

Think you're really not safe?  Then go talk to your doctor and ask to see a psychiatrist. Seriously, don't suffer. It's not useful to be miserable and it's preventable. Get the help you deserve.

This is very much unlike my usual posts so do tell me what you think. 

Also, Merry Christmas! Remember, it's only a few days and then it will be over.