couchHave you been suffering from annoying bouts of optimism and hopefulness that things might actually get better soon? Now you can banish those anxiety-causing thoughts forever with Dr. Ebenezer Scrooge’s masterful program of despair, Authentic MiseryÆ. Here’s how it works. Simply select the three statements from the list of 24 below that you most agree with. The words in bold in those three statements are your Signature Weaknesses. In order to experience Authentic Misery, simply dwell constantly on these weaknesses and berate yourself for them. Assure yourself that they’re all your fault, because they are! You are obviously weak, and have inferior values, or you would be cheerful and care-free like the US Presnit.

  1. I am unimaginative, uncreative, a copier and a follower in everything, and I don’t have an original bone in my body.
  2. I am bored and indifferent, always waiting for someone or something to entertain me. If that doesn’t happen, I look for someone to hurt or something to set fire to, to amuse myself.
  3. I am intolerant and blindly accepting, always believing what others tell me, no matter how ludicrous. I am quick to find fault, and I am arbitrary on who I blame, damn you.
  4. I am ignorant, and like it that way. Books put me to sleep. They’re too long and complicated.
  5. I am aggravating and stupid, and others view me as prejudiced, biased, judgemental and idiotic, when they can stand putting up with my company at all.
  6. I am cowardly. I never stand up for my convictions, and watch other people do what I used to dream of doing. Fear is a great de-motivator.
  7. I am a procrastinator and quitter. I give up easily and leave things half
  8. I am dishonest. I’m never straight with people and never say what I mean. Not even about this.
  9. I am lazy. I don’t care enough to be diligent and am half-hearted in everything I do. Don’t bug me.
  10. I am distant. I don’t get close to people or let them get close to me. Leave me alone. Not that alone.
  11. I am stingy and selfish. I don’t share, don’t care. It’s all about me, me, me.
  12. I am insensitive. I am able to offend and hurt people without even trying, you piece of excrement.
  13. I am greedy, petulant and irresponsible. I take credit for others’ work and stab people in the back. And I complain and whine non-stop. Jesus, this list is long. Is there a point to this post?
  14. I am unfair and unreasonable. Justice is for fools. And I’m the judge.
  15. I am passive. I do what I’m told and don’t think, or act, for myself. Let someone else do it. You do it.
  16. I am angry and vengeful. I have a long memory and I hold grudges.
  17. I am egotistical. If you don’t toot your own horn, no one else will do it for you.
  18. I am reckless. Speak and act first and think later, if at all.
  19. I am undisciplined. Gimme those chips and chocolates, and stay out of my face.
  20. I am unappreciative. Life sucks and then you die. Thanks for nothing, asshole.
  21. I am ungrateful, and take everything for granted.
  22. I am pessimistic. Everything’s going to hell. Not like the good old days.
  23. I am unpleasant. The only joke around here is your face and your friend’s bad taste.
  24. I am agnostic. There is no purpose or meaning to life. Only shit is real. Please kill me already.

Once you have identified your Signature Weaknesses, blame yourself incessantly for them. You can only be truly miserable when you realize that the situation is absolutely hopeless. If you harp on this fanatically enough, you can actually get yourself into a catatonic state of suicidal despair. This is the ideal ‘zen’ state of Authentic Misery.

If this isn’t enough to keep you truly and perpetually miserable, try this Being In The Moment exercise. Go and visit your local factory farm, penitentiary, crack neighbourhood, women’s shelter or soup kitchen and talk to the people there. Hear their stories. Then realize there are millions, billions of pathetic people and suffering animals living in environments that are even worse, every day for their increasingly long lives, and that no one is willing to take responsibility for what has led to their situation, and that between environmental destruction, corporatism, endless wars over increasingly scarce resources, profligate spending, interminable cuts to government services, and skyrocketing corporate subsidies, their situation is going to get unimaginably worse still very soon. And the outlook for the next generation is ten times worse again.

Another excellent exercise for entrenching your state of Authentic Misery is called Negative Imaging. Picture yourself as the nurturing, caring wife of a brutal and abusive man who has convinced everyone you know that he is the perfect, strict father. He drinks himself into a constant blind rage and takes it all out on you and your nine deprived and starving children. He gambles away all the money you earn and save, which he’s lost to his incredibly rich poker buddies. Are you getting into the Authentic Misery spirit yet? Great. Because it’s really that bad.

Now, let’s rewrite that obnoxious Serenity Prayer in the spirit of Authentic Misery. The original version, which was plagiarized anyway reads:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

Ugh. Here’s a better version:

You can’t change anything, and you’re stupid to try. But you should still feel guilty about it, because it’s your fault it’s so bad in the first place. And it’s a lot of other people’s fault, too, so you should be very angry with everyone else as well.

Christmas is a great time to spread Authentic Misery to everyone around you. Why not buy a copy of Dr. Scrooge’s great new book The Power of Negative Thinking for everyone on your list. Make Christmas a season of unbearable gloom for everyone you foolishly love and care about. After all, if you’re not happy, why should anyone else be? And what’s the point anyway?

[with sincere apologies to Martin Seligman]


On a more serious note, here are my personal answers to the questions I posed in October on the subject of happiness, and their implications for saving the world:

  1. What is happiness? The absence of suffering.
  2. Does happiness drive our behaviour? In a way — it makes us passive. It is only when we are really unhappy that we change our behaviour, and act.
  3. Does more information actually inhibit our ability and willingness to act? Absolutely. At best, it can paralyze us with uncertainty and doubt. At worst, it can be an excuse for doing nothing.
  4. Which is the easiest route to happiness: lowering your expectations, putting your dissatisfaction in rational perspective, or focusing on the positive? Depends on the individual. For the optimist, it’s the first, for the pragmatist the second, and for the pessimist and idealist (that’s me), the third. But none of them is that easy.
  5. Would you trade away your ability to think, for permanent happiness? In a heartbeat. I guess that shows my age. Or my mental state. Thinking is overrated. Sensing and instinct are more powerful, and important. I’m looking forward to Malcolm Gladwell’s new book Blink (“The Power of Thinking Without Thinking”). Gladwell says: “You could also say that it’s a book about intuition, except that I don’t like that word.” Intuition is a great word with a bad rap — I wish I’d known the thesis of the book before he excised this word from it. I might have got him to change the title.
  6. Is news really information, if it doesn’t inform us what to do? No. The word ‘information’ means “to put meaning around”. News is mostly meaning-less, an addiction, like gambling and fast food. Very dangerous, but curable if you quit cold turkey.
  7. Are children, as a whole, happier than adults in the same culture and economic situation? Yes, because they sense more and think less. They are wiser than we are.
  8. Is the role of modern Western man to write and direct his own story? Yes, because he has lost his way. Many great stories are about finding one’s way home, and that is the story that modern Western man is writing, each one a lonely, individual story. They are sad, violent stories compared to the great stories of prehistory — stories of joy, of belonging, of community, of relationship. Collective stories.

I don’t really believe in Authentic Happiness, so it is perhaps unfair of me to satirize it. I keep saying that Things are the way they are for a reason, and I believe the endemic unhappiness in our world of unprecedented wealth is completely authentic, and not the creation of advertisers trying to instill unhappiness to drive more consumption. The more we know, the more unhappy we are, and to me that legitimizes our unhappiness. I do love the James Thurber quote:

“I always say you can have too much philosophy”, Mrs. Kirkfield said. “It isn’t good for you. It’s disorganizing. Everybody’s got to wake up sometime feeling that everything is terrible, because it is.”

So what do we do with all this wisdom about unhappiness? We cope with it. We keep looking for answers that will make the world much less “terrible”. We acknowledge that in a terrible world we are justified in being unhappy and likely to spend most of our lives that way. If we’re really convinced that there’s nothing we can do that will make any significant difference, we escape the pain as often as possible, using any means at our disposal: Sex, drugs, music, prayer, self-delusion, denial, feigned ignorance, suicide — whatever works for each of us. And if we believe there is something we can do that will make a significant difference, then we either do it or die, or, worse, we wimp out, and feel guilty our whole lives for not acting on our instincts, and then die regretting what could have been.

At this season when our society’s happiness and unhappiness both reach their annual crescendo, I wish you — not either of these two delusional states — but instead, courage, to do. Your instincts will tell you what to do.

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  1. TZJ says:

    May I suggest you consider the statement “I accept reality as it is” in relation to all of the 24 statements and the opposite of each statement.

  2. polly says:

    I think we can change our reality by acting, but sometimes when I’ve read something depressing (try the Guardian’s George Monbiot)I say OK what do I DO about that? and I write a letter or find a demo to support. Sometimes I feel a little better. So thanks for a general hint to look to my intuition. By the way I am also a bit childish so I am deeply into sensing and feeling. But sometimes it’s not enough to satisfy an adult intellect.

  3. TZJ says:

    Your blog tweaked my interest, so thanks for that. I’m going to attempt a more logical critique in addition to my first opinion of a general “answer”… By listing a “Classification of Character Strengths” one is being judgemental, i.e “calling attention to errors and flaws” (real or perceived). This may lead to our behavior being determined by someone else’s in order to have “character,” which can be considered to be codependent.

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