Dissatisfying Source

Something I’ve noticed in myself and others, is a tendency to blame a particular condition or circumstance as the source of dissatisfaction. Logically then, one would assume that fixing the condition or circumstance would result in a state of satisfaction – but I’ve noticed that it does not. The attainment of a desired outcome doesn’t produce contentment. In fact, it often elicits a worse feeling. With nothing to blame for ongoing feelings of dissatisfaction, a distressing dilemma can arise.

“What is causing this unrelenting unhappiness!? Nothing seems to satisfy! Won’t I ever feel contentment!?” It appears to me that the root cause of dissatisfaction lies outside the bounds of the fulfillment of one’s desires. In other words, if you attempt to cure discontentment by acquiring something you want, you will fail by your achievement. Another way to put it: by winning, you’ll lose.

I don’t think chasing goals is inherently bad, it’s a game like any other. But believing that attainment will bring a sense of satisfaction is totally and completely wrong. That’s not where you’ll find it. You’re not unhappy because of a condition or circumstance or because you lack something you want. You’re unhappy because you’re perplexed. You don’t know what’s happening here, yet you’re sure that something’s wrong with your situation (which is illogical and demonstrates your confusion).

How could your situation be “bad” if you lack a definitive metric to measure by? Maybe it’s good? How would you know? Yet, you can prove beyond any shadow of a doubt that fulfilling your wants will leave you even more dissatisfied. Try it, you’ll see. You’ll be no less empty – you’ll remain full of discontentment.

Subpar to Par

How can everything be subpar when I haven’t experienced “par”. In other words, how can everything be below-average when there’s no actual average to compare to? I don’t have satisfying experiences, I have disappointing experiences – and that’s always the case. Maybe it’s because I’m comparing my circumstances to an “ideal” that only exists in my imagination?

That sounds like a trick my chatty-mind is playing on my experiential-mind. So there I am, experiencing life, my consciousness is quietly observing – but then, that bully of a mind starts with the imaginary comparisons. “Well this could be better! If they tweaked a few things, it would improve substantially! As it is, this experience is horrible!! It’s basically torture!” Hm, yeah that’s what typically happens.

So, all this time I thought I was having the worst experience possible. But it turns out that my chatty-mind just keeps trash-talking everything, so things seem like they’re the absolute worst. Yet they can’t be – you can’t have a “worst” if there’s no range of options – there’s no “best” or “just right”. It’s always some form of unpleasantness, it’s either “meh, this is lame” or “gah, this sucks” or “hmph this seems okay, but it’s probably bad”.

What’s the takeaway from this realization? That my chatty-mind is cruel and ruins everything. It’s literally the worst thing that’s ever happened in my experience of existence. Wait, that sounds like something my chatty-mind would say about everything else, yet I’m saying it about my chatty-mind. Hm, I’m not sure what the takeaway is. Maybe my chatty-mind needs a hug.

Degrading Ideas

Okay, it’s been about a week since my last update on my current experiment. I’ve noticed an issue with performing an experiment longer than a few days: concepts degrade over time. What made perfect sense a couple weeks ago, isn’t so clear now. What was I doing – exactly? Even if written down, the original inspiration fades, the background setting changes, focus isn’t the same, definitions morph and evolve – and daily life seems to scribble over the page.

I can see how the decay-rate of memory can be beneficial, allowing me to forget a lot of stuff. I think it helps in the ability to perform routines, making activities seem fresher than they are. I can forget how full I was yesterday and eat more food today. And if I forget the details of a movie, I can enjoy it again. In other words, the way thoughts fade away over time seems to be a good thing.

But, it makes long-term alterations difficult. How do you maintain a concept when it has a temporary shelf-life? The original inspiration isn’t there anymore – all I have is a memory of a thought. Then another week passes and I only have a memory of a memory of a thought. Reminders don’t work because they fade into the background, like smell-blindness. It seems I have to wait until a similar idea and its accompanying inspiration passes through my consciousness again.

The general idea of the experiment had to do with a practice of positivity. I’m supposed to infuse my mind with a habit of thinking good-thoughts – focusing only on thoughts that suggest creativity, appreciation, or lightheartedness. But without the original motivation, how can I remember to do that throughout every hour of every day? I recall the process kinda worked, but now things are back to “normal” and I’m lost in everyday life.

Habitual Negativity

I was wondering whether I could drop my “negativity habit” and develop a “positive practice” instead. Well it’s been a week and I thought I’d report my initial findings.

First off, I was questioning whether “negativity” was simply a habit I could dump. Basically I’d have to recognize when my mind’s swirling with gloom and use discipline to stop it. That’s something I typically do nowadays and it’s kinda doable. The problem with that, is it’s an endless game of whack-a-mole – just slapping down pessimistic ideas multiple times every hour. So the more relevant question is this: can the initial negativity be replaced and prevented altogether?

Essentially, I need to make a habit of positivity. I need to get my mind so used to thinking good-thoughts, that pleasantness becomes the default. As it is, my mind just spews trash all day and night. Instead of that, I want a mind that wanders pleasant paths, one that bathes in creativity, presenting enjoyable projects to work on, one that appreciates the world it lives within, one with a lighthearted attitude that always finds the fun.

As initially suspected, developing a positive practice IS a lot of work. When I catch myself steeped in negativity, I stop and say “Okay, the concepts you’re currently considering are what you DON’T want. Now, what is it you DO want, think THOSE thoughts.” Then, I have to sort through my thoughts and focus on the ones that suggest creativity, appreciation, or lightheartedness.

For example, “Hm, what do I want to draw the next time I go sketching? Hm, maybe some fantasy creature with a cool outfit.” Another example: “Wow, this incense that’s burning smells really good. Whoa, haven’t heard this song in awhile, it’s great.” And as the last example: “Ha, I just remembered my friend laughing so hard at dinner tonight, I had her in stitches!”

At this time, after a week of this practice, I believe it IS worth continuing this experiment.

Creative Process

Not long ago, I picked up a pencil and began sketching. I’ve attempted to sketch throughout my life but was rarely able to produce something I found satisfying. Recently though, I started drawing to a quality that I kinda like. I noticed I have a drawing-process that I didn’t have before.

Essentially, I scribble my subject – very poorly, it’s literally just back-and-forth scribbling like I’m jokingly drawing a picture. But in that scribble, I see the basic form revealed. I can see what’s wrong with it and I go back with an eraser and start correcting little by little. Erase, redraw, erase, redraw – until finally, what started out as a scribble becomes a halfway-decent picture.

So in one sense, my tool isn’t the pencil as much as it’s the eraser. My lines usually aren’t clean, I sneak up on smooth lines with my eraser. To make the process easier, I switched to drawing on a tablet – but it’s the same style, just using digital graphite. I don’t use a stylus, just my finger while I frequently zoom in and out.

Give me something broken, just a scribble in this case, and I easily perceive that something’s wrong with it – something’s off so I’ll move a line until it looks right. “Ah, there! Now on to the next part!”. But recently, I seem to have a better sense of where to place these lines in order to achieve a degree of three-dimensionality. Sketching isn’t frustrating like it used to be.

In life, I frequently see what’s wrong with all the stuff I come in contact with. My mind is filled with constant criticism for everything. But most of what I criticize isn’t within my reach or power to change. That’s a frustrating circumstance, obviously. I suppose I should try to keep my attention on things within my fixability range.

In addition, perhaps this artistic endeavor illustrates another point: That it’s possible to take something messy and worthless and little-by-little transform it into something nice. Maybe I’m that scribble. Maybe I don’t need an epiphany or some drastic alteration to thoroughly transform my life. Maybe, all I need is to incrementally fix the small things I’m able to. And maybe, I’ll end up with something I can appreciate.

One Wish

If I was only able to make one wish, I suppose it would be: for a mind that wanders pleasant paths. In other words: when my mind is lost in thought, I want it to think about awesome, interesting, lovely, delightful, always enjoyable ideas. As it is, my mind constantly assaults my awareness with pessimistic complaints about anything and everything.

Imagine waking up, greeted by a mind welcoming you into the world, painting pretty pictures of potential things to ponder. A mind that entices you into participation through advertisements of vibrant experiences. Whereas whenever I wake up, my mind just shouts nonsense at me, telling me how everything sucks and how today won’t be any better – probably worse in fact.

Imagine walking into a room and NOT experiencing the worst thoughts my mind can muster. Instead of anxious, pessimistic, and disparaging ideas; my mind invites a sense of wonder through curiosity and appreciation. “Wow look at that, it looks so interesting!” Unlike now, which is more like: “Ugh! Gross! This is dumb.”

I wonder if this is something I could practice? I’ve already gotten to a point where I can identify and mitigate negative thoughts – but that’s a daily game of whack-a-mole. If I could prevent those thoughts from popping-up in the first place, that’d be great. Maybe negativity is just a habit I could quit. Instead of simply dismissing negative thoughts, perhaps I could practice replacing them with more enjoyable ideas.

Hm, that sounds like a lot of effort – and I’m pretty sure I’ve had this exact same idea in the past. Although, maybe this time it’ll work. Perhaps I can more effectively imagine enjoyable circumstances nowadays. Well, I guess it wouldn’t hurt to try. So the task is this: when you identify negative thoughts, don’t just brush them aside – stop and actively come up with a better thought, something delightful perhaps.

Floating in Space

Imagine empty space. Nothingness. No walls, no foundation, no borders of any kind, just infinite emptiness – a blank mind perhaps. Within that space, a concept is introduced. But of course, this concept isn’t anchored, it just floats there. Yet upon this concept, more ideas can be added. The original concept becomes a floating foundation. There’s nothing solid keeping any of these ideas together, they’re just regularly associated with one another. Any idea, including the original concept, can morph – but of course, such change alters the way in which the ideas connect to one another. And whenever an association isn’t maintained, an idea simply fades away.

Aren’t we continually told to appreciate stuff? What we have, who we are, our relationship to others? Yet if those circumstances were “real” and “solid”, we wouldn’t need to go through these routines. In life, we’re repeatedly reminding ourselves who our character is and how he fits into the world. “You see, your name is Rich and you were born into a family, these are your relatives, you’ll visit them periodically to refresh these associations.”

This is because there isn’t a foundation and there’s no way to record what’s what. All we have to maintain the world we live within, is the continuous recitation of who we are, where we are, and how our character fits into it all. It’s a brain-in-a-vat type situation. At some point, you realized consciousness and it sparked a flow of ideas. But because you’re a brain, you can’t write anything down, you’re stuck trying to keep this information in the forefront of your awareness through repetition.

Over and over you tell yourself who you are, where you are, and how you relate to this fabricated world. And unfortunately, if you begin with some dumb ideas, you’ll likely perpetuate and expand upon your original stupidity. Eventually you’ll find yourself in a very unpleasant daydream. But what happens when you stop telling yourself all that nonsense you made-up at the beginning of consciousness? Without periodically refreshing the story, the associations fade – and that’s a good thing. This means you can start fresh.

There’s no foundation, no solidity – the only thing that maintains the world you experience is constant repetition within your thoughts. But once you stop perpetuating all those old ideas, they disappear. So your task is this: stop replaying junky old ideas within your imagination. In addition, think of more enjoyable concepts – contemplate those, building a new foundation upon which to add even more higher quality ideas. What works, replay – what doesn’t, allow to fade away.

Genie Wishes

Satisfaction, contentment, fulfillment – whatever you call it, can’t be obtained through external means. Having finally grasped this concept, I can no longer wish for tangible prizes. So if confronted by a genie, demanding my three wishes, what can I ask for?

Wish 1: Invokable creative inspiration.

Whenever I want, I can think: “I want to make something”. And in that instant, I’ll receive inspiration to create something that compliments my talents and interests – something that takes time and effort in an enjoyable process that ends with an outcome I admire. So for me, that might be a woodworking project, a written piece, a drawing, a computer program – something I enjoy, appreciate, and get energized by.

Wish 2: Endless appreciation.

I’ll like everything! That’s great! Wow, awesome! In this way, it wouldn’t even matter what my external conditions were, I’d be satisfied wherever. I’ve experienced life at the other extreme i.e. hating-on everything, so I might as well try the other side of things.

Wish 3: Lighthearted attitude.

Everything’s funny. Being amused all the time means I’ll have endless fun. Again, I’ve spent enough time with the opposite mindset – taking everything way too seriously – I’m ready for a change.

P.S. I’ve thought about potential “Monkey’s Paw” flaws in my wishes, but I think the benefits outweigh the risks. I’d be giving up a bad attitude and gaining an endless supply of artistic inspiration. Sounds like a good deal to me….

Lowest Point

Dear diary, I think I might be at the nadir of a happiness U-curve. Gasp! In other words, I’m at the age in which dissatisfaction peaks. So no matter my external condition, I can’t feel appreciation or contentment. Some refer to this time as a “midlife crisis”. And although I might deny it and attempt to apply all the mental discipline I can muster, there seems to be no stopping the onslaught of disgruntlement. All I can do at this point is hold-on and wait until the happiness U-curve starts heading up.

I’m not pleased by my powerlessness of course. But I can perceive no root cause for my general discontentment except the human condition itself – and I can’t fix that. A sports-car won’t fix it, a new relationship won’t fix it, a change in lifestyle won’t fix it, it’s all been done and ultimately fails to satisfy. But time passes and the situation eventually fixes itself by following the curve.

So dear diary, all the complaining I’ve been doing lately is invalid. It’s just the murmurings of a midlife crisis. I suppose that makes me feel better in some sense. I guess I’m going to be a Grumpy Gus for a bit. But eventually I’ll emerge like a butterfly, beautiful, a delight for all to behold. Well, I’ll see you on the other side.

I suppose what this diagnosis offers, is hope. Existence won’t be a continuous slide into an ever-increasing state of dissatisfaction. A time will come when I’ll know tranquility and contentment. But until then, I’ll have to muddle through, expecting unpleasantness. I guess this is one of those instances where you just gotta accept some negativity as normal.

Advice for Me

Advice for my younger self?

Don’t bother with any form of self-improvement. You can’t make anything “better”.

Do detach from everything. Pretend you’re at a museum: don’t touch, leave everything where you find it.

Your thoughts are absolute poison. They’re a toxic stew that will contaminate anything they consider.

Relatedly, logic is useless. Without a solid foundation, logical conclusions just float in the middle of nowhere. Don’t waste your time, there’s no anchor to attach them to.

Memory is also useless – just ignore memories. They’ll be used more for tormenting you than anything.

Life IS out to get you, you’re not paranoid. Keep your head down and maintain a humble attitude. Life will relentlessly try to break you. The more you resist, the tougher this bullying will be. A calm/polite attitude tends to make things easier than a frustrated/rude attitude, but there’s no guarantee.

You will NOT enjoy this experience, don’t even try to settle into a comfy spot. Think of it like boot-camp or prison, it’s not a vacation.

You should try to remain calm at all times. It tends to lower the intensity of the experience. Plus, if you don’t react, life might drop the subject.

You aren’t here to learn, the storylines are just in-game nonsense. All the dramatic arcs just devolve into drivel. Just use “Last Thursdayism” as your historic perspective.

Survival is not a thing, don’t worry about it. Like boot-camp or prison, life tends to keep you alive. Don’t be afraid of anything, there’s no point – you can’t protect yourself, you’re at life’s mercy.

And if it’s not obvious: you can’t quit. No one’s going to setup something like this simply to provide an easy way out. Just settle in for the long-haul and find some hobbies along the way.