Somebody posted a “mental wellness challenge” in which you are encouraged to list ten things you are grateful for. She means well. It took all of zero seconds for the idea to depress me.
I should be grateful, actually. I should be grateful that I have a loving wife, a loving daughter and son, that I have a well paying job, that I am reasonably healthy, that I am sane (relatively) and lucid (most of the time), that I live in a nice house (with another nearly thirty years worth of mortgage to pay), that I have many hobbies (distractions), that I am creative (which has lead to nothing but wasting time), that I…
I should be grateful. I really should be. Just as I should clean up my cluttered desk (I really should), and keep up with my email (really sorry about that), and stay in touch with my friends (sorry about that too), and be polite to my enemies (fuck you assholes), and plan out my schedule better (it’s a train wreck), and drink less (yeah, right), and exercise more (fat chance), and I really should hold a brighter, happier outlook on life. Which brings me to my New Year’s resolution.
This one has been a long time coming. I’m still not sure how to articulate it properly, but the idea is to be happy. It was years ago that I realized what I really wanted was to be happy, or happier, or maybe what I really need to do is to be there in the moments when I am, or should be, happy. There are times when I am objectively smiling, laughing, or singing to myself, but I am not all there to appreciate it. On the other hand, there are times I am overcome with sadness, immobilized by depression, seething in anger, or burning in resentment, and I am almost always there to receive it. Negative emotions never fail to hit me like a blow to the skull or a kick in the solar plexus. It physically hurts. Meanwhile, happiness fades away before I realize I was ever happy.
For the past year, I have been playing, on and off, with an idea about starting a podcast titled “The Daily Pessimist”. It would be a respite from the barrage of forcibly upbeat, strenuously optimistic, slavishly can-do inspirational cog-wheel promotions that flood the world of podcasts. It would be a podcast to give a non-political but realistic viewpoint to a divided world. I would have told the world the way it really is. Climate change will not be curtailed no matter how many cities sink below the sea. People are too stupid, too greedy, too short sighted, and too selfish to pull off a reversal of that magnitude. Racism, Nazism, and Communism are not going away. Religions, almost without exception intended to enlighten and uplift humanity, will continue to make people dumber, more radical, and more hateful. The media has always been dishonest and will become increasingly so. If your government doesn’t take away your rights, a foreign government will. You can sell your freedoms, sell your soul, sell your life, and you will. And eventually, you will die. You will be forgotten, an insignificant speck in the timeline of humanity’s unstoppable march toward doom.
It’s an appealing idea. The podcast, not the end of humanity (for most people). I might be able to pull it off. (The podcast, of course.) No doubt it will find a small but loyal following. But what will it accomplish? The hope is to make people less divisive and more chill by telling them that they are never going to get their opinions heard anyway, or even if heard it will not result in the desired effect. For example, pro-life will not stop children from getting killed and no amount of abortions will stop assholes from finding new ways to oppress women. A daily dose of abject pessimism may help people realize the futility of entrenched causes. But that realization will not stop the two sides from screaming at each other. I am quite rigidly pessimistic about that.
Those self-improvement pushers may be annoying but they do aim to accomplish an attainable goal of turning you into a more efficient cog in the machine. Ultimately, they may create enough apathy and self-interest in the world to attain the goal of dampening the divisiveness. People of opposing political opinions can hiss through their teeth at each other while they busy themselves building their respective empires of futility.
But the nagging thought that held me back the most is the unhappiness I will inevitably feel while I compose my daily diatribe against humanity. It will be funny. And I will rub my hands in evil glee at my ingenuity at weaving common sense into insults. But it will definitely not make me a happier person. And the time has come for me to stop being the Grinch and start enjoying life. Or more accurately, start feeling that I am enjoying life.
I recently came across a meme that read “No sense being pessimistic, it probably won’t work anyway.” Now there’s an unhappy thought. But it is a thought I must nonetheless embrace in order to be happy. I must stop being Eeyore and start being Donald Trump, and recite every day “I am the best. Everybody loves me. Everybody thanks me. I can do anything.” That’s another depressing thought I must embrace in order to be happy.
I will never be able to understand, much less articulate, why the thought of listing ten things I should be grateful for depressed me so instantly. Those who get it will get it, no doubt. I’ve written before that all my stories revolve around the choice between being great and unhappy or mediocre and happy. That may be a false dichotomy, but one that rules my subconscious fears. Things that I can be displeased about have unlimited potential. Things I should be grateful for are limited in scope. I can be displeased that I am not a genius, billionaire, philanthropist, or playboy. I can be displeased that I am not a movie star, a Gold Medalist, an astronaut, a Nobel laureate, or a king. I should be grateful that I have a roof over my head.
But I should be. And that is my New Year’s resolution for 2021. To get on with the serious and painful business of being happy.