How NOT to be Happy Tip 10: Be perfect

9 10 2007

This is the tenth of 10 tips for unwavering woe.

No survey of happiness-thwarting tips would be complete without perfectionism. Perfectionism is like a troll at your drawbridge, asking ridiculous riddles and setting pointless challenges for every little joy that seeks to enter your castle. And because the troll’s tasks are impossible, those joys invariably end up drowning in your moat of misery.

Now, it’s not that the troll’s standards are high – it’s that they’re dumb. You don’t need a perfect house, spouse, family or life to be happy, but the troll doesn’t know that. (Remember: trolls aren’t known for their brains; they’re known for their hair.)

You need only install your own perfectionist troll -  require everything in your life to be perfect before admitting happiness – and you can be sure happy days will never come.

Although perfectionism works brilliantly at this macro level to keep happiness on the other side of your moat, it has more subtle benefits too.

1. You can cherish forever the possibility of your undiscovered brilliance.
This is the genius of perfectionism. By never acting, never committing, never being ready to start, you get to preserve the immense potential of all that you could be.

Once you do something – start the lessons, write the first chapter, let yourself love the person, enter the competition – you come face-to-face with the alarming reality of what you’re capable of. This could be more than you’d hope for, or it could be less. Much better to leave Schrödinger’s cat in a state of suspended possibility than lift the lid and deal with what’s under there.

As a bonus, just by mastering the one skill of perfectionism, you automatically gain mastery in related areas such as:

  • Procrastination – why start now if it can’t be perfect?
  • Resentment – why should others get all the rewards when they’re less than perfect and I could well be perfect if I actually tried something?
  • Self-pity – poor me; why can’t people see beyond my immobilization to my true, never-expressed talents?

2. You can haughtily criticize others
When you don’t waste your efforts getting out there and having a go, you have the time and energy you need to endlessly disparage the attempts of others. And let’s face it – constantly judging others, analyzing their flaws, workshopping how far superior your own hypothesized endeavors would have been – these tasks are exhausting. In order to preserve your stamina for looking down on others, you simply cannot afford to try for yourself.

So what if the doers get to learn, improve, do better next time, and succeed? Perfectionists get to laugh at them. So there.

3. Your perfectionism takes on a life of its own.
Here’s another of the little-recognized joys of perfectionism: it gains momentum. The less you attempt and the more you criticize, the harder it becomes to do anything but criticize. In fact, criticism can become like a director’s commentary looped in your brain. Ohmigod does she not have a mirror Could that child be any dirtier What kind of moron would say that His house is so ugly… Soon you won’t even have to try not to try – you’ll have forgotten how to do anything other than bag out everyone else.

You could picture your 24-7 diatribe as an out-of-control freight train careening down a mountain, losing all sense of direction and gathering casualties along the way. I prefer to think of it as a finely fashioned wardrobe filled with perfectly matched outfits and accessories for every occasion. Okay, so the second analogy fails to meet even the basic requirements of metaphor in that it bears no resemblance to the compared thing, but this leads beautifully to the final benefit of perfectionism…

4. You don’t really have to try.
Psychological laziness is the most efficient kind of laziness – all the challenges of life, all the big decisions, all the difficult choices, are negotiated in the gray matter of your mind. Give up there and your work is done. And perfectionism is the ideal way to never get past the mental starting block of any goal, project or change – including being happy.

Submit to the absurd trials of the perfectionism troll and you’ll be spared such indignities as freedom, success and happiness. But allow yourself to be imperfect at something, or feel grateful for a life that’s less than perfect, and you risk letting all manner of contentment cross your moat.

It’s much safer being perfectly miserable.

Other tips in this series of 10 tips for unwavering woe:

  • Tip 1: Take offense
  • Tip 2: Never take responsibility
  • Tip 3: Pity yourself
  • Tip 4: Be needy
  • Tip 5: Be ungrateful
  • Tip 6: Avoid reality
  • Tip 7: Make happiness chase you
  • Tip 8: Be neurotic
  • Tip 9: Always be right

  • How NOT to be Happy Tip 9: Always be right

    11 09 2007

    This is the ninth of 10 tips for unwavering woe

    The ocean of discontent is fraught with dangers – from blithe buccaneers to distress-eating sharks. In navigating these perilous seas, one of the surest ways to keep your waters stormy is to make a commitment to always being right.

    The question ‘Do you want to be happy or right?’ is a helpful one. It alerts miseratis and woe-foes alike to the reality that you can’t always be both; you need to pick a side. If you think fence-sitting will work – well, look what happened to Humpty.

    Always being right has two big advantages in avoiding happiness:

    1. You don’t learn anything new or broaden your horizons (and let’s face it: the existing horizons are enough of a problem on open waters).

    Woe-foes admit to not knowing or even – are you sitting down? – being wrong about things, and the consequences are dire. They’re forced to accommodate new information, sometimes confronting the fabled ‘other side’ of an issue – and before you can say ’shiver me timbers’ their rogers are irksomely jolly.

    By contrast, if you’re always right you get to stay limited to the small sum of knowledge you acquired before your ego assumed guard duty, probably around age 7. Think Wikipedia where the only contributor is you. Nice.

    2. You become a colossal pain in the butt.

    Being right about everything virtually guarantees you’ll never be a fisherman’s friend – or anyone else’s for that matter. People who admit to being wrong suffer the respect and liking of their peers as well as other harbingers of smooth sailing on the friendship.

    Instead, let the saying ‘no-one likes a smart-ass’ be your compass: keep your ass smart and woe shall betide you.

    Being right requires you to invest considerable time, energy and the occasional fisticuff into defending your point. To help hone your correctitude, try these pointers:

    • Smarten your ass
      Offer digressive facts, irrelevant corrections and tedious myth-busting revelations at every opportunity. If you have the information on good authority, fine; but don’t let dubious sources stop you from holding forth. Keep the volume and obnoxiousness turned up to 11.
    • Chant this mantra: I think, therefore I am right
      In disagreements, see others as encumbered by mere opinion while you yourself enjoy direct access to reality, truth, and The Way It Is. Accordingly, let a haughty tone pervade everything you say. Sprinkle your responses with a small, superior laugh.
    • Make it personal
      In many cases your sheer bombast will stave off inquiry. However, should you find yourself impeached, quickly resort to sarcasm, put-downs and offensive remarks – anything that has your challenger defending their  hygiene/lobotomy history/mother’s personal predilections and distracted from the issue at hand. If all else fails, execute the cunning hey-look-over-there technique. It works for politicians.
    • Don’t let them get you with their legal mumbo jumbo
      You have to be quick in your sleight of mouth and dogged in your arrogance to prevent an argument from deteriorating into the use of logic, fact, or evidence. Once that happens, you’re going to need a bigger boat.

    With a little practice, you’ll be clinging to being right like it’s a mast in a storm. But don’t just dip your woe in the water, take the plunge – you’ll discover new depths of despair.

    Other tips in this series of 10 tips for unwavering woe:

    How NOT to be Happy Tip 8: Be neurotic

    3 09 2007

    This is the eighth of 10 tips for unwavering woe.

    To weed happiness out of your life, there’s a herbicide you can trust – neuroticism. Nurturing your inner neurotic requires:

    • an overwrought pre-occupation with the minutiae of your life
    • an unflinching determination to exaggerate every miniscule worry
    • a resolute dedication to wax miserable to anyone who will listen – and to do your best with those who won’t.

    In this way, being neurotic doesn’t just promote your own misery, it radiates out to all who inadvertently get exposed to you - like a ripple in a cesspool.

    You can start today to grow your neurotic sapling by using these little gems of manure.

    1. Develop hypochondria

    Hypochondria is wasted on genuine health concerns or legitimately worrying ailments. Its true magic works only on trivialities so trifling or nullities so non-existent as to be imperceptible to the untrained person (that is, the non-neurotic). Each affliction must be inflated to an Ebola-like peril, at which hands your final, rasping breath is surely imminent.

    Practice with a headache. Assume no one else has ever had one (you can be sure they’ve never had one as bad as yours) and describe each symptom in graphic detail, making liberal use of words like phlegm, pustule and snot. It helps to be quietly dignified as you show you’ve made peace with the fact that the end is very, very nigh.

    2. Voice every vexation 

    If a sphincter tightens in an empty forest, does it make a sound? Of course not. Neuroticism requires others to share the suffering in order to give it meaning. This is why you must be vocally uptight about everything – leave no irritation unexpressed, no annoyance unmentioned, no inconvenience unbemoaned. Dedicate yourself to noticing and lamenting, noticing and lamenting. Complain loud, complain often.

    3. Keep your strings high

    Being highly strung keeps your many and varied agitations close to the surface, where they’re most useful in forestalling peace and contentment. Be prepared to tip into hysteria at the slightest provocation. Over-analyse everything people do and say. This makes those around you walk on eggshells, so they’ll be less inclined to cut you off mid-rant, lest they unleash the beast. Think retro and be uptight and outa sight (of happiness).

    If you’re wondering whether these three pieces of compost would blend together into a nice medley of melancholy, then I’m right there with you. Here’s what I’m thinking.

    You know the concept of the 30-second pitch, right? It’s a pithy summary of an idea that gets the basics across fast.

    Well, this is just like that. Only not so much pithy; more pathetic. And for summary, think Paul Thomas Anderson film. Before the studio cuts. I call it the 30-minute bitch. Here’s how it works.

    Say you’re walking down the street and you run into someone you haven’t see in a while. They smile, ask how you’ve been, and  before they can catch their breath - whammo!

    Well, you know things haven’t been so good lately. I’ve developed a weird thing on my toe that oozes a lot of puss and it’s ruined all my socks and quite a few pairs of shoes too, but the doctor says it should clear up if I leave it alone but how can you do that when there’s all that blood and puss coming out all the time? Anyway I think it might be toe cancer, probably from the stress of Joey - you know he really loves netball but they’re very unpleasant about having him on the team, and I know he’s very big for his age and all, and he repeated third grade that time and also fourth, but he just loves the game and I don’t see why those girls find him so intimidating. Anyway it really worries me but boy do I know about that kind of thing because the people in my office can be so cruel about my hypo-hyper-pustulating-infarcted-chickenmcnugget-dypepsimax-trombonis and sometime I don’t know how I manage to go on…

    Load your own conversations with your neurotic 30-minute bitch and you’ll be on the way to getting those pesky happiness buds out of your garden.

    Before you know it, you’ll be talking fertiliser.

    Other tips in this series of 10 tips for unwavering woe:

    How NOT to be Happy Tip 7: Make happiness chase you

    30 08 2007

    This is the seventh of 10 tips for unwavering woe.

    Why pursue happiness? If happiness wanted to have its way with you, it would find you. Why make the effort of doing things that bring you joy and promote your well-being when it could be that happiness is just not that into you?

    Remember the old joke about the guy who’s caught in a flood? He sends away a boat, a helicopter and a plane, saying he doesn’t need them because God will save him. When he inevitably carks it, he asks God why he was allowed to drown. That ole heavenly humorist replies ‘I sent you a boat, a chopper and a plane – what more did you want?’

    You need to be just that resistant to happiness. Don’t let measly trinkets like pleasant activities, good work, people you like, beauty or chocolate make you happy. Hold out for the big stuff. Keep waiting. Godot is coming.

    A useful approach here is to personify happiness as a lecher and see yourself as a demure and innocent maiden determined to maintain your virtue in the face of happiness’s raunchy reach. Whatever you do, don’t put out. Be a bliss teaser.

    At the same time, think of people who easily let themselves feel contentment as happiness hos. Belittle their joys. Scoff at their pleasures. Refuse to laugh at their jokes.

    The declaration of independence speaks of a person’s right to pursue happiness. It’s this pursuit that you must relinquish. Instead, sacrifice your prospects for happiness to:

    1. Chance
    2. Other people’s desires.

    Such temperance  calls for a judicious blend of laziness (I can’t be bothered choosing to be happy) and low self-regard (I don’t deserve to be happy). At times all of us feel both of these tendencies; the trick to playing hard to get with happiness is to make them a staunch habit. Your reward? It will be almost impossible for happiness to find you, you wanton tease, you.

    It also helps to tune out any inkling of your own preferences and avoid actions that might brighten your life. Step away from the work that gives you a sense of satisfaction, the people who leave you feeling good, the things you like to do, the places you enjoy visiting or the ways you like to spend your time – or you’ll be on a slippery slope to happiness ho-dom. Don’t think it can’t happen to you. Before you know it, you’ll be laughing at only moderately funny jokes, telling people you like your job, wearing a shirt in a colour you love (lordy woady!) and channeling Louis Armstrong with a stirring rendition of Hello Jolly

    You’ll be helped in your happiness abstinence by the fact that nature abhors a vacuum. By simply not choosing what you do want, you’ll virtually guarantee that you get a lot of what you don’t want. You’ll end up, by default, with  people you have nothing in common with inviting themselves over, music to gas yourself by on the radio, and movies that make you want to gnaw your own arm off on the TV.

    It’s true – you can duck happiness’s advances just by doing nada. Passiveness pays, little glumsters. Which is just as well, since you probably wouldn’t make the effort to send a follow-up account.

    For those seeking a little more help, here are some Dos and Don’ts for playing hard to get with happiness.

    Don’t initiate social contacts. Invite no-one to the movies. Host no dinners. Organise nothing. Make no calls.
    Do sit by the phone. Preferably in a darkened room. With maudlin music playing. And your shoulders slouched.

    Don’t add fun to anything. Avoid music when doing chores. Dress for pure utility and look down on fashion.
    Do bemoan the fact that chores are so unpleasant and your wardrobe is dull.

    Don’t spend time doing things you enjoy. Have no hobbies that give you pleasure. Got a vague sense that you might love jigsaw puzzles? Never, ever get one
    Do lament forlornly, preferably during a sitcom at which no live human has ever laughed, and your third for the night, that you wish you had the time for such bagatelles.

    That’ll show those happiness hos.

    Other tips in this series of 10 tips for unwavering woe:

    How NOT to be Happy Tip 6: Avoid reality

    23 08 2007

    This is the sixth of 10 tips for unwavering woe.

    All our tips so far have involved the way you relate to others. We now turn to reality avoidance, a skill you can use all on your ownsome. It’s a trick of the mind that keeps you locked onto a Mobius strip of misery, and stops you spinning off into constructive action that can wreak havoc on your hopelessness and leave you with a disturbing sense of inner peace.

    Note: This tip is not about avoiding reality TV. Reality TV is an excellent choice for miseratis. If woe is the go, then there are few better ways to spend your time. You can listen to conversations that make Cletus the slack-jawed yokel sound like Stephen Hawking. You can watch as the hopes of naïve wannabes are tauntingly raised and cruelly dashed to distract viewers from the disappointments of their own lives. You can revel in the knowledge that exhibitionistic and bellicose personalities are chosen in a set-up that would never be allowed by university ethics committees, even to gain knowledge about human behaviour. And you can thrill to the harmonious matching of national networks so keen to exploit with ordinary people so keen to be humiliated.

    Rather, here I’m referring to a form of reality that exists outside of TV.

    Now most of you will be familiar with the two great allies of anguish: guilt and worry. These twin torments are best deployed in endless circles of re-hashing and rumination that mire you in melancholy and keep you from taking action.

    On no account should you let remorse over something you’ve said or done drive you to apologise or try to heal the relationship. Ineffectual guilt keeps you safely stuck, miserable and isolated, but constructive remorse can engender reconciliation and all manner of heinous relationship growth as well as a frightening sense of relief and inner peace.

    Nor should anxiety ever precipitate your taking steps to address the troubling situation. Ruminative worry can afford you insomnia, ulcers and a slew of other gloom-inducing ailments, but purposeful thinking can lead you to do something – which can help to relieve your anxiety and, in extreme cases, potentially solve the problem.

    The key to harnessing guilt and worry is debilitation and the secret to debilitation is avoiding reality. Once you see things the way they are, action starts to seem like a good idea. Before you know it, you’re off on an upward spiral of feeling better and happiness is snapping at your heels. Can open, worms everywhere. To safeguard yourself you must remain in a fog of vague, unproductive guilt and worry.

    For help in avoiding reality and keeping guilt and worry in their place, we turn to a master of misery, Freud. His ambitious goal was to move clients from neurotic suffering to everyday misery, making him quite the woe-hero.

    Here are some of his defense mechanisms and suggestions for how to use them.

    Repression: Repress any and all thoughts that make you uncomfortable.
    How to use it: Have no recollection of your nightly Snickers and Kettle Chip binges and wonder pensively how you can have gained so much weight when you ‘eat like a bird’.

    Projection: Project your thoughts, feelings or motives onto an innocent and unsuspecting third party.
    How to use it: After loudly asking the Salvation Army lady whether a fifty is OK, comment that Mary only make donations so everyone will think she’s generous.

    Displacement: Displace feelings such as anger from their true target onto an alternative (and ideally smaller and weaker) substitute.
    How to use it: Instead of standing up to your overbearing spouse, pick fights with random people at grocery counters, church pews and nursing homes.

    Regression: Regress to childishness.
    How to use it: When your boss presents a fair and comprehensive review of your unsatisfactory performance and failure to meet even the most basic requirements of your job, retort with a belligerent ‘You are’.

    Rationalisation: Rationalise crappy behaviour with legitimate-sounding but totally bogus explanations.
    How to use it: Decline to contribute to a colleague’s get-well gift because you ‘refuse to support hospital politics’.

    Identification: Identify yourself with a person or group to shore up your own shaky self-esteem.
    How to use it: Join Celebrities Online on Facebook and go about poking famous people you don’t know. Or if you’re old-school, become a groupie.

    Overcompensation: Overcompensate for a felt inadequacy in one area by exaggerating another.
    How to use it: Can you say big red sports car?

    Socrates said the unexamined life was not worth living. If you want a life not worth living then you simply cannot afford the indulgence of constructive thought and its dangerous tendency toward productive action. Heed the warning: don’t think and thrive.

    Other tips in this series of 10 tips for unwavering woe: