How NOT to be Happy Tip 6: Avoid reality

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:

By Michele Connolly

Choose to be happier – and you will be.

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