How NOT to be Happy Tip 10: Be perfect

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
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