“How to Be Miserable”: Reverse Psychology

If you realize that if you want to feel worse, you could be completely inactive, get no exercise, eat nonnutritious food, or compare yourself negatively to others, you can then go, well, wait a minute, maybe I could do the opposite of that and that would be helpful. Author Randy Paterson, explaining the premise of How to Be Miserable 

Just reading self-help books won’t make you happy, you may have noticed. As presented in Randy Paterson‘s tongue-in-cheek How to Be Miserable: 40 Strategies You Already Use, ignoring or rebelling against commonly prescribed advice won’t help either.

Obviously some reverse psychology is his aim. The four main parts of How to Be Miserable involve Adopting a Miserable Lifestyle, How to Think Like an Unhappy Person, Hell is Other People, and Living a Life Without Meaning.

Giving a listen to his podcast (The Art of Manliness) on this topic revealed the following key points:

  • We stay miserable by “fixing” things only in the short-term, using remedies that are not helpful, e.g., overeating when you’d really feel better eating more healthily.
  • Some of the lifestyle habits we commonly perpetuate are poor eating, lack of exercise, maximizing our screen time, and minimizing our social life.
  • Our non-workable goals are VAPID: V for vague, A for amorphous, P for pie-in-the-sky, I for irrelevant, D for delayed.
  • The more accepting we are of so-called negative emotions, the less they affect us.
  • Misery often leads to social isolation. On the other hand, socializing can lead to misery when we do such things as compare ourselves unfavorably to others and fail to set appropriate boundaries.
  • One question to ask ourselves that can lead to positive change: What would you do if you were already good enough?

The following are some quotes by Paterson from interviews with David Marchese, Science of Us (the first two) and Gayle MacDonald, Globe and Mail:

If we can accept distressing feelings for what they are — part of the normal flow of human emotion —then, paradoxically, we will be less distressed. Our distress comes not from experiencing those emotions, but from our reaction to them as being unacceptable or abnormal.

It’s beginning to look like exercise is probably the most powerful antidepressant we’ve got.

Part of the problem is expectations. We have told people they can be almost unfailingly happy. And their expectation is that they will attain it. But the human mind is not aimed at 100-per-cent happiness all of the time. If you expect to be able to leap eight feet, and you can only leap five, you’re going to be constantly disappointed. Sadness, anxiety, disappointment are all normal parts of life. So striving for happiness is like trying to reach the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, to use an overused cliché.

In the past, we knew and understood that life is difficult. That grief is inevitable. That disappointment is part of life. We seem to have been engaging in societal denial of this essential reality. Formerly, we may have simply thought: “Today I’m sad.” Now we tend to think something has to be fundamentally the matter. Perhaps I have a disease? God, what’s wrong with me? Whereas, often the simple answer is: You have a life.

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