Being Miserable is Easy

Maybe you’re stuck in a terrible job.  Maybe your relationship is toxic.  Maybe you just got dumped.  Maybe you’ve suffered the loss of a loved one.

Whatever the reason(s), your life sucks. 

Yep.

So why don’t you make it better?

Well, you may be suffering from a phenomenon known as learned helplessness.  What is that?

The TLDR version is this: when things have been crappy for a long time, or you’ve been unable to improve things, you just stop trying.

This is one of the soul-crushing forces that stops you from improving your life actually a fascinating topic, and there’s some good science on the matter.  If you’re interested, I’ll let you read a bit more about it on your own; as with a lot of things, the Wikipedia article is a good place to start.  Fair warning, it revolves around a totally-not-unethical experiment involving electrocuting dogs.  Weren’t the 60’s great?

Yes. Really.

Now yes, some things you can’t change, I’ll admit.  And no, I’m not trying to trivialize your very real problems.  No, you can’t bring people you love back from the dead, and no, you’re not suddenly going to cure your mental illness.  You may be going through things that I can’t even fathom, and I hope you get the help and relief you need.

What I am talking about is the stuff that you can do something about.  A lot of the time we’ve trained ourselves that there’s nothing we can do to make our lives better, when really there is.

Take this for example: You hate your job.  You’ve spent the last 10 years climbing up a career ladder that you’d much rather kick over and light on fire.  Now you’re stuck… or are you?

Could you find another job?  Could you go back to college?  Could you start a business with the skills you’ve learned?  Can you transfer positions within your company?  There’s probably something you can do.

The problem is that these things are really hard; isn’t it easier to not do those things?

And that brings us to the title of this post, which I acknowledge may be controversial:

Being miserable is easy.

Now bear with me for a minute…

It’s easy to look at all the crap in your life and say, “you know, things suck, but there’s really nothing I can do about it.”  And now, just like that, you’re done.  You’ve just passed off the responsibility you have to yourself to make things better, and now you can go sit back in your misery chair (probably eating taco bell and drinking a fifth of whiskey… not that I know about these things…)

It’s hard improving your life.  I mean, I’m overweight.  It makes me unhappy.  I’d love to lose weight.  But you know what?  I’d have to stop eating taco bell, and I’d have to start exercising more than not-at-all, and I don’t want to do that because it’s hard!  So I’m just going to sit in this chair and complain about being a fat person on the internet instead.

I’ve got a helpful illustration for this.  Once upon a time I was a chemist, and believe it or not there’s actually a useful analogy to be found in chemistry for what I’m talking about.  I’ll try to keep this light because I don’t remember anything from college because I was drunk the whole time I don’t want to bore you.

Let’s talk a little about chemical reactions and a little concept called activation energy. 

Here’s a basic illustration:

activation energy example
This will be on the exam.

 

So this may be intimidating if you have no exposure to science, but it’s actually quite easy if you take a minute to think about it.

In plain English, this just means if you take THING A + THING B and add the energy required, you’ll get THING C and release the amount of energy indicated.  The solid orange line shows the energy of the system during the course of the reaction.

To make your life easier, you can take THING A THING B + a catalyst and add a lesser amount of energy to get the same THING C and release the amount of energy indicated (The green dotted line indicates less energy is required for this reaction to occur).

OK, so now that nobody’s confused, let’s apply this to your life:

activation energy and you
Science!

At the start, is YOU NOW.  It takes a lot of effort just to get through your day.  If you don’t change anything, it’ll keep taking a lot of effort to get through your day.

But you can change; the downside is that for a short amount of time, it will take even more effort.  Maybe you’re going back to college, or maybe you’re sobering up.  Whatever the case, this is the hill you’ve got to get over.

Maybe you have a friend, maybe you have someone who can help you make that hill just a little bit smaller.  I hope you have this help, but if not, you’re not alone!  Just look at this page!  There are more people just like you and I!

There will come a point when you’re reaching maximum effort; you may be unsure you can go on.  But stick with it and…

BAM!

The reaction completes.  The transformation happens, and your life improves.  You breathe that gigantic sigh of relief, and now it takes less effort just to get through the day.

You made your life better.

But it took energy, it took effort, it was hard.  Being miserable is easy, being happy takes work!

But it’s worth it!

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Matt

Bipolar husband, father, and professional. Author of loudestminds.com blog - a place to learn about mental illness and yes, maybe even laugh a little.

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