“Certainly the most destructive vice if you like, that a person can have. More than pride, which is supposedly the number one of the cardinal sins – is self pity. Self pity is the worst possible emotion anyone can have. And the most destructive. It is, to slightly paraphrase what Wilde said about hatred, and I think actually hatred’s a subset of self pity and not the other way around – ‘It destroys everything around it, except itself .’
Self pity will destroy relationships, it’ll destroy anything that’s good, it will fulfill all the prophecies it makes and leave only itself. And it’s so simple to imagine that one is hard done by, and that things are unfair, and that one is underappreciated, and that if only one had had a chance at this, only one had had a chance at that, things would have gone better, you would be happier if only this, that one is unlucky. All those things. And some of them may well even be true. But, to pity oneself as a result of them is to do oneself an enormous disservice.
I think it’s one of things we find unattractive about the american culture, a culture which I find mostly, extremely attractive, and I like americans and I love being in america. But, just occasionally there will be some example of the absolutely ravening self pity that they are capable of, and you see it in their talk shows. It’s an appalling spectacle, and it’s so self destructive. I almost once wanted to publish a self help book saying ‘How To Be Happy by Stephen Fry : Guaranteed success’. And people buy this huge book and it’s all blank pages, and the first page would just say – ‘ Stop Feeling Sorry For Yourself – And you will be happy ‘. Use the rest of the book to write down your interesting thoughts and drawings, and that’s what the book would be, and it would be true. And it sounds like ‘Oh that’s so simple’, because it’s not simple to stop feeling sorry for yourself, it’s bloody hard. Because we do feel sorry for ourselves, it’s what Genesis is all about.”
― Stephen Fry
Love this simple and effective take on the ease of happiness. We often get caught up in thinking that 10 to 2,000 other things, distant objects in the future, are the keys to our happiness, when in fact the simple key is “ease.” When presented with less than ideal circumstances, we can choose to resist or struggle, or opt to accept them without the need to wallow in self-pity. By releasing the need to control the outcome of every situation, we allow ourselves to respond to each moment as it comes. And that’s a heck of a lot easier than trying to master the art of feeling sorry for oneself.
Your chops growing a little rusty? Been a while since you let out your best roar? When feeling detached from yourself, it can be tough to re-find center. And while there’s a time for stewing and a time for silence, there is too much power inherent in words for you to not share a few of your own. Time to take back your voice and use it for good.
1. Come clean with yourself. Have you been completely honest with yourself as of late? Perhaps that metaphorical lump in your throat has to do with a personal wrestling match with a truth you would prefer to remain unsaid. When it looks like you’re the only one getting tired from those endless bouts, it may be time to sit down and bring the tough stuff to light. Ask yourself what has been a source of struggle and then listen. Refuse to censor yourself. The answer may be unexpected or a no-brainer. But the newfound clarity can help you decide how to proceed.
2. 10 Word Manifesto. You have ten words to describe yourself – only. What would they be? Take a look at your list and see if you would like to swap out any for a new characteristic. While you cannot be all things for all people, you can certainly be the absolute best version of yourself. And you get to define what that is as often as you like.
3. Break your pattern. This one takes a healthy dose of love in the face of fear. There’s no shame in getting pulled into old habits, but thinking that negative habits are all that define you spurs self-doubt in even the toughest of folks. Speak to someone new, tell a friend something they would never guess about you, journal to your heart’s content. Remember to approach the “new” with graciousness, to thank it for the specks of fear it instills right before the breakthrough into the light.
4. Know that nothing is permanent. This includes success, disappointment, difficulty or ease. We are ever in a state of flux. Assume that everything in your life has the ability to change tomorrow – because in reality, it does.
5. Your soul is your best instrument. Discover what lights you up from head to toe and celebrate it. It’s undeniable that passion is the greatest force for true expression. Without it, the world is washed in multitudes of gray. Start small, keep your eyes open and notice when you feel pulled towards something – an artist, a place, a feeling, a future yet known. Ready, set, follow.
Wilhelm Reich, a student of Freud’s and radical pioneer of early psychoanalysis, kept diaries of his observations of the world – often fascinating, often misunderstood – yet still able to influence a number of notable intellectuals from Saul Bellow to William Burroughs. A culmination of his journal entries, letters and laboratory notebooks, Where’s the Truth?: Letters and Journals, 1948-1957, follows three other autobiographical installments making this book the forth and final collection of his work.
In a particularly thoughtful entry dated June 7, 1948, Reich attempts to distill the six conditions necessary for creative sanity. In so doing he reveals his own doubts and aspirations while painting an ideal portrait of a life with true purpose.
The last principle is especially moving and an apt reminder that the promise of the “easy life” does not necessarily come from always treading the easiest path.
“We got work to do. We can cry about it. Or we can dance about it.”
I love that. Out of the mouth of babes…What if we approached every difficult impasse in our lives as an opportunity for a dance party? A chance to shine versus an impossible mountain to climb?
A wonderful reminder that we always have a choice of how we feel, what we do, and how awesome we wish our path to be. And since we’re all on the same team, only way to go from here is onward and upward.
As we walk along through life, we often choose the path of least resistance. It’s natural to seek out this course…well-worn, safe, but likely absent of the events that will help us grow. Every day we decide whether we move forward or back – a subtle tango with ourselves and our standards.
It is also natural to conflate the notion of growth with the idea of “more.” But growth can come through removal, by shedding the things that no longer serve us. As you continue to grow, consider what you can give up in order to gain. And you can start here.
Release the need to:
Fill every moment of the day with tasks – It’s easy to stay hyperconnected, or busy, or attached to worries that can fill the hours. What’s more difficult is to detach, allow for silence, and reflect. It is only in these moments that tiny adjustments gain clarity. Can you recall having your best ideas when bogged down by 10 things at once? Or when you were caught in an otherwise unremarkable moment?
Please everyone – Freedom comes in the realization that it is not your responsibility to make every person in the world offer approval of what you do. Some may love it, others could care less. Find the one audience that matters most to you (this can be yourself!), and work to hold yourself accountable to these eyes.
Judge – Yourself and others. There is no grand tally score floating above our heads for who’s ahead in the human race. The only thing gained by this sort of negative self-talk/ derisive talk towards others is a weak soapbox upon which you can stand for moment as you try to relish in another’s downfall. When that person picks themselves up and moves on, you’re left with no foundation.
Keep Up with the Joneses – Just because someone bought their first personal jet doesn’t mean it’s time to put one on your credit card too. We all have different definitions of what will make us happy. Check in and make sure that what your coveting is actually something that will fulfill you rather than something you feel you should have.
Be right – Oh, the big one. A voracious, stubborn ego is not half so endearing as one that can admit when a mistake was made. Save yourself the headache and forgive yourself and others for past blunders. Do this as often as needed.
This playwright’s self-honesty and courage to face his flaws made for a persona whose personality defies his family name…and for plays laced with a wit all his own. Time to let your own mind off its leash.
“My body has certainly wandered a good deal, but I have an uneasy suspicion that my mind has not wandered enough.”
How to Become an Egotistical Monster in 7 Steps or Less!
1. Become Ravenous for Online Attention. Base your mood on whether or not someone liked, commented, or championed something you wrote (or that you found and appropriated as your own). Question everything about yourself if you do not receive the stamp of approval you desperately seek.
2. Assume that Other People’s Emotions or Actions Have to Do Entirely with You. Ignore the fact that others might be caught up in their own lives and that could seep into their exchanges with you. Treat a negative conversation as an excuse to start feeling sorry for yourself indefinitely.
3. Steer All Conversations Back Towards You. You’ve got the most interesting life anyways, right? Act surprised when others are suddenly disinterested in a person who takes no interest in getting to know them.
4. Spend All of Your Time Patting Your Back Over Past Successes. Get comfortable with the idea that you’ve already grown as much as a human being can grow. Rest on those laurels now.
5. See Everyone as a Competitor. Get angry if someone else receives a gift or an opportunity that you have been coveting. Convince yourself you deserved it more and find no possible way to feel happy for that person, let alone inspired by them.
6. Forget that Someone Else May Know More Than You. Be ashamed to ask for help and assume that you can outsmart anyone in a room. Flaunt this God-like intelligence and try to constantly catch others in their folly. That’ll show ‘em.
7. Practice those Do, Re, MeMeMeMeMeMe’s. Sing the song of your own brilliance, hog the mic and never let the spotlight hit anyone else. Barely notice when your world starts shrinking to include just a faint glow around yourself.
We do it everyday. Something less than great happens, we react. And perhaps we feel guilty, upset, sad for having thoughts that are not helpful to us.
We want happiness, wrapped up and ready to go. But that is a gift that is earned. One that you cannot beg or plead with another to give to you. They won’t have it because you’re already holding onto it. The hint is to notice that it is currently in your hands. And in the style of gift-giving, when someone gives you something, you accept the gift graciously, regardless of the fact that the size was wrong, it was not what you expected, or the gift is something you are pretty sure your friend would enjoy a whole lot more than you would.
Same rules apply for the emotional quality of our days. If we receive a package full of terrible one day, the instinct is to sulk, or complain, or harbor on the fact that “this wasn’t what I wanted.” But just think if you threw a tantrum every time someone tried to give you something. Chances are, they will be reluctant to try to give you another gift in the future. (And the little one that gives macaroni necklaces eventually becomes an expert gift-giver with time. Imagine squashing the homemade gift in front of the person who presented it to you.)
But if instead, you offer a simple thank you, it becomes possible to recognize your emotional reaction, without qualifying it as good, bad, or otherwise, and see the inherent gift within the somewhat haggard packaging. The beauty of vulnerability, the brilliance of despair: these are the springboards to knowing yourself better. Why deny yourself the thoughts and emotions that are entirely your own?
Here’s to learning to accept the emotional gifts that we would sometimes prefer to return. And to becoming a better gift-giver and receiver in the process.
An identity is not a solid thing
Made of unchangeable cogs and metal parts.
Trade in the pieces that no longer serve you
And recycle the forgotten strains,
Old portions of yourself once tossed away in exasperation
When others insisted that they knew the best way for you to be.
Though the crowd may cry “what joy in excess!”
And collect toys, hard-earned, to fill homes and bring solace,
Have strength enough to break away.
As hushed voices trade phrases dripped in oil,
Jabber slick with toxins and edges sharp enough to break the skin,
Converse with words of thicker substance.
And when doubt creeps in, after another leaves the door open,
or because you dabbled in man-made monsters,
Kindly usher it out and begin again.
Image of the work of Pakistani artist Khalil Chishtee