Have you ever had a friend who seemed bound and determined to be miserable?
Ugh. I’m turning 35. I have no friends. I wish I was 25 again. It’s hard being a single parent and having a worthless ex who doesn’t help out with our son. My son is a real handful so I can only work and take care of him. I have absolutely no life. My friends are quick to stab me in the back and the one that I truly have is about to move. I don’t have time to work out, I hate my job. My boss is an idiot and he doesn’t appreciate me. Literally, everyone in my life lets me down in some way or another. I’m out of shape but when would I have time to work out? Every time I think about my life, I just want to cry.
That was an actual conversation I had this week. It was as exhausting to listen to as it probably was for you to read it. Someone just wallowing and basking in their circumstances and misery. Is it any wonder that this person is absolutely miserable? This is not to say that the troubles are not legitimate. Quite contrarily, obviously they are. But what is one supposed to do when confronted with a conversation of this nature. What advice or comfort can you provide when the potential recipient refuses to look “up” in any way?
We’ve all come across these types of people. What’s worse is that when you DO offer some sound advice or perhaps a few strategies to make their life a little less miserable, they counter with even more issues and difficulties that “you just don’t understand”. You offer some ways to improve (maybe you even point out that the fact that they have someone to vent to means they have at least one friend), but they come back with a barrage of reasons that your positive outlook is inapplicable.
Let me be clear on two points:
- Tragedy is coming and it’s always coming.
- I don’t, and I recommend you don’t deal with these types of people for too long.
To the first point, as they say in Game of Thrones: Winter is coming! It always is. Even if life seems absolutely perfect right now, you can be sure that if you stick around long enough, there will come a time when it will be at least “less perfect”. This is not pessimism. It is a realistic view of the world.
We seem to have confused the purpose of life itself. When you are happy, you should enjoy it because it is a blessing. It is by no means obvious that you are entitled to happiness or that it is a guarantee. Thomas Jefferson wrote about the guaranteed “pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence. Notice that he did not write that you have the right to “happiness”, per se. You have the right to pursue it. That is an incredibly wise little insertion but I might tweak it just a little bit.
Are we sure that happiness is what we want to pursue? The problem with this as a pursuit is that it is always fleeting. What makes you ecstatic today will inevitably change. Think about the last thing that made you truly happy. Maybe it was the feeling of accomplishment when you graduated. Perhaps it was getting a date with that person you had admired from afar, for so long. Those highs are beautiful and you should relish them. But, they are fleeting. After graduation, comes “job search” after all.
I’ve talked a lot about “purpose” and finding that purpose as reasonable and appropriate pursuits in life. Another might be to arrange yourself in such a way that you are able to weather whatever storms may come. I was discussing this with a friend of mine yesterday over lunch and we finally settled at, “being the person others can count on, in a crisis” as a reasonable and noble goal. Life can be hard, but you are not obliged to make it worse and you could even work to make it a little better for other people. That would be a good thing.
I’ve said a million times: Be the person you want to be when you want to be that person. That means that no matter what is thrown at you, you get to respond well and not react out of impulse. Actively work on this. Use yourself and the person you want to become as a benchmark. You will succeed if you put in the effort.
To the second point, once it becomes clear that someone does not want to be helped, you should limit your interactions with that person. Environment is powerful and it will not be long before you find yourself pulled down into the vortex of despair with your friend who is just seeking the proverbial company in their misery.
You have a moral duty to be the best version of you that you can be.
Once you accomplish this, or at least are on that path, you have a duty to help those around you. However, this does not mean that you must sacrifice yourself.
We have established that where we aim is what we see.
You must surround yourself with people who are aiming “up” or your own sights will be incrementally lowered.
Soon, if you’re not careful, you can find yourself walking around, staring at the ground and miserable like them. You are better than that. You are stronger than that. You know the right path. An unfortunate (or fortunate, depending on your perspective) consequence of knowing the right path is that you simultaneously become accountable. Set yourself up for success by surrounding yourself with people who are also doing their best and want the best for you.
I don’t mean to and am not trivializing pain and suffering. They are all too real and one should have empathy and be the life boat for someone drowning at sea. But you don’t need to let your boat be capsized in your efforts to rescue. All our pain is real to us. It is often also objectively real in the negativity of its nature. But don’t look only there. Have genuine gratitude for what is going right. If you have nothing to be grateful for, then the problem is with you. We can’t solve all our problems overnight, but we can take tiny steps to make our worlds better.
When you were 4 years old, reading this blog would have been impossible.
You had to learn the alphabet first. Then you had to learn to read words and sentences. You did it. You didn’t lament the fact that you were illiterate and curse all of existence. Growth comes with purposeful work and intuitively, you already know that. All I ask is that you don’t lose sight of it and that you keep being the best “you” that you can be. Meditate and do some self-work. The person you are destined to be is already within you…find him or her again!