Constructive Apathy

Lots of people channel an awful lot of misery into their day-to-day lives. They clearly hate what they’re doing, and seem to want everyone around them to know it. There’s a certain sort of weird pride that comes from hating your job or other duties, at least in certain people.

I’ve found that it’s pretty difficult to talk people out of being miserable if they really want to be, but occasionally I’d try. And the responses were usually along the lines of: “I’m not going to fake being happy just for someone else. That’s not who I am.”

I always found this a very odd response, for a few reasons.

One: no one (least of all me) suggested that you fake being happy. What I was suggesting was that you stop putting so much effort into being deliberately miserable. That much grump isn’t natural to just about anyone, and in most people like that, they’re doing it deliberately. They’re sending a message to some imagined adversary: “Yeah, you can make me sit here and do this job, but you can’t make me like it.”

That enemy doesn’t exist. No one wants them to be miserable, and no one wants them to fake being happy.

But two: No one is or isn’t an emotional state. Those are like clothes – temporary things we drape over the actual permanent thing inside them. They change, far more rapidly than we do. So “that’s not who I am” is a silly thing to say about being in a good or bad mood.

Here’s the reality – a tremendous super power to cultivate is the ability to do most of your daily tasks with no emotion attached to them at all. I don’t love taking the trash out, loading the dishwasher, or folding laundry. I know that being miserable about them will only make them harder and more of a burden, but I don’t counter-act misery by forcing myself into weird visible expressions of ecstasy. I just don’t feel anything about it.

You don’t have to be thrilled to do most things. And you don’t need extreme happiness to replace extreme (and forced) misery. You can just be constructively apathetic, remove the emotion from what needs to be done, and do it. Save the emotional fuel for situations where the emotions you’re fueling are good ones, and live your life.

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