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Welcome to another Mindf*ck Monday. Each week, I send you three potentially life-changing ideas to help us all be slightly less awful human beings.
1. The best of many possible universes – Imagine that there are an infinite number of alternate universes of you existing in this exact moment. Each universe represents what would happen if something in your life had gone slightly differently. There’s the universe with you where you dropped out of school, the universe with you where you quit your job to move across the country last year, the universe with you where you lost your parents in a freak fly-fishing accident.
Maybe you don’t realize it, but we think about these alternate universes all the time. We make comparisons between them and our own universe. We judge them as better or worse, more fortunate or less fortunate.
Sadly, most of our alternate-universe comparisons are with universes better than ours. We think about the universe where we didn’t get dumped or the universe where we won the lottery and bought a boat or the universe where our parents weren’t such narcissistic assfaces.
These comparisons to better alternate universes generate feelings of guilt, regret, shame, dread, and self-pity.
But every once in a while, we make alternate-universe comparisons with worse universes than ours. We think about the universe where we never met our partner, the universe where we don’t have such great friends, the universe where we didn’t grow up in such fortunate circumstances.
These comparisons to worse alternate-universes cause us to feel something entirely different.
There’s an endless supply of alternate universes for us to make our comparisons. There are infinite potential comparisons, both positive and negative, and in both directions. There’s a universe where we are emperor of the galaxy. There’s a universe where we are imprisoned and tortured our entire lives.
Yet, despite this endless supply of alternate universes, we tend to reach for the comparisons that make us feel worse.
This past week was Thanksgiving here in the United States. Like most holidays, it’s become bastardized by gluttonous eating, watching fourteen hours of sportsball on television and the consumerism orgy that is Black Friday the next day.
(By the way, buy my fucking books.)
But the original intention of the holiday is that of gratitude—to imagine the infinitely worse possible alternatives. To imagine the nonexistence of everything good in your life and allow that potential negation to fill you with satisfaction.
2. Your psychological immune system – One of my favorite concepts comes from the Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert. In his book Stumbling on Happiness, he describes something he calls “the psychological immune system.”
The human mind is predictably and consistently wrong about many things. We tend to misremember how we felt in the past. We are terrible at predicting what will make us happy in the future. We struggle to be objective in the present.
But whereas most psychologists see these flaws as something that needs to be corrected, Gilbert suggests that perhaps these flaws in our perceptions are intentional. They act as a buffer to protect our mental health from succumbing to painful or difficult realities and truths. They act as a kind of psychological immune system, a system of mental antibodies that destroy destructive thoughts and ideas before they take root in the mind.
Let’s extend the metaphor. If your mind has a psychological immune system, that immune system can become weakened based on the diet of information you consume. If you spend your days ingesting dumb ideas that cater to your worst impulses, then your immune system becomes weakened, causing you to more easily succumb to the psychological virus of despair.
Similarly, if you have intimate relationships with people whose psychological immune systems have become sick with destructive feelings and ideas, those mental pathogens are contagious and will come to infect you.
And in this environment of psychological pathogens, gratitude is like Vitamin D for the soul. A small daily dose provides an immunity boost and helps keep your psychological immune system strong.
It’s not an easy year to practice gratitude. I won’t belabor the million and one ways things have been totally fucked this year. We all know.
But it’s periods like this that I think gratitude is more important than ever. Like the Vitamin D that protects our bodies from the physical virus, the active practice of gratitude can protect our mind from the mental viruses of despondence and despair.
No matter how bad things are, there are alternate universes where things are worse. Therefore, there is always an opportunity to practice gratitude.
This year, I am grateful that I found ways to remain active and productive despite so much isolation. I’m grateful for such an active and opinionated readership. I’m grateful that my career was not interrupted, as I was used to working from home.
But most of all… I’m grateful for delivery apps. Seriously. Can you imagine a universe where 2020 happens and there are no delivery apps? It would be hell.
3. A couple rants for the holidays – Finally, a couple of announcements to round out the newsletter this week.
- I have begun posting to my YouTube channel again. I posted a video about the concept of “self-care” as well as an extended rant about the idea of life purpose. Come for the content. Stay for the pandemic hair. Also, if you like the channel, please subscribe.
- The paperback version of Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope came out this week. Ostensibly, it’s a cheaper and more user-friendly version of the book. Although Amazon still lists the hard cover as cheaper. Go figure.
- A lot of people have asked about purchasing signed books as holiday gifts. This is something I’ve done in the past and was intending to do again this year, but due to the pandemic, it has become more complicated. I am working on it though and will announce in the newsletter if/when signed books are available for purchase. Stay tuned.
Until next week,