Friday, February 3, 2012

Perception and the Should Game

Today's topic of blogservation (copyright anxiouswhitevirgin via me) that I have chosen is that of Perspective. As we can see from this oh so charming illustration pictured above, both of these beloved household necessities find themselves suffering by means of comparison. But why is that? Or rather, how is it that this suffering comes about? While I realize that there are many reasons why we as human beings suffer, and that not all of them can be attributed to any of our own doings, I would like to present a the theory that attributes a great deal of why we suffer to what I like to call, "Playing the Should game." If you are the kind of person who believes that all the suffering and misery in your life has and continues to be caused by forces outside and beyond your control, then I suggest skipping this post and rejoining me again for the next installment. For nothing I say here today will be of any value unless you, I, or any of us are willing to at least consider the possibility that our level of happiness and satisfaction of this life rests squarely in our own hands. I may be totally full of crap, but it might be worth losing the next 10 minutes of your life (depending on how fast you read) to find out. Let us then proceed.

Like our toiletry friends, I have often found myself suffering and unsatisfied with life. In fact, you could probably say that in my mind, the reason for my suffering was directly due to my dissatisfaction with my life. And even though I may not have been consciously aware of it at the time, as I look back now it is clear to see that I have been playing the Should game with frequent regularity for the better part of my life.

Side Note: I have chosen to capitalize Should for a reason. My aim being for the reader to realize that when I say Should, I am not referring to reality, for example: The sun should rise tomorrow. In this sense, the should is referring to things that actually occur. But you will notice that these are also things that have nothing to do with free will. Unless of course you want to make the argument that someone might believe that the sun shouldn't rise tomorrow and therein find suffering. But this is beside the point I am trying to make. The point is that when I use the word "Shoulds", what I am referring to is that idea or concept within our own minds of the way WE personally believe things, people, and more specifically our own lives ought to be, compared to way it is not, thereby causing us to suffer in comparison. Simply put, Shoulds are personal opinions and have no basis in universal truth or fact.

While I believe that ever human that has ever lived on this planet, with perhaps the exception of Jesus Christ, has experienced suffering by comparison; it has also been my observation that certain groups and individuals within those groups seem to suffer more than others. And while I am no expert in the field of psychology, and while I am not saying that there very well may not be a biological aspect in the form of chemical imbalances and the like, that could contribute to any given individuals schema; I would like to state that if that is indeed the case, then even those who find themselves victims of their biology may still need not find themselves victims of their Shoulds.

Like I stated earlier, a Should or suffering by comparison occurs when we look at some aspect of our lives, be it ourselves, our physical forms, friends, romantic partners (or lack thereof...Hello! 29 year old Virgin here) and we decide that it is not as it Should be. Which would logically lead us to conclude that there is in fact a way life Should be, but isn't. Here are a couple of what I would consider pretty common examples of people playing the Should game:

" I am so depressed. All of my friends are married and I am not" = I Should be married but I am not, therefor I suffer.

"This sucks. These skinny jeans fit me last summer, but now I can't even get them past my fat thighs" (I like to picture a man saying this just because it's Hell-arious!) = I have put on weight and I use to be skinner, I Should be thinner, therefor my day/week/life is ruined.

"Everybody I know is already graduated from college and well into their careers and Im a 29 year old actor/waitress who is barely making ends meat. My life is never going to amount to anything." = I Should have graduated college already. I Should be into my career. I Should be making more money. Life isn't anything like it Should have been.

Did any of those sound familiar to you? Have you ever found yourself saying similar to yourself? I hope that as you read these examples, which may or may not have been taken directly from my own life, (with the exception of being a man) that you will start to recognize all the Shoulds you impose in your own life, and the needless suffering that they are causing you.

Now I know what some of you are already thinking, and I'm sure it goes something to the tune of, "Now wait a cotton pickin’ minute! Are you REALLY trying to imply that we should release every expectation we have for life and for ourselves? Can you really be so naive as to believe that it is somehow destructive and harmful to our mental well-being to have goals and ambitions and are then are understandably disappointed when those things don't happen? If we don’t have an idea of how life Should be then how will we ever accomplish anything? If we have no stick to measure ourselves against then how will we ever know that we are growing? Isn't what you call suffering merely just God's way of letting us know we are on the wrong path and that we need to do better?"

Let me start by saying that in a lot of ways, this logic seems quite sound. And there is some truth to the argument being raised. A person with no goals, dreams, or ambitions is a person without progression. But here again, the argument hits near the point, but falls short of the mark. For what we are not debating here is whether or not a person should have goals, but rather the idea that the accomplishment or failure of said goals are the litmus test for whether or not you are happy in life. When you say a person should have goals, what you are really saying is that having goals are a way we progress in life and therefor are useful if indeed it is our goal to progress. But even here we must tread lightly lest we impose our own Shoulds onto somebody else.

A good example of this is the redefinition of what it means to be a successful woman in today’s society. I plan on spending an entire blog on this on some future date; but in short, it is the reality that in the past, it was thought that women Should remain in the home and men Should be the ones out in the corporate world. But as we have seen, this Should is crumbling under the weight of both men and women who believe that a woman Should be as much a part of the working world as her male counterparts. But what about those women who chose to stay in the home? The point is that there will always be conflicting Shoulds in the world. Depending on which part of the world you grew up in, the religious ideologies you adhere to, right down your opinion about which way the toothpaste should be dispensed, there are always going to be as many Shoulds as there are people. But we are not here to discuss whether or not there Should be, or in reality are, any universal shoulds (e.g.) the moral law and so forth, we are instead here to get us all to realize that in general most Shoulds are not in fact shoulds, but rather personal and totally opinion based Shoulds.

We live in a varitable world of Shoulds, and you don't have to look very far to find someone willing to spew their own personal Shoulds all over you. In fact, if you think about it, in a way that is what I am doing right now. I am telling you that Should let go of your Shoulds. Did your mind just blow? I know mine did.

I could probably continue to discuss this topic for hours on end. But in the interest of attention span of the average reader I am going to attempt to wrap it up.

So in summary here are the key points I am wanting you take from this post. The first is that we all have Shoulds in our lives and that those Shoulds cause us to suffer by means of comparison. This suffering by comparison occurs when we look at some aspect of our lives and make a personal decision that this aspect is not what it Should be. In doing this we are stating that there is indeed a way it should (universal truth) be, but that it is not. And because of this, we suffer. We beat ourselves up, we curse God or fate or our parents or any number of people or things, and because of this we are unhappy. We are in essence saying to the universe, "Life Should be X, but instead it is Y, and until it is X, I will never be truly or even temporarily happy."

My second point is that this doesn't mean that we stop striving and wanting. This doesn't mean we are to sit on our butts and never have any goals beyond converting oxygen into CO2. Though if you think about it, there are those individuals out there who due to accident or illness have been reduced down to a vegetative state and this process is pretty much the sum of what their lives consist of. But if there is one thing I have learned and continue to experience is the phenomenon of people who you would except by all accounts of logic and reasoning and Should be unhappy, Should be miserable, Should have no reason for joy or contentment in this life, and yet, somehow, these same individuals are deeply and genuinely happy. And what I believe to be their "secret" for happiness is my third and final point for today.

My final point is more a belief than anything else. And it is simply the belief that those who are the happiest in life are those who have learned to love what IS and refuse to compare that to what it Should be. They have thrown the Shoulds out of their lives. They still continue to hope and dream and strive, but they do not place their satisfaction of life on these things. They have made the separation between happiness as a state of being (a choice, an interpretation) and happiness as a result or product of something, someone, some action, some whatever. For them, happiness is not the result of listening to the tune, but rather, it is the tune itself. And for these people, it is the tune by which they spend their lives dancing to. It is the means and not the end. It is the journey and not the destination.

My hope not only for myself, but for us all, is that we can slowly start to remove the Shoulds from our lives, be they Shoulds about ourselves or Shoulds about the people and the world around us. And that in doing so, we may come to know a life free of Shoulds, which in turn may bring about a life free of needless suffering. I would like to end today by sharing two verses of scripture taken from The Book of Mormon, which I feel are God's words trying to convey this very idea to us. Regardless of your religious convictions, I hope that you will be able to find the truth written in these words, regardless of their origin
2 Nephi Chapter 2

27 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.

25 Adam fell that men might be; and men are that they might have JOY.

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