Achieve happiness by lying to yourself!

You may think the title of this entry is ironic. Sadly, this is an actual proposition put forward by the blog Pick the Brain, in an entry which has found a lot of popularity because of its Pollyanna message: ignore all the bad sides of life by creating a “Life Lie” for yourself. A Life Lie is basically an outlandish and absolutely impossible story (or as they say, “fantastic,” which I assume refers to it being pure fantasy) which supports the hope that you are on the brink of realizing all that you want for yourself.

I first learned about the Life Lie (in explicit terms) from reading a play; The Wild Duck by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. The main character of The Wild Duck is a man named Hjalmar. By all accounts, Hjalmar is pathetic. His father was ruined by a shady business deal and he’s lived his entire life in shame. His poor family makes a living from a photography business. A business that his father’s arch enemy gave to him out of pity and that his wife runs for all practical purposes.

Useless old Hjalmar should be miserable, but in fact he’s quite the opposite. Despite his pathetic life, Hjalmar is happy because he’s created a beautiful Life Lie.

Hjalmar’s Life Lie is ingenious. He truly believes that he’s going to invent an incredible machine that will make his family wealthy and erase his shame. He doesn’t just tell himself this lie, he actually lives it. Each day he goes off on his own for a few hours, supposedly working on the invention.

What is he really doing? No one knows. It truth, it’s irrelevant. Each day he comes back in high spirits, believing he’s on the cusp of completing the invention and elevating his family.

This is the key to a great Life Life. You can’t just tell yourself a beautiful story. You really have to live the delusion.

This should remind many people of The Secret, which is another delusion system wherein one must act as if one’s desires have already been fulfilled, and the desires will be fulfilled by the universe, somehow. Except in this case, they’re not even doing it to get anything, but rather just to feel good.

And it might as well work. Sure, you can make yourself happier by lying to yourself. But I hope I don’t have to explain why that is an insane strategy. For one thing, one cannot consciously lie to oneself without knowing that one is lying. A conscious delusion cannot be maintained forever. This will lead to crashes of happiness, and the constant need to chase new lies.

Sometimes I lose my Life Lie. Reality sets in and it’s incredibly depressing. I feel my smallness, weakness, and the lack of control I have over my life. It’s almost unbearable. Fortunately, I always come up with a new Life Lie.

That Erin Falconer, editor of the blog and author of this entry, is always able to come up with a new lie is not fortunate, but rather the only avenue left for her to keep escaping reality. We know from religion that maintaining delusions is hard work, that rationalization must be constant, and that there’s always the risk of doubt.

It’s quite an interesting strategy, to take something that’s obviously evil (self-delusion), try to push people to keep doing, and when it fails (as it must), push the solution as doing even more of it. This is exactly the same process as religious and cult doctrines which state that the only way out of the inevitable doubts is to believe even more.

This is an ego game that she’s playing and encouraging others to play. Now you might ask, what’s the harm? Well, like all other ego games, it is a waste of time and energy which could be better used fulfilling one’s own goals, although in this case the waste of time and energy is relatively minor. But most importantly, trying to escape life’s hardships with lies has the obvious and extremely negative consequence of putting these hardships outside of your ability to process.

“Positive thinking” is dangerous because it is a form of thought-stopping, and leads us to deny reality. As we already know (from a study by the Longevity Project), optimism is counter to survival because it leads people to undervalue health risks. Now when you consciously try to escape the hardships of life, when you push suffering, degeneration and death out of your mind, you are basically living in a fantasy world that has no connection whatsoever to reality, and there are going to be real consequences to that. Again, the word “fantastic” was very well chosen.

From the antinatalist perspective, a person who is consciously denying the suffering incurred by human beings is missing out on the most morally relevant part of the universe. It is the fact that suffering exists which makes the life-system problematic and unworthy of perpetuation. Without suffering, without need, there is no pleasure, and without suffering or pleasure nothing done by anything is of any moral relevance. It simply is. But suffering and pleasure introduce morality and ethics into the universe; we seek to escape suffering and achieve pleasure, and some courses of action lead to suffering and others lead to pleasure. This is the only possible context for action.

What is the real objective of the Life Lie and other “positive” thought-stopping techniques? To deny the fear of death. That’s really all that this is about: trying to evade the fact that “[w]e become shells of our former selves and eventually die,” as she puts it. The desire to deny this fact is what has fucked up our societies since time immemorial. Lying about it to oneself and others only perpetuates the fuck-up.

In case you think this is just one person’s opinion, here is another moron using the imagination as an argument against antinatalism (ey removed eir original entry because of cowardice, so I am quoting from someone else’s quoting of it):

Culture manufactures the stupidity we desperately need and crave to function in this world. It is, for lack of a better way of putting it “a skill” that sentient beings had to develop. It is the “invention” of a creature in need of something to absorb the chaos and overwhelming mystery of the universe it finds itself imprisoned within.

We should by NO means be shocked that a very small percentage of the human population [antinatalists] find themselves bereft of that skill…

The ability that comes with sentience to see and predict the future seems, in Antinatalists, to be wholly untempered with the prerequisite cognitive skill to construct, psychologically, an invented reality that both cushions the horror of an inevitable and painful extinction and demands, for the overwhelmingly majority of sentient beings, that life go on. In short, they are victims of imagination failure.

(emphasis mine)

Apparently, stupidity is a necessary “skill,” and antinatalists are defective human beings because they can’t imagine real life as a fantasy land. The sheer desperation of this writer to escape reality, and to confirm the validity of this escape to emself against antinatalism’ reality-based arguments, is far beyond anything sane. Ho-hum.

14 thoughts on “Achieve happiness by lying to yourself!

  1. Stacy November 26, 2011 at 17:25

    I wonder if the editor of “Pick the Brain” would still be able to tell himself a “life lie” if he were in horrible pain dying from cancer, was tormented by a severe mental illness, or was going through some other direct physical or mental pain on a daily basis.

  2. […] ““Positive thinking” is dangerous because it is a form of thought-stopping, and leads us … […]

  3. B. Hrebec November 27, 2011 at 14:40

    Well put. Stupidity isn’t a skill, it’s just stupidity.

    Further, I wonder if the real purpose people push their escapist delusions is to avoid confronting the fact that their lives are relatively quite pleasant. Even if it could be maintained forever, it’s still a way to avoid dealing with those who, as Stacy says, simply can’t avoid reality. If the escapist actually engaged with reality, they might realize how their actions affect everybody else.

    • navillus November 30, 2011 at 14:18

      found this while trying to understand the antinatalist position. which seems to involve the belief that life is total suffering… which i cannot wrap my head around. i grew up poor. have had many bad experiences. some of which incurred suffering in one way or the other.

      but despite these “downs” in life, i have found remarkable enjoyment. i don’t need religion for my morality. never have. but i am willing and able to help others. and through my work i have seen happiness bestowed on others. which brings me more happiness than i probably deserve.

      the position that life is dominated by suffering is presumptive. even children born with disease, or without the ability to walk, talk or see find enjoyment everywhere around them. adults are the ones who overvalue suffering. children know little of it.

      • Francois Tremblay November 30, 2011 at 19:42

        Sorry, but you failed. Nowhere have I said that “life is total suffering.” Don’t expect me to believe that you’re serious about this when you won’t even read on the subject.

  4. Lindsay November 27, 2011 at 15:12

    Hi, Francois!

    I found this post through Clarissa’s link encyclopedia, and I have to say the “life lie” is one of the more depressing things I’ve ever read about in the mental health field! (Don’t most positive-thinking types at least assume that your uplifting narrative about yourself will have an element of truth to it?)

    Positive thinking bothers me because it seems like a form of victim-blaming, where anything bad that happens to you can be blamed on your relative lack of willpower, imagination, moxie or whatever other elusive quality you might want to name. No need to consider any systemic inequities, you just weren’t trying hard enough! (I think that we in the US have a strong tendency not to consider systemic problems, or systemic solutions, anyway, due to our national mythos that we are all 100% autonomous individuals, and this “mind over matter” stuff seems to me like a particularly potent fuel for that cultural fire.)

    I’d never made the connection to antinatalism before, but I do think you’re right to make it — my strongest personal reason for my choice not to reproduce (as opposed to my impersonal, philosophical reasons like not wanting to bring another over-consuming American into an already-strained ecosphere) is the thought that my child might have more pain than pleasure in her life, and might ask me why I had brought her into being, and that I would not have any answer.

    • Francois Tremblay November 27, 2011 at 16:46

      “I found this post through Clarissa’s link encyclopedia, and I have to say the “life lie” is one of the more depressing things I’ve ever read about in the mental health field! (Don’t most positive-thinking types at least assume that your uplifting narrative about yourself will have an element of truth to it?)”
      You’d think so, wouldn’t you? You’d think it would be harder to completely delude yourself, than to only partially delude yourself. Maybe it takes a certain kind of personality.

      “I’d never made the connection to antinatalism before, but I do think you’re right to make it — my strongest personal reason for my choice not to reproduce (as opposed to my impersonal, philosophical reasons like not wanting to bring another over-consuming American into an already-strained ecosphere) is the thought that my child might have more pain than pleasure in her life, and might ask me why I had brought her into being, and that I would not have any answer.”
      Or simply be subject to hardship that you were not able to fend off, such as rape, physical abuse, humiliation, etc. It’s very hard for me to imagine how anyone could live with that. And yet people obviously do.

  5. Miriam November 27, 2011 at 22:30

    Wow. I feel like I’ve found my intellectual cousins here. I never realized I wasn’t the only person who thinks positive psychology is 95% bullshit.

    • Francois Tremblay November 28, 2011 at 01:02

      Read the book Bright-Sided, if you haven’t already. You should love it.

      • Miriam November 28, 2011 at 10:08

        Thanks for the suggestion; I’ll definitely look it up.

  6. […] is difficult to distinguish extreme forms of optimism from delusion, because to maintain optimism requires an active rejection of the facts. Of course, […]

  7. […] of the enemy entails a misdirection of our emotions. Lying to ourselves is a full time job, and in order to prevent relapse, we necessarily have to reverse the flow of our […]

  8. […] while we can decide to self-assign ourselves some kind of greater purpose, or we can even decide to constantly lie to ourselves in order to brainwash ourselves into believing we will someday fulfill a greater purpose, these […]

  9. […] seems to be a form of positive thinking, or even a Life Lie, the bizarre concept that by concocting an imaginary, positive storyline for your life, you will […]

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: