Sam Holstein

The World Is Trying To Make You Miserable

If you’re anything like most people, the first thing you do upon waking is check social media. On your drive to work, you listen to music or podcasts on your way to work. While at work, in between getting work done, you browse social media until you see a post from someone you grew up with who’s doing a lot better than you are. You shop Amazon for stuff you’d like to buy but know you shouldn’t. After work, you go to happy hour with some folks from the office. You spend half the time on your phone. After that’s over, you go home and plop on the couch for a little TV, during which you’re on social media again. Then you head upstairs, check social media one last time, and go to bed.

During the day, you check in with popular media hundreds of times. Every time you listen to music, you’re getting a message about what is and isn’t okay for you to feel. Every time you open Facebook, you’re getting a message about what your life should be like. Instagram, your body. None of them positive.

It isn’t just you. Western culture — social media, movies, TV, music, advertising, everything — triggers negative, crude emotions. Billboards adorn our cities with pictures of beautiful technology and inhumanly sexy people to use it, making us feel inadequate both because we don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on a steel computer with a fruit on it and because we’re not sexy enough to anyway. Commercials remind you your health is not as good as it should be and your game day parties aren’t as awesome as it could be and your house is not as clean as you would need it to be anyway. HGTV reminds you that even if your house was clean enough, it certainly wouldn’t be good enough. And all throughout the day, social media reminds us other people’s houses, parties, health, and marriages are. And as if that weren’t enough, they’re also way hotter than you.

Human beings don’t exist in isolation. We don’t exist independent of our environment. What we call our “selves” is actually a complex relationship between the will of our ego and the pressures of our environment. We choose things because we want them, we want them because we chose them. Benjamin Hardy investigates this with great rigor, and John Gorman explains this with great poetry, but their lesson is the same. As we create our environment, our environment creates us.

Given this, is it any wonder Americans feel sad, lonely, fat, and bad about themselves? The primary motivator in a consumerist culture is the motivation to consume, and despite what more pessimistic philosophers might say, humans are not hired-wired to consume until death. Consumption to the point of suffering has to be triggered in us. With behavioral engineers sussing out exactly how to do this, trapping you in addicting behaviors and then placing calls-to-action right at the point of no return, western companies have turned triggering consumption into an art form.

We find ourselves trapped in a vicious cycle. Consumerism ensnares us with it’s shiny Apple logos and white-soled sneakers while we’re young before we’ve had the chance to form any defenses. As these emotions are triggered in us, our capacity to feel them grows, making the triggers ever more irresistible. Before we know it, we find ourselves in a sea of clothes we haven’t worn, expensive gadgets we rarely use (and never to their full potential), sitting on our ass bingeing Netflix yet again.

How to escape the vicious cycle

Every so often, OneZero runs a piece about “using social media responsibly.” When these posts cross my dash, I roll my eyes. To have something no one else has, you must do something no one else does. You won’t be able to find calm and be productive if you allow yourself to be assaulted by triggers the way everyone else does. If you want to feel calm, collected, and confident in yourself, you must rip out these weeds by the root or they will simply take hold again.

I’m not saying you have to delete all your social media. While I certainly wouldn’t warn you against doing so, that’s not quite the point I’m making. My point is a layer beneath: You have to take a zero-tolerance attitude to things which trick you into being someone you don’t want to be or you will be someone you don’t want to be. It’s that simple.

For most people, social media is one of those things. So is Netflix. So is alcohol. That’s not because social media, Netflix, and booze are morally bankrupt, but because our culture is currently laid out such that consuming these things is likely to put you in the blast zone for unhealthy triggers.

I don’t want to preach from the mountaintop, mostly because I am not on the mountaintop. I know what it’s like to feel stuck in this cycle. I’m doing all right now, but a few years ago, I was the picture of someone who fell victim to consumerism. I spent a solid one-third of my time on Tumblr looking at pictures of people who were more beautiful and better clothed than me. I spent one-third of my money shopping to find clothes, shoes, and accessories that would make me look like them. When I wasn’t engaged in a totally pointless attempt to look like photographs of idealized people, I was ruining my emotional balance by watching way too much Netflix or playing way too many video games. The only reason I’m free of any of this today is that I took a zero-tolerance policy to what was dragging me down.

Those OneZero articles which teach you how to use social media more responsibly often say “social media isn’t all bad”. They’re right. Bars are not all bad either. Alcoholics don’t avoid bars because they think bars are the physical incarnation of evil. They avoid bars because they know if they go to a bar, they’re far more likely to do something they don’t want to do.

I can list things that trigger most people all day, but the only one who can actually say what’s bringing you down is you. Take a hard look at your life. What holds you back? Is it browsing Instagram looking at pictures of hot chicks for hours a day? Is it hopping on Tinder every spare moment you have? Is it binge-watching Netflix? Is it smoking pot? Whatever it is, be honest with yourself about it. Then let it go. Your life will be better without it.