How My Stories Can Suck the Joy Out of Life

I’ve just spent half an hour trying to come up with an interesting title for this post. I’m not completely satisfied with the one above because you might see it as an admission that my writing is dangerously depressing – maybe it is, I hope not, but that’s not what I’m getting at here. The stories I’m referring to are the ones that buzz around inside of my noggin; my beliefs about how life is and how it should be. These stories behave like a virus by taking over my thinking, so that I mistake them for some type of truth. This means that when life causes my story to unravel, as it always does, I can feel like I’m under attack or that things are going wrong for me. It is only by understanding that these stories were never important that I can escape this unnecessary dissatisfaction.

How Stories about the Future Can Ruin the Present

The stories that cause me the most suffering are the ones about my future. These act like unexploded landmines just waiting for me on the road up ahead. My ability to predict the future is abysmal, but it is just so easy to be sucked into these stories. I develop these expectations and when they do not come to fruition I feel cheated and misled. Even when life is turning out better than planned, which is regularly the case, I can still feel let down because my story of how it should be is under threat. This sad situation becomes farcical when I realize that none of my stories have ever turned out to be true, yet I can still be suckered into believing them.

I like having goals, and it is probably important to have them, but getting too hung up on where I should be going in life is a recipe for disaster. The best things have all been unexpected, and they turned out to be far better than anything that existed in my stories. All these beliefs really do is get in the way of enjoying what is already here because they nag, nag, nag. These stories trigger a steady stream of bullshit thoughts that try to convince me that something is not right and that this isn’t how it should be. I doubt there are any thoughts more useless than the ones that involve “this is not how it should be”. Such thinking is useless because “should be” is just another way of saying “isn’t” – there is no “should be” because there only is what is. This is why I need to embrace the uncertainty of life and let go of any confidence I have in my fortune telling ability.

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2 thoughts on “How My Stories Can Suck the Joy Out of Life

  1. Hi Paul. Glad to see you touching on this theme again as it’s something that has been on my mind now for a few weeks.

    Question: I’m curious why you have used the term “stories” in reference to these negative trains of thought. In my mind, “stories” has a very broad and abstract meaning, and usually has a neutral connotation. In my own mind, I think I’ve sort of settled on the term “persistent negative thinking” to refer to these patterns, probably because it seems to be in use by others in the recovery community, although it does sound a little overly clinical.

    One of the reasons why I am thinking about definitional issues is because of the realization of how deep and profound these thinking patterns have become wired into my consciousness. I’m kind of coming around to the idea that these are not just recurring, compulsive thoughts which appear from nowhere that cloud my judgment and thinking, but they really emanate from expectations and pressures that have been drilled into me since I was young, namely (in my case), the expectation to achieve and be “successful”. When things don’t go my way in terms of obtaining success – either on a mundane level or long-term – is when those nasty thoughts really start dictating my moods and interactions.

    So, my thought recently is that it’s actually some fundamental impulse of desire that might ultimately be responsible for my cognitive shortcomings. The desire I have is to achieve “success” at all costs, materially, financially, professionally. After all, that’s a message that is drilled into us constantly starting at a young age. This leads me to think that somehow being able to tame or manage our desires in some healthy way might be the key to long-term well-being. That’s where the hard work really begins… Considering that the Buddha was one of only a few enlightened humans out there who was able to successfully conquer his desires, I imagine that it is a feat that not everyone is able to successfully do, lol! Anyway, I’ll probably come back to this whole topic later.

    On another topic, have you seen the film “Oslo, August 31” yet? I believe it is about 2 years old (Norwegian film) but it was only recently released here in the US several months ago on a wide scale (for an independent film) and some discussion came up about it possibly being considered for an Oscar award (though it never got nominated apparently). It is about a young drug addict who has a day outside of a rehab facility. It is very good.

    Finally, I also got around to listening to your “real cause of alcoholism” podcast the other day while at the gym…Thank you again for keeping up with the podcasts!

    1. Hi Tan, I suppose I use the word “stories” because that it how it seems to me. It is like when I had my bad period last year. There was this detailed story in my head about how life should be, but I felt depressed because my life was starting to dramatically depart from how I imagined things. I think that at a fundamental level we can never really know anything, and the best we can do is create stories about what we think is happening. The problem is that if I take these stories too seriously, or if I believe the wrong types of stories, it leads to suffering. It seems to be that the moments of real contentment in my life occur when these stories are just buzzing away in the background and not controlling my thinking. I like using a neutral word like “stories” because it is a reminder that all of my beliefs are built upon shaky ground, so I shouldn’t take any of them too seriously.

      I haven’t heard anything about Oslo, August 31, but I’ll check it out now.

      I can’t imagine anyone listening to my podcast in the gym 🙂

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