Monday, July 27, 2020

New Cars and Pizza and Needlessly Making Ourselves Miserable

You've bought a new car, and every scratch feels like a punch in the face from a malevolent universe.

Eventually, your car ages, and one more scratch barely registers.

Why not? What actually changes?

"It's obvious on the face of it," you reply.

But, no, it's not. Each new scratch mars the car as much as if there'd been none prior. The car doesn't change, only your framing does. And you could just as easily frame scratches as trivial from the get-go. Or, conversely, clutch your chest in pain upon the 10,000th scratch. The only thing that changes is your framing. And you have infinite freedom in how you frame.

We habituate our framing choices. How painful would you like the world to seem? At some point, you create a preference for that, and stick with it. Forever.
Everyone, at a certain point, decides how happy they will be (as with most such choices, cues are taken from the happiness of family members and others around them). This decision becomes a bedrock part of identity - the "I am this kind of person" inner narrative we all maintain.
We ballast our desired happiness level by choosing framings which put us in conflict with the unavoidable. Misery is easy: just deem arbitrary trivialities malevolent. Mere scratches - on a miraculous machine which can transport you anywhere you want to go at high speed in safety and comfort, something our ancestors could scarcely have imagined - can become punches to the face. That’s how far we bend over backwards to conjure misery for ourselves.

Framing is untethered from obvious facts. For example, dieting people do this same move with pizza. We try to avoid eating a slice. But by the time we've had three, we might as well have a fourth. It seems trivially incremental, though of course calories don't magically devalue in the presence of lots more calories. Our framing habits are mostly about justifying primal impulses and deliberately disrupting our natural happiness.

"Natural happiness?" you ask, prepared to bitterly catalog the litany of indignities meted out over your lifetime by malevolent fates. But, comically, this discussion takes place as you're lavishly ensconced on a lovely planet full of sunlight and water and food, enjoying a rich, dynamic, immersive panoply of comforts, entertainments, artworks, and dramatic storylines tailored for your precise needs on the sole speck of color, action, and beneficence in an otherwise cold, dark, tight, vacant universe. As you enjoy this unimaginably privileged existence for a blessed short time, your obliviousness - conjuring Hell amid Heaven, and then ruing the misery - is hilarious.

Well, now that I've put it that way, perhaps you've grudgingly reframed perspective a bit, registering some small bit of spaciousness, joy, and freedom. So what will pull you back out of this framing in the coming seconds? New scratches. Quarrels with your own primal drives. Habitual framings chosen to deliberately ignore the essential perfection of it all (yes, "all", including heartbreak, violence, and kids dying of cancer). What pulls us out of heaven aren’t big red letter issues, but mere wispy trivialities. More precisely: the stubbornly willful bitterness we build up by quarreling with trivialities. So straight back to Hell we go...though it's literally the simplest thing in the world to frame the other way. You just need to want to. 

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