Life Isn’t Easy, So Why Do We Expect It To Be?

I was on the phone today listening to a person tell me about a rough time they’d recently been having. Long before formally studying psychology I gained a reputation among friends as the person who would listen, and I’ll probably be listening long from now. The call today though was interesting in that, at a certain point, I made the observation that one shouldn’t give up all they had worked for simply because they were tired and times were rough. And since the person I was talking to shared the same religious beliefs that I do, I also made the observation that the Catholic view on suffering is that it is an ever present part of our world and not something that can be ignored.

Now whether you believe that suffering is inevitable or in a higher power is irrelevant to the rest of this post, as my message below simply boils down to the following observation on the human condition. Namely, the world often throws a myriad of challenges at us, and for some reason, we keep thinking that these challenges should go away or that things should “get easier”. And (some of us) are continually surprised when things don’t get easier as time goes on. Why is that?

While I can’t give you all the answers to our eternal optimism on the world, I can point out a few interesting things.

1. Life Milestones are set by humans, not nature, thus they have no special bearing on ease of life.

Very often while working toward one degree or another, I felt that my life would somehow be easier once I had achieved the goal. However as I worked my way through graduate school, I realized something: Human Determined Milestones are not discrete! Let me explain. When I was working toward my masters, I had two types of work I had to complete: Work for others (such as assignments, working on another’s research project, etc..) and work for myself (My own research, teaching prep, etc..). Traditionally one focuses much more on the work for oneself after the masters degree is completed – but unfortunately these two types of graduate work often overlap. Thus once I actually got my masters, I was already knee-deep in work for my PhD. Things didn’t get easier once the paper was in my hand – my challenges had already ramped up to the next level.

Similar things happen with other human milestones. The couple with communication problems may erroneously believe that things will get better once they move in together, not realizing that this milestone has no bearing on their communication abilities. Children often think that upon reaching a certain grade in school they will somehow be on “easy street” and that life will be all down hill (If you don’t believe me, find a high school senior and ask them about senioritis!). The plain truth is that life milestones that humans set don’t create an end and new beginning – they simply are markers along the same old road!


2. Natural Milestones are a b*tch…

So if you can’t depend on the milestones you create, what about the ones Mother Nature gives you? Well let’s think about that for a moment. When was the last time a natural milestone was something that brought you good things or made your life easier. Perhaps going in chronological order will be useful:

Puberty/Menarche: Oh baby, here’s a great thing to help you in life. Sure makes life easier being self-conscious about your body and having strange hormonal impulses, doesn’t it?

Age 20: From here on out, it’s physiologically down-hill: all systems within your body begin to experience problems. Hello aches, pains, strange sensations, and chronic back/foot/joint pain.

Age 35: OK, so the aches and pains are manageable, and if you’re in good shape, you don’t have them all that often at all. But you do now have higher infertility rates, which doesn’t make that whole “wait until I’m mature to have kids” thing all that easy. You’re probably better off though, because having a kid while still mentally a kid definitely wouldn’t have made things easier.

Age 50: Despite your best efforts, those aches and pains are present. Daily. Sorry.

Age 65: You’re an elder, and should be respected. People should try to make things easier for you. Too bad that the extra effort you need to put into living may require them to help. Life is still fulfilling, (hopefully) but probably not easier.

So the natural milestones are out. But maybe it’s not in the milestones, maybe it’s just having a realistic life outlook that will make things better right? Well, maybe not so much…


3. Clinically Depressed people have a more realistic view of the world than “healthy” people.

Wait, what?!? Yep, people who are clinically depressed actually have a more realistic view on how the world operates and their likelihoods to encounter problems in it. This can easily be interpreted as the inverse of my statement, namely “Healthy People Live In An Optimistic Dream World”. This may be why we expect things to get better – despite our experiences, we normally have some sort of mechanism that keeps us happy and well adjusted.

Now don’t get me wrong, you want to live in the optimistic dream world (as any depressed person will tell you), but perhaps this is the strongest reason why we expect things to get better when they probably won’t. If we expected things to stay the same or get worse, we’d be… depressed!

So here’s my advice: Be a realist, and understand that life challenges are normally. Developing good ways to work through them (as opposed to running from them or ignoring them) will make you much happier in the long run. So what ways have you developed to work through the rough times?

Day in NYC

Karey & I were up in NYC today to drop off some things at Columbia. Saw this outside Uris Hall

Ghost Hunters: Skepticism in Science

If you don’t know, and I wouldn’t doubt you if you said you didn’t, Ghost Hunters is a show on the SciFi channel that focuses on a group of individuals who seek to document evidence of paranormal activity. Karey enjoys watching the show religiously, and I enjoy watching it was well (I don’t particularly like the cast of the spin-off show, Ghost Hunters International, so I usually sit out for that show when it comes on). Anyway, the Ghost Hunters go about “hunting” a bit differently than other shows I’ve seen on the subject, which is why I’m posting on it. The investigators firmly believe a core tenant of good scientific investigation: The best way to prove the existence of something is to try your hardest to disprove it. The logic goes something like this: If you exhaust all “normal” explanations for what you observe, then your observations are likely to be paranormal. This type of thinking isn’t anything new, it’s actually derived from core tenants of the philosophy of science

I’m a ghost hunter – see, I found the picture of two real ghosts!

So here are some guys trying to prove the existence of something by working as hard as they can to disprove anything seemingly paranormal they find. If they capture something on film, they attempt to explain it or even replicate it. If they capture sounds which may be contaminated by still-living humans, they throw the evidence out. This is in stark contrast to many other paranormal advocates which do not use science at all in their investigations (fuzzy science doesn’t count).

Why Is Deadliest Catch So Popular?

Strawberry Land Hermit Crab (Coenobita perlatus), Maldives, Indian Ocean by jogorman

Deadliest Catch starts up again tonight, and again I’ll be watching it. Karey & I realized a few years ago that the show really is essentially the same thing year after year. They go out, they fish for crabs, things break (both ships and people), good times, bad times, etc… It’s not like I think this year God himself will make a special guest appearence as the Relief Captain of the Cornelia Marie or that Time Bandit’s sauna will catch fire. But for some reason the show is addictive, which is why I’ll be watching it again.

Why not take the poll below and tell me why you think Deadliest Catch is so popular! (if you’re reading this on Facebook, head over to my website and vote!)

Navy Battles Pirates: Navy 4, Pirates 0

3 ‘phenomenal shots’ ended pirate hostage crisis –

“The on-scene commander saw that one of the pirates still held that AK-47, was very, very concerned for the captain’s life — and he ordered the shots to be taken,” Gortney told CNN on Monday.Even with the small boat “moving up and down a couple of feet,” the SEALs hit their targets. “Remarkable marksmanship,” Gortney said.

I really hate to feel good about anyone dying, but I will admit to being a bit happy upon hearing that the three remaining pirates holding an American hostage were gunned down. I find myself wondering though – what does this tell the pirates.

Hopefully it tells them to stay away from boats flying under the American flag, which I would probably do if I were a pirate. After all, other countries seem content with paying ransoms while you wait it out. The actions taken by the SEALs should help dissuade pirates from going after Americans, but probably won’t dissuade them from going after anyone else.

In any event, it makes me proud to have two grandfathers who served in the Navy (making me an actual Son of a Son of a Sailor). And I remain proud to have two brother-in-laws serving in the Army (As you can imagine, I have tough decisions to make when cheering on a team during early December’s Army-Navy game!).

Wonderfully Ironic, Teenagers By My Chemical Romance

Teenagers, one of the latest singles by alternative-rock / emo / whatever band My Chemical Romance is a pretty humorous and ironic song that I figured I’d highlight here, for really no reason other than to put my thoughts out there on it (That’s what blogs are for right?). It actually applies to the title of my blog, as the song is amazingly sarcastic. Possibly too much, as Jill Weinberger pointed out in May when she wrote this:

“The video ends with the words “VIOLENCE IS NEVER THE ANSWER” and a message urging kids to get help if they feel like acting out. Still, there’s a fine line being walked here, and when your lyrics go, “if you’re troubled and hurt, what you got under your shirt will make them pay for the things that they did,” you’re placing a lot of faith in your fans’ sense of irony.”

I suppose the message of this song is somewhat obscured by the overt lyrics, hiding their covert anti-violence message. I think this is a good thing – it forces teenagers (and others) to actually think about the music they’re listening to. Of course, does anyone think about what they listen to anymore? I do, but unfortunately I can’t be sure of others.

Anyway, it’s got a good beat, campy lyrics, a very flashy video, and things worth thinking & talking about, I suppose!

Wal-mart Challenges Your Sanity If You Don’t Buy From Them

I’m a lot of things… but not crazy

Walmart has a particularly interesting ad out, from a psychological perspective. Their latest message is that not shopping at Walmart is crazy, as shopping at Walmart (should) cost less than shopping elsewhere.

Now let me preface my argument below by saying that I know many people on both sides of the Walmart Fence. Some of my friends vehemently hate Wal-mart for engaging in practices that, lets be honest, most companies engage in (Wal-Mart does have a higher volume than most though). Other friends of mine believe that Wal-mart is fine, despite the effects that Wal-marts may have on local economies, especially mom and pop stores. Personally, I am of the opinion that Wal-mart is capitalisms at work, and while I think they could do a better job at providing for their employees, I highly doubt that they are a more insidious employer or presence in the market than anyone else. At least they don’t make you pay $5 for a cup of coffee, like some places 😉

Anyway, here’s why I love this commercial. It doesn’t tell you that you’re stupid if you don’t shop at Wal-mart, it tells you that you’re crazy. If you walk down the street and someone calls you stupid, you can easily laugh it off. You know you’re not stupid, so who gives a rip if they think you are. However, Crazy isn’t quite so easy. Crazy seems to invoke a thought that perhaps the other person may be correct – and if they are, you’d of course think they weren’t. Look at it this way – if you see someone walking backward, mumbling to themselves, and wearing a barney t-shirt, you may be inclined to call that person Crazy. However, they probably wouldn’t agree.

What Wal-mart is saying in this commercial, ever so subtly is the following
If you decide that shopping elsewhere because you disagree with our business practices will make any difference in how we run our business, you’re wrong. And if you want to force yourself to pay more to make a meaningless statement, rather than pay less at Wal-mart, YOU’RE CRAZY

I like this sort of marketing – it uses an innocent foot-in-the-door approach (e.g. the whole gas price thing) to put the idea into people’s heads that they’re nuts for not shopping at Wal-mart. However you feel about The Wal, you have to admit – it’s a rather nice subtle message, isn’t it?