My obituary’s gonna be 2 words: What If?

I strongly believe in lowering one’s overall expectations as being the path to least mental suffering. That’s not happiness of course. That’s just least suffering, a sort of numbness.

Attaining what we refer to as `happiness` — basically a surge of neurotransmitters regulated by your brain’s reward system — requires lots of self-stuff, which isn’t that self-stuff you practice in the shadows. Self-stuff like self-exploration, self-honesty, self-discovery … which, inescapably, leads to expectations. You realize you want something and you’ve gone through the jazz of mental exploration that is concluding it would make you happy; you’ve decided you should do something in order to attempt to attain it; you formulate some sort of plan in order to try and do so; you try and do so, expecting to actually get the reward. How else would you summon the motivation to even try, were it not for the expectation of obtaining the object of your desires?

Well, the problem with expectations is, they so often fail. When our expectations are met, our brain gives us the chemical reward we crave: we’re satisfied, maybe even happy. When our expectations are in vain, we feel pain. Disappointment. Mental suffering. Depending on the stakes involved, there’ll be more of the pain, or less — obviously, the bigger the stakes, the harder the fall. So much can go wrong. Involve other people in this equation, and you’re on a highway to disaster-land.

You can’t help wanting stuff. (Well, unless you’re a psychopath, in which case what incentive did you have to even read this far?) You just sort of want them as you go. You see a nice car, and you want it. You find out someone, somewhere, with your professional skills, got a promotion, and now you want one too. You see someone succeed at being an astronaut, and now you wanna be one too. You meet someone who clicks you in that special way, and you want them. You see the dude in the next cubical with a better work laptop than yours, and you want what they’ve got. The mechanics of want are pretty damn straight-forward, and you can’t help any of your wants. What you can help, theoretically at least, is expecting to actually be able to obtain them.

I try to tell myself that there’s wisdom to be found in realistic expectations. What are my statistical chances of success? Oh. 2%? 2 frelling percent? I can’t work with that. That’s bloody akin to suicide for someone already living with chronic depression. So I try to just … not want that. Shift my attention. Give my brain something else to do. Not let expectation build-up when I know chances of it being met are negligible. This allows me to minimize my mental strain, by aiming at stuff that I’m very likely to actually be able to obtain.

Sounds great in theory, doesn’t it? Yeah, about that…

What if, though? What if you tried, and you did get the thing. Despite the odds being stacked so high-up against you, you’d never see the end of it. What if?

Brain, come-on, it’s not worth it. Look, we’ll have this glass of wine, watch an episode of something nice and cynical, like Archer, you like Archer, brain? Yeaaah.

But what if …

And, by this point, my brain is the equivalent of a 4 year old child who has seen something they want in the store window. The mid-street `Buuuut I waaaant iiiit` tantrums, the works. And it’s usually pretty high-stakes stuff. Otherwise, I’d have better luck distracting myself — but the brain has glimpsed the reward, and your gratification-junkie of a brain neither understands statistics nor cares to take them into account.

Movies have conditioned us to believe there is success and happy-end beyond the cold, merciless world of statistical chance. We were born in the ‘you can be anything you want to be’ generation, and we were conditioned to believe that we are singlehandedly responsible for attaining anything we can envision. We’ve seen all the stories of triumph in battle despite all odds, we’ve read all the love-will-conquer-all drama, we’ve been intoxicated by the American dream to the bone. Our brains are not educated to listen to reason, despite it being for their own good. They were educated and conditioned to believe there is always hope, it’s always worth going after your dreams, it’s always better to have loved and lost. Despite the pain it entails, despite the odds, despite any and all reason. Because what if you do have a chance at more than lack of pain. At happiness.

What if will be the death of me. I owe it investing 5 years of my life in the pursuit of a movie directing career I knew was impossible to attain with my levels of poverty and with my mental illness history; I owe it countless hours of pain, of futile love and of pragmatism-lacking life planning. I owe it many more things to come. Maybe some of it good. What if some of it’s good?

My obituary’s gonna be 2 words: What If?

Like my rambling? Show me some love. I’m new here, been lurking for ages, afraid to get past the `new here` stage. I love feedback, but please be constructive.

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