We Are All Cursed

Your life is out of control and you are only making it worse.

Diamond Farah via Flickr

My father always had a maxim on hand for certain situations. I would come home, complaining about a certain portion of my life that hadn’t gone the way I hoped. My father, having wisdom of these situations, would sometimes say “80 percent of your pain is self-inflicted.”

More often than not, I was confused by this. When the barista messed up my coffee order, that wasn’t me causing my own suffering; it would be the barista. That isn’t to say that bad coffee leads to dire straits(although it comes close), but is to say that, on the surface, it seems most disappointment comes from stuff around you, not by you.

Fast-forward a little. I am in college seeing a therapist to help with the stresses of the liberal arts and an uncertain future. I go in and talk endlessly about things outside my control. These things worry me to no end, but I have no way of correcting or changing them. I am not the first, or the last, to do this to a therapist. Some professionals will listen to you, let you vent it all out until the hour runs its course. The better counselors will give you a key, one that will unlock you from the shackles of anxiety. My therapist called it an internal locus.

We are predisposed, as human beings, to have an external locus, a perspective where events happen to us and then affect our lives greatly without our permission. How rude of these chaotic events, am I right? Well, while they suck, they have less control over our suffering than we think.

An internal locus is quite the opposite. Instead of focusing on what is happening to you from the outside, you shift your energy to that which you have complete autonomy… how you react. Mind-blowing, right? Not according to my father. Even though it took me some fancy lingo and greater maturity to pick up what he was putting down, this is essentially what his little maxim means. 20 percent of our pain truly comes from things outside of our control, but the remainder is a choice of how to react, a choice we often make poorly.

I imagine there are many theories as to why we choose to fixate on a dreaded and inevitable outcome, but I would venture to say that it is because our minds are not properly disciplined to deal with unsatisfactory situations.

It was the Stoics of Greece that truly ventured into understanding how we suffer and how to suffer better. Their answer, in my novice philosophical understanding, was not to avoid suffering, but to embrace it. In their view, the only way you could better deal with sadness, anger, misfortune, and anxiety is to understand that there much in this world that will go against our wishes and it would be better to become aware of these disappointments and prepare our minds for the inevitable let-down. Essentially, prepare for the worst and you will never be disappointed.

As the School of Life, a popular YouTube channel, shop, and actual school, points out, this seems like a terribly cynical way to view the world. Maybe this is true, but is also very helpful. In understanding that we are cursed to a world of chaos, we can understand that there will be many times where everything goes our way and then screeches to a piercing halt. From there, we can better prepare our minds to not be so disappointed whenever the worst happens and we can react in a way that is better for us, given the circumstances.

Thus, in a life filled with curve-balls, it is best to expect them more often than not. In disciplining our minds this way, we can be more proactive than reactionary and live a life that is only 20 percent uncontrollable misfortune and 80 percent disciplined coping.

If you liked that little lecture, please click on the green heart. It isn’t all the hard to find I believe. Also, be sure to check out The School of Life channel on YouTube. They unearth a lot of beautiful and sometimes forgotten idea that could help you wherever you are.