6 Paradoxes That Explains Why Your Life Sucks
You view yourself as successful, right? Happy? Well-adjusted? Intelligent? Well, turns out you aren’t. But it’s ok because no one else is either. You’re just normal. These are the 7 paradoxes explained by philosophers showing why your life sucks and how you can’t do anything about it because it is a part of your life on Earth.
(1) You Aren’t Willing To Admit That Your Life Sucks—The Stockdale Paradox
Sure, you’ve been unemployed for over a year since graduating with a degree that—turns out—is probably worth the exact amount as the paper it is printed on. To that, you say, “Damn to India’s education system! I will be alright because everything will turn out fine in the end.”
And so you fall into the abyss of Movies and Instagram, ever hopeful that “something will work out.” Time passes, and it doesn’t. So your attitude shifts—”Everything is out to get me, the system is rigged, and I’m going to die alone and poor.” More time passes. Neither approach helps.
In reality, you must be doing both, rather than going all-in on one outlook or the other. You must not shy away from the terrible reality of your current life, but you also must take care to not lose hope that it will get better eventually.
By admitting your life is not where you want it to be—shame and doubt be damned—you force yourself to take steps to improve and, by not losing hope, you still retain the energy to change for the better. So, while your glass has shit in it at the moment, at least it’s half-full.
(2) Your Self-Awareness Makes You Sad, Unless You Are Sad Already—The Self-Absorption Paradox
So we can all pretty much agree that it’s a good thing to be aware of what effects your actions have not only on yourself but on the world around you. Right? Well, sure, but not if you want to be happy. Psychologists define two types of self-awareness:
(1) self-reflection (to analyze your thoughts, feelings, and actions)
(2) self-rumination (basically, thinking about how your life sucks).
Psychological research shows that greater self-awareness is positively correlated with greater depression and/or anxiety. Previous scholars have theorized that this can be resolved simply, by self-reflecting but not self-ruminating. Easy, right? However, other studies show that increased self-reflection leads to self-rumination, and bam—you’re sad again.
So, you just got dumped. After your customary mourning process (i.e., binging on ice cream, whiskey, and Arijit Singh songs because you think he would totally “get you”), you decide to conduct an autopsy on your super-dead love life.
And, by all accounts, this would be a productive use of your time. You might even feel better like you will totally ace the next relationship. There exists a fine line between productive reflection and destructive rumination, and no one has quite figured out where to draw it. Good luck, though.
(3) You Are Lonely For A Reason—The Hedgehog’s Dilemma
German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer first wrote about this concept as a story about hedgehogs in the winter. When it was cold, they huddled together for warmth. But, the closer they got, the more they pricked each other, forcing them to separate again. When the cold came again, the process repeated. And so it is with us.
Human beings seek positive relationships with others to help them through life, but we all know that the closer you become to someone, the easier it is to be hurt. The response? Introversion and isolation because most of us feel it’s more palatable to be alone in the cold rather than be hurt trying to get warm.
(4) You Do Things You Don’t Want To Do All The Time—The Abilene Paradox
We’ve all been there. You are in your good company of friends on some occasions. A guy ordered something and asked everyone around. 7 out of 12 had agreed on the suggestion he had made for the dishes. You hate it and want to order something else. But you just couldn’t and you ended up saying yes to his suggestions.
Why does this always happen? Basically, because we suck at communicating our true preferences to each other because no one wants to be that guy. So, we end up keeping what we really want inside and attempt to conform to what we think the group’s preference is, so as not to be a dick.
The problem is since no one ever really says what it is they truly want, that imagined “preference” is just complete nonsense and it’s not Dave’s fault you are eating the same thing again and again—he was just making a suggestion he thought would benefit the group.
(5) You Take The Easy Stuff For Granted—Moravec’s Paradox
Back in the 1980s, artificial-intelligence researchers stumbled upon the fact that—contrary to their initial assumptions—machines are awesome at doing things human beings suck at (like math or playing chess), but suck at doing things human beings are awesome at (like recognizing faces/voices, judging people’s motivations, moving, playing catch, etc.).
Hans Moravec (a famous robotics researcher) posited this is the result of evolution—namely, that the human brain and corresponding skill-set are the results of countless years of evolution, and “old” skills (like navigating in a social setting) have gone through so much natural selection that those of us alive today are (relatively) masters at them.
Newer stuff, like abstract thought, is much easier to reverse engineer (thereby making it easier to teach to a machine/computer). So, while we can learn calculus or chemistry, it’s really hard and we get discouraged, not realizing how much stuff we can do unconsciously WAY better than any machine can (and maybe ever will). The human brain is so evolved that we can do stuff a super-expensive computer cannot without even thinking about it.
(6) You Understand Others, But Not Yourself—The Paradox of Knowing
Clearly, you are the best at predicting things that involve you—how long your current relationship will last, whether you would totally give money to a homeless dude while your friends callously walk by with nary a backward glance, or that you definitely won’t sell out when the man thrusts greasy fistfuls of cash your way after more people than just your Mom listen to your new record.
Why, then, do you end up sing-whining about how becoming famous ruined your life while you pretend not to notice the odd-smelling gentleman adorned in rags while shaking your fist at the sky because she left you and you never saw it coming?
Well, because while we all actually possess a pretty good understanding of human behavior, we consistently fail to apply this knowledge to our selves, because all of us feel we are the exception to the rule.
(7) You Care About Stuff That Is Completely Made Up—The Paradox of Fiction
It is no surprise that we are often moved by art, literature, or cinema. Pretty much everyone can point to a character in a movie, television show, or novel that they empathize with/care about/would like to be friends with/whatever.
And look no farther than the fanatical reaction to the finale of Dexter or the short-lived death of Brian for proof that many people experience emotional responses to characters or events they know to be fictional in nature.
Colin Radford, a philosophy professor at the University of Kent, first articulated this paradox in 1975. His articulation consisted of three statements that make sense at first blush, but are ultimately at odds with each other:
(1) in order for us to be emotionally moved by people or stories, we must believe they exist/are real (or else why would we devote an emotional response to them);
(2) by their definition, fictional people/events do not exist;
(3) fictional people/events do in fact move us at times. So, we devote as much time to helping our friend through a breakup as we do hope that Nick and Jess will get together on New Girl.
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