“The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation.”
~ Henry David Thoreau
Look around you. There is a crisis happening under our noses. Many of the people we come across during our daily tasks are angry.
They are cynical.
They are upset.
They are ready to lash out.
They are living lives of quiet – and sometimes not so quiet – desperation.
Here in New York City, this phenomenon is especially noticeable when, for whatever reason, the trash is not picked up when it’s supposed to be.
This pisses people off.
It has such an effect on some that it affects the quality of their day. They angrily post about it on Facebook and complain to anyone who will listen. They shake their heads in disgust and ruminate on it until their trash is finally collected.
Sure, it can be annoying when your trash can is sitting outside longer than it should; but it should have zero effect on your day, your mindset, or your relationships.
Why do so many care so much about trifling things?
The mini-computers in our pockets that include instant access to the internet ensure we have access to more information than anyone else who ever lived.
Think about that. Think about the monks who spent lifetimes repetitively handwriting books, page by page, sentence by sentence, to ensure the wisdom contained in them was passed along to future generations; and then think about us.
We have direct access to any information that has ever existed in our pockets.
This means we never have to be bored. From our phones we can read great works of literature, teach ourselves new languages, learn skills, watch movies, documentaries, TED Talks, or whatever else we choose.
And yet, the mass of men are desperate, angry, and exasperated.
Paradoxically, despite all the entertainment and opportunities we have available at the tip of our fingers, and the supposed connections we have via social media, we are lonelier than ever before. This loneliness drives this desperation.
We are social creatures – some would argue eusocial – who need and thrive on social interaction. As a result of modern technology, the social organizations and groups that formerly connected people through real life, face to face interactions no longer exist.
They have been replaced by the dopamine highs and lows we experience when we get Instagram likes.
And, when we realize how connected we are and still feel bored and dissatisfied, we get angry and look for something – anything – to lash out against.
On a visceral level, we understand that something is not quite right, and we want more. Just stop and notice the tension during your next trip to the supermarket where the frustration is obvious.
What can we do?
- Limit electronic use. I know it sounds hard, but it is so important to fast from electronics. The reality is no matter how important you are, the world will go on if you are not connected for a short period of time.
- Recognize that you are not special. The world doesn’t owe you shit. You have no right to be entertained, to happiness, or to expect anything from anyone else.
- Take pride in your appearance. When you dress well (No, I’m not saying to wear a suit or dress to the supermarket, but I am saying don’t wear your pajamas in mid-afternoon after not having showered in three days) and take pride in your appearance your mood and mindset shifts. When you dress like a slob you’re going to act like one.
- Do some kind of physical activity every day. Yes, every day. Walk. Run. Bike. Lift weights. Do BJJ. Do pushups. Do something. Challenge yourself physically. It will change your outlook and allow your neurotransmitters to fire for positive reasons.
- Join together with like-minded people. Social media is a cesspool of vitriol, much of it contributing to this “quiet desperation.” The future of social connectedness is closed communities where deep relationships can be formed. In such communities, participants can get to truly know each other and help each other. Technology may be a curse in many ways, but it can be a blessing because it ensures we are no longer limited by geographic proximity when connecting with like-mined people.
- Recognize when something is out of your control and, if it is, don’t worry about it again. Once you determine you can’t control something what use is becoming angry about it? The fact is you can’t control when your garbage is picked up, so why let it occupy even a moment of your concern?
- Connect with spirituality. Recognize that there is something bigger than ourselves. Whether it is organized religion or a solitary meditation practice, take the time to reflect on the vastness of creation and our place in it.
Misery is not our destiny. Feeling desperate, cynical, and angry is ultimately a choice we make because we don’t take steps to truly live. Don’t be like the masses who allow the insignificant annoyances of life bring them, and by extension the people around them, down. When the trash is not picked up on time or a myriad of inevitable daily annoyances happen, just smile and let it go. It will be alright.