How to stay happy in the face of ‘Misery Porn’

Washing your car in the rain* is like killing a mosquito with a sledgehammer. It’s literally an overkill.

You know what else is an overkill? Listening to sad advice when you’re sad. What’s sad advice, you ask? That’s a great question.

I call it Misery Porn.

Maybe you’ve heard of hustle porn. It’s when you get your gratification from the work and not the reason for the hard work. The Hustle itself becomes the end in itself, instead of getting paid, which is why we created the hustle in the first place.

Misery porn is a multiway pity party. It’s listening to advice about why you shouldn’t beat yourself up. Why there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Why, hey look!, I’m struggling too but I keep believing things will be better. It’s why we’re all carrying crosses and my cross is heavier than yours and I’ve not killed myself yet.

Misery porn is a great pissing contest among sad people. Or a grand cross swinging competition. Misery Porn is everywhere you look on social media, disguised as motivational quotes.

But it never helps. Those preachy books, those obnoxious Instagram posts, those empathising friends. They never really change anything. Empathy is good; it means you try to walk in my shoes. But some mistake Sympathy for Empathy. “Just hang in there, bro. It will all be fine.”

Nope.

That’s not what I need when I’m going through a lot of stuff and I’m just incredibly moody. I may think it’s what I need: a listening ear, someone to remind me everyone is vulnerable and stuff like that. But it’s not exactly what I need, as I’ve learnt.

You know what I need? Empathy. And if you could really empathise, you’d know the first thing a man needs when in a rotten mood is a better mood. An instant pick-me-up.

A sh**y mood never gets anything done. And vice versa.

Von Stumm, senior lecturer in psychology at Goldsmiths, the University of London agrees. She says, “A large body of empirical evidence has shown that negative affect-–depressed and anxious mood–-is associated with reduced cognitive performance and lower cognitive flexibility.”

But, you’re wondering, what is this one saying? Can one just snap into a good mood? Of course, you can’t! You’re not a slinky. Duh.

What we do instead is ease into it. How? There are four to five things involved.

One is comedy. I watch comedy videos. I listen to comedy podcasts, grab memes, read/watch funny social media posts. Anything to get the dopamine firing. A few laughs and before you know it, we’re bright and sunny again.

Also, I’ve learnt the science of the mechanical smile. We can actually manufacture a smile even if there’s nothing around to make us laugh. The funny thing is: however we get that smile, it’s able to trick the mind into switching to a better mood.

“Research has shown,” according to Von Stumm, “that if people smile, even if it’s forcefully and not supported by an emotional experience at first, their mood will improve.” Thanks, research!

To switch things up, you could phone a friend. I may call that one friend that’s always upbeat and cracks me up every time. I have a few of those. God knows where their joy flows from but they know what to say to make me feel better. Maybe you have someone like that, too? I tell you, you’ve got a lifeline.

And then there’s music. I have a playlist for everything: work, presentations, pitches, meetings, the drive home, Monday mornings, everything. Sometimes, all it takes is going to YouTube or Apple Music and typing in the mood you’re going for and, voila, the universe takes care of the rest.

Speaking of leaving things to the universe, I’ve found that it pays to also take it outside. Spending time near beautiful creations, away from the normalness of my home, often lifts my spirits. The beach is magical, for example. And there are other fascinating places such as premium hotel lounges and modernist restaurants. They help me see the beauty in the world.

If you traffic in creativity and have to frequently produce cool ideas on demand, you already know the value of a good mood. If you’re a leader of teams, you know it too. I’ve come to realise that a good mood often leads to great ideas. And science has proven this.

Alice Flaherty, one of the most respected neuroscientists studying creativity says, “People vary in terms of their level of creative drive, according to the activity of the dopamine pathways of the limbic system.”

Of course, dopamine isn’t entirely responsible for creativity but studies have found that it’s important in the context.

But switching to a fun mood can’t be that simple, can it? Well, it’s not so complex either. Besides, complex theories have yet to magically, without medication, create joy in anyone. Right now, this is all I’ve got. And it works for me.

A bright day begins with a sunny disposition.

On that note, hey, look at Michael:

*Some say it’s okay to wash your car in the rain. Well. 

Cover Photo Credit: Nthabiseng Maloleka

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