America is a culture of hype—lofty promises, unlimited resources, superhuman powers. Hyperbole Nation. Every day, we face messaging that fans the fire of “untapped potential.” We are conditioned to believe that anything—literally anything—is achievable if we want it bad enough and work hard enough.
When you deconstruct this idea, you realize that underneath the uplifting message is the subliminal dictum that we MUST be dissatisfied with what we have and who we are. More is not just better; it is mandatory.
If you aren’t working hard to “achieve,” to “succeed,” and to fulfill your “highest” dreams, what does that mean? What kind of person are you? What are you lacking? Surely there must be “something missing.”
Consider what’s happening:
• We are conditioned to feel that dissatisfaction with our lives is both normal and universal
• We are conditioned to believe that our dissatisfaction itself is bad, a malady to be cured
• We are conditioned to think that our dissatisfaction can be eliminated
And last, we are conditioned to fantasize that dissatisfaction can and must always be replaced with a more pleasurable state.
Is any of that true?
If life doesn’t bring a rousing sense of joy—not just contentment but AWESOME joy—each minute of every day, does that mean you are doing something wrong? Not trying hard enough? Failing to live your life to the “fullest”?
The superlatives aren’t helping. If your actions don’t achieve the highest, the best, the most, or the grandest, whose fault is that?
We are also conditioned to believe that a “peak state” is the only state, and everything else is failure. When we accept the idea that dissatisfaction is wrong and a continual state of bliss is the only way to live, we set ourselves up for disappointment.
Repeated disappointment with our actions and achievements can lead to depression. “I’m not living my best life! I’m not living with joy! I’m not successful! I’m not the most and best I could be! I’m not fulfilling my potential!” Maintain these thoughts over an extended period of time, and you will be depressed and then feel bad about being depressed.
What are we to do? We can take a deep breath and look under the hood of these beliefs.
1. It is easy for humans to prefer fantasy over reality. We are trained to focus on desired states (bliss, joy, peak states, abundant success) and to disregard the reality of the experience of being a human, a primate whose cognitive awareness enables it to think beyond the present moment.
2. No human—no living creature—lives in a “peak state” at every moment. Other than the person who takes drugs to feel ecstasy at every moment, unending bliss is NOT the norm. We experience loss, change, disappointment, rejection, anger, and a host of other emotions that we’d rather not but that are the norm for life as a human.
3. Not every “negative” feeling can be eliminated. Life is sometimes painful, and this is the trade-off for the experiences that are wonderful. At the same time, we can learn to cope with disappointment and depressing periods.
4. “Quick fixes” can be more damaging than rewarding. If you need to feel “drunk with passion” about life, you can stay literally drunk all the time. Drugs to boost euphoric feelings are all around and easily obtainable. If you want to feel great for a few hours and then shitty afterward and repeat ad infinitum, you can. Every drug addict knows this to be true. People who become addicted to a belief can easily do the same thing.
5. (Caveat: This point does not apply to persons dealing with with clinical depression.) Depression might be the feeling you have chosen because you thought it was the inevitable result of your other choices. When you think about who you are, what you have done, and what you have achieved and compare these to an abstract idea of “peak performance” and “unlimited abundance,” how likely is it that you will feel you’re lacking? That you’re living life the “wrong” way or making the wrong choices?
What might it be like to set aside the hype, the fantastical and cosmic expectations, and enjoy the experience of simply being a human, a flesh-and-blood creature with a finite lifespan? What might it be like to wake up each day ready for both awesome joy and simple contentment?
In the simplest things and actions, if we slow down to focus on the beauty of what is, we can feel wonder—not a breathless, superhuman ecstasy but a quiet connection to the experience of life as we find it, right here. Right now.
Lori Stephens, pNLP, CCP is a writer, editor, publisher, Certified NLP Practitioner, Whole Person Life Coach, and the founder of ROAR Life Coaching. She specializes in Exit Strategy Coaching—helping people who are ready to quit a soul-crushing job, walk away from a toxic relationship, exit a repressive social or religious group, come out as their true sexual or gender orientation, or in some other way claim their true path. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.