What You Feed Your Mind

[A cartoon image of two pink cartoon brains with faces and floating hands. There is a black line between the two brains to separate them. The brain on the left is grotesque and scary, with angry eyes and a frowning, open mouth that reveals pointed teeth and a long pointy tongue. The brain and its floating hands are covered with either spots of dirt or bruises. The floating hands are clutching a knife and a fork, and the brain itself is hovering over a plate of what appears to be a pile of excrement (although the illustrator held off of making it too visually unpleasant so that the pile is more like the poop emoji or a swirl of chocolate soft serve ice cream). The poo has the words "Drama, Bad News, Negativity" written on it. The brain on the right is clean and happy, with a big smile on its face and excitement lines coming out of its head. The position is the same - clutching the eating utensils and hovering over a plate - but the plate is full of fresh produce: apples, broccoli, and lettuce, as well as a banana that says "Positivity," a carrot that says "Discipline," and an avocado that says "Dreams." The slogan, in black impact font at the top, reads, "You become what you feed your mind." It has the letters "opw" at the bottom, presumably for an organization but I can't determine what organization it is, and the bad brain's knife has a copyright for "successpictures" running down the blade.
[A cartoon image of two pink cartoon brains with faces and floating hands. There is a black line between the two brains to separate them. The brain on the left is grotesque and scary, with angry eyes and a frowning, open mouth that reveals pointed teeth and a long pointy tongue. The brain and its floating hands are covered with either spots of dirt or bruises. The floating hands are clutching a knife and a fork, and the brain itself is hovering over a plate of what appears to be a pile of excrement (although the illustrator held off of making it too visually unpleasant so that the pile is more like the poop emoji or a swirl of chocolate soft serve ice cream). The poo has the words “Drama, Bad News, Negativity” written on it. The brain on the right is clean and happy, with a big smile on its face and excitement lines coming out of its head. The position is the same – clutching the eating utensils and hovering over a plate – but the plate is full of fresh produce: apples, broccoli, and lettuce, as well as a banana that says “Positivity,” a carrot that says “Discipline,” and an avocado that says “Dreams.” The slogan, in black impact font at the top, reads, “You become what you feed your mind.” It has the letters “opw” at the bottom, presumably for an organization but I can’t determine what organization it is, and the bad brain’s knife has a copyright for “successpictures” running down the blade.

Ah, yes, the two food groups: steaming shit and fresh produce.

Why feast on the disappointing Poop of Negativity when the Avocado of Dreams is within reach of the fork you’re using to eat the deconstructed mishmash of the salad that is life?

A powerful reminder, to be sure.

I might be overthinking this*, but fruit turns into poop, right?

I promise I understand that the image is meant to emphasize the contrast between the brains and their diets rather than depicting any direct correlation between them, which is why we go from poop to fruit.

But still…

I’m just saying that the contents of that shit pile used to be something else.

It’s the circle of life.

I feel like the Angry Krang recognizes that its dreams and positivity have served their purpose, and it’s only left with bitter, smelly remnants to work with, but is still committing to feeding itself with whatever’s on hand, so, honestly, that looks a little more like the face of resilience to me.

Sub-question: are the pointy fangs and lizard tongue practical evolutionary adaptations for a coprophage?

Like I don’t know much about what kind of ecosystems are happening in Dimension X.

Maybe Angry Krang is a predator who is also willing to scavenge?

I’m very interested in the morphology of Happy Krang, because if it’s got the same tooth and tongue situation, I just don’t think that fruit and veg plate is going to be a walk in the park.

I like to think that this is literally explaining that some brains are herbivores and others are predators, and showing how they developed appropriate adaptations over time.

I suspect that this may be a case of divergent evolution, and that this image has actually been shared as a picture on the page “Science Diagrams That Look Like Shitposts” in an alternate universe.

*I am overthinking this

Happiness is Just Four Tricks Away! (Special Bonus Rant: Business Insider Edition)

Content note: animated gif

I don’t feel obligated to protect the identity of the original author here, since it’s just a widely available article.

He’ll be fine.

So, the original title of the piece we’re working with today is “I’m Taking Yale’s Class on Happiness – and Halfway Through, These 4 Tricks are Already Working.”

Good for you, buddy.

I knew there had to be a trick to substantive, lasting, soul-fulfilling happiness!

And it seems so right that a white dude named Justin should be the one to reveal those tricks to me.

After spending just a few weeks taking an course created by an elite institution.

You see, hacking happiness works like flying with pixie dust (an equally actual thing).

It’s just as simple as changing your habits.

I wonder which bad habit Justin started with first.

The “too much melanin” habit? Perhaps the “too much estrogen” habit? Maybe the “not enough money” habit, or the “neurodivergence” habit?

“Again, the point here is that these positive habits have been tested and proven to work, based on psychological science.”

The creator of the class he’s taking has “collected all the psychological science out there,” so I’m glad that’s been taken care of.

Mmmm. Delicious, objective science. Home of the placebo effect.

Which is totally irrelevant here.

The science is in, because science is about finding absolute answers and shutting down further inquiry, and the history of psychology research is also free from bias, caveats, or limitations.

Unrelated, maybe don’t look up “replication crisis.”

Anyway, it’s comforting to know that it only takes five weeks to get the gist of this happierness thing. That’s way faster results than I got from that cult I joined last year.

The four “tips and tricks” Justin has chosen to feature in this piece of substantive journalism for Business Insider, a publication with no investment in maintaining a docile and uncritical workforce, are:

  • Focus on Your Strengths
  • Invest in Experiences
  • Learn to Savor More
  • Express Gratitude and Spread Kindness

So simple. So practical. So efficient.

I’m sure some asshole could find a lovely sunset to superimpose this list onto, and then we’d really be in business.

Regardless of circumstance, happiness is equally available to anyone who follows these easy steps.

It doesn’t matter whether they were born already owning a yacht or if they’ve lived their entire lifetime without access to professional health care. It’s still true that both of those hypothetical people have strengths and things to be grateful for!

A cynical person might suggest that “happiness” as an end goal could be seen as a convenient diversion for rich people by rich people to avoid engaging with the real reasons that unhappiness is so persistent in the world in the first place, and maybe even as an excuse to blame unhappy people for their own failures rather than accepting at least partial complicity in perpetuating oppressive and exploitative systems.

But that’s just not backed by the entirely unflawed, objective, and apolitical science of psychology.

I wasn’t sure if there was any way I could savor this listicle masquerading as an article any more than I already did, but then I read the advice in the voice of the Hedonismbot from Futurama, and added the words “in bed” to the end of every sentence, as per fortune cookie tradition.

  • Focus on Your Strengths … in bed
  • Invest in Experiences … in bed
  • Learn to Savor More … in bed
  • Express Gratitude and Spread Kindness … in bed
Animated gif of the Hedonism Bot character from Futurama, eating bunches of grapes and saying “I apologize for nothing!”

Closing thoughts:

There is plenty of trustworthy research that supports some aspects of positive psychology.

And the goal of understanding how to help humans feel less bad about living their lives certainly has value.

And I grant that the kinds of suggestions provided in the article are purposefully framed to be as generalizable as possible, in order to be applicable across more circumstances and contexts, so that they aren’t as easily dismissed by a jerk like me saying, “That’s not actually practical for most people.”

Still, I can’t get over how it’s decontextualized to the point where the reasons why we need to study and practice something as fundamental as “experiencing good feelings” are secondary to the goal of “experiencing good feelings.”

The fact that positive psychology is so widely embraced and promoted by rich white people definitely gives me pause, when it is also largely a framework that blames disenfranchised individuals for not having felt or thought right.

On this blog I’ll frequently reference Barbara Ehrenreich’s book Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America. In this excerpt, she describes some encounters she had with Martin Seligman, the “father of positive psychology.” She writes, “When one audience member proposed renaming positive psychology ‘applied behavioral economics,’ because ‘it’s popular in business schools and goes with high salaries,’ nobody laughed.” The popularity of positivity psychology and its disdain for ‘learned helplessness’ reminds me too much of social Darwinism as a means of justifying beliefs that disproportionately harm members of already marginalized populations.

I’m not here to question whether there’s merit in recognizing strengths, having experiences, savoring things, and expressing gratitude.

I advocate for all of these things.

Just, maybe feeling happy after understanding and practicing these habits isn’t as much a “trick” as it is a normal consequence of not ceding control of your good feelings to a ubiquitous conglomeration of rapacious systems that benefit from your misery.

A Strong Woman

A narrow wooden boardwalk runs through the center of a grassy plain. There are hills or small mountains in the distance. The sky is foggy and gray, and a person in jeans and a red coat is walking on the boardwalk, away from the camera. The black serif font reads, "A strong woman knows she has strength enough for the journey, but a woman of strength knows it is in the journey where she will become strong." The source is "Power of Positivity."
A narrow wooden boardwalk runs through the center of a grassy plain. There are hills or small mountains in the distance. The sky is foggy and gray, and a person in jeans and a red coat is walking on the boardwalk, away from the camera. The black serif font reads, “A strong woman knows she has strength enough for the journey, but a woman of strength knows it is in the journey where she will become strong.” The source is “Power of Positivity.”

And only the truly BEST women* understand that contrived comparisons designed to enable self-superior back-patting by devaluing other women for failing to reach arbitrary benchmarks recently created by internet randos are in fact the STRONGEST of all contrived comparisons.

What is the point of this weird hair-splitting between “women of strength” and “strong women” in the first place?

I mean, aside from encouraging strong women to second-guess the merit of one of their defining assets and instead shift their focus to petty trait-based competition with other women.

Also that boardwalk looks a little more like a “path” to me than a “journey,” but I’m not here to nitpick.**

An Instagram post with a black square featuring white handwriting font. The font alternates between script and print. Before the quotation is the tag @peacefulmindpeacefullife. The quote says, "Behind every strong woman is a story that gave her no other choice." -Nakeia Homer
An Instagram post with a black square featuring white handwriting font. The font alternates between script and print. Before the quotation is the tag @peacefulmindpeacefullife. The quote says, “Behind every strong woman is a story that gave her no other choice.” -Nakeia Homer

Usually I pick on these inspirational macros for framing everything in the world as a choice, so you’d think I’d be happy to see a different spin on that message, but of course I’m never happy about anything (on account of how I choose to be angry and sad all of the time). 

“I choose to be happy.” 

“I choose to be successful.”

“I choose to be healthy.”

“It’s not like there are any systems in place that disproportionately favor the success and stability of people with my particular demographic characteristics! Nope, I am just really good at making the right choices.”

I resist the lie at the heart of the emphasis on choice (in this context) because it’s usually just denial and/or rationalization.

Among other things, people want to believe that society is fundamentally just, and that those who do the “right” things will be rewarded and that those who do “wrong” will be held accountable. Safe people want to believe that they are safe for a reason.

This enables the denial of structural inequality, which is kind of a theme on this blog.

So.

On the surface, this quote isn’t quite playing the “success is a personal choice” game.

It should be an acknowledgement of feminine resilience, right? 

In principle, I understand how I should feel both inspired by the women and angry at the unspoken circumstances.

And yet.

With this framing, I get the sense that strong women did not, in fact, choose to become strong.

It just kind of happened.

Which feels just as problematic as the idea that poverty “just happens” because those people made poor choices. 

Can something that is almost unavoidably dictated by circumstance be intentional? Is “the only choice” really a choice, at that point? 

It’s almost like this quote reverses the typical roles of personal agency and the influence of circumstance that we often see in the “they made their choices” trope.  

Like, “the cards were so stacked against this person that they wouldn’t be here if they weren’t truly exceptional.”

I looked up the person that the quote itself is attributed to, and I want to give her the benefit of the doubt. I’m still a little suspicious of some of her messaging, but I’m also suspicious of messages in general, and in the end she is just living her life and doing her job.

For now I’ll just acknowledge that this quote is decontextualized, and it could very well be part of a more cohesive point.

So to review: instead of emphasizing the centrality of free will and choice, this message (that has presumably been isolated from its original context) accepts the existence of situations in which choice is not the only important factor, but to the extent that circumstance occludes choice.

The blog / podcast You Are Not So Smart by David McRaney explores the psychology behind common fallacies and cognitive distortions, so naturally I’m into it.

This post about “Survivorship Bias” really rocked my world.

The basic fallacy is the belief that “You should focus on the successful if you wish to become successful.” However, “When failure becomes invisible, the difference between failure and success may also become invisible.” 

McRaney relates a story about fighter planes in WWII.

The American military was looking to improve the design of these planes so that more of them would make safe returns. Engineers were examining the damage to planes that had safely made it back to base, but it was the statisticians who recommended that they would learn more from the planes they didn’t have access to: that is, the planes that had been shot down in action. 

The engineers had noted that the returned-but-damaged planes had sustained a lot of damage around the wings, and they were hoping to reinforce that area, but the stats folx pointed out that those planes had been able to make the journey in spite of heavy wing damage. The wings were fine. 

By focusing their attention on the success stories, they were creating a misleading narrative. The salient information was in the failures. What had caused them to go down? That’s where they would learn to prevent more crashes. 

“Behind every strong woman is a story that gave her no other choice.”

Only success is represented here. 

(With the reading that at least on some level, the quote suggests that success = strength and implies that failure = weakness.)

However weakness and failure are defined in this situation is invisible, and that’s a problem because un-strong women apparently did have some options available.

So even though this quote appears to reverse the framing of “choice,” the outcome is more or less the same old refrain: 

Non-success stories were chosen by those who did not choose success.

Failure was an option, and yet success was not exactly a choice. 

Amirite, ladies?!?

*When the word “women” (or its variants) is used without any additional commentary on this blog, it means all women, without having to specify trans women as a subcategory of women, because trans women are women, full stop. HOWEVER I am still including explanatory footnotes because plenty of sites also use unqualified sex and gender terms to indicate their acceptance of a binary understanding of sex and gender. And that sucks.

**Yes, I am.

Keep Going

A bright red umbrella obscures the face of a person wearing dark boots and a gray coat, walking on a snowy beach. The text alternates between red and black. and says, "Pray, when you feel like worrying. Give thanks, when you feel like complaining. Keep going, when you feel like quitting." The logo at the bottom says, "Power of Positivity."
A bright red umbrella obscures the face of a person wearing dark boots and a gray coat, walking on a snowy beach. The text alternates between red and black. and says, “Pray, when you feel like worrying. Give thanks, when you feel like complaining. Keep going, when you feel like quitting.” The logo at the bottom says, “Power of Positivity.”

I’d argue that there’s a difference between “reframing” and “denial,” and that this macro captures the importance of that distinction.

A reframe for “I’m worried” can be as simple as “I feel worried right now because I don’t have a sense of control over a situation that really matters to me. I know that this feeling will pass and that it will probably happen again.”

Instead of not complaining at all, maybe something like, “I want to examine the source of my irritation when I feel calmer to decide whether it was a defensive response or if it is really important to address.” It can be worthwhile to reframe the urge to complain, but it depends entirely on the situation. Sometimes complaints are necessary for change to happen, and in those cases people who offer gratitude as an alternative to frustration often want stasis, power, or both.

I might counter the suggestion to “keep going” with the words of one Kenny Rogers: “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away.” Persistence without purpose isn’t necessarily laudable. A reframe might just be a pause: “If can make it through the next five minutes, I can check in with myself again.”

The message on the macro could be paraphrased as, “Don’t stress, don’t whine, don’t rest!”

That’s denial.

If you are experiencing a common response to a trying situation, STOP! Do something else instead.

That’s how you do healthy. 

Ungood feelings are definitely not appropriate responses to inappropriate circumstances. Your feelings are wrong and they need to be corrected.

If you haven’t learned to eliminate your human stress response by praying, then you’re really just asking for an ulcer.  

If you can’t solve a huge systemic problem by practicing individual gratitude, you’re really just an ungrateful leech.

If you haven’t managed to persevere in the face of overwhelming resistance, were you even really trying?

I just don’t know why so many anxious and depressed people miss these obvious solutions to simple problems.

Life is mysterious, I tell ya.

With respect to the image:

I don’t know that “Thank god I remembered to bring my big red umbrella today so I can finish this shitty winter beach walk” should really be the takeaway here, and yet it seems to be supported by the text.

It’s okay to give up on your walk that turned out to be windier than expected.

Choose Not to Find Joy

An image of mostly white sky, with some snow-covered pine trees along the lower edges and bottom of the square. The black sanserif font says, "If you choose not to find joy in the snow, you will have less joy in your life but still the same amount of snow." It is credited to @mindfulfitness.
An image of mostly white sky, with some snow-covered pine trees along the lower edges and bottom of the square. The black sans serif font says, “If you choose not to find joy in the snow, you will have less joy in your life but still the same amount of snow.” It is credited to @mindfulfitness.

Granted that joy is just a lifestyle choice that’s unconnected to circumstance, I still kind of wish that @mindfulfitness didn’t have to flaunt their joyfulness all the time.

You’re joyful. I get it. Keep shoveling. 

Unless there’s a possibility that joyfulness isn’t any more of a lifestyle choice than sadness?

And that real people who experience real joy in their daily lives are actually less likely to make a big deal about it than aggressively sad people?

And maybe really joyful people aren’t secretly trying to get everyone to fall in line with their nefarious pro-shoveling agenda?

And real people who experience real sadness, frustration, and apathy can actually just not be super into snow without channeling their misguided and possibly jealous resentment toward their more joyful neighbors?

Shit.

That kind of holds up.

Maybe it’s okay to talk about your joy or sadness and it doesn’t necessarily mean you made better or worse choices than anyone else.

But then how am I supposed flaunt my emotional superiority?

True Self-Care

Content Note: Animated Gif

Square image from quotecatalog.com with a cartoon piece of strawberry shortcake on a black background. The pink sans serif text reads, "True self-care is not salt baths and chocolate cake, it is making the choice to build a life you don't need to regularly escape from." -Brianna Wiest
Square image from quotecatalog.com with a cartoon piece of strawberry shortcake on a black background. The pink sans serif text reads, “True self-care is not salt baths and chocolate cake, it is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from.” -Brianna Wiest

People who are well-off enough to periodically reject some of the many comforts available to them at any given moment are good about weirdly moralizing other people’s inconsistent access to comfort, at least partly due to a complex combination of projection and rationalization.

I am leaving that rat-maze of a sentence there, and barreling on to the cheese at the end.

For some reason, I haven’t seen a macro that says, “Don’t weirdly moralize other people’s access to and use of comforts you assume are equally available for everyone to reject in the name of self-righteousness!”

The rest of the article that this quote was pulled from does account for the fact that hygiene and food are not necessarily bad forms of self-care, but someone’s choice to pull the quote from that context speaks for itself, too.

The other squiffy implication of the framing “…the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from” is that you, cake-eaters and bath-takers, are wholly responsible for the stressful conditions that exist elsewhere in the world.

Probably your own shortcomings created the context in which you are mired in an exasperating, unsupportive, and/or dehumanizing workplace and/or life situation.

The infrastructures behind those exploitative systems supported by your employer / government / family / etc. are irrelevant here.

“…the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from” is just code for “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”

The implication that small indulgences are “lesser” forms of self-care is grounded in the warped mentality that suffering and denial are inherently noble.

You built your own hedonistic little prison out of minor indulgences! For shame.

ME: Fix my problems, cake!

CAKE: Nope, sorry – you did your life too wrong to get to want things that are nice!

ME: (SOB)

        (NOMNOM)

        (SOB)

Decadent bath cakes will only shield you from the harshness of reality for a little while, without addressing the real roots of your own inadequacies.

This macro is the decontextualized quote version of the Onion article “Local Woman Authority on What Shouldn’t Be in Poor People’s Shopping Carts.”

I can’t stand the kind of petty assholes who judge the adequacy of another person’s argument based on adherence to arbitrary grammatical conventions. That is some classist nonsense.

But you know what?

I bet that the Venn diagram of “people who have shared this macro” and “people who pride themselves on correcting internet grammar” is barely two circles.

And so, I’ll go ahead. I’ll be petty right back. I can get pedantic about a rule that doesn’t really matter to me.

Show a semicolon some love, you independent clauses.

From a design perspective, who decided to use strawberry shortcake instead of chocolate, like in the quote?

“The background is black, so chocolate wouldn’t contrast,” you say?…

THE SAME PERSON WHO CHOSE THE GRAPHIC CHOSE THE BACKGROUND.

The creation of this image did not require a design team. Stick that in your back pocket.

Lastly, I feel like the point of the quote is to reject the value of the cake, because finding comfort in cake means that you hate your life so much that cake is an escape from it.

So if you loved your life more, you wouldn’t need to seek solace in, like, physical comfort.

Shouldn’t the picture be… I don’t know… not cake?

Being truly happy because of how right your choices always are is like eating cake in the tub all the time, but without the guilt of knowing that you shouldn’t be eating cake, because you actually aren’t.