Suffering: The Everyday, Identity
“Unhappiness is simply when the picture in your head doesn’t match the picture in front of you.” -Humble the Poet, spoken-word artist, from his book Unlearn: 101 Simple Truths for a Better Life
“Suffering is the result of caring about things that you cannot change. If you are able to change what you care about to those things that you can change, you will not suffer.” — Joscha Bach, computer scientist and AI researcher, from Happiness is a cookie that your brain bakes for itself (Joscha Bach) | AI Podcast Clips, an interview Lex Fridman
I was having dinner with my dad earlier. Usually, I find these dinners a chore. It’s usually him talking the entire time and me “Mhmm”ing for an hour and a half. This dinner was especially difficult because, today, existing felt unbearable. Sometimes I find the sameness of every day, the everyday, unjustifiable. If every day is going to be the same, what is the point?
Suffering from the Everyday
For the past few months I’ve developed a weekly routine. I spend most of the day focused on, procrastinating on, or taking a break from my research. I also go to the gym, play tennis, and play pickleball consistently. I focus on the same thing and see the same people every week. The odd thing is that this is what I’ve been looking for for the past 8 months. I wanted to be able to focus on my research and see more people during the week. Lately, though, it feels like it’s fallen into a trope. I’ve come to expect these things. Consequently, they no longer feel novel; the same amount of excitement no longer arises. The thing I hated about working was that the everyday happened everyday. Yet, I’ve left that world only to have found that I’ve created this exact same thing.
Suffering from Identity
What seemed to bring about this feeling was that, also today, there was novelty. School has recently started up again. Last semester, I joined the Club Tennis team and today we were “tabling” to advertise our club to the students walking by. Always reluctant to join any group activities, this time I was excited to hang out with some people from the team. I was excited to be around people again; as opposed to the reclusiveness of research. However, my expectations weren’t met. I didn’t feel the connection and joy I expected and hoped for. Maybe, in my head, I over-exaggerated how close we were. Perhaps, the picture in my head was unrealistic due to the fact that the picture of how I want to act and who I want to be is so often someone I fail to live up to. Perhaps this is a person I can’t live up to and whom I often find myself falling desperately of.
I’m proud of myself. I’m proud of the skills and work ethic that have been passed down to me. I’m proud of the person I strive to be.
Yet, I’m painfully aware of my shortcomings. Ever since I can remember, people have commented on how quiet I am. My dad is the opposite. He can talk for hours straight. I believe he’s always found my introversion suspicious. Like all the extraverts around me, I believe my dad thought it could be changed — like my silence was a weakness, a crutch, and due to a lack of oratory skill. As I grew up, this characteristic continued to be misinterpreted. It’s been mistaken for arrogance, meanness, a lack of emotion, and a lack of care. But, each time, it’s simply because I’m shy — at least that’s the closest word I can attribute it to. Additionally, I don’t want to make others feel burdened to talk to me.
There’s a point in my closest relationships where people will go, “You know, at first I thought you were really quiet”. When I first meet people, I’m often quiet. It takes me a handful of meetings before I warm up. It takes a while to find out what I can and can’t talk to people about. It takes a while for me to find out what makes them laugh (and what makes them cry). As I get to know them more, I open up a little more, smile a bit more freely, let myself relax some. But, there’s always some internal resistance. At the beginning of our relationship, I was quiet and reserved. At the beginning, this was my character. However, my character soon shifts to becoming more talkative and more engaging. I find this shift jarring for others and myself. For others, I worry that they have trouble deciphering who I am — am I quiet or annoying? For me, I have trouble shifting between these two incongruent personalities. I sometimes find myself sticking to my quiet, reserved self or my friendly, open self with certain people for long stretches of time. Even when I want to change, I find myself defaulting to the character that I believe they believe I am.
All this to say, there is a part of me that wants to be outgoing and the life of the party. And I believe that person is inside of me. But so often I find myself defaulting to my quiet, isolated self. I have this picture of what my friendships can be like if I were more free. Occasionally, this person comes out and I get a glimpse of this alternative lifestyle. I get a glimpse of this person that’s able to make others feel welcome, invited, and cared for. Much more often, though, I play my introverted self, let others come to me, and match their energy. And much more often, the person I act like fails to live up to the person I wish I was.