We can tell a lot about people by how they deal with difficult and confusing moments in life. Anyone can remain calm and gracious during the upswings, but it is how they deal with the downswings that really reveals their true character.
We have been following Rasmus, the protagonist in Matias Dalsgaard’s Don’t Despair, through his existential crisis. His self-absorption, his tendency towards worrying, and his rejection of the ordinary has made him an unhappy man. Rasmus is hardly unique in his unhappiness and his behaviours; there are plenty of unhappy people out there (an unfortunate fact to admit). One thing that divides unhappy people into two camps is their ability to catch sight of themselves in their problems.
When people fail to catch sight of themselves in life, they are unable to realise how life’s discomforts have something to do with them. They notice the discomforts, but they have done nothing more than acknowledge them. The problem with this is rather than dealing with the uncomfortable and confusing aspects of life head on, these people try to escape from the discomforts of life.
We escape the discomforts of life through distractions. We take ourselves away from what is painful momentarily and we think we have “fixed” the problem. We forget the role we play in our own happiness or unhappiness, and we lose sight of ourselves in the process. But distracting yourself from your problems is just like taking medicine to mask the symptoms of something larger or putting a band-aid on a broken limb. Distractions don’t solve our problems and they prevent us from digging deeper into more pressing issues. It’s like running away from your shadow – you might not be able to see it at the moment, but it is still there. Common distractions can include travel, sports, and burying oneself in work.
As with most of the issues I have been discussing, distractions serve a purpose as well. When used appropriately, they can have positive effects on our mental well-being. The usage of distractions which I am talking about here is when they become a quick fix for all of life’s discomforts, and we forget the role we play in our own well-being. Just as we forget sometimes that we play a role in our own unhappiness, we also forget that we can lose ourselves in our distractions.
When we lose ourselves, the distractions lose their purpose because we are not really enjoying them. We use distractions to boost our moods but we focus more on the alleviation of our pain rather than the experience of pleasure. We use distractions to swing swiftly and quickly from “low energy” to “high energy” and live life on a pendulum.
Dalsgaard relates this behaviour to physical discomfort. We experience physical discomfort and switch positions until we experience the discomfort in the new position and we switch again. We do the same with our emotional discomfort, engaging in quick fix after quick fix for our emotional pains. Life, however, is not about jumping from one position to the next every time we experience discomfort in life. It’s about being ourselves when it is a little bit painful to do so, even when the concept of ourselves is blurry.
Image from here.