Existential dread: One day at a time 


It will never, ever completely go away, I’m almost certain by that. But I’ve just found some ways to alleviate this dread! (Ten exclamation marks wouldn’t cut it!!!!!!!!!!!!)

For a couple of months now, I suspect sticking to exercise is a part of the ritual. If anyone asks me why I exercise, I give them the reasons they expect to hear (And partially true!) “Oh, it helps cure my office syndrome almost completely. I feel amazing with no shoulder pain after I started weight training.” “It gives me strength.” “I feel more energized” Or anything along those lines.

If we are close enough and I presume that you will not look at me like I’m a mad woman, if the conversation flows allowed it, I might admit that there’s some other underlying motive, that I can stick to this exercise routine because, in one way or another, it helps dealing with existential crisis.

“I exercise to escape the existential dread.”

Oh yeah.

Think I’m crazy yet? Maybe, just maybe, I might write another blog post on this, some day.

(Or maybe never).

Exercise helps with the body. But I want to write about something else that I found working for the mind.

Simple enough, I don’t need to look any further. It’s what I already enjoy doing anyway.

Reading good books really helps. Like this one. 

The book speaks to me, as if it can clarify something I have been questioning for so long. There is nothing like it; the feeling of words and sentences of paragraphs after paragraphs smacks you in the face, like it can search deep down in your soul and read your mind (Spooky). Friends are great for support, in a way that they also have struggles of their own, comforting me that “We are all in this together.” It is perfectly normal to feel messed up, to feel like a failure sometimes, even though your life is great and there is nothing wrong with it.

But no one can give me the answers. What makes me feel this way. What causes it. Why I feel the way I do. What is the purpose? What is the point of this, all of this? *Motioning hand in circle*

Psychology and philosophy help. All of this psychoanalysis seems to be exactly what I need. One example that felt poignant to me was when I read the line “One of the most basic human needs is to connect to someone” And then it elaborates on why; the history of humankind, since we were cavemen, the influence of motherly and fatherly love, tribal community and more.

OH, so THAT is the human need? THAT is our nature? Then accept it. Stop feeling like you are some weak creature, or worst guilty, when deep down there are moments you want to connect and be understood and reach out to another human being. You can’t change nature, can you?

If anything, it does help make peace with yourself. Because I see some sort of evidence, some sort of history and theory and explanation unfolding in front of my eyes. Crystallization process. It makes me understand. It gives me knowledge and gets rid of confusion. Knowledge is the power, they say?

Eye-opening. That’s how I’d call it.

I wish to find more good, “life-changing” (Ugh, I always cringe when I hear this word. But this will do for now.) books. It’s truly great for the mind. AND for the soul.

(On another note, I do want to write or summarize some key takeaways from The Art of Loving. Extraordinary book, indeed. Hopefully I’ll get around to it. It’s the kind of book that you should go back and read every year anyway.)

Will have to excuse myself for a more light-hearted book I’m currently reading now, on How to be a person in the world – modern existential advice column that is promised to be really good by a friend who lent me. Because, you know, sometimes you just want to read something real and messed up about other people’s life, not only heavily filtered “amazing” life on your Facebook feed.

Anecdotal Fallacy 

Social science seems to be the field I opt to pick from bookshelves in recent years, especially on behavioral economics and cognitive psychology. Be it from Dan Ariely, Daniel Pink, Malcolm Gladwell, I read all those popular books that everyone else is also reading (Yep, a clichéd millennial. Yep, that’s me). 

Ever since I started working and got exposed to much more variety of people, I find the study of human relationships and minds extremely fascinating, simply because it is so complex. Although with enough research you can draw patterns and some conclusions from human behaviors, there is never a one-size-fits-all answer for a single question.

You can’t plug it all into equation – Every time I do X, I will get Y result. 

Which, after I’ve read a few books, sometimes I start to question how much of it is true. For some books, it’s a real struggle to be convinced while reading it. 

Grit: The power of passion and perseverance is one of them. Started off, I got the feeling this could be a great book. The author’s theory on Growing grit from the inside out speaks to me and it successfully convinces me to a certain degree, backed up by research paper and surveys. 

Although it may sound obvious, I do like her theory of hierarchy of goals as it helps put things in structure and sorts out priorities in life in order. She proposes that each of us should have the top-level goal, with a few mid-level, and more low-level goals underneath. The top-level goal should act as your compass, the same ultimate concern. You may call it your life philosophy. 

There are many other factors contributed to growing grit inside out. I personally like the idea of “foster your passion” not “find your passion” This book teaches you not only to fall in love with what you do, but also stay in love with it, which, in my opinion, a much tougher task to achieve. 

Unfortunately, the second half of the book, Growing grit from the outside in, lost my interest rather quickly, to the point that I almost could not force myself to read further! 

Why? 

Because it is full of anecdotal evidences. A lot of “He said, she said” 

The author starts telling exceptional stories of people in different fields, even the story of herself as a mean to convince readers about her theories! I am really not sure what to make of, for Mr.A and Ms.B sucesss stories, and how much (if at all) these can be a representative of the whole population. I might as well can write and give an example of a story from my mother’s friend! 

To me, anecdotal evidence is a major flaw of social science books. However, some of really good books I like, for example, Quiet by Susan Cain, are able to convince me and I feel like the book is written with solid research background and sound evidence, as much as the “soft” science possibly allows it to be. 

I will have to violate The rule of three (possibly upset my Faculty of Arts professor in the process) and offer only two little suggestion of how to convince readers in my humble opinion. Basically because I can’t think of the third suggestion! (Damnit). 

-Summarize key message at the end of each chapter. Make your findings look concrete. I personally love this style as it helps digest the whole book much easier. 

-Reduce anecdotal evidences to the minimum. A few stories could be used to catch readers’ attention to engage with the book emotionally and makes it less academic. But it gets boring very quickly when the author starts each chapter with some extraordinary people’s stories. We give and receive anecdotal evidences in every day lives as it’s such a common fallacy in most of our daily conversations. So, I expect something different when I read. 

I’m not sure if this is the major reason I find a few of these human behavior study books start to sound the same. It could get repetitive over times. Feel free to recommend if you know any good, interesting books. No more anecdotal fallacy, please! 

On solitary

It was on New Year’s Eve night. A friend, out of a sudden, threw this question up in the air. 

“Is it really that scary to be alone?” 

The whole table went silent. (That was quite unexpected, too). 

Solitary – I think of it a lot these days. In fact, I’m living in it. 

2016 was the year that, for the very first time in life, I can honestly say I lost faith in love. Whatever happened in the past kept piling up until the final string, something inside me, was broken, and I could not go back to the way I once was. I had never been too eager about chasing after love myself, but at least I never eyed it with suspicion, skepticism, and this much negativity, or even recoiled from it, as much as I do now. Too much disappointment could numb you to the bones, and eventually paralyze you. 

It is sad. I’m even sad, seeing myself turning to this kind of person. I very much wish to go back to the old me, being able to face love in a neutral, open-minded way and embrace what’s coming in life. However, at the same time, more and more I start to think this “love thing” is something that happens to other people, in which I’m really happy for them when this miracle happens, but it’s just not for me. 

I am giving up. 

This kind of feeling – losing faith in love – in turns keep fueling the thought of being alone. And, once again, for the first time in life, I start pondering; what it means to really be alone 20 years from now, or for the rest of my life. Logically thinking, what are the things that I need to prepare? 

Funny enough, I don’t think much about the current state of life, when I’m still fairly young and have enough energy. But I think way beyond that, when I turn 60, life after retirement, what would it be to be alone? 

Mainly I think about it from two main angles; health-wise and finance-wise. When I get sick, when I get so old that I no longer can walk or take care of myself, how will I manage my life then? How much savings do I need to be able to take care of myself when I get old, living by myself? 

It was enough. This fear was enough to drive me think about and even search for advice on health insurance and investment plans. 

For the record, never once I thought about life after retirement, until 2016. I swear, that thought of getting old somehow never crossed my mind. Again, another first in life. Is it because of the age, or the current state of mind? I am unsure. 

Current dramas in life and dramas from other people around me did give me another thought: you pick the kind of suffering you want to suffer for. 

Nothing ensures everlasting happiness. People who are married can get a divorce, their spouse die, their children may have serious issues. They have their own sets of problems, different from single people’s. But I’ve come to term that, everyone has their own problems. Everyone suffers, in one way or another, at some point in life. 

Recently I’ve spoken to a 45 year old single woman, and she told me that, you can’t overthink about being single and alone (Well, I overthink about everything).  You need to know how to enjoy your life journey while planning it accordingly. For the rest, for those things that you can’t control, don’t sweat. You can’t do anything about it anyway. Leave it at that, for your own peace of mind. 

I will make sure to remember that. And breathe. Cheers to solitary. 

[Edit: May 2017, Came back to reread and thought this post is too bleak! So I wrote a new post partially in response to this one; on how 5 months later I’ve changed and embraced a more positive outlook on this matter]