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Post No.: 0693impress


Furrywisepuppy says:


Imagine if you were the only person in the world. Everything else is present as it is right now – such as the houses, cars, etc. and you can have whatever you like – but the only human around is you…


Would you care to have a massive house? Would you care to wear expensive clothes or ornate jewellery? Probably not. You might try them out for a bit but you’d probably prefer to settle for a cosy abode that was easy to maintain, clothes that were practical and comfortable, and any (non-sentimental) jewellery would be pointless and cumbersome to carry around. Without anyone else around to try to impress, what you’d likely want would be purely practically functional and necessary.


Would you care about being vain? Again probably not. Beyond being clean, you might even lose all interest in your appearance without anyone around who you might care to impress. Even if you’re not struggling to survive thus you’ve got the time to spare – in this hypothetical world, no one would ever see your cosmetic efforts so you might as well spend your time on more fruitfully useful pursuits. If, alternatively, you’re struggling to survive then you won’t have any time to spare on vain pursuits, unless you’ve seriously got your priorities wrong. (This suggests that no one who spends tons of time on their appearance can genuinely be having it survivally tough by virtue of them being able to spend so much time on their appearance rather than on looking for their next meal. And when we see people in other parts of the world who don’t spend much time on how they look, we should assume they’re extremely poor and don’t have the resources and time to spare, and so rather than judge their looks we should empathise with their poverty. Taking a broad, sweeping view across the world – how physically attractive people from different countries are generally considered to be has less to do with their genetics than the amount of time they spend on themselves, which is linked to their family and own incomes; plus a huge dose of our cultural and personal subjectivities, like regarding ‘Botoxed’ looks.)


In other words, so much about life and its stresses is strangely about trying to impress other people! This isn’t to denigrate the value of social connections in themselves or to say we shouldn’t care about what others think wholesale but to highlight how the superficial objective of trying to impress others brings so much anxiety. So much stress comes from social politics and trying to make the right impressions on others, making social comparisons, and envy.


Envy spurs a constant one-upmanship in status symbols with others (read Post No.: 0650); especially amongst our close peers and neighbours. We don’t envy billionaires as much as our colleagues. Our life satisfaction is related to what we currently do have compared to what we want and feel like we could attain for ourselves – the things that appear ‘just within our reach’. (This seems to suggest that the closer and more equal we get, the more we notice and wish to correct any inequalities? But then the most equal countries are amongst the happiest in the world, so as long as we’re trying to bring everybody towards greater equality, instead of us trying to just boost our own personal wealth alone, then net collective happiness will increase.)


‘Invidious consumption’ is conspicuous consumption for the specific purpose of trying to provoke envy in others. It’s sad.


Most of us just follow what the surrounding culture has ingrained in us and says are the things that will make us happy and are the things we should all strive for, like owning a nice house, car, seeking fame or getting lots of followers. This includes getting married. These chicken pieces are dangled in front of us, and most of us submissively follow these precepts – not questioning whether these things are what we want absent of social comparisons; as can be revealed via thought experiments like the one earlier.


Our happiness shouldn’t depend on what we have but on who we are – otherwise we’re at the mercy of how other people judge us and at the mercy of things that create insecurities if we don’t have them. We need to take control of our own narratives rather than have them dictated to us.


Some narrative paths are prescribed for you by your parents, by school and/or by society very early on – like your career path from school, college and university, starting at the bottom of the ladder then progressively getting promoted, while you buy a house on a mortgage, buy cars, get married, have kids, then retire – because this is what society says needs to happen if you want to be loved, respected, be happy, successful and ‘to have lived’. Not everyone who follows and achieves this life story feels fulfilled, yet many of even these individuals still think it’s the only way to live in order to have lived a worthwhile life or to feel worthy of living.


This behaviour is augmented by the presumption that everyone is equal in their opportunities to acquire great wealth and socio-economic status i.e. the belief that ‘this stuff is yours if only you desire to get them enough – you have an entitlement to enjoy the same trappings as the richest, and it’d be completely your own fault, your own lack of belief and hard work, if you fail’. This ‘believe in it enough and it’ll come true’ attitude applies to happiness as well as financial success. ‘Toxic positivity’ is the belief that no matter how dire a situation is, you should stay positive, and if you’re not feeling happy then you’re a failure for not trying hard enough to be positive. But we’ve learnt now, through mental health, that it’s okay and you’re not a failure to feel unhappy occasionally – it’s natural, normal. ‘Fake it to make it’ can work to a degree, but the social pressure to inauthentically smile even when you’re disconsolate just makes it harder to genuinely feel happy inside or in private.


A typical question amongst strangers who first meet is, “What do you do (for a living)?” We’re reduced to our occupations – to being a cog in a capitalist or communist system – as if it defines our identity above all else about us. Indeed work does constitute a large part of our lives and identity, it makes us feel competent, beats prolonged periods of boredom, and lots of people would still do some kind of work even if they didn’t need to for the money – but it’s a question that says ‘I’m not really interested in getting to know you – I just want to compare my status and wealth to yours’ (which has led to so much job title inflation at all levels in all industries!) Many people work in jobs they’d rather not do or for companies they’d rather not work for, but it pays the bills, hence their current job is not a part of their personality.


Thus it’s better to ask, “What do you get up to?” This is more open. The other person can answer with their occupation or with something else they think matters more to their identity, purpose or sense of worth. It’s ideal or a bonus if we enjoy our work but not everyone does. The romantic concept of a ‘perfect job’ is no more realistic than a ‘perfect partner’, and can cause more misery and a sense of failure if we don’t feel we have it. The mantra of ‘you can be anything you want to be’ creates more pressure and pain than contentment and pleasure. And being able to ‘follow your passion’ can depend on whether you can wait before you must bring in some income, which can in turn depend on your pre-existing advantages.


Ask about things that may connect you and them together, instead of judge or compare between you and them. Basically talk about stuff that friends talk about – like how you do with your existing friends and not like how a potential parent-in-law would interrogate(!) – and you will make them feel as if a friend already. Topics that will likely reveal more about you than knowing what your occupation is include stories about an important person/people in your life, traditions or customs you follow, or artefacts that are important to you and have shaped your identity, values and beliefs.


Shyness isn’t the same as introversion. Social anxiety isn’t the same as being quiet either. Regardless, most people most of the time would prefer a shy person to a loud, brash and cocky know-it-all so don’t worry about it. It might even therefore help to own up to being shy or socially anxious to avoid being mistaken for being aloof. Shy people tend to be more empathic people – perhaps they care too much about what others think? So if you’re shy, it’s okay to be yourself. If you don’t have much to say then that’s better than being a draining energy vampire who never stops talking!


Instead of trying to impress others, you will be liked more if you are humble and show that others impress you. So in this irony of trying to display that we’re superior to others – most of us already know from personal experience that bigheaded individuals are the most annoying individuals we can ever meet(!) Woof!


So even though we’ve culturally got it stuck in our heads that we must try to constantly impress others, others don’t want to be impressed – they just want to know that we like them. And if they feel we like them, they’ll likely reciprocate. And amongst friends, you don’t think ‘I must have something to say during every single moment I’m around them otherwise it’s an awkward silence’. Words and topics of discussion come out if and when they organically come out without pressure. Thus to have an expectation that we must fill every moment with conversation with someone we’ve just met is plain weird! Shyness is a common feeling too – some hide it well, some perhaps overcompensate for it, but most can empathise with it.


…The thought experiment at the beginning shows us that so much of what we desire in life is for the purpose of social comparisons, because of envy – and because of trying to impress others. And without that, we’d focus more on what’s truly essential, like shelter, water and quality food, and on intrinsic pleasures like expanding our minds through education and creativity; instead of wasting any stress on superficial social politics or extrinsic desires or judgements like what others think about our wealth status. We’d realise more clearly that needs are different to wants. And we’d need not bother to conduct in exaggeration or fakery in order to impress anyone.


There’s no objectivity to what impresses us anyway. For instance, some people are impressed after witnessing sharp videogaming skills while others think they’re a waste of time. Some people are wowed for seeing an expensive motor while others genuinely couldn’t care less and think ‘that don’t impress me much’ :|. Some think civilians who brandish firearms are tough while others think they’re overcompensating cowards for constantly having such weapons on standby. So what demonstrates ‘manliness’ or ‘emasculation’ isn’t objective either.


So much energy is spent (or wasted) on trying to impress others (which means so much that depletes limited environmental resources too). It then fuels further desires due to the hedonic treadmill effect and teaches us what greed is. There’s no lasting satisfaction from accumulating material stuff – enough never feels like enough because we could always want more.


Our desires are largely controlled by other people. Therefore if we wish to take back fuller control of our own happiness, we must let go of thinking that our purpose for existing is to try to impress others.




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