Don’t Worry, Be (Un)Happy
How we can escape from our endless pursuit of the unattainable
According to several studies conducted over the last twenty years, at least 80% of couples are either dissatisfied with their relationship or very dissatisfied with their relationship. This trend holds true across heterosexual and same-sex partnerships and across cultures.
Billions of dollars are spent worldwide each year by people desperate to find hacks, tricks, techniques, life-changing skills, tips, and ways to empathize with others. The hope is that by discovering the hidden secrets of relationships like the Five Things To Drive Your Partner Wild In Bed or the Seven Empathetic Things To Say After A Fight there will be a way to feel less trapped, disappointed, and hopeless every time you look across the breakfast table at your Significant Other.
Relationship gurus depend on this belief for their livelihoods. Because if people felt the attempt was hopeless, they wouldn’t buy the books, sign up for the online courses, or pay for the life coaching. Just like the diet industry and the health care industry, however, the relationship industry thrives on failure. If any of these hacks, tricks, tips, etc. actually worked then customers wouldn’t come back for more. What the relationship industry sells, just like so many other industries, is blind hope in the face of repeated disappointment.
(Not unlike the democracy business, in fact. But that’s a tale for another time.)
One of the absolutely charming aspects of our species is our near-total inability to learn from experience.
If we’ve failed in seventy-eight successive diets, each one attempted with more desperation than the last, and we now in consequence weigh two hundred and twenty kilograms (that’s 484 pounds, for those readers still attempting to navigate life using a system of measurements that now appeals only to remote tribes living in the Amazon basin or to headhunters in the equatorial rainforests of Papua New Guinea) it’s pretty obvious that we’re most likely going to fail on the seventy-ninth attempt also. But instead of drawing this rational conclusion and thinking, “hey, maybe if this isn’t working I should re-examine my premises” we throw ourselves frantically into a repeat of the same old…