Dear Andrew W.K.,
I’m living a pretty great life. I recently moved to a great city; I have great friends and a great partner. My life is pretty much what I’ve always ever wanted — how many people get to say that?!
The problem is, I keep looking for trouble. I keep looking for points of failure, keep looking for the negative in things, and I generally feel pretty down all the time.
Instead of feeling how amazing life is, I keep looking for reasons for it not to be amazing, or worrying about when it will stop being amazing. I also know that if I keep this up, things will start to fall apart and my worst fears will come true.
Seems like I can’t be happy with just being happy. What’s up with that?
Set Up To Fail
Dear Set Up To Fail,
I can relate to your situation deeply. For much of my life, I’ve grappled with a pervasive sense that something is “off,” that something very bad is about to happen, or already has happened and I just haven’t figured it out yet, that even the good things about life are somehow really bad deep down. A lot of this has to do with the phenomenon of death and the unknown. We are meant to feel this way from time to time. It is part of bravely facing our encounter with complete existence.
But when this feeling of wrongness takes over, it leads to a panicked search for a quick and easy solution to an infinitely complicated problem. It’s a problem so ornate and puzzling in its complexity that it’s not even really a problem at all. And in realizing this lies a solution, but if we obsess over negativity, we will find it remains just out of sight, lurking behind unseeable visions and unknowable truths. It feels as though the entire world is skewed in the direction of this fundamentally “off” aspect of negativity, and all our efforts to straighten it out are hopelessly in vain.
The more we allow this dreadful “offness” to lead our thoughts, the more we start to notice the dirt and the garbage around us — the brokenness, the sadness, the crumbling structures of human life. We notice the incredible efforts our society makes to distract ourselves from looking too long and too deeply into the emptiness, or how we paint over the decay and despair with thicker and thicker veneers of gloss. Meanwhile, our sorrow grows exponentially.
Left unchecked, this feeling of dread and inescapable melancholy starts to infiltrate every aspect of life. Even trying not to think about it only seems to increase its presence. It travels from the corners of our mind into the outside world around us, staining and distorting otherwise pleasant times. Everything feels false, hopeless, like one gigantic unfolding trick, entirely resistant to all efforts to change its trajectory toward total annihilation. And the problem with all this is that it is true.
Being alive is overwhelmingly intense. But at the same time, this intensity is also what makes life amazing and awe-inspiring. Some of the worst things are also the absolute best things about life. Beautiful things will happen and then fall apart. Horrible things will happen and somehow lead to wonderful things. How can this be? How can life be both good and bad? Must it be one or the other? And this is our dilemma, the riddle of human experience.
It’s not negative or positive, but both, and above them both is a sort of super-positive that allows everything to exist. And rather than this super-positive creating a sort of cancellation of feeling, this contradictory state of two-things-at-once is an opportunity. It’s an opening. It’s a doorway into truth. And that truth is available and known to us by the word “love.”
The only true solution to the riddle of life is to love it. Love it all. Love the riddle itself. Love trying to solve it. Love not being able to. Love the times when everything seems bad. Love the times when everything seems good. Love your own ups and downs. And know that they are all part of an incredibly vast and dazzling experience that you get to go through, one that’s actually happening right now. And love that this experience is out of control and frightening at times. Love it in all of its textures, all of its qualities, all of its pains and pleasures — and release the need to be happy, or be sad, or be anything in particular. Just simply be yourself and be aware that you’re actually here and you’re going through this miraculous thing called “life.”
Love it, and love it again. And then return to that state of love whenever you feel confusion overriding the clarity of its truth. Love it all. This has always been and always will be the one and only answer. Our greatest work as human beings is developing this ability to love. And the best part is, it’s the one ability you always had right from the start. It’s all meant to be this way. You’re doing the right thing. You don’t have to look on the bright side. You are the bright side. Stay strong.
[Editor’s note: Every week, New York City’s own Andrew W.K. takes your life questions and sets you safely down the right path to a solution, a purpose, or — no surprise here — a party. Need his help? Just ask: AskAWK@villagevoice.com]
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