“The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.” ~ Lily Tomlin
So, you want your life to be stressful? Didn’t think so, but it’s amazing how many people consistently apply habits and actions in their daily lives that guarantee stressful results. They repeat the same things over and over again, expecting different results, which is, if I recall correctly, the textbook definition of insanity. After hitting the same wall every day for 20 years, people think “okay, if I just really hammer it this time then maybe it suddenly won’t be there.”
One of the more absurd aspects of the ego is that it conditions you to actively seek negative results. It makes you think that what you want is peace, when its secret pleasure is always in conflict and negativity. In scientific experiments, a mouse quickly learns to avoid the choice that results in electric shock, while the ego-inflicted human being keeps choosing the same negative option over and over again, often through stubborn rationalization enabled by a general lack of awareness.
I’ve compiled a short list of ideas for those who wish to add a dash of stress into their lives — all fairly easy to implement, not to mention widely encouraged by society at large, and often easily observed in the behavior of those around you.
1) Attempt to control absolutely everything.
This is one of the more practical ways of achieving high levels of stress, and can be applied in a variety of ways in almost every situation you are likely to encounter. The key to this method is the fact that you never really have much control over anything, and so it generates stress in proportion to your illusion of control and the imagined responsibility you have as a consequence.
A. Instead of merely trying to control the process of whatever it is you’re doing, try gaining control over the results as well: instead of focusing all your attention on what you are doing in the moment, divert most of it towards trying to figure out how to ensure a particular result.
For this to be effective, it is helpful to imagine the less desirable result as extremely negative and the desirable result as the exact opposite, and believe that whatever the result, it will be permanent. So, the less desirable result becomes something like permanent failure and misery, while the preferred result is seen as the ultimate answer to all my problems.
Imagining the future in terms of extreme polarities creates tension and anxiety; the essential building blocks of stressful living.
B. Try to control other people; both what they do, and also what they think. The reason why this is so effective is that we can easily perceive other people to be difficult, incompetent, and unreliable, which gives us plenty of reasons why we need to control everything ourselves.
The stress factor here lies in the fact that trying to control other people is much like herding cats; requires enormous effort, and you know deep down that it’s futile and ridiculous to even attempt. But if you manage to hold onto the illusion that you can actually gain and preserve absolute control over other people, this can be easily integrated into your everyday life as a reliable source of stress.
C. Try to control everything else; the stock market, the weather, your workplace, various events, and last but not least: God. In this case, assuming a certain level of common sense, you will probably be aware that you cannot actually be in control of these things.
But this superficial awareness does not necessarily preclude a deep sense of responsibility — you will be able to feel that you need to somehow control them, even if you know on a rational level that it is impossible. The key here is to convince yourself that if you take your eyes off of the world for just one moment, everything will fall apart.
It will be helpful here to imagine an anthropomorphized version of God, preferably one that is cruel and fickle, and believe that you need to be on his good side in order for everything in your world to stay intact. When you’ve made God into a person, you will feel that the methods you use for controlling other people will also work to control him.
Again, you will likely be aware of the contradictions of this on a rational level, but the determined practitioner will be able to overcome this obstacle with relative ease.
2) Believe in the possibility of ‘making it’.
The concept of arriving somewhere in the future is another very useful and popular source of stress and anxiety, and the illusion of being able to make it in the world is upheld and added to via magazines, television, movies, and whatever medium used to display how ‘the others’ go about living their lives.
This is a search for identity, and experientially it can be described as feeling like you’re never really at home anywhere you go. This can be just a hardly noticeable background feeling of unease, but even in that form it is able to create a great deal of stress.
Many people look to the culture of celebrity in this search for identity, which is probably one of the easier options available today if you want to fuel this particular illusion. Celebrities exist for us as images of what it means to have ‘made it’ — we see them as people who have arrived at a place in the world where they can relax, put down their bags and finally start to enjoy their lives.
If you can get yourself to believe in this illusion strongly enough, you will find that it will be almost impossible to feel satisfied with anything except when you are consuming entertainment and living vicariously through celebrities and other idealized characters.
3) Look for satisfaction out there.
Most people look almost exclusively to external things and circumstances for their satisfaction, instead of looking within. And apart from being an important factor in the perpetuation of stress, it is also what mainly drives the mechanics of western society. It’s the reason why people spend most of their time working for the purpose of accumulating more things, and then their free time on trying hard to extract as much satisfaction as possible from these things in order to justify the means of attaining them.
To be caught in this upward spiral of ‘more and more work’ for ‘more and more sensory satisfaction’ is what characterizes the affluent parts of our culture, and the potential for stress on this path is endless, simply because ‘more’ is never enough. Never has been, never will be.
But this is not to say you need to be affluent to enjoy stressful living. The method of looking to external things for satisfaction can take other forms in the lives of the less materially endowed, through the well worn path of future-projection and hypothesis.
All around you there are people who have everything the world has to offer and seem to be blissful because of it, and so you can keep yourself occupied in a cycle of fantasy, envy, and frustration, which then fuels a continuous sense of lack, of not having enough.
So, the only real difference between the affluent and the non-affluent, in this regard, is that the former are given an opportunity to confirm the fact that more is never enough, while the latter can keep telling themselves that if only they had more stuff they’d be fine. And when you always feel like you are missing out, stress automatically becomes your habitual state of being.
4) Emphasize yourself.
There are many ways of inflating your sense of self, and the reason this is of interest to us here is because emphasizing your personal identity can be an excellent source of stress.
These include defending your position, making sure you are always right and fighting whoever dares question it; demanding respect and admiration, making sure everyone around you knows who you are and why it’s important; claiming credit for everything you do, demanding rewards and making sure you never give more than you get back; voicing your opinion at every chance, because if you don’t, nobody will know you even exist; and taking pride in your status, being sure to display your social stature (preferably exaggerated) by all means possible.
Telling yourself that you are special, and trying to convince everyone else of it as well, is almost guaranteed to create stress. And in fact the more inflated your sense of self, the bigger your opportunity for feeling stressed. As in the above examples, the more you are able to put yourself at the center of every situation and make everything revolve around you, the easier it will be to boost your stress levels.
5) Be more and have more.
At the core, all of the above ideas can be summed up in a single method: simply convince yourself that you need more than you have at any given moment, and you will be able to maintain a steady feeling of anxiety throughout the day. This can be a feeling of needing to become more than you already are, or needing to have more than you have now (which are actually one and the same), and can be felt more generally as a perpetual sense of lack.
This is the essence of stressful living, and in most parts of the world you never need to look far for reinforcement of these ideas. Go turn on the television, browse the magazine selection at your local bookstore, look at advertising billboards, watch a Hollywood blockbuster; the world is full of opportunities for people who seek stress, and making use of them is entirely up to you to decide.
Source: ‘5 Ideas For Stressful Living’, written by the anonymous author of the now defunct Everyday Wonderland, a “weblog on the subject of spiritual awakening, creativity, enthusiasm, inspiration, and generally everything having to do with the higher levels of human consciousness.” Preserved here for your pleasure. 😉