A few nights ago, I found myself sitting in bed reading news stories on my iPad when I somehow ended up clicking through archives of recent Dear Abby letters. The parade of self-destructive, entitled, irrational, and defeatist thinking is staggering.
Sometimes, I wonder if people truly want to be miserable. I feel like they are walking around with broken software in their heads.
I feel upset for them, not at them. If a significant percentage of people behave this way, it explains a lot of disfunction in the world.
Here are just a few examples taken from the sea of folly.
Dear Abby Exhibit A
Exhibit A: This letter was published on January 11th, 2013:
DEAR ABBY: My mother had to be placed in a nursing home a year and a half ago. It has been a difficult time in our lives. She had two small, adorable dogs that kept her company for many years. I have kept them at her home and provide daily care and love to them.
I tried to find them a loving home, to no avail. I can’t bring them to my home because I’m allergic to dogs. They’re accustomed to being indoors, and the elderly one can’t stand the extreme heat in our area.
My problem is my brother. He knows I need a good home for Mom’s dogs, but he went out and bought another dog for his family. I was hurt and angry when he told me, but tried not to show it. I’m bitter about it because Mom’s pets still need a home.
I’m finding it hard to speak to my brother now. I have never had a mean bone in my body or felt this way before, but I don’t understand how he could do this. Am I wrong to feel this way? I respect your opinion, so could you advise me? — DOGGONE IT!
This is insanity. This is a stupid way to go through life unless you want to be deeply unhappy.
- The dogs belonged to your mother
- You can’t take them, yet you choose to care for them because of loyalty to your mother
- Your brother does not feel a similar emotional requirement
- His feelings are just as valid as your feelings
- Choosing a pet is almost like having a child. Personality and temperament matter a great deal.
- Selecting a new dog “for his family” will ensure that his children will be able to grow up with the dog, not have to face the statistically sooner death of the elderly dog that is in your care
- You are angry at your brother because he didn’t remove an obligation that you feel
- Instead of telling him about these feelings, you hid them
- He has no idea that you are now growing “bitter”, in your own words, to the point that you can’t speak to him
Stated another way: You felt the obligation to care for your mother’s dogs, you volunteered to do it, you expected your brother to do what was best for you and not his children, you are upset, you are growing bitter, and yet you won’t tell him about it.
Are you wrong?
Yes! Contrary to Abby’s response, your feelings are not understandable. They are irrational and selfish.
But that doesn’t even matter – this is a recipe to make you unhappy! You keep drinking the poison and expecting your brother to get sick.
If I were in a similar situation and for some bizarre reason developed non-justified feelings that were not based on a legitimate moral claim, I would call my brother and say, “I know I am completely wrong. I know this makes no sense but for some reason my brain keeps generating these feelings that I am going to have to work through so I apologize about the entire situation. Here’s the deal …”
This is what I mean by entitlement. How can you go through life and think, “I have a problem and it is your job to fix it in a way that makes me feel better”?
If you rely on other people to solve your problem, you are also giving them power over your own happiness. Never forget that.
This philosophy must be common because there is an entire parade of this kind of suboptimal mindset.
Dear Abby Exhibit B
This letter was published on January 16th, 2013:
DEAR ABBY: “Myles” and I have known each other for five years, but have grown really close over the past three. We tell each other everything, and I have fallen in love with him.
A few months ago, Myles sent me a text saying he needed to tell me a “secret.” He went on to say the guy he had told me was his brother, “Jeff,” is really his lover. Needless to say, that bombshell floored me.
We have discussed it in person, and I have never told him how I feel. I visit them a couple of times a month and always go home feeling hurt. I want Myles for myself, even though I know I can’t have him. I don’t want to lose him as my friend, but it hurts seeing him and Jeff together. How do I resolve this? — GIRL LEFT BEHIND IN CALIFORNIA
I don’t think I will ever appreciate how truly delusional people are, believing what they want to believe rather than what is so. This is one of the reasons I insist of keeping impartial data for everything. I can tell you how many minutes I spend per month viewing certain Internet sites or blogs, to make sure it is not exceeding an acceptable amount of time and cutting into my productivity. I can tell you how much money I spend or how much money I generate. I can tell you how much I weigh or how many hours I sleep. That which can be measured can be managed, as the famous saying goes.
This woman says she has a friend and they “tell each other everything”. Really? He was not only gay, but in a relationship, and living with his boyfriend and you were completely oblivious. How clueless can you be? How can you be “left behind” when you were never even “on board”?! How can you fall in love with someone without them showing any significant romantic affection toward you?
And about that – you aren’t in love. You are experiencing something known as limerence.
Even if you could suffer from all of those breakdowns in thought process, how could you then, upon discovering relevant facts – namely that he was never interested in you and is quite happily building a life with someone with whom he is happily in love – feel hurt about it? Hurt requires wrongdoing or slight. There was neither here.
At least Abby’s advice was good – she told the girl to stop seeing her friend because her feelings, while wrong, were real. It’s going to end badly.
Dear Abby Exhibit C
And how about this one …
DEAR ABBY: My wife and I run a restaurant in a small town. Recently, my wife came home on my day off and told me that during the lunch hour, one of our servers had come into the kitchen and announced that they’d need extra sanitizer on table 29 because a mother was changing her baby on it!
What has happened in our society that people don’t understand that this is unsanitary and rude? Had I been there, I don’t know that I could have kept a civil tongue, and I feel like people today regard my disgust as unreasonable. Is there something I’m missing here? — CAFE CRAZY
What kind of person does that? How are people so utterly inconsiderate of everyone around them and who has to come after them?
Lessons to Remember If You Want To Be Happy
So, to the people who write letters to Dear Abby, please remember:
- The world doesn’t revolve around you
- You are not entitled to anyone’s body, affections, or a place in their life
- Act in a way you would hope others would act toward you
- It’s your own responsibility to resolve any issues or problems you have; if people want to help, great, if not, you have no right to be upset
- Either address something immediately or let it go. Those are the only two options. Letting anger hold over past sun down is always a bad idea.
- Say what you mean and mean what you say
- Face relevant facts and accept reality as it is so you can make better informed decisions that are likely to maximize your happiness
Sometimes, I feel like we are living in a world of petulant teenagers suffering from extended adolescence.
Life is too short for this nonsense. Don’t fall into any of these traps. Be better than this. Not for anyone else’s sake but because it can help you live a better, happier, more fulfilling life. Stop sabotaging your own contentment.