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Selective Apathy Frees You to Care More

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Selective Apathy Frees You to Care More

Apathy by Libby.

    Photo courtesy of Libby

    What do you think of this phrase: “The Joy of Apathy”? It sounds like such a clashing contradiction: how can joy, which is associated with happiness and passion, be found in the opposite stoicism of apathy? While joy and apathy certainly aren’t the same, they often work together and are complementary, as we’ll see.

    Every one of us has a capacity to care and be happy. That’s good, and is a fundamental part of what enables us, as humans, to build sustaining communities and civilizations. At the same time, caring too much is hurtful, or even harmful — unhealthy obsession, caring’s dark side, can creep out and make one focused on trying to win at all costs, even if the end result is failure. Take a gambler, who’s undeniably passionate about pulling the one-armed bandit or takes a chance on innumerable other games, but whose high-rollin’ elation soon descends into depressing depths when they can’t beat the house. Or witness the hype-laden rush of the dot-com-bomb era, from which Pets.com ex-CEO Julie Wainwright candidly wrote about what she learned.

    Passion and joy focused in the wrong directions don’t do you good; as part of your emotional faculties, tempering them with apathy — even if that may sound completely counterintuitive and wrong at first — is key to living a better life.

    Care, but not that much

    Herb Cohen is one of the world’s finest negotiators. From bargains at electronics stores to convincing terrorists to let their hostages go, his wealth of experience has a central theme which comes up often: care, but not that much.

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    Showing you’re interested in, say, a store item will pique a clerk to sell it to you. But go overboard and, in effect, communicate (via body language and obvious desperation) that you must have it at any price, and you will give the upper hand to the other party.

    My Dad was a pretty darn good negotiator too, and whenever someone enthusiastically offered him what they considered to be a massive deal, my Pa would scoff,

    “Huh! Is that so?”

    and stare at them. So intensely that their retinas might’ve been seared out before dunking dollars off the price tag. It was one of his best tricks, which helped me get my first Macintosh computer at a fine price, among many other goodies in my youth.

    Be cool. Let apathy be the frosting on your “caring cake”. In the blackjack-centric movie 21, Kevin Spacey plays a professor with a secret life of teaching card counters. He repeatedly reminds his students to not let their feelings get in the way to win — so in the absence of those feelings, even though it’s unsaid (as it often is), there’s apathy.

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    The same principles apply in relationships: coming on too strongly to someone you have affection for is smothering. Pretending you’re not interested (it’s hard, I know!) may have the opposite effect. I’m not just talking about romantic partnerships, but contacting someone you admire and want the attention of (Tim Ferriss describes this as a Mentor-type process) — we’re all people.

    What’s really worth caring about?

    You have a finite amount of time and energy, just like you do with other resources, such as money. Even if you’re super-generous, you don’t donate to every charity, just a select few you especially care about and can relate with. It gives you a good feeling to give. And the rest? Frankly, you don’t care. They effectively don’t exist unless you give not just $$$, but your attention.

    While that may be viewed as bad for those other charities, don’t worry, because human diversity is infinite, and chances are someone else cares about them. (Or if not, perhaps the charities should do a better job marketing themselves.)

    You aren’t interested in everything. You don’t visit every website — you bookmark favorites (and I hope one of them is Lifehack ;) ).

    Think of your ability to care and be joyful about the stuff in your life as measured as slices of a total pie. You may find this uncomfortably mechanical, but with a big picture — or pie-cture — you can look at criteria such as:

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    • How much time you spend on something
    • How much you talk to friends & family about it
    • Your commitment to active, communal participation (Joss Whedon fans and cosplay zealots are fantastic examples)
    • And perhaps most importantly: what are you getting out of it?

    Throw away your “old clothes”

    Out of everything you care about, what definitely isn’t worth caring about, as passionate (in a bad way) as it makes you feel? If you find that tough, take a hard look at what long-term benefits you’re getting from it — the followup, the results, the takeaways.

    You may like to indulge in food and consider yourself a confectionary guru. But gorging yourself on le chocolat, despite momentary feelings of pleasure, will bloat you in the long run. Care less about sweets, care more about a healthy lifestyle.

    Some people get a rise off of social drama on Internet forums and like to “munch the popcorn” while watching the trolling ensue or even making trouble themselves — instead of doing something that contributes more effectively and visibly to their well-being. For instance, using a forum to conduct research about job opportunities.

    Others passively watch TV news waiting for stories of interest, when they’d be better and quicker served by a sleek aggregator like popurls.

    You’ve probably observed that you don’t have enough time, but for the time you’ve been spending on various activities, should you really care about all of them? Or can you look closer and go “meh” to some, empowering yourself through the joy of apathy?

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    I understand it’s a mental challenge to drop the slop, like trying to get rid of old clothes and hesitating, “I might need them someday!”. But apathy is about not wasting energy, saving resources, and having more of a “reserve” to spend in the future. Just like emptying your closet of unworn antiques gives you space to store new ones, caring less about some things — or not giving a damn at all! — makes you able to care more about others.

    Be bored of badness

    When I was younger, I used to get angry. A lot. Sounds like the Incredible Hulk, but there was nothing smashing about it. You know what intriguingly ended up happening? I experienced a lot of incarnations of anger, depression, and other baggage, like variations on a theme by Beethoven, and eventually found myself bored… numb… not caring. It created a void wherein I thought to myself, during some of my more sullen moments,

    “OK… if this is my life… what do I care about, and why?”

    Words like “purpose”, “meaning”, and “reason” often get trotted out here. The simple truth that connects those three words is a sense of focus, of direction, of finding your way.

    And focus certainly doesn’t mean “everything”; like using apathy skillfully, even artfully, it means picking something specific to target. Remember, apathy is easier than it seems, because not caring doesn’t require energy. (Pardon the double negative.)

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    Don’t count on theory. Often in life, you just won’t know without the experience. Having lived through something. You cared about it, know what that’s like, and now you can lose interest and move on. The concept of losing interest in unhealthy emotions may sound bizarre, but it makes perfect sense. Emotions are often connected to external experiences, and just like the 100th rerun of a comedy sitcom episode isn’t going to be as funny or surprising as the first time around, going through phases of emotions and exploring them, even if they’re unpleasant ones, will teach you a lot about who you are, what’s worth caring about, and why.

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    Last Updated on November 22, 2021

    Thanksgiving: It’s About The Simple Things

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    Thanksgiving: It’s About The Simple Things

    Thanksgiving, a day of pure gluttony, football, and possible uncomfortable situations with family members that you may or may not like. Oh, yeah, and the whole “know and reflect on what it is to be thankful and grateful.”

    During the holiday season many people forget what this time of year is bout and are too worried about getting the “early-bird” deals on Black Friday and making sure that they have the perfect gifts for their loved ones. I am sort of a “Grinch” when it comes to the holiday season, mostly because of that mentality by many of the poeple around me.

    But instead of being grinch-like this holiday season, I decided to simplify things and get back to what this time of year is actually is about; being thankful for what I have and what I can give.

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    Simplify

    I’m not a “minimalist” in any real sense, but in the last few months the talks of Patrick Rhone and others have got me to rethink my stance. Can you really have too much stuff?

    Absolutely.

    And with all that stuff comes the burden and the weight of it on your back.

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    If you feel that the things around you are out of control, maybe it’s time to simplify and be thankful and grateful for what you have and use. Here are a few things that you can do to simplify:

    • You know those gadgets in the drawer that you said you were going to sell? Well, time to get the listing on eBay and sell them. Or, send them to a place like Gazelle. Even if they are old and won’t get money, you can at least recycle them.
    • Get rid of things you don’t need. Like old books, clothes, tools, etc. Have something that’s been laying around forever with no use? Donate it to a charity or church. If you aren’t using it, someone else could be.
    • Find your productivity tools and stick with them. Use tools and gadgets that serve multiple purposes so you can simplify your tool set.

    Be Mindful

    You don’t have to be a master Buddhist or meditator to be mindful (although, it can definitely help). Being mindful comes down to being cognizant of the present and not keeping yourself in the past or future. It’s about living in the moment and being aware of yourself and everything around you. It’s just being.

    Without getting too “California” on you, it is super important to be mindful during the holiday rush. Rather than worrying about the things that you forgot at your house on the way to relatives or thinking about the next stop in your endless holiday travels, just breath and think about what you are currently doing.

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    Spend the time with your family and friends and don’t crush the moment. Try not to concentrate so hard on getting the perfect photo of the “awesome moment” of the day and actually miss the awesome moment.

    Being mindful over the holidays will help you be with your families, friends, and yourself allowing you to enjoy your time.

    Reflect

    As the year is coming to a close (yes, it really is that close!) it’s a great time to start reflecting on what you have accomplished and what you haven’t. Within the next few weeks we will have a more throrough reflection article here at Lifehack.org, but reflecting every now and then over your holiday break is a great way to see where you have been doing well in your life and where you need to improve.

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    Reflection shouldn’t be used to “get down” on yourself. Reflection should be used to take an honset inventory of what you have accomplished, how you handeled situations, and what you can do better. If you journal everyday (a daily form of reflection) it may be a good time to start going over some of the things that you have written and start to put together a year’s end journal entry. I mean, how else will you write your autobiography?

    But, seriously, reflecting on yourself makes you aware of your successes and faults and helps you plan and make goals for the coming year. It makes you a better person.

    So, while you are stuffing your face with bird, stuffing, and mashed taters’, remember that the holidays are much more than the superficial things. Use this holiday to become a better person.

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    Featured photo credit: Libby Penner via unsplash.com

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