Over the last several years, I have often reflected on the high levels of cynicism in my adolescence. This cynicism seemed to be a poor psychological response to being confronted with general insecurities and academic challenges in high school. I now find that emphasizing the cruel and capricious parts of reality is not something that demonstrates strength or coolness, but usually is a misallocation of attention.
This has occurred as I have begun to read and hear more about the power of gratitude. It turns out fostering a gracious and thankful mind is one of the best ways to battle depressive thoughts and feelings. It positions you to see the world in a way that emphasizes the positive aspects of life and experience more of the great things the world has to offer.
This is one thing that troubles me about the polarized, combative, and extreme media we consume today. It has almost become a cliché to say that we are being pulled, as a society, and by the current state of media incentives, to be less grateful, angrier, and less mentally stable. I have counteracted this in my personal life by focusing my attention on people who themselves focus their attention on the positive aspects of the world while remaining educated and realistic. Such figures include Tyler Cowen and Will MacAskill. This is no universal remedy, but something I recommend every infovore to do themselves.
However, as much as I would like to say that I have left the cynic behind, I still feel his grasp, pulling me back to my younger years. The most convincing idea that he left is the notion that I will inevitably miss certain parts of reality if I fail to fully grasp the terrible aspects. And to fully grasp the terrible aspects of life, I must experience misery myself. If not, I will remain ignorant and naïve.
Perhaps there is some truth to this, but the role of the cynic as a truth-seeker is easily overstated. I must understand that this part of my mind is in competition with all the other unique sub-personalities and thought patterns floating in my mind.
Furthermore, so long as I exist in this world, I will have the emotions of sadness, anger, fear, and grief to show me the negative side of reality. But this does not mean I should prioritize the negative and positive emotions equally. There are some experiences that are better than others, and many experiences worth being ignorant of. Knowledge, as it turns out, is not a master virtue that lies above all other considerations.
This Thanksgiving, I will remind myself again that gratitude is one of those “better experiences”, not only in the moment you experience it, but because of all of its positive externalities too. I wish you all the best of luck harnessing its power in your lives as well.