Psychoanalyst Erica Komisar says this: “Nihilism is fertilizer for anxiety and depression.” Yet the media us nerds consume each and every day is awash in negativity, cynicism, violence, mistrust, isolation, deconstruction, and moral relativism.
So, serious question: Does your nerd consumption bring you joy? Komisar rightly points out that the answer for the majority of us is “no,” as the day-to-day media habits we’ve chosen for ourselves is fertile ground for despondency.
Before we go any further, let’s toss up a yellow light to slow us down before we get into sanctimonious territory. I’m not your dad, so the rest of this article will not be me pretending I can tell you what you can or can not watch, can or can not play, or can or can not read. I doubt you’d listen even if I was your real dad.
But as we rush through the holiday season, it’s understandable to be having existential thoughts this season. I suspect that most of us do this even if we aren’t observers of Advent, lighting a purple candle for hope and a pink candle to represent joy or what have you.
In other words, it’s not weird to ponder what brings us joy. In fact, it’s healthy. This is a deep and important question, and as a nerdy website, I often undercut the sentiment by pointing to whimsical fare like Stardew Valley and Squirrel Girl, as if joy comes only through the media we consume.
So let’s go a little deeper than a declaration of how Baby Yoda has captured our nation’s hearts, even though as a father I am extremely thankful that The Mandalorian is a show I can watch with my children.
Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama are known world over, but what might not be as well known is that the pair co-authored a book together in 2016. Titled The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, the respected religious leaders pooled their collected wisdom.
The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have survived more than fifty years of exile and the soul-crushing violence of oppression. Despite their hardships—or, as they would say, because of them—they are two of the most joyful people on the planet. So they looked back on their long lives to answer a single burning question: How do we find joy in the face of life’s inevitable suffering?
What they then offered to us are the Eight Pillars of Joy, which provide the foundation for lasting happiness.
- Perspective – “For every event in life,” says the Dali Lama, “there are many different angles.” And taking a “God’s-eye perspective,” says Archbishop Tutu, allows for the birth of empathy—the trait that creates joy not only in the one, but in the many.
- Humility – Considering yourself greater than your fellows only serves to rob you of happiness, they say. It separates you, makes you feel as if you must act a certain way, forces you to strive ever harder to maintain this air of superiority. So, practice humility.
- Humor – Don’t take yourself so seriously that you lose the ability to laugh, not only at life’s troubles, but at yourself and your very human foibles.
- Acceptance – This is not resignation. It is not defeat. It is accepting that we must necessarily pass through the storm. It is facing suffering and asking the question, “How can we use this as something positive?”
- Forgiveness – The monk and bishop teach that holding on to grievances is our way of wishing the past could be different. When we hang on to those negative emotions, that anger and grief and the desire for vengeance, we entertain the possibility of using those emotions to strike back and cause harm, which only invites a cycle of retribution.
- Gratitude – Our minds have a naturally negative bias, so we need to be conscious of this and be purposeful in our gratitude.
- Compassion – Compassion is a sense of concern that arises when we see others suffer, and wish to see that suffering relieved. It is the bridge between empathy and kindness.
- Generosity – Giving to others does not subtract from ourselves, but adds to us.
This is a nerd website, after all, so let’s bring this around to the media us nerds consume. If “nihilism is fertilizer for anxiety and depression,” as Erica Komisar teaches, why do we allow nihilism in the things we consume?
I don’t want to be Pollyanna about this: We can’t stick our heads in the sand and pretend the world around us doesn’t exist. But we do have control over the things we watch, read, and play.
Do you fill your eyes and ears with media that is awash in negativity, cynicism, violence, mistrust, isolation, deconstruction, and moral relativism? Or do you fill your eyes and ears with media that applauds and promotes perspective, humility, humor, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity?
Let’s think about the awareness lens through which we view the world. If we always get our media from the same places, or from the same people, we are slaves to the narrative presented in those sources. We have the choice to take that with a grain of salt, to make different media choices, or at least be aware of its frame of reference.
We can’t control much. But we can control what we personally create and what we personally let in.
2019 wasn’t great for many. I think many of us are yearning for more joy in 2020. Maybe Bishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama are fools and none of it matters. But I’m willing to try anything at this point, especially if it involves Baby Yoda.