These days everything is photo-shopped, edited, styled, and developed. All of the realistic, human elements of a photo, phrase or thought are often ironed out. We live in a hyper-stylised world where we are taught from a young age that we can expect perfection. Hugh Mackay refers to this as the “utopia-complex”, William Storr in Selfie, ascribes it to a culture of abundant narcissism. Whatever you want to call it, or whichever theorist strikes your fancy, there is certainly a culture of the perfectible self. A combination of socio-cultural paradigms, advertising and media, have indoctrinated in us the notion that we can be perfect. In addition we can expect perfect careers, perfect partners, perfect bodies, and even, perfect children.
We’re expecting that photo-shop will automatically apply to our lives.
Today, many of us desire jobs which are vocations, imbued with values, meaning and a greater connection to all things. We expect relationships filled with fire and passion - we don’t just want any run-of-the-mill romance, rather we’re looking for someone to “complete” us, Jerry Maguire style. Our bodies are the virtual personification of this perfectible self. Garner an amazing body and surely an amazing life will follow!
Our desire for the perfectible self, reduces us to the “arrival fallacy”. The notion that if only x, y and z conditions would be in place we could experience happiness. As Lyubomirsky writes in The Myths of Happiness, “Nearly all of us buy into what I call the myths of happiness - beliefs that certain adult achievements (marriage, kids, jobs, wealth) will make us forever happy and that certain failures or advertises (health problems, not having a partner, having little money) will make us forever unhappy. This reductive understanding of happiness is culturally reinforced and continues to endure, despite overwhelming evidence that our well-being does not operate according to such black and white principles.”
The arrival fallacy.
I’m saluting the concept as a standalone paragraph because it deserves to be singled out.
Often, I hear people talking about the perfect conditions. They can’t quite describe what’s wrong about this current job, partner, or situation, but they know there is better out there and they should be searching for it.
Curious. We find ourselves unable to enjoy our current situations, because we’re quite sure it’s not the epitome of what it could be. As a result we stop trying to enhance it, rather we decide to throw the baby with the bathwater, and start over.
Often when I’m speaking to groups I tell them, “You’ll never be better than you are at this very moment.” Some people might wonder, why I would encourage you to aspire to stop trying. I’m not. You can be certain of very few things - two of them are death and taxes, on top of those two certainties you can add, the future and past. Both are imagined quantities. Neither of them exist in reality. So truly, “You’ll never be better than you are at this very moment.”
The perfected self is similarly a fallacy, and it may be holding you back. It may be keeping you in a pattern of unhappiness. We need to remember that all we’re promised is the present moment - and whether we’re broke, broken-up or job less, we have to accept these circumstances, and indeed that happiness can be found in this very place, at this very time.
Research demonstrates that cultural and societal markers for happiness - don’t make us happy at all.
This is the moment to seize your joy, don’t be a victim of a societal paradigm, grab your happiness with both hands, and forget about the cellulite on your thighs, the job you’re not quite sure about, or the partner who forgets to buy you flowers.
You will never be more perfect than at this very moment.