On taking yourself seriously, and why it’s an essential life skill
A common saying is “don’t take yourself too seriously”, and this has always sounded a little strange to me.
Maybe it’s good advice for slightly arrogant people, but I think it’s bad advice in general, as not taking yourself seriously tends to result in neglecting your own feelings.
Do you know one of those people who laughs everything away, yet is actually depressed?
I do. I even used to be one of them, pretending that I didn’t care, that everything was fine. Well, I did care, and all was not fine.
That changed when I started taking myself seriously. Hence, in this article, I argue that you should take yourself seriously, instead taking the world around you with a grain of salt, parsley, basil, whatever spice you prefer—as long as it’s not serious.
For me, taking myself seriously is a life choice. It causes me to take good care of my health (both mental and physical), and to consciously choose what I want to spend my time on. It’s a sign of respect to myself, a friendly hand on my own shoulder.
Ultimately, it’s a sign of self-love. “I’m there for you bro,” I tell my mirror image each morning—right before my duckface practise. Not taking yourself seriously is often done by comparing the problems of others with your own. An example:
— “Hey Danny whatsup?”
— “Going pretty bad bro.”
— “What’s wrong?”
— “Well I just feel pretty shitty and depressed.”
— “Well, in Africa there’s kids who die of hunger. So whatcha complaining about?!”
Sure, this comparison might help the fictional Danny to express a little more gratitude for the fortunate situation he was born into.
But while it’s factually true that Danny is not struggling to survive like some people are, this doesn’t mean his suffering isn’t real, nor that he shouldn’t take his feelings seriously.
Such a grave neglect of emotions begins to show in the long term, reflecting in a general feeling of unfulfillment or emptiness, in soul-sucking depression, or other mental problems.
Or simply in not being as stress-free and joyful as you could be, something that many people only realize in old age, when it’s too late to do anything about. (Illustrated by the popular article about 5 regrets of the dying, especially regret #3.)
To me, paying attention to all your thoughts and feelings is what taking yourself seriously means. And it’s a form of true self-respect and true self-love.
Ride the beast
But it doesn’t stop with paying attention to your thoughts and feelings. It’s only the first step. Look at it as follows. Your mind is a great beast, and you can either:
- Lock it up
- Become a slave to it
- Learn to ride it
Locking up the lion (or moose, platypus, whatever your patronus is) that your mind is would be analogous to neglecting your feelings, and will make your inner beast very unhappy. Becoming a slave to it will cause you to be dragged along on its every whim.
Or learn to ride it; tell it where to go, let it play when needed, direct it when it gets distracted—doesn’t that sound much better?
In this analogy, releasing the beast would mean accepting your feelings and thoughts, learning to ride it would mean learning to handle those thoughts and feelings.
I call this being master over your mind. To me, this is an essential life skill. It’s the art of life, and one aspect of the answer to the question “How do I lead a joyful and satisfying life?”
In other words, when you learn to ‘ride the beast’, you won’t become so consumed by thought or emotion (you won’t be ‘dragged along’), and life will suddenly seem much easier.
Things other people say won’t bother you that much any more, chores will become less of a burden, and you’ll be much more able to enjoy the stuff that’s happening in front of your eyes, right in this moment.
So how do you learn to ride the beast? Well, a great approach would be to start observing your thoughts and feelings. The key here is not to identify with them:
Don’t think “I am irritated”, but “I feel irritation”.
Don’t say “I am jealous”, but “I feel jealousy”.
This ‘observing mind’ is an incredibly powerful trait that (probably) only humans can enjoy. It’s not new, as it’s a central concept in most forms of meditation, yoga, Buddhism, and even Western psychotherapy like Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
Smart people have known about it for ages! Observing your thoughts and emotions instead of getting caught up in them will bring you much more inner peace, which allows you to enjoy life much more, and doesn’t, contrary to many concerns I’ve heard, make you apathetic.
Let the Dalai Lama explain:
We shouldn’t strive for happiness as in euforia. Continuous euforia can be misleading and is almost unattainable. Instead, we should strive for inner peace, so we can see the world without filters, and so we can completely experience the emotions that arise from our experiences. (And give those emotions the chance to arise in the first place.) — Paraphrased from the book Emotional Awareness (by Paul Ekman and the Dalai Lama)
I think that this idea of ‘take yourself seriously, the world around you a little less’ is an important life lesson that most people learn at some point in their lives.
The actress Anne Hathaway did, sometime ago. (I don’t like to use celebrities as examples, but this is a good one.) For some reason, people started hating her. I know, nobody cares, but her realizations are relevant:
“You try to shut [the hate and negativity] off and I couldn’t, and then I realized why I couldn’t was I hadn’t learned to love myself yet,” the 31-year-old explains. “I hadn’t gotten there. And if you don’t love yourself when someone else says horrible thing to you part of you is always going to believe them.”
“I feel like I arrived in a place where… way more than I used to, I have a tremendous amount of love and compassion for everyone else — and best of all, I have it for myself, which I never enjoyed before.” (source)
She touches on two interesting things:
1) Having compassion for yourself enables you to have more compassion for everyone else too. Ever met anyone who was real harsh on others? Well, guess how they treat themselves. Probably not very nice either.
2) There is only one person you’ll ever have to learn to like. It’s not your boss, it’s not the pope, it’s not even your mom. It’s you! You’re stuck with yourself for a lifetime. So take yourself seriously, build some compassion for yourself, and give yourself a hug at least once a day. (Or buy a straitjacket and hug yourself all day, every day.)
Value your own opinion most
Many people seem to have a fear of disagreeing. We want discussions to end in total agreement. But why? Most people don’t agree on a lot of things, and never will. Agreeing to disagree is perfectly fine! Let me quote the article about the 5 regrets of the dying again:
“Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming.”
Of course this doesn’t mean that you should disregard other people completely. You can be:
1) An anti-social douche, going your own way by shouting obscenities at anyone who disagrees, throwing in some extra curse words for good measure.
— “Hey man, I didn’t really like what you just did.”
— “Fuck you, asshole! Shit tits balls!”
2) A person with self-respect. You respect and listen to others, adapting your opinion at times, while having enough self-respect to value your own opinion most.
The first one might very well be battling a lot of insecurities. The second one has true self-confidence, and moves through life on his own path.
Why so serious?
So take yourself seriously; pay attention to your thoughts and feelings, and start observing them instead of being caught up in them. Enjoy the good vibes, and let the bad ones affect you a little less.
Every once in a while, compare yourself to others who are much worse off, in order to gain some gratitude for what you’ve been given, but not to neglect your own feelings.
Care most about your own opinion, respectfully disagreeing if needed. And, most of all, take the world around you a little less seriously. If you’re having trouble with this, think about the absurdity of life.
We’re animals flying through the universe on a giant organic spaceship of mostly lava, moving about in metal flying machines, drinking stuff that makes us woozy just because we like the feeling, using handheld computers to look at cat videos.
Meanwhile, we send spacecraft to other planets, just for fun. Pretty strange eh? Lastly, remember: nothing matters as much as you. Yes, you. You matter.
Cover photo by Ryan McGuire