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The Candid Conservative: Land of the free and home of the miserable
Thursday, 04 May 2017 12:42
Special to the Daily Planet

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony.”

— Mahatma Gandhi

The Problem

ave you noticed how many unhappy people there are in Asheville?

Stepping into about any place in town and, with a little fake blood and bandages, one could easily craft a crew for the next “Walking Dead” episode. At least, when they’re about to have supper the undead have facial expressions.

Not buying it? Walk with me a bit.

Next time you circulate, take a little look around. Considering we live in one of the hippest places on the planet, finding a happy person is tougher than it should be. And it really doesn’t matter where you look.

The bounty in our locally owned and operated mega-grocery is amazing. Everything to trip the food-fantastic is right there and compared to the world’s standards – affordable as heck. Yet looking into the glazed eyes of most of the shoppers one would think we were stumbling through an empty shelved Soviet grocery choosing between canned beets and cabbage.

Lest the hipsters imagine immunity, one of the worst places of all is our bargain trader health food emporium. Maybe it’s something they put in the free coffee, but that place is an epicenter of grumpiness. It’s grumpy in the parking lot, grumpy on the isles and grumpy in the checkout. The only thing not grumpy is the staff. They’re great and clearly have a model for working at being happy. That’s not as silly as it sounds. 

When it comes to the work world, fuhgeddaboudit. It doesn’t matter whether it’s our hospital, postal, law enforcement, governance, court, school, social service, industrial, media, non-profit or any other system, happy people are about as common as unicorns.  

Sort of explains why we have to drink so much beer, smoke so much dope, inject so much heroin and slurp up psycho-active meds like M&Ms. Without the temporary escape afforded by altering one’s brain chemistry, Asheville’s peace of mind, heart, body and spirit is in short supply.

Might one suggest that the jubilant celebration of our ‘Cesspool of Sin’ designation was a bit short-sighted?

And so, for those who might be pondering alternative thinking on misery, I’d like to take a stab at helping. I’ll give you a hint right out of the gate – gluten, peanut butter and lactose intolerance are not going to be on the list.

Anger sucks the life out of human beings

Anger is consistently an overlooked source of personal misery. That’s because the upfront payoff – distraction and power – make it seem like a good option when one’s struggling with vulnerable emotions like hurt, fear, loneliness and despair.

Unfortunately for anger enthusiasts, and there are a lot of them, this emotion invariably comes packaged with two toxic ingredients – addiction and depression. The more you get angry, the more you get angry. And since it only provides a temporary surge of relief, the more you use it, the sense of underlying powerless grows. That’s makes an angry person a petri dish for depression.

If you’re looking to get rid of a case of the miseries, a good place to start is to get rid of your anger. How do you do that? Stop practicing; latch onto the magic elixir of forgiveness; quit pretending you’re an innocent victim; and find something to love besides yourself.



Drugs won’t get you there

Artificial means to boosting flagging brain chemistry come in a close second to anger as a misery accelerator.  

It really doesn’t matter what drug one pursues, they all end in a dead end. The why is simple. Nature clearly does not want us to live anywhere else but in reality. Why’s that? Because any creature on the planet can tell you ignoring reality ends in extinction.

Funny how being at the top of the food chain makes man feel he’s immune from the same accountabilities as the rest of earth’s creatures. In a self-correcting world, anything that gets greedy, careless or arrogant receives comeuppance. Misery is a form of comeuppance.

And so, for those who like taking time out with sundry pharmaceuticals, don’t believe the escape is free. Every minute one spends in an artificial happy place comes packaged with a matching moment of misery.   



Ventilation doesn’t work

One of the dumbest ideas on how to be happy is the false notion that ventilation will relieve one’s stress. It’s a truism only to the extent that burping cures a stomach ulcer.

Sharing negative emotions and thoughts with others is not an end unto itself. That’s because ventilation is useful only when it’s a foundation for understanding a problem; developing solutions; and implementing a realistic plan of action devoted to solving those problems.

Habitual ventilators stew in their own juices. That’s miserable.



Make sure to use a good script

It’s fascinating to watch how many people confuse resistance, rage, selfishness, deviance and diversion as constructive sources of personal identity. That’s especially true when one recognizes that these are the instinctive skill sets of your average two-year-old.

In the real world, living as a happy adult requires that we use adult identity-formation skills. A short-list of those includes love, creativity, generosity, productivity, maturity, learning, adaptation, morality, frugality and other similarly constructive activities.

Pretending one can get to good places through bad means is naïve and a fast track to misery. It takes a good script to make a good movie.  



Symptom chasers

For a view into the work world misery of so many Asheville institutions, note how much energy goes into chasing symptoms over solutions. Ask our firefighters and first responders how tired they are of picking up the same people over and over again. Ask our peace officers about our hyper-dysfunctional judicial system’s inability to create timely consequence that impairs repeat behaviors. Ask our hospital employees about being hostages to demanding drug addicts who repeatedly abuse stretched and expensive resources for a mini-vacation. Ask our social service employees who burn themselves out trying to implement foolish policies that sacrifice children and other innocents to the appetites of the unrepentant, self-indulgent and unhinged.

Thanks to the “anything goes” public policy paradigms and ‘control everything but individual behavior’ thinking of the left, our community has lost all reasoned connection to the concept of social responsibility. In turn we’ve confused chasing symptoms with progress. That’s like a physician who gives cancer patients painkillers and claims a cure.

Note to managers who still care – a dead giveaway of leadership dysfunction is indifference to the best managerial principle ever – “Questions down – Answers up!” When’s the last time you reached for input from the people closest to the problems?  



Morality matters

Though it’s increasingly popular to pretend that morality is a fluid and subjective matter, history persistently demonstrates it just isn’t so. Man needs a well-designed moral compass and without one we tend to get lost in the land of misery.

It’s not for me to tell anyone which compass they should pick up, but I advocate time-tested over new and pretensively improved. For the better part of 2,000 years, Christianity – contrary to the views of those who cherry-pick history – has uplifted more miserable souls than any spiritual faith you can name.

We remain free to pick whether we have a moral code, and if we do, which one. But that morality is as much about practiced skill as values – and our choice comes with consequence. Misery is a sign one has not chosen wisely.



Happiness is not a team sport

Crocodiles count on the fact there’s always one wildebeest in the herd who believes he or she is immune from being eaten. Crocodiles respond by eating that wildebeest.

In the case of happiness and the human condition, it’s not a good idea to travel with the herd. The leader may be trying to take his followers to safety or he may be hoping the slowpokes will attract the crocodile’s affections.  

In a fallen world, staying happy is not a natural condition. We all have to work at it. In the midst of misery there are usually more people trying to pull you down than lift you up.

A couple of truisms can help. Feeling good is usually a by-product of doing good; stress management has much more to do with how you face the stress than what it is; and liberty doesn’t work without responsibility.

Oh yes, and one more – it’s not smart to swim in a cesspool of sin….    


Carl Mumpower is a psychologist and former elected official. He is chairman of the Buncombe County Republican Party. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . 




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