The Misery Cup Theory of Life


Many years ago, I formulated the Misery Cup Theory of Life, and while it is only one Nobel Prize worthy idea among many I have conceived, I think it is safe to share it while those Swedish guys are reviewing my work.

The Misery Cup Theory is related to the principle that “water seeks its own level”; only swap the word Misery for water. Every person is born with his/her own Misery Level, which will actually remain static, even though it may give the illusion of volatility. Think of your life as a measuring cup. Your Misery Level has a set-point, much like your body’s metabolism. Your own level may be lower than average (i.e. sunny outlook), or right at the top (i.e. excruciating anguish). But it is unlikely to change, at least without the big guns of psychopharmacology or a severe blow to the head.

Here is some empirical proof: Let’s say you get a flat tire. Shit! You’re really pissed off, your day is ruined, godammit. You feel your Misery Level rise. But later on, your level will have returned to exactly where it was. Now, let’s say you find the boots you always wanted, at a huge discount! You Rule! Your Misery Level plummets, as you rejoice that your life is now perfect! By the next day, though, where is your Misery Level? Right back to where it was.

This theory is not necessarily a negative view of personality or psychology. It should be comforting to know that no matter how many awful ordeals you must suffer through, in the end you will not be more miserable than you were already. Your Misery Level will shoot up temporarily, but it will find its own level.

My own Misery Level is set quite high, obviously, but I think this allows me to tolerate misfortune without falling apart. I’d probably be more fun to be around with a lower Misery Level, but those are the breaks.   I once read about some scientist who had worked out a Misery Index of some kind, which I find completely delightful! Since I can’t remember how he did it, I may have to devise one myself. Then, you could simply combine the Miserable Event with your Misery Level to predict how miserable you will feel, until things settle down to normal.

If a bad haircut equals a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10, and your ML is set at 8, you won’t even register any pain. If your ML is a 5 however, you will experience a surge of level 7 Misery, but only until the event is absorbed. Then: Right back to 5, until you catch your spouse cheating on you (8) or you get fired (8) or you lose a toe in a hunting accident (9) or you see your butt in a three-way mirror at Bloomingdales (10).

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2 Responses to The Misery Cup Theory of Life

  1. elena says:

    hmmmm. i think there is a lot of truth to this. on the other hand, i have had my setpoint reset to a lower point, so i know it’s possible. difficult, but possible. it’s also shown a tendency to try to creep back up. and, i’m trying to set it at a still lower point, with mixed results. it’s worth it to me to keep trying though. really at this point it’s kind of a lifestyle because i think if i don’t keep trying to move it down, it will in fact successfully creep back up to it’s original and completely intolerable maximum. now if i could just do the same thing with my weight…

  2. Elena says:

    University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin E. P. Seligman, author of the book, Authentic Happiness, agrees with you, according to an article published in USA Today in 2002. He claims, in work presumably supported by research since that’s his job, that everyone has a happiness “set point.”

    just thought you might like to know institutionalized science is backing you up.

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