Most of us suffer from a common syndrome I call Searchumstance Syndrome. You won’t find it in the DSM, but you’ll probably observe its tell-tale signs and symptoms in your own life. These include but are not limited to the following:
- Inability to remain focused on the here and now
- Difficulty experiencing sustained satisfaction
- Obsessive thoughts about the past or future
- Recurrent sense of angst
The hallmark feature of Searchumstance Syndrome is the belief that if the sufferer only had A, B, or C, they would feel focused, satisfied and peaceful (often referred to as “happy”). It doesn’t matter what A, B, or C is; the content is inconsequential. In Standard American Culture (SAC), the following tend to serve as the most common objects of desire and for most sufferers will complete the sentence, “If I had _____, everything would be great”:
- More money
- A different house
- A better body
- A supportive spouse/family/best friend/work environment
- A better job
In reality, none of these circumstances are actually relevant to the feelings the Syndrome sufferer is searching for. This can be proven through general observation: simply recall others in the position of experiencing said desired circumstance and observe the signs and symptoms of dissatisfaction and of attempted escape in that population. Some measures might include: rate of suicide, addiction, and/or acting-out behaviors. If you find it difficult to identify examples in the people you know personally, it’s quite easy to simply scan the news or grocery store magazine covers to compile an extensive list of cases of Searchumstance Syndrome sufferers in the public realm. Actors and kids of super wealthy parents are often great examples.
Another notable symptom of Searchumstance Syndrome is that no matter which circumstance is achieved (wealth, hot spouse, physical prowess, multiple friends, prestigious career), that circumstance then becomes ground zero and the bar is then raised, causing the Searchumstance Syndrome sufferer to merely exchange searching for circumstance A, B, or C with D, E, or F. Therefore the sufferer never experiences relief and an end-point to the Syndrome is never attained.
Searchumstance Syndrome results from the tendency of the sufferer to attach meaning to outdated survival messages it receives from specific thought and emotional centers of the brain. Let me explain: On a survival level, many thought processes and emotional reactions are evolutionarily necessary and critical to the survival of the organism. This is functional as long as individuals are living in caves and running from lions. However, once basic survival needs such as food and shelter have been met on a consistent basis, the brain does not completely adapt to this situation and shut off these instinctual messages. Doing the best it can in modern times, the brain roughly interprets these old instinctual survival messages as “more” or “better.” Encouraged by SAC enculturation, the brain attaches meaning to these messages, such as “car”, “house” or “happy” for example, since “food”, “shelter” and “survival” are no longer applicable.
To put it even more simply, let’s start at the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Picture an individual lacking basic human requirements such as food, shelter or clothing. One can easily imagine this person thinking, “If I only had food, everything would be okay.” And this would be true, as with access to food (or shelter, etc.) the organism would then be able to continue to survive. However, when we routinely have easy access to plenty of food, comfortable shelter and clothing, we then mistakenly interpret that we now require something else—D, E, or F. No matter what the circumstances the Syndrome sufferer attains, his mind continues to apply, interpret and constantly expand upon actual survival needs that no longer exist as a functional part of daily life (e.g., there is little to no actual danger in jumping in the car and going to the grocery store). Thus, the cycle is endless.
Is there a cure for Searchumstance Syndrome?
The cure is awareness, presence and non-attachment. But the cure requires long-term treatment, often referred to as “conscious living.”
Here is the treatment (please take all of the medicine prescribed so as not to create a rebound effect):
- Become friends with the now, whatever it presents.
- Over time, cultivate the ability to keep attention focused on the present moment for longer and longer periods.
- Become practiced in observing that emotions/thoughts/moods come and go on their own.
- Become practiced in allowing the constant shifting of emotions/thoughts/moods to occur without attaching meaning to them.
- Become practiced at inviting painful emotions to stay as long as they need to and then simply observing their dissipation as that occurs.
- Realize, as soon as possible, that you will soon be gone from this realm of form.
- Realize, as soon as possible, that the gift of life is the ability to dwell in this world for a short time, fully experiencing all that occurs within it.
- Realize, as soon as possible, that the gift is NOT “good” circumstances or “good” emotions (or good hair, for that matter, although yeah, I get it).
Freeing oneself from Searchumstance Syndrome requires tenacity, patience, kindness and love, but fortunately, these qualities are developed with the continued application of the treatment. The treatment center, by the way, is a space of meditation. Be well, my friends. LiveLove&BU
Image credit: https://academics.utep.edu