People use the personal pronoun too much these days; it’s like Cody Simpson’s pop masterpiece “iYiYi” has become the anthem of the aptly named i-generation:
“Every minute, every second, every hour of the day, I, I, I”.
Whether they’re writing in Woroni, underlining exactly who the words coming out of their mouth belong to, or hijacking everyone’s valedictory dinner to talk about themselves for 5 minutes, it’s always I, me, my.
But before you pass out from rolling your eyes too hard, note that this isn’t just a grumpy rant from a crotchety old crank. Alongside being indecorous, the preponderant use of the personal pronoun is symptomatic of the present generation’s belief that we are all special. That belief is a recipe for unhappiness.
There are three reasons why thinking that you’re special may land you in the sad sack: unfulfilled aspirations, an emphasis on extrinsic motivation, and becoming a tosser.
Let’s explain those in reverse order. Consider the following quote from one of those people you keep on your newsfeed to give you material for your Woroni articles:
“As of this week, myself and several other brilliant individuals have started…”
Perhaps you’ve conflated your brilliance and the shine of that mirror you’re holding, Narcissus. Here’s another quote, from a past issue of the ANU Reporter:
“As a teenager, I committed myself to right wrongs and to fight for justice…my story begins there”.
A new hero emerges in the fight against evil: immodest man!
This one is the best, from an article about 6 human rights activists that opened with a giant photo of the author instead of one of the nominees! “As a human rights activist, I know too well the unwavering determination needed to defend the rights of society’s most vulnerable and marginalised.”
The author wins the #humblebrag gold medal in perpetuity.
Using the personal pronoun in a note about how special you are is basically making others watch you masturbate. Not the best way to win friends. And research shows that friendship is important to happiness.
Incidentally, if you think there are lessons in your life that you want to share with others, remember that only your mum cares about your successes. Everyone else is only interested in what they can learn from your failures.
Let’s turn now to extrinsic motivation. It’s hard to be certain that you’re special when you don’t know what’s special about you. You know you’re a unicorn that poops rainbows, yet people don’t seem to be able to differentiate you from the other barista-cum-novelists. Why don’t people notice you? Why are you still labouring for the minimum wage? Why hasn’t that cute indie girl realised how fetch you are?
The three values alluded to at the end there were fame, money and sex appeal. Collectively, Andrew Ryan and other psychologists interested in self-determination perspectives on happiness call these the extrinsic motivations. They’re hard to achieve, dependent on the validation of others and aren’t strictly related to something you fundamentally like doing. As a result, pursuing them is unlikely to make you happy.
Unfortunately, if you think you’re special and desperate for recognition, there is a good chance you’ll turn in this direction. Indeed, you may even alienate all your potential friends by writing an article about how special you are to get attention.
Finally, aspirations: an insight that has been around since Buddhism, is that when your expectations don’t match reality you will be unhappy.
Sadly, it is statistically impossible for us all to be rich, for us all to have meaningful jobs and for us all to be beautiful. Thus the likelihood that your life will actually match your special expectations is low, so maybe reconsider your unicorn status.
Let’s end on a positive note. If you’re not special, you might still be able to produce something that is as long you don’t focus on yourself.
Artwork: Vanity by Auguste Toulmouche, c1870