Raad Ahmed
October 21, 2022

You’re Living In A Manufactured Self. Happiness Starts With Deconstructing It

Modern life is one of intellectual burden.

Most of our jobs revolve around intellectual effort—creativity and analysis, thinking our

way through complex problems. The modern human being has been reduced almost

completely to its mind: We strategize, weigh variables, form opinions, and rarely leave

the boundaries of our skulls.

We live almost entirely in our manufactured selves.

Not the selves we were born with, but the illusory selves that we’ve constructed

over a lifetime of intellectual effort.

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The problem with these manufactured selves is that they believe thinking is the cure

to every problem. Every moment of emotional flux is treated as a moment to criticize

and figure out. The irony is that emotional problems can’t be solved by intellectual

effort—it’s like trying to tie water in a knot.

Happiness—by which I mean sustainable inner peace—comes not from adding

one more brick to the manufactured self. It comes from learning how to deconstruct it.

What it feels like to deconstruct the manufactured self

  • Neutrality. Over time, we train our minds to judge everything as either “good”

            or “bad.” This was once useful from a survival perspective: Distinguishing

            edible foods from poisonous foods, or predator sounds from prey sounds,

            was a matter of life or death. But outside of a survival context, there’s very

             little that’s objectively good or bad. Cultural associations tempt us to think

             otherwise, and our minds get very good at making confident judgments—

             judgments that are proof of our manufactured selves. Deconstructing the

             manufactured self is the absence of value judgments. Nothing is absolutely

             good or bad; everything simply is.

  • Emptiness. The Buddhist concept of “emptiness” sounds negative at first. It

            makes it seem like nothing means anything, and therefore that nothing is

            worth pursuing. But “emptiness” should be a liberating idea. At the core, it

            means that nothing has any essential qualities, that everything we see is a

            product of conditions in constant flux. It applies directly to the idea of a

            manufactured self: You are not the qualities that you’ve grown into. It

            applies directly to the idea of a manufactured self: You are not the qualities

            that you’ve grown into.

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  • Intellectual serenity. Deconstructing the manufactured self leads to less

          mental obsession. Rather than judging every moment as it passes, you

          simply watch the moments pass, watch your emotions arise and fade

          away, watch the rhythms of your manufactured self without feeling

          defined by them. It has a lot in common with the idea of a “flow state.”

           In a flow state, you’re not anguishing over every decision, you’re making

           decisions based on instinct and confidence. And you’re not judging the

           outcomes of your decisions as absolutely good or bad.

How to deconstruct your manufactured self

The wrong way to do it is to apply more intellectual effort—looking for answers in

self-help books, higher productivity, “better” habits. Those things can all be helpful

in various ways, but they don’t address the fundamental issue of manufactured stress.

Deconstructing the manufactured self is a reflective process:

  1. Realization. Embrace the notion that your judging self is manufactured. Take

            steps to put distance between you and your manufactured self (meditation is a

            useful way to do this, but is not the end of the story).

  1. Observation. Watch your manufactured self at work. Watch the way it takes

            external inputs and creates internal experiences—positive, negative, stressful,

            boastful, etc.

  1. Delegation. The burdens you face day-to-day are burdens you can delegate,

            or outsource, to your manufactured self. Whatever you’re going through—positive

            or negative—has no essential value, does not define you, does not extend beyond

            the boundaries of the manufactured self.

The manufactured self is a bit of a heady concept, partly because nothing in our

day-to-day lives encourages us to step away from it. In fact, there’s an economic

incentive for companies and brands to get us hooked on the restless judgments

our manufactured selves make. You can break the cycle—it starts with letting go.