Comparative analysis

We're deep in the season of the feel-good movie, and this is as good a reason as any to turn back the clock to Halloween. Nothing makes you feel worse than the feel-good movie or the kindly people therein. Why do you think the (original) Grinch and Ebeneezer Scrooge are the most popular of all Christmas characters? Because they are miserable bastards. We identify with them. They release the tension the angels bring about.

The Dali Lama will back me up on this. Kinda. In his book "The Art of Happiness," he and co-writer Howard C. Cutler discuss "the comparing mind" and "how our feeling of life satisfaction often depends on who we compare ourselves to." In so many words, looking at shiny, happy people will make our naturally comparing minds feel bad if we're not shiny and happy, too. To make us appreciate that we have it pretty good, we're supposed to look at people who have it pretty bad. It's a simple correlation. If you feel like you've behaved horribly and may be guilting yourself over nothing, spend some time dwelling among some real loony tunes, and you'll see that you've got nothing to worry about.

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If this is true, you might feel a little like Daffy Duck on a bender after you log on to A press release calls it an "online confessional," but it also can be seen as an emotional junkyard where people drop off the ugly parts of themselves they don't want to look at anymore, leaving them for others to pick up on. When you consider that even unlikable people are showing off their positive side, seeing what they want to hide is pretty riveting and, in a strange and selfish way, comforting. The innocuous deposits in this sin bank, the stuff everyone does, will make you laugh at the realization that you're not the only neurotic out there. The rare glimpses of true evil will make comparative angels out of most anyone ... and therefore perhaps lead them to act more like one than they normally might.

For example, I have a volcanic, Queen of Hearts temper and sometimes feel guilty about it, usually after I've vented at some poor soul who deserves it the least. Reading through's "Anger" section (the minimalist site is broken up into a menu of the seven deadly sins plus "miscellaneous") made me realize that (a) I'm lucky to have people to whom I can show my darkest side and who will still ride in a car with me, and (b) that I am not so bad after all. I'm actually pretty good.

You'd think it would be depressing to read about people with such hatred that they vent (at least one hopes it's venting) about wanting to kill their bosses, their clients, their employees, their exes, their spouses or their selves, as in the internalizing sad sack who noted, "I hate everybody a lot. I even thought of killing myself so I won't see them again," or the potentially Dahmerish author of "Whenever I pet a cute furry animal, I secretly want to strangle it." You're angry, then you read something like that and think, "Wow, at least I'm not a [expletive of choice] psycho ... I have a lot to be happy about," and go on your merry way, emanating good will and therefore becoming the better person you've just realized you are. See how good a bad role model can be?

Remorse code


You might overeat and feel awful about it, but you don't have an eating disorder as bad as the guy who confessed, "I steal food from the homeless. They don't need it; they're gonna die anyway. It's damn cold out there." This is to say nothing of the guy in the "Lust" category who confessed to a rape. You can only hope that what goes around comes around and that he'll end up with a cell mate nicknamed Long Dong.

This could have been made up. Some of these most certainly are, like the "Sloth" who confessed that he wanted to confess, but was too lazy. But there's enough of what feels like genuine outpouring here to make you realize you're not the only rotten apple on the tree. What I didn't expect was the amount of guilt that translated to self-loathing; in private, people are not as full of bravado as you think. Interestingly enough, people who did things like overeat felt a lot more guilt than the rapist did. When things are this screwed up, it seems like just wanting to be good is a virtue.

So instead of looking to manipulative movies as an emotional fog light, take a look instead at some of the situations out there that will make you realize you're not so bad and likely to pass those good feelings on to other people. It's the holidays, after all. There's no gift as good, or as needed, as the gift of perspective.

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