On seeking joy through spite
CW: some description of bird death
Floor Doritos and spite — it’s a party!
It’s still early enough in the month/year to talk about motivation, resolutions and productive habits, right?
There are a myriad of methods. Healthy habits, ten thousand hours, twenty-one days, and New Year’s resolutions are great until they gotta be great, and all of them focus on the positive. They’re upbeat. Almost relentlessly so.
While blithe optimism has a place, I think we’re all currently in a mental space where we’re stomping through life, beleaguered and exhausted. We’re especially tender, particularly vulnerable to the slings and arrows flung at us by friends, family and internet strangers.
So how do you stay motivated when you’re all out of oomph? How do you do the things you need to, how do you do the things that nourish you and bring you joy when all you really want to do is curl into the foetal position on the floor, drag a bag of Doritos beside you, and chew sad-angrily? It’s my party and I’ll lie on the floor and cry if I want to.
I was in a group a long time ago where someone called them ‘floor Doritos’ and… well… there’s never been a more apt description of that whole mood.
I’m no psychologist (shh, we’re not gonna talk about my undergrad degree, okay?), but — and hear me out here — what if we don’t always have to be motivated by positive sources? What if — this might seem radical — spite was a perfectly adequate motivator?
Be the fairy-wren you wish to see in the world
Are you familiar with fairy-wrens? How about the reprehensible behaviour of cuckoos?
Fairy-wrens, like so many other birds, have their nests raided by cuckoos who boot out fairy-wren eggs and lay their own in their place.
Cuckoos are arseholes.
The unsuspecting adoptive fairy-wren parents dutifully sit on the cuckoo eggs (that they don’t know are cuckoo eggs) until — surprise! — a baby cuckoo peeks out of a freshly cracked shell. But — and here’s the really interesting part — many fairy-wren parents will then abandon the nest and the baby cuckoos they were unwillingly saddled with to go build a brand new nest.
They leave the cuckoo babies to starve out of spite (I may be assigning human motives to birds, but we’re not going to talk about that either).
They rebuild — bigger, faster, stronger (yeah, not really that last part, but they do rebuild and lay more eggs).
In 2020, I needed to get my health under control. My blood pressure was elevated, my blood sugars were clambering to dizzying heights. I was staring down the barrel of some serious health issues.
I was tired and unfit and sad. Walking around the block was enough to make me breathless. My joints ached from lack of movement, from carrying more weight than they should, from years of neglect and deterioration. My ankles were swollen.
I also had some personal reckonings that made me lose confidence in myself. My self-esteem, my self-worth was at rock bottom. I hated who I’d become, the way I’d folded myself into compliance for others’ convenience. I hated the bigness of my frame and the smallness of me inside it. I felt beaten down and resentful and unmotivated to change.
But one of my most resilient features is that I’m stubborn (or determined — more on that in a future post).
Like a duped fairy-wren parent, I decided to abandon this nest of obedience and conformity, this origamied me. I decided to change to spite those who diminished me, who made me feel less than my worth.
There were no happy, flowery affirmations. No daily go girl!, no you’re worth it, or be your best self.
There was just pounding the pavement with dogged determination and an eff you, haters attitude. I was motivated by malice, and a generous dose of revenge.
Waluigi from Mario Kart provided me with all the affirmation I needed — Ehh, everybody cheater! Next time, I cheat! Heh heh heh… Listen, I never claimed this was healthy, just workable.
It’s not just me
There’s some support for malice as a motivator too. Check out this New York Times article from 2014. Or this article in Psychology Today from 2019 on why spite can feel good. This 2020 article in The Guardian talks about how spite works on a more global scale, but it also mentions how Ferrucio Lamborghini only developed his car as an act of one-upmanship towards Enzo Ferrari. This TED Talk by Peter Peng from 2020 describes this exact phenomenon of being motivated to do positive things out of spite.
My life isn’t perfect. My issues aren’t solved. But the improvements in my health, my energy, my confidence have been gratifying. I’m more myself. My body and I have called a truce and are trying to get along. I don’t fold myself into silence or contort myself for the comfort of others.
All I’m saying is, if it’s good enough for fairy-wrens, surely it’s worth considering?