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Pronoia Therapy

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Pronoia Therapy

In my book Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings, I offer an extensive array of experiments, games, rituals, and meditations you can use to boost your levels of ingenious happiness. Below is an excerpt of a few of those exercises.

If you feel so moved, send your responses and testimony to me at


Experiments and exercises in becoming a blasphemously reverent, lustfully compassionate, eternally changing Master of Transgressive Beauty

1. Take inventory of the extent to which your "No" reflex dominates your life. Notice for 24 hours (even in your dreams) how often you say or think:

"That's not right."
"I don't like them."
"I don't agree with that."
"They don't like me."
"That should be different from what it is."

Then retrain yourself to say "YES" at least 51 percent of the time. Start the transformation by saying "YES" aloud 22 times right now.

2. Go to the ugliest or most forlorn place you know -- a drugstore parking lot, the front porch of a crack house, a toxic waste dump, or the place that symbolizes your secret shame -- and build a shrine devoted to beauty, truth, and love.

Here are some suggestions about what to put in your shrine: a silk scarf; a smooth rock on which you've inscribed a haiku or joke with a felt-tip pen; coconut cookies or ginger candy; pumpkin seeds and an origami crane; a green kite shaped like a dragon; a music CD you love; a photo of your hero; a votive candle carved with your word of power; a rubber ducky; a bouquet of fresh beets; a print of Van Gogh's Starry Night.

3. Late at night when there's no traffic, stride down the middle of an empty road that by day is crawling with cars. Dance, careen, and sing songs that fill you with pleasurable emotions. Splay your arms triumphantly as you extemporize prayers in which you make extravagant demands and promises.

Give pet names to the trees you pass, declare your admiration for the workers who made the road, and celebrate your sovereignty over a territory that usually belongs to heavy machines and their operators.

4. What causes happiness? Brainstorm about it. Map out the foundations of your personal science of joy. Get serious about defining what makes you feel good.

To get you started, I'll name some experiences that might rouse your gratification: engaging in sensual pleasure; seeking the truth; being kind and moral; contemplating the meaning of life; escaping your routine; purging pent-up emotions. Do any of these work for you? Name at least ten more.

5. Have you ever seen the game called "Playing the Dozens"? Participants compete in the exercise of hurling witty insults at each other. Here are some examples: "You're so dumb, if you spoke your mind you'd be speechless." "Your mother is so old, she was a waitress at the Last Supper." "You're so ugly, you couldn't get laid if you were a brick."

I invite you to rebel against any impulse in you that resonates with the spirit of "Playing the Dozens." Instead, try a new game, "Paying the Tributes." Choose worthy targets and ransack your imagination to come up with smart, true, and amusing praise about them.

The best stuff will be specific to the person you're addressing, not generic, but here are some prototypes: "You're so far-seeing, you can probably catch a glimpse of the back of your own head." "You're so ingenious, you could use your nightmares to get rich and famous." "Your mastery of pronoia is so artful, you could convince me to love my worst enemy."

6. Salvador Dalí once staged a party in which guests were told to come disguised as characters from their nightmares. Do the reverse. Throw a bash in which everyone is invited to arrive dressed as a character from the most glorious dream they remember.

7. On a big piece of cardboard, make a sign that says, "I love to help; I need to give; please take some money." Then go out and stand on a traffic island while wearing your best clothes, and give away money to passing motorists. Offer a little more to drivers in rusty brown Pinto station wagons and 1976 El Camino Classics than those in a late-model Lexus or Jaguar.

8. In response to our culture's ever-rising levels of noise and frenzy, rites of purification have become more popular. Many people now recognize the value of taking periodic retreats. Withdrawing from their usual compulsions, they go on fasts, avoid mass media, practice celibacy, or even abstain from speaking.

While we applaud cleansing ceremonies like this, we recommend balancing them with periodic outbreaks of an equal and opposite custom: the Bliss Blitz.

During this celebration, you tune out the numbing banality of the daily grind. But instead of shrinking into asceticism, you indulge in uninhibited explorations of joy, release, and expansion. Turning away from the mildly stimulating distractions you seek out when you're bored or worried, you become inexhaustibly resourceful as you search for unsurpassable sources of cathartic pleasure.

Try it for a day or a week: the Bliss Blitz.

9. When many people talk about their childhoods, they emphasize the alienating, traumatic experiences they had, and fail to report the good times. This seems dishonest—a testament to the popularity of cynicism rather than a reflection of objective truth.

I don't mean to downplay the way your early encounters with pain demoralized your spirit. But as you reconnoiter the promise of pronoia, it's crucial for you to extol the gifts you were given in your early years: all the helpful encounters, kind teachings, and simple acts of grace that helped you bloom.

In Homer's epic tale The Odyssey, he described nepenthe, a mythical drug that induced the forgetfulness of pain and trouble. I'd like to imagine, in contrast, a potion that stirs up memories of delight, serenity, and fulfillment. Fantasize that you have taken such a tonic. Spend an hour or two remembering the glorious moments from your past.

10. "You can't wait for inspiration," proclaimed writer Jack London. "You have to go after it with a club." That sounds too violent to me, though I agree in principle that aggressiveness is the best policy in one's relationship with inspiration.

Try this: Don't wait for inspiration. Go after it with a butterfly net, lasso, sweet treats, fishing rod, court orders, beguiling smells, and sincere flattery.

11. Become a rapturist, which is the opposite of a terrorist: Conspire to unleash blessings on unsuspecting recipients, causing them to feel good.

Before bringing your work as a rapturist to strangers, practice with two close companions. Offer them each a gift that fires up their ambitions. It should not be a practical necessity or consumer fetish, but rather a provocative tool or toy. Give them an imaginative boon they've been hesitant to ask for, a beautiful thing that expands their self-image, a surprising intervention that says, "I love the way you move me."

12. "There are two ways for a person to look for adventure," said the Lone Ranger, an old TV character. "By tearing everything down, or building everything up." Give an example of each from your own life.

13. To many people, "sacrifice" is a demoralizing word that connotes deprivation. Is that how you feel? Do you make sacrifices because you're forced to, or maybe because your generosity prompts you to incur a loss in order to further a good cause?

Originally, "sacrifice" had a different meaning: to give up something valuable in order that something even more valuable might be obtained. Carry out an action that embodies this definition. For instance, sacrifice a mediocre pleasure so as to free yourself to pursue a more exalted pleasure.

14. What is the holiest river in the world? Some might say the Ganges in India. Others would propose the Jordan River or the River Nile. But I say the holiest river is the one that's closest to where you are right now.

Go to that river and commune with it. Throw a small treasure into it as an offering. Next, find a holy sidewalk to walk on, praise the holiness in a bus driver, kiss a holy tree, and shop at a holy store.

15. Are other people luckier than you? If so, psychologist Richard Wiseman says you can do something about it. His book The Luck Factor presents research that proves you can learn to be lucky. It's not a mystical force you're born with, he says, but a habit you can develop.

How? For starters, be open to new experiences, trust your gut wisdom, expect good fortune, see the bright side of challenging events, and master the art of maximizing serendipitous opportunities.

Name three specific actions you'll try in order to improve your luck.

16. Entomologist Justin O. Schmidt drew up an index to categorize the discomfort caused by stinging insects. The attack of the bald-faced hornet is "rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door." A paper wasp delivers pain that's "caustic and burning," with a "distinctly bitter aftertaste. Like spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut." The sweat bee, on the other hand, can hurt you in a way that's "light, ephemeral, almost fruity. A tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm."

In bringing this to your attention, I want to inspire the pronoiac rebel in you. Your homework is to create an equally nuanced and precise index of three experiences that feel really good.

17. Some scholars believe the original Garden of Eden was where Iraq stands today. Though remnants of that ancient paradise survived into modern times, many were obliterated during the American war on Iraq. A Beauty and Truth Lab researcher who lives near the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers kept us posted on the fate of the most famous remnant: the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Until the invasion, it was a gnarled stump near Nasiriyah. But today it's gone; only a crater remains.

Let this serve as an evocative symbol for you as you demolish your old ideas about paradise, freeing you up to conjure a fresh vision of your ideal realm.

18. "Two chemicals called actin and myosin evolved eons ago to allow the muscles in insect wings to contract and relax," writes Deepak Chopra in The Book of Secrets. "Today, the same two proteins are responsible for the beating of the human heart."

If you use your imagination, you can sense the connection between the flight of a dragonfly and the intelligent organ that renews its commitment to ­keeping you alive every second of your life. So use your imagination.

19. Is the world a dangerous, chaotic place with no inherent purpose, running on automatic like a malfunctioning machine and fundamentally inimical to your happiness? Or are you surrounded by helpers in a friendly universe that gives you challenges in order to make you smarter and wilder and kinder and trickier?

Trick questions! The answers may depend, at least to some degree, on what you believe is true.

Formulate a series of experiments that will allow you to objectively test the hypothesis that the universe is conspiring to help you.

20. The primary meaning of the word "healing" is "to cure what's diseased or broken." Medical practitioners focus on sick people. Philanthropists donate their money and social workers contribute their time to helping the underprivileged. Psychotherapists wrestle with their clients' traumas and neuroses.

I'm in awe of them all. The level of one's spiritual wisdom, I believe, is more accurately measured by helping people in need than by meditation skills, shamanic shapeshifting, supernatural powers, or esoteric knowledge.

But I also believe in a second kind of healing that is largely unrecognized: to supercharge what is already healthy; to lift up what's merely sufficient to a sublime state. Using this definition, describe two acts of healing: one you would enjoy performing on yourself and another you'd like to provide for someone you love.

P.S. What would the world look like if there were doctors who specialized in fostering robust health in their patients? What if the textbooks that psychotherapists used to evaluate their clients were crammed not just with descriptions of pathological states, but also with a catalogue of every variety of bliss, integrity, magnanimity, eros, and wisdom? Imagine how odd and wonderful it would be if universities began turning out professionals in a brand new field, the science of happiness.

21. Those who explore pronoia often find they have a growing capacity to help people laugh at themselves. While few arbiters of morality recognize this skill as a mark of high character, I put it near the top of my list. In my view, inducing people to take themselves less seriously is a supreme virtue. Do you have any interest in cultivating it? How might you go about it?

22 "Creativity is like driving a car at night," said E. L. Doctorow. "You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." I would add that life itself is like driving a car at night. You're often in the dark except for what's right in front of you. At least that's usually the case.

But for a few shining hours sometime soon, I predict you'll be able to see the big picture of where you're headed. It will be as if the whole world is suddenly illuminated by a prolonged burst of light; as if you're both driving your car and also watching your journey from high above. Write about what you see.

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