Mental health snapshot

[Written in Africa, March 2019.]

At the time of writing I have exactly four months to go in this country.

I’m curious about those studies of mental well-being around the world where people give themselves a subjective score out of 10 to rank their happiness.  Colombia always does well.

From about age 23 I’ve consistently assessed myself as having a baseline happiness, or contentedness, level of about 7.  I’d sometimes go higher if I got fresh pussy (as I called it then), lower if I got sick, but I was always around that level on the average day, and I thought that was fine.  My only concern was that I seemed to work too much, and I thought that if I had more time to myself I’d be happier.

If I’d considered the question when I was younger, I would have given myself a lower score.  But I don’t recall thinking about it in such terms back then.

The other day I realized, my baseline this year is 3/10.  4/10 tops.  Last year it would have been 2/10.

I’m not some spoilt millennial who’s never had to experience hardship before.  I’ve had family members die, serious illnesses, major breakups, unemployment, isolation, and assorted dramas I will not bore you with now.  Before I came here I thought I was pretty strong.  And then I arrived.

Last year was hell.  Barely a day went by when I did not consider just packing my bags and leaving.  I came close to exhibiting physical violence, crying, and most dangerously of all, saying what I was really thinking.  But I did not succumb.

Looking back, I can’t believe I made it through the year.  How did I do it?  I haven’t told you all of what happened, but if I did, you would be surprised too.  The whole experience brings to mind the Japanese series The Day I Decided Not to Cry (泣かないと決めた日), which even my non-existent Japanese readers will not have heard of.  Everything fell down upon my head, but I did not give up.  In retrospect, I’m not sure this was rational.  I guess I kept thinking things were so bad, they would have to start getting better.  That had always been my experience in the past.  Instead, things kept on getting worse.  But how was I to know that?

Anyway, what is done is done.  I have probably caused serious damage to my long-term health, but I have also nurtured the long-term health of my finances, and soon I will have ample time to rest and recover.

And this year: now that I think about it, I’m probably at about 3.5/10.  Things aren’t too bad.  As I have said, there is simply no joy in my life.  Nothing fun.  Every day is bland, dull, irritating.  There is nice scenery to look at and birds to listen to, but while I appreciate them, they do not cause me joy.  Beauty alone won’t do it for me.

I do not suffer the outrageous bullshit of last year, though.  Things are bearable.  But if I were stuck here forever I would kill myself.  Yes, I am often given to hyperbole, but that was a deadly serious statement.  Go excrete your hysteria in the comments.

So I suppose I will survive until the end.  I’m not sure if I was strong before, but I’m a pretty tough old bastard now.  I used to think I could never join the army because I could never shoot anyone.  Today I’d relish the opportunity.  No water, no power, no gas, no bank transfers, no TV, no internet, no freedom to travel, no respect?  No worries.  I’ve had influential people exerting every effort to take me out and, while I didn’t smirk calmly like the Maga kid, I didn’t back down.  I probably should have.  But I didn’t.

It could be worse.  I have one colleague who, in her long life and career, has been kidnapped, threatened by terrorists, blocked from leaving a country, and much else besides.  She’s as calm as a Brahman cow.  None of the problems here ruffle her in the slightest.  I guess it depends on your perspective.

Anyway, I can handle the 3.5/10 for a few more months.  I am very confident that my level will jump back up to 7 once I’m out (it will momentarily jump to 11/10 the instant the wheels leave the tarmac), and if I can settle down somewhere nice and succeed in eking out a new life for myself, I reckon I could even reach an improved baseline of 7.5.

But no higher than that.  I am a naturally gloomy fellow and I would not have it any other way.

What’s your baseline?


Postscript: I’ve been out for a month and I find it hard to define my present happiness level.  It is not 11.  I just can’t believe that I’m out, and I’m feeling lost and adrift, but not necessarily in a bad way.  More than happy, I am beginning to feel more relaxed.  The stress is slowly lifting and I am finally allowing myself to lower my guard and get into holiday mode.  I am like convalescing patient.  Tomorrow morning my goal is to figure out what to do next.  I realize now, there was no way I could think rationally about it in Africa.  Now that my mind is clear I can begin to deal with it.  And once I have a goal I will know what to do.


  1. Jack · November 20, 2019

    Happiness can be complicated to analyze, but basically, happiness is what you feel when you’re getting what you want out of life. If there’s something you deeply desire, and you have hope to attain it, then you’ll be willing to deal with all kinds of hardships, setbacks, frustrations, and grief… and you’ll accept that as a character building experience. But if there’s nothing there that you truly desire, then the slightest irritation will seem intolerable. So the key to happiness and contentment is in choosing to pursue those things for which you have an authentic passion.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Klaus · November 21, 2019

    Objection, Your Honour! Jack – with respect – you’re wrong. Happiness is having had cancer, surviving it, realising that 99.9% of people don’t r-e-a-l-l-y care, realising that “the universe” doesn’t care about your plans of a house on the beach…and making a conscious (!) effort to enjoy the little things that go right in your life. To not take yourself so seriously. Sure…”to pursue those things for which you have an authentic passion” – that’s not wrong. For me though, happiness is more of accepting the world the way it is, not getting upset at little things (people tossing trash, cars cutting you off). Trying to be thankful for e-v-e-r-y damn day. Making an effort to help nice people…but if they still fuck up, not becoming upset.

    I’m probably not expressing myself well. Sure, have goals/dreams/fantasies – but if they don’t work out…no biggie.


    • Nikolai Vladivostok · November 21, 2019

      I’ve heard that from several other readers. Looks like happiness is individual and contextual.


    • luisman · November 21, 2019

      Serenity prayer:
      God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
      Courage to change the things I can,
      And wisdom to know the difference.

      Nikolai was able to change the things he could, like leaving this godforsaken country. Did he not have the courage to change or did he make a reasoned decision to suffer through it, for the ends he wanted to meet? From what he writes it’s the second, but that could just be a rationalization.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. luisman · November 21, 2019

    Reblogged this on Nicht-Linke Blogs.


  4. Adam · November 21, 2019

    Love these articles. It gives me strength to continue. I feel rather similar to how you did but I don’t have it anywhere near as bad… work sucks donkey balls, but i’m in Australia and have a good life when i’m not at work.

    I am also expecting a big happiness increase back to previous baseline levels once I hit FI.

    Had that 11/10 feeling once before when I got a redundancy and walked out in a cloud of joy. So yeah this article totally resonates.

    You ever read livingafi the job experience series?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nikolai Vladivostok · November 21, 2019

      No, I’ll have a look.
      Note to all readers: my goal in life is not to happiness max. I just wanted to escape misery, and I’ve done that. I’ve made a decision about my future that I’ll post soon.


  5. Klaus · November 21, 2019

    My apologies, Nikolai. Your blog, your rules. You used the “H” word – I should have kept my big mouth shut.
    The reason? For me, “happiness” has a connotation of: joy, exhuberance, exultation, euphoria. I prefer (the weasel word) “contentment”. The difference? When my team wins at the last moment, I’m happy. When I sit in a fancy, cosy bar with mates and we drink cocktails, smoke cigars and have great conversation, I’m happy. When my: roses are magnificent or my avocado tree is loaded with fruit, I’m happy. When I go to a concert and it’s really good, I’m happy.

    When I sit on my verandah, in the shade and it’s pleasantly warm and I drink a cup of hot, sweet tea I’m supremely content. When I look at my: Bush Lemon, Avocado and Macadamia and think ***I*** increased the value of my house for my descendants, I’m (smugly) supremely comtent.*

    I dunno. Maybe it’s a loser attitude but the older I get (I’m old) accepting things the way they are and trying to make the best of things works for me.

    Keep up the good work.

    * Full disclosure: I don’t have a garden yet!


  6. collegereactionary · December 7, 2019

    “It could be worse. I have one colleague who, in her long life and career, has been kidnapped, threatened by terrorists, blocked from leaving a country, and much else besides. She’s as calm as a Brahman cow. None of the problems here ruffle her in the slightest. I guess it depends on your perspective.”

    You might find that the story ‘When I was in Xia Village,’ provides some perspective on this sort of thing.

    Trauma mellows a person out. This isn’t necessarily a good thing.

    Liked by 1 person

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