The Happiness of Lower Standards

A gift that ADHD brings is that, if it interests you (and granted, that is a huge precondition), you can bring near super-human powers of research to the table. And if it interests you, you can fall deep into a hole where you want to know everything about a subject.


I currently own at least 200 books on gardening and horticulture. More than 150 on woodcraft. Perhaps 800 theology texts. Yes, I have read all of them. Many of them multiple times. Because it’s hard for me to explain to you how much more I want to know when I’m really interested in something.

It doesn’t always look like books – that’s just my particular poison. I know kids who will watch literally every TikTok on a given subject. A niece went through a Japanese phase and watched Japanese movies, ate sushi, learned to eat with chopsticks, and even ordered Japanese socks and pencils off eBay. I will say that socks take up much less space than books do.

But my point is that there is the desire – an overwhelming desire, to know literally everything you can on a subject in which you are interested. The list of subjects I can have an intelligent conversation with an enthusiast is large and unwieldy: Knights, dinosaurs, electricity, carpentry, horticulture, permaculture, aquaculture, southern culture, native plants. Asian plants, the military, pacifism, religious cults, religious orthodoxy, brick making, bricklaying, martial arts, and climate change have all grabbed my attention at various times, and that was a list generated by not even trying.

If you ever eat a piece of wagyu beef, it will forever ruin your beef eating experience, because what you previously thought was an excellent piece of meat is now just ordinary. Your standard for “good beef ” is now much higher because you know better. And if you compare every piece of beef to the wagyu beef, you will forever be unhappy.

Likewise, when you spend a deep dive into, say, karate, and you learn that much of modern karate is less than 110 years old and owes its origins to a man named Gichin Funakoshi who founded and systematized Shotokan Karate, but he was actually trained in Shorin-Ryu karate, which is much older but less formatted, and thus less easily teachable, and that much of what passes for karate today is really just people ripping off Funakoshi, then you don’t want to go take karate at the Y, or in the storefront school. You want to take Shorin-Ryu karate, where the modern karate movement started.

But if you didn’t know any of that, you would most likely be happy at Uncle George’s Karate Dojo and Storm Door Company. Which you might as well be because nobody in your state teaches Shorin-Ryu anyway. Instead, 19-year-old Hugh searches for the real true karate instead of, actually, you know, studying any karate at all.

Or in my 20’s when I was weightlifting, I didn’t just want to lift weights – I wanted to do it the “best” way. I read at least 100 books. Got countless magazines. Tried literally hundreds of workout routines. Totally wrecked my shoulders along the way.

So, those are examples of how ADHD makes you unhappy. Because you know too much. And because you do, your standards are impossibly high. The inverse is also true, of course – there are huge sections of human endeavors about which you know nothing because they did not interest you at all. But that’s another story, for another time.

One thing I’m trying to do these days is to lower my standards as a source of happiness. Or try to care less about doing it the “right” way or the “pure” way, and just do it at all. Like when I began walking regularly last year, I literally bought books on walking – a thing I have been doing most of my life, quite well. But I only began to get real enjoyment out of it when I gave up trying to do it well and just focused on doing it.

And recently, my back and shoulders seem a bit stiff, and I have considered going to Yoga classes. Of course, I read a lot of books, watched a lot of YouTube videos, and learned about the various lineages, but this time I just bit the bullet and went to the free “yoga” class my gym has on Monday during lunch.

Other than the teacher, I was the youngest person there by a good 10 years. The moves were slow and graceful, and only one pose was recognizable. I think there is a 50/50 chance that the soft background music was Kenny G. Really, it was more of a stretching class than anything else. It would have met no purity test at all. And I had a blast.

The little old ladies ooohed and ahhed over my being there. An older gentleman advised me to take an aspirin before I went to bed tonight. The lady to my right said she hopes I come back because they need “younger people” (I’ll be 50 in about six weeks). But still. It was great.

And most important is that I did it. I stretched. And Thursday, I’ll do it again. Not because it’s pure, or because it’s the best, or because from it I can learn to be the best. But when the choice was to do nothing or to do something, I did something.


One thought on “The Happiness of Lower Standards”

  1. One of the nicest things about yoga is that it’s non-competitive, so the internal chatter about “doing it correctly” or “being the best” gets muted. And what a relief to quiet my all-too-busy mind. I’ll be interested to hear how it’s going as you do more of it.

    Ditto on the books, by the way. It has always amazed me that people will make major decisions, like adding a cat to their family, without reading a single word about what cats need, their health issues, their behaviors, etc., etc. It’s a 20-year commitment, folks!

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