There’s something so infuriating to me about those little motivational posters where block text is violently pasted on top of a photo of a sunset. We never know who took the photo of the sunset and the quotes are usually misattributed to Gandhi or Einstein or JFK, but what’s worse: critiquing them makes you seem like a cynical asshole. While I might, on occasion, be a cynical asshole, I don’t believe my distaste for these motivational sunset-quote collages is a contributing factor.
The thing I think is most unfair about motivational posters, sunsets, and superficial acts of self-care (usually just someone trying to sell you a face mask) is that when they fail to make you feel better, it’s invalidating. If a motivational phrase leaves you unmotivated and a patented self-care-routine sold to you leaves you un-cared-for, then you must be doing something wrong. It has to be your fault because these things, presumably, are working for everyone else?
I imagine there must be some people out there who can put up a picture in their office of a cute puppy or a rainbow sunset with the words “there’s nothing you can’t do tomorrow” or something like that, and have their mood immediately improve; However, I have difficulty believing they are in the majority, or that a menagerie of motivational wall-hangings can have any lasting impact on someone’s life. I’m less interested in the people who these capitalism-approved methods of self-improvement have assisted and more interested in those it has shut-down or infuriated.
The few times I’ve been tricked into doing yoga or meditating, the point in the class during which my blood pressure tends to spike is when the instructor says “okay, now relax”. Like the puppy-poster people, there are some people who find being told to relax actually relaxing, but unfortunately it has the opposite effect on me. It’s the same pattern with motivational paraphernalia; You’re feeling demotivated, you look at a sunset, you’re told that now you’re supposed to be motivated and everything’s fine, you don’t feel motivated and you feel you should, and you end up feeling worse than when the whole process began.
So, why do I have a problem with sunsets? Well, I don’t. Not sunsets themselves at least. It seems to me that when meaning or inspiration is forced onto something like a sunset or someone like you, it dampens individual experience. We should all be able to experience sunsets on our own terms and derive motivation from wherever we can find it. And more than anything, we shouldn’t be shamed for not being happy when we’re told we should be.