Without giving anything away, NBC’s The Good Place (returning September 27) features six major characters, one of which is Tahani al-Jamil: a tall, gorgeous philanthropist with a sophisticated English accent. In the afterlife, Tahani wears only the finest clothes and throws extravagant parties for her recently deceased community of do-gooders. She also finds a way to bring any situation back to herself and insists, unprompted, that the other characters are in love with her. When asked to describe Tahani, her friend Eleanor rattles off the following, with affection: “self-obsessed socialite, ridiculous giraffe, absurd British aristocrat, narcissistic attention seeker.”

In Season 2, Tahani is tested: she must walk down a long hallway, past a series of doors behind which big personalities like Prince Harry, Fergie, and Stephen Hawking are all talking about…her. She can’t resist. In times of crisis, Tahani remains unable to think of anyone but herself. But keep watching; look closer. Visit her childhood, where her parents dismiss her as a disappointment and her sister always outshines her—where it seems no one is talking about Tahani and everyone is talking about her sister. Tahani thus spends her life (and her afterlife) desperately trying to establish her self as noteworthy, interesting, lovable—until the only person Tahani cares for is, unequivocally, Tahani.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say this character is a capital-N Narcissist. As Kristin Dombek points out in The Selfishness of Others, ‘narcissism’ is a charged term, one which we deploy at different times to convey different things. Generally speaking, though, the degree to which a person seems self-involved often determines their nontechnical diagnosis in this regard. As such, Tahani (a humorous caricature) exhibits at the very least what general consensus would consider lowercase-n narcissism.

Dombek contextualizes this more casual usage, saying, “I suspect some of the things we condemn as narcissistic in others might be more accurately defined as how everyone has to perform—in capitalism, or online—doing things formerly considered vain, things we feel guilty or anxious about.” The world we live in demands a show. It values slick self-presentations, beauty, strength, and confidence. Yet any time a person tries meet those demands, to inflate him or herself by sharing, expressing, or performing…we smell narcissism. And suddenly the regime du jour shifts, now condemning self-expression as “navel-gazing,” a harbinger of contemptible self-absorption. Thus the rise and fall of the personal essay. Thus the abashed post-selfie grimace.

In “The Persistent Myth of the Narcissistic Millennial,” Brooke Lea Foster argues that ‘narcissism’ has been an insecurity of every generation: “Consider the 1976 cover story of New York Magazine, in which Tom Wolfe declared the 70s ‘The Me Decade’” or “Time’s 2013 cover story ‘The Me, Me, Me Generation.’” It’s safe to say that wherever ‘me’ goes, it carries condemnation along with it. We may even bear an unspoken anxiety (ahem, narcissistic concern) about being labeled narcissistic.

Such anxiety bears out mightily in Christian environments. I once heard this in a Bible study: “Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking less about yourself.” Having tried to achieve this for years, I now wonder: What if you can’t think less about yourself? Wouldn’t you, then, think less of yourself? And consequently, more about yourself? If we live out the idea that whoever thinks the least about him or herself is the most righteous, then whoever wants to be the most righteous (and who doesn’t?) yields, either explicitly or implicitly, to the sovereignty of this unspoken imperative: don’t think about yourself.

So go on. Don’t think about yourself.

Did it work?

None of this is intended to suggest that self-preoccupation is somehow virtuous or necessarily productive. In fact, it can be healing to forget oneself for a while, to lose oneself in a pleasant distraction. Vanity is the enemy, says novelist Ottessa Moshfegh, and she’s right. For any number of reasons, I may legitimately view my self as a prison. But ignoring its bars won’t set me free.

On a recent trip through the YouTube wormhole, I came across a charming interview with Jennifer Lawrence. Faced with a rapid-fire series of questions, she pauses at one in particular. “Do you believe in the afterlife?”

“I don’t know,” she says, seeming surprised. “No. Leaning more towards no.” For a moment, she ruminates intensely, then continues, “I feel like it’s just a reaction to innate narcissism—that we just believe we can’t not exist.”

I’d wager that, somewhere, there’s a hefty sheaf of scientific theory connecting fear of death to narcissism: to me, I’ve always existed, so how could I not? It’s an especially compelling theory coming from Jennifer Lawrence, one of the most magnified personalities alive; like all celebrities, her existence knows no bounds. But you might have a hard time finding, for example, a child with a terminal illness who would say the same: “I believe in heaven because I’m a narcissist.” I’d guess (and from personal experience) that anyone who suffers might see the afterlife less as a means of self-perpetuation and more as a vision of hope, a second chance.

In the end, it’s probably both. Our spiritual desire for a life after life may well be connected to self-perpetuation and suffering. Because in all of us, both exist: a self who suffers, who longs to continue despite the certainty of death. A self who longs, period. For affirmation, justification, expansion, anything to quiet the dissonance, insecurity, and anxiety rising from inside.

In his fantastic series on Christopher Lasch’s The Culture of Narcissim, Michael Nicholson describes how conspicuous self-absorption is—as with dear Tahani—often rooted in lack: “Pathological narcissism couples the outward expression of egocentricity and self-absorption with an actually weak sense of self, inner emptiness, and a constant need for external validation and gratification.” What we write off as “narcissism” may really be attempts to overcome an inescapable lostness.

And who isn’t a lowercase-n narcissist, at least sometimes? Who wouldn’t be entranced (if momentarily) by their reflection in the water? As Walker Percy asked: “Why is it that, when you are shown a group photograph in which you are present, you always (and probably covertly) seek yourself out? To see what you look like? Don’t you know what you look like?” It may at first seem that Percy is pointing towards humanity’s basic, universal self-centeredness. Not exactly. Percy sees this outward gesture of narcissism as a sign of something deeper: of our wandering, and seeking. We are, as the title of his book says, Lost in the Cosmos.

Recently I stumbled across the Netflix series Explained. With a few exceptions, the episodes are interesting and easy to watch, and the opening credits are catchy (very important). It was their Astrology episode that inspired this soapbox.

Did you know: every major ancient civilization developed some form of astrology? And part and parcel to astrology is geocentric theory, that everything revolves around the Earth, around us. Narcissistic, no? The star signs only make sense if Earth is the center of the solar system. But of course you know: it is not.

Even so, scores of people continue reading their horoscopes, attending astrological conventions, and seeking predictions based on the positioning of the celestial bodies. From 2016 to 2017, astrology videos on YouTube increased in popularity by 62 percent; on Twitter, “engagement” with astrology increased by nearly 300 percent.

Perhaps astrology is simply “trending” and will leave us as quickly as it came—but perhaps a whole generation is, as Percy argued, lost in the cosmos, seeking answers in a trying lifetime. Explained suggests that people who feel less “in control” of their lives are more willing to see themselves in their horoscopes. In many ways, then, astrology is doing what religion once did, drawing out stability and meaning from the unknown. But there is a key difference, according to psychologist Stuart Vyse:

The great appeal of astrology even in the age of science, even among educated people, comes from the fact that it offers something that you can’t get easily in other places… It’s personal. Because you get your personal horoscope, and your personal chart. And, in that way, it may do something different than a traditional religion where you were one of a large flock.

In short, astrology caters to a narcissistic craving when traditional religion did not. Of old were commandments to be humble, to think less about ourselves, to do any number of righteous but impossible things so as to make ourselves worthy of an easily displeased god. Importantly, however, those imperatives remain rooted in everyday life, religious or not, where we impress the importance of understanding that we are not the center of the universe—and our longing to be is shameful. We believe everyone should stop navel-gazing; weirdly, though, everyone has Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. In social justice activism: we should think about solving society’s problems but keep quiet about our own. To my mind, one of our age’s biggest narcissistic wounds is in our repudiation of the humanities on college campuses: the study of human experience, as told by personal histories, art, and expression. Not worth the cost of tuition.

Astrology emphasizes the opposite. In astrology, Earth, humanity is once again the center of universe. You. Me. Unapologetically. Your reading is tailored to you, and mine to me. Every moment of your life is part of a larger puzzle, as dictated by celestial bodies, right down to the minute you were born.

Last week, a neighbor worked out my horoscope chart. We spent about thirty minutes reading detailed descriptions of my sun sign, my moon sign, my rising sign (and I have to say, I loved it). We determined that roughly 50 percent of my reading rang completely true; the other 50 percent, though, seemed off. To be fair, we didn’t know the exact time of my birth, which, my neighbor explained, could account for the inconsistencies in my reading. After all, the planets would have shifted between 12:00PM and 1:00PM. Did I buy that? I wasn’t sure. But in the moment, it was enough of an excuse to keep me reading…about me.

And I imagine that when it comes to astrology, a lot of people have this experience. Perhaps, having passed seventh grade science, you aren’t entirely convinced that distant balls of gas ordain your life, but you want personal answers anyway. You want a guide to life, one that’s for you, for today. That’s what I wanted, anyway. Then again, I am a Leo. Which also might explain why I take so much comfort in the following psalm, sent to me faithfully by my grandmother every August for my birthday:

O Lord, you have searched me and known me…
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me…

Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

If I am to believe this psalm applies to my life, and I do, then I also believe God surrounds me, not unlike the celestial bodies, and knows every hair on my head, every thought I have thought. Every day that I will live has been laid out by him, fearfully, wonderfully.

This fearful, wonderful God values weakness over strength, and humility over pride. And if the old saying is true—that humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking less about yourself—then I have one conclusion to draw: barring the grace of certain distractions, I am always thinking about me. Thankfully, so is God.