The purpose of this blog is to pursue happiness together. My aim is to share my thoughts, thoughts which i have accumulated through the experience of highs and lows in my own life, and thoughts from famous philosophers, thinkers, and humanity at large. My hope is that we can begin a dialogue, and that through discussion of what happiness is, and how we find it, that we can learn to be happy together and to help make the world a better place.

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What Really Matters in Life?

  Seneca once said: “It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it has been given ...

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Wednesday, May 12, 2021

What Really Matters in Life?


 


Seneca once said: “It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested.” Make the most of your days, because none of us knows which day will be our last one. To this point, life has proven to be fatal, with death perhaps being the only certainty any of us ever have in a life full of uncertainty. Should we find ourselves fortunate enough to die peacefully at an old age, what sort of life do you want to remember as you sit back and reflect on your existence? Really, sit and think about it. Think about your final days, as you prepare to leave this world and enter the afterlife, enter paradise, become reincarnated, or simply cease to be, depending on your belief. What do you want to have accomplished? What things can you do that will make you proud of the life you lived. 

For me some of the things that first come to mind are that I would like to learn a foreign language or two. I would like to travel extensively and meet many interesting people, and see beautiful places. I would like to win a major athletic competition, maybe even learn to fly a plane. These are fun things and I am sure a lot of us can come up with a plethora of skills we want to learn, places we want to go, or hobbies to try. Essentially these are all just check marks on a bucket list that we want to try before our time expires. 

Are these any of these truly meaningful? They are certainly fun and will give us a good time while we spend our existence here. But to what extent do they actually going to matter? Would you be sad if you sat on your deathbed because you never did go to flight school and learn to become a pilot? Maybe. But what if your reason for skipping flight school was because it required too much time and so instead you spent it as an assistant coach for your daughter’s swimming team, an experience that brought the two of you close together and was a tremendous bonding experience. Are you going to lament that you never learned to speak Mandarin? Maybe, but what if the reason you missed it was because the only available course was at night and on those nights you wanted instead to be home for a family dinner to talk to your wife about her day, and be involved in the lives of your children. Sure, it would have been cool to learn Mandarin and maybe visit China a few times, ordering a meal or giving directions in the native tongue. But would it have been worth the loss of time with your family? 

These are all just hypotheticals but the reason I believe them up is to demonstrate that the types of achievements I listed above are really just hobbies, pass-times, or extraneous activities. They bring us joy and introduce pleasure and excitement into our lives. They are fun and enjoyable ways to spend our time on earth. If you have the time and the ability to pursue such passions then by all means, go for it. To me however they are not the ultimate source of happiness nor do they determine our meaning or give purpose to our existence. What really gives meaning and purpose to our lives I think are virtues such as kindness, love, compassion, and empathy. To live with these virtues is to establish meaningful relationships with other living beings. To embody these virtues is to ease the suffering of others, creating greater happiness in their lives. To live this way creates a ripple of positivity that will outlast our time on earth as those to whom we show kindness to will likely go on to live their lives in such ways themselves. 

To live with such virtues is by no means mutually exclusive of having hobbies, of enjoying simple pleasures in life, or simply learning new skills. But the latter examples only give excitement and pleasure to our existence, without necessarily giving meaning. You may desire build a successful business. Suppose you are successful and you found a company that grows and grows, building more revenue, hiring thousands of employees, with offices all across the world. That company is so strong it will last for generations. Yes this is something that you can be proud of and something that people will remember you by. Ultimately it does not define you as a person. The real value in your life would come from how you treated your customers and your employees. Whether you treated people with kindness, whether you were trustworthy and honest. That is the true legacy that you leave behind to the world. 

Or you could be a world traveler. Maybe you visited over 100 countries in your life time and have thousands of good stories to tell. Yes that is fascinating and you would make for great company at a dinner party, but would it truly make your life meaningful. What if you were lonely for the entirety of your travels, never able to make true and lasting friendships because of the transient nature of your lifestyle, would it be worth it. 

To reiterate, none of this is to say that you can’t live a life of kindness, compassion, love, and happiness unless you sacrifice hobbies, projects, learning opportunities and more. These things greatly enrich our lives. But do not spend your whole life learning a new craft and becoming the best at something if it means you are neglecting the opportunity to spread happiness and joy, to connect with others and live harmoniously. I am not telling you that there is a right way or a wrong way to live, just something to think about as you contemplate the type of life you want to live. For me, the best life would be one filled with love, friendship, and service of others, while also taking time to work on things that interest and excite me like travel, history, sports and more. Think about it, and try to see what sort of life you want to live, such that when your last day approaches you can greet it welcomingly and without regret. Remember the words of Seneca, it isn’t that we don’t have enough time on this earth to do something meaningful, its just that we waste so much time. Get busy living the life you want. What matters most is not what we do but how we live. What matters is that you live well, treating others with love, courtesy, kindness, and warmth, which in terms creates a ripple of positivity that will become your legacy. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Avoiding Anger through Compassion, Patience and Strength



 I begin today with another meditation from the Dalai Lama. This one is a way to deal with anger, the topic I want to discuss in this post. The meditation practice is as follows:

“Let us imagine a scenario in which someone who you know very well, someone who is close or dear to you, is in a situation in which he or she loses his or her temper. You can imagine this occurring either in a very acrimonious relationship or in a situation in which something personally upsetting is happening. The person is so angry that he or she has lost all his or her mental composure, creating very negative vibrations, even going to the extent of beating himself or herself up or breaking things. “Then, reflect upon the immediate effects of the person’s rage. You’ll see a physical transformation happening to that person. This person whom you feel close to, whom you like, the very sight of whom gave you pleasure in the past, now turns into this ugly person, even physically speaking.”

What the Dalai Lama asks us to do next is to visualize ourselves as that person. Remember a time in our life when be became irrationally angry, so angry that we behaved in a way that we were embarrassed. Every person has done this. It is so much easier for us to see the ridiculousness of such fits of anger when it happens to someone else, especially someone close to us. We have all acted this way and we need to be mindful of the fact that this is what it looks like when you let rage take over. I did this practice on myself when I first read it and I blushed in embarrassment, thinking how easy it was to avoid a friend or loved in in such a state, only to realize I have behaved similarly more times than I can count. 

The Dalai Lama’s suggestion for getting past this sort of anger is to practice patience and compassion. Think back to Jefferson’s rules for life, where he urged us to first count to ten when angry, and if we were still angry to count to 100. The whole intent here is that time allows us to act rationally rather than emotionally. Most of the instances of losing our tempers is because we have exaggerated emotional reactions to situations that are often overblown. Think back to an example in your own life when you allowed yourself to have an emotional reaction and lost control. In hindsight you may have realized that your whole basis for anger was a misunderstanding, that you had an emotional reaction to something you misunderstood. By practicing patience in such situations we can avoid blowing them out of proportion into negative events.  We don’t just want to practice patience with ourselves but also with others. Be patient with your fellow humans, as we are all trying to live our life with as much happiness and little suffering as possible. Understand that we are all on this journey together and that it is a struggle, don’t expect perfection from others. This leads into compassion.

Feeling compassion for others helps us avoid damaging anger. If someone offends you, consider exactly what it is you are upset about. First of all, remember that much of our suffering only exists because we perceive ourselves to suffer or to be wronged, but that events are objective. If someone harms you or insults you, practice compassion for that person, maybe they were having a bad day, maybe they had a traumatic experience in their youth that influenced their actions to you. Does this excuse being unkind or harming others? No, but it can help explain it. By thinking deeply about the suffering of others, you may find it more difficult to be roused to anger by others.

Remember that anger is harmful to us. Studies have shown that people who harbor resentment, hold grudges, and constantly lose their temper are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, heart issues, and suffer earlier deaths. There is a prevailing notion in Western culture that certain levels of anger are not just normal but valued. We tend to promote instances of anger and outrage as examples of manliness, of toughness, and of confidence. In Eastern cultures this isn’t the case, as anger is seen instead as a sign of weakness, of a lack of self-control, and indicatory of selfishness. In Stoicism too they would have considered anger to be a lack of mental power, of the inability to maintain control of one’s power of reason. Getting angry and breaking things, hurting people, or making a scene isn’t manly and it isn’t strength, it is the absence of strength. Having control over your anger, or better yet, building the compassion and patience to avoid anger altogether, that is strength. By arriving at this state you have mastered control over yourself  and will project kindness and compassion for others instead of animosity and conflict.

 

Sunday, May 9, 2021

In Honor of Mother's Day


 


Everyone has a mom, somebody who carries us and gives birth to us, but not everyone has a mother, a woman who nurtures us, cares for us, loves us, and raises us to be a good human. Today, May 9, is Mother’s Day in the United States, a day when those of us who are lucky enough to have a mother honor and appreciate the impact of our mothers. A mother doesn’t have to be a biological relative, it can be any woman who is a strong female presence in our lives. I am one of those lucky enough to have a mother, who also happens to be my mom, the woman who carried me and birthed me, an experience that nearly killed us both, and raised me, an experience that probably led to her first gray hair. This post is an appreciation of my mother and all mothers in the world, for all that they do. 

I am not writing this only because I know that my mother will see this, being one of my few if not only dedicated readers. I am writing this because my mother’s impact on my life deserves to be stated and declared, though she would never ask for it. My mother was an elite level distance runner, with a Georgia state record in the marathon and perhaps a shot at international level competitions. The day after she found out she was pregnant with me she went for a walk instead of her usual run, because at that time it was thought that running while pregnant was bad for a child’s health. Not even born and my mother was making sacrifices for me. 

Among the earliest feelings I can recall in my time on this earth are of affection for my mother. She made me feel safe and secure when the world seemed scary and dangerous, and I felt my best around her. I can recall driving past a cemetery one day and asking her about death. The concept was frightening especially as to me the impression was that you just have to hang out in your coffin and sit there for all eternity. I told my mom that when it was my turn to die and be buried I wanted to be buried in her coffin so that we could spend forever together, that way it wouldn’t be so bad.  


Throughout childhood she pushed me hard in sports and academics, a push that I often didn’t want or didn’t appreciate. From her it wasn’t anger, maliciousness, or that I wasn’t good enough, it was that she saw the best in me even when I didn’t see it in myself. At times I would feel let down having not done well enough, but what hurt the most in those moments wasn’t her words but my own realization that she was often right, that I hadn’t done my best. Do do your best at anything is a form of vulnerability. To do your very best and still fall short of your goal means you have truly failed and that that failure is seen. Not doing my best at anything was sometimes my way of hiding, of avoiding vulnerability. To fall short of the goal having not done my best was a way of security, being able to remind myself silently that I didn’t truly fail because I never did try. My mother was one of the people who saw the best in me and dared me to be courageous enough to actually try my best at anything, something that I still work at, but believe I am capable of thanks to her. 


I could write a whole book about what she means to me but I will instead add just one more anecdotal story. The setting was that I had returned home to visit her during the fourth of July holiday,  several months after having started my first job after my graduate school education. I was working as part of a Collegiate Athletic program in Miami. Without going into too much detail, it was nothing like what I thought it would be and I found myself depressed in an unrewarding work environment and lonely in a place where I knew nobody and lacked the time to make social connections. I lamented my despair to my mom, that same feeling of comfort and security still being intact 25 years after my birth, and I broke down into tears as I described the feeling that I would soon have to go back down to Miami, to the place where I was miserable. By the time I had landed I had no less than 25 different job applications emailed to my inbox, every single one of them from my mother, who had clearly spent hours researching jobs I would enjoy in locations that would bring me comfort, all to help me feel better. I ended up taking one of those jobs which brought me to Atlanta, a place that feels like home and where I have begun to make my life. All thanks to her dedication to me. 

I have always loved and appreciated my mother, and what she has meant to my life. That feeling only intensifies as I grow older and realize how lucky I am. There were times where we butted heads sometimes because we saw things completely differently, at others because we were so exactly the same that the presence of two such individuals could only end in an explosion. This is only natural and I wouldn’t trade her for the world. My experience in life has shown me just how fortunate I am to have a mother, a strong and nurturing female presence that doesn’t hinge on blood-relation, and not just a mother but my mother. I see those who lack such a presence and my heart aches for them. It fills me with gratitude that I have the mother I have, and while I may only remember to say it today on mother’s day, she should know that I feel this way every day. She has always put me first and is a huge part of the reason why I live the happy life that I live today. 



Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Find Your Purpose



The word purpose is defined in the dictionary as: “the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists." When it comes to humanity, we can say that our purpose is the reason we exist. Has there ever been a period of your life where you felt a tremendous sense of meaning and happiness in your existence? One of the most common traits that happy people across the world share is a sense of purpose. They believe that there is a reason for their being, something they are good at that brings value to the world. When they wake up in the morning, they are excited about whatever it is they are going to do that day, something Steve Jobs urged us to be mindful of “I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something." Purpose is our reason for being. Purpose is what brings joy and meaning to our lives, and purpose is where we find our how and what we will contribute to make the world a better place.

As you might expect, if purpose adds happiness to our life, not having a purpose leads to unhappiness and depression. I can remember a couple of the most depressing periods of my life, and while I may not have realized it at the time, a large part of the reason was that I lacked purpose. One such time was immediately after college graduation. Until that point my purpose was to get an education and make good grades. Admittedly I was not great at that purpose, it would take years before the quality of my education would eventually be revealed to me, though it never was manifested in great grades. After college, I had no purpose. I took months to get a job and at 22 I was still uncertain what my true passions were. In short, I had no purpose in my being. Eventually I find work but it was just a job, a way of paying bills. It definitely wasn’t a calling, a passion, and it certainly didn’t help me fulfill my purpose. It was a subrogation law firm. For those of you unfamiliar, a subrogation firm essentially works for insurance companies and gets their members to reimburse their health plan if they end up receiving a settlement from an at fault party. In short, it was a reverse Robin Hood, we took from the poor and gave to the already rich insurance companies. It was awful, and I was miserable. Surely my purpose was not merely to help the rich get richer.

In finding our purpose we need to have experiences, and we need to think introspectively, identifying our passions and our skills. Your purpose is probably not going to be something for which you have absolutely zero skills. Skills can be acquired and improved through consistent effort and discipline, but we need to be realistic and realize that with we may never have certain skills. Your purpose also needs to fall in line with your passions. What do you like, what makes you happy, what lights up your mind? In identifying a purpose, we find an avenue towards which we intend to pour a great deal of time and effort, a process that will at many times be a great struggle, a struggle through which we endure because it is meaningful to us. Your purpose should allow you to follow your passions because the idea of spending hours and hours dedicated to a purpose that doesn’t spark your passion is a miserable existence.

Two of my closest friends in college were history majors like myself and they both wanted to attend law school. For them, this was something that they were very passionate about, and thus they were able to happily and successfully complete all of the necessary coursework, reading, and internships necessary to get a Law degree and pass the bar. Not being yet aware of my purpose, and being afraid of the vulnerability to search for a path of my own, I followed in their footsteps, which brought me to the aforementioned job. Realizing I was depressed and downtrodden didn’t take long and I quickly began to think introspectively. I thought, if I have to spend 50-60 hours a week doing something, what would I want to do? This led me to an honest assessment of my passions as well as my skills. I loved sports and exercise but was an average at best athlete. While my skills wouldn’t allow me to be a professional athlete, I could work with athletes in some capacity. Thus, I enrolled in a Sports Medicine program where I became a certified trainer and exercise physiologist. I spent the next several years working with professional, collegiate, and high-school athletes across multiple sports, as well as working with the general population. I had found my purpose. The work was tough and the hours were grueling but I had found it. I didn’t care that I had to wake up at 5am because I loved that I was going to get to go help people become more fit, get better at a sport, improve their body image and so forth. I got to stand up and move all day while many people had to be stuck at a desk in a cube. This is a perfect example of purpose. I had discovered the perfect intersection, for myself, of skill and passion. Think deeply about what your own passions are, and what you are good at. For all of us, our purpose is going to be as unique as we are.

Keep in mind that your purpose will change over time. As a young person our purpose will likely be in finding a career that adds stability to our lives, but also gives us the ability to create something, to connect with others, or to bring value to the world. As we get older our purpose may shift towards raising and caring for a family. We find purpose in caring for those we love and watching them grow and develop. The focus will change, but the core of purpose for all of us is similar. At the core, we see that a true and meaningful purpose involves something for the greater good. Yes, we want to and we need to take care of our own needs, but those of us who are the most successful tend to have more altruistic objectives when we set out. Steve Jobs didn’t set out to be rich, he set out to create a beautiful and artistic user interface that became the core of Apple. Elon Musk hasn’t set out to become the wealthiest man in the world, he set out to pursue his passion of science and to use that science to help improve people’s lives.


For myself, while working as a trainer was still a passion, it was no longer my purpose. My focus shifted more internally, wanting to take more time to develop and grow myself. I still share the values I had then, values such as helping others, but I wanted more personal development. As such, I was lucky enough to find work that is stimulating and challenging, but gives me more free time to read, write, and focus on my own health. The fact that it is loosely connected towards improving the healthcare system is an added bonus. I no longer enjoy witnessing the direct impact of my work in helping someone shed 20 pounds, score the game-winning goal, or just smile more, but it is nice to know that although I no longer see the tangible results, my work still helps. Now I believe that my purpose is in my writing, in things like this blog, which I hope brings happiness and joy to those who read it. My hope is that you will read this and take the time to focus on your purpose. This is something that takes time. Get out in the world, try new things, meet new people, follow your passions. You will know when you have found what you are looking for.