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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Sunday, February 28, 2021

If Not You, Then Who?



 If you won’t be on your own side, then who will. More importantly, why would they? If you, and who knows you better than you, do not love yourself, then why would anyone else? 

Many of us struggle to love ourselves. Isn’t it ironic that love can come so easily to other people: our parents, our children, the beloved teacher whom we have never met that is battling cancer, a story just ran by the news? If you’re empathetic like me, you can literally be moved to tears with compassion and care for others, yet when it comes to loving our self, we struggle. 

I know my fight with self-love has been long, fierce, and in many ways continues to this very day. At my low moment’s I’ve called myself weak, pathetic, unmotivated, a waste of potential, undeserving and more. I sincerely hope that you have never felt this way about yourself, but chances are you have. 

Why are we so hard on ourselves? “On My Own Side” is a book by Dr. Aziz Gazipura, a psychologist, seeks to answer this question and attempts to help us find a greater sense of happiness and love for our self. 

Dr. Gazipura describes a critic within our own head. We can understand this critic as that negative voice, which though part of our own consciousness, so often seems like an entirely different entity. Though it may often seem otherwise, the role of this critic is to protect us. That negative voice is put there for the purpose of keeping us safe. By constantly putting in negative feedback, it prevents us from taking a chance, from daring too greatly or putting ourselves in a position where we may embarrass ourselves. By keeping is in our comfort zone, the realm of the familiar, it prevents any potential physical and more importantly, mental distress. Even though the status quo of the familiar may be a deeply unhappy place, at least it is known, and as such it is safe. 

Though it often seems otherwise, your critic aims to protect you

I will give you one example of my own (hard to choose one of the many, many, possibilities of me embarrassing myself. 1) During my first week at college, I was determined to make a splash and establish myself as one of the best and brightest on campus. In my international studies class, our professor asked a question. Most of the class was doing their best to keep their eyes open. Not me, I was alert and engaged. I looked around quickly and decided now was my moment. I raised my hand and simultaneously gave my answer. A sudden fire alarm could not have made the heads of my classmates pop up quicker. The professor stared at me silently, while every head turned in my direction. I was dead wrong. It felt a bit like Billy Madison’s failed response during the debate at school: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZeHq7J9aHM

From that point on I never spoke up again in that class. Nor in any class for that matter. I think the next time I willingly gave input to a class discussion was during graduate school, some 6 years later, where I was in a different place, surrounded by different people, and finally feeling safe. 


From that moment, whenever I would feel like answering, my critic would remind me of that awful moment when I was so horribly wrong: nervous sweats, clenched fists and toes, the whole world seeing me as a giant fool. Chances are that nobody in the classroom remembers that moment, everybody has been wrong before, right? Well, my critic remembered, and reminded me of how awful that moment was, so rather than allow me to speak up in future discussions, even when I had the answers or valuable input, I was silenced by my critic. The voice kept telling me I was stupid, wrong, that I had nothing to add and that I shouldn’t even try. This was its way of protecting me. 

I bet that any of you reading this can think of other examples, and probably more serious ones as well. For example: asking your boss for a promotion, asking your crush out, taking a chance and starting your own business. When faced with decisions like this, our critic comes out, and often recalling some sort of perceived in trauma, which may or may not be completely relevant, it convinces you not to go for it. It wants to protect you from the shame of trying and failing. 

More than this, the critic will heap shame on us at any chance for anything. It will remind us when we look in the mirror that we are ugly, if we miss a workout it will call us fat, lazy, and unmotivated, if our boss criticizes a report, it will convince us that we are stupid and ought to not even try. What’s the use, right? 

I want to pose the question that Dr. Gazipura asks of his readers. Would you treat one of your loved ones this way? If your girlfriend decided to skip the gym and instead have a pizza, would you call her a whale and shame her? I hope not. If your son answered question wrong in class, would you call him a dumb ass? If your friend applied for a job and got rejected, would you tell him it was because he was a lousy candidate and should have never applied in the first place? 

When it comes to silencing your critic, and learning how to be happy in yourself, you have to be on your own side. Of all of what Dr. Gazipura said, the most important to me was in talking to yourself the way you talk to those you love. There are no requirements for this love. You treat your loved ones with kindness, respect, patience, and accountability. If you start practicing these qualities with yourself, the way you do with others, you will be on your own side and you will be able to find happiness. 

Understand that the critic is there to provide security in an unknown world. It acts from the perspective that the evil you know is better than the evil you don’t. while it may keep you in a miserable thought cycle, your critic believes it is protecting you from the unknown. When you learn to start talking to and understanding your whole self, including your critic, you will be able to let go of these fears and this pain and get busy living, daring greatly, and being happy. 

Learn to think and speak nicely with yourself, be on your own side, live boldly, and start being happy. 


I highly encourage you to check out Dr. Gazipura's Book: 


https://www.amazon.com/Own-Side-Self-Criticism-Self-Worth-Confidence-ebook/dp/B08518QZ4S

Saturday, February 27, 2021

A Random Story of Kindness



 I was struggling with some writer’s block this morning as I sat down to do my daily post writing. Rather than using a quotation from a famous, philosopher, or reference a book from a well-known writer and thinker, I am going to tell a story today. 

What I enjoy about the story I am about to tell is that in so many ways it was such an insignificant moment, yet for some reason I can still remember it as clearly as if it just happened. This moment I am going to describe is something that I still recall now, 16 years later, and which I think about as a moral compass of sorts before I make the wrong decision. 

The setting is as follows: I was traveling to the Pacific Northwest, visiting colleges in Oregon and Washington with my father and sister. I was 15 years old and we were touring schools so that I might find a place where I would want to enroll in a couple of years. After touring Lewis and Clark in Portland, we spent the next two days relaxing in the city, staying at the downtown Marriott in Portland. 

The weather outside was wet and cold, as it so often is in the Northwest United States, so rather than going out I decided to spend some time hanging out at the indoor swimming pool. I had just started lifting weights at the time, so I was still very much self-conscious about my lack of physical esteem, and as such perceived pretty much anyone who was older or bigger, pretty much everyone, as a threat. 

In the pool at the time there were a couple of older guys, probably late teens or early 20’s splashing around. They were roughhousing and such and had a tough look about them. They were well muscled, sported tattoos, and cool facial hair, in short, they seemed a bit scary, at least to a self-conscious stringed bean of a 15-year-old such as myself. 

My guard went up immediately as I sensed these guys as a potential threat. Yes, this is seriously how bad my anxiety was. Naturally, the three guys paid no attention to me (one of the things to realize about self-consciousness is: no body is paying as much attention to you as you are, they’re all too busy being SELF-conscious of themselves!) As I was doing my best to avoid eye contact with this group of toughs, I heard one of them say something. I can’t really remember the context but what I heard next was the phrase that has stuck with me all of these years. He said “you wouldn’t want to do that. It wouldn’t be very nice, and you wouldn’t want to hurt somebodies feelings.”

Again, I have no idea what the prelude was, but that simple message has stuck with me. Here was this guy who by all appearances seemed like a tough guy who probably beat ass for a living and enjoyed smashing skulls, and he was worried about hurting someone’s feelings. First of all, shame on me for judging a book by its cover. Second, it was an enlightening moment for me because it suddenly made me realize that being nice is for everyone. I felt an immediate sense of compassion for this guy. To see someone else focus on concern for the feelings of others, as silly as it sounds given this was the extent of our interaction, has inspired me to do the same. 

To this very day when I can feel myself getting ready to do something wrong, is top and think: might this hurt someone’s feelings. Suppose I feel like sending a text about a mutual friend to one of my buddies, I stop and think: is this nice. Would this hurt this person’s feelings if they knew I was saying this? If the answer is yes, I do my best to stop. Admittedly, I don’t always abide by this, I am not perfect, but I like to think that every time I fight the urge to do something wrong, and choose kindness, that the world is a better place. I think that is the case in each of our lives. None of us is perfect, but every time we choose kindness, the world is made better. 

I never saw that guy again. I never learned his name or anything about him, but I hope he has a long and happy life, and if nothing else comes from his being, I want it known that that simple moment, one that odds are he has no recollection of, then his life has made a difference in mine. 


If there are any morals in this story, I would say they are as follows: 1) Don’t judge a book by its cover. I judged this young man in less than a second as a scary and mean individual. Clearly, I was wrong. Don’t do that. 2) Any of us can be a roll model. You never know who may be watching or how your actions may rub off on others. I am sure this man had no idea that an impressionable teenager was paying attention, but at that moment, a rather unremarkable attempt made a profoundly positive affect on somebody’s life. This goes to show that simple moment of kindness can have a ripple effect. Make sure that ripple is positive. 



Friday, February 26, 2021

Why are the Nordic States so Happy?


 

The flags of the 5 Nordic States: Iceland, Norwy, Finland, Denmark and Sweden     

In a previous post I talked about how Denmark was consistently ranked as one of if not the happiest countries in the world, and elaborated on hygge, perhaps the defining concept of Danish culture, and its influence on their outlook. 

It turns out that Denmark isn’t the only happy country in that part of the world. Of the five Nordic countries: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, all five have occupied a top 10 spot on each of the UN’s happiness reports, typically with at least three of the five being in the top 5 internationally. 

It is no coincidence, and it isn’t just hygge that makes the Nordic countries happy, though each of them does seem to possess their own idea, similar if not identical to the Danish hygge. It turns out that they share a multitude of similarities and that the overall sense of wellbeing amongst citizens of these nations comes from their high levels of satisfaction across multiple measures. 

Among the statistics that were considered by researchers trying to understand what made these 5 neighboring nations so happy was social mobility. Social mobility indicates the opportunity of citizens to receive quality education, and quality high paying jobs. These five countries were ranked 1-5 on this category, meaning that more-so than anywhere else, the social status of one’s parents had less to do with how a citizen of this country would fare later in life. In other countries, such as the United States, the single greatest indicator of how much wealth a person will acquire in their life time, is how much wealth their parents had. In the Nordic countries, this means very little due to the social mobility, indicating that even the poorest members of society would have as much chance to succeed as those wealthier. Of course, wealth doesn’t mean happiness, but knowing that one has every opportunity to succeed surely improves outlook. 

Another statistic of note is that all of the group, with the exception of Iceland, are in the top 10 internationally in terms of welfare spending. The taxes in most of these countries are extremely high, however these taxes are spent on the improvement of society. I think that the way that these high taxes are viewed in these nations is telling. To pick on my home country, the united states, again, it can be political suicide to suggest a tax raise. In the Nordic states however, the high tax rate does not concern the citizens who believe that their tax dollars are an investment in their society. Speaking of his home nation of Denmark, Meik Wiking, CEO and Founder of the Happiness Research Institute said: “The key to understanding the high levels of well-being in Denmark is the welfare model’s ability to reduce risk, uncertainty, and anxiety among its citizens and to prevent extreme unhappiness.” This could likely be extrapolated to cover the entirety of the Nordic states. 

Imagine how much happier you would be if you did not have to fear whether or not you could afford healthcare for your sick child. imagine how much happier you would be if you didn’t have to fear losing your home should you suddenly find yourself unemployed, knowing that the government would care for you until you got your feet back under you. Imagine how much easier, and how much greater opportunity our youth might have if they could receive a nearly free, and quality, publicly-funded university education, allowing themselves to become productive and valuable members of an educated society without having to face mountains of debt. Such is the state of happiness in the Nordic states where social spending is high. This creates the most pronounced differences of happiness amongst the poor of various nations. It is one thing the take into consideration the levels of happiness in those who are most well off, those for whom every opportunity is afforded. But what of those for whom the system seems to be stacked against. Therein lies the greatest difference when considering the Nordic Countries: the worst off among them still experience happy and promising lives. 

With regards to public spending: it isn’t to say that American’s, and other nationalities for that matter, are collectively more selfish, or don’t care about their poor. A lot of the issue with taxes and social spending in America is that Americans tend to be very distrusting of their government, believing that a large amount of their taxes are wasted lining the pockets of crooked politicians or simply being wasted through the nonsense of bureaucracy. To that point, all of the Nordic countries ranked in the top 10 internationally with regards to political corruption, and trust of their government. Because of these high levels of trust, they believe and have confidence that their tax dollars really are going to the betterment of society. 

One final notion I want to discuss is how those citizens of the Nordic countries view themselves and their neighbors. The World Happiness Report considered the levels of social cohesion and found, unsurprisingly, that all five of the Nordic nations scored highly. They received very high marks not just for socializing, group activities and such, but also for trust of their neighbors. If you remember my earlier post on hygge, we talk about how the concept encourages simplicity, lack of ostentatiousness, it is about making others comfortable and establishing cohesion together. 

On the other hand, citizens of other countries may fall into the trap of comparing themselves to their neighbors and falling victim to envy. Part of the American dream is not just about having enough but about having more than everyone: having a bigger house, or a nicer car than your neighbor, keeping up with the Jones’s if you will. We can remember from my post about the Dalai Lama, that unhappiness is rooted in comparing oneself to others. In some cultures, this comparison seems to be almost a natural part of our national ethos, while other places, like the Nordic states don’t have this problem. I think if you consider the typical American, we all think that we are destined to be a millionaire, we just haven’t made our big break yet. This delays our happiness or gratification until some future point in time which may never come to be. The Nordic countries have mastered the art of being happy and grateful in the present, and not in postponing that gratification. 

I think that looking closely at the Nordic nations can provide valuable insight to other nations as they seek to improve their own governments and societies to create happy, productive, and supportive societies. I know that this is easier said than done in reality, but I sincerely hope that the leaders of the world look to these nations as they consider how they can properly care for their citizens and how they can build meaningful and happy lives for all.  


Click the links below for some of the UN’s reports.   


2020 World Happiness Report: https://worldhappiness.report/ed/2020/#read

Thursday, February 25, 2021

How Travel Will Make You a Better and Happier Person


 


Mark Twain once said: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Bold statement, no? 

You may be wondering, what the hell does that have to do with happiness? He didn’t mention the words happy or happiness once. 

No. He didn’t. 

But,

I believe that within this statement, Mark Twain has laid out a key step in recognizing a greater sense of community, understanding, and togetherness within this post. Qualities that when realized will ultimately make us happier as we grow a greater sense of our place within this world and our relationship with all of Humanity. 

Rather than fearing or mistrusting one another because their skin is a different color, they call god a different name, they have different sexual preferences, or because they live over there and we live here, we will realize that we have more in common than we think, which will foster a heightened sense of global happiness. 

Xenophobia is unfortunately as alive and well today as it was in the 1800s when Mark Twain wrote the opening quote I used for this post. The media thrives on our fear of Others, anyone who isn’t like us, and they hammer us again and again with terrifying stories about how people from this place cant be trusted because they have a different religion, or that they want to destroy us because they envy us and our way of life. I am sure whoever “they” is, that their media inevitably tells similar stories about us, whomever “us” happens to be. The media thrives on this fear to sell headlines. 

Politicians will use fear of others to drive their own personal agendas, weaving lies into the thread of public opinion, and assuming that we wont be able to notice because we simply don’t know any better. 

This is precisely where travel comes in. If you have the opportunity to see a new place, especially a foreign country, you will be blessed with an experience that make you wiser, fatally destroying any previous sense of prejudice, bigotry, or narrow-mindedness that you may have had. 

Chances are is that you will realize that almost none, if any, of the terrible things you have been lead to believe are true. In fact, you will likely be amazed at the similarities that you will realize with your fellow humans. For one, we all share a love of food. Probably my favorite universal experience I get to enjoy whenever I have been lucky enough to travel abroad, is sharing a meal comprised of the local fare with bona fide locals and to try and live a bit as they do. 

You will also come to realize that they share the same values by and large. They may speak a different language, or worship differently, but beneath that thin veil they enjoy the love of their families, good times spent laughing with friends, being silly, and just generally existing in happiness together. 

Sure you may find pockets where the worst of what the media says may in deed resemble the truth, but while the media wants you to believe that such circumstances are indicative of an entire nation or people, when in fact it represents only the smallest fraction of the most extreme outliers. 

Take Iran for example, a country whom according to American politicians represents the axis of evil. Sure you may be able to find a radical mosque somewhere outside of Tehran where the locals chant “death to America!” but I could just as easily find some mega-church here in the United States where the members pray for the destruction of the Iranian people, and I would no more want that to be a representation of my country than any normal Iranian would theirs. In both situations you see extremely misguided individuals being deceived by those who would bastardize their respective religions in an effort to exert influence, both of which would be completely failing to deliver the true message of their respective founders: Jesus Christ and the Prophet Mohammed. 

We are all different pieces to the same puzzle

If the average Iranian and the Average American had the chance to meet they would come to realize they share more in common and that neither one wishes harm upon the other. This would be the same of people from any country. Once you have the chance to see the place and meet the people and truly get to know them rather than view them as some abstract notion over there, out of sight, you realize that we are all one common humanity and that we should rejoice in happiness that we share this world together. 

This of course says nothing about the breath-taking sights, crazy adventures, and marvelous works of human construction that you will be able to experience first hand. I think though that the greatest experience of travel is exactly what Mark Twain said. I think it is impossible to hold a negative view of a race of peoples or a place once you have met them first hand. Until then you may harbor some false notions of their inferiority or wickedness, but this is quickly dispelled with the blessing of travel. 

If for some reason your experience isn’t that great, I find that at the very least you are a better person for having had the experience, and you should be happy in the knowledge that you have grown as a person and in your worldliness. 

The lack of international and even domestic travel options right now, as the world continues to struggle with corona virus, makes this hard. I look forward to many more international journeys in the days to come, and I look forward to meeting more and more people of the world, discovering one another, and learning to be happy together as one humanity. 




Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Your Ambition May be Keeping you from Happiness


 Today, we begin with a couple of questions. Is ambition good or bad? Will having ambition make you happy? 

Think about it. 

"Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it."


My answers:

Is ambition good or bad? It depends. 

Will ambition make you happy? It depends. 

Way to be committal here writer, let me explain my thoughts. 

I will start by saying that so much of happiness is about balance and moderation. As you read my posts over time you will often catch me making contradictions to previous posts. At times I will advocate rigorous exercise and at others rest. You may hear me advocating for a clean healthy diet of meat and veggies, and at others encouraging you to eat an entire birthday cake. You may be thinking: which choice will make me happy, damnit! I know, we all want straight up answers. But when it comes to an emotion like happiness, I don’t think there is one right answer, and I don’t think that there is one right way to ALWAYS make the correct choice. It is about balance, moderation, and understanding where you are right here, right now. 

Let’s get back to ambition, shall we. I believe that ambition can be good, but that it depends on what your ambition is, how much it means to you (ie how will you feel if you fail to achieve your ambition) what will the result be, and will the result justify the means. 

How do we tell if our ambition is good or bad? We need to be conscious of its impact on ourselves, but especially how it will affect others. Perhaps your ambition is to become a fortune 500 CEO. Seems like a reasonable albeit lofty ambition. What will happen when we become a CEO? We will have more money, so we can take better care of our family and those who count on us, that’s a good thing isn’t it. However, that money may also cause us to become obsessed with ephemeral things like our possessions and cause us to realign our values. What does it take to become the CEO? Hours and hours in the office for starters. This may cause you to miss out on valuable time with your spouse and your kids, sure you’re providing a better life, but is the time you are missing worth the extra few hundred thousand dollars in your estate or the extravagant 1-week vacation you’ll take later this year before you return back to the office for 70 hours a week. 

What about the decisions you’ll have to make as a CEO. You promised yourself if you ever got here that you would always take care of the little guy, heck you used to be a little guy yourself. Well, now that you’re CEO, you have to make tough decisions to improve your company’s bottom line, at the end of the day your only real job is to improve bottom line and increase share value. Well, you now have a tough decision to make: your company needs to dramatically reduce costs and the only option you and your team have been able to identify is to close one of your locations in an underperforming region. This will put 250 people out of work, directly affecting their own ability to provide for those who depend on them. Can you make that decision? If you don’t you may very well lose your own position, that one which you pursued with so much ambition. 


My answer would be no, none of the above was worth it. Presumably our hypothetical CEO above could have still provided very well for his family without the ambition to get to the very top, instead coming home from the office in time to see his kid’s baseball game, maybe they’ll have to drive a used American car instead of a brand-new luxury European model or take a vacation to the Florida gulf instead of Bora Bora. But hey, at least you get to spend time together and don’t have to make tough decisions that could cause ruin for hundreds of people. How often do you ever hear of someone on their deathbed saying: damn, I really wish I had worked harder or had more ambition? Never. It’s almost always: I wish I had spent more time just being happy with my friends and family. 

Let’s consider this too. What happens when you fail at your ambition. We will continue to work with the hypothetical of company CEO for now. Your ambition is to become the CEO. You spend dozens of extra hours each week working on assignments, preparing for presentations, going the extra mile. You are working yourself to death and are absolutely miserable, but you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The current CEO is stepping down soon and you have been told that if you keep up your good work, you may very well likely be tapped as the next Chief. Again, you’re miserable now, you can’t remember the last time you went on a date with your wife, or saw your daughter’s soccer game, or was it softball that she played. Either way, the misery will soon be over, and once you become CEO, then you can become happy. 

2 weeks later the company announces that the position has been filled by a candidate from another company. You are absolutely dejected. You have spent the entirety of your career working to this point, putting up with so much pain and anguish, sacrificing so much, for this opportunity, yet you failed. You remain miserable because your sole ambition was to become a CEO, and you postponed so much happiness for the day when that would happen. 

Sounds awful doesn’t it? Yes, this is a hypothetical, but it is exactly what can happen if our ambition becomes unchecked. When we have too much ambition, we may be willing to do things that contradict our values in order to serve that ambition, such as the current CEO in our first example, who had to fire 250 people to maintain his ambition. We also delay our gratification in life and associate too much of our self-worth with whatever the realization of that ambition may be. What an awful way to live, like our second example. Should they feel like a failure in life because they didn’t become CEO, through no fault of their own? Of course not, but that’s what they feel like because they let that ambition define themselves and define their sense of happiness.  

To circle back to the original question, I would say ambition can be good if it is ambition for the right thing and the right reasons, is your ambition to be a better person, or to help others? Or at least can you pursue your ambition and still be present for your family, and gracious to others or at the very least neutral? Is your ambition selfish, is it necessary? Additionally, what does your ambition mean to you. Is it something you want but can be content and happy without, or does it define the very nature of your existence? 

It turns out that a number of philosophers had opinions on ambition as well. I will leave you with a separate quote by each of the great thinkers we have looked at to date in this blog, the Stoics: Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius; as well as the Dalai Lama and Anthony De Mello

“Curb your desire, don’t focus your heart on so many things, and then you will get what you want.” ~ Epictetus.  

“No person has the power to have everything they want, but it is in their power not to want what they don’t have, and to cheerfully put to good use what they do have.” ~ Seneca. 

“Alexander and Caesar and Pompey. Compared with Diogenes, Heraclitus, Socrates? The philosophers knew the what, the why, the how. Their minds were their own. The others? Nothing but anxiety and enslavement.” ~ Marcus Aurelius

“Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.” ~ His Holiness the Dalai Lama

“Do not suppress desire, because then you would become lifeless.” Anthony de Mello. 

Julius Caesar reportedly wept when comparing himself to Alexander, imagine the despair of his ambition and constant comparison to others.


The stoics seem to be telling us that ambition makes us a slave to desire, and insecure if we are lacking in our success at pursuing our ambition. The best way to fix this would be to curve your ambition for what you don’t have and instead to be grateful for what you do. The Dalai Lama tells us that it is ok to have success and ambition, but be mindful of the cost, what do we lose in the pursuit: our precious time with on earth, quality time with loved ones, our values. Finally, I left de Mello for last because his stands in most stark contrast to the others. He tells us not to suppress desire or risk becoming lifeless. I do believe that ambition and desire can be good, but I would urge you to consider the value of your ambition and to remind yourself that though you may have goals and aspirations, you do not need to achieve those to be happy. You can and you should be happy right now. 


Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Try Doing Nothing for a Change




It might seem like an oxymoron, but something I want you to try in order to become happy is: to do absolutely nothing. 

In a recent appointment with my psychiatrist, he gave me this very advice. We had been talking about my inability to feel happy with myself. From an early age I had been conditioned to please others. Somehow, I became learned to believe that I simply wasn’t good enough as I was. My self-esteem became completely dependent on others’ opinions of me (what some would call “other-esteem) namely my parents. As such, I have had a very difficult time feeling comfortable, content, or happy, unless I am actively doing something productive to demonstrate my worth to others, and to myself. 

As an adult some of those things I throw myself into have included exercise, studying languages, reading books, travelling (in non Covid years), watching tv, my career, and not so much anymore but for a number of years: heavily drinking and doing drugs. With the exception of the heavy drinking and drug use, there is no inherent problem with any of the aforementioned activities, but the issue was my reason. I was doing these things because I felt like I had to, in order to build a sense of esteem, and to keep my mind occupied enough so as to prevent the intrusion of dark thoughts. 

I wrote earlier about the danger of an idle mind. I will reiterate here what I said then: it is necessary to be able to sit in idle stillness, because if you cannot handle this state of being, then what will you do if or when you suddenly find yourself unable to remain busy? In 2020 and still very much to this day as I write this post, life as we know it was greatly affected by the Corona Virus pandemic. Aside from the obvious damage of the virus itself to millions of lives, there were tremendous psychological effects on a great number of people. Many of us were forced into periods of inactivity, finding ourselves unable to pursue our hobbies, our social lives, and for many of us to even interact with our coworkers for a few minutes at the coffee machine. For a great many of us, myself included, the sudden idleness was terrifying and pushed us into a depression. 

The problem for many of us was that we were incapable of being idle, and in the presence of idleness, we found how deeply unhappy we were. We had never stopped for a minute to address the root cause of our fear, and instead gave ourselves the false impression of happiness through constant stimulation and activity. 



I am not advocating for a monastic lifestyle wherein one retreats to the top of a mountain, vows silence, and engages in absolutely nothing for the duration of their life. I value my social interactions with my friends, family, and loved ones above almost anything, many of my fondest and happiest memories are with these people. My hobbies give meaning and interest to my life, it is a joy to be able to observe myself learning new skills or developing new abilities and there is so much joy to be found in the world. 

What I do want though is to ask you to take the time to confront your demons, to take the time to be idle and check in with yourself. Meditate, focus on deep breathing, stare into a fireplace, just close your eyes and exist. 

I think if you can conquer what for many of us is a tremendous fear of being still and doing nothing, that you can clear the way for true happiness. You may find yourself no longer craving that next exciting vacation, not counting down the days until the music festival, unconcerned with whether or not you get that $5,000 raise at work, or whether your fledgling blog on the subject of happiness takes off (looking at myself here). Those things still matter but you will realize they are superfluous and that you are happy just being yourself and that you are totally fine just the way you are. 

Over the past few days following the visit with my psychiatrist, I have struggled at times with doing nothing. I think I had no less than 2 nervous breakdowns over the weekend. Ironically it is those weekend days, where I finally have the time to relax from work and do whatever I want that I find myself having the greatest sense of panic. While work can be a drag oftentimes, I find myself sometimes struggling to keep busy and inevitably, without the 9-5 moments of idleness settle in and I am confronted with the terrors of my uninhibited subconscious. 

I have made progress of late however, taking the time to stare into the fire-place, breathe deeply, imagine the beauty that is the gift of life and simply rejoice in the fact that I exist at all. I am slowly making progress and I believe you can to. If you read this and you feel the same way, but struggle with putting the rubber to the pavement, please feel free to reach out and I am happy to offer encouragement. 

It can be difficult to be comfortable doing nothing in a culture that encourages us to work, work, work, buy, buy, buy. The steady stream of advertisements telling us that once we have that new car then we can be happy, or once we have that toned abdomen, then we can feel good about ourselves. In a society that teaches us that our entire worth as a human is what we look like, what we can afford, and how much we earn, it can be very difficult to sit by and do nothing. That isn’t without cause, the global capitalist economy doesn’t want you to be happy sitting by and doing nothing. There are profits by others to be made on your insecurities, on your false belief that you have to work harder, earn more, spend more of your hard-earned money searching in vain for whatever next purchase will finally make you feel happy. 


Happiness is not found this way. I hope you all have meaningful, enjoyable ways to spend your time, great people to spend it with, and things that excite you and add meaning to your life. But more than anything I want you to feel happy in yourself even when you are doing absolutely nothing. 

In the immortal words of A.A. Milne’s beloved character Winnie the Pooh “doing nothing often leads to the very best of something.”






Office Space gets it


Monday, February 22, 2021

It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, thanks to Fred Rogers




The other night my girlfriend and I watched a documentary about Fred Rogers, the beloved host of the Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood show, called “Won’t You be my Neighbor.” The show ran for over 30 years from the late 1960s until the very early 2000’s. Mr. Rogers would gather a small group of children and speak to them directly or through ventriloquism with his collection of puppets and would often invite a cast of other neighborhood friends such as Officer Clemons. Mr. Rogers and his colleagues would talk or sing about a wide variety of topics including current events, where they even covered such frightening topics as the assassination of Robert Kennedy, the general theme of divorce, and returning for a post 9/11 special in late 2001. 


Mr. Rogers was a voice of comfort, safety, and encouragement for millions of children from those on set to those watching from home. As such they didn’t shy away from frightening subjects, it was important that children hear from Mr. Rogers and be comforted by his words and assurances. 

More than anything, what Mr. Rogers wanted to teach his audience, was that they were perfect and deserving of love exactly the way they are without having to accomplish or do anything. Admittedly I did not watch the Mr. Rogers show growing up, puppets scared me to be completely honest. So watching this documentary just the other night was probably my largest exposure to Mr. Rogers and his thoughts. As I was watching though my mind lit up because I realized that what Fred Rogers had been saying since the 1960s was exactly what I was writing about in my blog. This message of course was nothing new though it had become largely forgotten or glossed over until Mr. Rogers put it back into mainstream consciousness via Public Broadcasting and contemporary pop culture. 

While watching the documentary it became obvious that part of Mr. Rogers’ love of acceptance and self love came from the need to find that within himself. The film covers the early life of Fred, who as a young boy struggled with his weight and was often mocked and bullied for his physical differences as well as his gentle and pacifist demeanor. He was given the moniker of Fat Freddy by his grade-school classmates and a large part of that trauma lived on in him and was a driving force behind his message to convey self-love and happiness in children, while at the same time he was in all likelihood trying to receive the same message within himself in light of his childhood traumas. David Newell who played Speedy Deliveryman Mr. McFeely said: “if there was no fat Freddy, there wouldn’t have been a Mr Rogers. Shame how sometimes the kindest, and most endearing personalities are borne out of fierce traumas. 

Fred Rogers even dealt with criticism and bullying as an adult, where his gentle demeanor was mocked as excessively nice or a lack of manhood. He was often the subject of satire or spoofing on various comedy routines, some of which he did find amusing so long as they weren’t done cruelly, though they often were. There was even at many points public outcry against Mr. Rogers’, accusing him of ruining our youth and creating a culture of losers because they were taught that they didn’t need to achieve anything in order to be special, happy, or worthy of love. 

Daniel the Striped Tiger, whom Fred Rogers often used to deliver his message of love

Imagine the insecurity and lack of decency in a culture that thinks that a child’s worth is tied only towards what they achieve in terms of career success, income, or recognition. If you want the definition of a snow flake I think that is it. Not someone who loves themselves but someone who is so insecure that they cant define happiness in any other terms save for recognition, wealth, and achievement. And what’s worse is they project these so called values on other’s, namely children. A society that behaves that way has lost its way, luckily we had great men like Fred Rogers to lead us back towards the light of decency. 

Watching Won’t You Be My Neighbor has inspired me to go back and actually start watching Mr. Rogers’ show, something I could have badly used as a child and as a young adult trying to learn how to be happy and how to love myself simply for being. In a world where we are valued for our contributions to the capitalist system, and where we are taught that only once we hav achieved that then we can be happy, I am grateful for the life of people like Fred Rogers’ who shone the light on true happiness, despite the harsh criticisms he and others face for it. I look forward to taking a deeper look into Mr. Rogers’ life and continuing to share his message of happiness through this blog. I wish I had received more of his message as a young boy, and I have every intention of paying close attention to his work now, even as an adult. 

I highly encourage you to watch Mr. Rogers if possible. 














You can also check out his website with full episodes, commentary and more from Fred Rogers himself. 









Sunday, February 21, 2021

An Idle Mind is the Devil's Workshop. Or is it?


 You’ve probably heard the expression: an idle mind is the devils workshop? It basically means that we need to have something to keep us busy in thought or action in order to keep the bad thoughts at bay. If we let the bad thoughts in we may become depressed or we may act out and do something wrong just for the sake of having something to do – both works of the devil, in so far as this saying goes. 


I understand the need to have interests, hobbies, activities, and outlets for one to focus on, they can create fun, develop artistic talents and skills, and can lead to promising careers that will help us to provide a living for ourselves and our loved ones. But I think it is actually very important that one spend some time with an idle mind. 

In my personal battle with depression, I can remember on numerous occasions, turning to an excess of activity to keep my mind busy elsewhere, focusing on anything else other than how much I hated myself, or how deep in despair I was. I would spend hours in the gym, working on my body, I would study for hours on end, determined to finish number 1 in my graduate school class, I would meet friends as often as possible, so we could hang out, I would read books on any subject under the sun, and I would watch tv: comedies, documentaries, drama etc. whatever it took to keep my mind and body occupied and keep the devil at bay. 

I don’t mean to say that any of these are bad: I am grateful for having developed a strong, and healthy body of which I am proud through my hours in the gym. I am glad for the effort I put into my studies: I learned many subjects, was able to secure employment and I learned the value of hard work. I am grateful for the laughter shared with friends, and the bonds that were developed and strengthened. I gained so much knowledge, and wisdom through my readings, enjoying many exciting stories, and discovering for the first time many of the works that I reference here in my blog. The tv, sure, I don’t even regret that, it gave me a great outlet for entertainment and could put a smile on my face when so few else could. 

The problem was not what I was doing, but why I was doing it. As I mentioned, I was doing it because I was too afraid to stop and be alone in my own thoughts. I was too afraid of what I would come to find out about myself if I let myself have an idle mind. I am definitely not advocating that you be nothing but a sentient blob who does nothing: no career, no relationships, no hobbies, no passions, these are many of the things that make life beautiful and worth living. I do think though that you need to be able to be alone in your thoughts. If this is painful or frightening right now, then I think you have some serious reckoning to work on with yourself. 


I would highly encourage you to practice meditation. Many cultures have a history of meditation and differ accordingly, but the core principle is in clearing the mind and getting in touch with your inner self. It is about finding peace and belonging in the universe simply in ones existence. Meditation is something that I try to do every day, I began practicing using the Headspace app which taught me the basics. The important thing about meditation is not how long you do it for, or even how good you are (you probably wont be able to clear your mind at first) but simply that you do it at all. The act of being still, idle and focused within will have a calming effect and can help remove the stress or need for constant stimulation. 

I hope you all have exciting, stimulating lives, full of strong relationships, exciting hobbies and adventures, but I hope that you are able to sit still, be idle, and be perfectly content doing nothing at all, and find happiness in yourself. 


If you are new to meditation and want to learn, or are struggling with the concept, I highly recommend headspace. 
You can download their app on your mobile device in the app store, or follow the link below to visit their webpage. 



Saturday, February 20, 2021

Want to be Happy? Try the Danish Way.


 


You can’t talk happiness without talking about Denmark. The tiny nation of Denmark is widely considered to be one of, if not THE, happiest country in the world. Since the United Nations began publishing its annual world happiness report in 2016, Denmark has been ranked in the top 3 nations for happiest citizens every single year. Interestingly enough, its fellow Nordic nations of Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden have all made the top 10 every year. I want to look at what makes this entire group of nations collectively happy in a later post, which I intend to publish within the next two weeks. But for now, let’s focus on Denmark. 

A quick glance at the map will show you that Denmark is located way up in the northern latitudes, close to the arctic circle such that it receives hardly any daylight in winter, with plenty of dark and wet weather year-round to boot. With the known association between sunlight exposure and happiness (another future post), it might seem improbably that a nation with Denmark could rank so high in happiness. 

As it turns out, at the core of the Danish notion of happiness, there is a concept about the art of being comfortable, about being able to find, peace, relaxation, and happiness in the little things. This concept is called hygge (Who-guh), which comes from a Norwegian word meaning “well being.” Even more difficult than pronouncing hygge is trying to explain or define it, in fact, over 1/3 of Danes believe that Hygge cant be translated or defined at all. The closest I can come to defining Hygge is as the art of comfort and enjoyment. To paraphrase Meik Wiking, founder of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen (yes they literally have an institute for researching happiness in Denmark), in his own paraphrasing of Winnie the Pooh in his book “The Little Book of Hygge”:

“It isn’t how you spell define it, its how you feel it.” ~Winnie the Pooh ~ Meik Wiking.

One of the notable things I realized while reading Wiking’s book and learning more about hygge, was that Hygge is different for everyone and it even differs at time of the year. In the notoriously brutal Danish winters, hygge involves cozying up in soft wool socks and sweaters while drinking warm beverages with a few friends around a fire. In the pleasant, sunny, summers, hygge becomes enjoying nature while rowing a canoe with a companion and watching the magnificent sunset light up the sky with a dozen hues of orange and purple beyond the horizon of the lake. For the more introverted among us it might be cozying up on a comfortable couch and listening to music, while for others it might be a board game night at a good friends house with a group of friends (note: hygge is often enjoyed in groups, though these groups are almost always small, as too large a group can ruin the hygge-lig (hygge like) experience.))


Another interesting note on hygge, is that in order for hygge to exist, it must exist in contrast to something else, the anti-hygge. This may explain why in the face of such harsh winters, such that one would find it unlikely to find the worlds happiest people, that the Danes remain happy. Without those windy, bitingly cold winters, the whole concept of getting comfortable under a blanket next to a fire doesn’t have the same appeal. Without a brutal winter that keeps you inside, that summer hoke through the mountains doesn’t seem so special, as instead it becomes the norm, the expected. Because of this, we can understand hygge as an appreciation of sorts, gratitude for special occasions, and enjoyment of the simple things that aren’t always there. 

Again, hygge is different for everyone. What it really is, is about being comfortable, and grateful. About letting your guard down, and simply being content with your place in the world. 

That being said, below is a list of things that most Danes associate as being core tenants of hygge, as reported by Wiking: 

            1.  Atmosphere: turn off the incandescent lights and enjoy some soft natural lighting such as that                     from candles or fires. Danes lead the world in candle usage and more Danes have fireplaces in                     their home than any other European nation. 

            2. Presence: turn off your phones. No talk of politics, work, or other hot-button issues. This is                         about comfort and togetherness. 

            3. Pleasure: especially comfort food. The Danes are VERY fond of their sweets and cakes. For this,                 think warm beverages, cake, cookies and more. If you are a non-Dane wanting to practice hygge                 I am sure you will have no trouble coming up with your own notion of comfort food. 

            4. Equality: Hygge is not about comparison, ostentatiousness, or anything that might make others                     feel inferior. We are all equals as humans. 

            5. Gratitude: be here in the now. Don’t look to the future and decide you can be happy When this                 or If that. This may be as good as it gets. Enjoy where you are. 

            6. Harmony: no need to stand out or show off. This is about being a group with those with whom                     you share hygge. 

            7. Comfort: think pillows, blankets, warmth and ease. 

            8. Truce: see presence above. This is no time for divisive subjects. This is about appreciation of                     your fellow human. 

            9. Togetherness: build memories and bonds with those around you. 

            10.Shelter: feel safe and comfortable. The world can be scary. Let your guard down and be                             vulnerable with those with whom you share your hygge. 

   


I have inevitably left out a great deal regarding the concept of hygge. I have every intention of revisiting this concept in future posts, as I hope to share this wonderful idea with others. In the meantime, though, I hope you can take this post to heart. Think about some ways in your life that you can introduce more hygge. Can you create a more hygge living space with some natural light. Can you make a tasty meal that will bring you comfort. Is there a group of friends you can have over for a movie night or a relaxing chat around a fire? 


However you choose to practice, I hope that you can follow the lead of the Danes, and put more hygge in your life so that you may experience a higher sense of happiness. 


I highly encourage you to read Meik Wiking’s book: you can follow the link here

Link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01GONJFZ2/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1


Also, visit the Happiness Research Institute’s website and check out their amazing work: 

Link: https://www.happinessresearchinstitute.com/


Friday, February 19, 2021

Why Being Truly Happy Does not Mean Being Happy All the Time.


 


True happiness comes from contentment and a deep sense of understanding

I want to talk about Happiness especially in relation to how it is often confused, which is with joy, or more specifically euphoria. Joy and happiness are often thought of synonymously, but I believe when we examine them deeper, they are different.  I believe that joy is a feeling, and that happiness is more a state of being. One can and often does experience joy when they are happy but to be joyous or euphoric does not necessarily make one happy. 



In particular it is the ephemeral and superficial nature of joy that contrasts it with happiness. Joy is typically caused by outside events or happenstance, which we by now know are things that are outside of our control, and which can be taken from us. We can be joyous at getting a promotion, but we can be crushed when the company downsizes 4 months later, and we lose our job. We can experience joy when our team wins a game but then crushed the next night when they choke in game 7 to lose a series (Atlanta/Georgia sports fan here so trust me I know pain). Likewise, we experience joy when we do a line of cocaine, the pleasure center of our brain lights up, but the next day, with our serotonin depleted and our high gone, we feel miserable. 

Joy is impermanent, and fickle, it can turn to loss, heartbreak or despair at the toss of a die, and for gamblers it is. Happiness is different. Joy is dependent on things, circumstances, things outside our control while happiness is learned over time and comes from a deep sense of knowledge of oneself, their place in the universe, and their inherent sense of self-worth, things that cannot be taken. This level of understanding takes time and as it is learned it is strengthened, and it cannot be easily taken away. Just as an athlete spends years developing their body and skills, which will remain mostly intact even after periods of inactivity, so , too the happy person is able to remain happy. 
The high of a huge raise or winning the lottery eventually wears off 

Being happy does not mean constantly joyous. The happy person will experience pain and sorrow when they lose a beloved, like the woman who loses her husband after 50 years. Yes, she hurts, but if she is truly happy, she will be able to remain happy throughout. By being happy in herself she has prepared herself for this loss, and though she misses him, she carries on, head held high, grateful for the love they shared, and grateful for the life she is blessed to carry on living. 

To know true happiness is to make oneself more robust to pain, and sadness. Not immune, but certainly more resistant. Rather than chasing that which brings joy: a new car, a buzz, a better job, an orgasm, instead cultivate happiness, be grateful for yourself and be resilient. It takes time but when you get there, it will have been worth the battle. 

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Exercise, Activity, Fitness and Happiness


 






Today I want to talk about exercise and the role it has in your pursuit of happiness. I will also be writing about the profoundly positive impact that exercise has had in my own life. 

Exercise makes you happy. There. That’s all you need to know. 

Go exercise and be happy. 

In all seriousness though, there is a wealth of scientific studies that have focused on the way exercise can impact happiness, and I have never seen one that shows a negative effect. In the interest of not turning this into a scientific literature review of all studies on the subject (and there are A LOT), I will simply allude to 3 studies I found during a cursory search.

 1)Effects of physical exercise programme on happiness among older people by M Khazaee-Pool 1, R Sadeghi, F Majlessi, A Rahimi Foroushani and 2) Don’t Worry, Be Happy: cross sectional associations between physical activity and happiness in 15 different European countries by Justin Richards, Xiaoxiao Jian, Paul Kelly, Josephine Chau, Adrian Bauman and Ding Ding were long term studies were subjects were asked to fill out a survey reporting their own level of happiness before and after participating in long term (several months) exercise programs. 

Similarly, 3) The Effects of Acute Exercise on Mood, Cognition, Neurophysiology, and Neurochemical Pathways: A Review by Julia C. Basso and Wendy A. Suzuki measured their subjects pre and post exercise levels of happiness as indicated by neurotransmitters and other objective indicators and they did so following a single bout of exercise. 

Endorphins: the feel good hormone released when you exercise

All 3 studies showed evidence, both subjective and objective, of exercise leading to happiness and they demonstrated the effect in both short term, immediately after exercise benefits, and long-term benefits of regularly exercising over many weeks. There is much more research out there, all showing similar results, and now that I have begun looking at it, the exercise scientist in me is chomping at the bit to dive deeper, but for purposes of the blog I’ll avoid getting too deep into the weeds of the science, for now anyway. Bottom line though, exercise promotes happiness. 

Don’t believe me? Try it yourself. 

The role that exercise has played in my life cannot be praised highly enough. I first began regularly exercising at the age of 15 and continue to do so to this day. When I began, I was a sack of bones, who barely weighted more than 100lbs soaking wet, and my self-esteem was shit. I watched my classmates start growing into strong athletic men, while I remained a string bean of a little boy (there I go comparing myself to others again). I thought I was doomed to a life of physical inferiority and self-loathing and just generally not enjoying existing as myself.

Just before I began exercising, I had either quit or been cut from every team I had been on and was starting to get a little soft, skinny fat you could say. Luckily, my parents were avid fitness enthusiasts and they got me working with their trainer. I became hooked within a few weeks as soon as I started to see results. My trainer from my teenage years continues to be a close friend and mentor now, nearly 2 decades later. He taught me that I can achieve my goals through hard work, and more importantly he taught me how to love myself. 

That isn’t to say that in order to love yourself you have to be an avid gym goer or athlete. Not at all. You are 100% worthy of love and have every reason to be happy, and joyous as exactly who you are. I do think that some form of regular activity however, will help you find that sense of happiness that you may be lacking. I am especially grateful for the evidence that regular exercise over time promotes long term happiness, and not just the short-term euphoria that one often experiences after a workout. This doesn’t even consider the multitude of physical health benefits that exercise improves such as longevity, and quality of life, allowing you more time to enjoy all the other things that make you happy: children, friends, movies, books, travel, and more. 

I would caution you though not to put too much of your sense of happiness into your physical prowess and definitely not into your physical appearance. Unfortunately, our bodies are ephemeral and subject to reclamation or dramatic change by the higher powers of the universe. You could get sick or have an accident that prevents you from participating in exercise, and if your sense of self-worth is too tied up with your physical self, this sudden change can lead you towards a depression. 

Additionally, I want to caution against the over correction of loathing or shame with regards to your physical self which is arrogance and ego. You don’t want to be that person, I know because at times I have allowed myself to become this way. Feeling a sense of superiority to others or narcissistic obsession. This is a major overshoot and will ultimately result in unhappiness for you and probably others as well. So, no!

I am not encouraging you to become a health nut, who eats, breathes, lives and dies exercise, unless that’s what you want, and I'm not suggesting you kill yourself in the pursuit of physical attainments, but I do encourage you to participate in exercise regularly. Consult your physician if there is any doubt in your mind that you can be safely active, and if you do have restrictions I hope you can find something, anything that you can do to be active, even a slow walk outside. Exercise has been a major pillar of my life, helping me learn both self-esteem and humility, given me a great hobby, introducing me to many amazing people, at one point being my career, and hopefully leading me to a long happy life. 

I will leave you a quote by Socrates, the same man who gave me the inspiration for the name of this blog. Disclaimer: the first part of the quote says that no man (or woman) has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical fitness. Yes, you have every right. This isn’t ancient Athens and there is no threat of war against Sparta or the Persians. The real reason why I share this quote is because i find it fascinating that even 2500 years ago, our ancestors even then understood the importance of physical activity and the pursuit of happiness. 


Just ignore the first sentence!


“It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.” Socrates. 

Links to the above referenced studies, in case you want to take a closer look: 

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25492721/

https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-015-1391-4

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5928534/


Wednesday, February 17, 2021

The Buddhists and Happiness



I want to go ahead and warn those of you that may reading this that this post may be more personal than my previous several. As I’ve been reviewing my posts to date, I decided I wanted to add more personal anecdotes and stories in an effort to connect more with you, my readers, and eventually create a dialogue (once I actually have readers.) Rather than continuously lecture you on the pursuit of happiness (and I do realize my posts have been more essay-ish than conversational). I want to talk with you about it, pointing you in the direction of my favorite sources of wisdom on the subject or share a story from my past, in the hopes that you may choose to open up and share your own experiences either with me and your fellow readers here in my comments section, or in general with whomever. If you don’t open up here, that is totally fine but I hope that you can use my experiences that and my thoughts that I share here on your own pursuit of happiness. 

About 7 years ago when I was in one of my low valleys on the rollercoaster that is life, I thought about ending my own life (sorry dark), this was not the first or the last time I would feel this way.  This isn’t a cry for help (I am feeling extremely happy and in love with life these days), but the reason I bring up my depression is because at this time when I was searching for anything that could pull me out of despair, I discovered Buddhism, and the book that I picked up, which I will reference shortly was probably the single most helpful tool I had in overcoming my depression. 

The book to which I am referring is called The Art of Happiness by Howard Cutler and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The first thing that struck me was that the Dalai Lama said that happiness is determined by one’s state of mind and not by external events. I am positive that HHDL and Dr. Cutler (an American Psychiatrist) are not the first to say this and it probably wasn’t the first time I myself had read or heard it but at this point in my life it really struck me as powerful. Think here again about the stoics, telling us to only concern ourselves with that which is within our control and ignore that which is without. The state of mind in choosing to be happy is what we can control and external events remain almost entirely without. 

As I have read and continue to read philosophy and discover how various cultures tell us to be happy, I am stuck by how similar they are no matter what geography or time period they come from. At the core, the path to happiness is similar. Though striking I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising, as we are all one race, and we all share the same core desires in finding happiness. 

As I mentioned before, the first time I picked up this book, I was in a horrible state of depression. I had graduated college a few months earlier. As a student, I was average at best, and part of me still suspects they gave me a passing average simply so I would leave and the school would no longer have to be associated with me. I had no real purpose in being there, it was simply what people did. As such, I had no goals and zero job offers upon graduation, it probably didn’t help that I didn’t even look for jobs prior to graduating. This goes to show you just how unprepared I was to face the world. I had never for a second imagined my life after graduating from college, that moment which as a child I imagined would suddenly “make me a grownup.”I kept expecting something to just happen that would make me happy, and that my life would just figure itself out.

I was lucky enough to visit new Zealand for a few months later that year. I had planned to find a job and explore the country for a year. In reality though I spent only a little bit of time  and even less effort looking for some form of employment and  instead spent most of my time seeing the sights and partying. New Zealand was in fact hosting the Rugby World Cup that year which gave ample opportunities for the partying in particular.

 I don’t regret the trip, the island nation of new Zealand is beautiful, and I sincerely hope I can return someday. But despite the fun parties with total strangers, the natural beauty, and the general lack of responsibility, I found myself profoundly depressed. A feeling that only got worse as I returned home to live with my parents, my years worth of cash spent in only 3 months, and struggled to find work. I wondered if perhaps I had wasted my only chance at life by screwing off for 4 years of college. It didn’t help that my closest friends from home and college appeared to be on the fastrack to success with an impressive list of accomplishments such as medical school, JD, MBA, financial consulting etc. Compared to these accomplishments I felt insignificant and unworthy of happiness. 

My problem was this: I was letting myself get down because I was looking without instead of looking within and CHOOSING to be happy and to be grateful. I felt insignificant because compared to my friends I was unsuccessful. On top of that, what did it even mean to be successful? I felt bad because I didn’t have a job or because I wasn’t headed to graduate school? So what, that doesn’t make me any less of a person, but at the time it did. I was making a critical mistake here and allowing my self-esteem be tied up in what Dr. Mellody called “other esteem” rather than self-esteem. As Dr. Cutler says in the art of happiness: “Our feelings of contentment are strongly influenced by our tendency to compare.” I may have seemed unsuccessful by COMPARING myself to others, or by allowing someone else to define what it meant to be successful and even worthy. 


The Dalai Lama says that “mindset is key” when it comes to happiness. In particular, we can influence our mindset with gratitude. Stop for a moment and think about what you are grateful. A fun exercise I began participating in around the time I first picked up the Art of Happiness and still often perform to this day was a gratitude journal. At the end of every day, just before bed I would write 5 things about that day for which I was grateful. Some of the things I came up with: Laughed at a funny joke (During my depression induced insomnia I realized Scrubs re-runs were on at 2am, and no matter how down I was, I could still laugh at Donald Faison and Zach Braff 2. I had a good dinner (heartbreaking how many people cant say that every night); I have a roof over my head. Even if you lack those things, and I truly hope you don’t, but if you are reading this you can be grateful for your ability to read or to connect with others. 

Realizing that my sense of despair had nothing to do with who I was, or what was happening to or around me, but rather with how I perceived of the world and of myself, I began my recovery. By choosing to be grateful, and making a decision to be happy every day, I eventually got better and while I have had relapses, I feel that overall the trajectory of my life has begun to shift upwards towards happiness and liberation, and I hope that yours does. 


Choose to be Happy today. 

Suggested Readings: The Art of Happiness by Howard Cutler and His Holiness the Dalai Lama



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Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Self Love


 


Today I want to talk about self-love. You have probably heard of self-love before, or perhaps you may be familiar with its close relative: selfcare. The idea of self -love is all over the place but I think that it is largely misguided in that the true meaning and understanding get lost in translation,  or worse, intentionally misconstrued by marketers and corporations who want to profit on the insecurity of others and teach them to engage in spontaneous, or extravagant behavior in order to better love oneself.  

Self love has often been described in terms of indulgences: give yourself this nice decadent meal because you deserve it and love yourself. Treat yourself to a spa day because you deserve that feeling of relaxation, pampering and comfort. In a lot of ways I do support the pampering and enjoyment of the finer things in life. This can be an appropriate form of expressing happiness and appreciation, when done in moderation. In moderation being the key as it can be difficult to curb our craving for more.  For this post though I don’t want to focus so much on caring for oneself, and treating oneself to a spa, or a comfy new mattress, as a form of self love. I want to talk about one of the key steps to happiness, which is truly loving oneself.

What self-love is, is understanding, appreciation, and knowledge of oneself. Knowing that you are imperfect but loving yourself all the same. Being perfectly imperfect, as Psychologist Pia Mellody would say. You should love yourself for who you are and realize that you do not any sort of external THING, or attachment to make them happy. 

I was first turned towards this particular notion of self-love when I read How to Love by a Jesuit priest named Anthony De Mello. What I thought I was opening was a book that was going to teach me how to be a better partner for my girlfriend, a guide book on how to properly love and care for her.  What I got instead was a book that taught me to love myself first and foremost. At first I was confused and thought that this seemed selfish and vain, and resolved that I would read a few chapters before putting it down and moving on. 

After just a chapter or two though, I was hooked on De Mello’s message, and soon came to realize that by loving myself wholly and truly was not selfish but would allow me to become a better lover for my girlfriend , a better friend, son, and brother, and to that matter a better citizen and lover of the world at large. 


Anthony De Mello (1931-1987)

De Mello’s thoughts on love focus on the idea that one ought to have no attachments. Anything and everything can be taken from us at any moment, except for ourselves; and that so long as our sense of happiness is tied up to any external attachment: another person, our lover, our wealth, fame, success, titles, career whatever, then we are vulnerable to disappointment and cannot truly be happy. Those things are bot ephemeral and not truly ours, and as such we can be deprived of them. What we cannot be deprived of is ourselves. 


Among his writings in how to love, De Mello says that love can be found through understanding the following: 

                1. That we have been misled by believing that we cannot be happy without X: our romantic partner, our wealth, our status, etc., any attachment, which ultimately lies outside of our control and doesn’t truly belong to us. 

                2. If you are able to recognize that you do not need this attachment, that you can enjoy what the world has to offer without possessing it, without missing it, and without fear of losing, for you never have it in the first place, then you will be happy. 

Much grief exists in today’s world because we are led to believe that without this or that that we cannot be happy. But no, true love can only come from those intangibles that cannot be taken from us, that which we have control over: our self (sounds similar to the Stoic concept of only focusing on that which is within your control: ie yourself.)

True happiness comes from letting go of attachments and focusing on yourself. Once you learn to love yourself as you are, you will realize happiness. I encourage you to love others, surround yourself with a romantic partner and close friends, but do not define your sense of happiness in this but rather in your deep appreciation and love of yourself. 

I leave you with the hope that you will learn to realize you do not need anyTHING to be happy or to love yourself and that you are worthy and deserving of your own love right here right now. Once you have that, I hope you can put forth love and happiness into the world, but with the understanding that though it is there and worth love, happiness, and appreciation, it does not BELONG to you. Enjoy, be happy, but remain unattached.