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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Hello all! Thanks for visiting my blog. I believe that creating and achieving a state of happiness and joy is the primary purpose in life. My mission for this page is to provide uplifting content, inspirational material, and thought provoking ideas; all of which I hope will help you come to a better understanding and experiencing of happiness and joy.

Monday, July 26, 2021

What Will Make You Happy in 10 Years?



The inspiration for today’s post comes from a recent passage I read in Tim Ferris’s book, Tools of Titans, where he interviews many successful individuals, including some of the worlds happiest and wisest individuals. I cannot for the life of me remember exactly who he was interviewing when I came across this inspiration, but it stuck with me quite profoundly. In his interviews, Ferris has a habit of asking his guests what they would say if they could write a letter to their present-day selves from ten years in the past. Most of the answers are about being more patient, slowing down, enjoying the journey of life and so on. This is all good advice. The passage that caught my mind, however, was when the respondent said that he didn’t want to answer that question because that might imply some sort of regret, noting that any possible change in his past would have lead him to a different today. Instead, he said that he would prefer to write a letter to his future self.

This is exactly what I want to talk about today: what do I want to say to ten-years in the future me, and what do you want to say to your future self, 10 years from now. I hope that this can be an introspective and thought-provoking journey.

In no particular order, below is a list of things that I want to say to my future self, along with a brief explanation.

Make time for family, friends and loved ones. Life is brief and we usually never know when we may see or speak to someone for the last time. Before we know it, that moment will have passed and those we care about will turn to memories. As such, I want to make sure that I spend as much quality time with those who matter as possible, such that when the time does come, I can say with no regrets that we spent our time well, or that if I should pass first that those who loved me can say the same. I think especially of my parents. Mom is 66 and Dad is 76. While they are both in great physical and mental health, for which I am grateful, there is no denying that they are for lack of a better word: old. I have confidence that they will still be here in ten years, but nobody can say this for sure, nor can anyone predict their mental or physical status that far into the future. As such I want to enjoy as much good conversation, laughter, and adventure as possible.

I can say with almost 100% certainty that our beloved Dog Floyd will have left this earth in ten years. It is one of the greatest tragedies of existence that Man’s Best Friend lives so much more briefly than we do. Perhaps this is a way of the universe teaching us a lesson to be grateful and happy for what little time we do have, and to learn strength from the pain of loss. Predicting where I will be in ten years, I want to remind myself now to make the most of what time I have with him. Even my friends, who are for the most part in their early 30s or late 20s, who can say what will become of us in ten years. Whether it be Floyd, my parents, my college friends, my friends from home, my sister, or my girlfriend, I want myself ten years in the future to make sure he spends as much time as possible with the people whom I love.

I could easily end the post on that note with the afore-written discussion encompassing to me what is probably the most singular meaningful aspect of life: our relationships. However, If I am to expand a bit more, which I will, I would say next that I hope that in ten years I am still writing this blog, or at least doing something similar. I have been writing now for nearly 6 months, and in that time I have found immense personal joy and happiness in writing this blog about happiness. I have a terrible singing voice, my potter explodes, and I can’t color in the lines to save my life. Art does not come easy to me. Writing is one form of art which I do feel I have at least a moderate amount of skill but more importantly it makes me joy. The personal journey which I have undertaken since beginning this endeavor has been one of the most rewarding pursuits of my life and I hope that there are those of you out there who have enjoyed my work the same. I have created much happiness in my life simply by having these discussions, by researching these topics, opening my mind, and thinking introspectively such as writing this blog has required me to do. Whether I get only a viewer or two per day or whether I one day find myself standing in front of a packed audience on a Ted Talk like Brene Brown, I hope that ten-year future me is still doing this work.

The next wish for myself would be that I (continue to) make my mental and physical health priorities. When it comes to physical health, this is something that has long been a part of my habit and personality so I have no doubt that ten-year-old me will be prioritizing physical health. If there is anything I would say about this, I would say that I hope I am treating myself with kindness and respect in regard to physical health. I have to realize that in ten years, physical performance will likely be more challenging for me, as I move into my 40s. There is no reason I can’t be in excellent physical shape, but by and large we start to see some small decline in performance at this age. I hope that I can accept the natural aging process and rather than berate myself for not being what I once was, I hope that I can treat my body with love and respect, training it for true health, longevity, and comfort rather than pure performance. That said I have every intention of competing in competitive athletics again very soon, so I hope I have a few extra trophies on my wall in ten years.

When it comes to mental health, my hope is that in ten years I will finally have conquered my anxiety or at least seen improvements. This year I have already seen marked improvement both from beginning this blog which has been very therapeutic for me, but also by regularly attending therapy sessions and by having difficult discussions about my past with some of those closest to me. I have found therapy and discussion to be incredibly meaningful to growth and progress, and while the conversations are scary, I find that I inevitably am better for having had them. I will continue seeing a therapist, though perhaps at a lesser frequency, and will meditate, read, think, and do whatever else I can to keep moving my mental health in the right direction such as I have lately, particularly in the past year.

I have to say that I have found this post to be extremely introspective and therapeutic for me to write. Rather than simply read about me and my goals for my self in ten years, I hope that you will practice this for yourself. Think deeply about what matters most to you, and who you want to become in ten years. Remember that you and you alone are responsible for where you end up, make sure and take the time to steer your future in the direction where you want to go.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

An Alternative Take on Work and Happiness



 Contempt for the glorification of work, of toiling ceaselessly for the attainment of wealth, and the general disdain for materialism have been common themes in this blog. For the most part, the society of the world operates under the idea that attainment of financial wealth and material possessions is the epitome of happiness and that one’s position on the corporate ladder defines their worth as a human. This is a cynical view and one of the endeavors I have recently begun is to always search for the positive in everything. In this blog post I aim to search for the positive in work, in capitalism, and corporate culture. What I am about to write does not mean that there aren’t issues with how today’s culture assesses value, there is still too much greed, and there is far too much emphasis placed on possessions rather than on relationships, values, and experiences. Nevertheless, there is plenty of opportunity to appreciate the positive. 

Perhaps the best part of this system is that work allows us the opportunity to provide for ourselves and our loved ones. For the majority of human history, our distant ancestors toiled mightily to survive the elements, to provide food, and to persevere through disease and illness. Winters were brutal, food was scarce, and disease could decimate a tribe. Those problems still exist today but the reality is that for most people they are far less of a concern than they were. People have homes that provide insulation against wind, rain, snow, and cold. Some people are even lucky enough to have running water and electricity in their homes. Many of us are now able to get our food from a grocery store or farmer’s market rather than spend days hunting down our next meal or foraging tirelessly for even a morsel of sustenance from the ground. Just the other day I ordered groceries to be delivered to my house. Imagine that, a week worth of food without even getting off of the couch. Lastly, when it comes to disease, we are able to get vaccinated against many illnesses that have historically plagued our societies. If we do happen to get sick, we can go to a local doctor, hospital or pharmacy and receive medication that will help us recover and stay alive. 

All of this is in some way or other a byproduct of work. That house that you live in that provides shelter against the elements, somebody built that. That person or those people built your house with their work, and in return work was assessed to have some sort of value, a value which they then transferred over such that they might be able to afford food. The food you eat, a farmer grew that, a form of work, and sold the produce so that you or I might eat, and he in turn can take the efforts of that work and the ensuing reward to pay for his medication that keeps him alive. The doctor you see when you get ill, he sees you as a patient, providing his expert guidance in a field he has worked to study ceaselessly. His work is seen to have a value and with that value he then hires a contractor to build a home such that he can have shelter for himself and his family. I know you all don’t need this rudimentary example of how our economic system works, but the objective is to simply show the interconnectedness of all people and the value that work has in our lives. 

Sure, there are numerous problems with society and with this economic system. The government and large corporations can buy up all the land, driving local private farmers out of business so that they can increase the price of crops and turn a profit. Drug companies will patent even the most basic of natural compounds, allowing them to drive the price of life-saving medication up so they can make a profit. These are all consequences of greed, perhaps the worst of all human sins. 

In light of the pitfalls of a system that revolves around work, and the negative consequences of such, where would we be without work? Work allows us to take our fate into our own hands. When we work, we earn the ability to provide our wants and needs rather than rely on someone else to provide them for us. There is no worse feeling than having the outcome of your life rest in the hands of another. Obviously, much of life still remains outside of our control, but there is some comfort in knowing that if we need to provide, that we have the power to do so through our own efforts. Many people around the world experienced this revelation last year when the Covid19 pandemic cost many people their jobs. People had suddenly lost their ability to work and as such were faced with the terrifying question of how they were going to pay their rent or mortgage, how they would afford food, or how they could pay for their medication. This was a terrifyingly anxious period for many people that highlighted just how important it is to have the ability to work. Faced with this situation, people depended on their government to provide stimulus checks, relied on their landlords or banks to forgive or postpone house payments, and asked many creditors for extra time to pay bills. Many institutions did step up and work with people during these trying times, but many didn’t. And there is no worse situation than that feeling that the walls are collapsing around you because you have lost your only means to provide for yourself. 

Not only does work give us the opportunity to survive and thrive, it adds meaning to our lives. I know what many of you are thinking: I hate my job, it brings me no satisfaction and has no value, I can’t wait to quit or retire. Trust me, I feel the same way often, especially since giving up an extremely rewarding job for something decidedly less so. Nevertheless, work is meaningful. The harsh reality is that most of us don’t have the opportunity to make a comfortable living doing something we truly love. If you are one of those people, count yourselves lucky. Even so, work that may seem unrewarding at times has value and meaning not just to the worker but to society. Think about what you do for work. Even if it is something as menial as entering numbers on a spreadsheet (I do this daily so don’t take offense if this is your job) your work is valuable. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be a job, simple as that. Whatever it is that you do, it matters. Somehow, somewhere along the line, what you do makes a difference in people’s lives, you just might have to look deeply to see what that value actually is. Take comfort in the fact that your work is meaningful to society and as such it should be meaningful to you. 

There a million ways to critique capitalism, work culture and more, and I have often done so in this blog. It feels as though society evaluates the worth of a human being solely on their wealth and that the single greatest measure of a person’s character is how hard they work. These are obvious consequences of a system that is clearly not without its faults. Greed allows the system to be easily corrupted. Many workers receive next to no compensation, toiling for unfathomable hours in conditions that can most accurately be described as slave like. There are far too many who are unable to work or who work and are yet still unable to afford even the basic necessities for living. Greed remains the culprit behind this, as there are those who have found ways to manipulate the system to their own advantage, taking far more than their fair share of the profits, using others as tools to that aim. Even so, I want choose to remain happily focused on the positive, which is that a system has developed in the world that allows us to provide a standard of living, for the most part, previously unseen on our planet. This system is far from perfect. Perhaps we can make it perfect when we check our greed, remembering to be compassionate towards our fellows near and far, and to be grateful for what we have rather than constantly searching for more. 


Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Does Money Buy Happiness?


 


We have all heard the phrase “money doesn’t buy happiness.” Is this a true statement or is just a thoughtful value taught to us as a lesson in modesty? Well, it depends on several factors, but to a certain extent it turns out that yes, money can buy happiness.

I have often been critical of certain aspects of capitalist culture including the sacrifice of quality time for family and friends in pursuit of greater wealth, the association of higher worth with those who earn more, materialism, and the sacrifice of values that sometimes occur when climbing the corporate ladder. I do remain largely contemptuous of these and other negative concepts but I have ignored the bigger picture. In my privileged position as a relatively well-off person in a developed nation, I was ignorant to the struggle that many people must endure to afford their basic human needs.

When you do not have enough money to buy food for yourself or your children, when you cannot afford medical care for a relative, and when you cannot pay to place a roof over your head then yes, money, or rather lack thereof very much influences your happiness. It is easy to sit in a position of comfort and say that money doesn’t buy happiness, just be grateful. Try telling a starving and homeless mother of four children who can’t afford medication for her sick children nor provide a meal for her hungry family. In examples such as this, it can be easily stated that yes, money would largely eliminate a few major sources of their unhappiness. Once their basic human needs are met, then we can discuss the importance of gratitude and a positive outlook but when you suffer from an easily curable disease but lack the funds to pay for treatment or can’t afford a bowl of rice to ease your hunger, money is directly tied to your lack of happiness.

Researchers have found that individuals living below the poverty line, depending exactly how that is defined, are 75% more likely to be unhappy than those who live above the poverty line. Harvard Researcher Dr. Dan Gilbert observed in a study of Americans, that increasing annual income from $20,000 to $50,000 made someone twice as likely to be happy. That number takes someone from poverty, barely able to pay their bills, to someone not necessarily wealthy but with ample means to provide for basic necessities. Researcher Dr. Lindsay Bryan-Podvin says that “"The data is pretty clear that when we can financially take care of ourselves, our mental health is better. It's stressful to be on the grind all the time."

There appears to be a plateau at which point increased wealth ceases to add happiness or at least does so in diminishing returns. While Dr. Gilbert observed dramatic increases in happiness from $20,000 to $50,000 in annual salary, very little increase in happiness was seen in the jump from $50,000 to $90,000. Presumably at $50k, most basic needs have been met. Ergo the increasing amount of work, hours in the office, and general work stress needed to take income up to $90k doesn’t necessarily yield good returns in terms of happiness.

There are several reasons why increasing income or wealth beyond a certain point no longer brings happiness. First, as people tend to make more they tend to spend more. They celebrate their wealth with country club memberships, lavish vacations, second homes, and fancy cars. All of these drive up their expenses considerably. Just like those who are struggling to pay rent and medical bills, they find themselves struggling to maintain their extravagant lifestyle, making work and bills once again a primary stressor in life.

Remember that our tendency to compare is one of the root causes of our unhappiness. While a $100,000 salary should be more than enough money to allow us the peace of mind and comfort to have a carefree and happy existence, it often doesn’t. One reason is that we compare ourselves to others. Dartmouth Economist Dr. Erzo Luttmer noted that if you take two people who make the same income, the one who lives in a more expensive neighborhood will be less happy. Why? Because they are comparing themselves to their neighbors instead of appreciating what they have.

Finally, money brings diminished returns on happiness because material possessions only bring so much happiness. Once our basic needs have been met, most people spend their increased wealth on previously mentioned purchases like fancy cars, vacation homes, jewelry, and more. The type of happiness people derive from such purchases is short-lived. In fact it is the anticipation of buying such a thing that makes a person truly happy, and that within a few days, weeks, or months, that happiness will have largely subsided and the individual will have returned to their pre-purchase level of happiness.  Remember from a previous post I wrote Dr. Gilbert (here) that our predictions of happiness are often overexaggerated. The amount of happiness we think we might get from spending money is less than we expect.

In conclusion, money can buy happiness. Living in poverty, fighting, and worrying about paying for the basic needs of human survival is extremely stressful and can lead to depression and unhappiness. Having enough money to secure such needs dramatically improves happiness. Beyond that, returns on happiness begin to diminish and more money does not buy more happiness. There are exceptions such as a spending ones money on an unforgettable experience with family or friends for example, or buying a specific item for which you hold a great deal of admiration or respect for can lead to happiness. Generally speaking, more money will not bring more happiness, and the amount of stress associated with the increasing efforts to accumulate more and more wealth is not worth the diminishing return in happiness. Focus instead on living a life of value and purpose, and focus on friendships and other relationships. Those in meaningful romantic relationships or who had 5 or more close friends were twice as likely to be happy as those without.

 

Below are several articles that include the research to which I alluded in today’s post.

Time Magazine

Insider


 

 

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Fasting for Health, Wisdom, and Happiness



I recently did a 24 hour fast and for today’s post I wanted to talk about the experience. Fasting has been something that people have been doing for thousands of years for various reasons. The earliest descriptions of fasting come from religious texts, where fasting was employed as a means of either showing gratitude to religious figures as well as for obtaining a state of higher enlightenment. Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, regularly practiced intentional fasting as a means of gaining power over his perception of self, believing that by failing to give into the urge of his body, that he was moving towards enlightenment and the cessation of suffering. The 3 Abrahamic religions also had their central figures practice extended fasts as a means of being closer to God. Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed all fasted for extended periods to commune with God. Today, practitioners of Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism (and I would imagine many others but my knowledge is limited) practice fasts particularly during holy days or ceremonies. The hunger they experience reminds them to be grateful for the blessing of abundance in their life, and the abstinence from worldly desires of the flesh help them discover a more spiritual state.

Today, fasting is popular for more than just religious reasons. I am not qualified to recommend fasting to anyone for health purposes, nor do I have the knowledge to properly discuss the physiological principles behind it. I will however include a few sources at the end of this article if you are interested in reading more and educating yourselves. The purported health benefits of fasting are such: it can put the body in a ketonic state where it preferentially metabolizes fat and adipose tissue rather than muscle, liver, and blood born glucose. This helps people to lose weight. Additionally, if you significantly limit the hours during which you eat, you will likely consume fewer calories thus increasing your chances of losing weight. Perhaps most interestingly, there is evidence that a fast of 24-72 hours in length will force the body to destroy weak or damaged cells, along with cells that may be pre-cancerous. Thus, fasting is reported to reduce the risk of cancer. Again, I do not feel confident saying that is the definitive answer but that is what some research suggests. Whatever your goal would be, fasting may or may not be a viable option for you. As is always the case, I would urge you to do your own research and to consult a professional nutritionist, dietician, or doctor before making the decision to fast.

My experience with fasting was as follows. I did a 24 hour fast beginning at the end of my dinner on Monday night and concluding with dinner on Tuesday. During that time, I consumed nothing but water, and black coffee with a few spoons of coconut oil, less than 55g of coconut oil throughout the day. Coconut oil is allowed under most fasting guidelines as it does not take the body out of ketosis or interfere with the metabolic benefits that fasting may provide. Many people report feeling a sense of extreme focus that allows them to accomplish a great deal during their fast. Many also report entering a euphoric state around the 16-hour mark where they feel like they could maintain the fast for days. That wasn’t the case for me. I began feeling hungry around 10am, an hour or so after I typically consume breakfast. Throughout the day my hunger steadily increased coming to a climax in the evening where I was so ravenous that I nearly ate my own arm. I had difficulty focusing on work that day, finding my mind often wandering. I also felt a bit annoyed and somewhat easier than normal to fluster. This may have been because of the excess caffeine I consumed, in an attempt to curb my appetite. Nevertheless, I spent most of the day hungry. From a health standpoint I do not know that I got much out of it. I don’t struggle with carrying excess weight on my body, so weight loss is not a major concern. If anything, the lack of eating may have limited my performance as an amateur strength athlete, which is precisely why I fasted on an off day from the gym. It is possible however that my body destroyed weak, damaged, or precancerous cells, although I am not sure how I might measure that.

The best thing that came out of the fasting experience for me was the gratitude. I was grateful because by 8pm on Tuesday night I was quite hungry, to the point that I could think of little else and was able to break the fast with a very large, nutritious, and delicious meal. What I was grateful for was the fact that I chose to do a 24-hour period of not eating, while millions if not billions of people across the world will go for far longer than that without eating, and not by choice. It is easy to grow accustomed to certain comforts in life and to take for granted what others would consider a blessing. Food is perhaps one of those things we so often take for granted. When it comes to food, the questions I most often ask myself are: what am I going to eat or when am I going to eat, not: am I going to eat? The extent to which just a mere 24 hours affected my attitude and body reminds me never to take for granted the blessings I have, when it comes to the ability to nourish my body. There are far too many people out there who do not have such fortune.

It is for this very reason that I will likely make fasting a once monthly occurrence. The weight loss aspect is immaterial to me and I doubt I will see God’s face unless I break my fast with psychedelics. What I hope to get out of the experience will be a reminder that I do not NEED luxuries in my life to be happy and to live and to be grateful for the blessings in my life. That, along with the possible cancer-fighting, life-prolonging effects of a fast are enough to make it worth my while. It is precisely the reminder to be grateful that allowed my fasting experience to bring me happiness. 


Articles: 

Intermittent Fasting and Human Metabolic Health


Effects of Intermittent Fasting on Health, Aging, and Disease

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Seeds of Happiness



The first step on the Noble Eightfold Path to Enlightenment for Buddhists is Right View. The path is intended to describe the 8 fundamental principles of being that can help us to identify, transform, and cease our suffering. It all begins with the right view. The right view depends on recognizing that suffering exists, identifying what causes it, transforming suffering into growth, and eventually reaching enlightenment. The Buddhists believe that it is our view that stops us from reaching enlightenment. For my part I will adopt this to say that the right view stops us from realizing happiness. The Buddhists would say that the opposite of suffering isn’t happiness but rather non-existence since suffering is an immutable part of existence – thus only non-existence can be a part of suffering. Nevertheless, whether your goal be Buddhist enlightenment and Nirvana or simply the pursuit of happiness, it is our views, and more importantly our perceptions that hold us back.

We must first realize that much that we perceive as suffering is not suffering at all, but rather than our perceptions of things cause us to suffer. Remember, things happen through no control of our own, and that these things are neither good nor bad, they simply are. They are objective happenings that occur naturally in the universe. Our view, our perception is what causes things to become good or bad. Learn to focus your view and you will be able to cease suffering.

Buddhist scholar Shariputra wrote that Right View was the ability to distinguish wholesome roots from unwholesome roots. If we consider ourselves to be a seed, we are at that moment more or less undefined in our existence. At that point we have much growth ahead of us and we simultaneously possess the opportunity to grow wholesome or unwholesome roots as it were. Which roots we grow will depend on the way we nourish ourselves as a seed, and the right view is precisely what will determine the way we nourish ourselves.

This recalls a Native American proverb which I have shared on my social media accounts before but perhaps not on my actual blog page. The proverb goes as such: a Cherokee elder was speaking with his grandson and said: “my son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.” Thinking for a moment, the grandson asked: “which one wins?” The old man simply replied “the one you feed.” 


I find the similarities between the wolf metaphor of Cherokee culture and the seed of Buddhism to be beautifully similar and accurate. That two cultures so far apart should have such similar notions of right and wrong, good and evil, and more importantly the way we can shift our own destiny with right view, is incredible. Right view ensures that we feed the good wolf with positive nutrition like joy, peace, and love, or water the wholesome seeds with humility, empathy, and compassion. The resemblance that these two ideas share reminds me of how close we are as human beings. No matter where we are, when we live, or who we are, we share the same ideals of what good and evil are. We recognize that the power to shape our world begins with our decision to shape ourselves for the better, by watering the right seeds or by feeding the right wolf.

My hope for today’s brief post is that you will take the time to be mindful of your views, to ensure that you are looking at the world with optimism, kindness, hope, and compassion. My hope is that you will water the wholesome roots within yourself and feed the good wolf so that over time the unwholesome roots will wither and die and the evil wolf will starve and fade away.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

The 4th of July and Happiness



 Today is Sunday, July 4, 20201 and we are observing the 245th anniversary of the United States of America. One of the most important things I have learned since beginning this blog is that perspective is everything and gives us the power to determine our outlook on life. If we adopt a negative and pessimistic attitude, and go looking for faults and wrongs, we will find surely find them and feel justified in our negativity. Conversely, if we are resolved to be optimistic, and choose to find joy, beauty, and kindness, so that we may be happy, then we will succeed. It is precisely the latter attitude that I want to apply to the 245 year history of my country. There is plenty wrong with this place, the errs of which I have often discussed on this blog and will continue to do so when the time feels appropriate. Today however I believe the proper course is to highlight the positive outcomes of our 245 year history as a nation. 

I have previously discussed the Declaration of Independence, the document written by Thomas Jefferson and signed by delegates of the 13 colonies stating the intent of the colonies to become independent and their grievances against England. In that post I discussed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and in particular the pursuit of happiness, lauding Jefferson for his wisdom in including happiness but being careful to note that only the pursuit was guaranteed but never the discovery or realization thereof. The word happiness comes up a second time in the declaration, later in the second paragraph where Jefferson writes: “That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends [the unalienable rights], it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.” Here Jefferson again demonstrates the importance of happiness as a root cause for the need for independence. 

America was founded as a nation of ideals, where all men and women would be free to enjoy their unalienable rights to the best of their abilities. We are not a perfect nation but I believe we make steps towards progress each and every day. Sometimes on that path to perfection and progress we take steps backwards, big steps backwards, but by and large we make progress. Yes, it is shameful and tragic that slavery existed for as long as it did, and that African Americans still find themselves marginalized. Yes it is shameful that women were denied the right to vote for so long and still face discrimination, but keep in mind that there are still nations where it is illegal for women to vote, go to school, or own property. No, we shouldn’t compare ourselves to the worst of the worst, but against the backdrop of global reality we are able to realize that we are on the right track. Yes, it is tragic and shameful that homosexuals, and transsexuals have been marginalized, brutalized, and discriminated against but we on the right track. Today there are only 29 countries where gay marriage is legal and we are one of them. That means there are over 160 countries where gay marriage is not legal. So yes, we could point out the flaws and wrongs of this nation and leave ourselves with a sour taste in our mouth, but I think we need to take a look at the direction in which we are heading and be cognizant of where we began. 

It is easy to villainize America, especially if you live here. We believe so firmly in the ideals that are our country that we become infuriated when we fail to live up those ideals. This is a classic example of thinking the grass is greener on the other side. You need not look much further than at the flux of immigration into this country to realize that we are still idealized by many as a land of freedom and opportunity. The flux of desperate men, women, and children into this country, fleeing their homes in search of a better life here, demonstrates that perhaps things here aren’t as bad as we sometimes want to believe. Often times we are far more aware of our own flaws than those of others, but perhaps if we learn to talk to ourselves in a less negative manner, as individuals and as a country, we will learn to value ourselves for our merits rather than villainize ourselves for our flaws. Nor do I believe that it is unamerican to call out our flaws. To identify faults in ourselves is not unloving but serves the purpose of highlighting areas for improvement. However, we must be positive in our critique of ourselves as a nation, not merely stating what is wrong for the sake of claiming moral superiority or being heard, but for the sake of looking for a positive resolution. 

We are far from perfect but I believe that our general trend since the inception of our nation, beginning with our Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, has been one towards progress, opportunity, and most important an enablement of the pursuit of happiness for all. Sometimes we move backwards, zig zag, stall, or lose sight of that end goal but by and large our trajectory is upwards.  While we may never arrive at a destination of perfection, we should never stop our pursuit of those ideals upon which we were founded.  


Friday, July 2, 2021

Slow Down and Experience Happiness in the Present



Today I want to discuss an idea that I came across while reading Paolo Coelho’s “The Pilgrimage.” I am only a few chapters into the book but have already been impressed with the amount of wisdom contained within the pages, as I often am with anything written by Coelho. Our protagonist is ironically enough, a man from Brazil named Paulo (unclear yet whether the author himself is the main character but I am suspecting he may be.) Paulo has travelled to the Iberian peninsula on a quest but it is already clear that one of the central themes of the book will be a reminder to enjoy the journey rather than look forward to the destination. This is what Coelho want’s his readers to take from the book, unless I am wildly misplaced in my ideas.

So often in life we find ourselves in a hurry. We believe that happiness and fulfillment are just a few weeks, months, or years down the line, or that once we do X or have Y, then we can finally start enjoying life. Because of our obsession with future-states, we fail to appreciate the present moment. As a consequence, we are never truly content or happy, and before we know it the best part of our lives has slipped away unnoticed as we find ourselves facing the end. If we wish to truly feel happy, we must remind ourselves that happiness, beauty, joy, love, and kindness are all around us at this very moment. We must not delay our gratification for a future state that may never come to be. The future of course is an abstract concept. We will always be living in the present, and if our eyes are always on where we are going and never where we are, what sort of happiness will we ever find in our existence.

During Paulo’s pilgrimage, our character is taught a concept by his guide. The guide calls this exercise, the speed exercise. The exercise is this: “walk for twenty minutes at half the speed at which you normally walk. Pay attention to the details, people, and surroundings.” The purpose is to get us to slow down, focus on the present, and be grateful for this moment that we have right here right now. Time, says the guide “time isn’t something that always proceeds at the same pace. It is we who determine how quickly time passes.” Why are we constantly pushing the fast forward button on our own lives? This is it, right here right now. This is our life. Tomorrow may never come and the future may not be so much better than the present as we imagine it to be. What is wrong with the present. Everything we want and need to be happy already exists, if we but slow down and take the time to appreciate and enjoy it.


I tried this exercise this morning while walking Floyd. It was lightly raining, wet, and dark, but I wanted to put the idea into practice. So often on my walks, my readings, workouts and more, I find myself looking forward to the end. As if gratification lies at the finish line rather than now, or as if every task I do is an obligation or an obstacle to doing whatever it is that I really want to be doing. This is not a good way to go through life. If you think about the present in such a way that you are always waiting for the future, you will soon find yourself 80 years old, lying in bed preparing to die and wondering where your life went. So, rather than rush around the block as I often do, today I walked twice as slowly and took in the moments. I looked at Floyd, stopping at every yard and every tree for a smell, reveling in the wonder of the smells, as blood hounds are wont to do. I looked at the houses all up and down the street and marveled at how much time and effort must have been spent by so many people to build this neighborhood from what once was merely a forested hill. I looked at the trees and was awestruck by their beauty and size, and wondered how long they must have taken to grow. I imagined the hill of our neighborhood before humans and imagined what it must have been like thousands of years ago. It was a simple enough task but by reminding myself to slow down and enjoy the present, I felt a profound sense of connectedness and contentment. I felt at place in the world and happy in the present. Give this exercise a try and I bet you will feel the same way. Remember to slow down and be happy about where you are, not where you are going.

 

 

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Set Character Goals to Discover Happiness



We have often discussed here the importance of goals. A goal without a plan is just a dream. In order to achieve nearly anything worth achieving, you must state your goals and develop a plan to see that goal become a reality. Your goals should have short term progress markers, or mini goals, and be aimed at pursuing your ultimate goal little by little. The goal is our desire and the habits we put in place constitute the work that gets us there. It is unlikely that any goal will be achieved without altering our habits. This is often the hardest part of reaching our goals. If you ask most people what their goals are, they can probably tell you, or they can at least tell you their dreams, but it is often their ability to successfully alter their lifestyle habits that prevents them from realizing their goals. The habit is the effort that you put in hour after hour, day after day, and week after week to arrive at your finish line.

If your goal is to become healthier, you set a goal weight, a desirable physique, or an event that you are determined to complete. To reach that goal you change your habits: you start training your body with exercise to develop greater capabilities; you start eating nutritious and healthy food to give your body the fuel it needs. If your goal is to start your own business, you change your habits: you start reading books about your business’s market rather than watching tv; you save money so you can invest it; and you stay up late to put in extra work. It doesn’t matter what your goal is, it takes the power of habit to get there.

Today’s discussion is obviously about goals and habits, but rather than talk about more traditional goals such as becoming healthier or starting a business like I just mentioned, or becoming a published author, getting a college degree, or any other amazing goal, this post is about character goals. When I say character goals, what I mean is: what sort of person do you want to be? Most of us would probably say that yes, we want to be a better person. But what does being a better person mean? When I was a strength and conditioning trainer, every new client would always tell me that their goal was “to get in better shape.” Duh. Form there we would dive deeper and talk about specifics. What does getting in better shape mean to YOU? Does it mean losing weight, does it mean being more flexible, does it mean completing a triathlon or a strongman competition, does it mean gaining 30lbs? Once we have that goal more specifically defined, we can implement the habits that will get us there. The same is true of character. Yes we all want to be better people, but how? What does being a better person mean to you? What values do YOU want to embody that will make you a better person. 

Just as an athlete trains the body for fitness goals
you must train your mind and soul for character goals.

If you don’t know what values or character traits will make you a better person then how will you be able to measure your progress. Of course, this exercise isn’t for everyone, some people are very good and thrive just simply “being” but I am one of those people who takes a more deliberate approach to nearly everything, both a blessing and a curse. If you are like me and want to be more intentional about this, I would recommend starting with a thought exercise where you envision the type of person you want to be and state the values that will help you become that. You may already be that type of person, as I am positive that all of us brings innate values and character to the table. It never huts though to look for the opportunity to improve. For me, some of the values that embody the type of person I want to be are compassion, trustworthiness, confidence, empathy, and generosity. Those traits all embody the type of person I want to be. Because I have taken the time to specifically identify these traits, I have a target. Remember, if we don’t know what we are trying to achieve, how will we know when we are doing it or if we have been successful.

Without a goal or target, how will you
know if you've hit the mark

Identifying your goals and identifying the necessary habits to reach those goals is applicable to character goals just as any other goal. The same way an athlete knows they must train their body in the gym, push themselves hard, recovery properly, and avoid unhealthy food, so too must a person who wishes to be a better person identify the traits necessary to reach their goal. If you want to be more trustworthy, be mindful of the opportunities you must build that as a trait. If someone tells you a secret, remember that you are trying to develop trustworthiness personally, and trust with that person, so you resist the temptation to share the secret and gossip. If you wish to become more confident, be mindful of this when you are sitting in a board meeting, and instead of sinking in your chair and avoiding conversation, raise your hand and share your thoughts. 

This isn’t going to cause an overnight transition. If I have been habitually selfish for my entire life, suddenly deciding to be generous will not make me generous the very next day. Nor either would a couch potato make the decision to run a marathon and get up off the couch to go do exactly that the next day. That isn’t realistic. You do have the opportunity to make small changes one at a time. It is in this way that habits are formed, and goals are realized.

Here are a few helpful tips to help you out:

1)      Be patient and do not be dismayed by how far off your goal is. Instead, focus on micro goals and being just a little bit better every day. Don’t think, I have to be generous all the time from here out. Instead, just focus on acting with generosity one act a time. Nick Saban, head coach of the legendary Alabama Crimson Tide football team (go Dawgs btw, although I can’t help but admire him as a coach) has been incredibly successful. Among his tactics, is the fact that he doesn’t ask his players to play a perfect game. How could anybody do that? Instead, he asks them to do their job perfectly on one play. Then again on the next. If you go out and execute flawlessly for 4-5s, the average time of a football play, then those perfect plays add up to a perfect game, or at least as close to a perfect game as possible. Try this out when building your character habits and goals.

2)      Change the way you think about yourself, and about achieving your goals. In his book Atomic Habits (on my recommended reading list on my pages link here), James Clear tells us to adapt the mindset of someone who has already become what they desire to be, or who already embodies the character to which they are striving. For example, if I am wanting to become a better athlete, I will not tell myself: I am going to try and eat better. I am setting myself up for failure because there is no accountability. Instead, if I adopt the mindset: I am an athlete, and athletes eat healthy so they can fuel their body for performance, then I have made myself accountable and I am more likely to stay committed. If my character goal is to be more compassionate, rather than avoid eye contact and awkwardly stroll by my neighbor I see walking every day, I will make an effort to engage them in a polite conversation, even if it is as brief as saying hello and smiling. This is the sort of thing a compassionate person does and will help me build the habit of being compassionate.

In summary, set character goals for yourself that will enable you to be the type of person you want to be. Once you have identified the goals and traits that will define you, consider what habits you must develop to embody those traits. Be on the lookout for opportunities to improve so that you are ready to take advantage of them. Be patient, recognize that your goals will take time to achieve. Focus on doing the right thing, one moment at a time. Create the mindset that you already are what you wish to become and hold yourself accountable for behaving in a manner worthy of that type of person you are.