It is time for me to grow another year older, and since I wrote last year’s birthday thesis late, I decided to write this one early. Sometimes you have thoughts going through your mind so strongly, you have no choice but to write them down at that very moment.
What is a birthday thesis? I figure I should explain, as this is my third one. I originally took the idea from Buster Benson — where he would write a yearly report with a central concept. I really enjoy the idea, but haven’t done it very well so far. I have a rather good central idea this time around, although it is candid and dark, but I believe there is no other option but to write it.
Often, I find myself wondering about the secret to happiness. Plato asserted that only those that live morally virtuous lives were ones that were happy. Aristotle wrote that happiness — human progression — was the only thing that could be valued in isolation. Aquinas believed that God, in His essence, was happiness. Sonja Lyubomirsky found in her studies that, while 40% of our happiness was genetic and 10% was circumstantial, 40% was entirely in our own self-control.
I also think questioning the inverse is just as important: Why are so many people unhappy? There is an abundance of resources in civilization right now that has never been seen before in human history — and yet even with that, pessimism seems easier than optimism.
It’s too easy to get wound up in what-ifs, the mind wandering to scenarios where one could possibly be happier. As though there is an emptiness in the heart or mind that — if filled — could become elated with joy. Material possessions, job promotions, the approval of others, ad nauseum. These things can be chased, and then obtained, but what then?
When happiness is seen as something external — something outside of ourselves that we need to obtain by some sort of means — it remains temporary. The environment you’re surrounded in suddenly becomes the decider of your emotions. It can take great strength — particularly in the most difficult and terrible of situation — to no longer allow what occurs around you to dictate your feelings, but it is not an impossible task.
One needs to distance themselves from the complicated and distracting life that seems to engulf the mind entirely. To reflect on who we are, our spirit and ability.
To reflect on what is good, and what can be made better. To reflect on how there’s often more worry and doubt than needed, that outlooks don’t turn out as badly in reality as they do in our head (also known as impact bias). To reflect and choose to focus on the good, in ourselves and in the world we live in.
We live, we choose to live. We move on through pain and suffering. Our hardships only making us more durable and wise.
If there’s one thing that I sincerely yearn to see more of in my life, it’s people that openly and excitedly talk about things close to their heart. I think there’s no easier way to become a person who is genuinely interesting than to be genuinely interested in something.
When somebody has an avocation that they pursue for its own sake — when there’s no pride or arrogance — I could sit for hours listening and learning about it and them. Even, and almost especially, when it’s something that I previously thought mundane or hadn’t even thought about at all.
And I feel so lucky to stumble upon this kind of person because they seem like a rarity. I think I can understand why, though. There are a number of reasons, both societal and personal, that make the hobbyist surprisingly elusive.
“Follow Your Passion” is a mantra that’s too-often spoken and seldom acted upon. It’s a bad idea — if not a dangerous one — to be chanting this to both ourselves and our youth. It’s far too easy to become anxious over the pressure of trying to not only find what exactly your ‘passion’ is, but then to somehow jump through the hoops to make it your career.
The regrettable result of this is that we submit to the pressure. If we aren’t able to reach the difficult goal and end up working elsewhere — heaven forbid corporate — there’s an unneeded sense of failure that’s created. We succumb to the expectations of those around us instead of our own.
In addition to this, once you find yourself actually having downtime, it’s used poorly instead. We spend our time in front of screens, consuming — whether it’s media, or sports, or our friend’s lives. It can be tempting to think of these as healthy pastimes, but they aren’t. They can be a nice wind-down from the work we don’t really enjoy, but you are instead witnessing the work of others instead of creating something for yourself.
And then there’s sleep, too. From the exhaustion of the 9-to-5 that we oblige in order to pay the bills. It can feel as though we simply don’t have the time or the energy to actually maintain a hobby.
We can roll our eyes at time management, or doubt ourselves from following through, or honestly just be a bit afraid of beginning new things, but it’s more than possible to start small. Allocating a few hours every week can be enough to start developing a new skill.
But if you manage to get far enough to find your passion, you’re only halfway there if you keep it hidden from the world. It’s understandable too, though. A harsh truth is that people too often reserve themselves, using self-deprecating humor as a way to distance themselves from others.
Sarcasm and irony are used to deflect the idea of being honest and sincere. We would rather have people think poorly about a false version of ourselves than know what they actually think about who we are. Parody can only go so far, though, as it needs an original to mock in the first place.
That isn’t the only reason we find ourselves from having difficulties about being open about our affections. In childhood we might find ourselves teased or ignored when we divulge our interests without reserve — or even worse, in adulthood.
Such a negative response is also rooted in insincerity. Those who laugh at passionate people are the ones who lack passion themselves. It’s far easier to justify fears by sticking in the comfort zone of mockery, instead of trying things out.
The obvious answer to this is to not interact with these sort of people — to cut them out of your life. But that’s easier said than done. It’s more practical to, instead, try to find others that are unafraid to talk about what they love. There are the added benefits of having something to already bond over, as well as opportunities to collaborate.
Hobbies take place in the cellar and smell of airplane glue. — John Updike
My peers — and a multitude of others — attempt to create an incredible life, from a list of incredible things. The Bucket List, as it’s usually called, is well-established as various fantastical objectives that you’d want to accomplish before you die. It’s an understandable and fun idea, upon its premise, but there’s something fundamentally wrong with the idea.
While there isn’t exactly anything right or wrong to want to do within your lifetime, there are commonalities between many of them. Some try to find a sort of quantitative measure of success, like making a certain amount of money, or maybe something more career-oriented.
Those sorts of accomplishments appear vain, to me. What exactly do you do with your life after you complete them — waste away? I’m instead interested in the more lofty and adventurous ambitions that we set for ourselves. One in particular:
There’s such a vast world to explore and discover. I can’t think of a single person that I don’t know that doesn’t want to venture around the world.
To be able to trek across every continent, to visit the daunting wonders of Earth, or to celebrate the festivals of different cultures.
Among this craving is also the fantasy of escapism. We not only wish to visit these places of wonder, but also to stay. We engulf ourselves with the images of a nomadic self, where we’re free. A life in the wild.
Our own Genesis — where we no longer have to be petrified by our oppressive society. Where we can run, barefoot, away from the responsibilities that we’re obliged to for our basic survival, the acidic weight of our burdens and regretful pasts.
Most of us don’t even make it that far, though. Instead, we are able to find an endless supply of excuses why it’s not even possible to try to run away. Finding a false contentment in idolizing those brave enough to leave from the glare of a computer screen or phone.
There is, though, a tragedy in wanderlust. In the same sense, the entire idea of a bucket list is flawed. In that, it can make us think that the world — our oyster — can be simplified into a handful of extraordinary events. It simply doesn’t work that way.
The romanticized points of world travel, among other aspirations, take up a tiny fraction of our time and life. The same is true for our most prized memories — falling in love, getting married, having children. These are the parts of life that we value the most — if only out of sentimentality — but they are infinitely small.
Because we go back to our everyday lives. The mundane and the difficult, and most importantly, the largely forgettable and forgotten. It is not practical to live like this indefinitely, nor should anybody attempt to.
We have to be able to take time out of the mundane to step back and appreciate it. We do not need to constantly and frantically search for more when we are the few that already have so much. There’s so much beauty in the people we have to talk to every day. The nuance of life is what makes it.
The fresh start is a myth, no matter where you go, you take your mind with you. That’s what is actually bothering you, as much as it seems that it’s the world around you. Our problems are ours, they do not stay static as we move on. You will still be the same person, with the same fears and flaws, no matter what climate you decide to quickly run off too.
The pragmatic alternative is working on yourself. Find refuge in the things you can enjoy, no matter where you are. But understand that even in the things you enjoy come difficulty.
To get truly good at something — which is necessary to become a valuable person —you’re going to have to do things that you don’t like doing. It’s going to get hard and you’re going to get tired. There’s no way to avoid this, do not try to find shortcuts, work through it instead. Grit has been proven to be a fundamental asset to success, and consequently, happiness.
When you’re able to find contentment within yourself, when you stop trying to look for a solution elsewhere, life no longer seems like a hectic series of rambling memories that pass you by too quickly. Only when you surrender your pursuit of happiness are you able to find happiness within the pursuit.