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.
“It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much. … The life we receive is not short but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully.”
— Seneca, On the Shortness of Life
Time is all we have — and it is our only limited currency. You can always get more money, you can always get more energy, but you can never get back time that you’ve spent. No matter how healthy you live, no matter how good your genetics are, your time is rangebound.
What isn’t so transfixed is our perception of time. A day that is spent doing something that is completely novel and laborious feels exponentially longer than a day spent doing something that is routine and pleasurable. Our mind has the ability to stretch or shorten our sensation of time, depending on our activities and mood.
But the easiest way to embellish our time is to simply cherish it — to be proactively mindful and conscious of what we’re doing at any moment. This is one of the keys to meditation, and in reality, it can be done anytime.
Imagine each day you’ve lived that you can’t even remember because you allowed yourself to mindlessly follow the same routine. Monotony is what accelerates our awareness of time. Uniformity is the enemy of our longevity.
Imagine instead, if you asked yourself the following question every five minutes throughout the day: “Am I happy with how I’m using my time right now?”
It’s effortlessly easy to become absorbed in the unimportant, or to become caught up in whatever is in front of you. It takes far more energy to be acquainted with each passing breath, each beating of the heart.
There might be an impossibility in capturing the entire day, each day. Not every fleeting moment of our lives needs to have some sort of grand meaning behind it. Rather, try to do just one thing each day to make it memorable, and take a few moments to just not do anything except appreciate the time you have. Use the hours, don’t count them.
There’s an old saying that when one door closes, another opens. It’s an eye-roller — an idiom that people scoff at — and for good reason. I’d like to expand on this metaphor. When that door closes, it can sometimes never open again. And it’s not just the door, it’s where it leads — a place that you would call your home.
Whether it’s by mistake, or even just bad luck, there is heartbreak when that door closes. When you lose the home that you thought you’d die with — your entire identity.
And it can seem impossible or hopeless, when it first happens. The door closes, and you’re locked out. Now what? A change of perspective. In reality, you are surrounded by a neighborhood of doors. This might sound inauthentic or tacky, but it’s true. We have no fixed fate.
There is nothing stopping you walking away and never looking back. Have the courage to start all over again. Shake the dust.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master; so many things seem filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster. Lose something every day. Accept the fluster — One Art by Elizabeth Bishop
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