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
Different ways of thinking about the past and writing.
I don’t remember when it started, but I’ve come to the realization I live a life of frustrating contradictions. How lazy I feel, after being tired from working all day. Or how the pressure of optimism feels harsher than giving in to cynicism. Or how I feel like a child at heart in spite of having a wandering mind that often feels brittle and faded.
There’s also the occasional pang of regret, which seems more eye-rolling and silly than a contradiction, at my age — of course we do stupid things in our youth, that’s what our youth is for. There are often times where I’ll search up terms like “Things I wish I could have said to my 20-year-old” which are usually written by someone a decade or two older.
While I definitely believe there is wisdom in listening to the advice of those older than you, most of these articles are — sadly — just variously repeated cheesy lines and clichéd advice. Spend less time on Facebook, travel around the world. Okay, cool. How does that make me a better person, though?
The most obvious lesson that I’ve actually retained, so far, is that it’s really impossible to stop yourself from making stupid mistakes. There are those of us too head-strong and stubborn to take the words of others, or our future selves, and instead enthusiastically headbutt our way through our regrettable actions instead.
There’s an odd inner-peace that rises when you realize this. To walk the middle road and be able to no longer have shame over your scars — and also not display them as badges of honor, either. They’re just there, in the same way they are for every other person.
So, instead of ruefully thinking of ways I could have prevented myself from being an idiot, or hopelessly research the mechanics of time-travelling, I’m trying something else.
Rather than rumination, or simply accepting and moving on, why not try the third alternative instead? Look at your past with fresh eyes, figure out a way you can do something now that would affect your future.
Blank Page Syndrome
A personal example of this would be looking at the calendar and seeing how many days were zero days. Which I would describe as days where I didn’t write, or do anything else productive for that matter.
I have to say — and I stress this — that there’s pressure within writing culture to write daily.
I understand the idea and the motivation behind not breaking the chain, but at the same time, the longer the lack of a chain you have is as equally dis-motivating. When I weeks, or even months where I’ve become so caught up in life that I’ve forgotten to journal, it can become daunting to try and start up again.
Of course, this self-doubt has nothing to do with what other people think on the subject, rather it has to do with the fact that I let it bother me. And whenever I look back and see a slew of blank days, I always do end up wishing that I would just have written something at least once or twice. But it seems dangerously simple to separate thoughts about the past to doing actions in the present.
Self-forgiveness is the most important part of improvement. It’s about not being hard on yourself for slipping up on your principles, because that itself is just regret.
You just have to move on, and maybe become more aware of what you’re actually capable of doing right now. Take smaller steps — baby steps.
For me, that’s accepting that in order not burn out, I should probably write less frequently. Specifically, aim for the goal of writing once a week, anytime of the week.
As Anne Frank once wrote, paper has more patience than people. You can go to it whenever. It’s too easy for me to instead think of my journal as a friend — as though I would feel guilty about only coming to it when I felt emotional, and ranted ceaselessly without much sense. But you can do that. You should do that.
But, that’s just one example. The point is that you have to use the future as a tool to fight against the past. Think of creative ways to re-imagine your blunders, and then go do just that. Find ways to take advantage of the life and opportunities you still have — no matter how hopeless things may seem right now.
It’s about as close to time-traveling as we’re going to get.