Monday, August 3, 2009

Happiness

Happiness has recently been a topic of discussion for me and my friends. Click here to read an article that one friend sent me. It's a relate-able view of happiness, and one that I thoroughly disagree with, yet it may give the post to follow a little more context.

I've heard, and do agree, that happiness can be summed up in one word: gratitude. There are people for whom happiness is a constant state of being. It's not temporal or conditional. A requisite for such a perspective is to be thankful for what one has. Of course, there are happy moments and unhappy moments--everyone has those. But it's how we view those "neutral" moments that really define whether we are happy individuals.

Sure, looking back at moments and recalling them as happy ones is nice, but how much better might they have been if we were able to appreciate them at the time? If we were able to stop complaining or moping enough to enjoy the scene and our company? I imagine the people around us would be happier for such a shift. For me, that's an element of happiness: spreading it to the people around me.

I have been so blessed with a life of good fortune. There are children all over the world who grow up in abject poverty and face some of the deepest atrocities of humanity. For the vast majority, the human experience is one of struggle, hardship and poverty. I've known nothing but love and comfort. Why was I so lucky? What did I do to deserve where I was born? The answer is: nothing. Therefore, I feel obligated to make sure that my good fortune was not given to me in vain and that I pass on the gifts and love I've been given to others.

Somehow, despite the lives they were born into, those "poor" children often smile more than those of us born in comfort and safety. It all comes back to gratitude. Do we realize how lucky we are to have food in front of us? Homes over our heads? No fear of bodily harm when we walk out our doors? Are we properly thankful for the family who cares for us? The friends who listen? We are so used to having these, we often forget how precious they are and how fortunate we are to have them. The less we forget... the more we appreciate... inevitably, the happier we'll be.

It doesn't need to be some complex or radical change of thought or the flipping of some magical switch. (And I assure you it is not found in weight loss or plastic surgery.) It need only be a reinforced sense of gratitude for the lives we live.

This is why happiness is not limited to moments fondly remembered, it can be a lifestyle choice.

Giving thanks before meals, before getting up in the morning, after another beautiful sunset... these are typically associated with religious rituals--which is perhaps why so many of us now reject them--yet they are simple and effective ways to systematically imbue each day with meaning and joy. My hope is that instead of happiness being something most of us only recognize in hindsight, it is something we feel in the present and are sure of as we look into the future.

Friday, July 3, 2009

To Live or To Love

I want to travel around the world and go on spontaneous adventures. I like extreme sports and pushing limits. However, as I'm getting older, I feel the tug of my other dreams of being a husband and a father weighing me down. How can I convince myself that settling down is the right thing to do when all I want to do is grab my passport and parachute and go?
- Forever Falling,
Marco

I don't see these two concepts of travel and marriage as being mutually exclusive. Why not look for a partner to share in your adventures with you? Seeking life-long travel buddy, passport required. Let's shed the stereotypes that marriage is the the place where fun and adventure go to die. Remember, "I do" is a very affirmative statement.

Even children don't have to spell the end of spontaneity as we know it. I've seen parents harness on their walking, not-yet-talking, baby boy like he was another backpack before loading onto a train in China. They said that traveling with him was much easier than they thought it would be. Their biggest concern was that one of the local women who cut off the wandering cutie would refuse to give him back.

Meeting someone might be hard while you're a moving target, but then again, it makes sense that if you want to meet someone who likes the same things you do, that you continue with that activity in order to find that special someone. If you convince yourself that it's travel versus love, then you'll likely miss the backpacking belles right in front of your compass. So be sure to keep your mind open to the possibility of finding your true love in the passport line next to you.

Or maybe you're not attracted to women who are as adventurous as you... If not, you should consider why that might be. Do you hope that you'll outgrow these impulses and are searching for a mother figure who will "keep you in line"? If so, it's important to be sure that you're not asking too much of someone else and that you won't resent her for it later. If you want to change your lifestyle, then it's up to you to do so.

Maybe you don't like the idea of putting someone you love in the danger that you find yourself? It is hard to see the people we love behave wrecklessly (hint hint - on behalf of your friends and family). However, as you and your partner become closer and feel that you both have more to lose, you can help each other make better decisions. As long as you're safe and careful, I see no reason why you can't have matching parachutes.

Relationships are a powerful way that we grow as people. We learn about ourselves and others. The same can be said about exploring the world. Seems you need to take a harder look at why you want to keep traveling and why you want to be in a relationship. Hopefully, you'll discover that these two sides of you are much less conflicting than you imagine. Bon voyage!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The way I see it...

First, I’ll start by sharing a parable…

The Scorpion and the Frog

One day, a scorpion looked around at the mountain where he lived and decided that he wanted a change. So he set out on a journey through the forests and hills. He climbed over rocks and under vines and kept going until he reached a river. The river was wide and swift, and the scorpion stopped to reconsider the situation. He couldn't see any way across. So he ran upriver and then checked downriver, all the while thinking that he might have to turn back.

Suddenly, he saw a frog sitting in the rushes by the bank of the stream on the other side of the river. He decided to ask the frog for help getting across the stream.

"Hellooo Mr. Frog!" called the scorpion across the water, "Would you be so kind as to give me a ride on your back across the river?"

"Well now, Mr. Scorpion! How do I know that if I try to help you, you won’t try to kill me?" asked the frog hesitantly.

"Because," the scorpion replied, "If I try to kill you, then I would die too, for you see I cannot swim!"

Now this seemed to make sense to the frog. But he asked. "What about when I get close to the bank? You could still try to kill me and get back to the shore!"

"This is true," agreed the scorpion, "But then I wouldn't be able to get to the other side of the river!"

"Alright then...how do I know you wont just wait till we get to the other side and THEN kill me?" said the frog.

"Ahh...," crooned the scorpion, "Because you see, once you've taken me to the other side of this river, I will be so grateful for your help, that it would hardly be fair to reward you with death, now would it?!"

So the frog agreed to take the scorpion across the river. He swam over to the bank and settled himself near the mud to pick up his passenger. The scorpion crawled onto the frog's back, his sharp claws prickling into the frog's soft hide, and the frog slid into the river. The muddy water swirled around them, but the frog stayed near the surface so the scorpion would not drown. He kicked strongly through the first half of the stream, his flippers paddling wildly against the current.

Halfway across the river, the frog suddenly felt a sharp sting in his back and, out of the corner of his eye, saw the scorpion remove his stinger from the frog's back. A deadening numbness began to creep into his limbs.

"You fool!" croaked the frog, "Now we shall both die! Why on earth did you do that?"

The scorpion shrugged, and did a little jig on the drownings frog's back.

"I could not help myself. It is my nature."

Then they both sank into the muddy waters of the swiftly flowing river.

This is one of my least favorite stories. I'm not sure if I know of one as pessimistic or cynical. It seems designed to undo faith in people's goodness. I've also heard people use the concept as an excuse for their own actions: “I am what I am.” This may be true for animals and their instincts. I reject it as a way to explain human behavior. Personality traits are not instinctual. To claim that we are lazy, manipulative, or any other trait “by nature,” reduces us to animals.

In this universe there is very little that we as individuals have control over. We cannot control traffic, we cannot control weather, or disease, or death. We can, however, control who we are as human beings—our actions and beliefs. This is where our greatest power lies. To claim “it is my nature” is to dis-empowers us. We have the ability to form new habits, including actions, words, and thoughts. The world is what we make of it because we are what we make of ourselves.

It takes time, patience, effort, forgiveness, and vigilance. We are powerful beings with the ability to improve ourselves. We simply need the will. I believe people want to be good. Imagine if we all understood that there’s nothing stopping us from being who we dream of being? Change starts with each one of us. It doesn't happen overnight nor is it easy--if we look at each action, each word as it comes, we can do it. Backslides and regressions are to be expected, and as long as we don't revert back to the scorpion's justification, we can cross that river.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Star Arguments?

I grew up watching the original Star Wars trilogy. I'm a big fan. And I really hate what's happened to them since the Special Edition and can't stand the poor excuse for movies that are Episodes I, II, and III. I love to talk about Star Wars, but when I'm speaking to people (even those who don't know what a bantha is) and the new movies come up randomly in conversation, I find myself becoming angry and unable to control the escalating volume of my voice. I think I scare them. How can I talk about Star Wars (which I find really interesting) without verbally assaulting the people I'm speaking to?

Wow. So I assume that meesa shouldn't speeks like Jar Jar or yousa might have a heart attack. Just checking. Now, while it sounds like your problem is pretty out there--far far away, even--it's a more universal problem than we might imagine. It's a common communication issue: there's a topic about which you're very passionate, but those passions get the better of you and end up shutting down rather than encouraging dialogue; in some cases, make people think you're gonna go wookie and pull their arms out of their sockets. It's great that you are acknowledging that you can be abrasive and want to change that... first step to recovery. I sense the good in you.

While this isn't the typical "dicey" topic, it is useful to get a handle on. Considering the new trilogy did gross over $2.4 billion, you're likely to encounter people that did actually like these movies. Even though most people don't hold their views of Star Wars so dearly they need to keep a defibrillator handy, if you said "they were without a doubt the worst movies anyone has ever made," and the people you're talking to enjoyed them, then you are insulting their tastes and relieving them of any desire to talk with you... possibly about anything.

Now, to quote a little green puppet "control, control, you must learn control." Easier said than done. A good way to do that is to practice. And since we don't want to transform others into your verbal punching bag, I suggest you rehearse alone. Yes, my advice is to talk to yourself--just don't do it where other people can see you. The Jundland Wastes, perhaps?

Brainstorm ways of talking about the movies (the post-1999 ones) in a way that allows you to express yourself with conviction and calm. This is key to maintaining constructive dialogue on any heated topic such as, politics, gay marriage, abortion... and, yes, even an obsession with a Hollywood production. Try to stay away from hyperbole--superlatives like "worst" and "ever" should be avoided--and don't name-call (difficult when talking about the pompous, greedy, hack George Puke-Ass, but... uh... where was I? Oh yeah, no name-calling) and keep comments in the first-person. Talk about how you feel and what experience makes you feel that way. This allows for an exchange of opinion and clarifies that it is just that--your opinion.

For example, something like "I loved the original trilogy and had high expectations for the new ones that were not met. I was very disappointed." It is very clear where you stand and it's hard to argue with or take offense to because it's fully about you. Now, if the people you're talking to are not uber SW fans and liked the new episodes, then they can feel comfortable saying so. If they are uber fans and did like the new episodes, well then, you don't want to be talking to them, anyway. No, I'm kidding (mostly), but you have gently opened the door for further debate. While it may be harder to maintain your cool in an on-going debate, it is still important to do so--this is a good time to practice with another person as fans will likely be able to spar with you longer before taking offense.

I also recommend that you "search your feelings." Examining why your emotions run so deep can be a big step in learning how to control them. Plus, maybe--now this is a big maybe--you may discover that this issue really isn't worth getting so worked up over and will be able to better rationalize a calm before engaging in your next star war.

Being able to govern your passions so they don't overwhelm your ability to express yourself poignantly is an important skill for social conversation, or any communication for that matter. We want to show people who we are without intimidating them and preventing them from telling us who they are. Learning new perspectives helps us grow. Until you feel like you're able to control your anger in proper jedi fashion, you may want to steer clear of Star Wars-based discussion for a while and instead stick to the basics: "come to this cantina often"?

To Live or To Love

I want to travel around the world and go on spontaneous adventures. I like extreme sports and pushing limits. However, as I'm getting older, I feel the tug of my other dreams of being a husband and a father weighing me down. How can I convince myself that settling down is the right thing to do when all I want to do is grab my passport and parachute and go?
- Forever Falling,
Marco

I don't see these two concepts of travel and marriage as being mutually exclusive. Why not look for a partner to share in your adventures with you? Seeking life-long travel buddy, passport required. Let's shed the stereotypes that marriage is the the place where fun and adventure go to die. Remember, "I do" is a very affirmative statement.

Even children don't have to spell the end of spontaneity as we know it. I've seen parents harness on their walking, not-yet-talking, baby boy like he was another backpack before loading onto a train in China. They said that traveling with him was much easier than they thought it would be. Their biggest concern was that one of the local women who cut off the wandering cutie would refuse to give him back.

Meeting someone might be hard while you're a moving target, but then again, it makes sense that if you want to meet someone who likes the same things you do, that you continue with that activity in order to find that special someone. If you convince yourself that it's travel versus love, then you'll likely miss the backpacking belles right in front of your compass. So be sure to keep your mind open to the possibility of finding your true love in the passport line next to you.

Or maybe you're not attracted to women who are as adventurous as you... If not, you should consider why that might be. Do you hope that you'll outgrow these impulses and are searching for a mother figure who will "keep you in line"? If so, it's important to be sure that you're not asking too much of someone else and that you won't resent her for it later. If you want to change your lifestyle, then it's up to you to do so.

Maybe you don't like the idea of putting someone you love in the danger that you find yourself? It is hard to see the people we love behave wrecklessly (hint hint - on behalf of your friends and family). However, as you and your partner become closer and feel that you both have more to lose, you can help each other make better decisions. As long as you're safe and careful, I see no reason why you can't have matching parachutes.

Relationships are a powerful way that we grow as people. We learn about ourselves and others. The same can be said about exploring the world. Seems you need to take a harder look at why you want to keep traveling and why you want to be in a relationship. Hopefully, you'll discover that these two sides of you are much less conflicting than you imagine. Bon voyage!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Friend Zone is the End Zone?

I like to really get to know women before getting involved romantically with them, becoming friends first. However, my problem is that later I'm unable to get her to see me as more than that. For example, my friend Julie and I hang out so much that people think we're together. We like to do the same things and always have so much to talk about. I think she's great and would love to be more than just friends. Judging from her comments about troubles finding the right guy, I'm thinking she doesn't feel the same way. How can I get her to see that we should be together? What am I doing wrong? How do I get out of the friend zone? Please help.
Hoping to get a spark,
-Flint

First, I am a huge proponent of the "becoming friends first" method of dating. It's a great way to find out if you're compatible, if you communicate well, and if you're genuinely interested in who each other are. The only downside is transitioning out of the zone where you now find yourself.

Unfortunately, there's no standard fix for this. We are given three main options in every difficult situation we're faced with (although, they can be used in various degrees and combinations): change our perspective of it to realize it's not so bad, attempt to constructively alter it in a way that makes us happy, or lastly, get out of it. Notice how none of these options include changing how other people think or feel? Yeah, I know, it's a bummer.

For you and Julie, the first option means remaining "just friends." This is certainly the easiest choice, but it can be masochistic as it often means watching as she falls in and out of love with other people and likely sacrifice your own shot at a fulfilling relationship. However, good friends are hard to find, so it's time to be truly honest with yourself. How much are you willing to sacrifice as you wait for her to feel the spark too? Do you think you could find another woman when you're spending so much time with Julie? Do you think you'll be ok when she finds someone else? You're the only one who can truly assess how painful this friendship will be for you in the long run.

The second choice (altering the situation) suggests that you let her know how you feel about her and that you'd like to take it to the next level. I'm all for the direct approach, but creating more romantic settings and flirting can provide hints without being so confrontational. If you make yourself unambiguously clear and she's still unsure, then give her time to think about it. And BTW calling or texting every half hour with "do you like me now?" will likely not help her figure it out or make her more attracted to you.

Which leads us to the last option: pull back. This can achieve two things. First, begin the "getting over" process, and two, it may allow her the chance to "want" you. If you're always around to answer the call, text, or to hang out, she may take you and your friendship for granted. Romantic relationships are built on love (giving) and passion (wanting). Let her "want" you. Often times, women are less likely to be attracted to men that follow them around like lost puppies and prefer independent types.

Now, remember that part where I said we can't change the way people think or feel? I still mean that, and attempts to do so are manipulative. Games are not good, which is why I'm not suggesting that you sit alone in your room waiting for your phone to ring so you can not answer it. Rather, be sure that you have your own life outside of her--rediscover healthy habits, find new friends, start up a hobby, just find ways to keep busy without Julie.

In all truthfulness, if distancing yourself results simply in more distance, moving on may be the right thing to do. It does not make sense for two single heterosexuals of the opposite sex to hang out so much that other people think they're together. It prevents both of you from finding a more wholly fulfilling relationship by allowing you to settle for a pseudo-romantic friendship, and deters other partner-potentials around you from showing interest.

The friend zone can be a fun or an icky place to be. So, Flint, you can find a new appreciation for it, discover if she views it as a more-than-friend zone, or get the heck out of there. It seems like you're a caring and decent guy looking for more than a random hook-up, you deserve sparks, so don't settle for less.

Why this blog?

In this era of calling, texting, twittering, friending, chatting, emailing, and blogging, it seems like we should be more connected with each other than ever before; however, in important ways, this isn't the case. While we may know more about people we went to high school with than we ever thought we would; collectively, our interpersonal skills, ability for genuine communication, and relationship-forming savvy is in desperate need of an upgrade.

We're increasingly isolated from one another in the ways that matter most. We forget how to speak with care and listen with intent. Our attention spans are short and our dispositions are morose.

I propose we close the laptops (after reading this blog, of course) and give the text thumbs a rest in favor of face-to-face interactions with people in the same room as us; to actively listen and openly share: genuinely communicate.

We too often forget that a major element of our humanity is being social creatures, dependent on the people around us for stimulating interaction. For that reason, the key to our happiness is relationships: with our colleagues, customers, roommates, friends, partners, family... all of them matter.

I, in no way, mean to suggest that I have all the answers. I simply offer my perspective in the hopes that it will precipitate thought and discussion to help others find the right answers for them.