Posts Tagged 'Happiness'

Conservation of Energy

conservationofenerty

In physics, the law of energy conservation states that the total energy of an isolated system remains constant. It can’t be created or destroyed; rather, it transforms from one form to another. Our understanding of the universe relies on this principle.

It often (not always) applies to people and relationships, too.

If you escalate (cut off in traffic, angry at the gate agent, frustrated at your boss), you’ve just added (negative) energy to a conversation.

If you escalate (enthusiasm, a hug, encouraging words), you’ve just added (positive) energy to a conversation.

Once the energy is added, it has to go somewhere. Often, the person you’re engaging with throws it right back, or even increases it. The problem with taking offense is that it’s really hard to figure out what to do with it after you’re done using it. Better to just leave it on the table and walk away. Umbrage untaken quietly disappears. A talented, mature person might take your negative energy and de-escalate it, or even swallow it and permit the conversation to calm down or end. But don’t count on it.

You can ‘win’ a conversation by overwhelming your opponent with energy they can’t handle. But of course, they’re not your opponent and you don’t really win. Being aware of the energy you add or take from interactions is a sophisticated technique that radically changes the outcomes of the conversations that fill your day. Add the good stuff, absorb the bad stuff and focus on the outcomes, not the bravado. Winning isn’t the point.

Fear of Fear

fear of fearMost of the things we avoid are avoided because we’re afraid of being afraid.

The negative outcomes that could actually occur due to speaking up in class, caring about our work product, interacting with the boss – there’s not a lot of measurable risk. But the fear… the fear can be debilitating, or at the very least, distasteful. So it’s easier to just avoid it altogether. We avoid the feeling of fear.

On the other hand, artists and leaders seek out that feeling. They push themselves to the edge, to the place where the fear lives. By feeling it, by exposing themselves to the resistance, they become more alive and do work that they’re most proud of.

It usually looks higher from up there. When we find ourselves on the edge of a precipice, looking down at the depths of the chasm below, it’s easy to think that our plan is far too risky, or our behavior too weird.

The funny thing about perspective is that most bystanders don’t see you standing on a precipice at all. They see someone doing something a little risky, or even questionable, but by no means off-the-grid nuts. You’re far more likely to go not-far-enough than you are to go too far, especially if you tend to find yourself worrying over what others think.

Internal monologue amplifies personal drama. To the outsider, neither exists. That’s why our ledge-walking rarely attracts a crowd. What’s in your head is real to you, no doubt about it, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us can see the resistance you are battling. And most don’t care about it.

How deep is the water? If it’s over your head, does it really matter?

At some point, when the stakes are high enough, you will swim. And when you swim, who cares how deep the water is?

How much does it cost you to avoid the feeling of risk? Not actual risk, but the feeling that you’re at risk? What are you missing out on? Feeling risk is very different than actually putting yourself at risk. Over time, we’ve created a cultural taboo about feeling certain kinds of risk, and all that insulation from what the real world requires is getting quite expensive. It’s easy to pretend that indulging in the avoidance of the feeling of risk is free and unavoidable. It’s neither.

The fear doesn’t care, either way. The choice is to spend our time avoiding that fear or embracing it.

 

Crystal Palace

crystalpalace

It’s beautiful. Looks fantastic. A great ideal to hold on to.

Thanks to technology, (relative) peace and historic levels of prosperity, we’ve turned our lives into a type of crystal palace, a gleaming edifice that needs to be perfected and polished more than it is appreciated.

We waste energy whining over slight imperfections, while we’re simultaneously losing our ability to engage with situations that might not have outcomes shiny enough or risk-free enough to belong in the palace. By insulating ourselves from perceived risk we spend our days in a prison we’ve built for ourself.

Shiny, but hardly nurturing. And still fragile.

Growth is messy and seems dangerous. Life is messy and inherently somewhat dangerous. When we insist on a guarantee, an ever-increasing standard in everything we measure, and a Hollywood ending, we get none of those.

 

Risk of Unprepared

unprepared

Toronto gets a lot of snow. No one freaks out about it because there are machines and people to get rid of it, and an attitude that it’s hardly a problem worth hyperventilating over.

Many problems are like that. When we prepare for them and get used to them, they’re not problems anymore. They’re merely the way it is. We intuitively know this, although when new problems arise we sometimes react poorly, and we don’t like the accompanying feelings.

What about an individual? Is there much worse we can say about you and your work? “You are unprepared.” But the word “unprepared” really means two things. There is the unprepared of the quiz at school, of forgetting your lines, of showing up to a gunfight with a knife… this is the unprepared of being an industrial cog in an industrial system, a cog that is out-of-whack, disconnected and poorly maintained. What about the other kind, though?

We are unprepared to do something for the first time or to take a leap into the unknown, always. We are unprepared for our first hit, or for a massive failure unlike any we’ve ever seen before. We are unprepared to create a new kind of beauty, to connect with another human in a way that we’ve never connected before. We are unprepared to fall in love, and to be loved.

We’ve been so terrified into the importance of preparation, it’s spilled over into that other realm, the realm of life where we have no choice but to be unprepared.

If you demand that everything that happens be something you are adequately prepared for, I wonder if you’ve chosen never to leap in ways that we need you to leap. Once we embrace this chasm, then for the things for which we can never be prepared, we are of course, always prepared.

Because uncertainty is not the same thing as risk.

Often, the most important stuff we do doesn’t bring a guaranteed, specific result. Usually, the result of any given action on our part is unknown. Uncertainty implies a range of possible outcomes.

But a range of results, all uncertain, doesn’t necessarily mean you are exposing yourself to undue risk. It merely means you’re exposing yourself to possible outcomes you can’t fully play out and fall in love with in advance.

The question to ask yourself is, “are you hesitating because you’re not sure the future will match your specific vision, or is there truly a life-endangering risk here?”

A portfolio of uncertain outcomes is very different from a large risk.

Passion

passion

You have to have passion for what you’re doing if you want to be great. If you don’t love it you’ll quit before you get there. This we’ve all been told or read a number of times before.

The struggle we sometimes find ourselves in is when we try to make something great, even though the passion isn’t there. Or, said another way, we struggle trying to invent or re-ignite passion.

It’s a shame that we put this pressure on ourselves. Because passion, by definition, isn’t very controllable. It’s an emotion. It can be modulated to some extent by our actions and mindset. But like most of our emotions, we don’t have direct access to it. Emotions are driven in part by our intellect. We know the situation we are in, and we know how we feel about it. We can observe much of that taking place and understand it academically, but controlling it is a lot to ask. It’s unreliable, at best. Hard to fight our human nature.

The reality is…we sometimes keep trying to find a way through even when the passion isn’t there. This manifests to different degrees I can summarize into three categories:

  1. Apathy – Giving up. No longer trying. One step away from quitting altogether, which could be the right thing to do once one reaches this point.
  2. Mailing/phoning it in – This has most of the appearances of trying, but it’s usually more for the benefit of all the onlookers than anything. Sometimes we do this for a while, waiting/hoping for that spark (spark) of inspiration to strike.
  3. The Struggle – The gallant effort. Continuing to push and work hard, in spite of evidence that it isn’t doing much good. In spite of that dull, nauseating feeling of discontent. The tricky thing is, when we try hard, we usually do get some results. Often it can be enough to keep us engaged for a while. But in the end we usually know the truth.

Without that intangible thing called passion driving us, it’s virtually impossible to do our best for an extended period of time.

And so…things change. Some people experience more of this than others. Some are better at fighting through and ignoring the underlying feelings than others. I would humbly suggest that no matter which side of this you are on, judging what another person is battling  and how it may be manifesting, is probably a misguided waste of emotional energy. Your passion, your common sense, your background of obviousness is unique to you.

When the fuel tank reaches empty, the car can usually still coast for a while, especially when the wind is favorable, but in the end you gotta’ find something new to be passionate about to really get going and get somewhere.

I’m sorry if this is not the answer you may want.

Bravery

suntracks

Bravery is needed to have contrary opinions and to take unexpected paths. It is mustering the courage to face the fear of the unknown. If you’re not courageous, you’re going to be hanging around the water cooler, talking about the person who actually is. That sucks, and it will eventually eat you up, poisoning your joy of life. Don’t let it happen to you.

Where does this courage come from and how do we know whether it’s misguided?

It is a willingness to accept the outcome of what you decide or take action for, rather than the fate of inertia. Mustering courage when it isn’t easy is a function of confidence in oneself and in the world. You are smart and capable. The world provides a lot of help. You can work it out. People far less capable than you have done it. The reason you want to work it out is because of a belief that things can be better, and also because life is a journey. Feeding your sense of adventure is a key to happiness.

As for the misguided part…sure, it’s possible your decision making isn’t well grounded. A little of that is inevitable and okay. Here is where self-examination is your reality check. Historically how has your decision making generally worked out for you? This is not a question of whether decisions led you into difficulty. Our lives are full of challenges that come to us because of AND in spite of decisions we do or do not make. The question is, did the decision take you on a journey that was meaningful? Did you learn and grow? Did you experience more of life? You see, it’s not about what is easy. It’s about what is worthwhile. You’ll never get perfect clarity on anything important.

Bravery is the choice to take a worthwhile journey and open new possibilities.

Celebrate!

celebrate

Just a quick reminder to celebrate what’s great. It may not be ideal, but take the win and celebrate. That’s where the joy comes from and goes to in life. Two-way street. Give it. Receive it. Bask in it. It’s worth it.

Happiness, Part xx8, Other People

happinessothersrainumbrella

We’ve already explored happiness topics ranging from drugs to business. Perhaps the most vital, if obvious, piece has only been touched on up to now.

The Portuguese island of Madeira, known most for its excellent wine, is part of a volcanic archipelago that sits in the Atlantic Ocean far off the southwest coast of Portugal. It’s actually closer to northwest Africa, and loosely associated with the Canary Islands as a stopping point for transatlantic journeys.

One small island in the group has such steep cliffs jutting out of the ocean that it actually looks a bit like a cylinder. At the top is a several-acre plateau on which are grown the most prized grapes that go into Madeira wine. On this plateau lives only one large animal: an ox whose job is to plow the field. The only way to the top is a winding and narrow path. There is no way an ox could navigate the path, so when the ox dies, how is it replaced? A baby ox is carried on the back of a worker up the mountain, where it spends the next forty years plowing the field alone. If you are moved by this story, ask yourself why. One ox, alone, in a field on the plateau of a small rock island in the middle of the ocean.

Very little that is positive is solitary. When was the last time you laughed uproariously? The last time you felt indescribable joy? The last time you sensed profound meaning and purpose? The last time you felt enormously proud of an accomplishment? Even without knowing the particulars of these high points of your life, there is one thing I’ll bet they had in common: all of them took place around other people. Simply put, other people is the best antidote to the downs of life and the single most reliable up.

Recent research on human evolution points to the importance of positive relationships. Studies of the big social brain, hive emotions, and group selection persuade me that positive relationships are a basic element of well-being.

It’s really pretty simple, except the catch is that nasty tendency we sometimes have to not want to be around people when things aren’t going well. It’s a downward spiral.

The other tricky aspect, is being around the right people. If you spend time with someone who brings you down or causes you stress, even if through no particular fault of his own, then at minimum you need others in your life who provide the type of companionship that makes the rest work. It turns out we’re pretty complicated socially, yet we produce anxiety and ultimately unhappiness because we don’t always set our lives up in a way that takes care of this truth, or honor and act on behalf of the changes we undergo throughout life. When someone connects and makes you feel good, pay attention, as it’s you trying to tell yourself something. Recognizing the importance of that is essential to not just happiness, but to fundamentally taking care of yourself.

 

Coin Sides

leaproadcoin

There are almost always (at least) two perspectives through which any situation can be viewed. Anger and hurt are two sides of the same coin. And…

They all have a degree of double-sided logic to them – an obviousness heavily influenced by perspective and context.

As you can see from the numerous links above, this has been an underlying theme throughout the soon ending timeline of this blog. So much of what I have written about reveals my personal view that what we see is a reflection of who we perceive we are.

Most points I have made along the way could be used to further some agenda I may have, or could just as easily be used to combat it. I have seen and understood this from the beginning, even though some have felt the need to point it out as if I am blind to the underlying implications (I welcome the engagement anyway). Over the next two days I will offer another example in two posts that show an issue from two vantage points. Nothing at all special about them. Pretty mundane actually, but want the readers to see them in that context from the get-go. There is usually a kind of truth that emerges, even though it looks different from the two vantage points.

The point is…we’re going to see and do things according to what makes us feel good. Or the least bad.

It’s entirely subjective, and a part of our programming, so debating over nature or nurture is almost a moot point, because it’s all just a form of programming really.

And even once we realize that, there still seems to be no escape. It is what it is. Or is it?

And this leads to another prevailing theme of this blog (I will spare you the numerous examples). What if we somehow muster the courage to make a leap? To do something so audacious it seems crazy. Then, from the new space of possibilities we created for ourselves as a function of living in the new paradigm, would our perspective change, at least a little bit?

You bet it would.

For the better? Would we be more happy or fulfilled? It’s really the wrong question. The question really should be, will we have learned something in the process that helps us hone in better on what’s right for us?

You bet it would.

And what of the risks? They exist anyway. Most people looking back say they wish they would have risked more, not less. There is some wisdom for you. Besides, you’re not totally alone. There is help around, but yes, in the end it’s pretty much up to you, which is why it takes courage, and the will to get over yourself.

Make the leap.

 

 

 

 

What’s under the Peak

buildingsmountainpeakI often hear young people (we’ll use the Millennial generalization for convenience) talking about and doing things to “raise awareness” on certain issues.

Raising awareness…

It makes total sense to them. They have good intentions, and want to see the world be a better place. They think the way to do that is to raise awareness about issues they see. There is a tendency to give a little to a large number of things because they confuse symbolic gestures with real commitment.

They see the peak. What they fail to notice is that it comes with a mountain.

They know something is missing in their lives, but living them out on social media distracts them enough to muddle through.

Raise awareness, the Millennial catch-all, so others can engage in the hard, grinding work to forge the change. Little real sacrifice. Little guts, and ultimately fleeting glory. They’re robbed of the serotonin or oxytocin producing parts, which leads to more loneliness and isolation. People need to do the hard work together. That’s how we’re wired.


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