Washington DC Skyline

Camera: iPhone 12

Location: Arlington, Virginia, USA

A Sense of Balance

“When the show talks about balance, it is not just about karate in terms of making sure you are able to work to anticipate your own movements as well as those of your own opponent but to be sure to not be balancing too much where your life suffers from imbalance.”

Recently, I have been watching the ‘Cobra Kai’ series on Netflix and while I was never really a huge fan of the Karate Kid movie series, I have really taken a liking to this TV series featuring the same characters with some new ones over 35 years later. There are a lot of great things about this particular popular series such as the 80s music and influence, the acting, the fight choreography among other positives that make you root for each character for different reasons. However, my favorite thing about the series is the life lesson that is not only applicable to the martial art of Karate but to someone’s life in general.

Without spoiling too much about the show, Mr. Miyagi’s philosophy of living life with a sense of balance is applicable not only to his protégé student, Daniel LaRusso, but also to the audience who is watching the show. When the show talks about balance, it is not just about karate in terms of making sure you are able to work to anticipate your own movements as well as those of your own opponent but to be sure to not be balancing too much where your life suffers from imbalance.

Imbalance can cause you to slip, fall, and end up in a fishpond as what happens to Daniel in the movie and to some of the characters for whom he teaches. When you balance on a plank or board, you have to balance your body but beyond karate as in regular life, you have to balance your mind in order to succeed in life. It’s important to be able to not lose sight of what is important in your life to what is trivial at best. When you don’t have balance, you can quickly lose sight of what’s important and what should not take up both your time and your mental capacity.

In the movie and the show too, Daniel, the protagonist of Karate Kid and a teacher in Cobra Kai, struggles to balance his responsibilities as an adult. He has a loving wife and two great kids but finds his life is out of balance. He loves Karate and misses Mr. Miyagi, his sensei or teacher, so when the show begins, his life is somewhat out of balance, which takes time for him to realize. He has a really successful car dealership business with multiple locations but even then, he uses Karate metaphors as a way of expressing how much he misses the martial art he had been practicing for years. In a way, while his life is successful on the surface, he has placed too much weight on his family and personal success but had forgotten the nurturing, passionate side of who he is as a person.

This sense of balance can be missing as it was for Daniel when we put too much weight on professional and personal success but forget what makes us passionate about life and to devote some time out of our busy lives to focus on that passion even if it doesn’t make us money. When it comes to balancing out responsibilities, duties, and habits, you should make time for each part of one’s life but not too much where one responsibility crowds out the rest.

With Daniel as an example, he has to balance it out, so he does not overwhelm himself with one part of his life when he is being pulled in three directions. He has to keep his marriage romantic and show love to his children while not neglecting his role as a business owner and making sure his customers are satisfied. If he spends too much time at work, he still has to be a present father and a loving husband, so he has to be extra cognizant of how much time he is spending on each responsibility.

When you add his love of Karate in the show to the mix, it makes that ‘sense of balance’ much harder to achieve. However, the love of Karate and spending time on his passion makes him as happy, if not more so, than when he is at his job or when he is with family. If you in your life find a passion that great where you want to mentor or help others develop that passion, you should try to add that to your life and do your best to maintain balance.

Karate, like life itself is about maintaining balance and anticipating what your opponent or what life will throw at you next. Part of having a sense of balance is to predict what is to come and adjusting your duties and responsibilities in terms of time spent on those commitments.

For example, if Daniel has a big meeting at work, hypothetically, when it comes to car sales, he may need someone to fill in at the Karate dojo for him such as a top student so that his business does not suffer. If he has to do so, he can move his training hours for the dojo to nights or weekends but that may conflict with his family obligations so maybe he has to ask his wife first to make sure he is spending enough time with them when he’s not managing the car dealership. He also has to be sure to not spend too many hours at the dealership so as to miss breakfast or dinner with his children who may be in school all day.

A good way Daniel can balance his love of Karate with his love of family and work is to incorporate an element of Karate in his work and with his family. He can add a line like ‘kicking the competition’ to his company logo or giving away Bonsai trees to customers who buy cars from them. He can also involve his wife in his dojo by showing her around the training center he set up for his students. Daniel can also encourage his children to join him and to show them how to use Karate in their lives when they are not busy with school.

Similar to Daniel in ‘Cobra Kai’ and ‘Karate Kid’, we must continue to maintain that sense of balance in our lives and to keep adjusting the balance when we become too top heavy in one part of our life which can crowd out our other responsibilities. Be sure to not lose your passion or your family or your livelihoods in the process but see first how much time and effort you can devote to each commitment you make to yourself.

Rather than totally give up something you love or are passionate about, try to do better with time management first, see if it really conflicts with your other daily or weekly tasks, and then determine if it brings enough joy in your life before getting rid of it to improve your internal balance. Balance is not just about time management but it’s also about being aware of other people’s feelings and emotions. You have to anticipate how they’ll react to what you choose to focus on. If you spend too much time at work, you should be aware of how your wife may feel about it. If you are working on a passion too much, your family may feel neglected. If you are focusing on family too much and your work suffers, you have to improve your concentration in order to be able to provide for them.

Balance involves analyzing how your life is going and being self-aware enough to know if change is needed in it. If you do nothing, your life balance is likely to suffer. When you can instead manage your time better, seek out input from others, and figure out what priorities come first, your life balance will be that much better, and your level of happiness will likely increase as a result.

Great Falls National Park

Camera: iPhone 12

Location: Great Falls Park; McLean, Virginia, USA

The Utility of Making Lists

“A key productivity hack that really works wonders in our fast-paced, modern era, which involves both discipline and consistency is to make a list. It is also an excellent habit to build upon and one that only requires your laptop and a ‘notes’ application or just a simple pen and piece of paper.”

A key productivity hack that really works wonders in our fast-paced, modern era, which involves both discipline and consistency is to make a list. It is also an excellent habit to build upon and one that only requires your laptop and a ‘notes’ application or just a simple pen and piece of paper. Lists have a reputation of being tedious and time-consuming, but what is actually more time-consuming is spending minutes or even hours trying to remind yourself what tasks or items you actually have to do.

List making is a good habit to build upon for a number of reasons. You hold yourself accountable and there is no shirking away from what you have set for yourself. The biggest misconception when it comes to lists is that they are all the same and focused on a to-do list. You can make lists for other reasons ranging from your progress at the gym with different weights you’ve lifted and what you hope to accomplish next to your future goals in life and what you hope to do in your ‘bucket list.’ Lists not only involve things you have to do whether its grocery shopping, what bills you have to pay, or what errands you have to run but also what career / business goals you have, what your exercise regimen looks like or where you hope to travel to in terms of next destinations.

Making lists is part of exercising that daily discipline that you need to have in order to put yourself on a path to success. It’s easier to accomplish your goals or your tasks when you remember what they are. You may have an amazing memory and feel you don’t need to have any lists at all but having that reminder especially if you have a due date for a pending school assignment or a work task can really help you especially if your memory fails you, which is always possible.

The impact of technology in our lives has made our attention spans that much more limited or distracted so I believe that the utility of lists has increased in response. There are many more things on our plate that we have to pay attention to that we may not have time to remember them all. Lists can help us organize these tasks from most urgent to least urgent and give us some peace of mind since you would likely have these lists stored in a place such as in an application on a computer or in a folder if you’re more traditional with pen and paper.

Not only do lists help to organize our lives, our goals, and our tasks, but lists also hold us accountable just by the fact that they make clear what you have done or what you have not done. There is no arguing with a list because you have either done it or not done it. You can indicate in a list your progress towards the goal or the task but it’s better to simplify it to be blunt to ask of you whether the item is completed or not. If it isn’t done yet, you can go back to it to see how much you have left to do, whether it’s been started yet, or how much you have left to finish. That kind of blunt accountability, which can be lacking in our society, is going to be staring you right in the face, so there is really no hiding from a list because it does not sugarcoat anything or try to come up with an excuse.

I also would like to point out that making too many lists can hinder you from achieving all you would like to get done each day, each week, or beyond. You should be careful not to make too many lists or have too many notes where you start to forget what actually is most vital to get done. I would recommend instead to make one list only for a specific part of your life such as one for exercise, one for work, one for business, one for errands, and perhaps one for future goals. That’s five lists right there on a specific subject so not to become too cluttered or difficult to implement. Lists can help you out a lot up to a point but can become burdensome when you have a dozen lists for ten different parts of your life.

In any list you make, focus on a main goal you wish to achieve for the day and then start to branch out to include weekly tasks and then long-term goals that may take months. Organizing an individual list around immediate, medium-term, and long-term tasks is an effective way to stay on top of each part of your life that will need attention. Having five lists, for example, can be helpful too where you might start the day looking at your exercise task(s) to complete, then move on to work/school, then see about errands, and then see what future goals you are working towards that you can start on. Organizing lists is about as important as making lists to begin with and it’s very important not to make too many lists where you feel like you can’t keep track of them all or have too long of a list where it distracts from your other lists that you’re working on.

You may be thinking to yourself right now, why do you care about making lists so much and why have lists at all? Having list(s) is about building structure in one’s life. You can create good habits from following your lists and you can organize your life in a meaningful and productive way. Also, you alone can hold yourself accountable with lists as it’s only you who knows about the list and is responsible for completing the goals and the tasks that you set up for yourself. No one else is going to hold your hand so it’s up to you alone to be reliable, responsible, and solely in charge of ultimately crossing those important items off your list(s) to help make your life a better, happier, and healthier one.

A Holiday Lights Show

Camera: iPhone 12

Location: Jones Beach, New York, USA

Gross Domestic Product v. Gross National Happiness

“Most of us know what Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is having learned it at some point in high school or in college. The total value of all finished goods, products, and services produced within a country’s borders over a specific time period such as a quarter (three months) or a year. Economists commonly use GDP as a model for economic health when it comes to an individual country.”

Most of us know what Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is having learned it at some point in high school or in college. The total value of all finished goods, products, and services produced within a country’s borders over a specific time period such as a quarter (three months) or a year. Economists commonly use GDP as a model for economic health when it comes to an individual country. If GDP grows positively or increases over time, then generally you could assume that the economy is doing well or is at least maintaining its equilibrium. However, when the GDP of a country is declining or has been stagnant for multiple years, economists are likely to assume there is a problem of some sort.

There are economic terms related to Gross Domestic Product as a recession (two straight quarters of negative GDP growth) leading to an economy to contract rather than grow. We also know of an economic depression where an economy contracts for years and is often associated with double-digit negative growth and/or high unemployment, inflation rates. What is less talked about is how do we measure the health and well-being of citizens within a country’s borders.

What other measurement besides GDP could measure a country on a national scale? While GDP measures the economic health, the actually mental health of a country’s citizens has been measured by a little-known survey conducted by the small land-locked, mountainous country of Bhutan, which is a Buddhist kingdom that is located at the eastern part of the Himalaya mountains. This national survey is given out only every five years to the citizens of Bhutan, of which there are only 750,000 people living in the small country. Instead of a simple 0 to 10 survey on if you are happy on a scale, the survey is quite comprehensive in its questions.

The government of Bhutan asks over 300 questions in the survey and can take multiple hours to complete. Questions are compensated a day’s working wage to answer the questions and it strives to measure all forms of human capital and not just the economic capital measured by GDP. The survey has nine different domains, 33 social indicators, and hundreds of variables. The categories of the survey include education, health, culture, time use, psychological well-being, community development, environmental practices, and overall living standards. This GNH survey has become a cornerstone of Bhutan’s presence on the world stage and has gained notoriety since it was introduced in 1998 as a form of alternative human development.

About 8,000 households in Bhutan answer the survey every five years, which is conducted by the Centre for Bhutan Studies and GNH research. Questions can range from being general about prayer and/or meditation habits to being specific about if you ‘trust your neighbors’ to if you ‘fight with your family at all.’ The measuring of the country’s happiness began in 1972 when the fourth king of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, declared that the “Gross National Happiness is more important than gross domestic product” for the country.

Bhutan has seen numerous changes over almost fifty years since the movement towards measuring GNH began. The same king helped ensure a parliamentary democracy was established in 2008 with the constitution and political reforms putting him in a more ceremonial role. Bhutan has strived to actually use the survey to help improve certain aspects of the lives of its citizens such as having free education, health care, and getting electricity at no extra cost. Bhutan’s new democracy is messy like any young democracy would be, but Bhutan is known for attracting increased numbers of tourists before the COVID-19 pandemic began and for being largely self-sufficient in terms of food production and for being a peaceful, inwardly looking nation.

The concept of Gross National Happiness is related to the country’s prominent religion of Buddhism with the focus on being content with less, not being so concerned with materialism or economic gains, and to be calm, cool, and collected when facing life’s many challenges. Seeking harmony with one’s friends, family, and neighbors is also another key part of the GNH survey. Bhutan is a beautiful, land-locked country, which has provided its citizens with a number of basic needs such as education, health care, and peaceful relations with its neighbors with having a smaller GDP than many other nations.

The paradox of a country such as Bhutan is that it may be the only country to internally measure happiness in some formal way, but it still ranks in the median in terms of national happiness by outside surveys. Norway was ranked 1st by the United Nation in its 2020 World Happiness Report, which had a different format and questioning style than Bhutan’s, but for which is a relatively new kind of survey that Bhutan’s GNH survey helped to inspire. While Norway topped the list, Bhutan ranked 97th out of the 153 nations surveyed, which may not inspire much confidence, but the country does face ongoing challenges especially with its GDP.

Bhutan ranks as a ‘least developed’ country by the United Nations and is dealing with the effects of climate change, high income inequality, increasing youth unemployment, and an uncertain energy future due to the effects of environmental degradation. Bhutan’s GDP is only $2.2 billion and while material wealth and economic growth are not integral to the GNH survey, it likely has a role to play in affecting the happiness of its citizens.

The 2015 GNH Survey by Bhutan reported that “91.2% of people reported experiencing happiness, and 43.4% of people said that they are deeply happy.” From my reading of the survey, Bhutan is committed to improving the happiness of its people by having such an insightful and detailed survey and while their national happiness has room for improvement, they have taken that crucial first step to actually evaluating if its citizens are happy or not, which is quite unique when compared to other nations around the world.

The first step to solving the problem is realizing there is one. If a country focuses only on GDP as a measure not only for economic health but for the health of their citizens in other ways, then they are making a false dichotomy. Economies are naturally going to rise and fall in growth rates but the same can be said of people’s own happiness over time. The key is to first be aware of how happy people are by having a comprehensive yet accessible way to measure that elusive emotion as best as you can. Bhutan is a model for not seeing only its Gross Domestic Product as a sign of national progress.

Any nation can be wealthy and still be extremely unhappy and a nation can be poor but still be happy. The same could be also for a poor nation being unhappy as a rich nation being very happy. The key to 21st century economics will be to figure out how to find that balance between economic success and people’s happiness. You can have the average citizen make a lot of money and be considered a ‘success’ but what if the schools in their town are lousy, the health care is too expensive and of low quality, and the community is distrustful of one another.

Bhutan has taken the initiative as a country for seeing happiness as being an important part of a nation’s well-being, which can be measured in various ways. While their GDP is very small, they recognize that economic growth is not simply everything that a country should be known for. If you have a certain amount of money in the economy, where are you putting the national product towards? How will you know how to spend the money gained from your citizens through taxes without knowing what their grievances are and what they unhappy with?

Having Gross National Happiness be part of a country’s consciousness involves asking difficult yet necessary questions from the population on different aspects of their lives. Bhutan has taken that crucial step towards asking their citizens what they are happy with, what they are not happy with, and what could be improved in their lives. When you have that necessary information coming in, the government can then take steps to allocate the tax money and other revenue they have available to put it towards where its’ needed most. If government services need to be improved, they’ll know from their citizenry that it’s a priority. If living standards need to be improved such as providing more housing, better food, or less pollution, they will have that awareness from knowing more from the GNH data that they are receiving.

Lastly, a government like Bhutan’s can work closely with the parliament, civil servants, non-governmental organizations, and civil society leaders to take the survey’s results and work together on a common set of facts and figures to start to improve the country in needed areas where people are unhappy about. If other governments can learn from Bhutan when it comes to Gross National Happiness, it’s that it can be measured from your citizens in a comprehensive way and that each government can learn from its citizens how their people’s lives can be improved and in what ways beyond just how much money their people are producing each year.

Sources:

https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2018/02/12/584481047/the-birthplace-of-gross-national-happiness-is-growing-a-bit-cynical

https://www.grossnationalhappiness.com

https://www.happiness-report.s3.amazonaws.com/2020/WHR20.pdf

NYC Skyline Views

Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Up In The Air