A Pleasant Vision

“The cool, ocean breeze blows the wisps of water onto my face and my hair with the soft rustle of the wind refreshing and relaxing me as the sunset envelopes the bright horizon leaving just one solid line of distinction on the horizon to separate the sea from the sky.”

The sand beneath me is coarse yet soft as it envelopes my feet and legs whole as I begin to pull myself up after admiring the waves lapping up to cool my body and soothe my worries as if I were in a welcome trance. Looking around at the vast sunset before me, the canvas of colors from blue to yellow to orange to pink, light up the seascape village I find myself near to but still so far away from. The cool, ocean breeze blows the wisps of water onto my face and my hair with the soft rustle of the wind refreshing and relaxing me as the sunset envelopes the bright horizon leaving just one solid line of distinction on the horizon to separate the sea from the sky.

I am wearing all-white as I pick myself up out of the sand and I see the shimmering lights behind me of a picturesque village where there is laughter, unknown music, and the smell of delicious food cooking over an open flame. After the sun sets over the village, I feel the distinct urge to go towards the village where everything and nothing seems familiar to me at the same time. The shimmering lights help me as I climb from the base of the beach up through the rocky hillside feeling at ease even as my bare feet climb over the rocks and shrubbery covered boulders.

As I climb higher and higher to the top of the hillside that juts out of this mountainous formation, the sound of people in different languages laughing heartily, the sounds of beautiful music playing in a sweet symphony as to not clash with the people’s joy. The smells of enticing foods, which become more and more familiar to me that come either from a distant past or of a future yet to come. The arduous hill climbing causes me to stumble and rest prematurely but I am undeterred. I do not bleed and while I tire, I do not fall back. Eventually, I make my way to the entrance of this pristine yet unfamiliar village with cobbled streets and stucco walls. Each of the village homes I walk past have large windows but no one’s inside, the walls are white or pastel-colored, and the arches speak to a grandeur of which I immediately fall in love with.

The windows and doors are arched with beige or dark red clay roof tiles with outdoor space with gardens likely filled with lush tomatoes and other plants to grow one’s own food. Surprisingly, I encounter women and men dressed from different eras on these cobbled streets who greet me in the languages of my ancestors. They have carriages and horses with them and exchange pleasantries with me as I pass them by on the way to the party. While I do not know them, they know me and perhaps they’ve known me my whole life. Even though I am tired from my journey, my hunger and thirst apparent to them all, they whisper words of belonging and encouragement in my ears and tell me that, “everyone is waiting for me.”

Who is everyone? Is it my friends? My family? My loves of past, present, or future? Where am I? Questions wash over me, but I am not anxious. It’s that strange sense of anticipation that comes after a fortuitous journey where my last destination is not known but I have no doubt of where it is that I am supposed to go. I am here for a reason and while I do not know when, where, or how I got here, I finally know that I have a destination in mind that may be what I was looking for all along.

Once I get there, the high, wooden entrance of a pure white village house made of solid brown doors swing wide open for me as an honored guest. There are sturdy, mahogany tables filled with known faces who have known me throughout my life and unknown yet familiar faces who I may be related to by blood or folks who I don’t remember as a child or baby but have also met them at one point or another. The tables and chairs seem to go on forever up to the edge of the hillside looking out on the moon, the sea, and the stars as gloriously bright as can be with no way not see hundreds or thousands in the night sky. Ornate dining sets have been set up with wine goblets and delicious foods with peaceful music playing in the background and it seems everyone is waiting for me to arrive to begin the meal together.

Everybody at each table is dressed up in their own regalia from the era they lived in and are at the age that they most would like to be remembered by. Surprisingly, while each person is exchanging languages with each other that they themselves may not speak, they are somehow being instantaneously translated so everyone can understand one another even while having not been from the same century or same continent.

It dawns on me that this is exactly where I’m meant to be. The food is as delicious as can be, the wine and other drinks plentiful, and everyone is enjoying each other’s company with pure joy and happiness lighting up the evening. They all know me as if I were a family…which I am. Many hugs, kisses, and handshakes are exchanged as each of my ancestors and family members encourage me to join them at the table through a night that seems to stretch across time like a flowing river.

I am the latest to arrive to the celebration here, but it feels like they’ve all been waiting a while for me to join them here at this heavenly setting. There is no mention of anything negative in the conversations I have. We don’t highlight my or their own Earthly failures, setbacks, heartbreaks, and tragedies. There is just happiness, joy, warmth, and discussing the fine setting and meal we find ourselves enjoying together after having been apart. There are no hard feelings, no pain, no remorse, no odd person out, as we are a whole family again united after all this time, which feels like just yesterday we were all together but may have been decades, centuries, or millennia since our paths have crossed. If this is heaven, I ask myself, it is certainly a pleasant vision of it.

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

‘Everything In Its Right Place’ (A Video Retrospective)

It’s hard to really love most music videos today which tend to be shallow and lacking in any original thought. During past decades leading up to the 2000’s, it seems like actual effort and work was put into music videos of songs in order to get on MTV but also to highlight the themes of the song as well as the entire album. There are a number of my favorite artists who produce great music videos including Radiohead, The Smashing Pumpkins, U2, Oasis, Dave Matthews Band, etc.

However, MTV and official music videos are not what they used to be. In an age of instant gratification and live concerts being streamed of the songs you love, it’s hard to appreciate music videos as being part of an increasingly crowded creative marketplace. While official music videos may be dying, creative videos and covers of songs from our favorite artists seem to be on the rise. Considering that music videos are usually for hit singles of certain songs and not for entire albums, there has started to be a movement towards producing independent music videos for songs that never received the official ‘music video’ song treatment.

The rise of YouTube and other video platforms has allowed creative people who are fans of good music to produce their own music videos. While they started out as being kind of cliché or very amateur, they are now becoming very professional and also very related to the lyrics of the song in question. I saw a particular music video of a favorite song of mine featured on YouTube a couple of weeks ago. The song is ‘Everything in Its Right Place’ by Radiohead and it is an excellent song by my favorite band but the one thing that this song never had was its own brilliant music video to go with it.

Because of YouTube, the creative skills of a fan named ‘Capitao Ahab’, which is a pretty fun name in its own right, although I believe the original video creator’s name is Joschka Laukeninks who created it and titled it ‘BACKSTORY.’ It is a now an unofficial music video on the popular video platform that is really well done and professionally shot that has received almost two million views. A video like this would not have existed ten years ago but luckily it does. Part of the reason why this music video is so impactful is that it works so well with the content of this particular Radiohead song.

‘Everything in Its Right Place’ like many of Radiohead’s songs are open to interpretation but it is soothing with its use of synthesizers, digitally manipulated voices, and haunting electronic sounds that sound comforting when you have your headphones on at full blast. The lyric itself of ‘Everything in Its Right Place’ focuses on how to maintain your composure and your levelheadedness as you go through life. The fan music video’s storyline of a baby becoming a boy, a man, and then an elderly man highlights the ups and downs of life and how there are ‘two colors in my head.’

The ‘two colors’ could be interpreted as the good and the bad that you will go through as you go through life’s uncertain and mysterious waters. In particular, the song begins with the oft-repeated lyric of ‘Kid A’, the title of Radiohead’s 2000 album and expresses the experiences of a ‘boy’ as he is born, grows up, matures, and eventually dies. “Yesterday, I woke up sucking on a lemon.” Is also a lyric up to the fan’s interpretation but it implies that life can be sour as well as sweet and that you will have to taste and swallow the bitterness of life if you want to enjoy the sweet part of the fruit.

The music video begins on a hopeful note as a baby boy gains his first steps as he walks through his parents’ house. The sweetness of his childhood is referenced with meeting animals for the first time, having his 6th birthday, going to the beach, and experiencing pure joy at that age. Childhood innocence does not last forever so the boy ends up experiencing his first pains in life including the accidental burning down of his house, fights between his mother and his father, the divorce and exit of his mother from his life, pressures from his father to succeed as he ages into being a teenager.

Learning in school, riding his bicycle, summer days at the swimming pool are some of the joys of teenage life including his first experiences with girls as well with drugs and late nights with friends. Still though, the joys of discovery and youth are balanced out by his struggles with partying too much, getting into rights, being angry at the world and dealing with bad breakups. In one part of the video, the teenager emerges from the pool as a young man ready to take on the world in his 20’s. He thinks his partying days and life as a Bachelor will last forever until he stares at the woman of his dreams on New Year’s Eve and she stares back signaling a new relationship that will change his life.

They date, travel, live together, and the young man eventually proposes to the woman of his dreams. As the video speeds up, so does the aging and life of the man as he gets married, celebrates the birth of his child, and gets ready for middle-aged challenges and prospects. Moving into a house as newlyweds, getting a better job, moving up the corporate ladder, using his new car, traveling for work, going to important meetings, and shuffling along while growing a beard signifies how fast life speeds up the older you become. Sometimes, you’re running so fast that you can’t keep track of who or what you are. In the video, the man still remembers the little blissful moments of carrying his child with his beloved wife, family dinners, and trying to balance work and family until tragedy suddenly strikes.

The hardest part of life is unforeseen tragedies and we hope and pray to never experience any to happen, but this man has the tragic occurrence of seeing his wife and child running towards him across the street only to be hit by a bus and to be taken off life support. The song’s crescendo builds up as the man struggles through grief, longing, and how to move on when he knows he can’t but has to anyway. After the tragedy, what once was promising is now dull and at once he was fast to move through the world, he staggers slowly through it wondering what it is all worth and why keep going? How can one fill the void in their own heart when it was taken out of them and cannot be put back?

We see the man continue with his work, entertaining clients, meeting a new woman and getting married again but there is the lingering sense that it is not what he envisioned his life to be. He can have a child with her, but it won’t be the same as his first true love or bring back his first child. Trying to fill the void with an extramarital affair, fighting with his new wife, jogging and running to keep moving forward to futilely escape from one’s own pre-destined aging are all ways of coping both unhealthily and healthily as you go through middle age to becoming elderly in your later life.

Maybe if he stops running or walking or jogging, he will have to face his own eventual demise and departure from this world or face his memories of losing loved ones or losing his mother. The aged man with gray hairs continues to work, to exercise, to keep up his health by going to the doctor and trying to save his marriage. Some of these battles he will win, and some he will lose although we will never know from such a short video. Eventually, the man is elderly and looking back on his life from his bed and looks to be alone in the world.

However, he does not remember the tragedies that befell him as we all must endure in life sometimes. Instead, he remembers the first time he went to dance at a club, the way he looked at his firstborn child, hugging his beloved first wife, and how she stared at him lovingly on New Year’s Eve and how she stared at him at their wedding and when she gave birth to their child. He remembers the tragedy too but remembers those special moments that made his life truly worth living. You are left wondering after watching this four-minute video of a complicated, yet powerful life filled with tragedy and joy whether it was all worth it for the man. Would he do it again if he knew what was to happen in the future?

If we all knew what was to happen in the future until the end of our days, would we all do it again from the beginning? Would it be worth it even if there is pain, tragedy, and death? Would it be worth the love, joy, and pleasure that we experience as human beings as well? It really is out of our control, but this music video does an excellent job of pondering life’s deepest questions in only four minutes and only with the wistful yet dreamy lyrics of Thom Yorke from Radiohead creating a powerful combination of a great song and a great video. It may not be an original music video from Radiohead but whoever created it did a great job of getting a powerful message across to this 2-million strong audience on life, love, and loss.

If you would like to watch the music video on ‘Everything In Its Right Place’, you can find it here on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GnfPaaMR6Qc

‘BACKSTORY’ Full Video on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/245687147

Life’s Fleeting Moments

Why is that sunrises and sunsets are often so captivating and moving? Perhaps it’s the uniqueness of the colors blending and merging together to form a painting-like setting that can’t be reproduced elsewhere. Maybe it’s the sense of satisfaction that comes from seeing a new day born or see the old day fade to its end. However, I tend to think the beauty of these happenings lies in another part of its overall appeal.

While some aspects of sunrises and sunsets bring a lot of beauty and perspective to life, I think the main reason why sunrises, sunsets, and even the random rainbow appeal to the human psyche is because these events represent fleeting moments that last for only a few seconds or minutes. They are impermanent, awe-inspiring, and hard to experience often. Sunrises and sunsets are ephemeral events that can be easy to miss and require one’s full attention to really appreciate them.

These sunrise and sunset events are what I like to call ‘fleeting moments’ and they are truly special. I say this because they do not last, and they require you to really pay attention and let your distractions float away. You have to be in the moment and that is increasingly difficult for most people to do nowadays. We are constantly bombarded by sensory overload that is often man-made and unnatural. Advertisements, loud noises, screeching vehicles, bumps in the roads we drive, these can cause us to lose sight of what’s truly important in life. Taking measure every now and then of why these fleeting moments are important to experience not only reminds us of the beauty of life but also how impermanent our time here really is. When you compare the fleeting moments of life to the routine moments in life, it really is no contest to as to which kind of moment is the preferred option to experience in full.

Categorically, the rewards of these fleeting moments are among the best in life because we all know that they are not common. Among the daily monotony and chores that encompass our routines, taking a few moments to appreciate being alive and being at peace are really what we all should be striving for even if these moments are fleeting. The fleeting moments are hard to capture but when you do, they bring the most joy and happiness that you can possibly have. As I mentioned in a previous article, there is a rule of diminishing marginal returns that we should be aware of and that’s why the more common we experience certain things in life, the less we really value them.

It’s quite a paradox when you think about it. The most enjoyable moments in life are the ones that we cannot plan for or anticipate, but that is part of the beauty of life and of living. Going back to my sunrise and sunset example, if they happened every hour instead of every day, that would be boring, right? You would probably start yawning after the fourth sunrise and the third sunset. Fleeting moments are special inherently because they are temporary, and you may not be able to enjoy them forever. Fleeting moments can also be part of your daily routine but ones that can only last a few seconds or a few minutes.

For some of us, it could be the first sip of a fresh cup of coffee at the beginning of the day or for others, it could be a hot shower after a long day of hiking. We know that the 2nd or 3rd cup of coffee like the 2nd or 3rd shower would not be as pleasurable or as enjoyable because then it becomes routine and our mind adjusts to it happening. However, the fleeting moment when your lips touch the coffee or when your face is enveloped with shower water, then it’s almost pure ecstasy for your body and mind. While these moments are definitely fleeting, they are the most enjoyable. Keeping them as part of your routine is important so that you will feel better both mentally and physically.

What we should all keep in mind is how to maximize the most enjoyment from these temporary moments because we know they don’t come around every minute or every hour of each day. My thinking on this is to really put all distractions away for those moments so you can be living fully and freely. When you are having a nice dinner with friends, make a habit to engage yourself in the conversation rather than daydream about what you’re doing afterwards. When you are watching the sun rise or set, put the phone away and just watch the colors merge together to form the painting-like canvas. Let your stress and worries melt away as much as possible to really enjoy these moments. There are so many distractions out there, but your sense of contentedness will be much higher if you are able to have the willpower yourself to be in the here and now wherever that may lead you.

Laughter among friends, patting a baby’s back, a spontaneous rainbow, a beautiful vista after a long climb, holding the hands of a beloved family member, these are the moments you want to remember throughout life. They are fleeting in length and a small amount of sand in the hourglass known as one’s lifespan, but they are precious and powerful. If you can take the time to work, to play, to sleep, to eat, then you can take the time to live in the moment and appreciate beauty and joy when it comes your way.

Being able to live fully by being in the moment will set you on a path of fewer regrets the further you go through life. Letting yourself experience moments of happiness and joy without distraction or worries will improve your well-being. It is a conscious effort to stay in the moment, but the rewards are well worth it. If you have to meditate, exercise, or even do yoga to help yourself stay present, then do so but don’t let life’s fleeting moments pass you by.

The Rule of Diminishing Marginal Return

There is a well-known law in economics called the ‘Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility’, which states that as consumption of a good or service increases per unit, the satisfaction derived from consuming an additional unit or more will lead to a subsequent decline in its overall utility. In other words, the more you consume, the less satisfied you will be with each additional product or service you purchase. The first thing you buy, use, or consume will be the most satisfying but the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th unit of the same item you utilize will not be as useful and could even not satisfy you at all.

This fundamental law in basic economics is one that is worth memorizing because it makes total sense. The first chocolate bar you consume will be delicious and fulfilling. You may not be satisfied with just one chocolate bar so you may end up eating another one since the first one was so tasty. However, anyone will tell you that the 2nd chocolate bar will not be as tasty or satisfying as the 1st one and you may even end up with a stomachache from eating too much chocolate if you are not careful.

The ‘Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility’ does not just apply to economic principles but goes far beyond that in terms of being applied to human psychology. The act of consumption, I would argue, is not just an economic one but also applies to the psychology of choice and how we live our lives. Everybody is a consumer in one way or another whether it’s the air we breathe, the water we drink, or the food we eat each day. Without any consumption, we would not survive but it is our choices that define our consumption habits and how we behave not just as economic actors but as human beings.

In a psychological context, instead of calling it the ‘Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility’, I would refer to it as the ‘Rule of Diminishing Marginal Return’, which is similar but discussing more how it’s a rule of life that the more we buy of something, the less return on that investment we will get out of it. The first of something whether that’s the purchase of a new car, a first trip to a new country, or the first time you try a new cuisine. These experiences will captivate you and do its job of putting your happiness level to a 9 or 10, but it’s a rule of life that it won’t stay there. While the memory of that experience will provide you with satisfaction and joy in its remembrance, your psychological state will revert to the norm of being level in terms of happiness or satisfaction with life. You may try to buy or consume more of something to recapture that feeling of happiness but that would actually be counterproductive in the long run and actually create false expectations compared to the first time you purchased or consumed that activity, experience, food, or drink.

How do you avoid the marginal returns of consuming, buying, or eating too much? Well, that is not easy to do but that is part of being a mature and responsible adult. You must have enough willpower and be able to reason with yourself that one more plate of food, one more drink, or one more car will not do the trick in giving you happiness. You must realize that your base level of happiness as a person won’t change as a result of consuming more and it may end up backfiring by causing your satisfaction to be lower because you consumed too much in the first place.
Being able to limit your consumption and controlling your vices will make you better off. If you can master your desires or your urges, then you can focus on bettering yourself or making you happier through more sustainable means. If you are working on personal projects, devoting yourself to a volunteer cause, or working on improving yourself mentally and/or physically, that kind of satisfaction will have a higher return on investment than just mindless consumption.

Consumption of goods and services may spike your happiness and satisfaction levels in the short run, but that kind of joy is short-lived and can often feel isolating if you are not sharing in that joy with others. That is why a meal with friends or family is often much better than eating by yourself. It’s why travelling with a close friend will generate more memories than a trip by yourself. It is not wrong to sometimes treat yourself to a nice meal, a nice trip, or a new gadget but shared experiences will make you happier and create more memories than those times that you were on your own in consuming.

One should carefully watch what they consume and monitor how much per day, per week, per month, and even per month they are consuming whether that’s food, drink, goods, etc. Everything in moderation is a good way to be as an adult and if you want to abstain entirely from consuming something, then that is an admirable thing to do as well. The worst thing you would want to do is to become overindulgent or overly reliant on a consumable good to make you happy or give you long-term satisfaction in life. You know better than anyone else the limits of your consumption and that true happiness is derived through shared experiences in life and of challenging yourself to be a better and more developed person.

In the long-term, I believe you get increased rather than diminished return through producing instead of consuming, by challenging yourself mentally and physically, and sharing yourself with others whether that’s through a good meal, a volunteer experience, or a worthwhile group project. All the chocolate and ice cream in the world won’t add to your happiness but would rather detract from it. A bowl of ice cream or a chocolate bar will satisfy you for a few hours, but you eventually will be back to that same level of happiness homeostasis that you had previously.

Instead of looking to keep yourself content or happy all of the time, know that happiness is not everything in life and that you benefit more from the hard work and the struggle that you put yourself on a daily basis than of just sitting on the couch and eating ice cream until the end of time.

When you get to that 2nd or 3rd bowl of ice cream, you should realize that you’re starting to get a stomachache and that you should stop yourself before you get sick. The diminishing marginal return of trying to seek out happiness through ice cream should be counteracted by getting off the couch and into the gym to start working out those extra calories you just gained.

By embracing the struggle of a gym workout and burning off all that ice cream, you’ll be sacrificing that short-term happiness for that long-term struggle but eventual satisfaction of improving yourself physically as a person and making yourself happier and healthier in the long-run as a direct result of your choices and decision-making. You should not be afraid to indulge a little bit every now and then but remember that life is better experienced in moderation and you should always watch what choices you are making as you go through your life as both a consumer and a producer.

Crave Discomfort

The mountain looks intimidating. You’re chilled to the bone as you make the final ascent. You didn’t think you were prepared for this moment but you wanted to push yourself to the physical limit. You made this hike not because it was easy but because it was hard. In order to understand your mentality and physicality better, you had to put yourself to the test.

There’s no other way to know what you are capable of than to test yourself and to do it often. It does not matter if you are cold, you are tired, you are hungry, you are sweaty, or you are sleepy, there are times in life when you must simply crave discomfort because you know deep down that you will be more fulfilled from pushing yourself than from having played it safe.

Imagine being on the side of that same mountain and you are rock climbing to get your way to the top. Each move that you make must be analyzed quickly so you don’t make a mistake. It’s likely that you will have a harness or some kind of restraint to catch you if you fall but that’s not always the case. You’re under a large amount of emotional stress and personal discomfort but you feel invigorated when you successfully climb or hike your way to the top. You’ll never regret those times when you put yourself out of your comfort zone especially when you are able to push yourself past those previously held limits that you thought you had.

There is no such thing as a challenge-free life. Putting yourself out there is going to be uncomfortable and you are going to be vulnerable. However, you may find that you will be the most fulfilled emotionally and physically when you challenge yourself. Discomfort as a concept may seem unappealing but it is in those moments or those times of discomfort where we advance the most.

Having the means of comfort may give short-term happiness but it is definitely unlikely to lead to long-term fulfillment. The only way to achieve satisfaction or fulfillment is to acclimate yourself to dealing with discomfort and being able to overcome it again and again. Being able to handle uncertainty will set you apart from other people and give you a level of maturity that will make you a stronger and more resilient person.

Discomfort does not only show up in the form of physical challenges but also in the realm of mental obstacles. Keeping your mind active by putting it to the test will improve you in numerous ways. Whether it’s reading a 400-page book, writing a research paper, or studying a foreign language, these mental challenges will definitely cause some discomfort and that’s a good thing. These personal projects will be very uncomfortable at first, but you will notice results when you stick with them, little bit by bit, and you’ll realize that the discomfort was worth it because of how far you have advanced with your mental development.

Living a life of ease and pleasure is not going to lead you to be the best person that you can become. Only by overcoming obstacles and meeting challenges will you be able to develop yourself fully. It’s good to kick back every now and then to relax and enjoy life yet that kind of pleasure is temporary. True personal growth lies in craving discomfort in whatever form it may yield the highest rewards for you. Whether it’s running a marathon or climbing a mountain to reach new physical capabilities or to writing a thesis paper for your doctorate or solving a complex physics equation, both our body and our mind need these challenges.

If you are ever feeling lethargic or lost, you should evaluate whether or not you are challenging yourself enough. Giving yourself personal goals to work towards will make you uncomfortable but you will also be able to greater fulfillment and longer lasting happiness. Being able to put yourself out there, use your physical and/or mental abilities, and logically think through and solve problems will get you out of your self-imposed funk.

Having a deeper purpose in life that is fulfilling and meaningful is necessary for everyone to pursue. Everybody will struggle at first to find out what exactly they were meant to do. Instead of doing nothing about it, I think it is best to try out different things that are uncomfortable to find out which challenges make you feel the most engaged and willing to overcome. Doing a bunch of different things to keep yourself active is better than to do nothing at all. Time is limited so it’s best to challenge yourself in a variety of ways first before you settle on the one or two major challenges in life that you want to succeed at.

Craving that discomfort is a necessary part of this part of self-development. Failure is possible and you may not ultimately succeed. However, if you fail, you will learn from having tried your hand at it and you will be the better person for it. Once you try at something, even without ultimate success, you know that you have the ability to take on challenges and eventually you’ll meet them without unease and with greater confidence. It is far better to have failed one hundred times and to have succeeded on your 101st try, then to have failed only once and then give up entirely without trying again.

Many people today shy away from being uncomfortable at all, even for a minute, but this is much to their detriment. Being in discomfort and going through painful times is part of being human. Without experiencing that pain and that discomfort, you won’t be able to become a stronger person. The person who has been through several trials by fire is the person you want around in times of discomfort and distress. You don’t want to be around a person who only indulges in pleasures and shies away from any pain.

Having physical toughness and mental fortitude to meet challenges head on are traits that you should want to make part of yourself for the rest of your life. Putting your fear and your doubts aside to climb that mountain, write that book, learn that language, or solve that Math problem will give you an advantage over others who deny themselves discomfort. You have to want to engage in the discomforts in life because in today’s day and age, it is easier than ever to avoid discomfort. Those who pursue discomfort will be rewarded long after the challenge(s) you set for yourself have been overcome.

A Sense of Wonder

If you were to define the word ‘wonder’, you would characterize it as meaning a feeling of amazement or admiration caused by seeing or witnessing something beautiful, unexpected, captivating, and inexplicable. When you are a child, it’s easy to have that sense of wonder about the world. Your sense of curiosity and disbelief is quite high and your imagination can run wild believing in the possibilities of the unknown.

Even as we grow older and become adults, we still have a sense of wonder that never fully leaves us and is part of our essence as human beings. While you may not have the same sense or amount of wonder as you did when you were a child, it’s important to never fully extinguish that feeling and to let it stay within you even if you are an adult or in your elderly years.

Having a sense of wonder connects you to your childhood years and reignites the kid within you because that part of your being never truly goes away unless you let it. By maintaining that curiosity and desire to know about the world, this helps us keep our sense of wonder about life and its’ beauty. It can be easy nowadays to be jaded about the state of the world and to think that everything is going to hell in a handbasket.

While there are certainly serious problems to be fixed in our ever-changing and complicated world, being doom and gloom about it 24 / 7 won’t make you feel any better. You have to maintain the ability to never be too down or be too up about your surroundings. While there can be a lot of ugliness to be found, there is also a staggering amount of beauty to be in awe about.

I believe that it can be much easier to see things through a negative lens and seek out the ugliness in life. It’s harder yet much more rewarding to seek out the beauty and wonder that you can find if you know where to look. You also have to take the time to enjoy the beauty of things and open yourself up to the beauty of the world. While it may be cliché to state this, you have to have an open heart and an open mind. If you close yourself off to the wonders of life, you’ll never really be able to appreciate them fully.

A sense of wonder has to be cultivated over a long period of time and doesn’t happen overnight. When you are a child, you’re amazed by anything and almost everything new and unique. As you get older and you experience more of life, it can be more and more difficult to feel amazement or be captivated by life. Each person has a different sense of wonder, and different things amaze different people. When I think about wonder though, there are a few things that cause me to feel that unexpected thrill or captivation.

I think most people would agree that a sunrise or a sunset could really create awe and wonder in a person. The colors and the vibrancy of the environment when the sun lights up your world at dawn’s break or when it fades into darkness to make way for the stars and night sky; those moments can truly captivate a person’s imagination. You could also make the case that when you witness the sunrise from a mountain top or see the sun set from the backdrop of a vast ocean, witnessing those natural occurrences are too beautiful to be put into words.

Sunrises and sunsets never get old for me because they are never the same and they are always different depending upon which environment you’re witnessing them in. It only takes a few minutes to stop what you’re doing in your hectic day-to-day life to really enjoy the spectacle of the sun’s rising and setting. It’s also a reminder about how our time here on Earth is limited and that there are cosmic occurrences that happen beyond our control and our understanding.

I think this is mainly why solar eclipses are so powerful to witness in person because you’re seeing an event that is beyond human control and that only comes around once or twice in a lifetime. Those men, women, and children who traveled hundreds or thousands of miles to see the recent solar eclipse occur across the continental United States are in touch with their sense of wonder, and they believe in its’ ability to make you feel astonished, wowed, and even humbled.

Witnessing the sun’s and the moon’s movements aren’t the only ways to cause yourself to feel wonder though. There are hundreds, if not thousands of possibilities out there that will make your jaw drop in disbelief. I have always thought of photography as a good way to capture the wonders of the world, and I have taken many photos throughout my previous travels in order to really remember those special moments of life when I was on the road. Beyond just taking photos, it’s really wonderful to interact with your environment by jumping in a freezing lake, hiking up a mountain, smelling different flowers in a garden, rafting down a streaming river, etc. Those moments really make you feel alive and help to maintain a sense of wonder about the world.

You don’t have to travel, take photos, or be an adventure junkie to have a sense of wonder though. If you’re willing to challenge yourself by learning new things and bettering yourself, that will help you maintain a healthy curiosity about life and a thirst for knowledge. Whether its’ learning a new trade, developing a website, or speaking a new language, the pursuit of knowledge in different areas is a great idea and the things you will learn about yourself and the world around you will captivate and excite you. If you’re curious, confident, and willing to have an open mind, the world will teach you many things if you open yourself up to the possibilities.

Never let the flame inside you go out. As a child, you definitely did not have worry about wonder because you always had it and every day, you most likely had energy and a curiosity not easily extinguished. However, when you get older and more accustomed to the ways of the world, it can be very tempting to think of everything as mundane, childish, and routine, but that’s simply not how it should be.

However, The differences that occur when you’re a teenager or a fully-grown adult is that you have to pursue the wonder for yourself. You have to take the time and put yourself out there to figure out what really captivates you. Everybody has a unique way of seeing the world but make sure it’s not always from a serious and pessimistic point of view. Let yourself be wowed by the unknown or by the newly discovered. Pursue the passions and the beauty in life based on what fills your heart or your mind up.

For some, it may be playing Jazz music and for others, it may be hiking through the mountains. The best thing about experiencing wonder is that it is ever-present in our lives but you have to be aware of what reaches out to you and touches your soul. Most people live out their lives not fully embracing the wonders around them.

You have to be always on the lookout for what fills your heart up with joy and happiness whether it’s a watching beautiful sunset over the water, viewing an original painting by Claude Monet, or playing Beethoven in a symphony orchestra as your friends and family sit in the audience. Always be looking out for the wonders in life, otherwise, you’ll never find them at all.

Self-Sufficiency

self-sufficiency-quotes-2
“If Aristotle is wrong about this, then I don’t want to be right.”

Self-sufficiency: “Able to supply one’s own or its’ own needs without external assistance.” (Noun – Dictionary.com)

Overlooked and misunderstood by many, the concept of self-sufficiency is important for realizing one’s potential as a person and for achieving true independence and maturity. Especially for those of us including myself whom are going through the 20’s, this is a period in our lives where we must rely on ourselves first for our success and prosperity before we reach out to others for help. I believe that it’s natural to ask for the mental and emotional support from your friends and family but there comes a time in a man and woman’s life where they must strike it out on their own and attempt to realize their self-sufficiency.

For different people, being self-sufficient could mean different things. It could be paying off your student loans or enrolling in a trade school to learn skills in order to become more employable. For others, it could be owning/renting your first apartment (without roommates), shopping and/or growing your own food, and changing a flat tire / getting your oil changed. Millennials are often criticized as the ‘Peter Pan’ generation considering that we come back to live with our parents after college in order to save money. I can’t say that this is a good trend but it is mostly due to a tough economy and a lack of good job opportunities, especially for those who were affected by the ‘Great Recession’ of 2007-2009 and still are to this day.

Rather than being discouraged and dismayed by the recent economic troubles affecting our generation, it is important to realize the opportunities that are out there. For realizing opportunities and achieving self-sufficiency in different areas, the Internet is perhaps the greatest tool out there for changing your future. We are quite lucky in that it is incredibly easy and free to access an almost infinite amount of information, both educational and informative, that can change our course in life if you are able to do the research and put the work in.

I can honestly say that learning self-sufficiency is vital in this day and age. Being able to take care of your body, your mind, your apartment/house, your car are all-important to be a fully functioning adult. In addition, managing and developing your finances, having healthy relationships, working successfully with co-workers, clients, and bosses are all steps on the path to self-sufficiency.

Most people stumble into ‘adulthood’ and will fail to become self-sufficient in their lives and suffer negative emotional and psychical health as a result. Resolve to yourself that you will take the steps necessary to become a mature adult who can take care of business and be able to function in society.

A lot of the problems and maladies of society originate from a lack of self-sufficiency and a heavy reliance on others (friends, family, and neighbors) to help them out continuously. I mentioned before that mental, emotional support from others including friends and family is necessary and even should be encouraged. However, don’t rely on others as a crutch because the people in your life won’t be there forever. They love you and want you to succeed in life but it is your job to make it happen. Your family and friends can’t hold your hand and walk you through every problem and setback you will experience. It is a common fact of wisdom that life will beat you down and keep you there if you let it. Achieving self-sufficiency in the necessary areas of life will make you happier, stronger, more resilient, and a better person overall.

Once you become self—sufficient and confident in your abilities, it is natural that you might want to share this with another person such as a wife, husband, and children. That is a reflection of your realization that you have become a full adult and can handle the responsibilities of helping future generations to become self-sufficient as well. Even if you do not marry or have kids, it’s possible to impact others and lead them down the road to self-sufficiency as well. Mentoring young people, being a leader in the community, and encouraging others to succeed can help lead others down the path of self-sufficiency as well.

After achieving self-sufficiency in your life, you can truly focus on the hobbies and interests that challenge and stimulate you. Human beings thrive in life when we conquer both internal and external challenges. Learning an instrument, studying a foreign language, dedicating yourself to a project at work or at home, or achieving mastery in different subjects are all great ways to keep yourself stimulated and happy.

People become unhappy when all they do is consume and don’t do anything to make themselves better. When all you do is watch TV and films but don’t know how to make them, or eat at fine restaurants but don’t know how to cook the food itself, and listen to music without knowing how to play an instrument or how its’ actually produced. Becoming self-sufficient is a result of handling the struggles and challenges of life with confidence and resolve.

In addition, having hobbies and interests in the pursuit of continuous knowledge and wisdom is extremely important to becoming a whole person. Anxiety, depression, and other issues manifest themselves when people can’t take care of themselves mentally, physically, and emotionally. Don’t be one of those people. Work hard to become a mature and capable adult in our society. I promise that you won’t regret it.

The Importance of Community

“Be part of a group. Life is better that way.”

“Being apart of a community is what makes you happy…not rising to the top and sequestering yourself from community.” This quote is from one of my favorite podcasts, “Tangentially Speaking” with Dr. Christopher Ryan. During this show, he conducted an interview with travel host and producer, Jonathan Legg of ‘The Road Less Traveled’ who is the author of the quote above. I was listening to the podcast while I was driving through my hometown when the subject of ‘community’ came to the forefront of their interview. The two of them, who are both very intelligent and worldly men, explained to the listeners how chasing money, fame, and fortune doesn’t ultimately make us happy as human beings.

I absolutely agree with this assessment made on the podcast and believe that while possessions, money, and owning property can create happiness in the short-term, long-term happiness and fulfillment can only come from strong bonds with your friends, family, and community. Dr. Ryan and Mr. Legg also mentioned in one segment of the podcast how isolating oneself while traveling, and staying in hotels does not create a great life experience. I couldn’t agree more having stayed in nice hotels, hostels, and guesthouses during my own travels.

While one could be very comfortable and relaxed in a hotel, you won’t meet other travelers and potential friends as easily compared to when you’re staying in a cheaper hostel that’s in the city center. Dr. Ryan and Mr. Legg concluded in their discussion on communal living that the best way to live is to have your own space to eat and sleep, but to live in close enough proximity to others nearby that you can still have a sense of community and sharing without being isolated. I believe that compared to recent generations and even further back, the idea of community is starting to weaken and become less important which is in direct contrast to human nature and true happiness.

Harvard Political Scientist and Professor, Robert D. Putnam, was one of the first people to bring to national attention the change and decline in communities with his book, “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.” He makes the argument that people have been interacting with each other less and less over the past few decades. Instead of going out to socialize in public through bowling leagues, picnics, sport clubs, religious organizations, etc., more and more people are opting out and have been expanding the amount of time spent using technology as a substitute.

With the ability to have groceries, electronics, books, restaurant food, etc. delivered right to one’s doorstep in major cities and towns now, people have less and less motivation to leave the house. Telecommuting and ‘working from home’ have become more popular as well making ‘office work’ and ‘happy hours’ less obligatory. Social and traditional forms of media have exploded in the sheer amount of offerings whether its’ through websites, TV channels, and/or digital gadgets.

When it comes to community life, religious and social organizations have often formed the backbone and glue that holds people together. However, many different news media outlets have reported that attendance at churches and synagogues have been taking a downward spiral. A growing percentage of Americans are identifying themselves as ‘atheist’ or ‘agnostic’ when it comes to their religious beliefs. Personally, I have no problem with our generation being an irreligious one but I do think it’s tough to replicate that type of community within other types of social organizations.

In addition to the close bonds between neighbors that shared religious beliefs can bring, it can provide a sense of belonging just like many other social groups. Beyond religious affiliated groups, membership in long-standing organizations such as the Boy Scouts and other volunteer organizations is also on the decline as well.

Newsweek.com highlighted this trend illustrated this disturbing trend with official numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics: “In recent years, the percentage of Americans volunteering has dwindled and is now at its lowest level in a decade. Last year, In 2014, the official volunteer rate was 25.4 percent, or 62.6 million people, compared with 29 percent of the population in 2003, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (Official statistics on volunteer rates go back only to 2002.)”

Recently, one of the pillars of my community that I was born into and grew up with shuttered its’ doors last year. My local synagogue where I was Bar Mitzvah’d, went to Shabbat services, and celebrated the Jewish holidays was not able to fund itself due to overall lack of membership and decided to merge with another still functional congregation. This was disappointing for me to hear about because I have a lot of fond memories of that place and the people I met there. It was more than just about religion but it was also a gathering place for Jewish residents of the local area to come together and get to know one each other better and form bonds of friendship. While members of the former synagogue have moved on to another synagogue nearby, it’s not the same as it once was and it’s difficult to integrate oneself into a new community.

This is a trend that seems to be replicating itself across the country. Most Americans don’t know their neighbor next door like they used to and beyond the local school PTA of the local town or city, there’s not much anymore to bring people together. The increasing atomization and isolation of people is worrying for me to hear about. However, I am quite positive about the power and spread of the internet to bring people from different backgrounds and beliefs all over the world together.

While it’s not perfect, you can still remain connected to old friends, former classmates, past roommates, etc. through social networking. Instead of bowling leagues, sports clubs, the local YMCA, now we have Meetup.com and Groupspaces. As technology continues to advance, the meaning of ‘community’ will continue to change and adapt to the times. However, we as human beings must not forget the importance of being apart of a community and how much it means to our mental health and overall happiness.

References:

http://www.saddleback.edu/faculty/agordon/documents/Bowling_Alone.pdf

http://www.newsweek.com/2014/10/03/volunteering-america-decline-272675.html

http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/01/17/us-usa-boyscouts-idUSKBN0KQ05O20150117