Monthly Archives: January 2019

The 3 Eye-Roll Inducing (But Absolutely True) Steps to Finding Happiness

Stanley from The Office - NBC

Stanley thinks this article is trash. But this is, in many ways, the most important conversation no one ever has. (Image/NBC)

‘Happiness’ is kind of a bullshit word because, not unlike the word ‘love,’ it can hold different meaning for different people.

But I don’t know a better word for conveying what it means to feel good, healthy, peaceful, hopeful (perhaps like you might remember feeling as a child when homework was your biggest problem, and life mostly consisted of pursuing the next good time, and dreaming about how amazing adulthood would be).

When I say ‘happy,’ what I really mean is “Life isn’t shitty. It’s kind of awesome. If every day could be like this, I would feel totally content for the rest of my life.”

It’s hard to be happy when you’re sad or angry.

It’s hard to be happy when you’re stressed or anxious.

It’s hard to be happy when you’re hurt or sick.…

I contend that happiness is what everyone wants in life—whether or not they’re aware of it—and even if they disagree with it. (Because it’s all semantics.)

No matter what that looks like, because while many people share common goals, everyone’s version of happy has its own unique spin.

Happy for some people is career success and financial freedom.

Happy for some people is travel and adventure.

Happy for some people is serving God or other people and living a spiritual life.

Happy for some people is orgasms and alcohol.

Happy for some people is fame and recognition.

Happy for some people is animals and nature.

Everyone has a different list of things, that when you add them to their lives while eliminating the bad things, it results in them feeling ‘happy.’

We are all pursuing, desiring, experiencing different things, for different reasons, but the hard truth is that we do what we do because we feel good about it during and/or afterward. Chemicals fire in our brains, and then we like it, and generally we want to feel more of that, thus our individual pursuits of happiness.

But Happiness is Often a Fleeting and Elusive Thing

Sometimes we get what we want, and it’s kind of a letdown.

Sometimes we get what we want, and it’s awesome at first, but then it stops being awesome once we get used to.

Sometimes the things we want change, and then we have to abandon course to pursue the new thing we want.

Chasing.

Always chasing. We idealize an end goal only to realize the end goal was kind of a stupid goal, or not nearly as great as we’d hoped, or that we’re inevitably dissatisfied once we’ve achieved it and start running toward something new.

It’s draining.

We have a tendency to think: Once I get this thing, or once this happens for me, then I will feel good. THEN, I will finally be happy.

Repeatedly—sometimes painfully—Life teaches us that it doesn’t work that way.

No Matter What You Think You Want, Ask Yourself: Isn’t Happiness All I Really Want?

If you’re someone who likes really nice cars, and you really want a Ferrari, isn’t what you really want the first-person experience of owning and driving a Ferrari? The feeling that comes along with that?

It begs the question: Wouldn’t you be equally satisfied by achieving that same experience, that same FEELING, even if it came without the actual Italian super car?

‘Eff you, Matt. What do you know about being happy?’

Very little.

But I seem to know something that not everyone does, and achieving happiness is impossible without knowing it.

YOU MUST LOVE YOURSELF.

Not like some self-important asshole who compliments his or herself in the mirror all day.

But whoever you love the most in your life—the concern, affection, compassion, protectiveness, etc. that you feel for THAT person (a child, a spouse, a sibling, a parent, a best friend, a pet, whatever), you 100-percent cannot and will not EVER achieve that elusive feeling of ‘happiness,’ without also demonstrating that same level of love and care for yourself.

When you are dissatisfied, or ashamed, or disgusted, or angry with yourself, and then you spend every waking and unconscious second INSIDE of the vessel you are dissatisfied, or ashamed, or disgusted, or angry with, then there is no healthy path to feeling good.

Without self-love, there can be no healthy path to not having shitty days full of self-loathing and regret and all kinds of other crap things no one wants.

The math is simple enough for me.

We only get a finite amount of time on this planet. It’s a blink, really. I turn 40 in a couple of months. I’ll be LUCKY if that’s the halfway point.

Truth is, there’s no guarantee I wake up tomorrow. That’s true every day.

And the fewer days I spend feeling shitty, and the more days I spend feeling glad to be alive seems like a worthwhile thing to consider.

I was accidentally happy every day until my marriage turned into a dumpster fire, and then every day smelled like hot garbage for a long time. So, that was the first time I ever encountered the question: How do I feel happy again?

Here’s what I learned:

1. If you’re not healthy, it’s hard to feel happy. That’s why it’s important to take care of ourselves. But sometimes you don’t feel like taking care of yourself, because it takes more effort and energy. So, how? Easy answer.

2. Love yourself. It’s hard to take care of yourself when you don’t care about yourself. It’s not motivating at all. I don’t bend over backward for every fifth-grader in my city, but I do for my own because I love him intensely. The motivation to practice self-care is the natural result of loving myself.

3. Gratitude. Feel it, or your life will suck. Period.

I want to be damn careful about insensitivities surrounding depression and mental illness which are not conditions I know much about, but this is the part where I like to point out all of the people we’ve admired through the years that have taken their own lives one way or another. Chris Cornell. Philip Seymour Hoffman. Robin Williams. Kate Spade. Junior Seau. Don Cornelius. Hunter S. Thompson. Anthony Bourdain. Chester Bennington.

These are people most of us know from their accomplishments. They were among the best at what they do, were adored by millions of fans, and had the kind of financial security most of us dream about.

On paper, most of us think: Those people have a good life. I think if I was elite at my craft, praised and cheered for by millions for my talents, and had a fat bank account, I would be really happy.

A list of celebrity suicides/overdoses does not a scientific fact, make. But I think it lends credence to the idea that happiness doesn’t live with our end goals. It doesn’t arrive through what other people or the world gives us.

Happiness manifests when:

We are healthy.

We love ourselves, and treat ourselves with the same care that we treat others that we love.

And, when we are GRATEFUL—intentionally, humbly, mindfully grateful—for the gift of life, for the people in it, for what others do for us, etc.

If every day is: I wish I had this thing that I don’t currently have, then happiness—the thing we want and crave because it makes life a positive experience—will forever stay an illusion just out of reach.

And if every day is: I’m so blessed to have the use of my eyes. Ears. Arms. Legs. I’m so blessed that my children are healthy. I’m so blessed that mosquito bites don’t kill us because of modern medicine and our financial resources. I’m so blessed that I don’t have to walk three miles to find safe drinking water. I’m so blessed that people prepare food and then truck it to a store so that I can buy it instead of running after it in the forest, or growing it in fields, then good things start to happen.

It’s never-ending. Our healthy gratitude list. It can literally go forever, because there are INFINITE things to feel legitimately grateful for.

It takes practice to remember to feel it. It’s not the kind of thing someone can mention, and then you spend the rest of your life feeling grateful for everything, and then happy as a result.

It’s work. Mindful, deliberate work.

But, once it is a habit? Once it does take root?

The world changes around us because, as Anaïs Nin famously said: “We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.”

We don’t have to chase anything. We don’t have to search for it.

Like everything important and sacred and precious in life, it tends to be hiding in plain sight.

Discover 50 Easy Ways to Show Gratitude for the People in Your Life.

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Always Something There to Remind Me

(Image/PortsmouthFreemasons.org)

There’s something appalling—nearly unforgivable—about the things we forget, like, 98-ish percent of our known existence.

We forget that we breathe. We breathe more than 23,000 times per day on average. There’s literally NOTHING we’ve done in our lives more times than taken a breath.

Yet, we never notice.

We forget that we are not promised tomorrow. Today may be our last. This conversation may be the last one you ever get to have with someone. Virtually all of us would say and do things differently if we knew this meeting would be our last.

We forget all of the opportunities we have to be grateful.

Health. Money. Shelter. Clothing. Transportation. Family. Friends. Employment. Education. Abilities.

There’s always something to be deeply thankful for. Something we’re taking for granted.

Our health and closest loved ones seem to be the most obvious victims of our unintentional neglect.

My Blindness to the ‘All The Time’ is Why My Marriage Ended

There are so many perspectives. So many ways to frame and slice the conversation about how love dies. How families break. Including the story of my own divorce.

But underneath all of the specifics is a simple and difficult truth: I didn’t remember to actively love my spouse.

Like, I forgot.

I feel shitty about it, and I’d feel even worse if I didn’t know that pretty much everyone suffers from this in some form or fashion.

We grow numb to the things we feel All The Time.

We grow deaf to the things we hear All The Time.

We grow blind to the things we see All The Time.

Combine this psychological phenomenon that all of us encounter with undiagnosed adult ADHD, and boom. You get some hapless asshole who derpy-derps through life unintentionally hurting those he loves.

You know what the worst part might be? I used to be blind to it, legitimately.

Today? Not so much. I write about this stuff every day, so I’m much quicker to recognize when I’m doing it, and better understand how another person might feel about it.

I’m always in the market for a larger Shame bucket to carry around.

How I Remember to Actively Love My Son

I hope it’s clear that I felt love for my wife. The same way I feel grateful for breathable air.

I just FORGOT to actively demonstrate it in the way that would have saved everyone involved a lot of pain and suffering through the years. Sometimes, when you have a near-death experience with a Jolly Rancher, you remember how neat it is to be able to breathe without a delicious piece of hard candy lodged in your windpipe.

“News at 11, a local man was found dead in his parked vehicle this afternoon. Law enforcement officials at the scene declined to comment on the active investigation, but we were told off the record that there’s no evidence of foul play, and that a giant bag of Jolly Ranchers candy was found on the passenger seat, suggesting the man likely died from a choking incident like you might expect from a small child. None of the man’s coworkers admitted to being friends with him. Reporting live from Cleveland, Ohio, this is Johnny McJohnson. Back to you in the studio.”

I had a serious problem with forgetting to actively love my son.

He’s a fifth-grader. He’s amazing. And he’s been my entire world for the past six years.

And even though that’s true, and I’ve never known love like the love I feel for him, I still get really upset with him sometimes (almost always when getting ready for school, where his priority often seems to be to do ANYTHING except stuff that will help us accomplish our goal of getting to school on time with as little stress as possible).

And I get pretty mad sometimes. Because I know what he’s capable of, and I know how smart he is, and it feels like he’s intentionally sabotaging my efforts some mornings.

(I know. The irony isn’t lost on me. I promise.)

And sometimes, he and I will exchange words and attitude, and then maybe that was a morning where I wasn’t picking him up later that day. Maybe it would be two or three days before I’d see him again, per his mother and I’s 50-50 shared parenting arrangement.

So, sad and angry dad drops off sad and angry son only to have both of us feel crappy about it for a while and would both choose to go back in time and do it all over again, if we could.

And since he’s 10, and I’m the ‘adult,’ I needed to take action. Because doing the same thing over and over again more or less guarantees the same results over and over again.

The Simple Magic of the ‘Focus’ Wristband

I could make myself a sign.

I could get a tattoo.

I could set reminders on my phone.

I could write it in my calendar.

I could do a lot of things. But ultimately, I chose a simple black, flexible bracelet. One of those rubbery wristbands like the #LiveStrong ones that former cyclist Lance Armstrong used to pimp before he admitted to doping and everyone stopped thinking he was cool.

I bought a box of them. They all have cliché motivational words on them which annoy me, but in this case, the word “Focus” is apropos.

These. I only cared about the one that said ‘Focus.’ (Image/Amazon)

I now wear a mostly non-descript small black rubber wristband on my left wrist. There is nothing special or noteworthy about it. Unless I’m wearing short sleeves, no one would ever know it’s there.

My Focus bracelet has one job. Only one job.

To remind me to actively demonstrate intentional love and patience toward my favorite person in the world. He is my life’s greatest gift. And it’s pathetic that I get angry with him and speak to him in ways his young mind might interpret as me saying he’s not good enough, or communicate that I’m not immensely proud of him.

Jolly Rancher jokes aside.

What if on one of those mornings, I never made it where I was going? What if the last thing he remembered about me was me being angry with him at school drop-off, only to never have the chance to speak again or remind him that there is NOTHING he could ever do or say, and no amount of frustration he could ever make me feel that would equate to my love for him lessening somehow?

That wouldn’t do.

So, I ordered a pack of these silly wristband bracelets.

And, you know what? It works.

My Focus bracelet reminds me to smile and laugh at him clowning around when he’s supposed to be brushing his teeth.

My Focus bracelet reminds me that a few minutes here and there are NOT even in the same universe as him knowing his father loves him and feels immense pride in him.

My Focus bracelet literally triggers intentional patience, resulting in a 90-percent reduction in anything resembling an emotional outburst, and a much more mindful father not carelessly ‘forgetting’ how much he loves his son.

I know it might seem silly, this small thing. This wristband with only one job.

I was skeptical as to how effective it would be. I shouldn’t have been.

When we MINDFULLY, INTENTIONALLY, invest our mental and emotional energy in those we love, it sticks. Because we know what’s at stake.

Someone, somewhere doesn’t know how much you care about them.

They don’t have any idea how much they are loved and cherished.

What super-tiny, subtle shift can we make to keep our minds attuned to what matters most to us in a way that can help us maintain discipline, better communicate our love for others, and walk the walk in our daily lives?

What small thing can we do today to invest in and protect our life’s biggest, most sacred things?

I paid about $15 for a pack of wristbands I only needed one of.

But can you guess how much it’s worth?

There’s not enough room here to write out the number.

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She Divorced Me Because I Tried to Fix Her Problems

Discover Your Why Torn Paper Concept

(Image/Getty Images)

In nine years of marriage, it’s safe to assume my ex-wife and I ate dinner together between 2,500 and 3,000 times.

We must have talked about things that didn’t upset her sometimes. We must have talked about things that bored her sometimes. Maybe we even talked about things that made her happy.

I don’t remember. Several hundred conversations, and I can’t remember most of them.

It’s hard to remember the moments that never made you feel.

Maybe that’s why the only dinner conversations I remember are the ones involving her saying that she didn’t love me or want to stay married, as well as a few conversations that I’ve retroactively applied emotion to, since I now realize that they’re on the official This is Why I’m Divorced® list along with me sometimes leaving dishes by the sink.

My wife divorced me because when she told me stories about her day, I tried to fix whatever she was telling me was wrong.

And for many people, that will seem sensible—to try to help someone solve a problem they’re having. For many people, the idea of turning a husband trying to help into a marriage problem will seem like the insane actions of an emotionally unstable wife who is always looking for something new to complain about.

I would have agreed with you 10 years ago. I mean, I DID agree with you 10 years ago. Because I agreed with you 10 years ago, I was a shitty husband who accidentally and obliviously sabotaged what could have been, and should have been, a good marriage. (Hint: Which is what almost ALL married people have. Two people who married each other on purpose, thoughtfully, and well-intentioned SHOULD have a good marriage.)

I Didn’t Understand the Why

My wife was telling me stories about her day—about things or people or situations that might have upset her—for ONE reason. Just one.

It was my wife’s way of trying to connect with me. To share her experiences. The ACT OF SHARING the experience with me, and me simply being present and listening to her was THE ENTIRE POINT.

My role was to listen.

When my wife told me about someone that bothered her earlier in the day, I would sometimes tell my wife that I agreed with the other person.

Not only did I deprive her of the connection-building exercise by simply allowing her to speak without judgment, but I piled on more pain and frustration by validating the words or actions of the person that hurt or upset my wife earlier in the day.

Let’s recap:

1. Something happened that my wife experienced as a negative. Someone said or did something that made her feel shitty.

2. The thing that helps her feel better is to tell someone who will listen without judging her for her honest feelings and actual experiences.

3. She wanted to tell the ONE person in the world who promised to love and honor her every day for the rest of her life, and the only other adult who lives under the same roof.

4. I took her outlet for a positive connection-building experience—the thing she needed to do to emotionally move past the shitty day—and made THAT shitty. The thing that is designed to make her feel good became something that actually felt bad.

5. I then took the extra step of sometimes TAKING THE SIDE of her adversary from her story. I sometimes listened to her account of the day’s events, and essentially told her that her response—emotional or behaviorally—was INCORRECT. I literally told her that she did it wrong, and agreed with the other person.

6. All she wanted was for someone who loves her to LISTEN to her. That’s it. Not hard. Just STFU and listen. And after several hundred times of NOT doing that, I ceased to be someone she could trust to confide in. I was no longer a feel-good resource for coping with the ups and downs of adulthood, because hundreds of previous attempts ended badly and painfully for her. She didn’t feel safe anymore. She didn’t trust me anymore. Because safety and trust are two words that don’t always mean what we think they mean.

The most dangerous part of human relationships is how subtle and nuanced these moments are.

The things that erode and eventually destroy that which is most fragile and dear and precious to us tend to be things happening within the blind spots of our daily lives. We’re not being neglectful or irresponsible by not noticing them. It’s IMPOSSIBLE to notice them unless we are actively and mindfully looking for them.

After thousands of conversations with my wife that didn’t go like I thought they would. After, literally, thousands of instances where my wife reacted to me or a situation differently than I would have expected, I NEVER—not one time—set out to really understand the reason behind it.

I was certain—I was so certain that I was right, and therefore, she must have been wrong—that I guess I just kept waiting for her to grow up and see the world as clearly and correctly and smartly as I did.

But she never did.

She finally had enough and left.

And then I cried a lot more than a man probably should and felt sorry for myself.

But then I grew up.

And I began to see the world more clearly. I learned to stop labeling what an individual experiences as being ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ Because if I was born to their parents and had their identical life experiences, I would say and do and feel all of the exact same things that they do.

Maybe my wife was wrong sometimes, too. Maybe she did things she shouldn’t have done. People ask me about that a lot, suggesting I’m too hard on myself. That there must be another side to the story.

Of course there’s another side. Here it is:

Imagine an alternative reality where when my wife told me stories about her day, I listened, and then told her that I cared about her experiences—that I was so happy when she had good things happen, and that I was so sorry when she had bad things happen—because I loved her and wanted to make sure she knew it. Make sure she felt it, because those are the things we remember.

Imagine if I’d done that.

Maybe all of those theoretical ‘mistakes’ my wife made would have never happened at all.

Just maybe.

Behind every misunderstanding is a reason. Behind every disagreement is a WHY. The Why behind why someone feels a certain way. And when we love the person on the other side of the disagreement—or simply on the other side of the dinner-table conversation—understanding that Why is EVERYTHING.

Find the Why.

Start right now.

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To Find What’s Missing, Look in the Gaps

hiding- image by navalent

(Image/Navalent)

There’s what we believe. And then there’s whatever is absolutely 100-percent true and real.

In the gap between our beliefs and Absolute Truth are the things that hold us back. Mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

There’s what we expect. And then there’s whatever actually happens.

Sometimes things don’t go as we expect them to. Sometimes that’s kind of good or kind of bad. Sometimes that’s very good or very bad. The gap between our expectations and what we actually experience is what determines how good or happy we feel, or how bad or upset we feel.

There’s what we think we know about another person. And then there’s who they actually are, what they actually feel, what they actually believe, what they actually intend, what they are actually capable of—sometimes bad, but also sometimes good.

What’s Hiding in the Gaps Within Your Relationships?

In a marriage or otherwise long-term romantic relationship, there is always (like, ALWAYS) a gap between what any two people believe about one another and what is actually, 100-percent true.

I don’t mean a husband thinks his wife is a manager at a local bank, but is actually a high-ranking government intelligence officer managing a team of spies and assassins.

I mean a more typical scenario like a wife who believes her husband likes her meatloaf, but secretly he thinks it’s gross like most sensible people who struggle with foamed meat products, but because he—in an effort to be polite—doesn’t communicate his preferences, she doesn’t actually know.

There’s what you think he or she will do when you surprise them with a gift.

There’s what you think he or she will do when you dress extra-nice for them.

There’s what you think he or she will do when you tell them the bad news.

There’s what you think he or she will do when you suggest specific weekend plans.

There’s what you think he or she will do when there’s an emergency.

And then, there’s what actually happens.

Pleasant surprises. Crushing disappointments. The results will both delight and disappoint us to varying degrees.

You Don’t Know What You Think You Know

That’s neither an insult nor a judgment.

It’s a call—a plea really—for more humility and more hope.

You think he’s never going to change. Because after all of these years he’s never changed. But. What if you did something differently to achieve different results?

You think she’s never going to change. Because the things she says that hurt you are only intensifying. But. What if she’s feeling INTENSE pain that you’re accidentally causing, and despite her best efforts to communicate that you’re hurting her somehow, you’ve continued to inflict pain over and over and over again in a way that feels intentional at worst, and negligent at best? Is it possible she WOULDN’T be saying or doing those things—is it possible she wouldn’t take that tone or act exasperated—if she felt loved, cherished, respected, wanted every day of her life as she believed she would when she accepted your proposal?

We believe things.

We believe so many things. I’m not good enough. He’s an asshole. She’s a bitch. They don’t like me. They don’t respect me. They don’t want to be with me.

And then we’re often wrong. But because we BELIEVE the thought or idea, we FEEL it as if it were true.

We feel anxious. Or angry. Or jealous. Or sad. Or stressed. Or afraid.

People who feel shitty—whether they want to or not—harm their relationships. Relationships are a resource for finding support and strength and hope and companionship during life’s most trying moments. But when the relationship itself is the source of life’s most trying moments, then people turn elsewhere for the relief, support, and hope that they need.

It’s an ugly little cycle hiding in shadows and whispers.

Everyone is so blindly certain that what they believe and feel is real and true, that we allow the gaps between what we think and what’s actually real to ruin beautiful things. Our connections to others. To ourselves. To what’s possible.

Kind, beautiful, decent people are married to other kind, beautiful, decent people.

They have kind, beautiful, and decent children, and kind, beautiful, and decent friends.

Everyone means well.

Everyone cares.

Everyone wishes for the best.

But everyone is human. They believe things. And not all of them are accurate or true. And operating on false beliefs, we just keep serving our subpar meatloaf to people who don’t really like it.

What might you be missing?

What might the people you love, mistakenly but understandably, believe that could be harming your relationship?

What might be possible if we begin to eliminate the gaps between what we believe about ourselves and one another with what’s actually true and real?

You don’t know it, but I love you. (Platonically, you dirties.)

The things that hide in the gaps aren’t things we realize are even missing. The things that end our marriages and break our families are things only discovered by asking questions we would never normally think to ask.

Our beliefs guide us on autopilot.

Our lives can break on autopilot.

Be different, please. Be more. Every hopeless and cynical belief is an opportunity to be pleasantly surprised.

Hope.

Not because things magically change, but because we can intentionally do things differently.

To 2019, and to each and every one of you.

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