Tag Archives: Happiness

Don’t Overthink It: To Live Better and Feel Happy, Have More Fun

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“Fun is good,” Dr. Seuss is quoted as saying on the internet, so I can’t be entirely sure it’s true.
But even if it’s not, I could just quote myself saying it right now: “Fun is good.” – Matt
Because honestly, we need to be having more of it. Yes, even you. (Image/download-wallpaper.net)

Do you ever find yourself in situations where you’re supposed to be having fun and feeling good, but you’re not and you don’t?

Not only is what you’re doing NOT fun, but there’s the bonus element of suckage resulting from your unmet expectations and ensuing disappointment.

There are countless reasons why something we expected to be good turned out to be bad. Maybe we’re having a fight with our spouse or partner and now the party we attended with them isn’t fun. Maybe we have a chronic injury and the pain we feel on long runs or bike rides sucks the joy out of a previously positive experience. Maybe we’re doing something alone, but we discover that we only feel good or happy when we’re doing it with other people. (Giggity.)

How much I like or don’t like something tends to be influenced heavily by my expectations leading into it. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to not hype things up in my head so much, and have discovered many more pleasant surprises along the way as a result. I like pleasant surprises.

But something else has also happened as I’ve gotten older—I’ve had less fun.

I don’t think people want to admit that.

I think we feel guilty and ashamed when we take an honest, no-bullshit assessment of our lives and conclude: I don’t enjoy life as much as I used to.

Maybe we think it sounds shitty to admit that since we’re married or in committed relationships and we don’t understand why the most important relationship in our adult lives doesn’t deliver more personal happiness. Maybe we’re afraid to admit to ourselves or anyone else how much of our lives we sacrificed to promise forever to someone else, only to feel much more disappointed than we ever acknowledge.

Shouldn’t my relationship deliver more joy and satisfaction than it does?

Maybe we think it sounds shitty to admit that since we have kids and we love them so intensely. Shouldn’t I feel happier and have more fun as a parent than I do?

Maybe we’re embarrassed that no matter how much wealth, real estate, or career advancements we earn, we still sometimes feel a yearning when we’re laying still in the dark with nothing to drown out our most honest inner thoughts.

I’ve achieved and acquired so many things I believed would make me happy, but the truth is, back when I was just a poor kid playing backyard football in a small town no one’s ever heard of, I felt HAPPIER and had MORE FUN than I do now.

And once again, our unmet expectations take a poke at our insides, making the corners of our mouths just a little bit heavier. It’s harder to find our smiles when we find ourselves once again asking: WTF happened to my life? Why do I feel so unfulfilled?

Maybe it’s Just Me

I don’t mean to sound as if I assume your life sucks and that you feel depressed all the time.

I don’t feel depressed all the time.

My life doesn’t suck.

BUT. There’s no question that I don’t have as much fun as I used to.

And that dear friends—I believe—is the answer to the riddle.

Everyone’s Fun Looks Different, So Trust Yourself, Not What Others Say

I can sit for five or six hours in a poker tournament folding 90 percent of my hands and have fun.

My ex-wife thought that sounded dreadful. Even some of my fellow poker enthusiasts can’t stand the idea of folding so many hands. (Bonus Life Tip: That’s how you win poker tournaments—folding the vast majority of the time.)

Some people love crocheting. Or bowling. Or gardening. Or painting tin soldiers. Or reading biographies. Or watercolor painting.

No one can tell you what feels fun. It’s our job to try things and then evaluate as fairly and honestly as possible how pleasurable of an experience each thing was.

In a life where more and more demands are being placed on us from family and career responsibilities, and an increasingly more-connected world also means more distractions, the FIRST things most of us sacrifice to make room for these demands are the things that bring us pleasure.

We are continually being forced to cut out more and more of the things we do simply because we like them. And normally, productivity and accomplishment provides a sense of satisfaction. But almost inevitably, mandatory tasks always start to feel burdensome.

Nothing but divorce has ever depressed me more than the day I realized that I wake up every weekday, drive to work, and do something I wouldn’t necessarily be doing if I didn’t need the income, before going home only to wake up and do the same thing again the following day.

It’s still true right now.

I exchange the vast majority of my (non-sleeping) life for a paycheck.

Why?

(This is the depressing part.)

So I can have enough money to stay alive (food, water, clothing, health care), have shelter (mortgage), and afford transportation (car payment).

In a life with a finite amount of time, I question the wisdom in exchanging the majority of my life experiences simply to have a house to sleep in, stuff to store there, and a vehicle to drive me back and forth to the job.

To deal with this, I pursue several other things (including the writing I do here, and the speaking I hope to do in the future) in my limited spare time to have hope that I can wake up every day feeling more fulfilled and as if how I’m spending my time has more purpose and value.

But that’s a personal problem.

What all of us are ultimately pursuing is CONTENTMENT. And some people, who are either super-fortunate to have been born that way, or are models of practicing intentional gratitude, DO actually feel content to live in their homes and their towns and go to work every day.

They are rich in home life. In friends and family (or super-content to be mostly alone and reclusive—and for those wired for that—that’s great too). They are thankful for what they have and aren’t slaves to The Disease of More.

But we don’t have time for platitudes.

We’re not going to tell depressed people to “chin up.”

We’re not going to tell happy people how lucky they are that they don’t suffer as others do.

We’re not going to tell people that they’re wrong because of their likes and dislikes.

In the interest of self-care and supporting those we care about most, it’s critical that we make time to engage in activities that give us life and energy.

It makes us better romantic partners.

It makes us better parents.

It makes us better friends.

It makes us better members of the workforce.

It makes us better human beings.

The Importance of Discovering Our Happy Places

Kids instinctively do their favorite things in whatever moments and environments they’re in, given whatever resources are available.

Children don’t know all of their favorite things because they spend a lifetime discovering them. Some are given a narrow view of the world and limited opportunities because of whatever circumstances they’re born into, and others are introduced to unlimited possibility and have rich life experiences that are the result of substantial financial resources, or resourceful and supportive parents and adult role models.

Some kids are told that they can’t do certain things. Over and over again. Because their parents or siblings or friends or teachers roll their eyes at these childhood dreams and say very adult things like “Well, young lady. That sounds great, but how are you going to make money doing that?”, or “Well, young man. I’m sure you’d make a fine [insert dream-big idea here] but you don’t have the skills, knowledge, money, talent, geography, etc. Maybe you should think of something more realistic like being an assistant restaurant manager, or a third-shift foreman at the local factory.”

Even if you were supported as children, you can still hear and feel all of the naysayers every time you’re vulnerable enough to share an idea that makes you feel alive on the inside.

And then those closest to us tell us we’re silly and impractical, or otherwise leave the impression that we’re not good enough.

Husbands and wives have divorced, and children have gone years without speaking to their parents, for less.

The most fortunate of us can make a sustainable living doing things we love. (I am paid decently, mostly to write things. It’s a miracle, and I STILL complain because I don’t like bosses and rules, and occasionally demonstrate a gratitude problem.)

But often we invest time in activities that don’t pay us back with money. Social clubs. Hobbies. Parties. Travel. Volunteerism. Sports. Art. Whatever.

We do these things because we feel pleasure when we do them.

Sometimes it’s one thing. Sometimes it’s many things. Maybe some people can’t think of ANYTHING (outside of sex, drugs and alcohol) that they do simply for the enjoyment and fulfillment of doing it.

But you must.

And you must encourage your partners and children to do the same.

We place so much value on the acquisition of money and material goods, to the point where adults believe they’re happy when they’ve gotten enough money to buy the thing they’ve spent years believing “When I FINALLY have that magical thing, I’m going to feel successful and happy. THEN, I’ll know I’ve made it,” only to inevitably discover that the feeling is fleeting and then The Disease of More rears its ugly head once again.

I think goals are amazing.

I think wanting things and experiences and money is more than okay. I want them too.

But along the way, we forget to pursue happiness and joy ON the journey.

We forget to have fun. The kind of fun that’s OURS. Maybe other people like it. Maybe they don’t. But we must do things that light that fire of happiness within us.

It’s a feeling.

And the real magic of knowing that feeling is that once we identify it (which is easy as an unfulfilled adult because it feels so radically different from the rest of existence), we can begin to recognize it in other parts of our lives.

With our spouses or romantic partners.

With our children.

With our co-workers.

We begin to recognize the set of conditions that produces that feeling of fun and energy and enthusiasm. The one that makes us feel like the best version of ourselves.

It’s pretty cliché and platitudey for me to offer some bullshit like: “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” or “Before you can love someone else, you must first love yourself.”

So I’ll leave that to the Instagram quote writers.

But in a life where our relationships with our romantic partners are THE #1 FACTOR in the quality of our life and health, and half of all marriages fail, I don’t think we can afford to ignore the importance of injecting fun into our lives.

It’s NOT selfish to pursue fun if that fun gives you the energy you need to be the best romantic partner and parent possible.

It’s UNSELFISH and important to encourage your partner to take some time to do things they need to do to find their happy place (which may or may not involve dwarf cowboys). If we need to step up and take something off of their plate so that they have the time to pursue THEIR passion, I think we’ll discover incalculable dividends.

We’re broken.

Messy.

Imbalanced and unsteady.

Amidst the chaos Life throws our way, one of the ways we can achieve balance and sure footing is to call timeouts for fun.

No agenda.

Just to be in the moment, or be with the people with whom fun spontaneously happens.

We forget to play.

We confuse acquisition, advancement and long-term goals as the happiness-delivering payoff to justify all the miserable drudgery we subject ourselves to while our most important relationships fail, and we feel ourselves slip further and further away from the US we remember from long ago.

When things just felt better.

When we were happy.

When life was fun.

It can’t and won’t look the same as it did back then. But if we invest less in feeling like failures for our lives looking and feeling differently than our little-kid dreams imagined, and more in simply pouring our minds and hearts into the things that fill our souls?

Maybe our children accidentally learn how to live better by watching us live better, and maybe our marriages and personal relationships thrive.

Because we’re no longer living for tomorrow.

But once again, just like when we were kids, we’re alive today.

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No Bullshit: Gratitude Changes Everything

gratitude_being_grateful

If you’re anything like me (and pretty much every other person, ever) you have countless memories of looking forward to getting or achieving something, and how awesome it feels for the following five seconds before you totally take it for granted and start wanting something else.

THIS IS WHY YOUR RELATIONSHIPS FAIL.

This is why you feel a little depressed and unfulfilled.

This is why even though we have nice cars and smartphones and HDTVs and houses and good jobs and attractive partners and beautiful children and awesome friends and supportive families, we STILL want more shit.

Like most things, this sucky part of the human condition is not without its perks. Without a predisposition toward achievement, humanity would have died off eons ago from disease and lion attacks because cavemen would have discovered how to make fire and just stopped trying new things forever.

The cost of ambition is the destruction of internal peace and contentment. Of our individual pursuits of happiness.

It has a name, and I didn’t know it until today: Hedonic adaptation.

It is the psychological phenomenon of boredom and dissatisfaction taking hold over time as we adjust to positive life changes.

It’s why the person who gives you intense crushy tummy butterflies and lusty pulses of orgasmic euphoria can turn into your feel-nothing roommate just a few years, or even months, later.

It’s why your brand-new car from a couple years ago from which you once handpicked the occasional pet hair from the carpet, is now sufficiently unclean and fails to deliver those fun I’m-proud-to-drive-this! feelings when you climb in.

It’s why no material thing or salary increase or lifestyle change IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE has ever capably delivered long-term happiness to the person unaware of the dangers of hedonic adaptation (which I’m pretty sure is more than 95 percent of everybody.)

OMG! What Can I Do About It???

There is, literally, only ONE cure for this life-destroying ailment. And that is to actively, deliberately, vigilantly practice gratitude.

Your choice, every day of your life, is: Really and truly feel thankful for all of the great things in your life OR suffer a slow descent into miserable shittiness.

That’s not an exaggeration. Remember when P. Diddy was wearing those silly Vote or Die! shirts, and we were all like: “WTF, Puff Daddy!? Are you and The Family going to murder non-voters!? That seems like an overreaction! Ohhhhhhh. You just mean, voting is really important and we should all do it, and you chose that slogan to spread the message? Got it now! Sorry, but that’s stupid. You don’t die when you don’t vote, because we would totally hear about that in the news.”

Anyway. This gratitude stuff is nothing like that. I’m more right about this than Puffy was about the voting/death correlation. Please don’t listen to him, unless it’s his track “Victory” with Notorious B.I.G. because that shit was mad rare.

Find a way to say “Thank you” and really feel, deep in your heart and soul, genuine gratitude that your life doesn’t suck and is actually quite blessed.

“But, Matt! My life DOES suck right now!”

I’m totally putting my hands up right now in the universal sign language for “Fair enough.” I get it. I’m a whiny turd every time something doesn’t go my way, too. It’s because I haven’t mastered this gratitude thing yet and forget how good I really have it.

I forget EVERY DAY.

Right now, a woman in some faraway place is holding her dying child because of the trickle-down effect of not having sanitary drinking water in her village.

Someone else doesn’t know how to read. Someone else can’t find employment. Someone else will get shot or sexually assaulted walking in his or her neighborhood today. Someone else has a child with a terminal illness.

Others can’t pay the electric bill.

Others have no car.

Others have no home.

Others have zero people who love them.

I whined a little yesterday because I got stuck in traffic for, like, 30 minutes, and everything worked out fine.

My 7-year-old asked whether I wanted him to starve to death because his stomach was rumbling before dinner.

Tomorrow, even though I’m a thoughtful eater portion-wise, I am still likely to throw away more food than millions of people scattered throughout the world have available to them.

If You Don’t Start Now, You’ll Forget and Stay on the Hedonic Treadmill (and that’s bad)

I know it sounds like a bunch of hippy dippy bologna.

I know.

But this is real. And if you (and I do this constantly, so I have to believe everyone else does too) ever say or think: “When X, Y and Z happens, EVERYTHING is going to be different and I’ll finally be happy!!!” it means you’re an unwitting prisoner on the Hedonic Treadmill. Just running and running and running and never getting anywhere. Just like me.

It’s time to get off.

We celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States tomorrow. The day where most people remember to say “Thank you!”

Please remember to say Thank you.

Just maybe, all that gratitude will be contagious.

And just maybe, if we catch it, it will save our lives.

(Note: A massive Thank You to Amit Amin at Happier Human for all the great content that contributed to this post.)

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Vows, Bullshit and Personal Responsibility

bullshit large

bonbon2 wrote:

“I don’t think it’s a wife’s responsibility to make husband understand what he should know, he is not a teenager anymore, he doesn’t need to make her wife another mother to him and should grow up and be a sensible adult. It’s not a wife’s duty to educate her husband. It’s not that he doesn’t understand, it’s that he DOESN’T want to understand, and to me it seems a very stupid way to ruin your own marriage like that. If that’s my husband who still needs me to educate him this and that, I would rather get a clean divorce from this man, to save myself some trouble. Men need to understand that she is your WIFE, NOT your MOTHER, don’t turn your wife into your mother and then blame her for not treating you in a way of a supposedly wife. I’ve seen too many men doing this and then whining about their wife and their marriage.

Please guys, you all can do better than this, don’t wait for your girlfriend or wife to repeat themselves a thousand times and get disappointed eventually, you all can do the education by yourselves and stop making her feeling she has to leave. She doesn’t have an obligation to educate her man, but she does have to take full responsibility to live a happy life, even if that means a divorce for her.

I really hope all women, regardless of each of our marital status, to know that we have the obligation to our happiness in life, and it’s our own responsibility fully. Maybe your boyfriend or husband makes you sad, but it doesn’t mean you can’t live happily ever again. Sometimes marriage just isn’t the solution. We are the solution to a happy life.

Wife isn’t dead inside, wife seems dead because she is still in this marriage with him. Once a woman leaves her shitty marriage, she can be herself again because she isn’t dead inside.”

I try hard to not be combative.

Combative people are never happy because they’re always at odds with someone, and never content or satisfied. And if I’ve learned anything valuable in adulthood, it’s that all anyone ever really wants is to be content. Or “happy,” if you prefer. I use them interchangeably.

Sometimes people think: “That’s not true! What I really want is to accomplish my life goals! To have a lot of money! Or to have a great job! Or to have lots of orgasms! Or to have a great relationship! Or the opportunity to make a difference in the world! Or to have a great family! Or to have my dream home and nice cars! Or to get high all the time! Or to travel and have amazing vacations and life adventures!”

Not everyone figures out that they want all those things BECAUSE they—consciously or subconsciously—believe those things will bring them happiness and make them feel good.

Everything—EVERYTHING—we chase in this life is rooted in our internal desire to feel good. To attain peace. To achieve happiness.

Combativeness is a surefire way to always have drama and conflict in our lives and never achieve goals.

But, screw it. Sometimes I make bad decisions.

Some things are stupid. And it’s irresponsible to not point them out.

Silly policies at my son’s school. Ridiculous corporate policies or inefficient workflow at my job. And once in a while? Other people’s observations and opinions.

Sometimes, things are soooooo bullshitty that I just can’t help myself. I just have to shout it from the rooftops: “Wow! Look at that thing over there! It’s REALLY bullshitty! Even more bullshitty than all the regular-sized bullshitty things I see!”

That’s how I feel about bonbon2’s comment above, which was written in response to one of my comments on An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 1.

That if you imagine a gigantic—I mean COLOSSAL—mountain of bullshit, you would need beachball-sized bullshit-hail to rain on it nonstop for months to reach the pinnacle of the giant bullshit mountain I’m describing.

I feel like everyone probably gets it now, but just in case you don’t, feel free to go back and read the comment again, and then come back and read the following sentence:

That comment is total bullshit.

Marriage: Before and After, Because There’s a Difference

I’m not suggesting everything this person wrote is patently false. For example, comments like this are right on: “Men need to understand that she is your WIFE, NOT your MOTHER, don’t turn your wife into your mother and then blame her for not treating you in a way of a supposedly wife.”

I agree with this one too: “Please guys, you all can do better than this, don’t wait for your girlfriend or wife to repeat themselves a thousand times and get disappointed eventually, you all can do the education by yourselves and stop making her feeling she has to leave.”

And if we take a few sentences out of context from which they were written, I might agree with them also. But basically every other utterance is total crap.

1. Taking Responsibility Goes Both Ways

Unless you are held at gunpoint in front of a marriage official, suffer amnesia or some type of head trauma that fundamentally changes your conscious self, are married to someone who develops amnesia or experiences life-altering head trauma, or married an intentionally deceptive con artist (which I’ll allow liberal interpretation of, because some guys really are dicks), then you are TOTALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR WHO YOU MARRY.

Because the vast majority of men do not change much after marriage. In fact, THAT’s a huge part of the problem. Men often crave routine and stability, and want to do the same things over and over again. Bad habits from the single life sometimes remain, and staleness from routine sometimes sets in. Their wives get pissed about the bad habits and ask them to change, OFTEN not getting the response they need or want. That perceived lack of respect, combined with monotonous boredom festers into feelings of loneliness and neglect. As she gets more upset, he withdraws further because it’s how he naturally and chemically responds to conflict with his partner.

The cycle lasts until someone has an affair and/or leaves.

I’m not going to entertain the idea that millions of men are getting married and then fundamentally changing who they are on the inside. The next time I see that will be the first time.

Here’s an idea: Take some fucking responsibility for who you chose to marry. Because you had UNLIMITED time to choose the person you agreed to exchange forever-vows with.

I understand that when we’re young, we can’t know what we don’t know, and that young women aren’t unreasonable for assuming their husbands might evolve and grow in many of the same ways they do in a marriage. It just so happens that in real life, it tends to not work that way.

But I’m not going to stand idly by while angry wives point fingers calling for men to grow up and take responsibility while not taking any themselves.

There ARE victims in this world. You know them based on the facts of an individual’s story. No question, some spouses get TOTALLY screwed. I’ve seen it plenty.

But that’s not what usually happens. What usually happens is two good people get married with the best of intentions and ACCIDENTALLY ruin their marriage through hundreds of little decisions they didn’t know were important at the time.

Our lives are the sum of our choices, from our earliest memories to right this second.

OWN IT.

2. Don’t Take Vows if You Don’t Mean Them

I hate to break it to you, bonbon2, but after you say “I do” and promise all that shit in front of spouse, God and country, it kind of DOES become your responsibility to help your husband be a better husband if that’s what it takes to save your marriage.

bonbon 2 wrote: “She doesn’t have an obligation to educate her man, but she does have to take full responsibility to live a happy life, even if that means a divorce for her.

“I really hope all women, regardless of each of our marital status, to know that we have the obligation to our happiness in life, and it’s our own responsibility fully. Maybe your boyfriend or husband makes you sad, but it doesn’t mean you can’t live happily ever again. Sometimes marriage just isn’t the solution.”

Well, that’s great bonbon2!

You’ve just alleviated every married man or woman of all responsibility for the rest of their lives! Awesome!

Now men can leave their wives guilt-free after gaining weight from childbirth because she didn’t “take responsibility for her physical health” and that doesn’t make him “happy”!

Now every time a wife would like her husband to help her solve a problem, from opening a jar, to fixing the brakes on her car, to properly setting up a new electronic gadget she isn’t comfortable using, he can say: “Sorry babe! I don’t have an obligation to help or educate you! You’re an adult, so you can just figure it out all by yourself! It’s not my responsibility to help you because it sounds like more trouble than it’s worth. I’d rather get divorced since what I’m really responsible for is my own happiness in life!”

For better, for worse. For richer, for poorer. In sickness and health. Until death do us part.

Remember that shit?

DON’T SAY IT IF YOU DON’T MEAN IT.

You don’t have an obligation to educate your boyfriend on what it takes to be a good husband any more than I am obligated to avoid walking into an ISIS camp and calling them assholes.

But when a bunch of bad shit happens afterward, shouldn’t we be big enough to admit our choices were unwise?

Men get things wrong in marriage all the time. And I think if men collectively came to understand what I think I now understand, and then acted accordingly, the divorce rate would drop 80-90 percent.

Men have a HUGE responsibility to help keep families and marrages intact, and that’s what I dedicate much of my writing time to saying.

But I don’t give wives free passes. I just think all the things wives get wrong happen in response to some bullshit their husbands did. So if the husbands get it together, maybe their wives won’t accidentally push them away while trying to make their homes and marriages the best they can be.

Sure, husbands get a lot wrong. I did. And millions just like me are doing the same things right now. I hate it.

But if you’re the kind of person who thinks trying to EFFECTIVELY communicate your wants and needs to your spouse in an effort to educate them on things they might honestly NOT KNOW OR UNDERSTAND is more trouble than it’s worth, then you’re every bit part of the problem.

But feel free to enjoy the view from the top of Mount Bullshit.

Don’t forget to take deep breaths. The air is thinner up there.

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Try Something Else

Author and food systems expert Anna Lappe said that. Probably about food systems. But it could have been about marriage.

Author and food systems expert Anna Lappe said that. Probably about food systems. But it could have been about marriage.

I was 15 minutes early for the church thing.

My ex-wife lives close so I expected her and our son to show up soon. The church thing was for him and other kids his age.

His mom and I are good about going to events together to support him. It’s the kind of thing that was uncomfortable in the early months of separation and divorce, but I now find totally okay and occasionally pleasant two and a half years later.

I asked a guy if he knew where the kids and families were sitting. He pointed to a spot on the far side of the large church. I recognized a few faces. Whenever my son and his mom showed up, we’d sit over there.

But the minutes ticked by. And everyone filing in for the 9:30 a.m. start time wasn’t my son and his mom.

At 9:26, I finally sent a text: “Are you here?”

She replied at 9:29: “Walking thru parking lot now. Where are you?”

I told her to go through a back entrance. There are two of them. I stood by one while I waited, guessing incorrectly that she would choose it. It was 9:31 and church was starting. I sent a text describing a lady passing out things our son would need to grab.

She asked again where I was sitting, but instead of answering, I told her where the kids and families were sitting together.

Because I’m divorced and feel shame easily, particularly among the school and church parents where it seems like all their families are still intact, I didn’t go sit with them, electing to wait for my son and ex to arrive.

For that same reason, I also chose not to walk across the front of the entire church in front of hundreds of people to meet them after the Catholic mass started.

Long story short: My son wasn’t sitting with his parents together like we’d planned. Mission: failed.

My non-Catholic ex-wife spent the next hour with our son who was upset because he didn’t know where I was, and was forced to do a semi-ceremonial Catholicy thing with him that she might have felt some discomfort doing.

I was a little pissed because she arrived late and perceived her lack of punctuality as a sign she didn’t respect this Catholic thing she wouldn’t have to worry about if it wasn’t for me (which isn’t true).

She was a little pissed because she felt I didn’t try hard enough to sit with them and didn’t like that me not being with them upset our son.

She lives close. So I assumed she just didn’t try hard enough. But what actually happened was they spent the night at his grandma’s house much farther away, and when they arrived with what would typically be enough time, they found no parking spots and ended up having a long walk to get there.

She thought I was being unhelpful not telling her where I was sitting, instead telling her where our son was supposed to sit with his classmates.

OF COURSE I wanted to be next to my son. But I thought him being with his classmates for this special occasion was the bigger priority.

That probably seems like a typical misunderstanding.

But that’s exactly my point in telling it. THIS RIGHT HERE, is how divorce happens. She didn’t do anything wrong and tried her hardest to make the moment special for our son. I didn’t do anything wrong and tried my hardest to do the same. With limited information about one another’s thoughts and feelings, we were both a little bit pissed at one another, even though NO ONE DID ANYTHING WRONG.

That’s How Your Marriage Ends

Sometimes he’s a drunk or an addict.

Sometimes she’s financially manipulative.

Sometimes he’s a degenerate gambler.

Sometimes she’s sleeping with a guy at work.

BUT.

That’s not usually what happens. Usually, two well-meaning people get married with the heartfelt intention to love one another forever, and raise good kids, and enjoy backyard barbecues with friends, and holiday gatherings with family, and trips together to Disney World and the Grand Canyon.

And then slowly, sometimes imperceptibly, little moments like the one I described above start to invade and infect our psyche and emotional chemistry.

She thinks he’s thoughtless and irresponsible.

He thinks she’s unfairly bitchy and never happy.

She thinks he’s selfish and that all his decisions revolve around self-interests.

He thinks he’s already changed so much of his behavior and lifestyle for her, he doesn’t understand why she’s always so dissatisfied with him.

She decides he’s never going to change and eventually grows exhausted by him. Because there are only two possibilities: He’s a childlike moron incapable of being a responsible adult partner and co-parent, OR he’s as smart as she thinks he is and cares so little about her feelings that every day he chooses all the fuck-you-I’m-going-to-do-things-my-way stuff that she’s been pleading with him to stop.

In either case, she can’t trust him anymore. He’s no longer SAFE.

Not because he had sex with someone else.

Not because he gambled away their money.

Not because he’s an unreliable financial provider or not physically capable of protecting her from harm.

But because when she bares her soul to him, nothing changes. So she must not matter enough to him. She loves him in theory, but the feelings go away. It’s hard to stay in love with the person who hurts you every single day. Because he’s no longer safe and behaves like someone who doesn’t love her, she stops being sexually attracted to him. Sex becomes super-infrequent or dries up altogether.

All this time, her husband thinks she must be a little bit crazy. She’s hormonal and imbalanced. SHE MUST BE. Because he does love her. Very much. Of everyone he has ever known or currently knows, she’s the one he chose to spend the rest of his life with. She’s the one he was willing to forsake all others for. If he’s a father, there’s a secondary layer of love and protection he feels. He loves his kids a lot and he knows how amazing she is at caring for them. He could NEVER do what she does, thus her safety and wellbeing become even more important to him.

He spent his entire life going to school and hanging out with his friends.

Many of his best memories are Friday nights on the football field, or up in the stands at basketball games, or playing golf or soccer or poker or video games, or watching MMA or boxing or pro wrestling with his friends.

He has this loyalty he innately feels to his friends. They’re like brothers. Either because they played sports together, or roomed together in college, or served in the military together, or worked together, or any other bond-forming activity guys often do.

Now, he spends maybe 5-10% of his social time with them, or participating in hobbies ingrained in him from all those years. He thinks it’s REALLY unfair that even though he gave up the vast majority of those activities and hobbies for his marriage, she still complains about what little time he spends on all those things he has always loved.

She didn’t sign up for this. Not a life where she constantly feels invalidated because he either offers a hundred reasons why she’s being an unreasonable, nagging bitch, or he totally withdraws and doesn’t communicate with her at all.

He didn’t sign up for this. Not a life where he is constantly disrespected and made to feel inadequate even though his PURPOSE in life is to provide the best life possible for his family.

She stops sleeping with him.

He starts jerking off thinking about the office receptionist or that waitress at his favorite lunch spot.

She gets huge crushes on any man who appears to show genuine interest in her because her husband hasn’t talked to her or looked at her that way in years. He really gets me, she thinks. I want to sleep with him.

He gets his kicks from the female friend or coworker who listens to him complain about how unappreciated he is at home. She feels bad and wants to help so she puts his penis in her mouth, and he justifies it because his wife hasn’t slept with him in several months. What did she expect me to do!?, he thinks.

The guilt and shame pile up for everyone.

The shoulders are just a little bit heavier every second of every day.

Quiet moments alone are no longer peaceful because those are the moments the skeletons rattle loudest.

No one feels peace or innocence anymore. Not like when you were kids. You miss it so much, and it’s amplified by watching your kids. Because they’re pure and innocent and you want them to stay that way, but you can’t protect them from all the shit. There’s just way too much of it.

You feel like you’re constantly failing them because how can a broken, flawed person like me ever expect to raise children to be great people while protecting them from every danger?

What You’re Doing Isn’t Working

Two things:

  1. The above example is a fictional hypothetical situation that is NOT autobiographical but I believe is one super-common example of how marriages break and deteriorate into tar pits of shit.
  2. Your marriage or relationship has some element of all this going on in it. The reason it’s so easy to write this off-the-cuff example that will probably resonate with a kajillion people is because I read and hear the same stories over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. It’s totally frustrating and depressing.

You’re doing the same things everyone does, and when you do that, you get divorced and often end up sad and angry and hurting with sad and angry and hurting kids. It’s a real shit show.

A suggestion: TRY SOMETHING ELSE.

Hey Husbands: Your wife is going to leave you, and may or may not start sleeping with another man and take your children away. It’s horrible, and you and your family deserve better. If your wife tells you there’s a problem, and you don’t agree because you don’t think it’s as big a deal as she does? I have bad news. There’s a problem, and she’s going to leave.

Hey Wives: You’re not wrong that your husband who pledged to love you forever is a little oblivious and thoughtless, and should absolutely be prioritizing your feelings on all matters related to your emotional wellbeing so you can feel safe in your own life and trust that it will be here tomorrow. But you are wrong about your husband not loving or caring about you. And you’re doing a piss-poor job choosing WHEN, HOW and in what TONE OF VOICE to tell him how dissatisfied you are.

If I knew how to cure marriage problems, I’d have already written the magic-bullet bestselling book of all time, and currently be enjoying the spoils of commercial success while also kind of saving the world.

Every couple, and every individual, is different. Unique. Nuanced. Special.

And when we pledge to love and cherish and serve one another for as long as we live, it is our solemn duty to figure out what we can do to make our partner’s lives better.

Guys, marriage isn’t for you. It’s for your wives. You don’t need to agree with her. You simply have to care that the person you love most feels serious pain and fear. And if you put your mind to solving that problem—alleviating her pain and fear—you’re going to be much happier.

Ladies, marriage isn’t for you. It’s for your husbands. You don’t need to agree with him. You simply have to care that the person you love most in the world feels seriously unappreciated and undervalued. And if you put your mind to solving that problem—making him feel respected for all of the positive traits for which you originally fell in love with him, and valued for his many contributions to your life—you’re going to be much happier.

My ex-wife had a choice: Be pissed because I wasn’t with them during the church thing. Or appreciate that I tried my best at the expense of my own happiness to make sure our son was getting the most out of the moment.

I had a choice: Be pissed my ex-wife didn’t make a better effort to arrive sooner. Or appreciate that she—a non-Catholic—goes out of her way to support and participate in things she doesn’t always understand or agree with.

The moment passed.

Later that night, I had to run a pair of our son’s pants to her house. We do little favors like this all the time.

The anger and frustration from earlier was gone.

Despite her annoyance, she had sent me a video in the afternoon of our son riding his bike like a big boy. I appreciated it.

Despite my annoyance, it was my pleasure to bring clothes to her that he needed for school. She appreciated it.

Gratitude.

It’s the baseline emotion necessary to achieve happiness.

And just maybe, while you’re searching for answers on what to do next? On how to get through to him? On how to get her to respect you or sleep with you? On how to save your marriage? On what else you can try?

Maybe you can start with something you learned before entering kindergarten.

Saying thank you.

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A Response to “Hey Internet: Stop Trying to Inspire Me”

(Image/janrisher.com)

(Image/janrisher.com)

Jamie Varon published a four-minute read that rose to the top story on Medium where I saw it today.

It’s rare to strongly agree and strongly disagree with something at the same time, so I was delighted to stumble on a written piece that did exactly that. It made my “Now what the hell am I going to write about today?” process an easy one.

The following is Ms. Varon’s post supplemented with my occasional interruptions. As always, I’ll totally understand if you don’t care.

Hey Internet: Stop Trying to Inspire Me (By Jamie Varon/Medium)

I think when people are ultra-positive and have this incomparably sunny disposition toward the world, I get turned off. There’s a lot of stuff out there which attempts to make you feel inspired, but ends up leaving you feeling ashamed for being human. It would be easy for me to say:

“Everything happens for a reason!”

“Life is an adventure!”

“Love solves everything!”

“Happiness is a choice!”

These are easy words to say. Easy things to think. Easy, easy, easy. But, their meanings dry up the moment life happens.

Interruption #1

I think most reasonable people with basic reading-comprehension skills can understand and appreciate what Jamie is saying here. Anyone who has ever lost a loved one, been divorced or through a bad break-up, lost a job, was abused or neglected or mistreated, struggled with addiction, fought horrible illness, etc. totally gets it.

You feel like you die. Your entire body hurts. You think and feel things you’ve never thought or felt before. You don’t know what to believe anymore. You don’t know what’s real. Because everything you’d ever believed or “known” about yourself prior to that moment is gone. Lost. To this new, strange version of yourself. Because everything just changed.

I empathize with how Jamie might be feeling. Because when I was sobbing and broken, if someone told me to chin up, I wanted to punch them in their stupid, fucking faces. I get it.

But then she loses me.

Because it’s just as easy to say:

“Everything is meaningless.”

“Life is boring and painful.”

“People are hopeless.”

“We have no control over our feelings.”

There’s a lot of gray area in the arena of human emotion. Can we CONTROL our emotions when we just found out someone we love died? When someone intentionally hurts us in cruel ways?

Not really.

But can we, generally, take responsibility for our thoughts and feelings and work daily to take care of ourselves, to practice gratitude for the many beautiful things in our lives? (Yes, I think EVERYONE, no matter what, can feel legitimate gratitude for their lives, and I’ll accept the challenge should anyone disagree).

It all starts with “Thank you!” For food, or health, or shelter, or clothes, or friends, or hugs, or employment, or children, or pets, or opportunity, or this next breath.

If you can’t find a reason to say and feel “Thank you!” then forgive my bluntness, but you’re doing this whole being-alive thing wrong.

Jamie continues…

I have spent far too many nights feeling ashamed that I couldn’t be more positive, happier, better, stronger. I’d look at these shiny people plastered with positivity and I’d wonder where I went wrong. Why was I so affected by the world? Why didn’t every day feel like an adventure? Don’t these people have to pay bills and have uncomfortable conversations and wake up sometimes with a headache and an axe to grind? Why was I seemingly the only one so deeply affected by the human experience?

I don’t want to be inspired anymore. Inspiration is cheap. It’s easy. It’s flowery. It’s drenched in promises no one can fulfill.

I want to feel understood. I want to feel heard. I want to feel like my weird and twisty and dark thoughts and fears and feelings are not unique to me. I don’t need someone negating my experience in order to provide me with sweet words fluffy as clouds — and just as transparent. I want gritty and real and raw and I’d rather see people fucking up than trying to act as if they never do.

I’m tired of people trying to inspire me to have a better, bigger, happier life. Let me exist. Let me fumble. Let me find the patch of light in the long tunnel of darkness. Let me figure out some shit on my own. I say we need less fake inspiration in this world and more realness. Less doomsday. Less fake happiness. More real shit. Less preaching. More storytelling. Less advice. More community.

I wish people would stop trying to perfect my life. Everybody is selling the magic pill to happiness. Why do I have to be so happy all the time? CAN I LIVE?

Interruption #2

It’s hard sometimes to look over there at those people and just feel: What the hell is so great about them and so shitty about me that everything about their lives is perfect and everything about mine is so, just, uggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhh?

But we are REALLY BAD guessers, sometimes.

Remember how you felt about Tiger Woods before you found out he slept with every woman you know, or Bill Cosby before—you know—unbelievable, or that person in your personal life who did something so out of line with the story you had always told yourself about them, that everything changed once you learned the truth?

Their lives aren’t perfect, either. Those people (the authentic ones!) who want to help others. But they CHOOSE to focus on the good and not the shit. The light. Not the dark.

They ALSO feel shitty and scared and confused. But I admire them for trying to encourage people instead of ignoring them, or worse, playing the victim card and discouraging others along the way.

She said “Everybody is selling the magic pill to happiness.” And maybe some people are. But those frauds are easy enough to spot. The people who are closest to figuring it out don’t use smoke and mirrors. They don’t have to. They’ve been to the bottom and write authentically and authoritatively about it. They’re the ones worth listening to.

Jamie gets so much right, though.

I love this: “I want gritty and real and raw and I’d rather see people fucking up than trying to act as if they never do… More real shit. Less preaching. More storytelling. Less advice. More community.”

Even more importantly, she hones in on the most valuable aspect of human connection through the written word (and probably every other type of social interaction):

“I want to feel understood. I want to feel heard. I want to feel like my weird and twisty and dark thoughts and fears and feelings are not unique to me.”

Preach on, Jamie. You (yes, you) are not the only one. You are never, ever, ever, EVER the only one.

It’s so important for people to realize there are others who think and feel just like them. That they’re not freaks. The effect it has on our hearts and minds is extraordinary.

You’re not a freak. And it is TOTALLY human and normal to think and feel whatever you think and feel. It’s the culmination of every experience you’ve had right up to this moment. We shouldn’t have to apologize for that.

But to deny the power of GROWTH or the ability to positively influence our lives moving forward? To act as if whatever’s going to happen is going to happen and there’s nothing we can do about it? That we’re all just a bunch of hopeless victims of whatever comes next?

That’s just someone lying to themselves.

Like that one time they thought Bill Cosby was a great guy and the kind of role model the world needed.

Jamie continues…

I want you to know that you don’t need to fix yourself if you’re not smiling every moment of the day. Sometimes you have very little to be grateful for and that’s okay. Sometimes it’s hard to muster up the energy to be happy with what you have when you want so much more from the world and yourself. That’s okay. It’s okay to be angry and to be kind of dark and weird and not a ball of positivity every moment. Sometimes it’s okay to be bored and to think that happiness is a bit boring because it kind of is. Sometimes it’s fine to be moody and sad and contemplative and to solve problems with a glass of wine or a pizza or some good sex I don’t even know but it’s okay to just not have it all figured out, to have no answers, to just be like, what is the point of anything.

It’s okay to feel like the ground is shaking beneath your feet. It’s okay because everything is temporary. You can lose your footing one day and be on top of the world the next. Things can change in a blink. Happiness is as fleeting as anything else. These fake salespeople who act like they have the cure to being human really grind me up. All they serve to do is make you feel ashamed for not having it all figured out. They sell your aspirational experience and bake shame into it.

Just promise me that the last thing you’ll do is be ashamed of where you’re at in your experience of being a human. Nothing good comes from shame. It’s about the lowest vibrational place you could be operating from. Avoid shame and anything or anyone that causes you shame. Get it all the hell out of your energy field. Shame is not going to motivate you. It’s going to drain you.

If there’s one promise you can make for yourself, let it be this: I will not let myself be ashamed of my unique experience of being human. Forget the positive bullshit: that promise, that mantra, that state of mind is what can really change lives. A person incapable of cowering to shame is a hero — considering all the many reasons our world gives us reasons to be ashamed. To forgo the feeling of shame is an act of radical resistance. Let yourself be. To truly be. What freedom.

In Conclusion

I think the world today shames people more than any other time in history. The internet is the world’s loudest microphone and we are bombarded with You’re not good enough! messages everywhere we turn. We need to work out more, have better sex, eat healthier, make more money, be better parents, go to church more, stop believing in God, being more tolerant, holding onto our values—whatever.

No matter who you are, it’s not hard to find something to tell you how much better you could be! And if you order right now, we’ll toss in a second one absolutely free!

A person should never feel like there aren’t others out there who feel as they do.

A person should never have to look at their social media feeds and feel like everyone’s lives are so much better than theirs.

A person should never feel ASHAMED of who they naturally, organically, authentically are.

I co-sign with that and so much of what Jamie wrote in this piece. I think she was doing what so many of us do. Just saying: I hear you! I won’t judge you! You’re fine just the way you are! You’re not alone!

And I applaud it. Enthusiastically.

But there’s that other thing, too. The part I strongly disagree with: “Sometimes you have very little to be grateful for and that’s okay.”

That’s NEVER true. Not ever.

Almost every one of us woke up this morning and we could see and hear and had the use of our limbs. People love us. We have food and shelter and electricity and functioning brains and beating hearts and air to breathe.

As my favorite comedian Louis CK once said:

“This is earth, and for trillions of miles in every direction it fucking sucks, so bad, it’s so shitty that your eyes bolt out of your head, because it sucks so bad. You get to be on earth and look at shit as long as you’re not blind or whatever it is, that you get to be here, you get to eat food. You get to put bacon in your mouth. I mean, when you have bacon in your mouth, it doesn’t matter who is president or anything, you just ahh, ahhhhhh.”

We are miraculously fortunate to be here. The odds against us even existing are beyond mind-blowing.

The least-fortunate human on earth could spend the rest of their lives writing down reasons to feel grateful and never run out of things.

And every day we feel sad and miserable (that is NOT one of those fresh-wound moments where even the most-stoic person alive feels pain), is a day to seek more things to be thankful for.

Like a treasure hunt.

The treasure hunt to real happiness.

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What If You Did It This Way?

cant-buy

Maybe he thought I was being a silly liberal hippy when I said all anyone really wants is to be happy.

The conversation had gotten deep because we don’t like talking about superficial things unless sports or movie lines are involved.

We hadn’t seen each other in five years, and we were doing the same thing we always do—standing around drinking beer, having a What does it all mean? conversation peppered with laughter outbursts.

He didn’t agree with my take. We often debate things.

I’m not sure why he disagreed. He never said, and we didn’t get much further in that conversation because beer.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Am I missing something? Does something else drive us?

No. This is the thing.

No matter how you choose to philosophically slice it up, everything you do in life is a means to an end. You are pursuing something you consciously or sub-consciously believe is bringing you happiness.

Maybe you like making money. Maybe you like travelling. Maybe you like staying home with kids. Maybe you like walking your dog. Maybe you like competing in sports. Maybe you pray often and live by a very specific spiritual or religious code. Maybe you like being helpful and serving others. Maybe you enjoy movie watching. Maybe you like drugs and partying with friends. Maybe you like exercising. Maybe you like eating healthy foods. Maybe you like not doing that.

Whatever. I don’t care.

What I do care about is understanding why things happen. I want to understand what motivates me.

I want everyone to be able to answer the question: “What do you want out of life?”

And I want everyone to understand the most-correct answer to that question, regardless of our differences and the various details, is: “I want happiness.”

Happy

adjective

1. delighted, pleased, or glad, as over a particular thing:

to be happy to see a person.

2. characterized by or indicative of pleasure, contentment, or joy:

a happy mood; a happy frame of mind.

 

Some people get bent out of shape over the word “happy.” They think it’s a lightweight word and concept, because ice cream, TV shows, roller coasters and vigorous bedroom romps can make us “happy” for a while before everything that truly matters in life brings you back to your baseline state of being.

And to them I say: FINE. Let’s use the word Content. Because that’s what I REALLY mean. 

Content

 adjective

1. satisfied with what one is or has; not wanting more or anything else.

There is not one decision you will make today that can’t ultimately be traced back to your pursuit of happiness (or, if you prefer: contentment).

“But, Matt! Going to work doesn’t make me happy! I do it because I MUST!”

Wrong.

You go to work because you’ve thus far not discovered a more effective way to make money. And you want that money because you want to pay for food, clothing, shelter and fun weekend activities. You do it because it makes your parents proud and you care what they think. You do it because all your friends have jobs and you believe that’s just what people do after high school and college!

We want our parents to be proud of us. We want clothes and food and roofs over our heads. We want to have money to support our children. We want people to look at us and believe we’re successful.

We want approval.

We want status.

We want to feel good.

It’s why I do everything.

It’s why you do everything.

We Get It! What’s Your Point?

Being an adult is really hard. Every day I get a new note from someone sad or angry or broken because their marriage is in trouble, or because they can’t figure out how to get out of their own way and be the person they aspire to.

I used to think I wanted big houses and nice cars and great sex and fun beach-party buzzes.

And I do sort of want those things! I think that’s okay.

But after being gutted from the inside following my broken marriage and divorce, I learned quickly that none of that stuff matters.

The man driving the ’91 Jetta with many friends happy to see him at tonight’s party will ALWAYS be living better than the millionaire CEO driving the Bentley whose company is about to lay off 5,000 workers, while his wife sleeps with her tennis coach, and he questions all his friendships, because everyone always wants something from him.

When you’re in the throes of depression and EVERYTHING hurts, you learn the truth: Nothing is as valuable as feeling peace. It’s IMPOSSIBLE to enjoy life without it.

There are things in life that bring me joy. Real, authentic joy.

And then there are bullshit superficial things that make me feel good for 10 minutes but don’t matter after.

How good might life be if everything was about the pursuit of authenticity? Of contentment? Of happiness?

It was a good What does it all mean? conversation my friend and I were having.

The kind of conversation not enough people are having.

The thing you’re doing right now. Why are you doing it?

Something puts your soul at ease.

And another thing makes you feel like a kid again.

And that other thing over there sets your heart on fire.

Go do those things.

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The Human Experience

(Image courtesy of sacredspacevillage.org)

(Image courtesy of sacredspacevillage.org)

I want to have sex with her. But I’m also afraid she’ll think I’m no good at it and tell all her friends. Or that I’ll get performance anxiety and FML. Or that we’ll do it and it will be great, but my Catholic guilt will set in because maybe God doesn’t want me doing this and now I’m a bad person.

I want to look and feel really good and be healthy. But I’m so tired and I’ll never feel good without adequate sleep, so I’ll skip this morning’s workout. And I don’t have time to go to the store right now for fresh produce, so I’ll just order a pizza. And Easter candy tastes good. And a couple beers can’t hurt.

I want to never stress about money again and I want to maximize my personal income. But I don’t have time to budget right now. And it’s fine that I eat out all the time because I’m spending less money at the grocery store. And I can always work on that thing that might make me more money tomorrow.

There’s always an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other.

There’s always a yin and a yang.

There’s always a tradeoff or compromise that needs made.

I was an only child.

I was really good at entertaining myself. I always enjoyed books and movies and video games, and I had a great imagination and could have fun alone.

I also loved going to play with my friends. There’s nothing I enjoyed more than laughing and playing and having fun with other kids.

But sometimes, I had to compromise because I was at their house and needed to go along to get along. Sometimes, all of my friends didn’t do what I wanted to do, and maybe we had fun anyway, but maybe sometimes I didn’t because their idea might have been crappier than mine.

Sometimes friends would be at my house and it would be great, but then at some point, they were infringing on my time and space and I didn’t really mind when they left because then I could do whatever I wanted again.

Of course, at some point, I always missed them and wanted them to come back.

I got laid off from my job on Jan. 1, 2010 somewhat unexpectedly, and prior to my divorce, that was easily the most difficult thing that ever happened to me.

Not having a job when you want one is hard. You lose self-confidence. Your shame level increases. Your wife starts thinking you’re pathetic. Your friends probably do, too, but they never say so because they’re your friends.

I’ve always liked my jobs in the context of “having to go to work.” Some people have to stand in front of machines or do really hard manual labor or clean up poop and pee all day.

I’ve always been paid to write stories. Regardless, going to work is a drag when you don’t really want to. I like writing stories, but I don’t always like writing stories in this specific location at this specific time and about this specific subject. I don’t always like doing what other people tell me to do.

But then one day, I was 30 and unemployed, and it lasted 18 months and I was totally miserable, not counting the valuable time I had with my son at home.

I will NEVER take my job for granted again!, I vowed.

But four years later, I pretty much take my job for granted and wish I didn’t have to sit in a cubicle all day.

Being single again and not in constant emotional agony has been an interesting experience.

Like with pretty much everything in life, there are things about it that are good, and parts that aren’t so good.

I’m a little bit like that only child again. I have a lot of freedom to do what I want, when I want.

And that’s good! I still have a good imagination, and I’m still capable of entertaining myself.

But you get lonely, too.

And I don’t mean Boo-freaking-hoo, I’m lonely and crying on the couch. I’m not doing that. But sometimes, you’re watching a ball game or a movie or reading a book while your son is asleep upstairs at 9:15 p.m. on Friday, and you think: Hmm. Life sure would be better right now if I had someone to spend this time with.

Do I crave conversation? Yes.

Physical intimacy? Of course.

Shared experiences? Best way to build connections.

But then I wonder if maybe she is around whether I’ll secretly wish she would just go home sometimes like I did back when a friend maybe annoyed me while playing in the backyard or on my bedroom floor.

I loved my wife very much. I was a lousy husband when I declined invitations to go to bed, or ignored her in favor of online poker or 24 marathons on Netflix, or because I was more interested in Monday Night Football. But I did love the woman in the same way I feel love about my family members and close friends.

And I was still capable of making her sad and miserable by intentionally choosing to do things that I wanted to do.

We’re capable of terrible things.

It’s okay to be selfish when you’re single. I need to be unselfish for my son, of course, but in the context of adult romantic relationships, I can do whatever I want and needn’t feel the least bit guilty about it.

And I guess that’s nice.

But we’re humans and we crave connection. I don’t mean crave like I really want it!

I mean crave, like we really need it.

We all want to be a part of something. To connect mentally, emotionally, spiritually with like-minded people and groups to achieve some end.

It’s why you buy the products you do. It’s why you live in the neighborhood you live in. It’s why you work where you do. It’s why you’re involved in your various hobbies and social groups and team sports and churches and relationships.

But it’s not okay to be selfish when you’re a couple. When you’re part of something greater than yourself. I know this as well as or better than most.

What if I’m always that selfish only child who doesn’t always like to share?

Of course I crave it now.

I don’t have it.

We always want what we don’t or can’t have.

But I’ll probably have it someday.

And what then? When the shiny newness is gone? When I think a quiet Friday night with my son sleeping upstairs and a book or movie alone is sounding pretty good?

I want her.

But I’m afraid of her.

I want it.

But what if I don’t always?

I want everything that I don’t have because that’s what’s missing! and if we fill the voids then we can finally be happy!!!

I think maybe we’re all a little bit broken on the inside. And I think that brokenness keeps us constantly filling “voids” only to discover that something’s missing feeling never actually goes away.

I am selfish.

I want, want, want.

Me, me, me.

“It’s always about what Matt wants,” she often said. The truth hurts.

The common denominator in all of my life pursuits that never ultimately brought me satisfaction is that I wanted things, acquired them, and still felt dissatisfied.

The common thread was selfishness. I want more.

Over and over again. Rinse, wash, repeat. I want. I need. Give me.

And it hasn’t worked yet. Not one time in 36 years.

Hmm.

What if we tried giving?

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Faith Like a Child

Silhouette, group of happy children playing on meadow, sunset, s

Because I was an only child, I often found myself meeting and playing with new kids.

No one cared about how much money your parents made. Or what clothes you were wearing. Or the color of your skin. Or where, or if, you went to church.

You only knew you were both kids and playing is fun. So you both played.

So long as no one was mean, everyone had a good time. You just played and played and played until someone’s parents made them leave.

We all wanted to be older. To not have anyone telling us no. To have our own money to buy things. To stay up as late as we wanted. To watch big-people shows. To sit at the adult table for holiday dinners.

No one at the kids’ table understood that life was never better than it was right then.

We all grow up and wonder why we never appreciated how good we had it.

Why Are Kids So Happy?

Someone smarter than me can probably put this in more academic terms.

But it’s because the kids don’t know about all the shit, right?

Because they are less likely to have lost someone in a tragic accident. They are less likely to know heartache and betrayal. To know poor health. To care about the social implications of poverty or their skin color or sexual orientation.

They’re happy because their shit pile is so light AND their bodies are so full of energy. Almost every kid will just run and run and run and run and laugh the entire time with their friends (maybe someone they just met!) for hours and hours.

Because Play! Fun! Laugh!

Before some grouchy, sad adult drops the hammer and makes them quiet down or stop running or go home and take a bath before bed because we have very important adult things to do tomorrow!

When Do We Lose Hope?

What’s the thing that has to happen for people to do that?

What’s the series of events that turns the child who believes she’s going to fly to Mars, or be elected President, or be a professional athlete turn into a resigned 9-to-5er who believes: “This is just the way it is!”?

More importantly, is there any way to clean that whiteboard and start again? Is there any way to filter out the impurities? Is there any way to recapture the youthful spirit and energy that won’t be held down by gravity?

We get older and we get scared. We’re afraid to move because we got divorced or because we lost a job or because things didn’t turn out the way we thought they would. Because we think we’ve disappointed our parents or our friends. Because we reject grace and forgiveness because we kind of want to carry the pile of shit and guilt and fuckness as some sort of self-imposed punishment.

I deserve this.

People think and feel that. It’s almost like they want to serve the penance. They need to serve the penance.

Atonement.

People feel trapped in their lives and they think they’re ruining it for their children or their family and friends and I’ve already done enough damage! and now it’s just a bunch of self-loathing, disappointment and fear. They’re afraid to cause any more harm.

They’re afraid to take the leap.

They’re paralyzed.

The Thing About Data Samples

We’re not going to debate climate change. Like almost every subject my brain has ever encountered, I.don’t.know and I’m never going to pretend I do. You don’t either. We just have a lot of guesswork. Some of them are probably right.

Anyone interested in intentionally damaging the planet is an asshole. But let’s not pretend we have a particularly good data sample size to make our impassioned political judgments and arguments in either direction.

The planet is 4.5 billion years old.

Humans started recording temperatures in 1850. We didn’t get tropospheric readings (from weather balloons and satellites) until 1950.

Now I want you to think of the entire history of the earth as ONE YEAR. Pretend the Earth was created on Jan. 1, and today in 2015, we’ve now completed one year of the planet’s existence.

The data we have on climate so far is the equivalent of about the first full second between midnight and 12:01 a.m. on that first day. (A good mathematician can come up with a more-accurate analogy, but the point will stand.)

You want to bet everything on your what-will-happen-next prediction based on a second of data?

Even if you’re someone who doesn’t believe in an afterlife, you still believe that energy never goes away (or should because it’s indisputable).

What happens to our consciousness remains up for debate by skeptics and the faithful.

But our energy is immortal and never-ending, no matter what.

And if there’s an afterlife? All this shit and guilt and fuckness we feel here isn’t going to mean a damn thing in a little bit.

How much of our lives have we really lived to know what’s going to happen next year? Next month? Next week?

Or one minute from now?

I hear all these stories from people. Beaten up by life. And now, they’re out of options! There’s absolutely nothing that can be done to change things. This is just the way it is.

This is not just the way it is.

We age and often feel shittier but some things ARE better now. All you need is one young child or the opportunity to spend time with one to feel better about your decision-making capabilities as an adult with a functioning brain.

Two days ago, I watched my son roll around on a dirty floor at his school with a bunch of his little friends and drop two donut holes from a paper plate onto the floor. About 10 seconds later after rolling around in Kids AIDS, he picked them up and ate them. Then he walked over to a table where drinks were set out and tried to mix white grape juice with orange juice. I’m convinced my interference is the only thing that prevented total disaster, and a shitty breakfast drink from being invented.

We have good brains and we should use them.

We’ll look to the kids, not for lessons on beverage mixing, but on how to get along with people and laugh more often.

Why can’t we be more like kids?

What’s stopping us from laughing and playing more? From not evaluating peers based on how much money they have or what their skin color looks like or who they choose to hang out with?

What’s stopping us from reaching for the stars with faith like a child?

We are not who we were yesterday.

Bad things happened to us. We did bad things. And we carry all that with us like luggage strapped to our backs and now we can’t be kids anymore because of the guilt luggage.

But we can get new luggage. Empty things waiting to be filled.

Yesterday does not get to decide who I am today.

Yesterday damn sure gets no say in who I am tomorrow.

You get to wake up every day and decide how you’re going to spend your time.

About whether you’re going to do something fun or productive or helpful or good or uplifting.

About at what table you’re going to sit at holiday gatherings.

About whether you’re going to do something with your life that sets your heart on fire and changes everything.

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Finding Yourself After Divorce (and Other Trauma)

(Image by Sheilah Wilson)

(Image by Sheilah Wilson)

When you first get divorced, everything feels wrong.

Virtually every facet of your life changes overnight and your brain and body aren’t equipped to deal with it. So for a long time, you just feel different than you’ve ever felt before. Maybe some people like it. I think most people hate it.

I hated it.

One of the most-terrified feelings I ever felt was staring at my own reflection in the mirror and legitimately not knowing who I was looking at. I don’t mean like amnesia. I knew it was physically me. But I think everyone who knows anything about divorce or serious marriage problems understands that our physical realities mean just a bit less when we’re broken on the inside.

I’d just stand there, looking into my own eyes.

Who are you? Where can I find… me?

Despite not having very much money growing up (a lot of used cars and budget grocery stores and cheap clothes), I lived an incredibly charmed life for my first 30 years.

Even though my parents divorced when I was 4, and I was super sad to not see my dad often, I was totally immersed in a large, loving family; attended a great Catholic school in my small Ohio town (thanks, tuition assistance) and was blessed with many friends, a handful of which I stay in touch with today.

Anyone who measures their worth by career and finances need only go from my safe and charmed childhood, to my tormented and broken adulthood to fully understand how nearly irrelevant our paychecks really are.

For 30 years. Laughter. Fun. Safety. Innocence. Security. Hope. Comfort. Everything a person could want.

And then it all died.

I didn’t have my family anymore.

It was a slow death, and I think that might be the worst kind. I became more sad. More hardened. More hopeless.

I thought it was depression but I think that’s just a word we use to lazily describe the feeling our bodies naturally feel when it’s telling us to remove ourselves from bad situations. That’s just how our brains work after a million years of avoiding predators, James Altucher says. He’s probably right.

My brain was full of all these memories. All these ideas about my identity. Who I was versus who I am. And even though I’d built up decades of stories I knew about myself—who I perceived myself to be to others, and who I knew myself to be inside my own head, heart and soul—I couldn’t remember that guy anymore.

I felt—literally—as if I’d lost myself. And I didn’t know if I was ever going to get me back.

I think a lot of people feel this way after divorce or losing a loved one or going through some other radically life-changing trauma.

It’s really scary to feel that out of control.

To realize just how fragile the human experience can really be after you’d been insulated from its cruelness for so many years.

“When were you… you again?”

That’s what she asked. My friend who lost a child and a marriage within three years. Someone who’s trying to find herself physically and emotionally.

The question made me pause.

And then I realized just a little more truth.

You don’t just wake up one day and feel like your old self again. There’s no magic switch.

It’s a moment.

At first it’s a laugh and a smile. The kind you don’t have to force.

And then a series of moments that begin to compound.

Then maybe you drive by one of your many pain hot spots—because she’s in there, or often is, or whatever. But you don’t feel the stabbing anymore. You don’t want to cry.

Then a date. Then a kiss.

I can do this.

You make more friends. Have more fun. Make new memories.

I’m alive.

And then you can just sit still. All alone.

You can just be still.

And the silence is no longer deafening. You don’t feel like you’re going crazy. You don’t over-think.

You can just… be.

It would have been sweet relief had you been able to find that peace in the beginning, but there’s no shortcut to reclaiming your life.

There’s just… the way.

Maybe it’s weeks. Months. Years. I imagine everyone’s journey is a little different, and in some respects, never-ending.

You just collect the moments and hold them in your heart.

Smiling comes easier. Peace, more abundant.

Justifying all that hope you thought might have been in vain.

You can breathe again, but no longer have to force it.

In through the nose. And hold. Out through the mouth. In, then out. Don’t forget to breathe.

But when you’re you again, there’s nothing to remember. You’re just breathing.

Because you’re back. Resurrected.

Still here.

A glance in the mirror.

I know you.

Alive.

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The Unsung Heroes

(Image by Ashley Ma.)

(Image by Ashley Ma.)

Is there such a thing as a truly unselfish act?

I don’t know. I also don’t care.

I’ll let the psych community and people smarter than me debate the merits of selfish and unselfish behavior in society.

If a human being performs an unselfish act that helps another person, and the helper did so out of self-interest in order to feel good or be perceived as unselfish, does that somehow lessen the good thing that happened as a result of their action?

I stumbled on this video a couple days ago. Thai Life Insurance made it about nine months ago (I’m a little late to the party.) I don’t mean to intentionally advertise for this insurance firm, but if you’re interested in getting more life insurance from Bangkok, knock yourself out, I guess.

It’s a touching video. I liked it. I watched it three times.

Here it is:

I work in marketing, and I feel this accomplishes what the best ads in the world have always accomplished: It made you feel something.

But more importantly, it got me thinking again about what we’re actually living for.

What do I really want?

People chase money and career success and social connection and travel and new experiences and nice cars and big houses and many other things.

That’s what many spend their lives pursuing. Trying to acquire or achieve as many things on their “I Want This” List as possible.

People do this because they want to feel good. They want to be happy.

Out of the Clear Blue Sky

That’s the name of a documentary I watched last night.

On Sept. 11, 2001, a jet exploded when bad men flew it into the upper floors of the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York. A large financial firm that oversaw the majority of U.S. bond trading at the time, Cantor Fitzgerald, had offices on the top five floors of that building.

Nearly 700 of the company’s employees—virtually everyone who had made it into the office that morning—died from the fire, or jumping out a window, or from the tower’s eventual collapse.

The company’s CEO—Howard Lutnick—wasn’t in the office at the time of the crash because he had taken his son to his first day of kindergarten.

Lutnick had EVERYTHING. The top job at a major financial firm. He was one of the most respected and feared men on Wall Street. He had a gorgeous wife and children. And more money then you could ever want.

It would seem he achieved the very best of all these things we’re programmed to chase in our lives. The things on our “I Want This” List.

But on Sept. 11, 2001, he suddenly became responsible for trying to save a company who had just lost 80-90 percent of its workforce. He lost his brother. Dozens of friends. Hundreds of people he knew.

Some 700 families were turning to him for help.

And in that moment, his gorgeous family, and all his career achievements, and his massive bank account amounted to very little in the context of his ability to feel happy.

Howard Lutnick had everything we all want. And in an instant became the very last person any of us would want to be.

I am not Howard Lutnick. But on paper, I had what I had always been chasing. A gorgeous family. A nice home. A good job. Friends. Family.

But then adulthood delivered hardships. The kind none of us are immune from and rarely see coming.

Everything fell apart.

And then I didn’t have a family anymore.

In the aftermath of the divorce, I could not have felt worse. I had never respected feelings. Because they’re fleeting and fickle and people make a lot of bad decisions based on their feelings.

But everything changed inside me when I felt just how low and miserable and tortured a person can feel in the midst of trauma.

It wasn’t until that moment that I could understand how someone could ever take their own life. We’re always like: How!? Why!? And if you’ve never felt THAT miserable you can’t understand how or why. For some people, shutting off that pain sounds like a drink of water after days in the desert.

The World Needs Unsung Heroes

Giving just to give. Helping just to help. Loving just to love.

Without wanting or expecting or demanding anything in return, including acknowledgment or admiration.

That’s the work of an unsung hero.

No one knows but you.

The Thai Life ad says it all and it bears repeating:

“What does he get in return for doing this every day? He gets nothing. He won’t be richer. Won’t appear on TV. Still anonymous. And not a bit more famous.

“What he does receive are emotions. He witnesses happiness. Reaches a deeper understanding. Feels the love. Receives what money can’t buy. A world made more beautiful.

“And in your life? What is it that you desire most?

“Believe in Good.”

Even if it’s selfish. Simply because you want to feel better, too. Do it anyway. Because that’s why we’re here. To do heroic work. Even if it’s quiet and understated and no one ever knows about it.

The pursuit of happiness begins with giving more than we take.

And believing in good.

And then doing some.

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