Tag Archives: Poverty

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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Want to Make Magic?

How-the-Grinch-Stole-Christmas-christmas-movies-17366574-1067-800

She’s a mom.

A mom with four kids and a husband doing the best he can to provide for all of them.

She’s a sister.

A sister who lost her 28-year-old brother in an accident last year.

She’s an aunt.

An aunt now raising her 2 ½-year old nephew—a little boy who will never know his father.

The kids don’t ask for much, their mom says. All they wanted last year was a Christmas tree in their living room. But it was impossible. Things were too tight, financially.

This year, the children are asking for a tree for the holidays again. But things are still tight.

Five little kids. Three girls. Two boys. The oldest child is 9.

All of them looking at a second straight year.

No tree.

No Santa.

No Christmas.

Can I help?

We Are Not Assholes

In December 2011, a blogger who authored Martinis or Diaper Genies? was getting trolled by commenters put off by however much money they though she had. She retorted by writing a sarcastic post that encouraged everyone to leave their financial status details in the comments. Many people left joking comments, playing along.

But one didn’t.

A woman named Catherine wrote about how she and her husband were both laid off. About fears regarding how they would pay their bills. About their young child who was unlikely to have gifts to open Christmas morning.

A small movement was born. WANA. An acronym for We Are Not Assholes. The writer’s family helped Catherine’s family that Christmas and turned WANA into a tool for people to help needy families during the holidays.

She is a mother of two.

A mother who recently had to quit her job, because…

She’s also an aunt.

An aunt to her sister’s three children who she is now caring for, too.

“My husband works, but that just gets us by,” she said. “I would like to make all five kids’ Christmas magical, but it’s not looking that way.”

Can I help?

Hope for the Holidays

Fellow blogger Rachel, author of 2crazylittleboys, tried to resurrect WANA for the 2014 holiday season but was unable to track down its founder. Instead, Rachel launched her own WANA-like campaign, which she is calling Hope for the Holidays.

The mission: To put people who need help in touch with people who want to help.

It’s that simple.

What to do if you need help:

1. Visit this post at Rachel’s blog 2crazylittleboys.

2. Tell your story in the comments.

How to help families:

1. Visit this post at Rachel’s blog 2crazylittleboys.

2. Read stories about real people in need of real help. If it sets your heart on fire, make the connection and help in whatever way you’re comfortable.

How to help the cause:

1. Share this post from Rachel’s blog 2crazylittleboys on Facebook or Twitter.

2. Connect with Rachel and help spread the word by writing about her efforts to make a difference.

She is a mother of five.

Three boys. Two girls.

Her 8-year-old daughter has a chronic medical condition. She has been to the hospital 27 times in 2014.

The child’s health is improving. The financial health of the family is not.

Can I help?

If I could magically ask every single person in the United States for a penny and explain why I was doing so, I bet everyone would give me one (I would just steal them from little babies who didn’t understand my question because I’m bigger and stronger).

I bet some people would give much more than a simple penny.

If everyone in the United States (about 323 million people) gave me one penny to help people buy gifts for needy children, I would have $3.2 million, which buys a lot of books and toys.

I like to think about things like that, because sometimes people think they can’t help because they only have $5 or $10 to give.

That’s enough.

I want to give more than I take in all things. Because I think if every person does that, then everyone will always have enough and feel good and life will be magical.

Not everyone will give more than they take.

Not everyone CAN give more than they take.

But maybe I can.

Maybe you can.

I watched my son sleeping last night. His little face looking so handsome and innocent. A face free from the worries and stresses life sometimes throws our way.

My heart breaks almost every time he cries. This child who has all of his needs met and MOST of his wants.

I don’t have to look into the faces of children who do not have their needs met.

But I know they’re real.

And I can’t make them all smile. I can’t make their lives easy and beautiful.

But I can help a child or two smile on one very special morning.

I can help a parent or two avoid the misery of feeling like they failed their children when they spend every day giving all they have to give.

Joy. Because of unexpected treasures to unwrap.

Gratitude. Because we always appreciate blessings more when we don’t expect them.

Magic. Because that’s precisely what we manufacture when our hearts are on fire.

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How to Not Choose Yourself

James Altucher is my hero and I love him more than anyone I've never met. The author of the HuffPo piece I read today would benefit from Altucher's wisdom.

James Altucher is my hero and I love him more than anyone I’ve never met. The author of the HuffPo piece I read today would benefit from Altucher’s wisdom.

It’s so easy to feel sorry for yourself.

I do it all the time.

Because I lost my wife. Because my son’s gone a lot and I really miss him. Because I don’t have as much money as I used to. Because I have expensive bills and repairs. Because my home needs more than I can give. Because I never meet single women, and when I do, there’s always a glitch.

We can all do it if we want.

We can point fingers at circumstances. Bad luck!

Other people. Unfair!

And we can never, ever, look in the mirror and ask the really difficult questions. The ones that make us squirm. The ones that make us want to run and hide and never see our reflections again.

What choices have I made that led me here?

What choices can I make today to improve my life?

Your reflection should have his/her eyes narrowed. Studying you. Judging you.

You should always love and respect yourself. But you should also hold yourself to higher standards than everyone else does. And when you fail to meet those standards, it seems worth evaluating what you can do differently to change that.

“I’m a Member of the American ‘Used-to-Haves’”

That was the headline of a Huffington Post piece one of my friends sent me this morning.

And when I first started reading, I just kept nodding. Yes. Yes, that’s me! Yes, that’s me too!!!

But then, the writer started pointing fingers in every direction but the right one.

And that’s where she lost me.

Because she used to have money. And dine out. And take vacations.

And now she doesn’t anymore.

It’s Corporate America’s fault.

It’s the politicians in Washington DC’s fault.

It made me sad to see someone who appears to believe deep within her heart and soul that she’s doomed to a life of poverty despite her education and previous success in the professional world. That there’s no future but a bleak one of living off government aid until she dies one day, sad and alone.

I’m not trying to pick on Kathleen Ann, the author of the HuffPo piece.

She is a human being with a story. A story with a bunch of details and context to which I’m not privy.

But she’s well-educated. And indicated she used to earn $100 per hour, which is a metric shit ton more than I make. So, I’m defaulting to the position of believing she is INFINITELY more capable of choosing herself than she displays in her woe-is-me piece.

Let’s dive in.

“I used to have a house. I used to go on vacations. I used to shop at department stores, get my hair done and even enjoy pedicures. Now, I don’t. I’m a member of the American “Used-to-Haves.”

Now, I’m renting an apartment and I’m desperately awaiting a check so I can pay the rent. Yet, I’m lucky to have an apartment that includes utilities. Despite my college degree from a prestigious college, and solid employment track record, I can’t get a job. It’s been so long since my corporate days, I now feel unemployable.

My age doesn’t help. But I’m as healthy as a thoroughbred, I appear quite young and would gladly accept a basic salary. I’m a bargain! But no. I’m freelancing for $15 an hour these days, but I used to earn $100 an hour. In fact, all the freelance hourly rates have been driven down to $15-30 an hour. To make ends meet, I also work as an aide ($13.75 an hour) and run a small local company. And my annual earnings are under $20,000.

On “I’m a member of the American ‘Used-to-Haves.’”

I understand what she means. The middle class has gotten squeezed HARD. And it’s painful. My life is not subsidized in any way. I pay for everything myself. And I sometimes feel like people who work less have a better life than I do. I am responsible for my choices. But I do believe that, fundamentally, hard work should be rewarded. In my experience so far, that hasn’t really been the case, financially.

On “I can’t get a job.”

I want the author to define “job.” Because she said she will “gladly accept a basic salary.” And we don’t have any context here for what that means. What is a basic salary? $40,000 annually? $70,000 annually? Is she willing to relocate? Or no? Regardless of the answers to those questions, who is responsible for the outcome of those choices? You? Me? The government? Businesses? I submit only one person is.

On “all the freelance hourly rates have been driven down to $15-30 an hour.”

Nonsense. Charge whatever you want. Choose yourself. I charge $60 an hour for my freelance work. And people pay it, or they don’t. They either think my work is worth it, or they don’t.

The market has never, and will never, dictate what my time is worth. If someone is unwilling to pay me an amount in which I can afford to do the job, I decline the work. The author can make that same choice.

On “my annual earnings are under $20,000.”

She works three jobs, she said.

1. She writes freelance.

2. She works as an aide for $13.75 per hour.

3. She runs a small local company.

I don’t know what any of that means. But I know that if you work full time at a fast-food restaurant for $9 per hour, you earn $18,720 per year, which is pretty much what the author said she earns working THREE jobs.

CHOOSE YOURSELF.

“I’m lucky to be in Massachusetts, where my health care is paid for, and fortunate to be of sound health and mind. But on days when I feel hopeless, I can envision myself 20 years from now, living in hardscrabble poverty.”

On “where my health care is paid for.”

The author doesn’t pay health care expenses. I pay $400 per month to cover my son and I, and that’s with the VERY generous more-than-half contributions of my employer. Maybe that doesn’t sound like very much to you. $400 per month for something I almost never use but MUST have is a lot to me.

And it decreases my sympathy for the plight of the author who recalls making more than $100 per hour at her last full-time job.

“Watching John Boehner and the Republican Congress during the past few years has been a stunning confirmation of their seeming disregard for the “Used-to-Haves.” As they pull down salaries of $174,000 a year, unparalleled benefits and the option of voting themselves a raise, their selfishness is unrivaled as they barricade health care reform, knowingly shut down the government, cut SNAP benefits and eliminate extended unemployment payments.

Congress doesn’t have the stones to call up their lobbyist buddies and corporate honchos and insist they hire more unemployed Americans for the American companies they celebrate and boast about.

The press calls it “The Great Recession.” It actually was the “Great Theft.” In the wake of this very public, often-glossed-over theft from the middle class, the perpetrators have been revealed. We know the American corporations without the courage, scruples or heart to help us, the ones responsible for the recession and the politicians who put the toxic policies in place. We “Used-to-Haves” aren’t stupid.”

On “John Boehner and the Republican Congress.”

And that’s when she lost me. Grinding a political axe.

Let’s get one thing straight: If you’re a politician in Washington DC, regardless of political party, you’re a greedy, egotistical, power-hungry maniac who ALWAYS puts your own needs ahead of your constituents. And I’d even be okay with that if you weren’t so smarmy and dishonest about it. It’s beyond corrupt, what happens at the highest levels of our government.

But choosing sides? As if one is good and the other is evil? That’s laughable.

They’re all assholes. Each and every one of them. And if they cared about you and me, they would—at minimum—put partisan politics aside to AT LEAST fix all the apolitical things that ail our nation and world. But they won’t even do that. It’s all about reelection and campaign contributions. If they worked together, they would be forced to not say ugly things about one another all the time. Without all the lies, no one could ever get elected!

Blaming politicians is too easy. All the Sean Hannity fans can hang on his every word and hate all the people who love Bill Maher and hang on his every word. Knock yourselves out.

Respect one another. Be pragmatic. Work together. Serve something greater than yourselves.

Do that? And I’ll vote for you no matter which side of the aisle you stand on.

“As a “Used-to-Have,” I’m beyond angry. I’m not a “Never Had.” I know what it’s like to pay bills on time and have a little left over. I remember vacations and pedicures and going out to dinner. As a “Used-to-Have,” I know exactly what Corporate America, lobbyists and politicians have taken away from me. The “Used-to-Haves” and the children of the “Used-to-Haves” won’t forget. The “Used-to-Haves” are educated. Many of us and our children have amazing talent and academic honors. We know how to get things done. And though all of the odds appear to be against us, we must refuse to give up hope.”

This was the end.

And I got a little upset about it. So I wrote my friend back expressing my disappointment in the author’s unwillingness to accept responsibility for any of her current life circumstances.

This girl is A LOT like me, my friend. I joke that she’s the Girl Me. Because we think similarly about many things.

While our big-picture philosophies align closely, we sometimes diverge on the details.

“This is just an example of what ails the human race. Finger pointing,” I said. “It’s less about politics and more about self-empowerment.”

I wrote that the author of this HuffPo piece REALLY needs to read my favorite writer James Altucher’s most-recent book “Choose Yourself.”

She is frustrated like so many of us with struggling to make ends meet despite being college educated and having a relatively good job in the professional world. She recently started working part-time to supplement her income.

She replied.

“While I agree with lifting up and self-empowerment, I am also beginning to realize that not everyone can make everything they want to happen come true here in America anymore.

“Not everyone can have a successful business. It’s a fact. You can work your balls off and still lose. And that goes for a lot of different industries.

“There is no guarantee.

“You know I am the first person to dream big and believe in making shit happen. However, I’m starting to realize it sometimes isn’t in the cards.

“Will that stop me from trying? Probably not, in a lot of cases. But is it true? Probably.”

I liked my response. And the sheer power of the truth in these words prompted me to write this post today.

“Of course,” I said. “It’s all a risk. Most successful people fail and fail and fail and fail and fail and fail and fail at first.

“Remember the line about Edison’s trials in creating a functioning light bulb?

’Mr. Edison, how did it feel to fail a thousand times?’

“I didn’t fail a thousand times,” Edison said. “I have simply found 999 ways how not to create a light bulb.”

Fortitude.

We have no chance in this life if we believe other people get to decide who we are and who we can be.

We have no chance if we spend our lives waiting for someone else to give us a shot.

We have no chance if we sit around waiting to be granted permission.

Choosing yourself means you don’t need permission.

Choosing yourself means you manufacture your own opportunities.

Choosing yourself means you—and ONLY you—get to decide who you’re going to be today, no matter how many times you’ve fallen, how many mistakes you’ve made, and how great the odds against you might seem.

Choose yourself.

That’s where hope and opportunity live.

And you deserve it.

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How to Feel Grateful

Pi lost everything. Everything except hope. And he learned how to feel gratitude, even love, for his greatest obstacle.

Pi lost everything. Everything except hope. And he learned how to feel gratitude, even love, for what he feared the most.

I just watched Life of Pi.

Reading the book was on my to-do list. But I just never got around to it. I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone interested in it, so if you haven’t read the book or watched the movie, you should go read this really fantastic blog about homeless people instead.

In Life of Pi, the protagonist loses everything.

His country. His home. His girlfriend. His family. Human companionship.

Then, he loses basic needs. Shelter. Food and water. Safety.

My favorite line in the film was: “Hunger can change everything you thought you knew about yourself.”

I don’t think we spend enough time thinking about stuff like this.

We wake up and go to work and eat food and do random activities we may or may not actually enjoy, then go to bed. Then we do it all over again the next day.

We complain about our bills. I’m still whining about those stupid couches in the living room.

We fret over the loss of our creature comforts. This actually happened: When someone asked me why I still have the iPhone 4S and never upgraded to the iPhone 5, I talked about how much I enjoy having a bunch of phone-charger cords, and how I put off upgrading to avoid “only” having one or two phone-charger cords rather than the five or six I have now. I have issues.

We whine because our good stuff isn’t good enough. I had a conversation last night with two other guys over beers about how our high-definition widescreen televisions weren’t nice enough. How we needed bigger and better ones.

People are sick. Dying. Addicted. Starving. Abused. Raped. Murdered. Wrongly accused. Impoverished. Abandoned. Homeless.

Sometimes people are several of those horrible things at the same time.

And I was drinking a $6 beer and bitching about a 53-inch HDTV I wish was nicer.

We can all use a little perspective once in a while.

Me, more than most.

We must choose to be grateful. Actively. To feel it.

We need to remind ourselves due to our natural tendency to take things and people for granted. It is one of the pitfalls of the human experience.

Ten Miracles

My favorite writer is a guy named James Altucher.

I don’t know that I think he’s the best writer. Probably not. But he’s my favorite. Because he’s the guy who taught me to be honest when I write. So honest that I’m sometimes afraid to hit “Publish.”

He claims to write down at least 10 miracles every day. The miracles aren’t necessarily Holy-Jesus-Did-You-Just-See-That!? miracles.

A few of his examples:

“At 5 a.m. this morning, I walked outside and watched the river, gray and beautiful under a rising sun. Then I saw a skunk looking at me. It was strikingly beautiful as well. Then I ran.”

“My two daughters are too young to fight in any war in Syria. They can’t even operate drones. I hope they always stay that young.”

“While I was driving and not killing anyone, a satellite from outer space beamed the song “Heart of Glass” directly into my car. This made me very happy. Finally outer space is useful.”

I don’t know if I have the time, discipline or inclination to write down 10 miracles every day like Mr. Altucher. But as an exercise in strengthening my gratitude muscle? It seems like a worthwhile endeavor.

It’s about 5 p.m. I haven’t even left my house yet today. (Bad decision!) But here are 10 miracles at work today.

  1. My heart is beating. I didn’t do anything. I didn’t plug it in. Or use a battery. But there it is. Delivering life to the rest of me. Providing the opportunity to breathe the fresh, cool air and admire the perfect blue sky and think and eat and watch a movie.
  2. I don’t feel lonely.
  3. I was invited to a party tonight.
  4. I thought about a girl today who isn’t my ex-wife. Someone I’d like to go out with.
  5. I get to feel excited about little stuff like watching football again.
  6. A bunch of little things that make writing this possible. Electricity. My computer. Wireless Internet access. The use of my hands and fingers.
  7. I don’t feel angry about my marriage failing.
  8. Life of Pi entertained AND enlightened me.
  9. I can survive several weeks on the food in my house. I won’t go hungry. And when the supply dwindles, I can afford to go to a grocery store and buy more food. What a blessing.
  10. I have you. I don’t know how many of you there are. Doesn’t matter. I have a reader. I am unbelievably grateful for you. You have no idea. It’s a miracle. You’re a miracle.

Find a reason to tell someone who matters that you’re grateful for them today.

You’ll feel good.

They’ll feel good.

And you both deserve it.

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