Tag Archives: Pursuit of Happiness

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Doing What We Don’t Want To

kid doesn't want to

I sometimes want to punt my six-year-old when he says: “No. I’m not doing that.”

I’m a curious person. Always have been. If you’re asking me to do something, and I don’t want to do it, I want to know why I’m being forced to.

Why? Why am I doing this?

I really want reasons. Even if I think they’re bad ones, I like to understand why I’m being asked or told to do something.

Sometimes my parents or other authority figures would say: “Because I said so,” which is the biggest bullshit reason to do anything ever, said every enslaved human being in the history of the universe, and me.

I always try to give my son a reason for everything I ask of him. I’m accidentally a hypocrite sometimes, but I’m never intentionally one.

The house isn’t democratic. He gets his way the vast majority of the time because I don’t like to fight with him, but sometimes I need him to simply follow directions. He needs to learn to respect and obey the instructions of his parents, teachers, coaches, etc.

Why doesn’t he understand that all of these instructions are for his well being!?!?

I wonder how many times he has to drop food on his shirt or lap before my incessant reminders to eat over his plate or bowl will finally sink in.

He probably thinks I’m full of shit just like I thought my parents were full of shit because we all think we’re geniuses until we become adults and realize that we actually don’t know anything, never did, and that even really smart and successful people are part-time dumbasses too.

‘I Don’t Want to Go to School’

My son hasn’t said this yet. But he probably will.

Because school is sometimes stupid.

It is.

Not this early part my son is in. First grade is great. He’s really starting to figure out many things related to reading, writing and math, and I beam with pride every time I see his very capable little mind grasp a new concept or retain knowledge from a previous lesson.

But later? High school? College?

Let’s just say if you’re not doing something super-specific that requires specialty training and certification (Education, Law, Medical, Engineering, etc.) I feel like you learn very little of lasting value in school, academically.

I’m not saying EDUCATION is stupid. Education is amazing, and one of my many life regrets is not caring about learning when I was surrounded by academic resources and so many thought leaders, like I was in college.

For a guy like me? School is something you have to do in order to get a decent job. That’s it.

In fact, that’s REALLY the lesson of school: Learning how to complete projects you don’t want to complete and are not interested in by a certain deadline and to the judgement of others.

I didn’t crave knowledge when I was a student. I went to school because that’s what everyone else did! I wasn’t doing any thinking for myself back then.

Later, I craved a piece of paper that would tell hiring managers I graduated college, so they would think I was smart even though my diploma doesn’t prove my competence.

It’s more than possible I’m not giving my school years enough credit, but it really does seem as if everything valuable I’ve learned has been learned in the “real world” on subjects in which I am naturally interested.

Street smarts, if you will.

When I got divorced last year, my entire life fell apart, and I learned that falling apart emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, physically, financially is something that’s really important for human beings to not do.

But I never learned anything like that in school. I didn’t legitimately crave knowledge until after turning 30.

Because I read a lot about marketing principles, I know that if you give people reasons (even totally bogus ones!) for doing something, they are much more likely to comply with your request.

So when my son finally gets around to fighting us on going to school (hopefully he never does!) I want to be able to give him the reason why we make him go. The reason why it’s important for him to go.

What are the reasons why it’s important to go to school?

To learn how to get along with others? To follow directions? To learn a few basic things?

I’m sure a better advocate for the American education system could better answer that question. Near as I can tell, we send our children to school because we need them to be in a safe environment, and learning socialization skills and government-approved curriculum so us parents can go to work and help finance the government by earning money at a job and paying taxes.

I think they want our kids to learn enough to grow up and want to get a job so that they can help finance the government also, and have children that will also go to school and learn how to get a job they can pay taxes with.

It’s a little cynical. But it’s my most-honest answer.

I wonder how much of that I will ever say to my son. I’ll probably lie and say it’s to learn even though you really don’t learn much academically until you organically want to, and even though I never want to lie.

‘I Don’t Want to Go to Work’

I haven’t wanted to go to work dozens, maybe even hundreds of times.

But I almost always do go, even when I don’t feel like it. I have to pay for food and shelter. I have to pay for transportation. So my son and I can eat and sleep safely. So I can drive to and from my job that I need to pay for those three things.

People do things they don’t want to all the time.

We do it for our jobs.

We do it for our friends.

We do it for our children.

We do it for our spouses, partners, girlfriends/boyfriends, etc.

There’s nobility in sacrifice. In generosity. In inconvenience in the name of compromise, or serving others.

And those are important lessons I want to instill in my son. That I want to focus on when I’m muttering because I have to do something else I don’t feel like doing.

My favorite writer is James Altucher, and he writes so much about how he tries to never do things he doesn’t want to do.

It sucks? He doesn’t do it.

It makes him feel bad or uncomfortable? He doesn’t do it.

If people bring bad feelings or negativity into his life? He cuts them out.

It’s a little bit radical. But his point is easy enough to understand and get behind: Life is too short to spend most of it doing things we hate with people who make us feel bad.

Are these ideas irreconcilable?

Is it possible to live a life mostly doing things we want to with people who lift us up and make us feel good?

Or is this it?

Is the human experience always going to include inconvenience?

Living in cold, snowy places even when you don’t like the cold and snow?

Going to work in a cubicle, feeling unfulfilled, and financially limited by meager 3.7-percent raises once a year?

Always with chores and taxes and appointments and obligations we’d have no part of if real choice was involved?

I think maybe it is.

But then I think back to being a kid. Like my little man. So young still. So much to learn.

“No. I’m not doing that!”

Why doesn’t he realize it’s for his own good?

Maybe. Just maybe. There is more to life than this.

Maybe. Just maybe. We are where we’re supposed to be for reasons we can’t possibly understand right now.

Maybe. Just maybe. We’re being prepared for something greater.

Because we’re more than just water and bone.

Because we don’t have all the answers.

Because we sometimes have to do things we don’t want to.

But it’s really for our own good.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

The Missing Motivation

MotivationPeople think I’m a good person, but really I’m not.

I don’t mean that I’m bad, like I hurt people and do evil things.

I mean I’m bad, like, I’m bad at being a person. I even say that a lot which probably doesn’t help because we tend to be whatever we say and think we are.

And that right there is exactly my point. Exactly.

For the most part, I know precisely what I could be doing to make my life better.

While some people fumble through life because they’re ignorant and lack resources and support and education, I’m a different animal entirely.

I’m reasonably well-informed about many things and am a huge proponent of “best practices” in every imaginable area of life.

I’m always spouting examples while standing on soapboxes because I can talk a big game when I don’t actually have to put in any work or suffer the consequences of being wrong.

I’m always wondering why the City of Cleveland can’t take cues from Chicago as to how to properly develop lakefront property.

I’m always wondering why the American education system can’t take cues from all of the other countries with vastly superior academic (and economic) results and borrow all of the good ideas and put them into practice here.

In other words, for almost every imaginable subject, someone has taken the time to figure out a really effective way of doing something.

And it’s almost always in a book or on the internet. And if it’s not? Great! That means there’s a huge opportunity there to fill that content gap and help other people solve problems or excel in that particular niche.

Almost always in 2014, the information is there. Someone really smart has figured out a really effective way to overcome <insert random problem here> and now you can benefit from their trial-and-error and do things with better results than flying blind.

So, what’s my excuse?

The Table Analogy

I love the table analogy because it’s so easy to visualize and understand.

Your life is like a table.

Your life’s foundation has four pillars—like legs on a table. Not only do the legs need to be long enough, strong enough, and sturdy enough. But they also must all be equally balanced, or else your life is going to wobble and be shitty and annoying and you’re going to have to temporarily wedge a piece of junk under the short leg to stay level and functional.

Everything good and bad in life ultimately comes down to health. If you’re not healthy, nothing else matters. It’s a lesson you don’t learn until you’re unhealthy or are close to someone who becomes sick or injured.

Problems at work and in your relationships and with money stop mattering when you think you might die.

The four legs: 

Mental health (Read, talk, think, learn)

Physical health (Good overall health, physical fitness)

Spiritual health (Peace, gratitude, forgiveness)

Emotional health (Love yourself, balance in your meaningful relationships)

People think they want money. Love (even though many people are merely craving feelings of infatuation and lust). Success, in whatever ways they define it in their individual pursuits.

I submit that those things are nice and are inevitable byproducts of succeeding in balancing their life table.

People really just want contentment.

Happiness.

The world could be blowing up around us, and if we had enough dopamine (the chemical that makes us feel happy) rocking our brains, everything would seem great.

I know these things.

I know that if I take steps to exercise my mind. To bring my body to maximum health and peak performance. To achieve spiritual peace. And find emotional equilibrium in my various relationships.

That I will feel something akin to happiness. To peace. To contentment. To balance.

So, what am I waiting for?

The Things that Motivate Us

I think it’s different for everyone.

I cleaned and (sort of) organized my home office desk for the first time since April 2013 yesterday because I’m going to have some family visiting for the rest of the week and it was getting embarrassing.

I like to exercise my mind to have things to think about, talk about and write about.

I like to be physically fit so girls won’t think I’m ugly.

I like to be spiritually balanced because it makes me feel safer and stronger.

I like to be emotionally level because I never knew what it was like to NOT feel that way until a couple years ago, and it totally jacked me up and I haven’t been the same since.

When I was married, I did almost everything for my wife, and later, for my wife and son.

She probably doesn’t know that.

She probably doesn’t realize that almost every single thing I did for the 12-plus years we were together, was because we were together.

Sure, I did some shitty, selfish things. The kind of things I do now just because there’s no one around to convince me otherwise.

I wanted to be smart because I wanted her to be proud of me.

I wanted to look good so she would like to be seen in public together and not be disgusted in bed with me.

I wanted to be spiritually whole so that she could have a spiritual partner and anchor as we dealt with life’s ups and downs together.

I was emotionally level, naturally. It’s REALLY shocking when that goes away for the first time and you don’t know what that looks or feels like.

When your partner leaves, all that motivation—all that purpose for existing—goes away, too.

And it can really jack you up when you’re wired like me.

I talk a big game. A big game about self improvement and who I want to be and how I’m always working hard to be that guy.

But, really?

I’m not.

I’m not working hard.

I’m being lazy. I’m letting depression (if that’s what it is—I don’t feel sad, I just feel nothing) win. And then I’m sitting around asking rhetorical questions about why I still feel a bit shitty all these months later.

Surprise, asshole. It’s not magic.

It’s not.

It’s not magic.

Happiness, if that’s a word you’re comfortable using, is not a destination. So many people think that if X, Y and Z happen, then they will finally be happy. You know, the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.

I love to talk about pursuing happiness. And I do, symbolically, feel like that’s what we all should be doing. That the primary goal of our lives is to BE and FEEL happy and then help everyone around us be and feel the same.

But the truth is, happiness isn’t a place.

Happiness isn’t a destination.

Rather, happiness is a path. A state of being.

Like love, it’s something we choose. Today. Right this second.

“I’m happy.”

Maybe you don’t feel happy. I don’t. But maybe that’s because I don’t act grateful. Maybe that’s because I don’t exercise my mind and work harder to achieve my goals. Maybe that’s because I’m not in very good physical shape and it makes me feel physically and psychologically shittier than I could and should feel. Maybe that’s because I’m not living up to the spiritual ideals I profess to hold dear.

Maybe it’s because my table is totally wobbly and shitty.

Maybe if I did all those things, emotional balance would come.

And maybe if I got my life table balanced, all of the other things, like love and money would fall into place.

Maybe waiting around for something to happen is really just a life sentence of always waiting around for something to happen.

Doing what I’m doing? Not working.

So tomorrow we try something new.

But what if there is no tomorrow?

Right.

Okay.

Right now, we try something new.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

The Pursuit of Happiness, Vol. 2

People in Bhutan are happier than you. Because, there? That's always the goal. They choose it.

People in Bhutan are happier than you. Because, there? That’s always the goal. They choose it.

There is a small country in South Asia—Bhutan—where the government measures its success based on the collective happiness of its population.

The Bhutanese government has officially dubbed the measurement the Gross National Happiness Index.

Economics. Education. Health care. Crime.

These are all factors in much the same way most of the developed nations evaluate the state of things. Bhutan simply frames things differently. Bhutan’s government exists to create an environment for its citizens where they can pursue happiness. Not temporary measures to feel good. Not drugs. Not sex. Not alcohol. Not amusement parks. Not quick-hit entertainment. Not fake happy.

But, real happy. Long-term contentment.

The Gross National Happiness Index measures:

1. Psychological wellbeing

2. Health

3. Time use

4. Education

5. Cultural diversity and resilience

6. Good governance

7. Community vitality

8. Ecological diversity and resilience

9. Living standards

I didn’t know about this small country (less than one million people) with big ideas. A complete paradigm shift in the way we measure what’s really important.

Not money.

Not material things.

Not status.

Not fame.

Not “success” in the way western culture tends to superficially define it.

Just… happy.

Wisdom: A Byproduct of Experience

I’m not wise. I’m not.

But compared to my high school and college years? Yeesh. I’m like a Master Jedi now.

It never dawned on me until after my wife left and I had so much time alone to evaluate who I was and who I wanted to be.

I’ve been chasing this dream of having stuff for so long. Chasing this idea that if I just had enough money, I’d eliminate all of my problems.

And I was lying to myself. And everyone chasing the dime is lying to themselves, too.

I knew it before last night. But last night really drove home this point for me.

While most of the country was tuned into the Academy Awards, I was watching a documentary I’d found on Netflix called “Happy.”

This film taught me about Bhutan. And it reinforced something I had already heard, but didn’t believe until now.

A person with an appalling lack of income—someone without the money to have their basic needs met—can increase their happiness quotient by a lot simply by coming into a salary or a pile of money that will allow those fundamental needs to be met: Food, clothing, shelter, safety, health care, transportation, general comfort, etc.

But once your basic needs are met? There just isn’t much to be gained from increasing your financial place in the world. Not from a “happiness” standpoint.

The research data suggested that there is an enormous amount of happiness to be gained between annual earnings of $0 and $50,000. But that there was very little change between someone making $50,000 versus someone making $50 million.

I would have never believed that 10—even, five—years ago.

But I do now. I believe it strongly.

Philip Seymour Hoffman. Whitney Houston. Kurt Cobain. Junior Seau. Judy Garland. Heath Ledger.

And we can go forever.

People who had what so many of us think we want. And they were absolutely miserable. So miserable, that they felt the only choice was ending their lives or doing enough drugs to make the pain of the real world go away.

According to the film, 50 percent of an individual’s ability to be truly happy comes from their genetic makeup. I thought that seemed pretty unlucky, if true. That people are genetically predisposed to feel sad.

And I instantly counted my blessings because I believe I’m genetically predisposed to feel happy as I have most of my life. I just never appreciated it like I do now after having gone through my worst few years.

An additional 10 percent comes from all of the stuff most people spend all of their time chasing: The money and the sex and the fun and the fame and the experiences and the stuff.

Wait. What about the other 40 percent?

According to the researchers from Baylor University consulted in this particular documentary? Intentions.

Our intentions make up 40 percent of our ability to feel or actually be happy.

The filmmakers zipped around the world capturing images and interviewing people in impoverished conditions in Asia and Africa and in poor regions of the United States.

And a lot of these people were VERY happy.

I thought it was a pretty effective film, and I’m glad I watched it. It provided some data to back up what I’d already been thinking about for several months now.

This idea that I no longer am interested in chasing the large bank account and big house. I’m not going to lie and say I don’t want those things. They’re just no longer on my list of goals.

All I want in this life is to feel true happiness and contentment. And I’d like to live a life where I can help other people achieve that, too.

I don’t want to make this about feelings. I just don’t have the vocabulary to word this differently.

But what really matters besides our health and happiness?

I submit: Nothing.

How to Feel Happy

Choose it.

Deliberately be happy. That’s the choice we’re faced with. Choosing to be happy, or choosing to not be.

Bad shit will happen. It will. But when our happiness muscle is fully flexed, our ability to show resiliency and bounce back will be on full display.

The chemical compound most responsible for our feelings of happiness is a substance called dopamine. Stimulants like cocaine, amphetamine and methamphetamine amplify the effects of dopamine.

Our brain’s ability to create dopamine decreases naturally as we age. Which might explain why so many of us miss being kids. We were LITERALLY happier then.

Researchers recommend engaging in healthy activities that increase dopamine levels in our body.

It’s all the stuff you already know about:

  • Regular exercise.
  • Being spiritually connected.
  • Having active relationships with friends and family.
  • Community involvement.
  • Acts of kindness.
  • Achievement, in all its various forms.

These are the things you need to focus on if you want to feel happy.

It begins with gratitude.

It ends with living for something greater than yourself.

And being connected every step of the way.

Somebody stop me if you think I’ve got this wrong.

But what matters more than this? Big-picture faith questions, aside. What, here on Earth, matters more than achieving long-term contentment?

I’m trying very hard to take a look at my life and make better choices that can lead me to this place. This state of being where I’m not just running around chasing the next short-term good time, only to feel shitty and unfulfilled the rest of the time.

I want what these truly happy people have.

And I want that for you, too.

Smile.

Because we’re going to get there.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Why Kids Are Happier Than You

They're smiling because they know how to do something you don't.

They’re smiling because they know how to do something you don’t.

Kids are smarter than you.

When kids aren’t crapping their pants, exposing themselves in public or throwing temper tantrums because they’re not allowed to have candy five minutes before dinner, they’re smarter than you.

Not about everything.

I can run circles around my five-year-old son in academic contests.

“Hey dad! Do you know what 71+14 is!?!?”

“Yes.”

He’s always so impressed when I give him the answer even though I could have answered “93,” and he wouldn’t know the difference.

“Hey dad! Do you know how to spell ‘antelope’?”

“Totally.”

And even if I spelled “rhinoceros,” I’d probably get away with it.

He’s a sharp little dude. But he’s got a ways to go.

But I watch him.

He plays.

Smarter than me.

What’s great about this is even if you’re not a parent, you can remember doing this, too. Or you see it in restaurants and parks and shopping malls.

The kids play.

Smarter than us.

They run. They scream. They squeal. They dance. They laugh.

That’s what delight looks like.

That’s what fun looks like.

That’s what happy looks like.

And that’s precisely what all of us want.

Happy.

I Didn’t Want to Grow Up

At least, not once I got to college.

I still played.

It didn’t look quite like it did when I played with Star Wars, He-Man, and G.I. Joe action figures, turning my house into a different universe.

It didn’t look quite like it did when I spent hours mesmerized by The Legend of Zelda or Tecmo Bowl or Super Mario Bros. 3.

But I was playing. Always playing.

After dragging my feet in college, taking five years to graduate due to some career indecision and a whole bunch of partying, I was hired as a newspaper reporter at age 23 in a beach community near Tampa, Fla.

I’d been on a few trips to other places in my life, including Florida, but I was so saturated by the Midwest culture in which I grew up that I truly didn’t know it was different in other places.

When I moved to Florida, I thought it would be EXACTLY like what I had always experienced in Ohio, only it would be 85 degrees and sunny every day, while I drank beer and umbrella drinks on the beach jamming to live reggae music.

It wasn’t like that at all.

It was scary how different everything was. How far away I was from everything I knew and loved. It was time for me to grow up.

But I don’t want to grow up!

I wanted to play.

My girlfriend didn’t like that about me. It hurt her feelings, she said. And it made her question my maturity.

“We all have to grow up sometime,” she’d say.

You can’t get married and grow in maturity and have a happy and successful life if you’re partying with friends all the time!, the thinking seemed to be.

There’s no time for childishness. Not in the real world.

We need to be serious!

And responsible!

And go to work every day!

And pay our bills!

And do chores!

And take care of the lawn!

And keep the house clean!

Ehh. Maybe she’s right, I thought.

So, I stopped doing all those fun things.

I stopped playing.

And we got married.

I replaced the old games with new ones.

With poker. With movies. With music.

But the best times were still those long nights laughing with friends and having buzzed late-night sex.

I wonder if she thinks so, too.

Kids Know How to Play

But maybe you forgot.

I did.

Because I was in such a hurry to grow up. Because I was hell-bent on trying to make the woman I loved happy without ever stopping to wonder whether maybe she had it wrong.

Because how is all this growing up and being responsible working out for you?

Listen, I want you to pay your bills. I want you to go to work. And take care of yourself. And keep your house looking nice.

I’m not talking about neglecting responsibilities.

But, dammit, I AM talking about PLAYING.

Because this is bullshit. This rat-race game we’re all trying to play.

When did we all get brainwashed into believing this shit?

Who made the rule that in order to be an “adult,” you have to go work 40 hours a week in an office and tuck in your shirt and read biographies and not laugh at dick-and-fart jokes?

Because that rule is BULLSHIT.

I don’t want anything in this life but HAPPINESS for myself, my son, everyone we love, and all of the other people out there who crave happiness as well.

And I don’t think I always have to play by all these rules in order to achieve that. I’ve been playing by these rules for the better part of the past 15 years.

And what do I have to show for it?

A stack of bills, a stamped dissolution of marriage document, a part-time son and doing a bunch of things alone that I used to do with my wife.

It’s Time to Start Playing Again

We’ve gotta play.

We must.

I think this is one of the ways we’re gonna save ourselves.

Don’t you remember all the fun you used to have? And now you’re not having fun anymore. Sitting around doing “adult” things all time.

You know what? Fuck. That.

These rules are bullshit, and a bunch of us got brainwashed somewhere along the way. As if this was the only way to capture the “American Dream” or the spouse and 1.8 kids and the house in the suburbs.

I let other people make me feel guilty about the things that made me feel happy.

And now I feel shitty all the time UNLESS I’m doing all the things l love to do surrounded by people I love and who love me in return.

I’m so tired of feeling shitty.

And you must be, too. You must be. It’s so exhausting wearing that mask. Trying to play the role of mature adult and doing what you think everyone expects you to do rather than what you actually want to do.

I know what you want to do.

You want to feel happy.

Just like when we were kids. Running outside. Free. Innocent.

We squealed.

We danced.

We laughed.

We had fun.

We were happy.

Those kids are pretty smart. Yours. Mine. The ones we see lighting up the darkness.

I think I’m ready to start playing again.

Wanna play too?

A special thanks to T at “This Is Not My World” for inspiring this post.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Pursuit of Happiness

I think I know where happiness lies. I just don't think it's easy to get there. But isn't the climb worth it?

I think I know where happiness lies. I just don’t think it’s easy to get there. But isn’t the climb worth it?

People chase money.

They chase sex. Fame. Status.

They chase adventure. Education. Fitness.

People chase fun. Friendship. Spiritual peace.

In the end, people are chasing these things day in and day out because they believe achieving them will make them feel good.

We don’t really want millions of dollars. We just want to not be enslaved to debt. To never be stressed about unexpected bills. To never worry about how we’re going to pay for something. To have the means to acquire things or participate in various activities.

We want to do all those things because we believe doing so will enrich our lives.

It’s the pursuit of happiness.

Misery Loves Company

I was several hundred words into another post when a friend texted. Her marriage is on the rocks. Has been for a long time.

She had a rough weekend with her husband.

Then something happened, triggering some atypical emotional responses in her.

“It sent me into a tailspin,” she said. “I’m questioning EVERYTHING.”

I know how you feel.

It doesn’t take much, sometimes.

I told her we both suffer from the same problem.

That we’re both in phases in our lives where we’re simply waking up every day, doing what’s required of us, and trying to not die.

It’s a wholly dissatisfying way to live.

There’s little fun. There’s no peace. And happiness is a long-forgotten stranger.

A figment of my imagination, it seems. Something I remember feeling, but not what the actual experience is like.

Like a decadent dessert you tried long ago.

You don’t remember the flavor. Only that it was beautiful and that you want to taste it again.

What I Want

I texted my friend: “What do you want? Be specific.

“To me, the only thing that makes sense is to write down specifically what you want. Really specific.

“Then, only do things that get you closer to those things.

“Everything else is a colossal waste of time and energy.

“We don’t have a lot of time.”

Well, alright then, Matt. Try not to be a hypocritical douchebag for once in your life.

What do you really want?

  1. I want a partner who I love and trust. I want to share the same life philosophies. I want to share meals and laughs and drinks and friends with her. I want to have ridiculously adventurous and spirited sex that would make all of my friends jealous if they only knew. And I want to always be giving more to the relationship than I’m taking.
  2. I want to be a good father to my son. I want to set a good example for him spiritually, intellectually, financially and socially.
  3. I want to spend more time surrounded by friends and family.
  4. I want to wake up every day, write whatever I want, and make enough money to maintain whatever lifestyle I choose.
  5. I want to be at my physical peak. Because I like how I feel when I am. I like feeling wanted. I like having mountains of energy. I like being strong.
  6. I want to live a life where I help other people acquire all of the things on their What I Want lists.
  7. I want to achieve spiritual peace.

So, what do I need to be doing right now, and tomorrow morning, and the next day, and the next to achieve those things?

  1. I can’t do anything about #1. But it will come. I can concentrate on the rest.
  2. I can be a better man, I can read more, I can be more financially disciplined, and I can be a better friend.
  3. I need only reach out and make the effort to be with those I love.
  4. I don’t know that I can do much more than I’m doing. I need to read more. Get smarter. Get wiser. Practice the craft. And maybe, if the stars align, someone will decide to trade money for words. Goonies never say die.
  5. Work out. Stop being a chump. Make the effort. Every day. First a little, then a lot. I need it. Excuses are bullshit.
  6. I do try to help people. Perhaps I can do a much better job. Ask more questions. Listen thoughtfully. Then, when possible, take meaningful action to help others achieve their dreams.
  7. All I need to do is say “Thank you” every single chance I get and be good even when no one’s watching. That will be an excellent step toward being the man I want to be.

I don’t want to be rich.

I don’t want to be famous.

I don’t want to be popular.

I just want to feel, deep within me, the peace and happiness that has eluded me in adulthood.

And I believe so strongly that it can only be achieved through great effort.

That this world gives you what you put into it.

That you must ALWAYS give more than you take.

In your human relationships.

In your professional relationships.

In your spiritual relationship.

You can sit around like me. Play the victim card. Why me, God? Why?

Or you can actually do something.

Happiness isn’t hiding behind that bush over there.

It’s big and shiny and on display for the world to see.

Only it sits atop a mountain. A big one.

And the weak can’t get there. The lazy can’t capture it.

Without strength, without discipline, without resolve, without faith, without perseverance, without courage, the climb will break your spirit.

Better to just sit staring longingly at the summit?

Or to prepare for the difficult climb?

I’m tired of this shit.

The climb must begin.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Do What Matters

what-matters-most-678x278

What matters most varies from person to person.

Often it’s our children. Our family. Our friends. Our faith.

We value our pets. Our homes. Our jobs. Our money. Our cars.

We’re passionate about our hobbies and interests. Our pursuit of fun. Adventure. Pleasure.

But what really counts?

I’ve been thinking about this for a couple weeks because of two things I read.

The first was this great blog post by Seth Godin, titled What kind of media counts?

In the post, Godin writes about how actors would rather be cast in low-rated cable television shows than appear in YouTube videos that will be seen by millions.

Godin writes about famous newspaper columnists that look down at bloggers—even though there are bloggers (like Godin, himself) with significantly more readers and impact than the columnists have.

He writes about how television didn’t count when radio ruled. How cable TV didn’t count when network sitcoms were all the rage.

His point? The definition of “what counts” will always change and evolve. And we need to think about which line we want to stand in.

The second thing I read that really has my wheels turning is James Altucher’s Choose Yourself.

Altucher might come off a little radical to some people. He’s anything but conventional. But as I read him, and I read some of the more “outrageous” or unconventional things he espouses, and then think about them, my initial reaction is never: “That guy is wrong.”

I always just nod.

This guy makes so much sense, it frightens me.

I brought it up a week ago today when I was losing it and wrote about some overdue library books I had at home.

I’m beginning to question so many things about my life. About how much it makes sense for me to go to work every day so I can just have enough money to pay for my house to sleep in, and my vehicle to get me to my job.

That’s it. A cycle of senseless suck.

It BEGS the question: Does any of this make sense?

Every day is one day closer to my death. Every day I’m running out of time.

The hourglass is always spilling from top to bottom. And if I knew I only had one week, or one month, or one year, or whatever to live, how would I choose to spend that time?

What Makes Us Happy?

I always cringe a little when I write about happiness. Especially after yesterday when I labeled feelings “bullshit.” I do not want to come off hypocritical, but I hope people can appreciate the distinction between how we feel about our human relationships versus our never-ending quest as human beings to pursue happiness.

Happy is just a word. It’s a word we use to describe a feeling. And it’s the feeling we have when things are going really well in our lives, or when we feel peace, or love, or pleasure, or fun, or some combination.

Our happiness is triggered by a variety of things and it varies greatly from person to person.

I’ve been asking myself a lot lately: What makes me happy?

I don’t have a comprehensive list. But here’s a brief overview:

1. I feel happy when I’m with my son and we’re getting along.

2. I feel happy when I’m with a woman who makes me feel loved and wanted.

3. I feel happy when I’m in good physical condition.

4. I feel happy when I am spiritually balanced—when I don’t feel dark and disconnected because I’m not living the way I believe I should.

5. I feel happy when I’m connected to friends and family. When I’m physically present with them, laughing and sharing moments.

6. I feel happy when I travel, exploring new places or revisiting places I love.

7. I feel happy when I do things for other people.

8. I feel happy when people appreciate and acknowledge the work I do—both here and professionally. It feels nice to have your efforts validated.

9. I feel happy when I have financial peace.

So, here’s the question: What really counts?

How important is my house? How important is my job?

Shouldn’t I ONLY spend my time pursuing the things on this list? Isn’t everything else meaningless and wasteful?

I don’t know. But I think it might be.

I think I waste a lot of time. I think I procrastinate. I think I rob myself of the joy of feeling happy by not taking small steps that will accomplish many of the things on this list.

I think I’m running out of time. I think that life is precious. I think that I want to be so much more than I am.

I want my life to have mattered. I want my life to be substantive. I want my life to be happy.

I’m chasing it. That dream.

We all are, really.

Do you feel stuck on the hamster wheel, like me? Just running in place all the time but never really getting anywhere?

What makes you happy?

Don’t you owe it to yourself and to the people you love to pursue those things? With vigor?

Of course you do.

Think. Pray. Feel. Love.

Choose yourself. Be grateful.

Find the best-possible you. Maybe help someone else find theirs.

This is your pursuit of happiness.

It happens once in a lifetime.

So please figure out what really matters to you.

Then make it count.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Nothing is Sound

loud-silence

We were standing in the kitchen, drinking, but not yet buzzed.

There was a small party at our house, but most guests hadn’t yet arrived.

One of my favorite Switchfoot songs was playing.

“Happy is a Yuppie Word.”

Most of the time, I gravitate to music because of how it sounds. But more and more as I’ve aged, I’ve been drawn to music with lyrical meaning.

This song isn’t phenomenal musically. In fact, I don’t particularly like the chorus. But it’s lyrical perfection.

“Happy is a yuppie word? What does that even mean?” asked my buddy’s girlfriend and my wife, when they heard it playing.

They both made fun of the song. Then they made fun of me for liking it.

I didn’t bother defending it. It wasn’t the time or place.

And some people will never understand.

Back when my wife and I were still newlyweds, we were at a NASCAR speedway outside of Chicago. She had attended the Daytona 500 with me a couple times in Florida, but this was her first time at the only other track I’ve ever visited. The place where my motorsports-enthusiast father and many of his friends visit annually for three days of drinking, tailgating, laughing and watching cars drive nearly 200 miles per hour.

I’m not a huge NASCAR fan. But it’s fun to see in person. Mostly, it’s just fun gathering with loved ones and sharing laughs.

My dad looked over at my wife and I, and my stepsister and her husband who are just a couple years older than me.

“Hey there’s a band playing over by the track in a little bit. Switchfoot. You ever heard of them?” he said.

And I had. “Dare you to Move,” was huge. And a great song. I listened to it yesterday actually because that song has never been more relevant to my life than it is right now. There was also a new song “Stars.” It wasn’t amazing, but it got plenty of air time on American rock stations.

My wife and I, along with my stepsister and brother-in-law ventured over to the stage with a cooler full of beer.

I love live music.

Switchfoot, a band I knew very little about, took the stage.

I don’t often digest lyrics the first time I hear music.

But even in my half-drunken state, I knew what I was watching and listening to was something different.

Something meaningful.

Especially when I heard Jon Foreman sing “Happy is a Yuppie Word” for the first time. I’d never heard the song before.

And I’ve never been so moved by something I was hearing for the first time—especially considering I was hearing it during an extraordinarily happy time in my life with a bunch of fun-producing beer in me.

… I’m running down a life that won’t cash out

Happy is a yuppie word
Blessed is the man who’s lost it all
Happy is a yuppie word
word.

Looking for an orphanage
I’m looking for a bridge I can’t burn down
I don’t believe the emptiness
I’m looking for the kingdom coming down
Everything is meaningless
I want more than simple cash can buy
Happy is a yuppie word
Happy is a yuppie word
Happy is a yuppie word
Happy is a yuppie…

And then, surrounded by thousands of people in nearly 90-degree summer temperatures, I got a severe case of goose bumps and chills as Foreman started belting out:

Nothing is sound!
Nothing is sound!
Nothing is sound!
Nothing is sound!
Nothing is sound!
Nothing is sound!
Nothing is sound!

And I’ve been in love with the band ever since. Because they care about what I care about. Whether people get it or not.

Writing Makes Me Happy

I wrote a post titled “Clean Copy” once.

It was a typical Matt spaz-fest because I was feeling REALLY sensitive about all the typos you guys read when you’re reading this stuff via email. Because that initial email records whatever is live when I first hit Publish, with all the mistakes. I almost always find something to correct after hitting that blue button.

Traffic to the blog soared—relatively speaking—once that post was picked up and promoted by WordPress editors in Freshly Pressed.

In fact, about half of you started following this blog after reading that post.

Despite securing the URL mustbethistalltoride.com back when I first launched the blog on June 22, I hadn’t figured out how to point the servers to it because I’m a Grade-A moron when it comes to backend web stuff. But after digging around last week on WordPress and Google, I figured it out.

Despite being an internet marketing professional, I didn’t give much thought to what might happen to blog traffic after making the change.

I assumed—wrongly—that most people reading were those who had been following my story or fellow writers part of this wonderful WordPress blogging community.

But now, traffic is down 70-75 percent since dropping the .wordpress in the URL.

And at the risk of seeming vain and hypersensitive (I am certainly the latter), it has really made me sad. Because the one thing that’s not my five-year-old son that has made me happy in my life as a single adult is this.

This silly little chunk of the Internet. Because it’s mine. Because it’s me.

And people cared. Which surprised me. But I grew to love it. To need it. Because it’s the thing that has made me feel connected during the most-disconnected period of my life. It’s the thing that has made me feel the least alone during the most lonely period of my life. And because it has given me purpose after everything I was living for walked out the door on April Fool’s Day.

I didn’t set out to try and grow an audience. To try to make this into anything more than a misguided attempt at journaling.

But then it sort of became a thing all by itself. Not for everyone, certainly. Not even for a lot of people.

But for some.

People like me. People who hurt. People searching for light. For meaning. For purpose.

And the web helps us find each other.

And then I had purpose again.

To write. For me. But also for those other people. Those people on the same hunt for answers.

People who want to feel.

People who want to live for something more.

And it made me smile. And it made me feel like I mattered a little. And that motivates me to write more.

For the people who care.

But then, BAM. Traffic gets wrecked. Just, poof. Gone.

And it’s literally painful. Because a rare source of happiness is no longer providing it. In fact, it’s making me sad.

But, really? What is happiness?

It’s a Yuppie Word

It was 1991. Bob Dylan turned 50. And Rolling Stone magazine interviewed him about his life.

“Are you happy, Bob?” the interviewer asked.

“You know,” he said, “these are yuppie words—happiness and unhappiness. It’s not happiness or unhappiness. It’s either blessed or unblessed.”

Bob Dylan.

Dropping knowledge.

The lead singer and songwriter for Switchfoot wrote “Happy is a Yuppie Word,” based on that quote by Dylan.

Whenever I have heard Foreman screaming “Nothing is sound!” during my favorite part of this song, I always thought he was saying:

Nothing is okay.

Nothing is safe and sound.

Nothing is alright.

But then I heard the song on my morning commute today.

And it got to the bridge—the part I adore—and Foreman belted: “Nothing is sound! Nothing is sound! Nothing is sound!”

And for the first time in eight years of listening to this song, I questioned whether I was hearing him right.

Maybe he wasn’t saying what I thought he was.

Maybe he’s saying:

Nothing IS sound.

Silence is sound.

Emptiness is something.

Because silence can be loud.

When you’re used to the noise. The buzz. The movement. The life.

And then one day it’s just… gone.

It’s loud. The silence. It’s one of the reasons I listen to so much music now. Even more than I used to.

To replace the deafening silence. To push out negative thoughts. To feel.

Nothing is sound.

Happy doesn’t mean anything. It’s a word we associate with feeling good. A yuppie word, Bob Dylan said. And sadly, feelings are fleeting. They don’t last. It’s why so many people turn to sex and alcohol and drugs. To feel something. Something like happy. It doesn’t satisfy. So we just keep doing those things to prolong the fake happiness. Because it’s better than nothing. Right?

Maybe.

But I want more than fake happy.

I want more than simple cash can buy.

And I want that for you, too.

Which is I why I try to think, feel and pray each day. Chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

But there’s no pot of gold. We’re really just chasing an idea.

And when the weather changes again, there won’t even be a rainbow.

Because the weather always changes. Like feelings.

So maybe we shouldn’t try so hard to chase the pot of gold we know isn’t there anyway.

Maybe we should just slow down and breathe.

And maybe just try to enjoy the rainbow while it’s still here.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: