Tag Archives: Thankful

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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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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Two Parts Hydrogen, One Part Oxygen

I love water.

I love water.

Even holed up in a hospital bed for the first time since 1970, my father was still sympathetic to my not having running water for about 48 hours.

“Remember that big high-wind storm that hit a couple years ago? We lost both power and water for a few days,” he said. “When nothing is working, you realize pretty quick what you really need. And it’s not power.”

And he’s right.

While having electricity certainly eased my time “roughing it” without functioning indoor plumbing, it became abundantly clear within the first couple hours without running water just how much I use it, and just how much I had always taken it for granted.

Things you can’t do (easily) without running water

  1. Flush toilets
  2. Wash hands
  3. Take showers
  4. Flush toilets
  5. Wash clothes
  6. Brush teeth
  7. Shave
  8. Flush toilets
  9. Rinse things
  10. Cook
  11. Wash dishes
  12. Flush toilets

Not to put too fine a point on it, but there is an excessive amount of yellow snow outside in my backyard right now.

Well, Matt!!! Maybe you shouldn’t drink delicious Fat Tire ale all night while writing subpar fiction!!! On a work night, no less!!!”

“Oh yeah!? Well how else am I supposed to write my name really big in the backyard!?!?”

A nice old man in very fashionable rubber yellow wading boots from the city’s water utility department showed up at my house around 7 p.m. to help me troubleshoot.

Using the skills of a man destined to live at least three months in a survival situation, I plugged in a space heater and pointed it directly at the potable water entry point in my basement.

I opened a couple faucets and sat down at the computer.

Around 10 p.m., it happened. The beautiful sound of running water.

I bound down the basement stairs to see whether I had a burst pipe. Nope.

And then, aided by pints of beer, I joyously yelled: “WATER!!!” And did one of these little numbers:

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I took a photo of one of my faucets running and texted it to a few people.

I love my iPhone.

I love working at the computer.

I love light bulbs and high-definition television and cold beer.

But after filling up my toilets and backyard with unflushed pee. After looking at a couple gross dishes in the sink. After cleaning myself, washing my hair, shaving and brushing my teeth with bottled water the previous two mornings, I realized just how much I love access to sanitary water.

Washing hands. Flushing toilets. Hot showers.

Like tiny little miracles we don’t realize are miracles.

The Thing About Water 

I was in Washington DC attending a technical conference on plastic pipe manufacturing about five years ago. Standing outside in the courtyard of the Omni Shoreham Hotel one evening, surrounded by dozens of mingling people, I found myself face-to-face with Jean-Michel Cousteau—the eldest son of famed ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Jean-Michel looks a little bit like The Most-Interesting Man in the World. And as a filmmaker, explorer, and son of Jacques Cousteau, I do imagine his life has been incredibly interesting. So, the shoe fits.

I don't always pee outside in the snow. But when I do, I write my name.

I don’t always pee outside in the snow. But when I do, I write my name.

I don't always have dads. But when I do, they're total badasses like Jacques Cousteau.

I don’t always have dads. But when I do, they’re total badasses like Jacques Cousteau.

I identified myself as a reporter but assured him I wouldn’t be quoting him as I didn’t have a notebook handy and I was already several drinks into finding my inner-awesome.

But there was no amount of drinking that could ever erase the key takeaways from my—I don’t know—maybe 15-minute conversation with Jean-Michel.

The man had been EVERYWHERE on the planet. He had seen it all. Done everything on every person’s collective bucket list.

And in the end, the thing he was most passionate about was helping people living in impoverished conditions gain access to sanitary water.

Every day, 1,600 children DIE because they got sick from contaminated water OR because they had no access to clean water.

That’s more than one child dying every minute.

It took my breath away, trying to process the gravity of that.

All because they can’t turn a faucet two inches and get water like I’ve been able to all but two days of my entire life.

If you don’t have water, everyone gets sick and dies. You can’t grow food. You can’t wash stuff. And you send the wives and daughters to go fetch some every day. Young girls drop out of school because they don’t have time to fetch water AND learn. Literacy rates drop. Communities and economies suffer because people are sick AND uneducated.

An endless cycle of horribleness.

Not because of drugs. Not because of violence. Not because of crime of any kind.

Just because they can’t access clean water.

Groundwater is in most places. Even in Africa and India where this water problem is particularly troubling. Depending on geologic conditions, the water can be reached by digging as shallow as 50 feet. Sometimes, you must dig hundreds of feet to procure sustainable, clean water. Regardless of the depth, we have the technology to get there. More and more people are joining the cause all the time.

Jean-Michel could rattle off statistic after statistic about how much better the world could be if all people had access to clean drinking water. Not even five faucet choices like I have. Just a place nearby where they can get water.

He was slated to be the conference’s keynote speaker the following morning.

And he did a magnificent job making the case for people to care about this.

I’m so guilty of being self-centered. Thinking about my own problems. Feeling sorry for myself because I don’t have as much of this or that as I sometimes wish I did.

I’m so glad I didn’t have water for a couple days. I’m so glad I couldn’t flush toilets. I’m so glad I had to drink a bunch of beer and pee-write my name in the snow.

Because I want to be mindful of just how ridiculously blessed my life is. All the time. Every second.

You’re reading this on the internet right now. Which means your life is ridiculously blessed, too.

Smile.

You’re so blessed.

Just like me.

An Ode to Water as Told by a Third Grader With an Excellent Vocabulary

(Because I often act like a third grader.)

Indoor plumbing! Running water! You were so dearly missed.

It is so great to have you back. I can finally take a piss.

The crappy weather’s ending. For at least a little bit.

Fat Tire Amber Ale is perfect for getting lit.

I was drinking lots of beer. And not washing my pans.

And not washing my clothes. And not washing my hands.

The bottled-water bathing was better than nothing.

And the pee inside my unflushed toilet made a lovely ring.

Don’t mind the yellow snow. Sometimes I can be thick.

A not-so-nice John Hancock I was writing with my…

Dickens, I am not. Nor will I ever be.

A poem about indoor plumbing. Beer. And lots of pee.

Who is this master poet? How ever will we know?

A visit to Ohio? To read the yellow snow?

It’s just an ode to water. The toilets are now swirled.

Hydrogen. Oxygen. The Most Interesting Man in the World.

Yep.

Yep.

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