Friday, August 19, 2022

Seeking approval


We crave the approval of others. This seems to be part of the human condition. Everyone wants to be liked. And what better signs of approval are there than applause, or trophies, or certificates? We finish our performance and glow as the crowd claps their hands. We adorn our shelves with our hard won trophies, and decorate our walls with certificates that prove our worthiness. All symbols of approval.

But after the crowd leaves the auditorium, their applause is nothing but a memory - an echo lost in time. Our certificates fade in the sun, slowly degrading to nothing. And our trophies tarnish as the universe inevitably moves towards maximum entropy.

What does this tell us? Should we not seek the approval of others? Not at all. We need social relationships, and approval is better than disapproval or mere disinterest. But we should put things in perspective. We should be the best person we can be regardless of awards or applause. Those things do not last, and a life pursuing them for their own sake will never bring contentedness. After all, there's always another certificate to be hung on the wall. But how many are required for fulfillment? How many will make us truly happy? Do they really matter?

Perhaps we should remind ourselves that happiness can be found in our actions rather than the pieces of paper people give us.

Friday, August 5, 2022

Buying Happiness


We spend so much time focusing on material possessions. We constantly check our bank balance. We visit the mall and online shopping stores, carefully scrutinizing products, searching for something... anything that will bring some fulfillment and help fill the void in our lives. But how often do we find that after the initial thrill of the purchase, after that dopamine hit has worn off, the product loses its luster?
 


Perhaps the product itself was not what we were actually looking for.

What, then, are we really searching for? Not pieces of plastic. Not pieces of fabric. Not little screens full of icons. These things, in and of themselves, seem hollow. It seems that the thing we really want can't be found in a store. But what is this thing we seek? When we ask ourselves why we buy products, our answer usually refers to "happiness". And, of course, happiness itself is not for sale, so that's why we think we should buy other things to get it. 

But does happiness actually come from these things? Or does it come from somewhere else? If it doesn't come from the products we purchase, it is no surprise that we are constantly seeking more product. We're never getting what we truly want.

Of course, we do need food, drink, and shelter. These things sustain us and put us in a position to seek happiness. And they can be bought at the store. But because happiness itself can't be bought, and because it doesn't come from the products we buy, we need to find it somewhere other than the store. But where?

Take a walk in the park or sit in the sun. Maybe go out one night and gaze at the starry sky. Take time; relax; contemplate. You may accidentally find that you no longer need to search the store for this elusive thing we call "happiness".

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Bad luck


We all have bad luck. Sometimes it seems that poor fortune is constantly with us, and that all our worse-case scenarios are playing out. We may think that things couldn't get much worse.

In these situations it can be wise to pause, and remind ourselves that things can always be worse. And although it seems that things may never go our way again, there is no natural law dictating that our fortune will not change. The universe has nothing against us. It just is as it is. Indifferent.

So, we must be patient and focus on the things we can affect in our lives. We may then find that our run of poor bad luck comes to an end. 

Friday, July 1, 2022

The most important thing in life


What's the most important thing in life? Is it the completion of data analysis for your work? Is it your next business presentation? Is it your next pay increase? We may deem these things important while at the same time we have other things waiting for our attention. Our friends. Our our spouses. Our children.

Our lives are busy. We rush from task to task, trying desperately to get ahead and be successful. But in our day-to-day struggles, we seldom take the time to question what real success actually looks like.

Life is short, and therefore we need to prioritize the important things. But how do we know what is truly important? We may, perhaps, be guided by imagining how we would like to be remembered after our passing. Ask yourself, do I want to be remembered for my ability to get data analyses completed on time? Do I want to be remembered for my accurate business presentations, which lead to significant pay increases? Or would I prefer to be remembered for my dedication to my children? That I always found time to spend with them. That I was able to help them through the challenges of youth. And that they loved and cherished me as much as I did them. Answering these questions can serve as a useful guide.

As we move through life, we should therefore take time out to imagine our future eulogy. Doing so can be helpful in putting our struggles in perspective and determining what is the most important thing in life.

[Photo by Olivia Silby 2022]

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

It could be worse


Our day-to-day challenges are sometimes overwhelming. As we realize we are losing control of the situation, we throw our hands up and cry, "why me?" This may be a time to pause, remove ourselves, and reflect on what is really going on. Is the situation truly as bad as it seems? Or are we catastrophizing and making it worse in our own minds? Often problems resolve themselves and are quickly forgotten, with or without our panic.

It can be helpful to consider the challenges other people have faced. Challenges which didn't turn out so well. We might ask ourselves how the captain of the Titanic felt when he came to the realization that he had lost control of the situation. Few of us will ever face that sort of challenge. Perhaps we should keep this image in mind when things get chaotic in our own lives. The image of that sinking ship helps us maintain perspective. From there we can approach our own problems with a different frame of mind - an understanding that things could have been much worse.

[Image credit: Public Domain, National Maritime Museum]

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Be Virtuous


Good and bad can happen any day. We may win the lottery. We might be involved in a car accident. We could land our dream job. Our co-workers might gossip behind our back. Positive and negative events all require the same thing. They require us to act admirably and with virtue.

But what are the virtues? There are four Stoic virtues, which originated with Socrates: Courage; Temperance; Justice; Wisdom.

Virtues are practical. They are things we can use to guide our daily actions. When faced with events, we must choose our response. Will I act bravely or cowardly? Will I be selfless or selfish? Will I be just or unjust? Will I be wise or foolish? Asking ourselves these questions can guide us to act well in response to the good and bad events that we encounter every day.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Fear of the future


Many of our fears and anxieties exist in the imagination. We ruminate over future events that may never come to be. I might be late to work. Inflation might increase my mortgage rate. That small bump might be cancer. We don't know that these events will become reality, but in obsessing over them we limit the joy we find in the present moment.

Should we then ignore the future and focus only on the here and now? This is a tempting solution, but it may leave us unprepared for life's challenges. Perhaps a better solution is to underscore the word "might". There are many possible futures. Some become reality, but most do not. We should prepare for possible futures objectively. If we rehearse these events by somehow removing ourselves, then we can prepare without torturing ourselves with anxiety. Play out future scenarios in the mind as if they are happening to someone else. Doing this requires no fear or suffering.

We know bad things happen. So, we should not be surprised when things go wrong. Preparation can help us deal with bad luck when it occurs. The trick is to avoid fearing things that may never happen.


Saturday, May 14, 2022

Be your own best advisor


Bad things happen. And short-term problems can seem the most tragic. We catastrophize. I lost all my work when the computer crashed; my car won't start, so I'll never make it to my appointment; spilling that sauce ruined my only decent shirt. Why me? Life is so unfair. 

But when these things happen to other people, we have a different response. Our detachment helps put problems into perspective. We calmly remind our friend that the computer auto-saves; that a bus drives past every 10 minutes; that they have many other shirts. There are very few problems with no solution.

Perhaps it is part of the human condition to judge events more severely when they happen to ourselves rather than to other people. That's why it helps to practice detachment. We should try to remember how we respond when bad events happen to someone else. When you're faced with a difficult event, detach yourself. Imagine that it has happened to your friend. Then, give yourself the advice you would offer that friend. Be calm, and help yourself to put things into perspective. Be your own best advisor.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Fortune is of your own making


Fortuna was the name given to the goddess of fortune. She was depicted as holding a tiller with which she could shift our luck from left to right - from good to bad. This image is useful. It reminds us that many events are beyond our control. We may think our good fortune is of our own making, but the truth is, it often sits well beyond our sphere of influence.

Sometimes it may seem that Fortuna is on our side; working with us to provide everything we need. We secure a good job. We start a romantic relationship. We win the lottery. Things couldn't be better. But then she shifts her rudder, and luck abandons us. We cry out in frustration, "why don't good things happen to me anymore?"

But isn't this a silly question? Whether controlled by the whims of Fortuna or the result of countless other random events, our day-to-day experiences can't always be favorable. Sometimes a more suitable person gets the job. Sometimes people decide to break-up. Sometimes we don't win the lottery. This should be of no surprise.

Still, we can make our own fortune by shifting our focus. Instead of ruminating over events that are beyond our control, we should instead tend to our own good character. Fortuna does whatever she wants. Forget her. Make yourself into the best person you can be. Act honorably and with good intentions. Treat other people well, and you will find that you are more fortunate than ever.

Friday, April 22, 2022

All things end


As summer ends, the colors change and we find ourselves in autumn, awaiting the arrival of winter. The days get shorter, colder, and darker. We feel a sense of loss. If only summer could last forever. Winter is so dreary.

But winter can be a beautiful season. Snow transforms the world, revealing new shapes and colors. We use the term 'winter wonderland' with good reason. Rain can also reveal winter's beauty. Watching the wild weather from a warm, well-lit house gives a cozy sense of security. Why, then, do we lament the end of summer? 

Perhaps it represents the inevitable passing of our own time. With each winter, we witness ourselves age. We sense the loss of better days. And although we know that the cycle of nature will continue for as long as Earth has seasons, our cycle will eventually come to an end. One day the sun will set on our final summer.

This is an uncomfortable thought. But it is unavoidable, and we should always keep it in mind. Doing so will help us see the beauty in the present moment. Rather than grieving over the loss of summer, or anticipating the arrival of a future summer, we should make the most of what we have here and now. Admire the beauty of the moment, and accept that it too, will one day be gone.

[Photo credit: Olivia Silby, 2022]