Why I Gave Up Holidays and Birthdays

Each year, I find more and more people are following this trend for many of the same reasons, and each year I meet new people who want to know why I choose not to celebrate holidays or birthdays. This has been posted before, but it is worth re-iterating for the curious…

 

I understand why people like me are perceived as cold and insensitive for having strong moral fortitude. It is not always easy for me. However, it is, I think, the burden of becoming Human—of seeing something which others choose to ignore because it is less difficult to live a dictated life than a consciously chosen one.

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HAPPY(?) BIRTHDAYS

Birthdays are an obviously ubiquitous ritual most everyone accepts (or even demands) conformity to, but I rarely meet people over 30 who authentically look forward to birthdays and growing older.

We complain about the stress of gift-giving (for birthdays, weddings, Christmas, bar-mitzvahs, etc.) while at the same time we are told holidays are joyful, merry, and happy. I know I am not alone in saying it is often difficult—maddening—to find a gift for your parents, in-laws, or spouse. There is fear of judgment, criticism, or suspicion of false platitudes. Will they really love the gift? Is it the right size? The right brand? Are they going to think you are cheap? If you have not spent “enough”, will they worry you are in financial trouble or think you are ungrateful for all they have done for you? If you spend too much, will they feel bad about their (cheaper) gifts to you? Will they return the gift or tuck it in a drawer never to be seen again, or will they feel obligated to display the gift in case you visit? Do they already have this gift, or did you buy them the same thing last year? Did somebody else already think of this gift and beat you to the punch?

Children and young adults aside, I think most people are not particular to holidays. I have often secretly resented having to stretch my budget for gift-giving to friends, the children of friends, my family, in-laws, co-workers, bosses, etc… It can be made worse when several holidays or birthdays occur in the same week or month (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s is a quadruple whammy to the budget for many families). I have dreaded my own birthdays for the stress I know they have afflicted on others (budgetary and otherwise), and knowing my gratitude can not match their sacrifice. Let’s face it. If I was that excited about a gift, or if it was that important to me, then I probably would have bought it already.

 

OFFICE PARTY

Consider the office workers who either barely know, or barely like, their boss but are inclined to pander compliments on birthday cards filled with generic non-substantive prose (“Have a great one!”; “Happy B-day!”…even though the card already implies that…, or my favorite—the simple, nondescript signature of someone whose face will not be remembered when the card is dug out of a box ten years later). I know some people will protest, but I firmly believe the boss does not really care about the office gift, the office party, or getting older as the life he dreamed of disappears into the career void he probably accepted over following his dreams. The employees, mostly, do not really care either. Employees are pressured to share their money for a collective gift that will likely be unappreciated, except in false graciousness by the boss—“Thank you everybody; I have always wanted a…one of these… things. That’s exactly why… I… never bought one.”

It seems trite to point out the money the employees pitched in was earned by sacrificing time out of their lives to pander to the whims of the boss and his peers. That is not gift enough?!? Are we bosses so vain we require a material token of worship on top of taking their very lives from them? I do not accept that or want it over my head. I do not want gifts from my employees. I employ them to make money for me in exchange for helping them make money for themselves. It is insane that I should then expect them to spend their money on me.

I am sure many employees who are genuinely friends with their bosses do give thoughtful gifts. The same is true of family and friends, but it is, to me, shameful this sort of obligatory worship is required on top of whatever we do to express gratitude, camaraderie, or kinship every day. Setting aside that holidays like birthdays should be deeply personal and private affairs, why should anyone else know (or care) on what day I was born? It is really only a matter between me and my parents–and frankly, I am not that interested to be reminded each year of how I came to be born.

I say by conforming to the ideology of birthdays and holidays, we let a very large and out-of-control media machine dictate how we live our lives.

 

Celebrating birthdays and holidays obligates me to allocate time for Love and Family the same way I make time for tasks such as laundry and buying groceries. Should I let Hallmark and Walmart mandate when and how I show affection or appreciation for others? Should I let a national jewelry chain declare how much money sufficiently shows my love for my companion—is it 3 months salary? If I only spend 1 month’s salary, does that mean I only love my mate one-third as much as I should?

This system of blind tradition diminishes precious time to being no more than mandatory social proceedings. I resent being told when and how to love others, and how much is an acceptable amount of my hard-earned money to spend on someone. I resent being told how much time I am expected to spend proving my love in worship of other people. Why should I celebrate a birthday instead of a birthmonth or a birthyearMaybe I can decide how much time I wish to spend celebrating somebody’s life, on my own, and why on earth would it only be one day, once per year?

 

In short, I resent assumed control of my life. Everyone should.

Because I care for my family and friends, I wish them to be successful. I wish to see them enjoy the rewards of their hard work by spending their precious money and time on themselves, as they see fit.

 

A MARKETING MEDIA MACHINE

Holidays and birthdays in this context are a sham to fleece pockets and swindle people of what they have legitimately earned. Businesses and marketing media push holidays and birthdays to promote their profitability. They have no interest in protecting yours.  However, if I save up and buy for myself what I want when I can afford it, and if I do not obligate others to buy things to please me, then everyone’s  profitability is protected. I get what I want (because I have more of my money to spend on myself instead of buying gifts for others). Others get what they want (because they have more of their own money to spend on things that are most important to them without having to buy me and everyone else gifts). Businesses get what they want (the money keeps coming in, and even better, businesses can focus on creating and marketing things people really want instead of the hordes of plastic junk tchotchkes that fill stores every season–who really needs, and is hoping somebody buys them, an electric tie rack?).

When your time and money belong to you, and my time and money belongs to me, nothing more is expected or required of anyone… as it should be.

 

BESIDES, WHAT ARE WE REALLY CELEBRATING?

Most people and businesses do not know the origin of  the holidays they are celebrating or promoting (or, let’s be honest, pushing). The public is willingly conned through inducement of guilt and status discrimination in the name of altruism, for the profit of one party—whoever is pushing the event.

Personally, I would rather not spend time with friends or family who insist on “caring” for me by making me share in a cult dictated by something they never sought to understand. Think about this… if you really cared for someone, would you expect to trade trinkets whenever Target runs a bunch of commercials, or would you instead plead with the person you care about to keep the pay she earned rather than spend it frivolously on gifts you probably do not want or need? I wish my friends and family preferred to spend their hard-earned money on themselves and would allow me to enjoy watching them relish in the fruits of their own success, rather than giving their pay to me. What could make me happier than watching my loved ones enjoy their own success? I will take that over the electric tie-rack, another bottle of cologne, or a pair of plaid socks and matching underwear any day.

It is rare to meet people who understand the actual origin or meaning behind a given holiday. It is rare because people who learn the history of holidays often choose not to celebrate a holiday once they realize what they are actually endorsing.

 

Birthdays, for example, are supposed to be a celebration of the day a person is born. Of course, people are born long before they exit the womb of their mother. Forgiving that, at best a birthday is celebrating a random day when someone’s would-be parents probably had casual sex. Our parents had no intention of producing, specifically, the child or children they have (if they were hoping to produce a child at all).

To expect others to celebrate my birthday is essentially asking them to celebrate my parents’ young, and possibly stupid, act of casual sex.

Any other reason I can think to celebrate my birthday is narcissistic. Should anyone have to celebrate the fact I somehow managed to bumble my way this far through life without getting killed? Should I think I am so great, for no reason other than I have not stepped in front of a bus by accident, that everyone I have graced with my presence should be subjected to idol worship of me for at least one full day, every year?

I do not impose the expectation on anyone to celebrate my love of myself. I do not need them to validate my love for me. It saddens me, though, that we are taught it is wrong to love ourselves, and we are bullied into worshiping everyone else.

 

IF YOU CAN’T BEAT THEM… THEY’LL BEAT YOU.

Nonetheless, many friends, family, and acquaintances will insist on wishing me well on my birthday and other holidays. Often, there will be some trickery to have me acknowledge a holiday against my will, dismissing that it is MY WILL (“Just come for the family dinner—no one will mention it’s Thanksgiving to you, we promise…”; “I know you don’t celebrate Christmas, but… Merry Christmas!”; “Here is a hug–not because it’s your birthday or anything…it is just a random hug that happened to occur on the same day as your birthday, tee-hee…”).

I understand the sentiment and the desire to share affection for me, but I nonetheless consider this behavior bullying. I understand what people intend when they wish me Happy Birthday or Merry Christmas. Of course, they believe their intentions are loving, or even pious. However, forcing me to acknowledge birthdays and holidays is not an act of love. It disrespects my conscious value choices and dismisses my intelligence altogether. The intent may not be to insult me, but I am insulted.

 

No one likes to feel bullied.

I certainly understand why people like me are sometimes perceived as cold and insensitive for having strong moral fortitude. It is not always easy for me, either. However, it is, I think, the burden of becoming human—of seeing something which others choose to ignore because it is less difficult to live a dictated life than a consciously chosen one.

 

THE BURDEN OF BECOMING HUMAN

When I first chose my moral stance around holidays, I celebrated the birthdays and holidays of others, but dismissed my own. Celebrating holidays only for others, I thought, did not impose my values on them but still let them have their birthday cake and eat it too. I thought this was respectful to both their value system and mine. I learned there is a critical difference between our value systems, however. Unlike mine, the values of most people in this regard are not consciously selected. Their values are handed-down and accepted without investigation.

I think if a person can not logically defend his or her moral character, then it is not disrespectful if I, having deliberately chosen my moral code, do not acknowledge their lack of one. Clearly, there is no real Easter Bunny. I should not have to pretend there is but I also do not have to point out the logical fallacies of a child who believes in the bunny.

Still, I came to realize that for me to celebrate the birthdays and holidays of others (but not my own) ultimately violates the values of  both  systems.

I am not concerned about violating a fake value system. If I choose to accept the values of my acquaintances and family, though (meaning I celebrate their birthdays but do not allow them to celebrate mine), then it leads to inducement of guilt and unfairness for them. I find people feel it is not fair when you buy them gifts but do not allow them to buy you gifts. Thus, it violates their social premise (everybody gives to everybody). Quickly, the door to a creeping acceptance of their system is forced open. They feel compelled to provide, somehow, gifts or favors in return for my gifts.

The problem is the bullying never stops in this system. It can not stop because we are well-trained to feel guilty about receiving without giving in return.

A violation occurs on my side, as well, because I accept the bullying (I still do, sometimes, because it is simply too taxing to fight it on all fronts, all the time). It is so ubiquitous I must eventually allow small tokens of appreciation, if for no reason other than to relieve family and friends of their sense of debt. This means indirect submission to the bullying on my part, and again, opens the door to creeping acceptance.

There is another difference regarding trying to uphold my values while not violating theirs. The difference is I do not bully others to accept my values. I do not insist people stop celebrating their birthdays and holidays if I do not celebrate mine. I do not push my philosophy onto others; in fact, I am typically reluctant to explain my choices, except in brief quips to move a conversation forward, or in essays like this. Most people are not that interested (it is too much effort to stand against a tsunami of tradition).

It is interesting to me, however, that in the broadly accepted system of piousness, it is okay to bully me into following the whims of others, but in the deliberately chosen values of my philosophy, I do not demand the religious or altruistic to check their belief in holidays or God (Allah, Vishnu, Jehovah, whomever) at the door when they visit me. I do not demand or expect a token gift of worship if they happen to visit on the day I was born, however many years ago that may have been and whether they were actually at my birth. There is an irony to the preaching of togetherness, kinship, and tolerance by those doing the most bullying.

Of course, I recognize the challenge clear and logical thinking poses. To be fair, I took more than 30 years to come to these very basic conclusions and guidelines I now use to remind me (how) to live. That said, birthdays, holidays, ritualistic and religious traditions deserve to be tested and judged.

 

It is up to each man to bear the burden of becoming human or walk blindly into tradition and circumstance.

 

Happy (_____)day to me.

 

 

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Why We Can’t All Just Get Along…

Do not judge lest ye be judged… hey, wait a second. Did you just judge me for judging other people?!?

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James Altucher, one of my recent favorite authors, makes a great point that I have heard him repeat a few times on his podcast: “If everyone wanted world peace, there would be world peace.”

Such a simple and compelling and depressing and poignant sentence. We are, as a society, addicted to judging others. The simple fact is, as James eloquently points out, not everyone wants world peace. If everyone thought men and women should be equal, then men and women would be equal. If everyone wanted to end racism, then racism would end.

The reason we can not all just get along is because we are all different, with different values, beliefs, ethical quandaries, and moral boundaries. This is as much a good thing as a bad thing. If we were all the same, then there would be nothing and no one to value. Life would be homogeneous and infinitely boring. The reason we can identify what is good (something like equal rights) is because there is enough diversity to distinguish what is not good (cases of social injustice).

 

Today’s lesson: Diversity is good and judging is also good, but as with most anything, the Aristotelian view holds true: “everything in moderation.” (Incidentally, distinguishing the importance of Aristotle’s lesson over that of all others is also a judgment…) 

 

 

 

 

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When Is “More” Enough?

If I could rid the English language of a single concept, it would probably be to do away with the idea of “More.”

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I sat in my driveway listening to a story about immigrant slave workers picking tomatoes for Taco Bell and other big box restaurants. That was 2005. Now, at the end of 2014, they still live in the worst conditions I can imagine in the United States.

Up to 12 workers are packed into trailers as small as 10 square feet–essentially, a room with moldy walls and a single toilet. They work in fields 12 hours or more each day in the blistering Florida sun in hopes of earning a couple dollars (literally, a couple dollars). They are shuttled to and from work in rickety old buses and not allowed to travel anywhere outside of home or work. They live in enslavement camps, having come here, ironically, to escape their primary nation’s poor economy and chase the American Dream.

I remember my eyes welling with tears and anger while I listened to the story on the radio. I was sad about the obvious injustice and I was mad at myself. I was sitting in a 2006 Nissan Titan SE–an impressive (and expensive) truck with every luxury I could order it with. I made good money, then, and it was my first (and probably last) luxury car instead of just the best car I could afford.

It struck me that my truck was as big as the entire home of the 12 immigrant workers I was learning about, and many times nicer. The Titan cost more than 4 years of their salary, if they spent their money on absolutely nothing else, not even eating.

I was sitting in my spacious truck, parked outside of my house. Unlike their living quarters, my house had a fireplace, fully finished basement, 2 kitchens, jacuzzi tub, cherry wood flooring, a big backyard, and a large, covered porch complete with a love-seat rocking swing.

The Immokalee tomato pickers, I knew, would do anything to live my life. They could not even imagine having it this good. Clean, running water would have been a huge improvement for them. They would have collectively traded their lives for my truck–a vast improvement over their own mold-infested dwelling, let alone my house.

I was sad for them, but what really made me mad was that I had no idea how good my life was. Before the news story came on, I was feeling depressed and upset that I really wanted to trade in my Nissan Titan for a Tesla Roadster and my house was entirely too small for me, my estranged wife, and my 2 cats.

Worse, I was lamenting that I might never be able to afford the house I was going to visit that night–a mansion belonging to two millionaire acquaintances–a lonely, but friendly couple with a lot of money and time to spend. Their house was the one I imagined owning, with huge artwork murals decorating their living room with 20 foot high ceilings, a second level so large it literally had a bridge to cross from one side of the upper house to the other, and an expensive multi-level hardwood deck. I had two kitchens in my home but this couple had a gorgeous metal, marble, and wood professional grade kitchen with a preparatory island nearly the size of one of my kitchens. Their enormous house was lavish, tactful, and drool-worthy.

I was not prepared for our conversation that night. Much to my surprise they complained about their sprawling home and wished they had a bigger house! They pointed to the even larger mansion next door, which had turrets and was entirely built of stone like a castle, with a large rounded archway that doubled as a entrance-way and driveway. It was truly a stunningly large home. Nonetheless, I was flabbergasted. I glimpsed my future.

I knew, then, that I would never be happy with “more”. There is no end to what I will want. I had a Titan. I wanted a Roadster. If I had a Roadster, I would want a Porsche. Or maybe a boat, and when I had the boat I would want a yacht, and it would never end. Here I was, unaware that a low middle-class American making at least $30,000 per year (much less than I made at the time) fares better and is wealthier than 90% of the rest of the world’s people. I was the person that 90% of the world actually aspired to be… I have the lifestyle 99% of the world wishes they had. And I wanted more. The people who seemingly had everything I wanted… they wanted more, too. I wondered about the residents of the castle home. I wondered if they lamented over only having 3 homes, and a smaller yacht than their friends, and only a Tesla Roadster instead of a Lamborghini and a Roadster.

Well, flash forward about 7 years and I left most of that life behind. I took a job for about 1/5 of the pay I had then. It was definitely a harsh adjustment at first, but I started over and rather than embracing “More”, I actively chose to embrace “Less”. Now, I live a minimalist lifestyle, I make about half of what I used to, I own much less than half of what I used to, I even weigh less than I used to… and I have never been happier.

To be honest, I still struggle with wanting more. It is impossible not to think about all the “more” things you could have in a country that thrives on consumerism and marketing warfare. I am not decrying Capitalism, by the way. I am a staunch advocate for earning and enjoying the pleasures brought by technology and innovation, and I believe you should pay fairly for things that offer greater style, engineering, functionality, or design. No one should work for free or expect anything for free.

However, I find letting go of things that do not serve more than the purpose I need, or serve no purpose at all, frees me to live in less space yet have more freedom. For everything I can live without, I gain freedom over Space (less clutter in my life; more space to think), Time (I do not have to spend part of my life caring for trinkets I rarely look at or use), and personal Happiness (instead of wanting more, I am focused on wanting less and learning to appreciate what I have).

Businesses, of course, fall into the same trap of “More is More!”. The goal of every business I have worked for is a never-ending quest for the elusive “more”. There is never a definition of what is “enough.” No business seems to have an end-goal in mind of when they will be satisfied, of when their workers are generating “enough” revenue, of when their production is “enough” to make the shareholders happy. When your goal is merely to earn more and more money, how will you ever reach your goal? There is always “more” waiting for you.

On a social level, when your goal is only to be more thin, how will you ever lose “enough” weight? The body you see in the mirror will always be able to trim a little here or there.

When our goal is more racial, or gender, or religious equality, then how will we ever become equal? There is always some (person, group, or thing) that seems to have more equal opportunities than someone else.

When your goal is to always be “better” (a variation of “more”), then how will you ever be happy knowing you are “good enough” for yourself? When “more” is the goal, then “good enough” is removed by default. What would “enough” mean to you when it comes to being “good enough”? Do you know where better stops?

I know there are some motivated listeners and motivational speakers who would convince each other that some vague nonsense constitutes an actual destination (“being better is the goal”, “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey”, “just be a little better than you were yesterday”, etc.). The problem here is when you have no definition of when “enough” is enough, then you have removed the possibility of happiness and contentment. There will always be “more” and “better” waiting for you in life. “Infinity” is not a goal.
If I could remove just one concept from our ideology or one word from our language, I think it would be “More”. We do not need more. We simply need enough, and sometimes, sadly, we do not know when we have had it.

Today’s lesson: In a society where “More” is all we want, more or less, then I challenge you to start thinking about what the word “enough” means to you and consider that sometimes “Less is More”.

 

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Don’t Have A Nice Day!

I am trying to stop ending conversations with “Have a… (nice day, happy holiday, good night, etc.)”.

I think there is a subtle implication in the language there; it’s almost like a threat. When someone says, “Have a nice day” to me, I feel compelled to say, “…Or what?”

I know no one means it as a threat. I am being a bit facetious, but  I think it is worth the effort to be more conscious with language. Ending conversations or messages with “have a great day!” is an excessive and mostly pointless social ritual. In truth, I probably do not care if the person has a nice rest of their day. It is likely I will not give it another thought once we part ways. Good for them if their day is nice but I probably will not speak to them for the remainder of the day so it will not make much difference to me overall.

“Have a nice day” is rarely presented as a wish or a good intention. It is a command. We do not say, “I wish for you a nice day”. Although, I do find slightly more palatable the phrase, “Hope you have a nice day”–at least, that is not a demand.

I also like the alternative of simply not using it. If my having a nice day is irrelevant to someone, I hope they do not say it just to say it. I would rather they simply say, “Good bye” with a warm smile (or at least a polite one!).

What do you think? Do you have language pet peeves and alternatives you prefer?

Until next time… I wish for you a… nah, I don’t really care.

 

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A Sunday Nap

Sometimes the best way to spend time with someone is to sleep together…

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One of my favorite parts of the weekend is a brief indulgence Nicole and I allow ourselves each Sunday… a nap together.

We almost always enjoy a vegan brunch as part of our Sunday routine (whether at home or at one of our favorite brunch spots), and almost always afterwards we head back to the apartment for a mid-afternoon nap.

It is not just a nap, though. For us, it is an opportunity to carve time out of an otherwise busy week to cuddle and just enjoy being in each other’s presence for an hour or so. Of course, we do not just hop in bed and fall right asleep. The nap is usually preceded by time appreciating each other and chatting (or sometimes not saying anything) and eventually drifting off in each other’s arms (inevitably, Nicole falls asleep on my chest).

I simply can not think of something I would rather do in that hour. By far, our Sunday naps are my favorite part of the weekend.

Today’s lesson: Whether it is a nap, or a regularly scheduled game of checkers, or an afternoon dessert together, or whatever… create a regular, predictable time for you and someone you cherish to connect without interruption. I would say several times per week is best but at least once each week enjoy the company of the person or people you choose to spend your life with. That way, you are sure you are actually spending your lives together instead of wasting your lives together.

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How To Be Happy

A friend, who has fought depression for a long time, asked me if I am really happy and how do I stay happy? 

 

Something to consider:

Happiness does not come from the desires you have met, the position you have attained, or the social graces others believe about you. There are people who follow every whim or desire but never seem happy. There are people who are in positions of power or authority, or have great wealth, but never seem happy. There are people who attend lots of social gatherings and seem to have lots of friends, but never feel happy.

Desires, Position, and Social Grace are not required for happiness. What is required is the willingness to be happy.

Happiness (or contentment, fulfillment, satisfaction, etc.) comes first from the choice to be willing to be happy. This is different from the choice to be happy. I have seen the phrase, “Choose Happiness” in many places but for some people, the basic choice is not happiness itself; it is simply being open to the idea that happiness exists and is attainable in a given moment.

I have found this to be most true in relationships. I have been in relationships where I have held to the past for too long, unwilling to let go of old hopes and desires or even old problems. The result was an inability to give my best to the relationship at hand. Suddenly, I would find issues from past relationships made their way into my current relationship. If not that, then I would simply not be able to be happy with the person I was with, even if she was a great person. She might have been everything I was looking for in a mate at the time, but still… I was not happy.

I did not know it at those times but it had nothing to do with the person I was with. I was simply not happy because I was not willing to be happy. Once I realized that, I made a choice. I chose to be willing to be happy. It was a conscious effort and I had to remind myself for months to keep being open to being happy. Eventually, I realized I was there. I was content. I was happy and had been for a while but I could not have told you where the turning point was. It was gradual, often deliberate, but it became easier until it became natural.

I am content now and have been for a long time. Beyond being willing to be happy, I have learned 3 other keys to happiness:

Gratitude. When I am not happy, it is usually because I am not grateful for what I have. I am stuck in a state of wanting something (usually something more, better, or different). If I pause and reflect on things I am grateful for (even simple things like the smell of autumn, or being able to see, or listening to my cat purr), then I will usually find something to smile about. Having a flashier car is not so big a desire when I realize many people would be happy to have a pair of warm socks and a meal today.

Humor. Life is crazy, right? Being able to roll with the ups and downs by appreciating the bizarre unpredictability of life and laughing with it makes the tough times easier to bear. Knowing I will eventually be able to look back and laugh when facing a difficult situation…sometimes that is enough to provide the strength to make it through. Laughing at myself is probably some of the best medicine I have taken. I have a lot of confidence and I can be arrogant sometimes but when I make an embarrassing mistake, rather than beat myself up I laugh with myself for not having the hubris to have seen the mistake coming in the first place. Laughing with myself also takes the tension off others who are not sure if they should laugh at a situation. Finally, being able to laugh (especially with myself) allows me to enjoy my company and appreciate both the good and rocky times of my life.

Self-Esteem. Without a high level of self-regard, both gratitude and humor become tools for self-loathing instead. Having a lot of self-esteem removes the cynicism that would otherwise befall laughing at oneself and it makes gratitude generous instead of suspicious. I think people with low self-esteem who demonstrate gratitude only share half of the sentences they are thinking. Someone with high self-esteem might say and think, “I am grateful to have a friend like you.” Someone with very low self-esteem might say, “I am grateful to have a friend like you,” but finish the thought in her mind, “…but what do you really want?”

 

Choose happiness, but first choose to be willing to be happy. Remember to have gratitude for your life, laugh with yourself during both the good and tough times, and hold yourself in high-regard by acknowledging your own greatness and the greatness of others. Perhaps most importantly, be deliberate about your happiness. As with anything, to be really good at it requires regular practice and a lot of patience. With happiness, though, half the fun is getting there!

 

 

 

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The Difference Between Hearing and Listening

 

“You will hear the bird no matter what but you will only catch the melody if you listen.”

Do you have a friend or team member that seems to never know when to stop speaking? You like him but he rambles, repeats, goes off on tangents, shares too many details, or does not pick up on social cues that normally alert others when we are talking too much.

There is one sure way I know of to stop someone who will not stop talking:

listen.

Over-talkers speak so much, I think, because they never feel listened to, so they keep talking to make their point (because what else can they do?). The irony is they are right. Many of us hear but rarely listen. Hearing is a passive action–you can not stop yourself from hearing the world around you, including people speaking to you. You can not will yourself not to hear the clerk at the cash register or the car with the bad muffler across the street or the bird outside your window.

Listening, however, is active. It requires intention. You will hear the bird no matter what but you will only catch the melody if you listen.

Listening is like meditation. To do it properly, you must stop the chatter in your mind and focus only on the present and the sound (or person in front of you). Most people do not listen to what is being said…they listen for their turn to speak.

I know sometimes I find myself so focused on spitting out my witty response to something that I miss the 10 sentences after the one I wanted to comment on. As passive listeners, we tend to wait for a break so we can say what is important to us instead of listening to what is important to the person we are speaking with.

Here is the best tip I can offer to encourage active listening:

Listen without interrupting and listen with the intention of listening–the way you pause to listen to your favorite song, taking in every sound, appreciating it, and letting it fill your mind. It is okay if you are not able to share every clever remark that enters your mind; it is more important you listen to your friend or team-mate in the moment.

The reason some people talk too much is simple: they want to feel listened to. They believe (whether consciously or sub-consciously) no one listens to them. If they realize you are listening intently to every word they say, then I assure you they will suddenly not have as much to say, and you will be able to move on to the next conversation quickly.

Today’s lesson… do not only hear what people say. Listen intently and intentionally and wait patiently without worrying what you will say when they pause. Let them finish. You will be surprised at how much more you will learn and how much time listening saves over hearing.

 

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How To Make A Good Decision.

Many of us face tough decisions but have never been taught how to break one down. The Law of Identity might help.

 

Aristotle provided one of the most fundamental laws of both Physics and Philosophy. It is a statement consisting of only three letters that has transformed my life, empowered me as a leader, and made me a better man. It is known as the Law of Identity, and is one of the most profound statements ever written, yet it is deceptively simple:

A is A. 

In that tiny statement, Aristotle explains a fundamental principle of the universe, and oddly, a fundamental principle of decision-making. The Law of Identity means the universe does not exist in random order. A is A. A is never B. A white car remains the same color each time you look at it–the universe will not allow the car to be white and simultaneously black at the same time, in the same place, in the same way. A is always A.

Thanks to the Law of Identity, you wake up each morning as yourself. In a world where A can be something other than A, you might spontaneously turn into a tree, or your arm might be a duck, or you could wake up in the morning to find you are a giant cockroach… Without A is A, the world would be random and unpredictable in every way.

What A is A tells us about making decisions is equally profound. The Law of Identity bluntly says, “There are no contradictions.” Sometimes we come to a crossroads and have to make a difficult decision. The reason some decisions seem difficult is because we believe we have conflicting information. However, if we look deeper into the nature of both sides of the decision, we find one of our values or fundamental ideals is misaligned with the decision we are trying to make.

For example, I sometimes find myself having to decide if I want another cookie. I do want one, of course, but my rational brain reminds me of the dangers of over-eating (and sometimes I ignore it at my peril). I know having another cookie is a bad choice but I try to rationalize in any way I can to make it fit into my values. “I’ll just have one more bite,” I say, “That won’t make a difference” and then I devour the whole cookie, forgetting I said that. Or I might think, “Well, I’ll just work out harder tomorrow,” to justify the extra cookie–a promise I am aware I won’t keep.

The point is, I will justify the decision any way I can, rather than look at the fundamental premise behind it. At the basis of eating another cookie is a simple choice without contradiction: Life or Death? Choosing the unneeded cookie is a decision to choose its consequences–a step toward diabetes, regret, self-loathing about my body, etc. If I remember that A is A, then the decision is clear. Stopping now is a choice to live, to better my body, practice self-control, and be guilt-free. Of course, we are, most of us, really bad decision makers, so we go for the cookie.

A cookie might not matter so much, but about the choice to cheat on your spouse? We believe there is a contradiction–“I am not happy in my marriage, I deserve better, I am not receiving the attention or support I need, and I have been drinking so I can’t make a good decision now…” However, if we check our premises against the Law of Identity, the fundamental decision again becomes clear. Do you choose to have self-esteem and value your body by not giving it to a random stranger or do you choose to break the promise of fidelity you gave your partner, living a lie?

A is A.

We like to confuse ourselves by trying to ignore the fact that a decision to do something (say, spend $1,000 on a home theater system you will not remember owning in 20 years) is also a decision to not do something else (spend that $1,000 on a vacation you will remember the rest of your life). When you come to a difficult decision, take it down to the deepest, most fundamental question you can. Look at the nature of the decision and figure out your fundamental motivation for choosing–the nature of your choice. I can not say it  better than my favorite hero, Francisco D’Anconia, from my favorite book, Atlas Shrugged:

“Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think that you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.”

 

Today’s lesson: Choose wisely.

 

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Finding The Good Stuff

Sometimes bad is good.

You have the right hire. You extend an offer; she accepts. Everyone agrees on a start date–the overwhelming stress of staffing through the holidays is going to be lifted! Then, the day before she is supposed to start, she declines. The rug is ripped out from under you and you are brimming with frustration. Everything has gone wrong… or has it?

When frustrating things happen, it is often hard to see any good in a situation. If you find a calm spot within you, though, sometimes you can find the way through. The potential hire saved you a lot of time and effort in training by quitting now instead of later. Undoubtedly, if she was unsure of her commitment to the job before she arrived, she would almost certainly leave anyway, after causing damage to your team, budget, and patience.

Today’s lesson: whether a lost hire, a flat tire, or a house fire, it is not always easy to see the silver lining (but the flat tire could have prevented you from being involved in an accident or the house fire may have been your opportunity to let the past go and start fresh). One of the wonders of our world is that there is as much joy and pain available as we could ever want to experience. We might as well find more of the good stuff.

 

 

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How Often Do You Listen to Your Self?

The world is loud. Turn it off once in a while.

 

Listening to music is fun and it is obviously pleasing to the soul and body, at times, but at least twice a week, do not play any music in your car or at home. Take one of those days off television, too. When the world is a cacophony of sound and vision and every voice is shouting (often bad) advice at you or demanding that you consume more, it is important to have quiet time where the only voice you are listening to is your own.

Today’s lesson is: at least 2 times per week, stop the noise in your life and spend time just thinking about whatever is important to you (and only you).

 

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