Happiness Lies in the Bootstraps of Those Around Us

“A pendulum could lift anything into the air but it could not lift itself.”

-Gabriel García Márquez in One Hundred Years of Solitude

This quote seems to be rather meaningless but when I read it I was profoundly struck with a pretty interesting metaphor. I thought to myself about the meaning behind this phrase and how similar it is to the old idea that it’s impossible to lift one’s self up by one’s own bootstraps. Earlier in the day I had been reading His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Art of Happiness in which he talks a lot about the importance of compassion. He says that by being compassionate, a person will find true happiness. Putting these ideas together my metaphor began to form.

I, Faolan, cannot pick myself up by own bootstraps, just as a pendulum can power anything else but itself (there is some artistic licence at work here, both by myself and by Márquez but go along with it). However, I am perfectly able to pick someone else up by their bootstraps, even though that would be rather awkward and I would likely just end up tripping someone. Oops! The point still stands: I cannot lift myself up but I can easily lift someone else up.

While this all seems pretty basic, the interesting piece came along because I had been reading about the Dalai Lama’s ideas on compassion as an avenue to deep happiness. I suddenly imagined a situation in which I could put my energy not into trying and failing to pick up myself by my own bootstraps but in which I would use my energy to help pick up other people. If I pick other people up, when they are unable to pick themselves up, then I would hope someone would do the same for me. If this happens, then everyone ends up being elevated to a plane that was impossible to reach with only one’s own individual efforts. This is pretty neat and applicable, I think!

In a more concrete and scientific sense, it has been proven that people who are compassionate beyond the societally accepted baseline are happier than most others. When a person is happier, they are more resilient, more energized, and more passionate, not to mention they are more compassionate! Next time you have the opportunity to do something nice for a person, however small, go ahead and do it, and then keep doing these small things and I guarantee you that in the long run you will feel more fulfilled as person!

There are few methods that I have found work for me to become a more compassionate person and to make more small acts of kindness on a daily basis and these methods are as follows:

  1. I go into every day with the intention of brightening the days of the people around me
  2. I write down a list of small acts of happiness that I want to try and then I add checkmarks next to them when I complete one
  3. I stop focusing on myself and start focusing on the needs of others
  4. I take the time to go over the times I made someone else smile at the end of the day and adjust my goals for the next day to try and inspire more of these moments

Good Luck!

Balance and Some Distributaries of Thought

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To start off, here is a cool picture I took!

Getting to it… As I grow older and gain more independence and freedom there is one thing that seems to reemerge into my day-to-day life all the time. This thing is the need for balance.

Clearly, there is something to be said for the importance of balancing different parts of life but up until this year, my life has been fairly predetermined. I had a home life with my family, school and homework, sports, and relationships. While this may seem like a lot to balance to outside eyes, there was not, in fact, a ton of freedom in my schedule. Everything I did was according to a predetermined plan created partially by my parents, society, and perhaps some by myself. Even with the volitionary activities that I participated in like soccer, most of my time was scheduled according to my coach, as opposed to me controlling myself.

When I was nearing the end of my senior year of high school one of the most important things for me was my independence. I desperately wanted to escape from the dull, repetitive, conundrum of a controlled life. As I moved closer and closer to the date when I would move away to a new home 3000 miles away, I realized the importance of the loved ones that I held dear to me. I began to independently take the time out of my normal routines to spend it with my family, both immediate and less so. My mom never controlled me but she would often highly encourage me to spend time with the family, and like the typical know-it-all teenager, I was extremely opposed to doing anything my mother said (this I have learned since, was unwise, as she’s always right, but this is a story for another time). It’s interesting to look back with some perspective on even last year, and realize that once I had the freedom to decide what I would spend my time on, I wholeheartedly put myself in a situation that I had been vehemently opposed to just months before. The summer after my senior year was extremely formative to my independent understanding of both myself and the world.

While I did begin to prioritize the things that were important to me and that would become unavailable once I moved, I lacked the motivation to do the things that I had been dreaming of doing with my friends. Retrospect leaves me with regrets over the things that I could have done and a profound (not really) understanding of the importance of today (I’ll get to this later!) At the end of my summer I had done some of the things that I had wanted to. I spent a week on the beach with some of my best friends, I made the decision to travel to a far away place so that I could shake up my understanding of the world, and I dedicated myself to spending as much time with my family as possible. Overall, it was a copacetic summer, but I have digressed beyond my intended point. To get back on track I’m going to talk about my year at college and what I’ve learned about balance.

First and foremost, when standing on tall things whilst on fun adventures, balance is of the utmost importance! Failing at balance results in falling, which I can’t really say I enjoy. I’ll bet you think I’m just being silly with this adventure stuff, right? Well, what if I were to say that to me, life is a fun adventure in which I climb many tall things and perch on top? I’ll bet that would shake up your definition of silly.

Think about it. What more is life than a series of ups and downs? What is important while climbing these peaks and descending these valleys? Balance, forethought (and adaptability), and a truly adventurous spirit.

To me, the lesson that has become most clear as I have partaken in my first year at University is that finding balance in life is incredibly important. This sense of balance is not so simple as standing on top of a mountain or even standing on one foot on top of a mountain in tree pose. This innermost need for balance seeps into every crevice of my life, often slowing me down and reminding me that it is there, that I must succumb to a deeper and better thought out version of the life that I am living.

Since coming to college, I have been overloaded with so many different opportunities, emotions, people, and experiences. There have been peaks and valleys, both literally and metaphorically. I have met more people in a smaller time than I ever had previously. Most importantly, I have finally been given the freedom and the allowance to pursue myself before all else. In the past, life has been a series of boxes to check for me (excluding the love for the people and relationships I have with those who I am closest to). It has been a series of “learn this, participate in that, feel this, express that.” The genesis of almost everything I have done for my whole life has originated outside of me. College has really taken my perspective of the world and forced me to believe in myself and my dreams, to grab them out of the sea of thoughts drifting inside my head and make them mine. If this sounds amazing to you, then we are in agreement. However, let me express my profound realization that I was talking about earlier before I continue.

I have a limited amount of time in my life and every one of my moment’s worth is defined by the amount of care I put into creating it, sharing it, and living it to the fullest.

Remember how I said that I had a profound realization? Well, that’s it. It’s not pretty and it’s not original but I think that it’s something that every person who is successful in life realizes at some point. This realization led me to a panic over the significance that my life holds, in terms of simply being me and needing to live to my fullest extent. In addition to this self-centered idea, it was scary to think about how significant my life is in terms of how much I can affect the world if I simply put my mind to it.

My life and my time are so incredibly valuable and significant.

So significant, in fact, that I am incredibly terrified. I feel the crushing weight of every future responsibility that the perfect version of myself could bear. Imagine Atlas holding The Earth. That is how I felt when I first had this realization. I understand that perhaps it is a bit egotistical to think of myself like this, but in actuality, I really feel like I can change the world in huge ways, as can anyone else. It is a daunting thought if you have the courage to internalize it into your own mind.

Following up on my last post, I believe that I have a responsibility to follow the dreams, visions, and inspirations that seem to be tugging me forward. I have the responsibility to myself and the world to do what I can to help everyone out.

Sometimes I wonder, though, If I should live for myself or for the world. I think many people struggle with this problem. I have a deep-rooted dream to see everything that there is to see in the world: I want to see the seven wonders, I want to see where they filmed Lord of the Rings, I want to climb Mount Everest, and I want to fulfill all the dreams that I have fabricated for myself. These dreams are immense and require me to apply myself to such an extent that I don’t believe I have ever actually done in my life. Yet here I am using my time in college. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with this, but sometimes I wonder about why I am here and why I am not following my dreams today as opposed to tomorrow. In thinking about it, I realized I am here because I feel an obligation to exist for the sake of the world and I believe that being in college is my most efficient way to follow that path forward. The thing that keeps me positive is that I know that eventually those that choose to give their lives to benefit the world end up being the most fulfilled, but I can’t shake the constant reminders of the dreams that I try to put to rest in the back of my head.

The balancing act that I most struggle with is the balance between my dreams and my aspirations. These words may seem to be the same but to me, dreams are things that dictate the heart of a person and aspirations are those that dictate the mind. To me, dreams are the things that make people’s hearts ache and aspirations are the things that people stay up all night thinking of. Those of us who are most fortunate are those whose dreams and aspirations coincide.

Balancing such things as the mind and the heart is not something that is really explainable. To me, when I do a good job I feel like my body is alive and I am happy simply to exist, however, when I fail to care for my dreams or aspirations, I consequently feel exhausted, discouraged, and deeply rejected by the world around me.

In balancing two things comes the relinquishing of some of each. In economics, there is a simple principle that explains that when an economy is more equal it is actually less efficient. I like to think about it like I have 100 units of time and energy to spend and if I want to balance my dreams and aspirations, then I’m only putting fifty units into each, which is literally a halfhearted effort.

Soooooo, to wrap up (I think), I want to emphasize the big lessons that came out of all of this:

Individual life is significant. Time should not be taken for granted. The best lives are those where people’s dreams and aspirations are one and the same. Finding a balance between the things that are important is challenging but worthy of some introspection.

I end this post with a frustrated sigh at my computer because while I have summed up a lot of thoughts that I have been having over the past few weeks and clarified my thoughts both to myself and those around me, I have not made much progress on the decision-making tree of my life. I am still faced with the same challenges that I was before writing this. Maybe next time I’ll write about the virtue of patience and how I have none!

Creativity and Action

When I was younger I was incredibly creative. My mom encouraged me to look at the world as a place of possibility. I remember when I was younger I was fascinated with how things worked, with what I could make, and with how I could use my imagination to create a future. I used to make fairy villages out of acorns, leaves, sticks, and anything else I could find in the forest. I would carve sticks and pretend they were swords, and my friends and I would run around yelling and hitting each other or invisible monsters, literally manifesting totally new realities in a matter of moments. This kind of behavior has led me to be the kind of person I am today and interestingly enough, it has not always been a fairytale.

Creativity is so stigmatized in our society. Why is it weird for a young boy to make fairy houses? Why is it wrong for a young girl to play army as opposed to Barbie. These gendered examples only touch the tip of the iceberg and, in fact, this stigma reaches all the way through many school systems and even into many parents’ brains. Everyone knows that children are the most willing to let themselves be creative.

For children, creativity is the norm.

Creativity is lost in many people as they get older, more experienced. Many people develop a fear of expressing their most true selves, myself included. This disingenuous representation of a person is built on a lack of confidence in one’s self. For me, I find myself consistently disappointed with both my own actions and the actions of others and yet I still simply stand by and watch because I think the following:

“Who am I to change the world? Who am I to be myself?”

I think many people experience a similar sort of feeling in their lives, especially people of my age group.

College is advertised as a place where dreams come true, where people find their passions, and where we meet our soul mates. Looking at the facts, I have found there to be some truth to this, but that the concepts actually expand beyond just college.

All of these things are categorized under the title:

Potential Future

The trick is to change Potential Future to be

Actual Present

When it comes down to it, there is nothing stopping us from finding our passions, making our dreams come true, searching for our soul mates, or doing anything else that we want, for that matter, except our own perception of what is possible.

Over the past few weeks, I have been learning about the power of action.

Act. Do. Manifest. Create. Make.

This idea is so unrecognizable in our stereotypical society that we make business plans, we plan to ask people out, and we plan to go to the gym without ever doing many of the things we plan to do.

The power of action lies in its ability to snowball.

        To snowball is a term used in many gaming communities for a player who does well at the beginning of a game and gains incremental advantages because of it. The idea is representative of a snowball rolling down a hill and eventually becoming massive and unstoppable.

Imagine yourself as a small snowball at the top of a hill.

Here’s what you know:

        There are things I could run into as I roll down this hill and I have to do my best to avoid them. The longer I avoid them, the bigger and more powerful I will get. From this, it follows that I should stay here and plan my route around the trees I can see, right? Right…?

Wrong!

        You can only actually see the very near future. Humans are proven to be terrible at planning!! Why would you take the time and energy and waste it on a plan that will probably fail? Get in the game! Try stuff!

I often use this analogy in my own life when I am doubting myself or when I am feeling reluctant to DO as opposed to think or plan.

Another trick I have is to do something every day that pushes me out of my comfort zone. Many people will laugh or scoff at this theory when they see it in practice:

“That idiot, why is he singing so terribly in front of everyone?”

Things like this tend to hold us back from taking action. A comedian named Hassan Minhaj talks about how his father used to say, “What will people think?” whenever it came to making a big life choice. This attitude is essentially assuming the worst of a situation before it even happens.

This makes it impossible for us, as rational human beings, to want to pursue things.

Why would we pursue our dreams or goals if we presume that we will fail?

There is almost no incentive for action in our society. We have Stagnated.

Okay, so now that you have heard my spiel, take a second to jot down some things that you wish had done, that you dream about every day. These things could be anything from flossing your teeth more to asking that special someone out, to going to the gym, to having some time for yourself, to journaling, to going outside more, to literally anything! There is nothing too big or too small to write down here, just get it on paper. I will wait 🙂

Awesome! Now that you have your dreams mapped a little better, try and think of the reasons why you haven’t done these things. Some probable answers are:

“I’m afraid that I will fail”

“I don’t believe in myself”

“I don’t have enough money”

“I don’t have the time or energy”

“I’m not good enough”

“My disabilities hold me back”

Well…..

“What can you do right now to take the first step, however small, towards your dreams?”

We are all the deer in the headlights. We fear action that leads to failure more than we fear stagnation and mediocrity. Who are we to waste our days on these minuscule things? Why are my dreams too big for today? When will I be ready?! The world says, “maybe never,” our parents say, “maybe when you retire,” but I ask you, yes YOU, not them,

“How bad do you want it?”

        The remedy for this fear lies in action. It is so simple that it makes me sad because I have taken so long to realize this simple truth. Taking the first step towards a dream will unlock the next step and so on so forth until we have hiked the tallest mountains, reached the stars, and started on to even greater unimaginable things.

        Each of us has a responsibility to reach into ourselves and unlock our creativity that we have lost, to unlock our capacity for action that society has locked away, and be our genuine selves.

Every person has a unique role to play in this world. What is yours?

GO! START! DO! ACT!

Trust me, you’ve got this!

PS. Please harass me about all of my grammar mistakes! Thanks!

On Luck and its Creation

When you hear the word luck where does your mind go? I would imagine that most travel to an idea about a four-leafed-clover, a leprechaun, something that happened in one’s life that is unlucky, finding a dollar, being in a good relationship. What I’m saying is that everyone defines the word differently, based on what they know and have known. This is unique, in our language, because words often are given meaning by books, dictionaries, you know? Luck is a word that is given its definition by me and by you and by anyone.

Luck for me is not something that manifests fortune. Luck is something that defines the qualities with which I live. For a while I would look at my life and think, wow, I am lucky. Everything works out for me and I am happy. Recently, I have realized that I was wrong because it is not luck nor the things that luck brings that make me happy, but the ability to be happy that makes me lucky. I have always been able to go with the flow, to be alright, no matter the situation. I have realized that because I can feel happy with anything, anything that happens brings me happiness. This is luck to me, the ability to bring happiness to my life simply by being okay with all and by perpetuating the happiness that is there, to begin with.

I appreciate what I have. I’m not saying that I do not want for more, or that I have conquered my own being. I am simply saying, that the attitude with which I live is one that brings me back the feelings that I give out.

In a video, a man said the following, “I don’t analyze or question life much. I can cruise through life and always be in the right place at the right time. I always have amazing things happen to me. I’m really lucky in that situation…. But that comes from believing in luck, or believing in the power of attraction, or believing and attracting the goodness into one’s life. And I think that can be seen as luck.” This man, who has lost the use of his legs and who has traveled the earth is happy because he is accepting. He speaks of contentedness, of equal and opposite actions and reactions. What he sends into the world comes back to him. He believes that he is lucky, and so he is.

Luck is simply the understanding that life is life and that happiness is not based on anything but our own perceptions. How we feel comes from within and we can manifest this by believing. The president of Uruguay says “Either you’re happy with very little, free of all that extra luggage, because you have happiness inside, or you don’t get anywhere.” He understands that life is not about anything but creating what we want to feel. Life is there to be taken advantage of, to give us luck, and to be our savior. Many people get lost in their lives, unable to discern for themselves what matters and why. He continues by saying something along the lines of  

“I am not advocating poverty. I am advocating sobriety. But since we have invented a consumer society, the economy must constantly grow. If it fails to increase, it is a tragedy. We have invented a mountain of superfluous needs. Shopping for the new, discarding the old… That’s a waste of our lives! Because when I buy something, or when you buy something, you’re not paying money for it. You’re paying with the hours of your life that you had to spend earning that money. The difference is, that life is one thing that money can’t buy. Life only gets shorter.”

-José Mujica, President of Uruguay 2010-2015

Life is something that we cannot buy and yet people will spend their lives striving for the next thing: the new phone that is coming out, that expensive and popular clothing line, a new video game, a new TV, anything. We use our time on the earth to farm materials that we think have meaning – that we think will help us in our lives. But then we see the people who have very little material possessions and yet possess more happiness than we can imagine. To be this lucky, we think. How can I live without anything and yet be happy? It is in the mindset, I would imagine…

And yet, here I am, writing on my twelve hundred dollar MacBook, that I sat on, broke, and fixed for another eight hundred dollars. I’m sitting on a nice and comfortable swivelly chair, in my room, which I’m sure is larger than some people’s entire homes. I have food on my plate. My family is healthy, I am healthy. I am educated and going to college. I have been incredibly fortunate to be in the position that I am in. In the classic sense of the word, I am lucky: lucky to have opportunities and to be positioned both physically and mentally for potential. The world seems to have said, “go and take these things that you have been given and live.” I am but one man, with only a few years on my clock. I have had many more free and empowered seconds than some people will ever have and for this I am grateful. I am grateful and also responsible. I am responsible for the opportunities that I have. The words, “don’t fuck up” echo in the back of my head.

I’m thinking about how naive I am, about how little I know, and about how, out of all people, who am I to write this? I’m no one. I hold no real weight in the world. I write because I want to because my idea needs to be released and formed. I know that I may not be the best vessel for backing up my claims, given the life I have. However, I offer this writing, not to show off, or to ask for praise, or to mandate a practice in life, or even to tell you my own stories. I simply wish to share with others the success that I have found in the simplicity that is the manifestation of luck and the power that comes with it. Be happy, attract happiness.