3 Things That Make Me Incredibly Happy and Why

It’s easy to go through a normal week of routine and wallow in the pain of the moment. With so many minor pieces of your day and week that don’t go exactly as planned, it’s common for people to internalize and catastrophize small obstacles.

Instead of telling someone or yourself to minimize the seriousness of the struggle, instead focus that energy on remembering things that did go your way. Find aspects of your life experience to be grateful for. Be thankful for the myriad of good things and details that far outweigh the bad.

Like I’ve done below, grab a piece of paper and jot down 3 things that make you incredibly happy and the exact reasons why they elicit that kind of response from you. This exercise will go a long way in helping you realize that there are things in life to be happy about and the reasons they make you happy can teach you additional strategies for finding your happiness elsewhere by employing similar methodology or recognizing common threads. 

80s/90s Pop Culture

In times of trouble, I always find myself retreating back to the last sane moment I ever knew. I am grateful that my childhood was full of happiness and toys and sprite-based video games and parents who loved me. Because of this, when I’m feeling stressed, anxious, hopeless, or lost in a sea of negativity, I turn to 80s/90s pop culture to fill the emotional void.

In recent years, nostalgia has been a big business. Why would a flailing company or movie studio not lean on rebooting, re-releasing, or re-packaging their existing properties when they know there is a market of 30-40 year olds who will buy it up with grins on their faces?

I’ve just always held a torch for this era of pop culture and it spans many different mediums from the late 80s into the mid-late 90s. Whether it be advertisements, discontinued snack foods, movies, television shows, toys, music, video games, clothing, board games, or sports equipment, there’s a place in my heart for that whole aural ambience and aesthetic.

As you may or may not know, I’m “sort of” a collector of these kinds of material things and memories. I say “sort of” because I’m far to OCD and minimalistic to actually be a “collector” of anything. I’m not a completionist in that regard. I have having stacks of things. I hate clutter. I’m all about the aesthetic appeal in a controlled, manageable dose that makes me happy.

That’s what this whole post is about, things that make me happy. These trinkets on my desk, music on my Spotify, movies on my Amazon Prime, posters on my wall, and cartridges in my Super Nintendo make me genuinely happy and remind me of childhood times that were simple, happy, and care-free. Looking at, touching, and hearing all of these pieces of memory inspire me creatively and make me feel warm and fuzzy inside. That always seems to be the feeling that I’m chasing and it’s nice to have a few material objects that help get me there.

Driving down the Road in Autumn with the Heat On, Music Blasting, and the Windows Open

Even though fall is the most fleeting season of all, it’s also the most romantic. The smell in the air and the cool crispness of the breeze are extremely nostalgic and familiar to my senses. Football and Hockey return. A road winding into the distance surrounded by dramatically-colored leaves is a common sight. My weekends are filled with pumpkin patches, hot cider with bourbon, and lots of ginger snaps.

My favorite part of the fall season, however, is a very personal experience. Living out somewhere between truly rural and kind of suburban southeastern Pennsylvania, wooded roads are all around. There’s nothing like a cold, late October night, a great album, the windows rolled down and the heat blasting while you twist and turn down a dark road in your car.

There’s something about that experience that floods my head with so many layers of memories, inspiration, and outright joy. It is an experience unique to temperate deciduous regions of earth, but it’s a quiet moment that every living person should experience at least once.

Solo Hikes with Headphones On

Much like the above event, hiking by yourself is extremely personal. You’re breathing heavy and you’re sweating as the music pumps in your ears. You look around and catch a glimpse of a random bird, squirrel, chipmunk, even a wild turkey or deer on rare occasions. You walk up hills and alongside creeks. You stop to take a look at a family of ducks sliding through a pond. All is at peace and all is at one.

Not only are solo hikes great exercise and great for your mental wellbeing, they give you time to think and appreciate the minute details of life. All the trees and plants and animals are existing in this space with you and the serenity of the moment is a shared experience.

I don’t think I look forward to any type of exercise more than I do hiking alone.

Why It’s Better to Choose Bewilderment over Panic

In times of political and social upheaval and attacks on commonly-held ways of thinking, it’s easy to hit the panic button and explode into Nostradamus-like predictions of worldly destruction. That kind of thinking does not lead to change, answers, or progress, however. It’s better to take your misunderstanding by the horns and lead it to new places of self-discovery, skepticism, and eventual insights that could help shape the future.

I recently picked up Yuval Noah Harari’s “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” and, like a canary in a coal mine, its loud tweets have been a wake up call to my own way of thinking. The following passage, on which this article will be based, spoke to me in such a way that it’s helping me realize my own internal panic and has inspired me to try to guide it toward someplace different:

“We are still in the nihilist movement of disillusionment and anger, after people have lost faith in the old stories but before they have embraced a new one. So what next? The first step is to tone down the prophecies of doom and switch from panic mode to bewilderment. Panic is a form of hubris. It comes from the smug feeling that one knows exactly where the world is heading: down. Bewilderment is more humble and therefore more clear-sighted. Do you feel like running down the street crying ‘The apocalypse is upon us’? Try telling yourself, ‘No, it’s not that. Truth is, I just don’t understand what’s going on in the world’”

I’ve always been an opinionated person and my obvious sarcastic cynicism has largely been a result of life not living up to my idealistic worldview. Through my own convictions, I guess my lean has always been toward the left, however, because I trend toward progressive thought. Equality, a removal of gender and racial bias, empowerment and mobility of all social castes, anti-tribalism, and the pursuit of counter culture ideologies have always been part of my way of thinking.

It really all goes back to my intrinsic hatred toward religion. I know this is antithetical to the idea of equality, but the idea of mythical tribalism impeding scientific thought and influence cultures and inciting violence worldwide has always been a point of contention with me. I understand its role in providing comfort, basic morals, a sense of community, and an otherworldly motivation for early man to push harder and go farther, but I feel it has outlived its usefulness. This opinion is not part of the overall purpose of this article, however, but it’s useful in framing the idea of bewilderment vs. panic. While the panic of religious folk has always been a fear of the holy apocalypse, my own internal panic has been the death of progress and the propagation of tyranny.

With the election of Donald Trump in 2016, I’ve felt waves of panic. Conservatives can call me a snowflake or complain about manufactured doomsday prophecies all they wish, but that same manufactured doomsday talk is what got their chosen leaders elected as well. Fear of immigrants, fear of minorities, fear of homosexuals, fear of women and those last-minute grasps for power in a country that started to look unfamiliar to those who pine for 1950s America are the very disenfranchised votes needed to elect someone like Donald Trump.

Internally, I’ve felt that 2016 was a turning point for not only America, but the world at large. Isolationism, tribalism, jingoism, and every other ism defined by this overt fear of other humans and the innate need to build metaphorical and literal walls around yourself, your home, your country to prevent it from being lost forever have become everyday parts of human existence over the last few years. Every ugly panic button that humanity has ever buried deep within their consciousness has been called upon like a dark Bat signal and people’s fears are being harnessed worldwide for both profit and power.

This panic, this fear, this is what humanity as a whole needs to understand and change in order to move forward. Like I said earlier, I too am a victim of this inaccurate and dangerous way of thinking. I’ve fallen into cynicism even further than I’d already been. I’ve always held a cocky attitude toward my own intellect and understanding and assumed everyone else was wrong or too stupid to understand the truth. I’ve been beaten down by the 24/7 news cycle, the tragedies that have surrounded me, friends and family, and innocent people in general. It’s easy to assume the sky is falling with all the evidence we have around us. I’m here to implore you to reconsider your assumptions.

Bewilderment, as Harari described, is more “humble.” Humbleness, lacking pride or arrogance, is a sentiment that has been largely lost by popular human society. We take no time to admit that we’re wrong or that we lack understanding when situations are presented to us. Harari’s point is a poignant one because if we’d take the time to admit that we don’t know where we stand or where we’re going, we’d be able to break down our own and the world’s own complex shortcomings and work to poke holes, heal, and fix the broken state of the world before us.

Bewilderment allows for new possibilities to emerge and espouses a self-awareness not often seen in 2018. Looking inward is one of the most important exercises in mental health and it creates an objective vantage point from which true revelations can be gleaned. Just like how I fully admit that I’m a manipulative but empathetic, narcissistic but caring, gluttonous but generous, offensive but ever-changing amalgamation of evil and goodness in a constant state of identity crisis, so too should everyone take some quiet moments to reflect on the energy you direct inwards as well as out into the world and its ripple effect on the world around you and the people it touches.

Harari uses the example of the fall of liberal democracy in the same way that fascism and communism have fallen over the last century and uses it as a voice to not criticize unfairly or cry wolf about the phenomenon, but to help shape future conversations and save a worldview that is in danger of being lost forever.

Too long have people chosen fear over acceptance, skepticism, and understanding and the time has come to choose this perplexity over the arrogant assumptions about the fall of civilization. Approaching each problem and situation as an onlooker allows you to fully appreciate all of the clues, context, and evidence that can lead to new ideas. Maybe the answer shouldn’t be returning to the old ways, but moving on to new ways. It’s only through open dialogue, admission of misunderstanding, and unbiased examination that we can ever hope of getting there.

Removing Negative People from Your Life Ethically

Much like the reality that you can’t please everyone, it’s also a universal truth that not everyone can please you either. There will always be negative forces in everyday life that threaten your ability to be happy, healthy, mentally stable, growing, and/or your best version of yourself.

These negative people may resent your successes, cling to your place of subservience in their life, feel jealous, or prefer stagnation to change.

The effects of these feelings on the way the negative person treats you can range from anger to manipulation to outright cruelty and a whole mess of dangerous emotions and reactions in between. They are sabotaging every step forward you take and clinging to your wrists to hold you back in their sad little rut.

It’s time you commit to identifying, understanding, and removing these people from your life before they steal more pieces of your precious life that you can never get back.

Treat Yourself Kindly

The primary place to start when considering any major changes to your life or social group is thinking “Is this what’s best for me and my well-being?”

Way beyond the impact on other people, consider any development or self-improvement steps you take in your life for their actual ramifications. Positive changes should make you happier, more fulfilled, and improve you mental, physical, and emotional state. It should feel like a weight is lifted.

Don’t turn the bad things people project and bring into your life back on yourself. You are the architect of your own happiness. Make an effort to consider all angles and what makes you happy as a person.

Self-care is the crux of every decision worth making.

Examine your Flaws and Maladaptive Behaviors

In the same way that you treat yourself with care and respect, you should also consider yourself with honest eyes and ears. Make sure you’re not the problem, angry, cruel, or resentful in the relationship before you decide to sever ties.

Consider your own flaws and shortcomings and how they might affect others. Examine your maladaptive behaviors closely. Do your actions hurt or manipulate others? Are you lying often? Do you consider anyone else’s feelings but your own? Are you giving back what you take from people?

Ask yourself probing questions and give yourself honest answers. Write down how you’re feeling in a private journal and keep track of your moods and behaviors for a few weeks.

Understanding your own behavior and thinking patterns is an immeasurably valuable exercise.

Create, Communicate, and Maintain Boundaries

Some people have difficulty brainstorming boundaries that they need between themselves and other people in order to remain in a good state of mind. The genesis of these boundaries should take place early on in the relationship when you start to see how you and the other person intermingle.

However you physically and mentally deal with each other should give you a good idea of where a line needs to be drawn between friendliness and overbearance or between advice and hurtful criticism.

Once the boundaries have been created, be sure to communicate them with a thoughtful cadence upfront and also at a few key points along the way, should situations call for a re-establishment.

The communication and maintenance of personal space and personal limits allows you to set ground rules and preemptively negate a significant proportion of over-stepping in the average individual.

Speak Your Feelings and Thoughts Directly

Along with the communication of boundaries, your opinions and feelings should be communicated openly.

If someone is hurting you or making you feel threatened or bad about yourself, feel free to speak up. If the other person reacts negatively to your honest opinion, then they are the perfect example of someone you should cut out of your life. People worth your time will take it upon themselves to listen and shift their behavior when it’s causing you pain.

Don’t pussyfoot around the point you’re trying to make either. Pick your words carefully and bluntly describe your thoughts so as to minimize any sort of interpersonal confusion or mixed signals.

Don’t Get Manipulated by Guilt

Manipulative people have many tricks up their sleeves that they use to paint you into corners that give them exactly what they want: control. Don’t let their guilt tactics eat away at your resolve.

You do not owe anyone anything.

If a man who wants you romantically has spent time talking to you for a long time and you don’t harbor these same romantic feelings, you do not owe it to him to continue talking. You can disappear off the face of the earth, if you wish, and that’s okay. Your safety is the utmost concern and not the opinions or expectations of others.

If you don’t feel like responding to someone, don’t respond. If you’d rather not attend a social event, then don’t attend. There may be social consequences, if they are friendships you’d rather maintain, but the choice is yours.

You can’t please everybody and you can only do what is in your best interest. When you have true friends and meaningful relationships beyond those you wish to sever, then you may make more selfless decisions because their actions have given you the trust and security needed to feel comfortable about it, but don’t force it.

Don’t let the expectations of your acquaintances dictate your behavior, if it’s not the behavior you want to be associated with or it’s not in your best interest.

Free Others from Expectations While Freeing Yourself

In all fairness, levying these types of boundaries and taking your own life back into your own hands is only great if it’s even-handed.

Now that you’ve considered so many of the ways other people influence and dictate your own life, take a moment to survey how you treat people as well.

It’s not right to expect a certain level of flexibility in others and not grant them the same privilege. Make sure you’re not the negative person influencing other people’s lives in harmful ways. Take stock in your role in the lives of those close to you and what benefits you mutually provide each other.

If the relationship only goes in one direction, it’s time to either change or reconsider the way you interact, no matter which side the greediness is coming from.

Practice Acceptance

Maybe a relationship you once treasured has now veered out of control into dangerous territory. Don’t blame yourself. That is not always a bad thing. People come into and leave our lives constantly and that is just the way that life needs to pan out sometimes.

Don’t fret and regret and obsess over the changes you’ve made to your life, wondering if it was the right decision. We’re all where we are supposed to be in any given moment. It’s not that there’s no room for forgiveness, but that will take time. In the present context, you’re better off.

Take a deep breath, accept the choices you’ve made, and take solace in the fact that you’re actively taking the wheel when it comes to your own personal growth and development. Any brick you lay that takes you one step closer to happiness is a worthy pursuit.

My Favorite Poem in “Forage” by Rita Wong

I’ve always been a supreme fan of poetry. Having written my own shitty verses for decades now, I took a scholastic approach in college and spent a long time learning about post-modern poetry and the various veins of expression that modern poets took.

The idea of poetry strikes me as the highest form of language. It takes all the pieces of language that matter: context, sound, rhythm, pace, emotion, truth, shape, form, purpose, and places them into a package where all of the beauty of words can be experienced in one place.

Rita Wong is a Canadian poet who has authored several collections of note. Her words take a very semantic dissection of heavy topics such as the environment, social justice, decolonization, and the way in which human beings can take words and assemble them in a poetic fashion to elicit emotional truths and evoke change through a unity of experience.

In her words:

“A poem can begin with a feeling, a word, a sound, an experience, an intuition. I tend to write short bits that accumulate over time. There are recurring obsessions and themes, though they are not always conscious when I begin writing.”

This approach to gathering your thoughts as they spring up in your mind instead of trying to force ideas to flow freely is akin to my own creative process. When I sit down and “try” to write, nothing comes. I can spew out very robotic, calculated phrases, but it doesn’t pour from me organically the way it does when a certain kind of muse strikes me.

Her second collection, Forage, (from which I’m taking the poem “resuscitate” to talk about here) criticizes the way western society uses force and power politics while taking the time to work in various poetic styles to reinforce her points.

In the margins, you’ll find pictures and quotes that help reiterate the points of the poetry and also give a historical and modern look at the state of countries rebuilding themselves from within after decolonization and the wills of power-hungry people. It takes special care to explain the pitfalls and lingering effects these dynamic shifts can have on a populace and an individual, from self-identity to self-worth.

The poem opens with an immediate death metaphor, but also draws me into a sort of romantic sensibility or a cry to a lover to fit into a certain mold:

“could sleep for centuries until you break my skin, draw up my mutinous juices, could lie fallow and expectant, dormant through winters of discontent, seasons of ceaseless rain, could be graphed and quartered and undergo the hand of cartographers until the northern lights dim with exhaustion,…”

The speaker is talking about being docile and overly-accommodating. The term “fallow” being used to invoke the period that a field is plowed and left unsown in order to restore its fertility. The speaker will weather the storm of unsatisfying love and affection and lay dormant until those “mutinous juices” or the gas fire of opinion and life-bringing energy wells up inside once again.

The “hand of cartographers” implies the unfair mapping, categorizing, and “quartering” or disassembling of her body and identity at the hands of an onlooker. It makes me visualize a judge applying regions to someone’s sense of self without their agency.

“…still you might never appear in the incarnation i desire, the precise contour of resolve and steadfast sinew i seek to anchor my sororitas surges, my maternal imperatives, my infant divinations, are you hurricane or torrent, engineer’s shovel or crane’s lament?”

The speaker is disappointed in someone’s position in their life. The need for someone to be resolute, strong, and able to wrangle feelings of sisterhood, motherhood, and child-like assumptions is communicated bluntly.

Asking “are you hurricane or torrent, engineer’s shovel or crane’s lament?” breaks down a question of accountability and power. A hurricane is a force of unbridled energy while a torrent is contained and controlled into a useful stream of energy instead of shapeless mass. An engineer’s shovel is a useful metaphor for describing intent and deliberate action instead of a crane’s lament which is movement under the control of another.

This particular part of the poem always resonated with me because it is a question that all humans must contend with. Are we masters of our own destiny in the driver’s seat or are we simply the tools of someone more powerful and influential than ourselves and we’re driven solely by the need to please them?

The poem ends with extremely poignant imagery of the mark that humankind can leave on the world:

“…could wrap our spent bodies into the textures of igneous, sediment, underground streams until the crows and ravens chatter distress in suburban neighbourhoods, in hopes our porous husks feed hunters, gatherers, compassionate world-eaters”

Is all the trying worth it? We all end up used up, encased in stone, our energy flowing through underground streams. Our only worth comes when the crows and ravens in suburban neighborhoods speak our names and our tragedies, an allusion to the way that world crises only seem to become a matter worth talking about once they reach white, wealthy, western areas.

The speaker’s final hope is that their porous husks, their fragile forms, will leave some lasting and positive impact on the next wave of men who consume the planet for their means, assuming they have compassionate intent.

The liner of the page reads:

“I would rather unleash fire than have fire unleash me.” – Richard Van Camp

This quote sums up the feeling of the poem very succinctly. We are to be the agents of our self-identity, self-worth, and the impact we have on the world around us. It is not for tragedy and unexpected horrors to shape us, but for us to unleash the explosive force within before we let it take control. We are the masters of our own perspective.

I hope you enjoyed reading this poetry treatment as much as I did writing it and I highly recommend picking up this book of poetry, if you’re interested in the subject matter.

How to Trick Yourself into Being More Social

Just like with New Year’s resolutions, it’s easy to come up with a plan of action in your head or on paper, but harder to actually accomplish the goals you set for yourself. Diligence, practice, time, and constant focus are the only ways to make your aspirations into achievements.

Many people struggle with the idea of being social. You could be an introvert, lazy, insecure, unmotivated, depressed, anxious, or a combination of all of the above, but the first step is knowing that you want to change and admitting that it’s a shortcoming.

Like any journey to self-improvement, you can’t climb the mountain in a day. Every effort you put into surrounding yourself with more positive people who will uplift you and round out portions of your personality or call you out on your blind spots is a worthy pursuit. Lay a single brick toward this end every single day.

Below you’ll find 5 easy ways to trick yourself into being more social and push you down the path to a sense of community and out of the isolation of this digitally connected, but emotionally disconnected world that we live in.

Buy Tickets Ahead of Time

Sometimes, I’ll see an event online or hear about it from friends and I’m really on-board to go. It sounds interesting, I like the group of people I’d be going with, and I have ambitions of showing up.

Then, the day arrives and I have a sudden need to be introverted, to bail. I have an extreme history of day-of bailing and it’s not something I’m particularly proud of.

One of the methods I’ve found works best in ensuring that I don’t miss out on things I actually want to do because of sudden changes of heart or a day of particular depression or anxiety is to buy the tickets ahead of time.

By committing money to social obligations instead of just delivering my intentions as lip service, I’m far more likely to actually show up to the event that I was planning on attending.

While it’s not 100% effective because I’ve still resorted to selling my tickets to friends or on StubHub if I’m really feeling a strong bail vibe, it has certainly improved the odds.

The only time I’m 100% committed is when it’s an event that someone else is paying for. I would never leave someone hanging with a bill on my account and it’s another solid way to ensure that I actually show up.

Listen to Music that Pumps You Up

Music has an incredible effect on a person’s life. When I’m in a bad mood, I tend to listen to very somber or very angry music. When I’m happy, I want something upbeat. In that way, it seems that your own current mood dictates your music choices.

Luckily, it works the other way too.

It’s a Friday or Saturday night and I’m laying on my couch calculating every possible excuse I can come up with to get out of going to something I’ve verbally committed to. I haven’t even started getting dressed yet and I’m sucked into some kind of mind numbing YouTube video about building a custom arcade cabinet.

I turn to my Alexa and beg her for some music. Suddenly, 90s dance hit “My Boo” by Ghost Town DJs comes on. The next thing I know, I’m throwing on a pair of jeans and a Hawaiian shirt, taking a few sips of bourbon and getting ready to leave.

Music has a positive effect on my mood and also motivates me. It’s the soundtrack to your life and allows your mind to picture scenarios that you may be ignoring. It takes you on a nostalgic journey to previous nights out on the town where you were glad you didn’t hole yourself up inside playing Super Nintendo.

Watch Instagram Stories

While social media can often be an incredible gaslighter in terms of instilling jealousy, insecurity, and depression about your own situation versus that of others, it can also be a motivating force.

Sometimes, on nights where I’m feeling particularly anti-social when I know I shouldn’t be, I’ll pull up some Instagram stories of my friends or acquaintances to see what they’re up to.

Often times, the simple experience of watching other people have a good time at a bar, club, party, traveling, or on any other myriad of fun adventures is enough to push me over the edge.

FOMO, or the fear of missing out, can be a powerful motivating force for people who need to get over the hump of their social anxiety and standoffish tendencies.

Take a moment to step back and think in your head if you’d be more mentally satisfied being alone at home wallowing or out meeting people, seeing friends, or experiencing new things that will push you to grow and have fun.

Commit to Talk to Strangers More Often

As scary as it is to spark up conversations with people you don’t know at all, it’s a really nice exercise in gaining self-confidence and feeling comfortable approaching someone new.

Even if it’s just a cashier, a waitress, someone next you on the train, make the effort to comment on something, smile, or say hello if it looks like it might be welcomed.

Judge their body language and receptiveness and if the opportunity comes up to comment on something or ask a question, do so. Compliment them, ask them something specific, or just make a funny comment. Just don’t comment on the weather because that is the most cliche and asinine topic of conversation in human history.

Part of the confidence of conversation is looking approachable yourself as well. Smile or at least look neutral and somewhat friendly, speak clearly and with conviction, and have an opinion. There’s nothing more boring than someone who agrees with everything you say.

If you’re out at a bar or club or live event alone and there are other people standing around alone, talk to them. You never know where this kind of interaction could lead. I’ve made some really good friends just inserting myself in a non-threatening, non-overbearing way into random conversations out in the world.

The feedback and validation you get from making an active effort to put yourself out there can be a motivating force in making you want to be social more often. Even bad attention or negative experiences are something to learn from and you can find a way to cope with rejection and keep trying until you find groups of people you jive with or have mutual interests with.

Find a Community-Based Hobby

If you’re looking for either friends or romantic partners, the bar isn’t always the best place to start. The quality of individuals you meet there can vary widely and there’s no guarantee that you’ll have anything in common. Sparking a conversation while inebriated is easier, but you both may forget important tidbits of conversation the next day.

A better place to start is definitely finding a hobby that is based on a community. There are things like local sports leagues, trivia nights, crafts clubs, hiking clubs, book clubs, or basically anything where a common interest leads to a group of people hanging out.

Your interests may range from Super Nintendo to BDSM (or maybe that’s just me), but it’s guaranteed there’s a group out there who wants to talk about it and do things together.

I find it easier to want to do something if you know that everyone there has a similar frame of mind to your own. You won’t feel like an outcast. Alienation is alleviated when surrounded by folks who you preemptively know share at least some of your interests.

What is the Curse of Competence?

Do you feel as if you’re always the one doing your work properly, accurately, and efficiently?

Are you constantly bugged by the people around you weighing you down with their laziness, apathy, deceit, or ignorance?

You may be suffering from the workplace ailment known as the curse of competence.

It’s like the smart kid in high school who is always getting amazing grades on papers and tests. Once your peers are aware of your skillset, the favors come piling in.

Sure, it doesn’t hurt you personally if they copy your homework or cheat off of your test as you dangle the scantron over the side of your desk as nonchalantly as you can muster, but it feels dirty.

When you’re good at what you do, there is always someone itching to glean from your successes and pass them off as their own.

In the workplace, this is even more apparent. If, during your first three months (the requisite probation period for any job), you’re someone who keeps their head down, keeps quiet, and gets all of your work done to some level of excellence, you will be noticed.

The greedy, managerial overlords will take notice of your achievements and the fact that you never have to be told what to do next. Instead of asking your superiors for direction, you dig in with a shovel and get to figuring out the issues, causes, and solutions all on your own. You are the model employee.

The problem with this recognition is now you’re seen as the workhorse. Whatever job you do and do well is the job that you’ll always be expected to complete with increasing speed and decreasing errors. If an opportunity arises for a new role in your current department or a change of scenery in another department, you’ll be told that you need to stay put.

How could anyone else do your job as well as you’re doing it? What would they do without you?

The unfairness of the situation makes you seethe. You’re angry, and rightfully so, and if you’re anything like me you adopt a teenage sense of pride that turns up the volume on the little voice in your head telling you “they can go fuck themselves, so let’s just phone it in and see how they deal with it.” You start pushing limits. You get resentful.

The curse of competence has taken hold of you fully now and your work and attitude will suffer because of it.

If you’re a person who completes tasks and doesn’t shy away from them and you get them done in a reasonable amount of time with some degree of quality, then you will become that go-to person.

If someone else fucks something up, they know you’ll be there to fix it. If another department can’t learn anything new, you’ll be expected to spoon feed the information around every turn.

You can handle 4 accounts while your other teammates can only handle 1 or 2? How about 5? 6? The sky’s the limit when you’re seen as someone who can get shit done and not complain about it. They know they have a mighty strong cog in the wheel and no amount of pressure is going to make you crack.

Work continuously lands at your feet not because it challenges you, interests you, or helps you grow as a person or within your career, but because you’re trusted to handle everything without fucking it up.

There’s no reason for managers, directors, and higher ups to trust anyone else and risk disaster when they know that throwing more on your plate doesn’t decrease their output.

While you may be drowning, working long hours, and planning an escape route, your bosses are thrilled that they can pay a single salary to get the work of 3 or more people.

The first thing to note, however, is that competence is definitely not a bad thing, especially at the surface. It means you’re intelligent and adept and people can rely on you without questioning their decisions. This is invaluable as an employee.

However, do not let this situation get the best of you. Tactfully find a way to escape your situation in the most professional way possible. As clichéd as this idiom has become, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. The best way to find solutions in the workplace is to communicate with your manager instead of boiling in silent rage.

Explain how unfair it is that, although you have no problem helping out as much as humanly possible, you’d like to grow as an employee and utilize some of your other skills outside the confines of the ones you’ve mastered. If you’re a great worker, they’ll want to keep you and make you happy with growth and knowledge opportunities.

The trust your manager puts in you should go both ways and they should be happy to enact changes that make you feel better about your role and your acknowledgement. They will fear losing you. You’re not easily replaced.

Speak up, be flattered, and find a way to make your competence work for you without letting it dominate you.

Why I Don’t Want to Grow Up

“If submitting to the expectations of our surroundings means growing up, I’ll try wholeheartedly to refuse.”

– Satanic Surfers “What Ever”

As a 31-year-old man who has more toys in his office than Joey Gladstone on Full House, I know a thing or two about fighting the urge to grow up.

People make fun of me for my love of the Disney store, Ninja Turtles, my Super Nintendo collection, and my obsessively robust knowledge about 90s pop culture, but these frivolous things make me happy.

I’ve had so many people in my life tell me that I seem so laid back and content and that I bring a pretty positive aura with me wherever I go. I laugh often and I’m sentimental about people and things. I find so much to love about life and existence that I want to be a keystone of peaceful living where possible.

If that makes me a man-child or delusional or all of the psychological profiles of someone clinging to their childhood, then so be it.

Here are my reasons why it’s not such a bad thing to be in touch with your inner child.

Dreams are Precious

The moment your life ceases having ambition it also ceases having meaning.

You should always hang on to your goals and your dreams and your visions of an ideal future.

Growing up means favoring practicality over whimsy, and I don’t subscribe to that tired notion.

The Death of Imagination

Just like dreaming, creativity is a wholly human device. Part of the joy of living comes from inventing things that express your innermost personality.

Children have wild imaginations and adults tend to stay grounded. This is the burden of responsibility.

I insist that there should be no end to imagination. Progressive, obscure, and otherworldly thoughts should always be nurtured.

A Disdain For Convention

Convention is the death of individuality. Your life path should only parallel another’s if that’s what makes you feel whole and happy.

Too many of us judge our own happiness beside the roads most people travel, but this is an errant philosophy.

Don’t worry about the milestones you hit and when. They should occur naturally. It’s part of life whether you’re a child or an adult.

Most of my life is spent defying convention in the face of scrutiny. Fuck you if you impede someone else’s happiness.

I’m comforted in the fact that I’m free to do as I please.

Love me or hate me, I will always be me.

Maintaining Spontaneity

Like convention, routine harms humanity to its core. Children aren’t afraid of doing the wrong thing or trying something new.

It’s somewhat hypocritical to make this claim as a person who lives with obsessive-compulsive disorder. My comfort thrives with the simplicity of unwavering routine.

I’ve found that defying my safe routines, however, inspires confidence and builds growth from within.

Like my cross country living experiences and lone social adventures, escaping the ordinary gives you limitless opportunities to make yourself better.

A Reawakening of Fun

I marvel at how carefree and jovial a child can be in even the most mundane of scenarios. They never stop finding ways to stay occupied and have fun.

I’m envious of the days I could sit on the floor of my bedroom for hours, whiling the time away building out intricate story lines for all of my action figures.

It’s so wonderful to find time in your life to play.

These days, it comes in the form of drunken dancing or the few sweet hours a week I get to do goofy crafts with loved ones or play video games, but the need is fulfilled.

Staying Young at Heart

As I’ve experienced much death and deterioration in recent months with my 2 surviving grandparents either extremely frail or now having passed on, I have renewed interest in the idea of staying young at heart.

They both loved long, full lives and got the chance to raise successful children, travel, and be around people who loved them.

These joys are often forgotten in the adult world because of responsibilities, money trouble, and career stresses.

I choose to and implore you to choose to make a concerted effort to not let the woes of your life get you down. Find some time to be free of worry and full of life.

Take that road trip. Go grab a 3am pizza slice. Swing on the monkey bars. Do whatever it takes to feel young again.

There’s too many people I know in their 30s who act like their life is a cookie cutter record on repeat.

Your life is not over. It’s only just begun.

Don’t lose that zest for life that you once had. Don’t let the time slip away. You never know what could happen tomorrow.

Food Donations in Exchange for Overdue Library Book Fines

Library late fees have always been a reality of checking out books or other media. Sometimes you get so wrapped up in a book that you forget to return it, while other times it’s stuffed in a schoolbag or under a couch cushion and you don’t even know that you have it. Before, these fines could add up to hundreds and even thousands of dollars over a long enough period of time. It reminds me of the “Bookman” episode of Seinfeld. However, I recently came across this MSN article that sparked an interesting new way of looking at library fines: Food for Fines: Libraries Across the Country Will Let You Pay Overdue Fees With Donated Food.

“For a limited time this month, libraries across the country will be accepting an alternative form of payment from patrons with overdue books.

Bring pantry goods into a library with a Food for Fines program and you can pay your fines without further opening your wallet. Libraries will donate any unopened, nonperishable foods they collect to local food banks, and they typically waive $1 worth of fines per item. Some libraries even accept pet food to give to animal shelters in their area.”

This is a fantastic idea. Instead of only serving to donate money directly to the library to pay for your past due items, you’re instead helping members of the community. That seems like the ethos of libraries in general. They exist as information warehouses where the general public, with or without the financial means, can stay well-read, use computers, engage in free activities, rent movies, and better themselves without incurring cost.

It only makes sense that, instead of punishing people’s wallets directly, force them to empty out their pantries and donate directly to helping alleviate at least a portion of the hunger in their own community.

The article also states:

“In addition to providing food to communities, Food for Fines programs can get people to rethink traditional library late fees. Many libraries are moving away from fines all together in an effort to make their services more accessible to low-income families. At Los Angeles County public libraries, anyone under 21 can clear their late fee balance by reading more books.”

Again, this goes back to the idea of public spaces for information and culture and their ultimate goal–improving the lives of people in the community. Doing away with late fees entirely or finding alternative ways to wipe them clean are fantastic efforts to inspire positive change without further negatively impacting the economically under-privileged.

The Philosopher’s Notebook: Writing Prompt #001

philosopher's notebook book

Recently, I stopped inside of a local Barnes & Noble near my workplace to grab an overpriced cold brew from Starbucks. Whenever I’m in one of these book stores, as rare as they are nowadays, I’ll always take at least 5 minutes to page through some of the clearance books.

After gliding over a few of the cooking and self-help books looking for anything that struck me as interesting, I was drawn to a particular publication that caught my eye instantly. Laying prominently on the third shelf up in front of me, I found a copy of “The Philosopher’s Notebook: A Creative Journal for Thinkers and Philosophers.”

Within, there are several sections of profiles of philosophers with a “for dummies” guide to their larger arguments, viewpoints, and assertions. After each section there are multiple writing prompt questions that are designed to make you consider the questions being asked and how you would answer and defend your point.

Being a lifetime lover of philosophy and asking questions about the world around me, I have decided to start a series of writing prompts from this book and detail my own personal feelings about the open-ended inquiries presented.

While I’m quite familiar with almost all of these philosophers and their ideas, it’s always important to take it back to basics when examining one’s life and purpose. You never know how your ideas may have shifted over time and these are ideas that you should always be considering.

“According to Socrates, virtue derives from the ability to think for oneself. Take a look at the following philosophical queries and write down your responses. These questions resurface in various guides throughout the book. As you work through this book, you might want to revisit your thoughts here to see if (or by how much) your perspective has changed.”

Can humans ever experience the world objectively?

It’s important to account for the dictionary definition of the word before answering the question. The textbook definition of “objective” is “not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased.” Utilizing this definition, I believe there is a part of human life that can be experienced objectively.

The obvious case is that of a baby, born freshly and brought gently into the world. During the point at which the first cognizant thoughts are formed, you are experiencing the world objectively. You’re born with no preconceived feelings or prejudice other than the need for survival necessities like air, water, and food. Everything you see is absorbed like a bathroom rug and your thoughts and feelings are formulated thereafter. Your cultural mores are discovered, your language is formed, your relational interpretation of the world into discernible thoughts has begun. From then on, your world shifts from wholly objective to purely subjective. You become an individual, but you are not born that way.

What happens to us after we die?

As people are probably tired of hearing me declare, I am an atheist. It’s not a means by which I hold my intellect about others and it is free of judgement, as long as the tenets of other religions and ways of thinking don’t impede on mine or my loved ones’ existence. It’s just always been a part of who I am, from my earliest memories being raised in a Catholic household. I was the kid who couldn’t swallow anything that was uttered in mass. I was sitting backwards on the kneeling pads using the pew as a desktop and doodling or playing with action figures. After all these years, at 31, my parents finally accept that this was not something I was doing for attention or to be rebellious, but that is truly how I feel inside. This needed to be said before addressing the idea of death and any sort of “existence” afterward.

I believe that we are born, we grow old, we get sick, and we die. Like any sound Buddhist, I have accepted these realities and am perfectly okay with them. To borrow from many who have said it before me, namely Neil Degrasse-Tyson, I find it more incredible that life has existed and flourished in the face of such cosmic apathy. So much of the world and universe could kill us and most life instantly, but life finds a way to survive. We are made of the same elements of life and matter as existed during the “Big Bang.”

To me, nothing happens after we die. Much like the time before we were born, it is not an experience that can be described. Nothing is just that: no thing. It’s not blackness or good or bad or apathetic. It is simply no thing. To me, that is incredibly comforting. There is no better idea of “final peace” or “final resting place” than the absence of all things. The whole heaven/hell/limbo things seems like so much drama and such a hassle. I’d rather just dissipate and not exist at all. I’m totally okay with that.

How free are we?

Much like the baby I mentioned earlier in this line of questioning, we are completely free from birth outside of the confines of our physical barriers and survival necessities. No, an infant is not free to buy a house and drive a car and stay out until 3am because they’re not able to walk, talk, or think in sophisticated enough terms to do any of those things. However, there’s no intrinsic law saying that they can’t, should these barriers be lifted.

Outside of our inherent mammalian desires to eat, drink, fuck and procreate, we are completely free to think how we want. Our biology definitely has influence, though. Our DNA always wants to replicate. Our organs require certain minerals, energy, and water to function correctively. These will have influence on our thoughts, but the end decision is still up to us.

Societally, no we’re not free. There are laws and records and ways in which the people who have the most power and influence over this particular reality control things. You can’t just do whatever you want without consequence. You can do whatever you want, truly, but there will be consequences and obstacles that are above your pay grade. Our freedom and our reality are dependent upon the people who hold the most power.

Does life have meaning?

In my lifetime, I’ve yet to find a better quote than this one from the “Wonders of the Universe” TV series by Brian Cox that sums up my ideas about the meaning of life so succinctly:

“Just as we and all life on earth stand on this tiny speck adrift in infinite space, so life in the universe will only exist for a fleeting, bright instant in time because life, just like the stars, planets, and galaxies, is just a temporary structure on the long road from order to disorder, but that doesn’t make us insignificant because we are the cosmos made conscious. Life is the means by which the universe understands itself.”

The idea that life has found a way through all of this chaos and danger is a meaning in and of itself. Life is significant because it exists and it continues to exist. Even in the darkest, most inhospitable corners of the earth, life finds a way. However fleeting and transient the timelines of our lives exist in the grand scheme of things, the experience is relative. The days feel long and the minutes wash over us, but we are alive and conscious and this is a precious, arbitrary gift from an unknown source.

From a semantic standpoint, also, of course life has meaning. Anything can have meaning. Meaning is dependent on the being appending meaning rather than the object itself. I could say that a feather falling from the sky onto my head is divine providence and tether that meaning to that object, so too can human beings attach whatever meaning they desire to their own lives. That is the privilege of self-awareness.

Is the universe intelligible?

There is a difference between “intelligible” and “solvable.” Of course the universe is intelligible. It is able to be understood in some capacity. The study of physics and astrophysics alone are examples of humanity’s successes as far as comprehending some small part of the universe. Essentially, any scientific trajectory is a small piece of understanding of the world around us. There are mathematical consistencies in some parts of nature. There are reappearing designs and structures. There are laws of movement and chemistry and biology that are able to be recreated in laboratory settings. There are some organized data sets. Yes, the universe in intelligible.

Solvable, though? Hell, no. Just like there will never be a “largest number” or “smallest element of matter,” there can never be a Rosetta Stone for the universe that just unlocks and solves all of its intricacies. There are infinite moving parts. There are infinite unknowns. For every bit of information we discover, there is an exponentially larger amount of information that we do not understand or have not even come across yet.

In the future, who’s to say that our laws of physics will not be challenged? What if there are additional elements or states of matter that have yet to be discovered? Science is self-correcting and its existence and continued truths are dependent upon pencils having erasers. The pursuit of knowledge and understand of the world around us is a fundamental part of human existence, but there will never be an end to this as long as humankind propagates.

Is there a god?

I’m going to sound like a bit of a hypocrite, but even as an atheist I cannot possibly rule out with certainty the existence of a god. I do not personally believe in any of the cultural gods that humankind has proposed thus far, but I do believe in modal realities. I think anything is possible. I think human perspective is incredibly limited to our biological structure. There could be dimensions of energy and things beyond our scope of sight that exist all around us. There could be a creator being that is able to manifest energy from nothing and experience time on a nonlinear path. I’m not saying it does or does not exist, but it could.

I don’t call myself agnostic, however, because I feel it is important for the progression of human thought to take a stand. Any argument that has a binary answer, someone could just say “I’m not sure.” I think this is a weak position to take and humanity needs the strong sides of the argument to find newer, valuable thoughts and ideas.

Again, this where the hypocrisy comes in. I label myself an atheist, but my lack of conviction about the existence of a god aligns more with an agnostic way of thinking. Call the cops, motherfucker.

Feel free to leave any comments or send your personal thoughts via email. I love civil discourse.

Why Art is an Essential Element of Human Life

“The Purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”

Pablo Picasso

Creation is at the core of the human experience. By the time we’re old enough to recognize ourselves in a mirror, we’re expected to begin crafting an identity. We’re constantly forming sounds, words, phrases, likes, dislikes, symbolic representations of our emotions, and imbibing and regurgitating our understanding of the world around us. Thus is the core of art.

Collective Experience

Art is all about letting your deepest emotions present themselves in a way that throws up a digestible signal to people who are attuned to it. It’s sharing.

The best art in the world is seen as such because it’s relatable. Whether you’re watching a film, reading a book, listening to a song, or staring at a picture in an art gallery, the voice that you’re trying to hear is the artist’s. You’re only able to read and pick up on the signals because of the universality of the message being conveyed.

As much as we like to pretend we’re such vastly different people, we all go through many of the same challenges and doubts and experiences. Like any good character study, however, it’s how we deal with these situations and persist as living creatures that defines who we are. I’m not saying the serial killer is equivalent to the selfless volunteer, but they’ve all walked over some of the same crossroads.

It’s these intersecting paths and common perceptions that form the basis of art. Whether grotesque or beautiful in the popular eye, different things look different ways to different people. This is the crux of why art is so important to life. It allows you to find a shared voice among all the chaos.

The Whimsy of Amusement

“People had been working for so many years to make the world a safe, organized place. Nobody realized how boring it would become. With the whole world property-lined and speed-limited and zoned and taxed and regulated, with everyone tested and registered and addressed and recorded. Nobody had left much room for adventure, except maybe the kind you could buy. On a roller coaster. At a movie. Still, it would always be that kind of faux excitement. You know the dinosaurs aren’t going to eat the kids. The test audiences have outvoted any chance of even a major faux disaster. And because there’s no possibility of real disaster, real risk, we’re left with no chance for real salvation. Real elation. Real excitement. Joy. Discovery. Invention.   The laws that keep us safe, these same laws condemn us to boredom.”

Chuck Pahlaniuk, Choke

Many practical people will say that art is a frivolous thing, but I would have to disagree. Sure, we’re living in a society as fat, first world Americans in which we have the luxury of philosophizing. Those of us who never go without food on the table or lights when it’s dark outside don’t have to worry about how we’re getting our next meal or providing the basic necessities of live. This glib outlook only further punctuates the need for art in everyday life. It’s an escape.

The mundane nature of the middle class lifestyle is a constant merry-go-round of bemusement, boredom, sadness, happiness, joy, excitement, and back to boredom. It’s a long, even keel marked by seldom moments of happiness. As honest as I can stomach it, the moments in which I’m expressing myself and creating something unique are the moments where I feel most at ease.

When you feel that spark of inspiration that crawls behind your eyes and allows you to spew out a colorful array of thoughts that you always believed you couldn’t translate, it feels good. Every human is a creator by nature and everyone can pinpoint a time in their life where they felt such a moment of clarity. It’s like a breath of fresh air that overtakes your senses and gives you a few, brief, shining moments of extreme honesty and cleanliness of thought. Your swirling thought loops pause for a moment and marvel at something that you simply must say, for the good of your being. It could be a drawing, a melody, or a poem, but it falls out of you like liquid from a leaky valve and there’s no greater feeling.

Like reading a great book, art allows you to walk away from the dullness of life for a little while. It gives that little extra umami to your average taste of life. It’s everything you need when you’re feeling particularly down or particularly up. Art lets us imagine what could be instead of settling for what is.

Justification for Existence

Consciousness is a tricky nut to crack. Outside of physiological processes, there’s still no concrete answer as to why it’s evolutionarily superior to exist with self-awareness than without it. Our brain exists as a relational database for this reason. We’re always looking for ways to process the world around us, store that knowledge, and use earlier comparisons to quantify and qualify that stored knowledge. Art negotiates values between us and the world.

Two of the most misunderstood aspects of life are love and death. When you try to put either of them into simplistic words, they don’t carry enough weight. Straightforward language does little to encapsulate the incalculable mass of these two concepts. Love is almost cosmic and otherworldly while death is life’s greatest mystery. We all arrive at the same place, but we have no idea where that leaves us. Without art, we couldn’t even begin to touch on understanding the emotion behind these things.

Art is the tangible medium by which we, as humans, explore and search for an answer to our very existence. Why do we choose to proliferate? It’s these value judgements based on beauty and understand and purpose that guide us. Art is behind so many of these motivations.


Creating any form of art is also the only time, as sentient beings, that we’re truly free. Plucking a thought from your head and displaying it in any fashion you see fit is an act of rebellion. You’re taking your inner monologue that is constantly hidden in plain sight and reproducing its contents to put on display. Whether it’s shared with a handful of friends or an entire generation of people, the fact that you broke down the fourth wall that separates you from others is courageous.

Art is the free expression of the human mind and senses. These expressions are not beholden to any kind of utility, but rather they exist for their own sake.  It is a reflection of our innermost humanity.

However, it also exists as a tragic burden. The ever-growing distance between our most idealistic self and its actualization, that infinite universe between raw data and metaphors. We, as animals, struggle each moment to close that chasm, knowing its futility.

Art, in the plainest terms, does not matter. We, as peons milling around a blue sphere, do not matter. That’s what makes both art and life so beautiful: they exist without needing to.

Just like those indescribable ideas of love and death, we cannot live without it.