Thursday, September 29, 2011

What's in a (facebook) name?

    A few weeks ago I had an idea to change my facebook name to Chester Copperpot.  There wasn't a very specific reason, other than the idea just popped into my head, and it just seemed like a fun thing to do.    I didn't think much about it until people started asking me why I would do such a thing.  I realized there were several reasons.    Why?  Mostly because, well, why not?  Life is a playground, and it's OK to play around with things, change things, see what happens.   If you feel like wearing a crazy shirt or hat then wear it.   Who Cares?  If a beautiful phrase pops into your head that breaks any of the loose rules of poetry then put it out there, see where it goes, find out what will come back to you.  Be the butterfly that flaps its wings and causes a typhoon on the other side of the world, or just make yourself chuckle, either way.    My hero Hunter S Thompson never held back from any thought he had.  He acted on every impulse with both disastrous and beautiful results and I admire him for that.   I think we need more of that in today's world, and stop taking everything so fucking serious all the time.  
      But there was something else, a little voice in the back of my head wanting to say that online identities have gone too far.   We are way too wrapped up into these identities that are at best a shallow representation of who we are, and at worst completely fictitious.   FB and social media are ubiquitous and here to stay.   There are really good things about it and really not-so-good things about it; like many things in life, it is what you make it.   But one thing is certain, these online identities that we project are about as real as the character who is Chester Copperpot.    And there was one specific reaction from several people that really hit it home for me.   "He's having an identity crisis"    What?? Really??     Are we so wrapped up in our online identites that the only explanation for me changing my name is that it is an identity crisis?   My first reaction was confusion as to why anyone would assume that, after all I do have my dream job, but after hearing it from several people I became both intrigued and even amused.   But this is where we are at in today's society.   You are your online identity, and if you play with this identity then it is seen as a crisis.   It is quite fascinating isn't it?

     "Who am I?" Is one of the great philosophical questions of all time. Hell, it probably started the entire philosophy discipline to begin with.   We are different people at different times in different situations; we grow and mature, but yet we strive to keep a twinkle of immaturity in our eyes.   The person that meets someone's parents for the first time is not the person that is at the bar at 2am with their best friends from college.   The person that is represented on a Facebook profile is not the person that we sit down and have dinner with.   Who is the real you?   If you truly want to understand a person, then talk to their exes.  Your ex boy/girlfriends have seen the best (they entered into a relationship with you)  and they've seen the worst (run for the hills!). 

     My FB profile is not who I am.  It does not show that I tend to get cranky late at night, it does not show the multitude of insecurities that run my life.  It does not show my worry, and my doubt, and the stress that I sometimes feel.  All of that is a huge part of who I am and is never expressed online, nor should it be.   No, online I might appear confident, smart, creative, and thoughtful.   But offline I am also stupid, insecure, myopic, and selfish.   That is the real me, the person that few people know, but for some reason still love me anyways.

“Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting ‘Holy shit…what a ride!’” -Hunter S. Thompson

Sunday, September 11, 2011

More Love on 9/11 Anniversary

As I sit here this morning I'm very aware of the tenth anniversary of the World Trade Center tragedy.  We all remember it very clearly, don't we?  I'll add a clip of Tim O'Brien singing his very moving song "More Love."  Let us increase our love, understanding, wisdom, and raise our consciousness, and let's decrease ignorance, racism, hate, religious extremism, and the idea that it's "us against them."  There is no "them,"  there is only "us," because we all live on this planet together and we need to stop killing each other for stupid reasons.  

"Just look out around you, people fightin' their wars
They think they'll be happy, when they settle their scores
Let's lay down the weapons
That hold us a part
Be still for just a minute
Try to open our heart

More love, I can hear our hearts cryin'
More love, I know that's all we need
More love to flow in between us
To take us and hold us and lift us above
If there's ever an answer, it's more love "    --Tim O'Brien

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Happiness is a Greasy Fire Hose in a Purple Pudding Pit

What is happiness?  I might have an answer.   Happiness is what everyone else has and you/me/us/we are trying so hard to get.    We live in a culture that has decided that happiness is the final answer and measuring stick to every single endeavor.   No matter that it is harder to hold onto than a greasy fire hose in a purple pudding pit.

It's not that everyone is miserable, but I think the important thing to understand is that happiness is fleeting, it comes and it goes--it's there when you don't expect it and it won't stay as long as you want.   But when we allow our snowflake storm pseudo-sitcom society to convince us that we should be happy all the time -every second of every day- then we can actually create stress in our daily lives because we "don't feel continuously happy" which snowballs into this country leading the world in anti-depressants but scoring low in overall happiness. What a cycle. 

We need to shift the focus of our daily actions from the search of happiness and pleasure to intention.  Instead of waking up each day and wondering how we can make ourselves happy, we can wake up and decide on our intention for the day.  Let happiness be the bloom of a flower that comes and goes on its own schedule.

Sometimes I wonder if happiness is even real or if it's just an elusive concept.  Or maybe it's just a combination of actually feeling relaxed, or engaged, or challenged, or accomplished, or amused or content.   Maybe happiness doesn't even exist and we are stressing ourselves to death (literally) for an imagined concept.  Wouldn't that be a great irony of life?

Ricky Gervais wrote a really great blog/article about a new project he's working on, and the first half really caught me.  He describes how he was the ultimate slacker throughout the first part of his life until he tried something new when he created the English version of "The Office."   For the first time in his life he tried his hardest.   And he became addicted.   Not to success, or work, or money or fame, but to giving it his all.  It's interesting that he never claims that he's happier, but you can feel it in his writing - it's palpable.

University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin Seligman wrote in his 2002 book Authentic Happiness that happiness involves three components; pleasure (the great googly feeling), engagement (the depth of involvement with one's family, work, romance and hobbies), and meaning (using personal strengths to serve some larger end).  And his research shows that one of these components factors much less in overall contentment.   And ironically it's the one component that our culture seems to pursue the most: pleasure.   Engagement and meaning are much more important to overall satisfaction and, I believe, come from daily intention as well as hard work.

The question of "what makes us happy?" is very interesting because in some ways we don't really know.   Hungarian-born psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced "cheeks sent me high") who is known for his research on happiness and creativity, as well as the introducing the concept of "Flow" (think Michael Jordan in game 7 of NBA finals) came up with a brilliant experiment on how to find out what really makes us happy.   Nearly everyone will always answer "my family, or my children."   But when people are asked to rate their moods at different parts of the day (whenever a beeper goes off) we find that children and family are typically the main cause of frustration and stress.   There is a disconnect between what people believe makes them happy and what actually makes them happy.   Perceived happiness has differentiating factors, such as our memories of experiences can be jaded by the final moments of the experience, and also the very human tendency to romanticize the know, "the good 'ol days"

After family, people will list their work as another main source of happiness, contentment, frustration, or stress.    Are we successful? Are we moving forward?  Are we financially secure?  If not, now do we get there?

Several years ago I got a taste of the corporate world.  Now keep in mind that this was in Asheville NC, so it was a very laid back version of the corporate world, complete with shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops (Asheville was ranked as the happiest place in the world!); but for a banjo picker from Sparta NC it was a didactic experience.   At one point we all were caught up in "The Secret" where you make vision boards and all the great things in life will come to you because you imagine them coming to you.   The Law of Attraction.

This is a a very sexy concept, and was featured multiple times on Oprah (so it MUST be legit!),  but there was something that just didn't feel right about it, and it took reading Rick Pitino's fantastic book Success is a Choice for me to be able to vocalize what.   Pitino lays out 10 steps in his book, but you can reduce the book to two words: Hard Work.   And say what you will about his personal life lately, but when someone coaches a kid who supposedly has no chance to play in the NBA, and works hard enough to become the league's MVP, then I respect that process! Pitino also took a team that was ranked at the bottom of their conference to the final game of the Final Four tournament.   He's a master at setting high goals and achieving them and he didn't do it by sitting at his desk staring at a "vision board."  He pushed pushed pushed and taught his players that they had the ability to rise to a level they never expected.  (the vision board link is to a clip of the great show Always Sunny in Philadelphia)

Getting there early, staying late, pushing yourself past your (imagined) limits, concentrating on weaknesses.   These are the things that separate people who have greater amounts of engagement and meaning from people who only search out pleasure, and therefore have more satisfaction and contentment with their lives. 

But today's culture preaches the opposite.  Is it no fun?  Then don't do it!   Is it not pleasurable? Then stay away from it!  Does it not provide immediate satisfaction?   No wonder we are falling behind the rest of the world in everything!

In some ways I consider myself lucky.   I get paid to do something that I would gladly do for free.  And I can see where people would look at us and think that we "have it made."  But what people don't see are the hours, days, months, years, of working our asses off for nothing.   It probably adds up to about 30 cents an hour...maybe.    People will follow the phrase, "Be Happy"  with, "Do What You Love."  And I have a  problem with that since nobody can just quit their job and "do what they love."  It's deceiving.   But everyone can work to create a life situation that has more engagement and meaning, and that takes waking up every day with a set intention and path.  What is your intention for today?

Notice that Winston Churchill did not say, "Do what you love and you'll never work again."  Instead he said, "Find a job that you love and you'll never work again."   It's more than a subtle difference.

If you want to attempt to make a living doing something that you enjoy then you have to be prepared to give up a large part of your life to do so.   You have to WORK YOUR ASS OFF!   It's not always fun,  it's not always pleasurable, and the phrase "delayed gratification" becomes an understatement.   But it's worth it! Oh man, is it ever worth it!   I don't regret a single party that I missed because I was practicing, in fact if I could do it over again, I would go to a lot less parties in college and practice more.

“No one who can rise before dawn 360 days a year fails to make his family rich.” – Old Chinese proverb

Search for engagement and meaning in each day.  Don't worry about pleasure or happiness, and stop putting things off because they're "hard."  Anytime something appears to be too hard imagine what the Navy SEALs go through on a daily basis and proper perspective comes popping past you with perfect precision.