Mar 192014
 

The bad stuff that happens to us (and others) is what is most interesting.

Boo for politics!

Boo for politics!

On the one hand this is nice: Something dreadful that happened to us turns into a wonderful adventure with the passing of time.

On the other hand this has a proclivity of confronting us with mostly negatives: War in the Krim, oil spills in Africa, corrupt politicians in our own back yard.

Getting confronted with the negatives, in the news and through our own personal stories, creates an availability bias; we are biased to believe that those things which are generally “available” are in fact common. Because every murder is big news, every war is shown on prime time, we come to believe that murder and war are all around us.

Statistically however this is far from true: The number of murders has been very steadily declining (at least here in the Netherlands) and the number of wars and other armed conflicts is at an all time low.

Today there are elections for the Dutch municipalities. I’m not voting: I don’t know what is going on and given that we live in a slow-moving democracy I don’t really need to. If big changes happen I believe that I can change right along (perhaps even benefit). I do feel that this precludes me from griping about the stupid things that politicians do, but as a) I don’t like to gripe anyway and b) I don’t actually know what they do (wrong) anyway, I can’t.
And yet we feel more and more unsafe…

The solution? Stop feeding the availability bias.

I haven’t watched the news for over 10 years now (due to not owning a television). When I read the news (either online or because I found a newspaper) I concentrate on the economic news (because that is handy for my work and actually does get reported when things are going better) and the comics. Death, war, pollution, politics: There is very little I can do about these anyway so why would I need to know about them? And if there is anything truly important or big, it will get to me through the collective consciousness (i.e. people talking about it).

They say you are what you eat. The same is true for mental food. So why not throw out all the negative and bad stuff and just consume that which is good for you (i.e. makes you happy)?

Boo for politics. Yay for comics!

Mar 172014
 

The number of cool, nice, interesting, funny, happiness inducing things that you can do on a given day is quite limited. There is only a set amount of hours and most of those are spent on keeping things running (like sleep, cooking and cleaning the toilet).

I feel so happy for the little Chinese doll! :-)

I feel so happy for the little Chinese doll! :-)

And this is something that bugs me. Because, well, more happiness is better.

There is however a loophole!

Sure, it’s not possible to feel happy for more things than you can fit in a given day. But it is possible to feel happy about more things than you can do in a given day!

It’s simple really. Ridiculously simple. And still, we have a tendency to do the exact opposite.

The secret? Feel happy for someone else.

Celebrate someone else’ successes. Enjoy your sister’s joy. Smile at your friend’s laughter, laugh when your colleague smiles. Genuinely appreciate the good fortune that comes on your acquaintance’s path.

The term for being happy for another’s happiness is “compersion”. Of course it’s been around for thousands of years, but only in the last century did the English language gain the word to describe the particular feeling. The words jealousy and envy have been around for way longer. What does that say about us as a species…?
Because there are so many people doing so many cool, interesting, fun, beautiful, wonderful, happy things. Imagine tapping into all of that, sharing it, making it grow; happiness is not a limited resource and doesn’t diminish by being spread.

As mentioned, this is the exact opposite of what so many people do. We frown upon another’s luck, have misgivings about another’s fortune. We feel jealousy and envy. We want all the good things for ourselves, even if that means that others can’t have any. Such a shame…

So please share your happiness and let me reflect it back on you.

Feb 082014
 

In a recent post I wrote that I no longer have to worry about money. And I also posed the question what to do then

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Here the choice seems obvious: Straight ahead!

I basically see three ways ahead:

1) Work the minimal amount required to keep myself comfortable, spend the time thus gained on doing fun, cool and interesting stuff, like traveling, playing the saxophone, spending time with friends. The hedonistic option (somewhat).

2) Keep on steadily working for a “normal” working year (and day and week and month). The result will be additional income which I can invest / save, to generate even more income, eventually resulting in being able to do with less and less work. This would allow me to spend more time in the future on other things. I’ll call this the investing option.

3) Work the amount required to keep myself comfortable, spend the rest of my time on something important. Whatever that might be. I’ll call this the improving-the-world option.

And writing these three options down it becomes very clear what my choice will be: A bit of everything.

I would very much like to have more time to do cool and fun and exciting stuff. But I also know that traveling at some point gets boring. That my friends only have a limited time for me to monopolize. Still, a bit more of both would be really nice.

I’m writing this on the bus from Bariloche (Argentina) to Osorno (Chile). Outside of my window there was the most impressive rainbow I’ve ever seen, brighter than the full moon! I tried taking a picture, but by the time there was another gap in the mountain / trees it had gone. Somehow this actually adds to it: The most beautiful things in live are not to be captured but simple to be enjoyed.
Working a bit more than required doesn’t seem so bad. I like what I do, it gives me a sense of accomplishment. And (slowly) working to becoming even more independent would seem like a very good idea for the future.

Finally, working on something important, on doing something for the rest of the world really appeals to me. The final question is then what this would be…

One question (mostly) solved, another one opened up.

At least this way I won’t run out of subjects for my blog…

Jan 212014
 

“Of course you can come!” She looked pensive for a moment. “And don’t forget to bring your friend, what’s his name again?”

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Not sure what's worse: If your fingers are best friends, or if they aren't...

I smiled happily at her and felt a little bit fuzzy and warm inside.

Because you can say a lot about the people from South America in general (mostly that they’re always late…), but they are very inclusive: Your friends are my friends and friends of your friends are my friends as well. So when I tentatively asked whether I could come along as one of the girls who worked at the hostel discussed that she was going out, I was immediately made part of the group.

This is very different from what I’m used to in the Netherlands: “I would love to hang out with you, but I can’t tonight, because I’m hanging out with X”. Here it would be: “I would love to hang out with you, you’re welcome tonight, X will be there too.”

I think it’s something deeply rooted in western culture (or perhaps I should only talk about Dutch culture?): We like to keep things to ourselves. Even the things that are not in short supply, that are not scarce, like friendship, love, gratitude, trust, acceptance. We’ll parcel these out in little bits, giving them only to our most dearests and closests. Fully expecting them to be repaid and sooner rather than later.

Currently in Valdivia, one of the ugliest cities I’ve ever been to: Under construction, run down, grey. And still I love the vibe that this place has. Don’t judge a book by its cover?
We’re afraid of not having enough. Whereas the truth is that the more you share these intangibles, the more there is to go around. And thus the more will come your way. So give a bit more!

I’m grateful for you  taking the time to read this and I love you for it!

Oct 232013
 

A few minutes ago I was standing on the platform, waiting for the train. When it arrived it stopped with the doors exactly in front of me. And it had been late by 10 minutes, while I had beenearly, so that I will now be home 5 minutes sooner than expected. Finally, right before walking out of the office, the torrent of rain that had been pouring from the sky for half an hour, stopped.

So now I’m sitting here, homeward bound, with a smile on my face.

Getting smiled at by a random stranger. Waking up to the sound of birds calling (instead of the neighbors). Finding enough food in the fridge that you can postpone going to the supermarket for another day. So many small things to enjoy!
Sure, bad stuff happens. And if you’re inclined to notice (and remember) those less-than-perfect moments, I’m sure you can make your life just that little bit more miserable.
Far better to savor the tiny bits where things do work out.

”Optimist is what a pessimist calls a realist.” (Ok, so the actual quote goes: “Pessimist is what an optimist calls a realist”, but that one doesn’t suit my current needs ;-) ).

What little things went your way today?