Ugh. My phone won’t work. It’s so slow. This is bullshit.
“Will you give it a second? It’s sending your request to space and then back, you non-contributing zero.” – Louis CK
Our world is amazing. Sadly, it’s wasted on a generation of spoiled entitled kids (including myself) that don’t care how amazing it is. The only exception is if it makes them feel amazing, like receiving 45 Facebook likes for their latest bathroom mirror selfie.
If you live in the western world, then you currently live in one of the safest, most advanced societies of history. There is less racism and sexism, more medical solutions to illnesses. It’s easier than ever to travel across borders. The fact that you’re even reading this means you can comprehend that squiggles shaped in certain ways are words, and that two plus two does not equal five. That’s impressive. High Five.
You have instant access to over half of all the information and data that has ever been created by the human race. This gives you the ability to educate yourself on subjects people spent their entire lifetimes learning, like learning how to drink from a water cup upside down. You’re able to have casual sex with someone you just met two hours ago, and it doesn’t result in being shamed from your family for the bad decisions your drunk self made.
But you’re miserable.
We’ve all been feed this spoonful of Nyqil from other people to remove the symptoms of our miserable lives so we can realize how lucky we are, but this doesn’t help. We still get anxious when we are in social situations. We still suffer from feelings of Special Snowflake Syndrome, and panic over the right career passion fit as if our life depended on it. Sure, I can eat Lean Cuisine out of a microwave after three minutes. Sure, I own a nice Flat screen LED HD TV, and I can calculate a 10% tip, but my life isn’t exactly paradise either.
Honestly, it kind of sucks.
Your life sucks. You need to work out more. No wonder you’re a single loser. The voice inside me is so supportive.
It is our natural inclination to be negative. Psychologists have discovered that the loss of something is two to four times more painful than the joy of gaining the same thing. It’s this instinctual mechanism that has mankind thriving and surviving, even though it causes most of us to be in a constant state of irritation and stress.
This is why we love to complain and gossip; it’s our way of resonating through others about our negative experiences.
Even negative news is spread faster. The other day an article on AlterNet reported that the foundations of capitalism are crumbling. 1
I think we need that. I think we need a horrific experience to bring us back to reality, because everything is amazing and no one is happy.
1) Flight delays are constantly complained about. “I had to wait on the runway for 20 minutes and then it took 6 hours to get from California to New York.”
Seriously? It used to take 10 years on a horse-led wagon. Not to mention your wagon might break down, your son might get cholera from poor sanitation and you’d birth a new girl who would get measles from someone you meet along the way; perhaps the idiot who decided to join your quest to the West. You’d arrive with a totally different group of people than what you started with.
I guess we should just go complain to the Wright brothers. “Hey Guy, yeah, that thing your building makes us sit for 20 minutes on the runway. 20 whole minutes!” Orville would look at Wilbur and say, “That’s miserable. I don’t want to make people wait for 20 minutes. Fuck the idea of human flight. It’s a waste of time. Let’s go build wooden shoes.
2) The expectation of speedy Cell phones is another common complaint; they’re not fast enough or “smart enough.”
No matter how slow they are, they’re frickn’ amazing. Seriously. The other day, I was taking a poop, setting up three dates on Tinder and watching a music video. All of this happened within one poop session.
In the past, I would have had to walk to another person’s house to ask them out on a date, or go to a bar in order to watch someone play music. Now, I can find a date in like 19 swipes; I can hear new music from over 5,000 different apps. That’s unbelievable!
3) People complain about the chipotle man not putting enough cheese on their steak burrito that took, oh under three minutes to put all the ingredients in and fold up into a tin foiled wrap that allows you to eat like nine ingredients without having to use a fork.
Before chipotle and fast food, people had to go hunt their food. What was in the woods, they ate. They didn’t have choices. They didn’t get to pick the juicy, fatty, spiced tuna fish for their fish tacos. They caught a bottom feeder fish and felt like they were the luckiest person alive.
We have come to the expectation that we are entitled to everything. Last October I was flying home from New Orleans; the flight attendant said, “You are free to connect to the internet.” The man sitting next to me signed-on and started Facebooking his mom. Within moments, I heard him cussing at his computer as the flight attendant gave us an update “Our internet is temporarily down. It’ll be back up shortly.” “Fucking bullshit,” He mumbled.
“How quickly the world owes him something that he knew only existed ten seconds ago.” – Louis CK
We need a traumatic event. We need something to shake up our lives.
Maybe something like a Shake Weight.
The truth is that a year ago, I was no different than this guy, or any other entitled little shit. I was probably one of the worst. Then my health hit me like an avalanche and my normal life practically ended. I almost committed suicide because I felt like I was dying. Hell, I looked like I was dying from the outside.
Most of us go about our lives doing our best not to think about death, but there is always part of us that always knows this life will end. There will come a day where you’ll be extremely sick or a loved one will die, and you’ll look back on the things that caught your attention, like the size of Kim Kardashian’s butt.
When that day comes, we began to realize that we wasted a lot of time when things were normal. It’s not the time we wasted perfecting trick jumps in Halo 4 or compulsively checking Facebook, hoping something changed in the last three minutes. It’s that we come to regret what we cared about the most.
We realize that when life was normal our attention was bounded up in petty concerns, day after day, year after year.
Each and every single one of us is aware that one day we will end up in the ground, but we spend a majority of our time acting like we will live forever. It’s like watching the Movie 43 for the third time (rated one of the worst movies in the 20th century) in the hopes that something new happens.
It’s like fighting with our significant other over who does more housework. We spending a good hour arguing that the amount of time we vacuum and take out the trash takes more time than she spends cooking dinner.
“These things only make sense in the light of eternity. There better be a heaven if we are going to spend our life like that.” – Sam Harris
Thoughts on Life
Life doesn’t suck; Your view of it does. There are things that are going to happen to you that you can’t control. At times it will feel like anything that can happen will happen. You’re going to get sick. A loved one will die. You’ll get fired from your job. You won’t get promoted.
You’re going to feel miserable for the rest of your life if you expect the world to bend to your priorities and desires without tremendous effort and sacrifices.
Let’s do a little experiment.
I want you to drink a gallon of water throughout the day for three days. During the moment you drink the first sip of water, till three days later, you are not allowed to pee.
If you’re stupid enough to attempt this experiment, you’ll find piss all over your pants or bed. If you can’t control your own body’s detoxing mechanisms, how do you expect to control and bend the world’s unexplained behaviors to constantly favor you?
So how do you crawl out of this self-inflected misery of life?
You’ll use Thought, the one thing you do have control over.
“Man is made or unmade by himself; in the armoury of thought he forges the weapons by which he destroys himself; he also fashions the tools with which he builds for himself heavenly mansions of joy and strength and peace.” 2
When I started to tumble down into my hell-hole of health, I complained like a three-year-old who just got his favorite toy taken away. It wasn’t fair that my body had to look like it did, relative to all my other friends. I was mad and hated the world, God and everyone included, for a long period of time.
Through the bouts of depression, a doctor I was working with recommended two books: The Unthethered Soul 3 and The Presence Process. 4 My doctor explained that although I am mad at the world, although it seems as if everything that could go wrong already has, that I could still find happiness. She explained that I could find this happiness through gratitude and living in the present.
The Time for Gratefulness and Appreciation is Now
Researchers have been able to tie gratefulness and appreciation to happiness. This means that people who are happier tend to be more grateful and appreciative for what they have. I guess Barney the Purple Dinosaur was right all along. Ironically, they also discovered that consciously practicing gratitude makes one happier. 5
This sounded like the worst advice I had ever heard. It was like eating dingleberries, but I started practicing gratitude to prove all these morons how dumb it was. I soon found out that I was the dumb one and that practicing gratitude makes you appreciate what you have. It helps you remain in the present.
Each of us feels a need to plan for the future, anticipate it and mitigate risk, but the reality of our life is always now. The past is a memory – a thought arising in the present, while the future is merely anticipated, another thought arising now.
What we truly have in this life is this moment...
…and this moment.
We are ignoring this truth, running from it, reputing it. The horror is that we succeed. We never really manage to connect to the present in each passing moment. We never quite find that fulfillment, instead we are always hoping to become happy in the future. Even when we believe we are in the present, we are always looking over the white picket fence, anticipating what’s coming next. It’s our minds natural inclination to need to solve a problem.
Yet, it’s always now, and the future never arrives.
During my darkest moments, I would force myself, no matter how terrible I felt, to get up in the morning and take a walk while saying the things I was grateful for.
“I’m grateful to be alive.”
“I’m grateful for my family.”
“I’m grateful I can eat Maui Maui fish.”
“I’m grateful I can write.”
It changed everything for me. I can tell you that when I would wake at four in the morning when no one else was around, I found beauty in everything, rain or shine. As I was walking, I’d look up at the stars, and my breath would be sucked out of me. The mere fact of their existence, in the form of some distant star stretching its light through the universe to my eyes, baffled me. It was sheer beauty.
The trees, as I have never looked at before, were stunning.
Take a moment to think about it. The fact that you’re reading this means that seven billion billion billion atoms (7*10^27) that could have been used to be water, a flower, or rubber for a condom were specifically transformed into making you, in this very moment. You could have been a turtle. You could have been lava, but you’re not. You are a human being that is capable of an incredible feat: the control of thought. The conscious process of making life what you want.
I know there are some of you who do not practice gratitude. If you live in the constant gnawing rat race, this concept will seem pointless. If you would have talked to me two years ago, I would have said, “this is a waste of time. I’m no hippie. I need to create a business. Give me those tools.”
No matter how we plan for our lives or how we desire the next thing we want, it is possible to drop whatever problem we are experiencing. We can drop it for a moment in order to enjoy whatever is true in our life in the present.
I had three hundred and twelve boiling red spots on my skin, I had lost thirty pounds of muscle I worked extremely hard for. I was mad. But I found those moments where I didn’t experience pain. I found those moments where my heart felt like a ball of energy bursting from within as I found fulfillment.
This is not a matter of new information. The transition requires a change in attitude, a change in attentiveness to the way you pay attention to your present experiences.
The mere practice of gratitude has been shown to increase accountability, which directly leads to higher self-esteem and happiness.
You Don’t Have To, You Get To
We spend a lot of time talking about all of the things we have to do. You have to make a business call. You have to get up early for work. You have to attend your daughter’s elementary school award ceremony. You have to work out today.
I used to operate with this mindset. One day while I was complaining to my mom about needing to put on lotion five times a day, how I had to eat the same boring three foods, and how I have to go to 4-5 doctors appointments every single week, my mom stopped me. She said, “Kyle, you never have to do anything. Yes, if you didn’t do those things, you’d be way worse then you are, but you choose those things. You get to do those things.”
My perspective changed. My mantra changed to “I get to do… not have to.”
When you frame a habit, behavior or task in this way, you reframe it from being something you wish you didn’t have to do, to something that you are grateful to have. Something you’re allowed to do.
You get to make a business call. You get to wake up early for work. You get to attend your daughter’s elementary school award ceremony. You get to work out today.
Why is this simple shift of language so powerful?
Culture shapes who we are and how we view ourselves. Through repetitive conditioning from teachers, parents, friends and media our minds become programmed with the garbage that we have to do things to be happy. Ironically, this no longer makes us happy.
Timothy Wilson, the author of “Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change” discusses a concept called story editing, where the people whose internal narratives design pessimistic views of themselves are redirected into a healthier internal narrative that “can lead to big benefits down the road.” 6
Some of us might be out of shape or overweight, but we get to enjoy a plethora of good food. We are also blessed with the awareness, resources and capability to lose weight, get in shape and feel better about our bodies. Use your present awareness and gratitude to set goals and improve yourself.
We are a part of the first generation that is completely capable of improving our lives – mentally, emotionally, physically, socially, professionally, and financially. Yes, you may not be the person you want to be, but you have the self-awareness and the ability to know what you’re unhappy with. This is the first step in creating the desire to do something about your problem, and the first step in making life-long changes.
You get that choice, every single day.
The “have to” mindset makes the habit, behavior or tasks something we suffer through, but when we shift to “I get to” mindset, we become grateful for the chance to do that exact same thing. We begin to see how it benefits us, rather than how we don’t like it. We began to recognize that we’re doing something for ourselves; we’re taking care of ourselves and improving our own lives. This is powerful to realize and incredibly motivating.
Gratitude is a skill of happiness. It requires practice and effort until it turns into a habit. You’ll continuously forget, unless you remind yourself regularly. Remind yourself of how it could always be worse, and choose to be grateful in the moment. Remind yourself that you “get” to do something.
The Practice of Gratitude
Gratitude is a skill that anyone can learn and do. You can start practicing it today, right now.
- Write out five things you are grateful for each evening.
- Choose someone to tell that you are grateful for the things they’ve done, or you’re just grateful to have them in your life. Not only will feeling vulnerability and expressing your genuine appreciation make you feel better, you will feel more comfortable around them and your relationship will improve. It’ll feel weird and uncomfortable, but being open builds confidence and healthier relationships.
If it feels too overwhelming, start small and post something on Facebook or Twitter. Try it once a day for a week. You can even say 5 things you are grateful for before you brush your teeth.
Your life is not in the future, and it’s not in the past. It’s NOW. Be Grateful and find fulfillment in the moment.
I’ll start: Thank you to all of my friends and family members who have supported me during the darkest moments of my life, even when I didn’t want to be alive. I don’t know if I’d be here sharing this article if it weren’t for you.
- Paul Buchheit. The Biggest Hipocrites of 2014. ↩
- Book: As A Man Thinketh by James Allen ↩
- Book: The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael Singer. ↩
- Book: The Presence Process: A Journey Into Present Moment Awareness by Michael Brown. ↩
- Froh, Jeffrey J., et al. “Nice Thinking! An Educational Intervention That Teaches Children To Think Gratefully.” School Psychology Review 43.2 (2014): 132-152. PsycINFO. Web. 13 July 2015. ↩
- Art of Manliness Podcast: How to Change the Stories You Tell About Yourself with Dr. Time Wilson. ↩