Intentional Living: How Minimalism Creates Happiness

I believe that many people live their lives in search of happiness. I also believe that the search for happiness is a misguided path. The way I see it, our souls are actually in search of something else. It isn’t happiness that we seek, but rather, noveltyHappiness just happens to be a by-product of a novel experience.

It is unfortunate that many companies target consumers who think that the search for happiness is what we live for. Companies sell the idea that purchasing new products will bring buyers happiness, as if somehow happiness can be found in an article of clothing, or a brand new car. We are deluged into thinking that, indeed, happiness does lie in new things because the invitation of a new thing into our homes is a novel experience, and so, for a moment, we are happy. We are confusing the two. We must stop to realize or remember that the joy we felt when trying on a new outfit at the store was quite short-lived. And the thrill we felt when driving a new car died with its first scratch. When we pause to think of these truths, it becomes easy to know that our things do not actually keep us happy. But knowing this is not enough. It is arguably more important to understand why.

When we buy something new, it is a novel experience. But once something we wanted suddenly becomes ours, it shifts our perspective. Our minds adjust and the thing that was once new immediately becomes old. For example, we forget about that new tank top we bought at the beginning of summer, and we get too lazy to wash our cars. We start to suddenly covet OTHER things. The mind is a fickle thing.

Understanding that our brains adapt to the current state (and in a rather quick manner) means that we are aware of the ways in which we can control our ability to be happy. Having more makes ourselves used to the stimuli of novelty, which decreases our perception of happiness with each additional thing. Much in the same way, having less actually returns us to a level of excitability with the smallest of stimuli. It lowers the bar that triggers our ability to have joy. In lowering this bar, we can become happy, more.

Fugio Sasaki, author of Goodbye, Things is one of the most celebrated minimalists in Japan. He has decluttered almost all of his things, living with very little. He is a great exemplar of reducing down to the bare necessities. For example, when it comes to towels, he now uses a single hand towel for drying his hands, his body, his dishes, and more. By getting rid of the fluffy towels that many homes house, he has reset his bar to just the one hand towel. His comments how quickly he adjusted to this tiny towel being the norm. Note that the mind does not perceive this towel as subpar. Our ability to adjust for variance is a gift, in that way. But, when Fugio does use a nicer towel to wipe his hands with (say, at a restaurant or at a friend’s house), that experience leads to a spark of joy. A momentary feeling of happiness. A perception of luxury, one that a person who regularly uses such towels will not experience. Therefore, by ridding ourselves of the excesses in life, by becoming minimalist, we are giving ourselves more opportunities to have novelty in our lives.

It is human for things to never feel enough, and that’s okay. In order to make life enough, we need to work at being more aware. And minimalism is the practice that attunes us to that higher awareness. Having less is a practice. It doesn’t come natural … not to me, anyway. It’s an intentionality that gives us the opportunity to live in a certain space. And that space allows for more opportunities to be happy.

 

Thoughts on: The Human Nature of Being Too Hard on Yourself

Today, I was sitting at home with my brother for my lunch break, and we were talking about my brother’s current progress with his studies for the DAT. With a month away, I think the pressure has been slowly increasing ever so slightly. This morning, he was having difficulty waking up, having stayed up late studying the night prior. He was so tired that he called out ofwork, unable to make his usual morning shift.

Now my brother and I, though similar in some things, are also quite different in other things. When I took the DAT the first time, I did not even study. In fact, I did not even know the sections that we were going to be tested on. I just walked in there and took it. Obviously, I didn’t do too well, but honestly, I didn’t do horribly either. The second time, I decided to borrow a DAT book from the library and study a little bit a day, not in any structured way, but rather, freely, whenever I had extra time. It was kind of a last priority. I entered the test without having finished the DAT review book, actually. The second time, I scored really well. I don’t believe it was because I studied the material so much, but rather, because I saw the test once before and knew what questions to expect and how to answer them.

I guess you can say I am a bit relaxed when it comes to these things. It’s partly due to an exorbitant confidence in myself (that may be misguided at times) and partly a feeling of, “Oh well, what happens, happens.” I guess that’s putting it in a bit too oversimplified of a way. It’s not that I don’t try, I try pretty hard in a lot of things that I do. But I never try so hard as to inconvenience myself too greatly. I have a tendency to put my best efforts in everything all the time, so I can comfortably retire at my usual sleeping hour every night, despite unfinished work, and sleep soundly knowing that I did my best in the amount of time that I had. I tend to have a sense of ease and trust in my ability to perform well. Some call that arrogance, but I swear, it’s never done in a malicious manner. I like to attribute it more to a c’est la vie mentality.

My brother does equally well as I but he is what we call in my language a “segurista“. He goes above and beyond the level of preparedness necessary to ace a test. If I could assemble a team to carry me through a zombie apocalypse, he would definitely be on it. I’m not sure if his zeal stems from anxiety (possibly) or insecurity (unlikely), but there’s almost this fear that if he does not put in the most of his efforts, all hell would break lose and the whole system would fall apart and it would all be for naught.

When he told me that he had stayed up until 3 am last night studying, I asked him why he didn’t study yesterday during the day, to which he replied, “I did.” I guess the kid studied 12 hours yesterday, which to me is mind boggling. The crazy thing is, he has already gone through all the study material once. Even crazier was when he told me that he was reviewing over the study guide and made 360 flashcards yesterday off of 20 pages of study guide. And while my frugal self borrowed whatever DAT book the library had on the shelf for free, my little bro has purchased every video, tutorial, and packet that was rated highest in pass rate for the DAT.

Which led us to the following discussion. I asked him why he felt like he needed to work that hard. I expressed that it’s a bit overkill, and certainly not worth it if he was not even able to wake up in the mornings due to exhaustion. He was trading in healthy, among other things, in exchange for something that does not even increase his feeling of security. I think the ultimate answer was that he did not want to fail. He really wanted to give his best in order to do his best, which is commendable, surely, but not exactly sustainable.

At times, I think, we are too hard on ourselves. We treat ourselves in really unkind ways, and push ourselves to crazy limits, and contain ourselves in such structured boxes. We can have such high expectations of ourselves and when we don’t meet those expectations, we feel disappointment in our abilities or lack thereof. We don’t like to see ourselves fail, and sometimes, we don’t allow ourselves failure. When we do, we feel very unworthy, somehow as if we are less. I don’t know what it is that trains us to be this way. Maybe it’s the weight of society and its judgements that fuel our need to succeed. I like to think it’s our human goodness that makes us want to carry the weight on our shoulders. Either way, it’s not entirely good for the human soul to be so harsh.  And so I asked him, “Why do you treat yourself that way? You don’t treat anyone else that way, so why do you allow yourself to do that to you?” 

When we watch a friend or a child try their best and then fail, we don’t go up to them and call them a failure. At least, I hope not. We are kind and lift them up and tell them that life moves on and there’ll be more chances and more opportunities. If they try again, we’re sure they’ll get it next time! If we treat other people naturally in this way, then why is it so easy for us to dump on ourselves? We recite the old addage, “treat others the way you want to be treated”, but do we follow our own advice?

Sometimes, people just need to hear that what they are doing is enough. Can we gift that same thing to ourselves?

My advice?

— Instead of being fixated on success, have a simple intention of improving a little bit every day.

— Instead of fearing failure, embrace the possibility of failure, with the understanding that failure will teach you more about yourself than any success would.

— Try your best in everything you do, without going out of your way to inconvenience yourself. Anything you do after your best efforts will no longer be considered your best efforts, once you’ve detracted from other aspects of your life. Know that you can’t perform your best at all, when you’re short on sleep, or are hungry, or are emotionally deprived, or are spiritually exhausted.

— Stop trying to control everything in life. Do what you have to do, but also learn how to roll with the tide.

— You can carpe diem, but also know, c’est la vie. It’s all about balance, in the end.

Hashtag JOMO: Joy of Missing Out

I was sitting at work one day when a co-worker was walking me through why he throws social gatherings. I had just finished explaining to him that I find him a bit extroverted and he said he definitely is not. So I had challenged him by asking why he throws so many get-togethers if he was, indeed, introverted. In an effort to explain himself, he opened up about some deep, inner wrangling that I think consumes a majority of younger people today, and so I thought I’d share.

“I have a checklist of things I want to do in order to be the type of person I think I should be. Sometimes, when I feel like I’ve been too busy being alone, I think to myself, Ok, I should try to be more social now. So I like to throw get-togethers to check off that box on my checklist. I feel like I have to be social to be a well-rounded person.” 

Whenever I hear millennials verbally rationalize whether or not they should do something or attend an event, I usually hear something similar to what my co-worker expressed. It’s the fear of not being able to check off all the boxes, as if not being able to do everything, achieve everything, excel in everything, socialize all the time, attend every event, and take on every adventure somehow makes you less of a “successful” person. In hashtag terms, it’s the FOMO on life. As if missing out on these opportunities indicates a life less lived. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love opportunities. I love to recognize them and to grasp them, to tackle them head-on. But I think we’ve lost sight of our choices and our lives are being heavily dictated by a four-letter hashtag.

I can relate to my co-worker’s sentiment. Raised to believe that tucking as many achievements under my belt, while knowing as many people as possible, made me a “success”, I was the ultimate “YES”-girl in my late teens and early twenties. I said “Yes” to everything! I don’t even think my brain had time to process what was being asked of me before the positive response flew out of my mouth. It was as if I was a robot programmed for this one particular life mission. Other robots got to shoot stuff or clean houses, and I’m over here spewing “yeses” from my antennae. Sure, it got a lot of people to like me (because I was “Oh so accommodating!”), and yes, I did create a sense of recognition (because “How can one human balance so many achievements at once?”), but honestly, I doubt I did anything much for ME during those early years. Despite all the accolades, saying yes to everything did not actually bring me more joy.

So when did #FOMO start to take root in my generation’s short lives? I think we have social media to thank for the birth of FOMO (literally), however, I believe that “FOMO” was already being instilled in us even before Instagram and Facebook started to compare us against each other. In case you didn’t know, FOMO is an acronym for the term “Fear of Missing Out”. Underlying this fear is the need to be a part of whatever it is that society thinks we should be a part of, which has been shaping us since, well, birth. The biggest factor causing this fear is really our comparison with others, fueled by social media (thanks again!). We can ask, “Missing out on what, exactly?” And the answer is, “Missing out on whatever everyone else has.” We worry that by failing to say yes to everything, we will fall behind our peers, who are in essence, advertised as saying yes to everything. The early bird gets the worm.

What I hate most about this is the falseness of the premise, which is that there is a shortage of opportunities available to us. The reality is, there are way more opportunities available today (too many, at times) than there were a decade ago. By trying to convince us that there is scarcity in the world, we wire ourselves with the need to grab everything we can. It’s a very negative image to paint, dark in color, sour in mood. Instead of seeing someone doing something great on social media and saying, “Wow, that’s so fantastic of you!”, it creates this response of like, “OMG, FOMO”, in a real-life, acronym-only-conversation kind of way.  It’s a concept that sets the groundwork for making people feel as if they are on the outside looking in on the things they AREN’T doing, when in reality, the things they ARE doing may be different, but equally fantastic, too! It creates the need to continually add to one’s life, as if it wasn’t already enough. As if we aren’t enough.

Slowly, societal expectations are limiting our choices. We are brainwashed to think that we cannot create our own definition of success. It’s a pre-determined box that we all have to fit in in order to be considered worthy. And like my co-worker pointed out, there are a lot of boxes to check off. So the fear of missing out (on being “successful”) fuels our need to say “Yes” to as many things as we can, without allowing us to realize that by saying “yes” to one thing, you are essentially saying “no” to other things. We are only one person and it would be impossible to say yes to everything, because the possibilities are infinite. We are given the illusion that we are saying “yes” to everything when in reality, we are saying “yes” to everything society expects us to say yes to. In that sense, we’ve lost our freedom to make a choice, because we are saying no to the things that society has decided has no value.

JOMO is the antithesis of FOMO. It is the JOY of missing out. It’s a concept based around the positivity of abundance, rather than the negativitiy of scarcity. Honestly, we need to take ownership of our lives, and have the power to choose what we do with it. The first step in doing that is to abandon the fear. Who wants to make their life decisions based on fear? What kind of life does that give you? Rather than constantly comparing yourself to the Joneses and living in a state of fear, embrace a heightened state of confidence, of self-belief, of self-freaking-worth. When young people are asked what they want in life, many of them don’t know. They will tell you the standard answers, such as a job, a house, a car, money, a family, but when you dig deeper, they don’t actually know. Was it them that initially wanted this, or did someone convince them that this is what they want? In being shaped at an early age to want certain things and to need to keep up with everyone else, we’ve lost that ability to say, “Hold up. Actually, you know what, that’s not what I want.” Stop the hamster wheel, hop off, and live a human life.

When I attend a party, I am choosing to attend a party, joyously, fully, whole-heartedly, and committedly. Gone are the days when I would be getting ready for a social gathering and dreading it because I did not actually want to go. But I hear this voiced dread ALL THE TIME from people I know. If you don’t want to go, don’t go. There are invitations and events that Mike and I purposefully decline, either because it does not line up with our lifestyle or our values, or what have you. If we determine that we need a weekend to unwind and relax, we aren’t going to try to squeeze in one thing to appease our great aunt, much to a great aunt’s dismay.

The funny thing is that, at times, yes I can be indecisive. But I am the type of person where, when I know, I just know. Once I’ve chosen in a very mindful way, the alternatives kind of disappear. I let them go, wholly and completely, and move on with my life. There should not be any regrets if you really, truly, joyfully choose one thing over another. There’s no looking back and wondering the whole night how the party you declined is faring, who is talking to who, etc. There is no (and there shouldn’t be) any concern for things that do not add value to your life. If you are left wondering about who went where and what so and so did, you have not completely freed yourself from those comparisons. In fact, I would like to point out that you may be obsessed by other people’s lives, at the expense of living your own.

JOMO can only be achieved once you switch your perspective to one of gratitude. It’s seeing that what you have is worth something. You don’t have to keep chasing the grass that may or may not be greener on the other side. Really ask yourself “Why?” Why are you making the choices you are making? If you are here, but you want to be over there, then go over there! But for God’s sake, don’t look back and think, “Ugh, I should have stayed over there.” Understand that you cannot have everything, but you can choose the things that you actually want. It’s the intentionality of it all that attracts me. The ability to choose. The FREEDOM. It’s so empowering. I hesitate to even embrace JOMO – because of the term “missing out” within it. You AREN’T missing out. You simply chose something else. And who’s to say THEY aren’t missing out on what YOU have? Po-tay-toe, Po-tah-toe. 

In 2017, YES-girl realized she had a superpower, and that was the power to say “No”. I was slowly breaking free from my robotic charm. My hardware must’ve gone a bit haywire because I started to say no to more and more things, events, statuses, and even relationships. In doing so, I became more in control of my own life. I was freer, lighter, happier, and ultimately, I learned more about who I was and who I wanted to be.

I had an old friend once comment that “I had reached an unreasonable state of happiness.” It’s not as if I’ve discovered this happiness like some fountain of youth or other mystical thing, and that it was unfathomable, as if it could not really, truly be achieved. I was pretty proud of that statement, false as it may be. I think anyone can reach this happy stage. They just have to stop being tied down by the fear of not being everyone else.

Choose JOMO.

But seriously, I’m not using that as a hashtag.

Cultivating Happiness by Going Back to the Breath.

When I first stepped into a yoga studio, I was not in search of an awakening of sorts. I was twenty and I had not started the search for my life’s purpose or meaning. I wasn’t even aware that I had yet to find my true self. In a way, Yoga was the one who found me, and has been creeping into life’s little crevices ever since, teaching me that only one thing keeps us fully alive, that which is our life source: the breath.

yoga-surfers

I attended my first yoga class to support a best friend from high school , J. Lowe,  (pictured above and throughout this post) who just discovered yoga and was teaching her first class. A third bestie completed our trio and we brought along Mike and a roommate of his. I saw the class solely as an exercise routine. Although we were being reminded throughout class to return to our breath, I was too busy concentrating on the sweat dripping down from my forehead to my toes, causing me to slip and slide from my mat like a waterslide laid out amidst summer grass. My mind, a restless wanderer, was constantly wondering whether anyone was looking at me and what they thought of my stance. I was shy of my newbie skill set and the inability to hold postures as gracefully as some of the other swans in the room. I was exhausted ten minutes in, and realized that I didn’t have a single thread of muscle in my puny body. I kept wondering when the hour would be up, looking forward to eating something soon, despite the late hour. I thought that this would be way easier, if only I didn’t have bangs. I was looking around to see what posture to hold, what everyone was wearing, how my friends were faring.

At that point in my life, I had what they call a monkey mind. All these thoughts that had nothing to do with the yoga itself kept barging in and disrupting me and my process. Accompanied with these thoughts were a collection of emotions. Shyness, frustration, insecurity, loneliness, tiredness, empathy, embarrassment, anger, happiness, restlessness, hunger, to name a few and not necessarily in that order. It was an accurate representation of what my life was, a mirrored reflection of a million particles squeezed into a tiny space and creating tumultuous friction as they collided and fought for my attention.

A chase is a word I so lovingly use to describe my past lifestyle. Fast forward a few years later, where I started to do a bit of soul searching to answer one main question. How can I find happiness? I started with the question, “What will make me happy?” and I didn’t stop asking follow up questions. Even now, I still haven’t stopped.

yoga-warrior

If you ask somebody what will make them happy, they may say, money will make me happy. Okay why money? Because I will have the ability to pay for food on the table. Okay why food? Because I want to go through every day knowing that I won’t go hungry. Okay why don’t you want to go hungry? Because I don’t want to suffer or feel pain. What will make you feel pain? Being constricted. What else will make you feel constricted? A work schedule, a timeline, expectations… and so on and so forth. And when you strip it down to the barest ingredient, what I found in all my answers was that external forces, things you cannot control, those are what causes a majority of our negative emotions. These external causes of unhappiness include material goods, status, pressures, expectations, and so on. Internal forces, those that we can control because they are inside of us, are the weapons with which we can yield and carve and create our own happiness. They say that happiness comes from within, and I wholly believe in that. I write all the time about how all these things we try to purchase and achieve and accomplish, maybe they will bring us happiness, momentarily, but that happiness will fade. And like some addicting drug, you will then need more to trigger that happiness again, and then even more. The chase will have you wasting your life away trying to find a happiness that is temporary, when you can slow life down and find happiness that is constant.

img_1360.jpg

As with the yoga example, the external forces are what create a majority of our discomfort on and off the mat. When I was first learning the poses, I would remember being uncomfortable, sometimes to the point of having pain, in some of the more advanced body configurations. What was even worse, was the narrative that quickly followed that pain. My monkey mind would ask me questions like, “What am I doing here?”, “There’s no way you can make it until the end of the class”, “Everybody is watching you fail”, “You’ll never get to be as good as them”, etc. And with that story comes the emotions listed above. As those emotions got triggered, the physical pain would actually feel worse, solely because it is perceived as larger than what it truly is, after being brought to the forefront of the mind. Much of the suffering comes from the emotions we tie to the actions, rather than the action itself. It’s the story that kills us. Slowly, over time, I developed a way to let these thoughts go, which then allowed me to control the amount of suffering there was. Once I let the narrative float by, like clouds, or the thoughts run through, like water, I became more able to sit in those positions with a feeling of groundedness, or contentment. There is a sense of peace that comes with letting things go and returning to the breath, focusing on the one thing that really matters in our life. I learned so much from this lesson than any other lesson about what it really means to be a human being.

img_1366.jpg

“There are inevitably going to be these pains that arise, whether they are physical, emotional, loss of a loved one, things not going exactly as you want them to go. But the story that we layer on top of that… that actually creates a more intense layer of suffering that can impede this deeper layer of happiness that we are often looking for.”                                                                                            -Corey Muscara

Do you ever notice how a lot of tension in our lives come from the resistance towards things that are happening to us? Instead of pushing back, trying to reshape what happens, forcing control over situations, try to just let it happen. Once I got into that space, I started to really feel free. It was not that everything became one hundred percent perfect, la-dee-da in my life. There were still days when I felt tired, when Mike and I had different viewpoints, when money seemed to control everything, when I had an explosion of emotions, and when my thoughts continued to be all over the place, but my relationship towards everything has shifted to a place of disconnect from these external factors, and somehow, I ended up more grounded. Imagine being tied down to all of these things when the hypothetical tornado hits. These things will just fly up in the air, and you along with it. But to be fully free from it means that you will find an easier time planting your feet solidly on the ground. The ability to watch a whirlwind of life’s surprises pass you by without being swayed is a superpower that we have, but we fail to cultivate. I have found only one way of strengthening that power, and that is to return to the breath.

img_1640.jpg

To try, at home.

Try to sit cross-legged in a room for even five minutes and focus on your breath. If this is the first time you are trying this, it will be very difficult. Your mind will wander through a rabbit hole, and may possibly never come back. But try to allow these thoughts to simply pass. Practice letting it go and coming back to the breath every time.

Do this at least once a day when your space and mind is clear. I do this while going through a flow in my living room in the early mornings, as the sun peaks through our glass door. Usually, it’s after my roommate and Mike have left, so that the space is quiet and still. Typically, I prefer to do this prior to work, just to clear my head and reap all the benefits. Sometimes, it’s good to come back to in the evenings before bed, just to let everything go. Whatever works for your schedule will be fine.

It has taken me years to get to the point I am at now, but it is still nowhere close to the point I want to be. I have an outlandish dream of being ordained as a monk at some point in my life, and while that seems too crazy to come to fruition, I try in my everyday life to at least be a bit better at letting go. While I am not writing this as a way to get all hippie on you, I am hoping that sharing this experience will (even minutely) increase happiness in the world.

For flows from my friend J. Lowe, check out her YouTube channel or subscribe to her newsletters.

Thoughts on: Why perspective matters.

I took an unpremeditated photo of my husband today as we were sitting over a cup (or three … each… ) of coffee. Waving my camera around and snapping random moments in our lives is a commonplace occurrence, to the annoyance of my husband. Unfortunately for him, it yields an extremely high number of candid shots (of only him), all of which I find attractive, some of which he does not. Either way, I was photographing our usual coffee scene (from above, as all Instragrammers do), when I noticed his flippant hair. Tousled and forgotten momentarily as he was scrolling through his phone for the next song on our queue, I decided to photograph its wild and crazy nature. The original photo looked like this:

DSC01635.JPG

Half an hour later, my husband went downstairs to wash his car and I pulled out my cell phone and flipped through some of my most recent shots on my Sony Alpha 6300. I landed on the above photo and decided to post it on Instagram, with the caption “Wild thing” in mind. Then I went to crop. Accidentally cropping off too much from the bottom, I landed on this:

MIKE FLOATING HEAD

Immediately, my perspective changed. By cropping out the shoulders, the image looked like a floating head. Initially, I was slightly shocked, then excited. Suddenly, a whimsical and fairly meaningless photo became a work of art. If one stares long enough, the floating head is all they see. And without any context as to the original photo, I could see this one being featured in some gallery, with viewers ONLY seeing the floating head. Which then inspired this blog post, about the importance of perspective.

A change in perspective can turn your worldview upside down.

MIKE FLOATING HEAD upside down

I like to think of one’s perspective as a lens. We have our own realities, which are created by our individual perspectives. A person can see the world through a different lens from your own. Is that not true? Having the ability to see the world from a different perspective, ie: someone else’s, is a super power that can not only increase one’s empathy, but can also increase one’s happiness. The world can use more of both.

DSC08804

Usually, when we are frustrated by someone else’s actions, it is because their actions do not mirror our own values. Our frustration, and anger, comes from our inability to understand why they would do such a thing or act in a certain way. A person who grew up in a well-off community may have difficulty understanding what a teenager is doing by roaming the streets as part of a gang at the age of fifteen. The first may see the latter as a rebellious vagabond who threw his life away. But perhaps seeing that this teenager comes from an abusive family may help one to realize that he isn’t rebellious, but rather, is lost, and finds the meaning of family in the only group that supports him and protects him.

Whenever you feel like criticizing any one…just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.     –Scott Fitzgerald

 

As always, I can relate this easily with dentistry. A patient can walk in and refuse to take their mandatory radiographs every 18 months. They read from the internet that radiation can cause cancer, and they want to limit the amount of radiation they receive. A dentist can argue that the amount of radiation received from a set of radiographs equals the amount of radiation we receive from sitting in front of a television for ONE day. The radiation is only received once over the span of 18 months, while the average American sits in front of the television screen for more hours than that over the same time span. A dentist can also argue that the pros of taking radiographs (through early detection of tooth decay) can overcome the cons of the comparatively minor amount of radiation received. Without understanding the source of the patient’s aversion towards radiographs, a dentist can easily (and wrongly) assume that the patient is being non-compliant for the sake of being difficult. Not understanding the dentist’s interest of early prevention of caries formation, a patient can just as quickly assume that the dentist is only trying to make additional money by ordering the radiographs. Without seeing the other’s perspective, one can see how the patient can get offended that the dentist “doesn’t care for his well-being” and how the dentist can arrive at the conclusion that “I must dismiss this patient”. All of this leads to frustration, anger, and mistrust. Both the patient and the dentist may feel equally disrespected. By changing your perspective and understanding that the “non-compliance” stems from something else, something deeper, some different reality, you can bridge the gap between the two different schools of thought by simply asking, “Why?” By trying to understand another person’s perspective, we can begin to increase our empathy towards others. I like to think that people are not being difficult, for the sake of being difficult (also read as: for the sake of pissing you off). People are difficult to understand because YOU are lacking some missing piece that will relate you to them. This is how I like to practice dentistry, and how I try to treat people in general.

You can only understand people if you feel them in yourself.  -John Steinbeck

 

From here you can see that changing perspective can increase one’s happiness. At the very least, it decreases the frustration, anger, confusion, disconnect, mistrust, bitterness, etc. that one feels when they refuse to look through a wider (or different) lens.

The Dalai Lama expresses in The Book of Joy that perspective is a pillar of happiness. It was actually listed as the first of the 8 pillars. The Dalai Lama was exiled from his home country, yet reacted not with anger, but with the realization of the opportunity to meet extraordinary people. Likewise, by realizing that someone is suffering, we are able to recognize a part of ourselves within their suffering.

Empathy is the lovefire of sweet remembrance and shared understanding.     -John Eaton

 

I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve been there before. I’ve felt lonely, misunderstood, neglected, and judged. You too, I presume. And from that suffering, we can experience happiness. We are more grateful when we are not in the same position that the other is in, because we remember how it felt to once be in their shoes. How many times have we said, “Thank goodness that didn’t happen to me!”? Usually, it’s because we recognize how it felt when it did happen to us in the past, and thus, we can extrapolate or conclude what it must feel like for the other person in the present. But we must go one step further, past the selfish happiness. Realizing that we have experienced suffering before, just as they do now, we can connect with others, and thus transcend pre-conceived differences, that are actually not differences at all. After breaking down those barriers that once separated us, we can help each other in our suffering. The social value which that brings is the one immeasurable thing that can increase our own happiness. And this is why perspective matters.

 

Empathy is the only human superpower – it can shrink distance, cut through social and power hierarchies, transcend differences, and provoke political and social change.     -Elizabeth Thomas

 

So next time you feel frustrated because of something happening in your life, try to change your perspective, become more empathetic, and experience more happiness, with the realization that we are a reflection of one another, in some way.

All of this, because I took a candid photo.

Shout out to my husband, who is always there to take photos of. Without which, this blog post would not have been inspired, and consequently, would not have ever been written. Sorry about posting your head shot a zillion times (not sorry). 

Thoughts on: Less and Happiness

When I tell people that I have found more happiness in less things, I usually get a blank stare, followed by grilling questions, and finished with a sort of resistance. I’ve successively proceeded through multiple stages of redefining what brings happiness in my life within a relatively short time span. The following are real life examples of people’s responses to some of the lifestyle changes that I have started to implement within the last year that required living with less.

Me: “I’ve started to de-clutter everything I own that I don’t love or that serve me no purpose.”

Response: “You are going to miss those things in a few months.”

Me: “I started to practice minimalism.”

Response: “You mean, getting rid of all your stuff and living with nothing?”

Me: “I am recently trying to give up drinking alcohol.”

Response: “How are you going to have any fun?”

Me: “We are being selective with which social occasions we go to with our friends, because we don’t want to waste money on things like dining out, disguised as hanging out.”

Response: “So you don’t hang out with your friends anymore?”

Me: “I am going to give up shopping for one year. I don’t want to buy more clothes, for the sake of keeping up with the fashion trends.”

Response: “I could never do that.”

Me: “I am going to attempt to do all my grocery shopping without purchasing plastic.”

Response: “That’s too much of an inconvenience. Good luck with that.”

The consensus? People generally do not like the idea of less.

**************

Thoughts on happiness. 

The 2017 World Happiness Report measured happiness using six variables: social support, income, healthy life expectancy, trust in government and business, perceived freedom to make life decisions, and generosity. Only one of these categories involves money, which most people unfortunately and truly believe will buy them happiness. The problem is that as people try to increase their income, other variables that are used to measure happiness decrease. Most people have a social support system that consists of their family and friends. Sometimes, if they are lucky, they will also find a social support system at work. For example, I work with dental assistants and treatment counselors, and we have each other’s back when it comes to delivering good dentistry. When it gets crazy busy, everyone helps the other out, and I don’t care if I’m a doctor, I’ll clean rooms, scrub instruments, and set up trays like everybody else. But for other people, they go into work and sit at a desk, and work on a task individually, then come together in group meetings and present their work. So usually for this type of work, the more people work trying to increase their income, the less social support they have.

I watch people overwork themselves to earn “enough” money to “barely get by”, but I also see these same people going out to Happy Hour for “reduced” prices, hitting up sales to get “great deals”, buying Disneyland passes and lining up for the new Iphone. As people try to increase income, they apply a lot of stress in their lives, wear themselves down, get sick often, and usually get less exercise. These factors decrease another variable, which is a healthy life expectancy. Okinawa, a Japanese island, has the highest life expectancy in the world, 86 for women and 78 for men. It is also considered one of the happiest and most laid-back communities in the world, built around community, dancing, and music.

I always hear people complain about going into work or hating their job, and I think to myself, why don’t you just quit? When I ask them this, many express that they can’t leave because they need to pay their bills. What they don’t realize is that their bills are so high because they there is a certain lifestyle that they try to attain. I see parents who work five days a week in order to buy their kids that video game system they want for Christmas, instead of staying home and spending actual time with their kids. And then they complain that the kids grow up so fast, and they don’t have the time or energy to watch them grow. Most people who are unhappy with their jobs have a decreased perceived freedom to make their own life decisions. The more money becomes the reason you work, the less you are likely to leave, voice your opinion, challenge your superiors, and work creatively. The more tied you are to your job, the less likely you are to reduce your hours, move to a different city, state, or country, say no to co-workers, and so on and so on.

Lastly, generosity. It is difficult to be generous when one’s time is occupied by work or when money is valued so highly. It is difficult to give back when it feels as if every dollar needs to be spent on “necessary” things, when it feels like you’re broke. But we aren’t broke. Broke is when you have not had something to eat for days. Broke is when you don’t have a roof over your head anymore to shield you from the cold. Broke is when your children can’t go to school because they have to work or help out at home. We are not broke. I believe that it is this last and final variable that will bring the most happiness. We are a compassionate species.

**************

Thoughts on less.

What I have found in my path to living with less, is the happiness that came with it. Uninvited, unexpected, but one hundred percent welcomed.

  • When I got rid of a majority of my clothes, I found that I wore something I love every day, and getting dressed in the morning was no longer stressful, because the decisions became easy. Remember when we were kids and we just started dressing up for school on our own and we had a favorite shirt? It feels like wearing your favorite shirt every day.
  • When I started to focus on experiences rather than things, I found that I accomplished more in the last year than I have in the last five years. I traveled extensively to New Zealand, Salt Lake City, New Orleans, Palm Springs, Mexico, Hawaii, and Germany in the last year, all for leisure. I learned how to do yoga on my own (no longer am I paying for classes at a ridiculous rate of $20/class or $165/month) and take joy out of deciding what poses come next or what part of the body I will focus on that day. I learned how to do ceramics with my own hands, how to play guitar (at least I can dabble), how a latte is supposed to be poured (I can make a leaf, on a good day), how to use a calligraphy pen, how to speak German (well, enough to understand signs in Germany), how to make tortillas out of scratch, and more. Because I wasn’t out spending my money on time-sucking tasks like shopping, dining out, going to Disneyland, I have found ways to add to my skill set and rack up some pretty cool and diverse abilities under my belt. I find happiness every time I learn something new, meet a new person, and achieve an accomplishment or a goal.
  • I started to refuse out-sourcing things. I love the challenge of fixing something without buying an additional gadget or paying for a service. I once paid $180 this year to clean our loft by professional cleaners. It was seriously the worst $180 I spent, retrospectively looking at it. It was nice because it saved me time, but arguably, the time it saved me was probably used doing less efficient activities anyway. I told myself I don’t want to continue doing that anymore. Now whenever a home improvement task comes along, I learn how to fix it on my own, and I just feel so proud knowing that I am capable, resourceful, and all sorts of frugal.
  • I realized that alcohol was starting to make my stomach queasy the next day, or that skin rashes resulted from being too dehydrated (also the reason why I gave up caffeine and started drinking decaf). I tried to eliminate alcohol consumption completely as of June of this year (the only exception was a beer or two in the weeks I travelled to Hawaii and Germany), and found that I enjoyed the social gatherings as much as when I used to drink. Heck, I was even more engaged and developed deep conversations and connections with people. Plus I feel totally fine the next day.
  • We started being more selective with which social gatherings we go out to, which then started to shape who we hung out with. We realized that we were hanging out with groups of people who really enjoyed spending their money on bowling nights, fancy dinners, happy hours, and other activities. We also realized that we no longer wanted to spend our money on those things, and to spend them instead on other prioritized experiences, such as travelling and new hobbies. We started to say no, and we were okay with that. Our friends who were really close to us found ways to hang out with us without spending money. We established a new group of friends (who I happen to work with) with whom we meet up every Wednesday night with at someone’s house to play board games or video games. How many people nowadays have time set aside to meet with their group of friends, once a week, every week? Very few people I know do that anymore. We found that the friendships that were truly meaningful became more connected and stronger, and those that were less meaningful fell out of our lives. Some people question us for this decision the most, but it was probably the best decision in my opinion. You are as good as the people you surround yourself with, and we just couldn’t surround ourselves with people who would prevent us from living our best lives. We didn’t dislike those people. We just had different goals. It wasn’t a compromise we were willing to make.
  • I created a personal challenge for myself, which was to not buy an article of clothing this year, which later turned into not buying anything for myself. Once I de-cluttered everything, I did not want to spend that much time doing it again. The most important thing about minimizing is not how much you let go, but how much you add in. When I started doing this challenge, it felt like I was a recovering addict. Seriously. Which is probably why most people’s excuse is, “I can’t do it.” It was a very difficult thing to do. I didn’t realize how easy it was to get sucked in by advertisements and notifications which I have set for myself via email or Instagram telling me that I need to buy more stuff. I checked my favorite companies and websites continuously, and added things to my cart and I physically ached for things. It took me a few months to stop feeling this way. And even some days, after I was better about it, I would turn to Mike and say, “I miss going to the mall.” But I no longer allow myself to go. Because it is truly an addiction. This particular scenario may not apply to other people, but maybe the weakness is Amazon, or video games, or car parts, or happy hour. Whatever it is, once I felt better and got over the burning desire to purchase stuff, I knew that I cannot go back. Admittedly, I did fail once so far. I bought myself a used, vintage dress from a local small coffee shop. It was spontaneous and highly unnecessary, but it was a mistake I thing I had to make. I loved the dress and wore it once a week for the rest of summer, but I also knew deep down that it was money that did not need to be spent, and it grounded me and furthered my resolve to say no. This is usually when people assume my life is awful because I am depriving myself from things I want. But I’m not. Consider all the things I have accomplished this year and the places we have been. I am just re-writing my life for things that I want more.
  • And lastly, giving up plastic. I’ve had people laugh in my face, scoff, roll their eyes, ask me “Seriously?”, sarcastically tell me “Good luck!”, quietly judge me, or whisper about me in the middle of the check-out line as if I can’t hear every word they were saying. I’ve also had people support me, get on board, genuinely tell me “Good luck!”, and thank me for “Saving the world” (my favorite lady at the register). I’ve gotten people to watch documentaries about plastic and started many conversations about how to do it and why. And it just feels good. It feels good to be intentional and mindful and to just feel like you’re making a difference, even if others don’t see it that way. It feels good to be optimistic about everything.

I consider myself happier than a lot of people I know. I consider my husband happier than me. I consistently hear the same loud complaints or murmurs of dissatisfaction about the same few things. Work, money, health, relationships. I can’t convince a person to change their life, neither do I want to. I do want the people around me to be happy about their lives. I want everyone to be happy. We are all responsible for our own happiness. Discovering a world with less emphasis on STUFF earned me a higher level of happiness. The one thing I can do is to verify that this is doable and true.

Interested in other thoughts on happiness? Right this way. To see what traditions you can give up this holiday season, come hither.