Thursday, July 19, 2018

Happiness Series: 10 - To Be Happy: Acknowledge Your Value

The Value Society Awards Us

In an earlier post, I talked about the importance of not hating yourself.

Today, I want to talk about the importance of acknowledging your value.

We live in a society that likes to act like some people are more valuable than others. This is a largely capitalist agenda, as in most cases, those who are productive and make a lot of money are seen as more important than those who are poor and unproductive.

Imagine the trolley problem, but there are only two two people on the tracks. One is a homeless man with no education, poor health and no home or job. The other is a well paid doctor with a big house and a family.

Deep down, most of us are conditioned to believe it is better to let the homeless man die. The doctor saves lives. He has a family. We have been taught it would be worse somehow if he dies. That society will be worse off, because the doctor was contributing more.

We are taught to put someone’s value to society over their value as individuals. However ‘value’ tends to be warped by consumerism. When we are shown what people hold value—by media—we are largely seeing people and lifestyles that encourage, even insist, we spend money and produce beyond our means.

Depending on your cultural background, the expectations you feel you have to live up to will vary. However there are likely to be some general crossovers.

For example, you are expected to be educated. You are expected to have achieved top grades and come from a good school. How often do you look at your old grades and feel ashamed? How often do you wish you had gone to a better university or college? That is proof of those expectations pressure on you.

If you are a woman, you are expected to have good make up game, but you will also be criticized for this, you are expected to dress well, be fit, to have a husband by a certain age, to be good at cooking, cleaning and to have an appropriate job, that you like. If you have children, you are expected to keep them clean, pretty, well behaved and have a house that people can drop by and visit any time.

Failure in any of these areas likely causes you anxiety, or draws criticism.

Men are expected to have good jobs, a good car, to be fit, to have a girlfriend or wife, to possess a range of skills, such as car maintenance, strength and primitive skills, like making fires, BBQing and building. Men are also expected to be knowledgeable on a range of things, to the point where I frequently see men lying to appear knowledgeable (pro tip, this is obvious to everyone) or even becoming panicked when a women knows more than them on a subject.

On top of these, there is also a lot of consumer based pressures we all feel, carefully designed and targeted at us by advertising. The need to have big TVs, new computers, fancy couches, well dressed pets and so on. Whatever product you feel will make you more impressive and less embarrassed to be yourself.

If you do not, or can not, meet these standards that society says deem you ‘worthy’, you will probably feel like shit. This might be, among other things, because you are poor, overweight, queer, old, physically or mentally unwell, working a shit job, homeless, uneducated, single, childless, unemployed, a loner, or even just have bad dress sense.

You feel like shit, because you know if it was you on the tracks, most people would choose to save the doctor instead of you. You know people see you as less, because that is how society has been conditioned to think.

The Inherent Value Of A Person

Are you friends with someone who is poor, overweight, queer, old, physically or mentally unwell, working a shit job, homeless, uneducated, single, childless, unemployed, a loner, or has bad dress sense?

Does that impact their value to you as a person? If you said yes, you might be a bit of an asshole. And by asshole, I mean bigot. You also might to revisit the term ‘friend’.

Anyway, I am sure most of you say no, that those things don’t impact how much you love your friends. Why would it? You aren’t friends with people because they are rich or thin, etc. You are friends with them because you like them, because they bring you joy, because you care about them.

I believe, we as a society, need to realize that people have inherent value regardless of what they contribute. That all people have equal value. This is very clear in the bible, God loves everyone equally, saints and sinners alike. However it is rarely practiced by Christians. However once we accept the inherent value of everyone, the idea that the life of the doctor who cured cancer is equal to that of a dying, disabled child in a third world country, the world opens up in a new way.

Suddenly the answer of what to do with refugees is clear. We treat them as we would honored guests. Same goes for any minority or marginalized group. This ideology doesn’t forgive criminals—though it does improve the justice system. People who hurt other people, should be removed from society, to keep everyone safe. But when all people are seen as equal, and holding equal value, the need to protect everyone is greater.

And once you accept this idea that all people are equally valuable, regardless of their accomplishments, you can step out from under the yolk of expectation. YOU are equally valuable to everyone else. No more, no less. You, exactly as you are, without changing anything, are equal to the people you most idolize… and most despise.

Maybe this ideology isn’t for everyone.

Maybe you agree with the need for ‘ranking’ people, from best to worst. If so, you are going to spend the rest of your life fighting to improve your score, and you will never be enough. Have fun with that.

The Value Of The People You Love

You probably have a lot of reasons for loving the people around you. I hope most of those reasons aren’t based on what they contribute to society. It might help you get your head around the concept if you wrote a list of all the things you love about your friends. Be specific. Here is an example list I wrote about several of my friends, all mashed together (for anonymity).

- Poop and fart jokes, so childish but always makes me smile.
- Hilariously hyperbolic love of cheese.
- Wants to support others at all costs.
- Gets teary when they read a sad animal story.
- Says they don’t like tomatoes, but eats a lot of tomatoes.
- Takes funny pictures of squirrels.
- Loves their pet SO much.
- Loves my dogs, treats them like little people.
- Does a cute frown when thinking hard.
- Always so happy to see me, makes me feel so loved.
- Such a complicated coffee order!
- Always sits in the lotus position.
- Loves bright colors.
- Can’t understand what they’re talking about, but they’re so intensely passionate about whatever it is.

These are random things I love about my friends. Things about them that make me smile. Things that I look on fondly, even if society deems them weird or useless.

If you write a few big long lists, of all the little, pointless things you love about people, you start to see what is really valuable. And that it is none of those things society claims it is. I never liked someone for their car. I never liked someone for their tight abs. I never liked someone because of the brand of makeup they were wearing.

I might be interested in those things because my friend is, but I had to like that friend first. And I probably like them because they love cats, or listened to me when I needed them. Until then, I couldn’t give a shit what car they brought.

When you have these lists written for your friends, you 1) start to appreciate and love them more, because you are actively noticing what you love about them, but 2) you realize conscious or subconscious, they have a list like this for you too.

And even if you know NO ONE and have no friends of family, you still have these traits. All the things that make up you, the quirks, the hobbies, the fears and loves and unique bizarreness, has inherent value.

You have value.

You are enough.

Exactly as you are now.

Moving Forward

Next week we start exercises! I’ve already mentioned exercises a few times and made some small suggestions, but over the coming weeks, the exercises are going to be focused, detailed and have a handy template to help you get started.

I really hope the past 10 weeks have given you a lot of insight into how your mind works and how our perceptions and beliefs affect our happiness. I hope they will give you a level of perspective that makes the exercises more productive and helpful to you.

I hope you are starting to re-assess your life and your values and already finding new sources of happiness, even if it was as simple as changing your mind.

Jake, In Summary:

As someone who is very driven by goals, its very easy for me to accept the value in others, and very hard for me to accept that I am enough, right now, as I am.

I am lucky to have a lot of supportive people in my life, who tell me what they admire about me. Which has, many times, saved me when I might have been lost to the sheer hopelessness of my chronic illness.

For a very long time I have believed there was no chance I would improve, that my life would be a slow decent, becoming more and more dependent until my illness killed me. As such, I have long been under the societal pressure that I was useless, a waste of resources, and the world (and my family) would be better off without me.

This is a daily reality for chronically ill people, be their illness mental or physical. It is an idea society reinforces every day. It is the voice that drives so many to end their lives: ‘You are not enough.’

Choosing to believe in the inherent value of people is like immunization. Your belief shelters others. It forms a wall of protection for people who otherwise might loose hope.

Some days it is easier for me to accept my own value than others, but I never doubt YOUR value. And that’s what lets us be strong for each other.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Happiness Series: 9 - To Be Happy: Organise Your Priorities

How Do We Define Priorities?

Our priorities are what we identify as important and how we spend our time. Sometimes, we have a very clear idea of what is important to us, but it isn’t reflected in our actions. We give time to things we say are unimportant, while putting aside the things we claim matter to use.

So it is important to consider both: thoughts and actions. The things we SAY are important, and the things we actually give our time to. If these two elements are in conflict, it is difficult to be truly happy.

If we say our children matter most to us, but we never have any time for them, how could we be happy? We are wasting our time on things that don’t matter to us, and we are missing time with that which is most precious.

Maybe we say our education matters to us right now, but all our time is going to netflix. I’m sure for some of you, just reading that gave you a sense of guilt and anxiety. We can’t feel guilty and anxious about how we are using our time, and still be happy.

What Role Do Priorities Play In Our Lives?

Priorities influence our conscious and unconscious choices. Our priorities, or the priorities we pretend to have, help define us as people. They are are part of our identity. They also influence how we spend our time, so you can see that our priorities are vitally important.

They decide how we spend our time, how we make choices and influence our identity. And yet, generally they aren’t something we give a lot of thought to. Rather, they are just there. Unquestioned and assumed.

In fact, for many of us, our priorities only come up when we are in direct conflict with someone else. Conflicts between spouses about money are often conflicts of priorities. One person prioritizes financial security, saving or even just communication before spending, and the other felt that spending the money was a more valuable use of resources.

So regardless how how much attention you pay to your priorities, they are impacting almost every part of your life, every day.

Identify Your Current Priorities:

The truth is, your current priorities are probably not what you want them to be. If you say your health is important to you, but work takes priority over exercise and cooking healthy meals, health is not really at the top of your list.

Same goes with a lot of people on my friend’s list and writing. A lot of them want writing to be a priority, they claim it is, but they never actually take any steps to put it ahead of other things in their life. Their spouses, children and friends are always first, and writing never happens.

Maybe you claim your priority is paying off debt, but you still can’t walk past a book or video game sale. This is generally because, in the moment, we believe the purchase will make us happier than our formerly stated goal of paying off debt. In the long term though, we will probably wish we had stuck to paying off our credit cards.

So if we want to take control of our own identity, the choices we make and how we spend our time, its a good idea to start by identifying what our priorities really are.

The best way to to that is by tracking how you spend your time. Then label each activity with the priority it represents. Cleaning might be homemaking, cooking might be health, but it could also be ‘children’, exercise might be ‘weight loss’ or ‘health’ or even something like ‘meditation’.

Be aware of mis-attributing things, because you want to feel better about them. Don’t call cooking health, if you are eating terrible food. Don’t call browsing websites ‘relaxation’ if it doesn’t relax you, its really just avoidance behavior that makes you feel guilty.

If you can’t be honest with yourself about where your priorities really are, you can’t fix them. Its very hard to get first aid and treat an injury if you refuse to admit you have a gaping wound.

If all your priorities were in order, and being attended to properly, this exercise couldn’t help you. You want to find some problems, because that means you have room to improve the situation.

What Priorities Will Make You Happy?

What priorities will make YOU happy, depends on you, what you want from your life and what sort of person you want to be. However some things are more likely to make you happy than others. Family and friends, for example, had been shown to make the biggest impact on our overall happiness, so moving them higher on your priority list may improve your life. Particularly if you focus on good quality, meaningful time together, rather than just cleaning up after your kids and calling that a ‘family’ priority.

Here is a list, in no particular order, of the things you might consider when writing your list of priorities:

- Family and socialization
- Finances and safety
- Health
- Diet and home life
- Career
- Education and personal development
- Spirituality
- Community and charity
- Hobbies
- Reputation
- Events, concerts, exhibitions
- Sports
- Holidays

What Do You Want Your Priorities To Be?

Okay, so you know what your priorities are, and there are some areas in your life that need work. The next thing you ask yourself, is what order do you want your priorities to be in?

Write a list, rank things in importance, be realistic. Your writing is never going to be more important than your family or paying the bills. However when you have a list that outlines what you want your priorities to be in life, make those your priorities. When choosing what to do with your time, use the list. When you are trying to focus on something and something else interrupts, refer to your list. Put the most important thing first. Tell your kids or husband to wait, so solve their own problems. Tell your boss he’ll have to talk to you during work hours, or even turn your phone off.

Life your life, tending to your priorities in the order they matter to you.

Learn to say no and ignore the things that don’t matter to you. They don’t matter. Its time to make room for the things that do.

Moving Forward:

Now we have our priorities organized, next week we are going to acknowledge our own value. This is harder for some than others, but it is integral to being happy. Or, at least, happier.

So I hope you’ll tune in next week, ready to love the shit out of the best person you know: you.

Jake, In Summary:

I think most people who know me, know my priorities. I think occasionally people passing me on the street know my priorities. They are not something I am shy about sharing with the world.

Two things most important to me are my writing, and my pets and close family. Other things high on my priority list are finding solutions to my health issues, supporting and interacting with my friends, my relationship with God, my finances, my hobbies and furthering my education.

Despite being single, romance doesn’t really make an entry on my priority list. Nor does travel, sport or attending concerts. Though I am very partial to gardening events and shows.

I think my priorities are going to be changing soon, and it is a good time for me to sit down and think about the person I want to be in this next stage of my life. I’m looking forward to weeks 11 to 16, when we do all the exercise parts of this series—though they’ll probably be too personal to share here!

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Happiness Series: 8 - To Be Happy: Stop Hating Yourself

Why Do We Dislike Ourselves?

Your dislike for yourself is likely directly proportionate to how much you feel you are the person you want to be.

If you think you are kind, generous, loyal and spendthrift, but in reality you haven’t gone out of your way to do anything kind since you threw a surprise party for someone a year ago, you never buy someone lunch without asking them to pay you back, you gossiped about your best friend yesterday and you spent half your paycheck on a new jacket that doesn’t actually fit very well, then you probably aren’t too fond of yourself.

Again, this comes down to cognitive dissonance. To maintain a positive self identity, you have to lie to yourself about the traits you have. And even though you are steadfast in your belief of the lie, your brain still knows the truth and it causes constant, low level cognitive dissonance.

To relieve it, you either have to admit you aren’t any of those good things you think you are, or actually start embodying the traits you claim to be.

The other reason we find ourselves rather dislikeable, is because we haven’t achieved the things we want to have achieved. Or we have achieved them, and they aren’t as great as we hoped. This come back to comparisons. Either comparisons of what we thought we would have achieved by now, or comparisons between the fantasy and reality of our goals.

Maybe you thought having kids would make you happy, but the reality is much harder and messier than you thought it would be, so you feel like a failure.

Maybe you thought you’d be published by now, but you just have a stack of rejection letters.

Maybe you tell everyone work is great and you love it, but it actually sucks and you hate getting up in the morning. Problem is, if you admit it or not, you hate that you’re lying. No one wants to be a liar. But sometimes we feel like we have to lie, or risk everyone we know thinking we’re a failure.

Most people feel this way, and most people end up disliking themselves because of it.

Have A Vision For Who You Want To Be
What sort of person do you want to be?

I’m not asking what sort of person you think you are. But if you got to choose what sort of person you were, if you could go back and re-write both nature and nurture, if you were tabula rasa (a blank slate) what sort of person would you choose to be?

Its very hard to get somewhere, if you don’t know where you’re going. You could just get in the car and drive and maybe you would find somewhere awesome. Or maybe you would just drive around lost until you got frustrated and went home.

Its not all that different when it comes to personality and who we are. Sure, there are some elements of us that are set in stone. Even if I tried, I don’t think I will ever become a big sports fan. Or a big board game fan. Both of these things bore me.

However when it comes to my interactions with other people, I am in complete control of how I want to be perceived. I can choose to be confident or shy, I can choose to be friendly or reserved. I can choose to put the effort in and look presentable, or I can be a slob.

Attitudes and behavior are more habit than anything else, and habits can be changed with conscious effort. If you want to be more friendly, make yourself be friendlier. Learn to say hello to strangers and introduce yourself. Ask polite questions about people, learn to be a better conversationalist.

If you want to be more confident, take some lessons on acting or toastmasters and learn to use more confident body language. And when someone says something rude, stand up for yourself or other people.

I have a quote in my bujo, but I don’t know where it is from: ‘Be the person you want your soulmate to fall in love with.’

At the very least, have a vision of yourself that is someone YOU would love.

Commit To Kind Honesty

What if you committed to honesty, right now? What if when someone asked you a question you didn’t want to answer, you said: “I don’t want to answer that.” Instead of coming up with a lie?

What if instead of making an excuse for why you can’t go to an event, you tell the truth? You’re exhausted and there is no parking there?

What if instead of telling someone you’re not ready for a relationship, you told them you’re not interested in them? Because you’re just not attracted to them?

Telling the truth can be scary, because we’re afraid we’ll be judged or incite more conflict that we want to avoid. However the opposite is usually true. People trust you more, when they know you will be honest with them. And a painful truth is much healthier for everyone than a pretty lie.

Most importantly, it will make you feel better. You will like yourself more and you will feel more relaxed, more trusting and more content in your own skin.

Accept That Being A Good Person Takes Work

Sometimes, I think we excuse ourselves from certain behaviors because we believe its more effort for us than other people. We think its naturally easy for others to be kind and generous. They were born that way, we weren’t and it would take us five times as much effort as them for the same output.

I’m just not that kind of person, we say. It doesn’t come naturally to me.

I disagree. I think people who are kind and generous got into the habit younger. They were probably taught to be consistent as children or toddlers, so it is easier NOW, but it probably wasn’t when they were learning it. Likewise, it may take some effort for you to learn the habit now, but eventually it will become habit, then it will be effortless. Its just a matter of re-training your brain.

Maybe you think its not worth the effort, but unless you are terminally ill, you have years ahead of you. In ten years, what will you regret you didn’t start now? I’m guessing being a kind and generous person will be on the list (along with saving money, so get on that too).

Moving Forward

Next week, we’re going to talk about priorities and the role they play in happiness. I really hope you’re all still enjoying this series and finding it useful. Don’t be shy about dropping me a line to say you are!

Jake, A Summary

This post comes at a time when I am struggling to find gratitude in every day life. Things are not going my way and I have spent weeks both nauseous and with a frustrating, low grade flu that won’t go away. I’m working hard, and I don’t seem to be making any progress. I also don’t seem to have time for my friends or social commitments. It feels like I am running on a treadmill, wearing myself out, but not getting anywhere.

This is the time it is most important to be grateful. Without gratitude, I could forget all the good things I have going on and focus only on the negative and frustrating. Making the bad seem worse and the good seem insignificant.

When I am feeling least grateful is when I need to show the most gratitude, if only to keep myself afloat.