Tag Archives: attempts at being opinionated

the attainment of happiness

21 Nov

I’ve spent the last few months thinking a lot about happiness. How to get it, mostly. The answer, I’ve found, lies in the same place most answers lie – in finding a balance. In this case, a balance between change and contentment. Between identifying what it is that is making you unhappy and altering those factors, and learning how to be happy in whatever circumstances you currently find yourself.

One of my favorite things in life is when things keep popping up in different ways and different places that all lead back to the same idea or concept, things that are so closely related that it makes it so obvious what lesson life is teaching you right now. It reminds me of when somehow I realize that I’m studying the same exact thing, albeit in different ways, in three of my different and completely unrelated classes. I’m going through one of these times right now – not in school, but in life. I think it started around the beginning of this semester when this period of general malaise and discontent started. I started trying to figure what it was that was making me unhappy when, on the surface, it seemed I had no reason to be – and I started trying to figure out how I could get happy again.

When I mentioned something along these lines to my – I don’t even know what to call her, my therapist? That just sounds so weird – anyway, her name is Charis, and when I mentioned to her how inexplicably unhappy I had been feeling lately, she directed me to a mindfulness lab that a couple of Rosemead students had started to teach on Wednesday nights. I only went once, but it’s really not a difficult concept, and once you’ve grasped it you can pretty much just practice it on your own with no outside guidance, unless you want to challenge yourself more and more with it. Basically, mindfulness, or mindful meditation, is something that I think was originally taken from Buddhist meditative practices, but it really doesn’t have to have anything to do with the Buddhist religion. All it is, is simply stopping, or pausing, and becoming aware of your surroundings – and then accepting them. It’s about noticing what’s going on in your mind and your body, and letting it happen instead of fighting it. It is bringing your complete attention to the present – not the past, not the future, but now, this moment. It’s a meditative practice, but it’s something that should ideally be brought to every moment of your life for true effectiveness.

This is what mindfulness means to me. I am a high-anxiety person. I always have some sort of thought simmering underneath the surface about planning for the future, worry about something I’m anticipating, or something of that sort. When I remember to be mindful, when I pull all of my attention to focus to this moment, I become okay with this moment, no matter what is happening. It’s strange and hard to describe, but it brings such a high level of calm to my brain to stop thinking about what’s going to happen. It’s a way of taking a deep breath with my soul and recalibrating myself within my surroundings, instead of attempting to control my surroundings – which is really impossible. I never want to totally lose my thirst for the change element of life, for my ambition, for personalizing my circumstances as much as possible – but what it’s so important to remember is that sometimes I can’t change things. I can only change the way I encounter and deal with them, the way I process them through my psyche and my actions.

Cut to last weekend, when I’m doing a last-minute reading of Samuel Johnson’s philosophical fable The History of Rasselas for my British lit class. Imagine my surprise when this strange story I’ve never heard of out of my Norton anthology starts sounding really familiar as Johnson posthumously draws parallels between my life and that of Rasselas, unbeknownst to him. Rasselas is a prince of Abyssinia who lives in this place called the happy valley with all the other princes and princesses, who have never known any other place. Every need or desire that the royal sons and daughters could possibly foreseeably call for is thought of and provided for. And yet, in the face of this life lived in the lap of luxury, with no clear desires to be seen, Rasselas finds himself in a state of discontent. He realizes that he does have a desire – he desires something, anything, to desire. He comes to the conclusion that contentment in life is partially found in identifying and meeting one’s needs, but he has never had the chance to do this. He feels that there must be something better out there, and so he escapes from the happy valley to seek for his choice of life, to find the contentment he longs for.

Spoiler alert: Rasselas does not find the happiness he thought he would in the outside world, and ends up returning to Abyssinia, his high expectations having been disappointed. But reading this story brought into focus a thought I had been sort of looking at out of the corners of my eyes for a while – the idea that happiness is largely not created by your external circumstances, but your internal circumstances. Even if Rasselas continued to search for happiness, he would not have found it, because it’s clear that his main problem was that he just wasn’t the kind of person who found contentment easily. I know this because I am one of those people. I am good at identifying things in my life that I want to change, pretty good at changing them, and not so good at staying happy with these changes. So I’ve started to realize that the problem isn’t with my circumstances; the problem is with me.

And then I came across this article online last week.

“Life only sucks if you do.

I know, that is a strong statement. But you see, here’s the hard truth – life isn’t how we see it; how we see life is how WE ARE.

If you’re having a stressful day, you are actually bringing stress to the day.

If people are mean, you are bringing the judgment of mean to everyone you see.

If you can’t seem to get a break, it’s because you are choosing to see failure as permanent instead of a sign showing you where to go.

If life isn’t fair, then the rules you have made up about life are holding you back…

We get from life what we bring to it. Plain and simple.

This doesn’t mean things will always go our way; this doesn’t meant that tragedy won’t strike; this doesn’t mean that life won’t be challenging.

But, what this does mean is that we have the power to apply an empowering meaning to what happens and we can choose to learn and grow. Anyone who is successful has overcome challenges, personally, professionally and spiritually.

Our aim should be to train our minds to be strong like strong muscles, so that we can apply an empowering meaning to tough times. As we walk The Path we must become the person it takes to manifest our dreams, otherwise we are simply wishing, hoping and dreaming. We must act.

Going to the gym with weak muscles and just positive thinking your way through to being able to curl 100lbs won’t do it. We have to work. And we have to be willing to go through the pain, but instead of being held captive by the pain of growth, love it and be grateful for it.”

And now I decide how I want to be. Do I still want to look honestly at my life and identify the things that I could change to make life easier, happier, better, and then change those things? Yes. I always want to be growing, changing, knowing myself more and creating the life that I want to live. But I also want to learn to take things in stride. To face setbacks with determination and action, not with dejection and complaining. I want to find an inner equilibrium, something that will keep me steady through every stage of my life. A quote from Rasselas: “Do not disturb your mind with other hopes or fears than reason may suggest: If you are pleased with prognostics of good, you will be terrified likewise with tokens of evil, and your whole life will be a prey to superstition.” I take this with a grain of salt. I don’t want to lose the enthusiasm I feel when good things happen in my life, but my mind definitely gets disturbed by things a little too easily. I want to be just a little bit more steady than I already am. I want to focus just a little less attention on changing my external circumstances and just a little more attention on strengthening my internal state. That way, I know I’ll be ready to face whatever comes my way – and I’ll be able to do it with a smile on my face.

“esquire” should be called “metrosexual and boring in the 21st century”

12 Jul

Let me start off by saying that I love magazines. I absolutely love them. In seventh grade, I would sit in the school library reading all the laminated copies of Seventeen they had on the shelf and getting high off the perfume samples. In high school, once I was allowed to go off campus at lunchtime, it was a frequent occurrence for me to come back with the latest issue of Allure zipped into my black two-pocket Jansport backpack and proceed to spend all of sixth and seventh period surreptitiously reading it under my desk and writing down all the makeup I wanted to buy.

Women’s magazines are totally my guilty pleasure, but I know there’s a lot of talk about the questionable validity, integrity, and helpfulness of the advice they spout from month to month. I’ve been reading Cosmo for years, and I’m not taking a revolutionary stance on the subject by saying that the major plot points (besides the articles like “His 6 Secret Sex Spots” and “The Boobgasm Does Exist”) usually consist of how to make men want you and how to have juicy lips (or, how to make men want your lips). The subtext is that the pursuit of men and the continual attempt to change oneself in order to become more desirable to men is a crucial enough endeavor to read 200 pages on it every month.

But throughout all my years of becoming an expert on how to flip instantly to the cover celebrity article in any women’s magazine out there, I never realized that Cosmo had a male equivalent, which is significantly less criticized: Esquire. I happened to flip through the most recent issue the other day while I was at work, and I was blown away by the amount of arbitrary rule-making and the ubiquitous assumption that one magazine can tell the entire male population “How To Be A Man,” as the cover boasted in block letters. I had to write some of them down because they were so laughable. See below.

If you have a hairy back: “If it’s a special occasion (honeymoon, work picnic, reality-TV audition), four weeks before any expected disrobing, visit a spa. You can expect to spend about $50 and experience a good deal of pain.”
Your wife knew she was marrying a hairy back and she married you anyway. Also, don’t set precedents on the honeymoon you’re not going to live up to for the rest of marriage. Be yourself. I personally would be more turned off by a guy who waxed his back than a guy who had hair on it. But that’s just me.

If you plan on going barefoot: “You need only two things – a pumice stone and some moisturizer – and two minutes of effort.”
I’m gonna keep it simple on this and just say guys shouldn’t pumice their feet. Guys’ feet (and girls’ feet, for that matter) do not need to be as soft as a baby’s butt. End of story. Also, ditto about being more turned off.

“If you wear cut-off shorts: Khakis, yes; denim, no. If you wear tank tops: Stop.” 
Or: Wear whatever you want.

“In general, it’s better to leave before you’d like to. Because ‘before you’d like to’ is actually ‘right when you should.’ Sliding scale.”
Or: Leave whenever you want. And if you are at the point where you really just need to leave, you’re probably too drunk to realize, and let’s be real – you’re staying anyway. 

On the list of unacceptable things to do in bed: eating and clipping nails.
Honestly, just pack your crumbs and toenails out and it’s fine. Don’t deny yourself the pleasure of collapsing in bed after work with some leftover pizza and NBC comedies. (Is that just me?)

“One hit of the snooze button: fine. Two hits: really? Three or more: dick.”
It was brought to my attention while writing this that sleeping in the same room with someone who hits the snooze button every five minutes for an hour every morning is infuriating, which is true. But the snooze button is your friend if you’re in a room alone. Here’s how I translate each hit. One hit: fine (you’re tired). Two hits: fine (you’re tired). Three or more: fine (you’re really tired and you’re probably gonna be late, but that’s your prerogative).  

“The TV can be 10 percent quieter.”
If your housemates are sleeping or someone asks you to keep the volume down, you should. Otherwise, unless you live in a library, who cares?

“Showers: under ten minutes, fifteen tops.”
If this article was written from an environmentally-conscious perspective and the premise of it was “save water,” then yeah. If it was a financial advice article and the premise of it was “save water, save money,” great. If someone is waiting for the shower, do your thing and get out in a timely fashion. But barring that, long showers are relaxing. Screw time limits and take them at your leisure.  

“You: Take out garbage. Fix appliances when broken. Clear table. Her: Wipe down counters. Sweep floor. Clean out fridge.”
Don’t even get me started on this one. Chores are unisex. Get out of the fifties.

A Few Rules for Meetings and Conference Calls: “Think about how long a meeting is expected to last. Then think about whether you really need to bring a beverage to help you through it.”
Because God forbid you do something as shameful as bringing a cup of coffee to a meeting, unless you stayed up till four in the morning helping a stranger give birth on the side of the road and are about to pass out onto your desk.

How to Behave on the Road: “Just because your seat back reclines doesn’t mean you must lean back all the way, especially in coach.”
Should you be mindful of who’s behind you before send your chair rocketing into their lap, beheading their laptop and spilling their toddler’s apple juice? Yes. Is it annoying to have the chair in front of you reclined? Yes. But is riding on an airplane ever going to be the most comfortable thing ever? No. Is that what the seats were designed for? Yes.

The Rules About Technology: “‘Sent from my Samsung Galaxy Tab’ should be deleted.”
Because if it’s not “Sent from my iPhone” or “Sent from my Blackberry,” you should be ashamed of yourself. By all means, hide everything about yourself that doesn’t make you seem like the coolest and trendiest person in your zip code. Life is high school, ya know?

How to Arrive in an Elevator: “Women enter first. Look straight ahead. No phone calls. No talking to others unless spoken to.”
When you ride an elevator, everyone should look like they’re on the train to Auschwitz. Ignore the fact that we’re in the age of cell phones, where important and urgent phone calls can be taken on the go, and don’t even think about making a peep while you’re in that car. You must communicate what floor button you need pushed with extravagant hand motions and/or interpretive dance moves.

In a Restaurant (How to Order): “Make a damn decision and make sure it includes a salad or an appetizer.”
It doesn’t matter if you don’t want and don’t eat a single leaf of that salad, YOU’RE PAYING FOR IT ANYWAY. Because THAT’S WHAT MEN DO.

How to Split the Bill (With Friends): “Evenly. Always.”
Screw that. If your friend ordered the filet mignon and you ordered a burger because you’re tight on cash and wanted to save money, you shouldn’t have to pay for any part of his filet mignon.

Just plain ridiculous:

“Rule No. 742: There is never a good reason to snicker.”

In Public – Things a Man Should Not Do: “Check Facebook. Take a call from his mother. Argue with a woman.”

How to Interview for a Job: “Stand, don’t sit, in the waiting area. Less fussing with yourself when they come to retrieve you.”

Your First Day: “Say very little. Smile a lot.”

I am emphatically not a rules person. I think there are standards of common decency, but I don’t think they’re as restrictive as most people seem to think they are (my best friend used to hiss at me to sit up when I laid my head on the table on a 2 AM trip to Denny’s). I personally don’t find tank tops and cutoff denim shorts that attractive, but far be it from me to tell anyone they shouldn’t wear them, even if they want to. If people want to make rules for themselves, to apply to their own life, I applaud them for pursuing consistency and personal standards. But don’t try to apply them to anyone else. Don’t type up some trite rules about what gym classes men are and aren’t allowed to take and try to pass it off as sound advice about what it means to be a man.

The books a man reads and the drinks he prefers aren’t what make him a man. Life’s hard enough without coming up with a bunch of arbitrary and essentially pointless rules to live by that will soon ensure that you tiptoe around the world with little thought to your own desires and individuality. Just be a kind person, wear what you want, and try not to fart in front of people you don’t know. It’s pretty simple.

The one statement I could get behind was printed on the Cosmopolitan Hotel Las Vegas ad on the back of the magazine. It said, “Life is about balance, like a clean suit and a dirty martini.” Hear, hear.