Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Happy Consumption-less Christmas

I recall Christmas Eves past, when I was a kid, as sleepless nights spent anticipating all the cool stuff I would get my grubby little hands on the next morning - from a stocking full of candy (and the obligatory orange) to a load of toys that would meet my most recent fancy. I remember studying the Sears Christmas Catalog to concoct the list of what I wanted the mother-load to include. And I vaguely recall the post-Christmas letdown as, having received all that great stuff, nothing seemed to live up to the hype I'd created leading up to the big day.

I don't remember exactly when it was that the anticipation dwindled. But, I know it is just in the last couple of years that I've ultimately become disgusted with the holiday as the ultimate reflection of American hedonistic consumerism. This year I completely boycotted.

It was my first ever consumption-less Christmas and it was fantastic. The weather was perfect for a late morning hike into the wilderness with my girl and her dog. We ate a simple lunch of summer sausage, cheese, crackers, an apple and a banana on top of a mountain as the wispy clouds whisked across the sky above us. It was the happiest of holidays and a blue-print for years to come.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Monday, October 4, 2010

Stop Trying to Keep Up with 'The Joneses'

Last week 'The Joneses' was the feature film on a flight I was on. I couldn't help but watch after reading the synopses. SPOILER ALERT. This is not a movie review. This is an extension of the commentary that the movie encompasses so I will share more than you might want to hear if you haven't seen the movie and intend to do so.

The Joneses appear to be the perfect family of four - successful businessman, gorgeous wife, 2 beautiful teenage kids. They move into a fashionable suburban neighborhood and immediately become the neighborhood trendsetters. Everyone wants to be like one of them. Dad has a stunning bride who clearly keeps him happy in the sex department, a beautiful McMansion and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of cool toys — cars, golf clubs, watches, stereos, etc., — all the stuff every guy wants. Mom is super stylish, always wearing the latest designer label, practically right off the catwalk, house decorated just so. The kids reign over their new school with cool clothes and cars and the latest cell phones, games and makeup.

The deep dark secret is that they're not really a family. They're a marketing team that has been strategically positioned in this well-to-do neighborhood to increase the sales of all "their" cool stuff. Looking like the perfect family with all the latest gadgets is their job. They are supposed to influence their neighbors' buying habits — to literally make them want to "keep up with the Joneses". Subtle title huh? Dad, at one point actually says to his cadre of wannabes "He who dies with the most toys wins." The whole movie is a bit heavy handed.

Think about it though. Why wouldn't marketers go to such lengths? We are already completely surrounded by marketing in our daily lives. You can't pick up a newspaper or magazine that isn't 50% or more advertising. Radio has become one big commercial with a few musical interruptions. TV is rife with commercials and ridiculously obvious product placement. Everyone uses Google, which is just a big marketing conduit. Why not direct sales from sales people in our social circles? The entire western culture is about consuming. 

But does it make us happy? The movie is not subtle about this message. The neighbor, who hasn't gotten laid in ages, learns the art of creating a happy wife from Dad - an endless flow of gifts. And it works. The neighbor finally gets laid after buying all kinds of stuff for his wife. But unlike Dad, he has to pay for all the gifts, not to mention the new car, TV, golf clubs… you get the picture. And like so many people in the roaring 2000s he put it all on credit. "60 days no payments" for a houseful of stuff and gifts for the wife becomes an insurmountable mountain of debt. He got laid, but he's not happy. He misses house payments and then his wife has trouble using a credit card to fund one of her fancy parties. Next thing you know the neighbor is found at the end of a trail of unpaid bills, floating dead in the backyard swimming pool. The moral of the story is, in my own words, "Don't get caught up in all the consumerist bullshit."

Stuff doesn't lead to happiness. Case in point, I once went on a mountain bike ride with a friend who owns a bike shop. He rides a heavy old mountain bike and one of the other riders asked him why he didn't have a newer, lighter, cooler bike. His response was that he enjoys the riding regardless of the bike he is riding. Even though he can outfit himself at cost, he rides his heavy old beater. It's not about the stuff. It's about the experience. This is becoming a key tenet in my quest for success and happiness. I know that success is not defined by what I accumulate in money or things. It is about what I do and with whom I do it. It's about the collection of memories of those times, which I will carry with me. He who dies with the most memories is the real winner.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Six Ways to Make Living with Yourself Easier

I like shopping at In Season Local Market to support both local sustainable agriculture and a local small business. The meat is fantastic, the eggs are from pasture raised chickens and everything is sourced from within 250 miles of the store. I also have even been known to pick up a burger and a shake at Sonic, not sustainable or healthy.

The idea of living small, locally and sustainably inspires me. But I have have a desire to see the world and love flying around in jetliners. And getting a pilots license is on my "bucket list".

I ride my bike to work sometimes. But I love driving my little A4.

These are just a couple of the dichotomies that I struggle with on a regular basis. Why should I bother with shopping at In Season occasionally if I'm going to consume unsustainably most of the time? How can I be serious about wanting to move into a smaller dwelling and use less energy if I also want to fly off to Spain, South Africa and New Zealand?

Well, unfortunately I am not perfect. However, I have implemented a couple of strategies to help deal with my inconsistencies:

Just admit it - Like anything else, the first step to dealing with a personal foible is admitting it's there. I've listed a few of my dichotomies here but not all of them. I hope that I can admit to and sort out all of them as they are discovered.

Do your best - Approach everything you do with the attitude and expectation that you will do the best that you can. I like to run. Some days I feel like I can run forever; like I'm running on a cloud so I run longer and faster. Other days, I feel sluggish, like I'm wearing cement shoes and running in three feet of water. But I get out and run anyhow - slower and shorter because that's all my body has to give at the time. Or I rest, because that is what feels right at the time. If you always do your best, then even though everything you do may not be of the highest quality you can be satisfied that you have given the best you had to give at that time.

Don't get discouraged - When you haven't done your best, don't demoralize yourself. It's water under the bridge. It's spilled milk. It is what it is. I rode my bike to work a dozen times during Bike to Work Month (which is in June in Denver). I think I've ridden it to work only a dozen times since then. But that's surely no reason not to ride my bike to work on Monday. Every day is a new day, a blank canvas on which to create your best you.

Make progress - Establish a big goal or purpose to aspire to and then set intermediate objectives to work towards and then make small very achievable targets that you can hit regularly. Running the Leadville Trail 100 is another entry on my "bucket list". Right now I generally run about 5 miles for my "long runs". That's a far cry from 100 miles, so I'm going to schedule a 10k, then a half-marathon, then a couple of marathons, then a 50-miler, then a metric century and then I will run the Leadville Trail 100. It's clearly a long-term goal. But for now, every week I need to run 2 times. (I also hike, road ride, mtb ride and will pick up yoga again to round out the necessary fitness.)

Accentuate the positive - Congratulate yourself when you hit a target. Celebrate when you achieve an objective. When I shop at In Season I feel good about supporting local agriculture and a local small business and I feel like I'm doing something to work towards my purpose of living more sustainably. I pat myself on the back when I do so. When I cook the amazing products I've bought at In Season, I love the flavors and textures of the food that are just plain different from what you get at the local supermarket and I revel in it.

Keep exploring and learning - A year ago, I thought the farmer's market was a place to buy tastier produce than I from the supermarket. Now I understand all kinds of other reasons why buying locally sourced products is better for me and for everybody else. And each time I learn a new reason, I become more passionate about my purpose.

So, undersand that we are not flawless and that we will have conflicting thoughts and desires. Then implement these strategies to help you live with and sort through your inner conflicts.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Art of Consequentiality

This one suggestion from The Art of Happiness perfectly sums up everything I hope to learn and convey through consequentiality.

We tend to take small things too seriously and blow them up out of proportion, while at the same time we often remain indifferent to the really important things, those things which have profound effects on our lives and long-term consequences and implications.

In other words "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff", which in my experience many people do incessantly. But, importantly, rather than following with some version of "... and it's all small stuff" HHDL suggests that we should be mindful of the important consequential things.

Now all we have to do is figure out what's the small stuff and what's the really important stuff.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Life Balance

Photo by S. Brumley
The human body has an amazing ability to physically balance itself. When you consider that we're all top-heavy, the number of unconscious tiny adjustments that our body has to continuously make based on an unceasing flow of information from multiple bodily systems is mind-boggling. Luckily all of the cognitive development we need for physical balance are established instinctively when as a young child we learn to sit up, walk and run.

If only it were an instinctive part of growing up to learn Life Balance - work-life, emotional, social, financial and spiritual balance. Achieving Life Balance is a requires a conscious effort on our part. Otherwise we may find that we're working to live or an emotional wreck or a social outcast or in financial trouble or without spiritual direction.

However, we can't focus too much on any one aspect of our life or the others will get out of balance. I used to spend too much time thinking and not enough time doing. I was out of balance and doing became an aspiration for me. I started doing more - spending my free time in the mountains running, cycling and backpacking (a rekindled love affair from the past). And I began accumulating backpacking stuff thereby reversing course in my campaign to reduce the stuff in my life. I was happily doing all these things and felt as though I was moving towards "happiness".

But backpacking isn't about stuff, it's about walking and being in the moment in the wilderness. I had allowed myself to become preoccupied by the equipment aspect of backpacking. While that didn't detract from the wonderment when I was on the trail, it consumed my time off the trail. When I should have been reading, writing, contemplating, running, cycling, meditating and playing my violin I was online reading about how to shave grams off of my pack. I had become too focused on one aspect of my aspiration to do and let all of the other important dimensions of my life and things I wanted to do languish. While this hasn't made me unhappy - and actually I feel quite happy - it hasn't moved me appreciably towards happiness. Nevertheless, it has advanced me to a revelation that will keep me on the path:

Life Balance is essential to Happiness

How do you maintain yours?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Redefining Success and Happiness

I've added a description to the blog - redefining success and happiness - which I think is apropos to my situation and therefore my subject matter here.

There was a time, not so long ago, when I thought happiness could be derived through vocational success (i.e. more money.) Money would afford me the ability to have more toys, travel more often and more luxuriously, eat better food, drink better wine and generally buy more joyous experiences. However, as noted previously, I've actually been decreasing the amount of stuff that I own and increasing the amount that I'm doing with what I already own and I'm feeling happier every day.

So if happiness isn't about stuff and is about doing, then should I measure my success by the amount of money that I make? If no, they how should success be measured? Even Merriam-Webster includes "the attainment of wealth" in their definition. Continuing down the definitional path (last link to a dictionary for today, I promise) wealth is an "abundance of valuable material possessions or resources." The crucial word in this definition seems to be or and I think the the key to redefining success will be uncovering the resource(s) I will aspire to attain.

How do you define success?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Why I Want LESS Stuff

I'm obsessed with my stuff. Contrary to what you might think a 37 year old male in the US would obsess about though, I'm obsessed with decreasing the amount of stuff I have to the bare bones of what I need to live a simple satisfied life.

When I first moved back out on my own, after 10 years of cohabitation with my ex-wife, I found myself indulging in retail therapy. I bought a new car, new glasses, new Italian jeans and other new clothes and a new plasma TV, none of which brought satisfaction or joy (okay... I really do enjoy my new little A4).

Since then, I've found the greatest pleasure in doing things - riding my bicycle(s), playing my violin, running, practicing yoga, reading - rather than obsessing over getting new stuff. I've donated far more than I've procured lately and it feels great. My home is clean and (relatively) clutterless and, while it looks like a fun toy that I may one day indulge in, I don't feel like I'm missing anything by not having an iPad yet. I even find myself feeling a bit anti-consumerist these days. How un-American...

Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to become an ascetic minimalist. But I am going to continue to focus on living a joyful life through experiences rather than through shopping.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Music is FUNdamental

This performance at Tedx Tokyo made me smile so big my cheeks hurt. It inspires me want to get my violin out and make a little music of my own. There is nothing like live music to make the world a better place. Please support and enjoy it every chance you get.

In the meantime, pull up a chair, maximize the screen and take 20 minutes to watch Jake Shimabukuro wow the Tedx Tokyo crowd with ukulele playing like you've never seen before (unless you've seen Jake before of course.)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Art of Happiness

Reading is a great way to change your perspective and sometimes even your demeanor. The Art of Happiness, by Dr. Howard C. Cutler and His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama was recommended to me and seemed like a great place to begin my journey towards increased contentment with life and becoming a nicer person to be around.

I copied many of my favorite nuggets into my notebook for continued reflection and I will touch on them here from time to time. First are two short quotes from HHDL - the kernel of how I have become a happy person - which are encountered near the front of the book.

By bringing about a certain inner discipline, we can undergo a transformation of our attitude, our entire outlook and approach to living.

...happiness is determined more by ones state of mind than by external events.

These are an affirmation of my belief that I have ultimate control of who I am and how I feel. Through mindful awareness I have the ability to overhaul my perspective from within. My happiness cannot be created nor destroyed by anyone but me and I control it all within my mind.

What is the secret to your happiness?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Writing and Happiness

Ever since I decided to consciously strive to be The Nicest Person You'd Ever Meet, I find that I am a happier person. In fact I would even call myself "a happy person," which may not mean much to you unless you've known the cynical, unhappy me.

In my past I've used writing as a way to resolve my unhappiness periodically. Writing was like cognitive therapy exercise that read as rambling rants about whatever had rubbed me the wrong way most recently. But now that I'm in generally good spirits, I have not had the compulsion to write for medicinal reasons, which has manifested itself in a dearth of compositions.

Therefore, it is time that I seek alternative motives to spur me on. And what better than to share the inspirations for my happiness; an exploration of and focus on what is important to me - the consequentialities of my life. I have no doubt that putting these cheery thoughts in writing and sharing the things that make me smile will only magnify their effects on me. Hopefully they'll make you smile too.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

How I Decided to Be The Nicest Person You'd Ever Meet

I recently heard someone described as "the nicest person you'd ever meet" and I immediately thought to myself "Wow! I'd like to meet that guy." Then I reflected on what might be said if I were being described.

Words that came to mind:

I don't know that they would make many people (any people?) think "Wow! I'd like to meet that guy." They've been personality traits for most of my life. I vaguely remember consciously initiating the construction of a social wall of condescending sarcastic egoism; and brick by brick it has grown into the Great Wall of Eric - keeping friends (those thick-skinned enough to have me) and family (they've been stuck with me) at bay.

The wall is weakening lately and I feel as though I'm waking up to the world and discovering how I want to exist in it. Jonathan Fields' post Would You Fall Asleep Reading Your Life's Story? was a well-timed inspiration. Reflecting on legacy, he encourages us to ponder the meaning of life as a story and to write out the chapters as we would like them to unfold. He ends with the question "what story are you writing with the way you’re living your life?" I've written many chapters already in my 37 years, but now it's time to mindfully set my intentions for future chapters. I'll start with one for now:

He was...
   *The nicest person you'd ever meet

Photo by Emiliano Spada

Friday, February 19, 2010

Thinkers and Doers

I tend to be a thinker more than a doer. My girlfriend is a doer, and I actually find myself getting jealous of the things she does.

I talk (rant maybe?) about what I perceive to be wrong with the political system (or any other of my pet peeves) and her first words are "what are you going to do?" It's not that I don't do anything, but the people who know me would no doubt agree with you if you said "he doesn't UNDER analyze things." 

For example, I have a small dollar giftcard to TJMaxx and want to get something for my kitchen, which is devoid of many basic kitchen implements. But I'm also trying to embrace minimalism so I want everything I add to my inventory to be suitable for multiple tasks. So, a couple weeks ago I wandered through the store for 45 minutes trying to decide what was the perfect gear to grab. In rare over-analyzing form that evening, I ended up just frustrating myself over the decision and leaving with nothing.

There's a great point in this post 5 Ways to Stop Second Guessing Yourself about how it really didn't matter because "there were never going to be any huge consequences". I should have chosen one of the things I know I need that fit the gift card amount, bought it and been home in time to use it to cook myself a nice little supper. Instead, I did a wishy-washy Charlie Brown act until I couldn't stand it anymore and picked up fast food on the way home. Thinking too much not only made the trip a waste of time, but it also made me less healthy that evening.

There's nothing wrong with thinking, but you have to act on your thoughts or it becomes pointless pondering.

picture by ivan petrov  

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Beware the Should Shroud

Most of the things that people stress about are inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

inconsequential -
of no significance

Too many of us are a facade of our inconsequential "should thoughts": Where should I live? How should I dress? Whom should I vote for? How much money should I earn? What kind of car should I drive? Whose ass should I kiss? What kind of wine should I like? Who should be able to marry whom (much less whom they should be able to have sexual relations with)?

We are overly concerned with trying to fake our way up Maslow's hierarchy of needs by fitting ourselves into a "should shroud" that we've created by assimilating the opinions and mannerisms of those to whom we wish to appear cool or affluent or intelligent or businesslike or pious or attractive or however else we think others think we should appear. We shrouded souls buy trendy clothes because that's what our peers buy. We join political parties because our parents were members, not because we understand the real life ramifications of a party's platform. We drive a car that we think reflects status or will get us laid.

What really gets me riled up though, is that most of the stuff that we focus on is totally inconsequential to us in the grand scheme of life. We're not thinking about how our shoulds will affect us directly from an analytically honest perspective. We're worried about not fitting in or feeling embarrassed for standing out from our crowd by having a differing thought. We are blindly marching to a drum beat without understanding the rationale for the tempo or knowing who is really leading the band.

I am going to focus on applying analytical honesty to examining inconsequentialities and turning them inside out to discover life's consequentialities.

consequentiality -
notions having significant importance with respect to power to produce an effect