#100HappyDays

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A while back, somebody started the #100happydays project that asked the question, ,”Can you be happy 100 days in a row?”

The idea is quite interesting as it made people appreciate life’s simple pleasures. Soon social media sites were filled with pictures of coffee and books and cats and of course…selfies.

But if you really think about it, it’s quite an unrealistic expectation; staying happy for a 100 days in a row?

Life goes in cycles. There’ll be good days, not-so-good days and outright horrible days you wish you can forget and delete from your memory. There’ll be days when the alarm will go off and all you’ll want to do is throw it across the room; when no matter how much coffee you have you can’t seem to stay awake; when you just need everyone to go away and leave you alone. And when they do, you sit and brood about why you’re so alone…

My point is, there’ll always be ups and downs. It’s not really about having a 100 happy days in a row, but rather about having a repository of little things to help buffer you from the radioactive effects of the not-so-happy days. I say radioactive because sometimes one bad incident can have a long lasting effect on you; it causes a sort of mental tumor so you don’t think the same about something anymore.

Let’s take an example. I’ve always been used to seeing bodies of water wherever I go. It could be a lake or a river or an ocean…For the longest time, the Indian Ocean was the basis of one of my anxiety-reducing techniques. I would go into details about the technique but not today. Anyhow, come 2004, and the videos of the Tsunami spread around the media….and it took me a very long time to get over these mental images. Sitting down on the fence right outside of Fort Jesus in Mombasa was no longer something I enjoyed doing. It just made me anxious to leave.

It took a while to get over it.

So I guess the take-home lesson is to focus on the happy moments more than the unhappy ones, but don’t pretend the unhappy ones don’t exist because that’s just another way of numbing your emotions and as a great writer once said, “Pain demands to be felt.
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3 lessons in MYOB-ing

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Isn’t it funny how people seem to be experts at giving you advice on how you should lead your life, and yet when it comes to their own lives they seem to be unsure themselves? I think people in general need to enroll in a “MYOB” course. In case you’re wondering what that stands for, google it. Yet we’re all guilty of it at times; telling people what’s best for them or because we’ve gone through something similar or because we think we’re the experts. People always suffer from this close to graduation; “Get a job,” “Go to grad school”, “Get married”. Nobody talks about traveling to India and asking a young boy begging on the streets, “If you could have anything in the world, what would it be?” the answer to which inspired, “Pencils of Promise.” 

So what are the few lessons that would need to be enforced in an “MYOB” course?

1) Recognize that you don’t really know the whole story. A lot of times people reach conclusions and make judgments from the way things look like on the surface, but unless the person sat down with you and explicitly opened up, you’re really not aware of the whole story and you can’t really reach a conclusion or make a judgement.

2) Interfere only when you’re financially invested. So when a kid keeps on failing school, the parent needs to interfere because he’s paying for all that education. The problem is many people interfere, they do so under the claim of being emotionally invested. They care about you. They don’t want to watch you fall….yada yada yada….but you know what, their emotions? Their problem. Not yours.

3) If you really really really care about that person, then you need to ask two questions; “Are you happy? Can you stand on your own two feet?”

The follow-up to the second question falls under point (2). If the answer is no, and they financially invest in you, then they can hen you can interfere since their business becomes yours, technically.

Society has built this whole idea of how success needs to look like for everyone, they don’t realize that some people really don’t care about the mansion with the swimming pool, that they’re just happy with their own mud house and cow, so let them be. People are different. They’re motivated by different things. They want different things.

If you’re at the receiving end of all this unsolicited advice about how you need to lead your life, and you’re tempted to listen to them, ask yourself one question, “If tomorrow, you break your legs and you’re bedridden for two weeks, will they drop their whole life and nurse you back to health?”

If the answer is no, then you know what to do…

Be grateful for your tears

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So maybe it’s true. The highest highs are intertwined with the lowest low. It’s usually the people you love so much who can hurt you the most. When you love someone so much can you get really hurt by them. In engineering terms, the magnitude doesn’t change much, but the sign does.

The topic of vulnerability has been spreading a lot since Brene Brown’s TED talk. Sarah Kay also alludes to it when she says, “Now, I know that the number one rule to being cool is to seem unfazed, to never admit that anything scares you or impresses you or excites you. Somebody once told me it’s like walking through life like this. You protect yourself from all the unexpected miseries or hurt that might show up. But I try to walk through life like this. And yes, that means catching all of those miseries and hurt, but it also means that when beautiful, amazing things just fall out of the sky, I’m ready to catch them.” 

The point she’s trying to make is that by building up fences around yourself, you’re not just shutting out the bad in the world. You’re also shutting out the good. In other words, you’re simply shutting yourself in.

People might say you’re oversensitive. Throw the word at you like it was an insult. “Stop being oversensitive. Buck up.” They make it seem as though this emotional stuff is just fluff, cotton candy that has no nutritional value. So it’s tempting, really…to just numb your emotions. Bury it all. Throw it out of sight. Sorta like the way we tidy the room before our mother walks in. Throw everything under the bed or in the closet and pretend the room is now tidy. And yet we know that’s not how it works.

We can’t go through life numbing our emotions. Let me rephrase that. We can. It’s just that we shouldn’t. It’s not healthy. Take it from a person who’s spent their whole life packing memories into these tiny boxes and burying them inside, they tend to build up, and truth be told, they never really go away. Just because they’re out of sight doesn’t mean they’re not going to spring open when you least expect it. The worse part is that when they do, they actually appear in a transformed into something so dark and ugly, it makes one wonder why they left it unattended for so long.

So how do we attend to it?

Step 1) Don’t pretend it doesn’t exist. Step number one to any proper treatment is a proper diagnosis. We shouldn’t live in denial. Yet denial seems to be our default M. O.  We live in an age where living a pretense is much, much easier than accepting what is true.

Step 2) Talk. Cry. Throw things around. Having your feelings manifest itself in the world takes it out of your system.

Step 3) The letter. As a writer, I’ve always loved the letter idea. It’s actually part of step (2). Write a letter to whoever caused this feeling and decide after two weeks whether it’s a good idea to send it or not. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s not. So you need to give yourself that time period to sit on it, sleep on it…whatever it takes. Just don’t send it as soon as you finish writing it. t’s all part of the process. Purge your system. Get the toxicity out.

Step 4) Finally do something about it. And there are really two things to do; change it or accept it. It’s the binary rule. There’s no third option.

My point is process it as soon as it occurs. Otherwise it will keep on bothering you for a very long time.

In generic terms, the story that made me write this is someone hurt me a couple of years ago. It was such a pivotal moment in my life, you can say it really opened my eyes to a lot of things. Of course, the thing that hurt the most was the fact that this person and I were really close. Anyhow, come last year, the perfect opportunity for revenge came to me, and I really wanted to do something about it, partly because I’m evil and partly because I wanted that person to get a taste of what they did so next time I mention the story they don’t dismiss it with a laugh like I was being oversensitive. Now the problem is that someone else shut down my whole revenge plan, and I was so frustrated because if it weren’t for person # 2….

So I opened my journal and I wrote a stern letter to myself. I practically screamed at myself. It went something like, “YOU REALLY NEED TO GET OVER IT!”

I realized I can’t keep on carrying this baggage with me forever. And if I’m going to be honest with myself, I needed that moment in my life because it really changed a lot of things for me. As much as it hurt, it was important. So come last week, for the first time, I actually thought about it and was able to dismiss it myself, and I realized that it really works to process everything as soon as it happens so it wouldn’t last forever.

In other words, be grateful for your tears. They really make you stronger. But to be grateful for your tears, you need to first let them out.
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Best Mindfulness Teacher…

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In a previous post, I spoke about being present and living in the now as a means to fix feelings of frustration. Sometimes it’s not easy to do that because the whole goal of frustration is to rattle you enough to make you forget all the things you know in theory you should be doing. Like being present. And mindful.

Ellen Langer is a professor of psychology who spent her lifetime studying the benefits of mindfulness, which she defines as an active state of mind where you’re intentionally noticing things. It’s what blogger Neil Pasricha (the guy behind 1000 awesome things) did to come up with his awesome blog posts – he continuously noticed things. He spoke about the three A’s of awesome; the second one of which was awareness. He says, “I love hanging out with three year-olds. I love the way that they see the world, because they’re seeing the world for the first time. Having a sense of awareness is just about embracing your inner three year-old...”

We’re definitely losing that sense of engagement with the world around us as we explore the world at our fingertips. So it’s good to have mementos and reminders to reinforce the idea that we need to slow down, engage with the world around us and take things one step at a time. While others might write down statements on post-it notes and hang them around the house, my favorite anchoring technique is a video I took last October in Mombasa.

Here’s the trick. You must watch it until the end. Do not skip it. Do not forward it. Just keep on watching.

So how did that make you feel? The first time I saw that hippopotamus emerge from the water, I was filled with awe. Its slow walk towards the feeding area made it seem as though it had all the time in the world. It seemed to poke fun at all those people who walked around with pocket watches crying out, “I’m late. I’m late. I’m late.”

And if there’s nothing else it taught me; it taught me to live in the moment, engage with life and just be present.

So yeah, I hope this is a good reminder to slow down your pace in life if your life is very hectic. Remember.

One. Step. At. A. Time.

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