“If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.”
― Lao Tzu
I considered this idea years ago, upon first reaching Tzu’s words. I thought the idea to be novel. However, I didn’t consider myself an anxious person. I did not have the self-awareness to identify my anxiousness. The behaviors that anxiety exudes are often identified as personality traits.
That’s just how he is.
She’s a worrier.
She freaks out over everything!
Under closer examination, I see that I am an extremely anxious person. Sometimes it serves me well. Most of the time it does not. On the surface, it is because I am thinking about the future. Worrying.
If I don’t get the results this quarter, I’m must be a failure.
If I missed that detail, I probably miss everything!
If I am late, they’ll think I’m a mess.
I never have enough time!
Here it goes, it’s all downhill, now! (after one unforeseen issue)
I already have too much to do, how do they expect me to get this done too?
These negative thoughts have not served me well. They just opened the floodgates of stress hormones and had a detrimental impact on my life and work. I believed the thoughts were truths.
And this is where we find our culprit, anxiety.
If you’re like me, you haven’t considered yourself to have anxiety. Anxiety differs from stress in it’s duration. Stress can be triggered by any perceived threat. It can be positive or negative. Alternatively, anxiety is prolonged and can be triggered by stress.
Anxiety is characterized by excessive worry, difficult to control, worrisome thoughts and is present more often than not. Essentially, prolonged symptoms of stress. Forty million Americans have a generalized anxiety disorder.2
Common symptoms of anxiety include not be able to control worrying, fatiguing easily, irritability, difficulty concentrating and a feeling of being “on edge”.
Historically, I would downplay these symptoms to myself. And when I tired easily, I just assumed that I was weak. When I couldn’t concentrate, I thought it was because I was … dumb.
Ha, it looks so silly when you write it down.
I’m mostly a grown up, now. Even so, just the other day my boss pointed out an error that sent me down Anxiety road. It was a small but costly mistake.
When my mistake was pointed out, I was not able to control my thoughts. The thoughts were so severe, that I believed in this moment that I couldn’t speak with friends, family or my significant other because I was a failure. And as a result, shunned in their eyes – not worthy. I felt ill, I couldn’t concentrate and I became instantly exhausted.
In reality, I was talking to my brother on the phone (I have no idea what we spoke about) who was supposed to be updating me on some serious events in his life. Distracted, I bought the wrong size shoes. Racing thoughts taking over, I got home and I blurted out my thoughts to my girlfriend. I sounded like a five year old who was upset Billy the neighbor boy stole his GI Joe. And thus, this is how she looked at me.
I feel grateful that I don’t often feel this way. However, I also realized that for most of my working life, I had felt like this. If I didn’t cultivate tools to help identify anxiety, I wouldn’t have the awareness I have now. In the mode of awareness, it is easier to do something about it.
Why Didn’t I Know?
So the obvious question comes, how didn’t I know I had anxiety? The easy response is, I wasn’t mindful enough. Deeper, I didn’t have the ability to put my emotions into words when I was younger. If I was able to identify, “I feel like I am making a lot of mistakes”, and think about it. I would have come up with a solution. “Maybe I should slow down.” Or, “Maybe I should take some steps to get better at this skill.” Instead, I just felt the emotion, reacted. Reaction makes you combative. I would become defensive, trying to hide mistakes, overcompensate and over-highlighting my strengths.
I’ve made a habit of what I call “removing my thoughts from the chemicals“. To me, this means putting how I feel in words outside of the experience of feeling. I do this in journaling. It has proved pretty eye-opening. Often the sources of the biggest emotional reactions were the pettiest triggers.
On the other hand, when a mistake at work triggers thoughts that push to alienate you from your family and relationships, this is problematic.
Another thing, I didn’t want to discover I had anxiety. Consequently, having anxiety played into the anxiety itself. There is a stereotype that having anxiety (or any mental health issue) is a weakness3. I needed to be strong. And so, I wouldn’t ‘look at it’. I pretended like it wasn’t there.
Anxiety has manifested isolation, racing thoughts, inability to focus, anger and irritability in my life. I don’t want to choose these outcomes any longer.
Conversations with the 2015 ME
2020 ME: Wow dude, you’re really intense.
2015 ME: Yeah, I have to maintain this level of intensity so I can continue to be better than everyone else.
2020 ME: How come your house is such a mess?
2015 ME: I have to work a lot. If I start projects at home, I don’t have time to finish them because I have no time. So I don’t start stuff at home until I have time.
2020 ME: You seem pretty stressed out about work. Why don’t you talk to your wife about it?
2015 ME: Talking about it causes me to live the emotions all over again. I just can’t do it, its already stressful enough.
2020 ME: But, she literally has no idea what’s going on with you!
2015 ME: I’ll handle it. Please leave me alone.
2020 ME: Why don’t you invite some friends over?
2015 ME: They don’t want to come. I’m not a good host anyway. And, I work a lot. Our schedules never match up.
2020 ME: Why not call them then?
2015 ME: I don’t like talking on the phone.
2020 ME: You say you work a lot. Do you like your job?
2015 ME: Like my job, are you serious? It’s not about liking your job it’s about working hard and a lot.
2020 ME: Do your employees like working for you?
2015 ME: My employees have to do what I say when I say it.
2020 ME: Hey, buddy it looks like you didn’t start that new work initiative yet. It looks like something you’d like to do…what’s up?
2015 ME: I’m already too busy I don’t have time to do that.
2020 ME: Looks like you got passed up for the promotion…again.
2015 ME: I’m so tired, I haven’t slept good in weeks.
2020 ME: Oh, one of your employees needs to talk to you about their schedule
2015 ME: They always have a problem with their schedule! What is it now?
Maybe you’ve had these types of conversations with yourself. Feels disappointing, yeah? I
The 2015 ME was experiencing severe anxiety. I chalked it up to my personality. But that’s not who I am and it certainly wasn’t who I wanted to be.
Is This You?
If the conversation sounds like you, you may be suffering from anxiety. If you are from the same camp I am, your first instinct will be to deny.
Just know there exists a place where you can come to terms with this reality. You can begin to come to terms with this reality. You can begin to become more mindful and aware of your negative thoughts. These ideas are driving your anxiety.
As always, I recommend a mindful practice. This could be yoga, it could be meditation or it could be some activity that puts you in your flow state. The point is, be in the moment.
Notice your feelings. Consider how the voices in your head are influencing them, even the very convincing ones.
More than ever, the idea of happiness and the achievement of this elusive state echos in our collective consciousness. Often, our thoughts tell us that if only… then we could be happy.
If only I made a six figure salary, then I’d be happy.
If only I dated him (or her), then I’d be happy.
If only I drove this type of car, then I’d be happy.
If I was famous, then I’d be happy.
And on, and on and on.
If we achieve these marks, we often find that it does not give us the satisfaction that we are looking for. Celebrities, whom seem to have it all, cheat, steal, end up in rehab or are involved in tragic events. Most of our parents are divorced…well, fifty percent of them. Depression rates are on the rise. Anxiety is at an all time high. Americans consider this an all time low in the history of the country.2 We are at our unhappiest in 50 years. When you consider this, it doesn’t seem likely that you or I will end up in the “happiness winner’s circle”. That idea pisses me off!
I’m okay, now. Thanks.
What is Happiness?
Let’s start by clarifying exactly what we mean by happiness. For our purposes, happiness is “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.”1 I think the differentiator in this definition in comparison to others, is the reference to life being meaningful and worthwhile.
Modern Life and Happiness
Staying indoors, not interacting with nature causes unhappiness. Shelter is necessary for humans. However, we are designed to be outside. Consequently, being indoors all the time depletes our happiness. The sunlight strengthens our circadian rhythm and increases our energy up to 40%.10 Spending time outdoors has many positive impacts on our health including increased cognitive function, reduced stress and blood pressure.3 The quarantine’s effect may have brought home how important this is.
Only about half of Americans have any daily meaningful in-person interactions.4 Three in five American’s feel lonely.8 Drinking and drugs, while providing short term bumps in happiness (while you’re drunk or high), can have a negative impact on your long term happiness. Not getting enough sleep, poor eating habits and not exercising are all associated with being unhappy.
Our cell phone addictions have made us less happy. Social media and social comparison has shown to have a negative effect on our mental health.5
We know that happy workers are more productive. However, we work more hours per year than Japan, England and France. Today, 70% of children live in households where both mom and dad are employed. So we’re teaching our future generations that this is the norm.6 If we are working more, are we happier?
Daydreamers beware. Mind wandering has been shown to be a cause of unhappiness. The wandering mind, is an unhappy mind. With all the distractions put in our faces each day, how does one not allow the mind to wander?
There are more than 175 million tweets every day (this data is a year old). Thirty billion pieces of content are shared on Facebook every month. Each of us see somewhere between 3,000-6,000 ads per day! This is compared to 500 to 1600 in the 70’s!
Our minds are overloaded with information. With our brains “red-lining” we are more likely to be less efficient, have memory loss and make bad decision about important things.11 There’s just too much! Our brains have not evolved to deal with this just yet.
Evolution and Happiness
Anxiety evolved in us to encourage us to be adaptive, to survive (If we see a lion, then run!). Happiness, is the same. It is to encourage behavior that will have us survive or reproduce.
Happiness is often associated with or leads to an adaptive behavior, similarly to anxiety. This is vital to understand why this emotion evolved in us. Thoughts that make us happy suggest increased probability of survival or mating. Happiness is not an outcome. Just as once we escape the lion, we are not filled with anxiety forever.
That would fucking be terrible!
As anxiety fades away, so will happiness.
So, our emotions are designed to provoke a behavior. And, this is true for happiness as well.
At the end of the day, happiness is just not the purpose of our lives. Not with where evolution has brought us. Evolution’s purpose is to ensure our survival. Survival is the point, not happiness.
You’re Going to Die
When considering happiness, know that you’re going to die. Most people aren’t thinking about the salary that they wish they would have earned on thier deathbeds. The top five deathbed wishes/regrets are:
I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Happiness is a choice. Be there, present for your life.
You’ll Never Be Happy
The counter intuitive truth is that if we chase happiness, we won’t become happy. It’s not something you can find. But there are some things you can do.
First, Practice Gratitude. I identify three things everyday that I am grateful for. I also try to tell others when I appreciate them.
Next, Be Here, Now. I have this on a poster in my office to remind me. Other ways to say the same thing are be present, be mindful etc. If you are thinking about the future, you’re filled with anxiety. If you’re thinking about the past, you’re filled with regret. Point is, you can’t control either, past or future. And, you’re not experiencing either. Your here, now. So be here, now.
Third, Be Mindful. There are many ways to be mindful. For me (and maybe you), number one is slow down! At a certain point, life had become a checklist of meaningless tasks. There was a rush to complete the task list to get to…fall asleep on the couch?
Yeah, it was ugly.
Do One Thing At a Time. No one can multitask (that goes for you too, ladies). When you do two things at once, the performance of each is severely damaged.
Watch Your Mind, I call this meditation. Be aware that you brain is just throwing random thoughts at you to see what sticks. Watch this little bugger and take control!
Walk. You’re moving, you’re present.
Volunteer. Humans are social beings. By helping others, we are engaging in social behavior that is helpful to generating happiness. It helps strengthen social bonds and provides more of a sense of purpose and well-being to our lives14.
It’s funny, these habits essentially point out that we are already happy. Yet, here we are considering what we should do to get to be happy. But as we’ve said, if you chase happiness, you’ll never be happy.
I don’t mean that mindfulness … sucks. It’s just that…what you learn about yourself can be overwhelming.
I started meditating twenty months ago. At the same time, I began studying mindfulness. Consequently, I’ve learned a lot. As a result of this new self-awareness, I’ve had some tough realizations about myself. The good news is that I can make the necessary changes. Although it may be difficult and challenging, I believe I have the willpower to make the changes.
The difficulty comes in forgiving yourself for what you didn’t know. Or worse, forgiving yourself for what you chose not to confront. Maybe at the time, there was good reason not to. Maybe you were lazy or avoidant. Nevertheless, you (we) did not address said issue(s).
However, if you want to grow, these things can’t be let go. Inevitably, you have to deal with it.
Or, there’s no growth. The monster that haunts your past will inevitably haunt your present as well.
I’ve always been scared.
There is an irrational fear of what people think. I may have said differently, but this is one of those realizations mentioned previously.
I’d imagine others thoughts like:
“He can’t command any authority”.
“He can’t support a family.”
“He’s not very smart.”
“How can he be in charge?”
“He’s not sexy.”
“He’s not successful enough”.
Worse than that, I came up with a “cover” for each. A way to compensate for each thing mentioned above. It took so much energy. But here’s my responses to the imaginary feelings others had:
“He can’t command any authority”.
Then I don’t give a fuck about what you think. I only care about my way.
“He can’t support a family.”
Then I don’t want a fucking family. Fuck it.
“He’s not very smart.”
I’ve got a postgraduate degree motherfucker.
“How can he be in charge?”
If you don’t listen to me, fine I don’t need you.
“He’s not sexy.”
Yeah? Look at how expensive my clothes are. (And, I’m gonna act like I’m hot shit until you believe it.)
I love being the center of attention.
“He’s not successful enough”.
No? Take a look at my car.
I’m gonna talk a lot.
I never confronted the actual issue. There was fear what I (or you) would find would be so terrible, that I couldn’t live with myself.
I did not realize (at the time) that I’m not responsible for what people feel about me. And so, I tried to change who they would perceive I was. I was not clear if any of these ideas were actually thought by anyone. However, the belief in these thoughts caused me to behave like I was under full assault at all times.
I Don’t Give a Fuck About Your Life
Well that is a little extreme, but I guess I’m like that…dramatic. You must know this if you’re still reading.
I have an exaggerated sense of self. As I’ve mentioned, I have concealed my “weaknesses”. I tend to believe the I am special or unique. This is the definition of a narcissist.
I know, you’re surprised.
Have I hidden weaknesses by trying to meet others needs? Yeah. Do I set myself apart from others acting like I don’t need anything from them? Yeah. To an unhealthy extent, do I believe that I am responsible for the outcomes of people’s lives? Yeah.
This is codependency.
I have traits of both Narcissism and Codependency. It could be said that these are disorders of the ego. Nevertheless, the expression of these traits have had a huge part in how my life has played out so far.
I have cared about people’s lives to an extreme. I put all my needs aside. But there came a day when I realized that there was no trophy. I would not be admired as a hero and legend for all time.
I have needs, damnit! And you can’t meet them! I didn’t tell you of course, you should just know!
At this time, I’m out. Thank you for time.
Also, if you want to know about what I want or need out of relationship? I need you to worship everything I do, all the time. Or, let me solve all of your problems. Otherwise, I’ll feel like you don’t love me. This type of behavior comes from not feeling you’re good enough to be loved.
That’s all. No big deal.
But, let’s get real, you can’t ask this of anyone.
Immobilization and Guilt
Perhaps the narcissist in me wants to point out: I did not do any of this because I am a bad person. I did everything out of fear. I was terrified that what would be found would be so unacceptable, I would be banished from the human race.
Again, enhanced self-importance.
The solution is to examine a black-blooded lump of coal of a soul. After that, realize that it’s not so bad. And if anyone doesn’t like it, it’s okay. Be okay with it. Know its not for everyone.
There is another casualty in this. Individual needs and desires. When all energy is expelled to contain other’s perceptions, it can be an obsession. Personal, individual needs fall by the wayside.
We aren’t putting energy to the thing we really want. And, thus we are unfulfilled. Immobilized. And so, the cycle continues.
Even if you try to break the cycle, the guilt from the realizations you may have often will lead you right back to the cycle.
Okay, Okay. Mindfulness Doesn’t…Suck
One of the benefits of mindfulness, is its ability to put you in the here and now. Your focus isn’t on the past or the future, its on the present. Considering the past is good, insofar that you are using the information to change, grow and learn. The future can still be shaped. Nonetheless, we are in the here and now.
Paying attention to our feelings and understanding why they may exist is crucial. Facing it is scary. It takes and investment of time and taxes our energy. But, it’s worth it to understand.
What I’ve Done (And Will Do)
Many things became clear in these self-awareness, realizations. One is that many important people didn’t know how I felt about them. My brothers had no idea the beaming pride, the tender affection and admiration I had for each of them. Others needed to know that I had treated them poorly.
And so, I began to write letters. Some of this is selfish, I admit. However, it did provide some value to the receivers.
At work, I’ve found the similar self-realizations. Acting to control what others are thinking of me. I don’t want my team to see a human that get’s stressed out. They should see someone successful, always having the answers and decisive – well, the narcissist does. This irrational fear sees that I am trying to gauge their silent judgements.
I am working on a mechanism to help with this, like the letters in my personal life.
Here it is, connect and be vulnerable.
This may sound a little anticlimactic. However, but not to the narcissist. This idea is revolutionary to the narcissist. Share yourself.
Connection happens in the messiness of life. Tell others how you feel, share. At the end of it all, the most important things in our lives will be the personal relationships.
Wouldn’t it be great if we felt like we were able to be our open, authentic and real selves?
Pain is usually not a pleasant experience. But there is one thing that can be even more unpleasant than pain itself. Being unable to feel anything – being numb.
This is a place where antidepressants can easily put us. Sometimes it’s just a temporary phase, sometimes it lasts for months. Sometimes I don’t even know anymore what is worse… The unbearable feelings of sadness and physical pain or the persisting numbness.
So, why being in pain is actually a good thing? Because you feel something.
Pain is a natural response that something isn’t right in your body. When you acknowledge the pain, you can do something to relieve it. If you don’t feel anything… Well, it can be harder to change anything, because you lack the motivation to do it so. Pain can be a great motivator and this is why being numb can be worse than being in pain.
But a little bit of numbness after the pain can also be good. Everything in moderation, right? The perfect balance of pain, numbness, happiness, sadness, socialization, isolation, work, vacations, etc. This is how life is supposed to be, right? I’m dreaming a bit today, as long as it’s still allowed… 🙂
What about you, how do you cope with pain and numbness? What is worse for you?
It’s a new decade, ladies and gentelman. Insert your favorite 2020 meme above.
Ahhh… to the New Decade. In the first six months, so much has happend. Tragic and severe events, such as pandemics, migrant crisis, plague level locust infestations, brush fires in Australia, Kobe Bryant dies in a helicopter crash, the olympics are postponed, world economies in free fall …(catches breath)4.
I’ll stop right there.
What were (are) your expectations for 2020? What were the historical expectations for our new decade? Are we getting better?
Are we getting better?
Let’s divide this into two categories; first, standard of living and second, quality of life. Standard of living is mostly associated with income and is measured by GDP and other economic factors. Yet, this metric does not measure the people of the country’s welfare19. Quality life is the wellbeing of people and societies23. The World Population Review takes the health, comfort and happiness of a population and ranks them. Denmark ranks first, America ranks thirteenth24. Although, the US has had the largest GDP since 187125.
Though the world’s most dominant militiary and economic power, the country still ranks thirteenth, even moving up two positions from 2019-202026. In the last two hundred years, the number of those living in extreme poverty has greatly reduced. In 2015, it is estimated that less than 10% of the worlds populations lives in extreme poverty, compared to the near 90% in 182026. Literacy and health have improved worldwide.
As a result, we are better than we’ve ever been. It’s unclear how the events of our new decade will impact this trend. Some warn that the COVID-19 epidemic could undo all the progress for poverty that has been accomplished11.
New Decade Resolutions
The top 10 new years resolutions25 for 2020 were:
Actually doing your resolution
Trying something new
Eat more of favorite foods
Go to the gym2
Be happier/better mental health
Be a better person
Okay, humanity. The second half is a little better, but number one being doing a resolution on a list of top resolutions?
Very disappointing, humanity.
What did you resolve to do in this new decade?
How It’s Supposed to Be
In 1951, we predicted that we’d all have our own personal helicopters. It was predicted that we wont have roads but instead a network of pneumatic tubes in 1957. In 1913, the president of the American Meat Packers Association predicted that everyone would be vegetarian due to a shortage of meat5. Oh and also, humans will only have one large toe27.
We pretty much suck at predicting the future. Most of us don’t know which factors are the most important in the calculation. Our biases that navigate us away from reality and we simply can’t process that much data to make a sound decision29.
So what weight to we put on the current status of the world? Politicians are using the current situations to suit their agendas. Media outlets telling us that the events of the world are changing everything. It’s difficult to know how to feel or navigate any of it.
Currently, 52% of Americans are critical of the country’s reaction to COVID-19. 47% say the US did good or excellent. Expectedly, this near 50/50 split can be found right down party lines22. Unfortunate to see a country once again divided in extreme. I believe this division is something painted by the media for clicks and ad revenue and not necessarily true.
The belief is that the effects of the Pandemic could be limited to a year or two, especially if there is a vaccine produced during this time29. Monday’s (6/8/2020) WHO (World Health Organization) announcement that asymptomatic carriers of the virus are “very rare”, quickly walked back those comments on Tuesday30. This is another example in a long list of contradictory information confusing the situation. This type of thing creates a dissonance in the public, causing many to just tune out.
Currently, fatal police shootings among black Americans are higher than any other ethnicity30. About 52 in 1,000 black men and boys are killed by police31. It is widely believed that a key obstacle to any meaningful reform is overcoming the protection police are afforded. For example, police unions have “a proud willingness to defend even the worst agents of police violence at any cost, and to gum up investigations and lawsuits and prevent penalties when abuse occurs”32.
In an article posted today (June 10th, 2020), Karen Hao discussed the process of ending police brutality. First, witness what’s happening.
“These videos [the witnessing] are definitely making people who may have been in denial about African-Americans’ current oppression unable to deny that anymore”.
Second, changing legislation. Qualified immunity, the objective reasonableness standard and the police bill of rights. Often, footage of the brutality is not released by witnesses until after the official report is released to illustrate the defects in the system, as the video shows another story than the official report. And third, community copwatching. A grass roots organized group monitoring police behavior that may lead to brutality33.
If you are white, start here to begin with your understanding of the difference between black and white perceptions. It’s cool and interactive. Notably, it points out that in recent surveys 49% of whites support the protests for George Floyd’s death in opposition to 77% of blacks34.
The Rest of the Decade
MIT predicts that Africa will be the testing ground for robot/human coexistence. Ten years ago, robot traffic cops were installed in Africa and the surprising finding was that humans were more likely to obey them than a human cop. They reasoned that the robot was not corrupt35.
By 2030, depression will surpass heart related disorders as the leading global disease burden36.
We could have … wait for it … a permanent moon base. NASA plans on having a lunar lander in the moon’s orbit by 202437. Elon Musk promises to have us landed on Mars by 2028. Populations will be about 8.5 billion, two thirds of us will live in cities and privacy will be a thing of the past38.
In the future, our meat will be grown in a lab. Relatedly, the market for artificial meat is subject to a 15.3% annual growth rate until 202039. In the next ten years, our diets will be tailored to our personal genome40. We will be eating healthier and therefore, living longer. By 2030, there will be one billion people over the age of 65. Governments will struggle for balance in short term economic decisions and long term environmental needs. Technology will be driven towards efficiency in part because of the government’s ability to act41.
These trends will continue to push forward at an accelerated rate. And many of this issues that face humanity have relatively known solutions, however, leaders are not acting41.
So look forward to eating better, less privacy, more technology and things moving at an even faster rate of change.