Posts Tagged ‘happiness’

Death of a son

July 23, 2015
Some things in life are very important

Some things in life are very important

Nick Cave’s son Arthur took smiling photo metres from cliff where he died’.

I read that headline and heard on the news that a 15-year-old boy had fallen to his death from a cliff. No foul play, no suicide, just a childish misadventure that cost a young man his life. It didn’t matter that his parents were famous. It didn’t matter why it happened. It just happened.

As a father of a boy not much older than Arthur, hearing the news made my blood run cold. I imagined if it had been my son. I want to protect him and nurture him and if he died like this I’d want to go with him. Otherwise, every day would be white pain; complete, unrelenting, devastating pain.

But as children grow we must let them go, release the parental embrace and allow them to take their own steps in the world. We watch as they leave us and disappear into the night. And we wonder. And we worry.

Accidents, king hits by unprovoked strangers, spiked drinks, idiots in cars, drunks looking for a fight – all out there on a possible collision course with a person that I value in this world more than myself.

From the day your child is born these possibilities are a permanent spectre, lying in wait for happenstance. We have a rule in our family that no one can die before me. Selfish I know, but I value their lives ahead of mine and couldn’t bear an existence without them.

I can’t imagine how Rosie Batty gets through a single day. There can be no peace. She has found a greater good to make sense of losing her son. She is a most worthy Australian of the Year.

I want to keep my kids safe. I advise them as best I can about being sensible, when at their age I wasn’t. I want them to be happy. Most of all they know they’re loved and I enjoy every moment I have with each of them. No one knows what tomorrow brings but we can influence our actions today.

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The Power of Personal Perceptions…

July 14, 2015
Do you care what others think about you?

Do you care what others think about you?

Last weekend we caught up with friends and were discussing their daughter’s wedding, held the month before. It was a very pleasant event with an enjoyable reception and nice meal. They told us how I had inadvertently caused a last-minute panic on the seating arrangements, which they confessed was very strange.

A friend of theirs, whom I’d met infrequently over the years, expressed a vehement dislike for me and didn’t want to be seated anywhere near me. He also expressed the same sentiment to someone else at the wedding (who later shared that with me in amazement).

I was bemused by this. I’d rarely spoken to this man and never perceived I’d been in a position to create this level of distain. There’s the rub. For years he’d professed to be the best at everything; he had the fastest car, was the best sportsman, and owned an established business. He surrounded himself with sycophants who worshipped his every move.

I don’t buy into that game, and I guess that must have annoyed him. He wanted to make life a competition and I didn’t feel the need to respond. I prefer to take people on face value: who they are, rather than what they have.

Recently he’d been caught cheating on his wife, his business faltered and he had to sell the fast car. That doesn’t change who he is, but it certainly changed his outlook. He now saw me as ‘winning’ in his game, by his rules. So he found reasons to belittle me to others. He failed to notice (again) that I wasn’t playing. I feel sorry for him; he has some challenges to face.  He’s created benchmarks that define who he is and now, at fifty, they can’t be maintained. Clearly he is unhappy.

As for me, as much as I say I don’t care what others think about me, I don’t think anyone likes to be disliked. But I can’t change this guy’s opinion. And I don’t need to try. I just won’t focus on it.

In a timely post, Seth Godin this week said ‘We can choose to define ourselves (our smarts, our brand, our character) on who rejects us. Or we can choose to focus on those that care enough to think we matter. Carrying around a list of everyone who thinks you’re not good enough is exhausting’.

Lucky for some

June 2, 2015
How's your luck?

How’s your luck?

Do you know any lucky people: the ones where fortune favours their every move? Are you lucky in love, business, life or at the casino? Are ‘winners’ lucky or is there something more to it?

We see people who win and say ‘What a lucky guy!’ There is, in my opinion, a big difference between luck at the casino or winning the lottery and luck in life. One is a random chance and the other is a measured journey where opportunity meets preparation.

I have friends who gamble and I hear about their luck at winning five thousand dollars at roulette. I don’t hear about the many multiples of that invested to find their ‘lucky streak’. In the big picture, where randomness reigns, anything can happen. Calling winners lucky is simply sticking a label on after the fact.

To examine luck as a concept raises an interesting question: how can we explain what happens to us and whether we’ll be winners, losers or somewhere in the middle at love, work, sports, gambling and life?

Is luck, good or bad, more than a phenomenon that appears exclusively in hindsight, or is it an expression of our desire to see patterns where none exist, like a belief that your red shirt is lucky?

I believe luck, in a predictable form, can be created by our attitudes and actions.

Lucky streaks are real, but they are the product of more than just blind fate. We can make our own luck, though we don’t like to think of ourselves as lucky: a descriptor that undermines other qualities, like talent and skill.

We can see someone with a lovely home and a successful business and say they are lucky. We often don’t see the 20 years of hard work and sacrifice invested by them to be in this ‘lucky’ position.

We may pray for it or wish others ‘Good luck’ but we’d prefer to think of ourselves as deserving; the fact that we live in a society that is neither random nor wholly meritocratic makes for an even less precise definition.

I believe that ‘lucky’ people adept to creating and noticing chance opportunities, listen to their intuition, are confident to act in risky situations, have positive expectations that create self-fulfilling prophesies, and have a resilient attitude about life’s trials.

So, make your own luck and remember – things could always be worse!

The cynical self

May 13, 2015
I want to break free ...

I want to break free …

Yesterday we had a full day business meeting with international visitors. The meeting started at 9.00am, and we had a working lunch and concluded at 5.00pm, at which time we left for an upmarket city restaurant for dinner.

Our distributers were trying to impress us. They’d brought their CEO and Chairman. Our management team was trying to appear superior to the distributors, while also trying to impress our boss and scoring points on each other in the process. And our boss was trying to impress the guys from head office, who were constantly looking at their watches. As best I could make out, no one wanted to be here.

About 3.00pm I wanted the music to stop. I wanted to scream ‘Why are we doing this?’, but resorted to injecting a few thought-terminating clichés to wind it up. Didn’t work. The show rolled on.

After a day of platitudes and thinly veiled assurances of improved support and performance, which remain the emotional capital of the business world, with little to no action until the next quarterly meeting where we do this dance again, it was difficult to look forward to the impending meal.

At dinner, everyone was toasting everyone else; too many times to be comfortable. Big smiles, forced conversation, more platitudes. The Chairman made another speech reaffirming his commitment to us and the greater cause. As if it matters. So that led me to wonder: do we? Do we matter?

In our daily lives, questions of personal worth are recurrent, if rarely articulated. We’re so defined by work that our identities without it are in question. Unless we have something else to anchor us, we’re in danger of becoming what we do, not who we are.

We find that ultimately unsatisfying. Because as we get older, time spent at work consumes a proportion of our lives we can rarely afford. We go home tired, eat, sleep and do it all again. Holidays come rarely and when they do we wonder why life can’t always be like this.

I want to rebel. Just a minor revolt. I want to grow my hair long, become a hippy and follow the sun surfing. My wife says I can, for one week in the second half of each year. I can’t do more because of ‘commitments’. Commitments that will get me committed.

Deprived of a clear sense of purpose, apprehensive about the significance of our lives, we’re desperate for reassurance that there is a reason behind what we feel we must do. Are we working for the weekend or living in the now?

I don’t know. I’d rather have it all, and now. So I keep working while I search for the answer. I’ll let you know if I find it.

The naivety of youth and where to find some

March 23, 2015
Recapture your youth ...

Recapture your youth …

There’s something refreshing about the naivety of youth; a time of not knowing it all and having the opportunity and the excitement of finding out. There are so many new experiences, taking nothing for granted and enjoying the moment; enjoying the journey as well as the destination.

It’s ironic because this is exactly what many of us ‘older’ people are searching for. I saw a great example this morning. As I waited in the airline lounge for another flight, I made my way up to the coffee station and there was a young man of 16 or 17, my son’s age, standing there looking at the machine.

He clearly didn’t know what to do and looked like a fish out of water. There were huffs and puffs from the handful of business types behind him, frustrated by the multi-second delay this was causing to their day.

Excruciatingly absorbed in their self-importance, these men and women in their power suits, sporting permanent scowls that scream ‘I’m so important’, were clearly desperate to secure that next coffee with minimal downtime.

I said to the young man, ‘These machines are so complicated, far too many buttons for my liking’ as I helped him to make his selection. He said he was new at this. ‘Great, where are you going?’ He was off to Sydney to race go-carts in the national championships.

‘Wow, that sounds great’, I said as I handed him his cup. I saw him eyeing the biscuits so suggested he’d better grab a few of those to keep him going. We headed back to our seats in the same direction and he told me how happy he was, how this was a great opportunity for him, how excited he was about flying and being allowed to use the lounge.

I wished him luck, told him he was unquestionably the most interesting person in here and that I hoped to see him in F1 one day. I was much better off for talking to him and glad I’d had the chance to meet him.

Here was a young adult that was excited by life, chasing his passion and enjoying every aspect of journey, even the flight. I thought back to my first few flights and how excited I was too.

Many people in this lounge have big jobs, high salaries and flash cars but have lost the passion and excitement. I looked over at the young man talking enthusiastically with his parents, almost bouncing off the walls, while the ‘blue suits’ had their noses buried in the latest Richard Branson article on their iPads.

When you recapture the wonder, you capture the world.

No regrets. Well, perhaps just a few …

November 26, 2014
Living your life

Living your life

My last post discussed regrets and how we process them. It got me thinking about how we handle them and what we can do differently.

I read an article about a hospice nurse who recorded the common regrets of the dying patients with whom she worked. The two top regrets are interesting and relatable. First, people generally wished they’d had the courage to live a more authentic life. They looked back on life and realised the many occasions in which they had capitulated to external pressure. They wished they’d taken more opportunities to follow their hearts.

The second regret was wishing that they hadn’t worked so hard. In a world where success is often measured by what we do and how well we do it, the correlation between job and identity appears not to be fulfilling in the long run. If deathbed wisdom is any guide then people would prefer to have taken off more days and spent more time with friends and family or to pursue their passion and purpose.

In this regard, life really can get in the way of living. Most of us can’t simply ‘chuck it in’ and live a life to our own rules and pursuing our passions, regardless of how inspiring that sounds. But imagine we made space for some of that now, rather than doing nothing or putting it off until retirement or when we have time? Plan some time to make a start. Even a few hours a week will make you feel better, provide more balance and allow you to deal better with the not-so-inspiring requirements of life.

When you think about your regrets, consider what you might do to avoid them in the first place. Are you willing to take a day off occasionally to spend time with those you care about? Are you willing to take it a little easier at work and leave a little earlier? What would happen if you left work at lunchtime and turned up at your child’s sports day?

Where is the meaning in the tragedy of the world?

September 22, 2014
Sometimes we need to accept things as they are ...

Sometimes we need to accept things as they are …

In my last post I discussed the need to look within to find the meaning of life rather than waiting for someone to provide the answer or show us the way. Yes, but how can we possibly reconcile personal meaning when the world is in such turmoil?

Perhaps the answer is that meaning and turmoil must co-exist. Can we expect to wait until the world is perfect before we seek our own, and very personal, meaning?

Why should we believe that wherever there is a problem there must also be a solution? As unpalatable as this may be to accept, it may be reality. So wouldn’t it make sense to start with ourselves and hope the benefits from discovering our personal meaning spread, or are we content to sit here forever waiting for the lights to change to green?

Let’s face facts. For many, the world is only fitfully penetrable by reason, and past deeds weigh upon present aspirations to extinguish them. The pressures of the world can even threaten to emotionally destroy us.

You may not think in these terms, but look around. What if it’s only by keeping our heads down as we pick a path through the minefield of existence that we can we hope to survive, paying homage to cruelly capricious gods of our own creation who scarcely deserve respect, let alone veneration?

Are you ready to give up and allow this level of thinking to direct your life?

Perhaps ignorance is bliss after all.

I believe there’s more to life’s meaning than wishful thinking, sentimental humanism or an idealistic panacea.

But you have to work for it.

Most aren’t prepared to do that.

Skynet, penguins and the meaning of life

September 8, 2014
I think I'm self aware ...

Navigating self awareness.

In the Terminator movies of the mid 80s, Skynet was an advanced artificial intelligence that became self-aware at 2:14 am on August 29th, 1997.

Earlier, upon its creation, Skynet had begun to learn at a geometric rate, and removed humans from its decision-making processes, making them irrelevant. Once self-aware, Skynet saw humanity as a threat to its existence, triggered a nuclear holocaust, and deployed an army of terminator machines against the very people who built it.

Are we really afraid of computers becoming self-aware or are we using stories, books and movies to process our own self-awareness? Such storytelling is successful when it addresses our deepest fears, and ‘self-awareness’ rates highly among them.

Why is that? Perhaps this is a key component of our quest to understand why we’re here. Humans are distinguished from other animals by our capacity to bring our existence into question.
Immediate situations may be problematic to a penguin, but, as the theory goes, humans are the only animals who confront their own mortality; and therefore life’s meaning – as a question, source of anxiety, ground for hope, burden, gift and most commonly as a source of fear – is amplified with each passing year.

And this is not least because we’re aware, as penguins are presumably not, that our existence is finite. We talk about the ‘human condition’, whereas it’s unlikely that penguins, tucked away in their burrows at night, brood on the purpose of being penguins. They live in the ‘now’, which, in recent times, has been promoted as a means to mental serenity and spiritual awakening.

Does that mean that penguins are ahead of humans in becoming spiritually enlightened? Perhaps. But if we’re burdened by the ability to think beyond our bodily senses and speculate on our demise, shouldn’t we use that to our advantage?

Knowing, and ultimately accepting, our finality provides us with the context to enjoy life and not float along aimlessly. We can use this knowledge to enjoy the ‘now’ and direct our lives, and the time we have, to live in a way that expresses purpose and meaning.

A man walks into a bar …

August 18, 2014
The Zen of doing what you want ...

The Zen of doing what you want …

A man walks into a bar …

and strikes up a conversation with a Zen monk drinking tea.

The monk asks him what he wants more than anything else in the world.

The man says, ‘I’d like to have a million dollars’.

‘What would you do tomorrow if you had a million dollars’, the monk asks.

The man thinks about it for a moment, and says, ‘I’d go surfing.’

The monk replies: ‘You don’t need a million dollars to go surfing. Just go.’

What do you really want to do? Are you satisfied with the number of hours you work? Are you doing what you really want? How much money do you need? Why aren’t you doing it now?

If you could change your job to 4 days a week and drop 20% of your wage would you do it?

Strangely, it’s often lower income earners who jump at a chance like this, and higher income earners are more uncertain. Perhaps that says a lot about how we create our lives, what’s important to us and our perception of what, or how much, we need to live.

What would you do tomorrow if you had several million dollars today? Do you really need millions of dollars to do it?

Or would you give up a portion of your income for more time to do what you want?

Even if you wouldn’t or couldn’t, can you make some changes to your life to make more room for what you really want to do?

The meaning of happiness

July 22, 2014
Does meaning create happiness?

Does meaning create happiness?

People often say ‘I just want to be happy.’

It’s more unusual to hear ‘I just want my life to be meaningful,’ yet that’s what most of us seem to want for ourselves. We chase meaning without really knowing what it looks like. When we lose a sense of meaning, we feel something important is missing. We fear the void.

What is this thing we call meaning, and why do we need it so badly?

Is meaning a type of order that sits above the mundane functions of daily life? Perhaps it’s a contextual construction to offset routine and provide an arcane answer to the question ‘Is this all there is?’ Because that’s a question we don’t like to answer. And even if we never find more, perhaps accepting the question as valid suggests there is more to life than this.

Is that knowledge alone enough to make us happy? And alleviate the feared fruitlessness of daily life? Is it a metaphysical ‘get out of jail free card’ for the unrelenting sameness of existence? Does the idea of meaning make understanding it irrelevant? In short, can the idea of meaning actually make us happy?

On the surface that may seem crazy: to be happy because of the possibility of something, even though we may choose not to find it. Like the belief in life after death, is it enough to temper fear?

I believe that happiness and meaningfulness frequently overlap. Perhaps some degree of meaning is a prerequisite for happiness. If that were the case, people may pursue meaning only as a stepping stone towards happiness.

If that was the case would there be any reason to want meaning for its own sake?