I’m perched on a Ho Chi Minh City cafe balcony overlooking a swirling cacophony of motorcycles jostling with one another on their way home in the polluted dusk.
The points below really serve as a reminder for myself, but part of me hopes to invigorate and possibly comfort those who find themselves walking unconsciously towards the murky fringes lining the well lit path ahead.
A lot has been learned through my own bewildering and painful experiences. Other things have been learned from reading books, hearing from others and often a combination of the first two without paying much attention to the third.
This also serves as something of a time capsule for me to check back to in later years if I survive so far. And so this is a very personal collection of notes, a reminder, a new spin, and a warning for many. These are my own ideas and no pandas were harmed during the writing process.
Many points are intentionally short to make this whole piece more palatable, and will overlap into more core concepts. I may expand on points in separate essays eventually, should there be an indication of demand for them.
Certain things I’ve learned will be unknowingly omitted, but my goal here is to get something down on paper in my current situation.
Those things happen to be the ideas dancing around in my mind on this very day, and so here they are.
This is what I believe to be true at age thirty, a few days after September 18th, 2014:
1. The pursuit of happiness is a huge mistake
People are unhappy because as a species we stumble over each other at every opportunity to eradicate stress and increase comfort. We do this because we believe that happiness springs out of that void where stress has been snuffed out. The problem is we need stress to grow, because happiness is the sensation of growth that comes directly from having undertaken a personal challenge.
Happiness is a very real thing, but many of us confuse it with something very different. That is pleasure, and it is always fleeting.
As such, many of us chase things that give us this short-term, chemical pleasure sensation, believing this to be happiness, when most of those things — more money, drugs, cigarettes — make us feel indifferent at best and usually much worse.
We need to feel alive. We need to maintain good energy. Energy springs from triumph over stress. Like a muscle strengthens from stress to the muscle fibres, so do we as humans strengthen through challenges overcome.
You don’t need to be smiling or laughing to feel alive, to benefit the world and to feel deeply fulfilled, though you inevitably will do when you have energy anyway.
For happiness, we must strive for doing what needs to be done in the face of challenge, large or small, and this must be a continual process.
Expansion of mind, strengthening of body, until the end.
Happiness is not something you arrive at. It represents maintained aliveness from doing the things that keep us developing in the very personal ways we need, so that we are valuable to the people around us.
2. You must identify your passion as early as possible
Higher level fulfilment, beyond the good feelings that arise from growth, is the maintenance of a passion identified.
Passion is what drives us with force through thick and thin. It fills us when we do whatever it is we truly love to do that is outside of our own immediate self-interest.
Passion is the fuel that is made uniquely available to humans in their striving to contribute, and thus make their world a better place for themselves, family and their offspring.
Passion fills our vision and our senses with rich colour because when we work on it, our body helps us along.
For those who fail to identify and name their passion, such experiences, like those of pleasure, will only be fleeting. We must know what it is that drives us with clarity, so that we know what we need to do.
Real fulfilment comes from maintaining the fires of passion that exist inside you. It might sound cheesy, but this is vital.
Happiness is the feeling of expanding ourselves for the better.
Fulfilment is the feeling we get from maintaining our passion.
It will take work to identify what drives you, but when you find it — get to work on doing what it is the passion is calling on you to do and keep doing it. Passion is unlikely to make you a millionaire quickly, but it can, because passion is a powerful motivator.
This is why it’s important to follow your passion early. It will lead to wealth in many ways if you let it.
I recently identified mine. Here it is, and it is guiding everything I now actively do:
‘To embolden the significance of the visual arts in enlivening people for the good of humanity and the environment.’
This is the good life. Most people die never having known their passion let alone acted on it.
3. Your most uncomfortable experiences are actually high points
A common thread here is the truth that struggle leads to strengthening.
Struggle leads to learning and growth, and so it goes that the moments that are hardest for you, without being traumatising (but even those too), are actually high points, even incredible opportunities in your existence.
Think back over your life or in your current circumstances that were or are very hard for you. You will inevitably find, in each case, an example of how your body, perspective, and mind changed for the better as a result.
For me, my own shame that stemmed from the depression I had at school and not having my voice heard, has driven me to do so much more with my life today than I ever could have done had I not experienced such hardship back then.
So that time at school or the office where you failed, and you believed that made you a failure, was a high point. You failed but you are not a failure because you now have a negative memory that drives you forward.
You were given the opportunity to grow and for that you must be grateful.
4. Your body is your brain
By the time someone reads this in a few years from now, a thousand new scientific experiments will have solidified this truth even further.
Enough has been tested and deliberated on that show how closely interconnected our brains are to the rest of our bodies. This means that those of us who mistreat our bodies through eating rubbish don’t get off lightly.
When you get off your seat and move your body for twenty minutes, what do you feel in the hours following that exertion?
Your body rewards you with a clear head and good feelings, because it’s what you’re supposed to be doing. Your brain tells your body’s ‘good feeling’ chemicals to be released because the brain is nurtured through movement.
To go a step further, the brain as muscle idea is very real. In fact, the brain is just one very complex muscle in our bodies that receives the benefits from exercise and good health like all the other muscles. As such, our brains, our minds and our bodies are one and the same.
Anxiety is healed through tending to the body, not through mind or thought (thought is what causes unnecessary anxiety). The best way to reduce negative thinking is by getting out of your head, and into your body. Awareness of your body is to nurture it.
Treat your entire body well, and your mind and your thinking will dramatically improve.
5. People are not ‘equal’
Obviously every single human deserves basic human rights and at birth, everyone is ‘equal’. But there is an unwritten hierarchy that exists amongst people who display higher and lower levels of character.
I’m not about to design a new kind of politics and I don’t see this requiring a quick fix. This is simply an observation that good leaders need to be aware of.
Handicap has nothing to do with this, and neither does race, wealth, poverty, gender or even capitalism. The idea that everyone should enjoy the same rewards, beyond access to basic resources and freedoms, is false and unhealthy.
With ‘equality’ comes complacency. It’s an inhibitor to a motivated society.
You earn respect, reputation or ‘equality’ based on the challenges that are conquered within the limits of what you’re capable of. Even if nobody notices, such growth will demonstrate its currency when it comes to facing later challenges, which will bring reward when overcome.
It’s not about means and it’s not about money. It’s about character and helping those you are in a position to help with the resources you find yourself with.
In the world I’m talking about, African slaves that showed more character than their slave-drivers would have been promoted through the hierarchies of equality, eventually usurping their ‘masters’.
The unfair inequality we see around the world is not a good thing, and it’s because people are not being encouraged to develop their characters in an environment that allows for ‘boundaries’ to be successfully breached. Bad management either provides for all at the expense of nurturing an active spirit, or it restricts the freedom people need to be able to revel in such a spirit.
Great nations or communities should encourage their citizens to ‘fight’ with character on a field that allows total free access to the rewards of money, more time, self-confidence, greater community respect, happier families, and so on.
Nations struggling with massive inequality and crime usually have low character leaders who restrict the freedoms of many of its citizens through fear. Brazil is one such example of this, but this is a problem for much of the world, including the UK, whose overly liberal actions have disincentivised its people to make the most of themselves, now always expecting the government to come to the rescue.
Nanny states create undeveloped ‘dough-hewn child-adults’ because its society does not encourage the development of character — they directly support poor character. Nanny states and poorly run states don’t provide those who started off in an unfortunate position any incentive to get out of their position.
People with poor character are more lowly than those with strong, developed character and do not deserve the same benefits as their latter counterparts. Sadly, many of today’s leaders lack developed character and awareness themselves.
The societies and communities of the future that work best will be those that recognise and understand character according to each individual and encourage its development.
This can only happen when societies provide all its citizens with the tools they need for engaging in this important ‘battle’. This includes a basic level of education and other necessities for all.
From then on, citizens must be on their own to develop themselves and support each other (motivated people are capable of going beyond self-interest).
Take responsibility; fight for your position on the hierarchy, or for better access to the tools we need to compete, and reap the rewards.
6. A good mood makes no difference to success
The biggest thing separating those who succeed from those that fail is that successful people make decisions that they stick to despite what mood they’re in (they also take steps to ensure they don’t fall into bad moods).
People who struggle, drop off and don’t succeed make decisions that are swayed constantly by what mood they’re in.
Listen in, because this could get tricky. Gut feeling is very important when making important decisions, such as choosing to start a certain type of business.
Gut feelings are also important to check in with as a means to adjust our paths as we go along. This kind of feeling is a good thing, and we must learn to become better at being acutely aware of this sense. The gut is inextricably linked to the brain, literally.
Mood, however, is also linked to our gut but the feelings that make up mood, whether grouchy or elated, are more short-lived and superficial. They are not rooted to the creative forces that guide us to fulfilment via our subconscious.
Too many of us confuse the message we get from a bad mood and act on it as if it’s telling us something important. It might be telling you to go and eat a sandwich, but mood is not telling you whether you are on the right path. Gut feeling does. As such, we need to be able to distinguish between the two.
To be successful, you need a goal, and you need to make a decision based on your gut, to attain that goal. Then you need to go for that goal with all your might despite how you subsequently feel day by day.
Willpower is simply the ability to see a goal through despite the moods you cycle through.
Your comments, positive and critical, are welcome, and I will respond to all of them if I can.