Contentment vs. Striving

Both contentment and goal-setting are lauded as positive by society. Yet they seem very much like opposites. If you’re content, why are you striving to reach goals? If you’re striving to reach goals, does that mean you’re not content?

Let’s examine the issue. What is your reason for goal-setting? How do you know if your goals are worthy and are coming from a positive place? Is your motivation internal or external? What positives will reaching the goal bring into your life? Is it a lasting or temporary positive?

Be honest with yourself about why you’re setting a certain goal and whether the motivation comes from a place of good faith or insecurity. For example, wanting to lose weight because your BMI is dangerously high, you have trouble breathing after walking up one flight of stairs, or your knees have started to hurt are all healthy reasons to want to lose weight. But losing weight in order to catch your crush’s eye is not. The first set of reasons are in the spirit of self-care and self-love and have lasting positive effects. The second reason is due to feelings of inferiority, of not being “good enough”. And even if you do lose weight and win over your crush, a relationship based on looks is unstable, dehumanizing, bound to cause resentment on your part, and can be easily severed by the introduction of someone who is even better-looking. In other words, the effects are temporary. Likewise, setting a goal to make an A this quarter instead of a B is a worthy, healthy goal if it’s springing from yourself instead of your parents and is due to you knowing you are capable of making a better grade. In this case, the goal emanates from your knowledge that you are highly capable, intelligent, hard-working, and an A is within your grasp. On the contrary, giving in to your parents or professor and setting a goal to make an A when you used all your talents, skills, abilities, and other positive traits to make the B, is self-defeating, self-sabotaging, and inherently comes from a place of seeking to placate others by admitting to the falsehood that you’re not good enough as you are.

Is it lazy to be content? Should you always be goal-setting? Feeling contented (fulfilled, satisfied) when you already have what you need is often an indication you have not given in to societal standards that urge you to always be buying, upgrading, competing, and climbing life’s “ladder of success.” And goal-setting should not be considered inherently positive. Contentment and striving are not necessarily mutually-exclusive. You can feel content but also set goals. If you don’t meet the goals you set for yourself, does your unconditional positive-regard for yourself become diminished? It shouldn’t if you are truly content. If so, reappraise the motivation and origin of your goals. Are your goals the result of self-hate, lack of confidence, not feeling like you measure up, or not feeling like you play an important role in the world? This might mean self-care and introspection should take place in the immediate and goals set on the “back burner” until they can be re-evaluated when you are in a healthier and more loving frame of mind towards yourself. According to the Buddha, “the root of suffering is attachment”.

Happiness should be a positive effect of contentment and goal-achieving. It should not be the goal, itself. It should be the means, not the end. Striving for happiness is the best, fastest way to rob yourself of contentment. Happiness is an amorphous, abstract concept, and therefore, it’s easy to chase it your whole life. Instead, ensuring that you are living in a way concordant with your physical, mental, emotional, intellectual, financial, social, and spiritual health will bring happiness. As Henry David Thoreau said, “Happiness is like a butterfly. The more you chase it, the more it will elude you. But if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.”

Accents and Attitudes

Recently I’ve been noticing how accents and attitudes are similar in that, the more you’re around them, the more likely you are to adopt them, yourself. If I am around people at work who speak a certain way, use a certain kind of slang or colloquialisms, I find myself using them when I’m away from work, unintentionally. I also find the same concept applies to attitudes. When I’m surrounded by people with positive, optimistic attitudes, I tend to take on those same feelings. Likewise, when I am around negative, pessimistic people, I feel discontent and dread the unknown and new, myself. It’s easier to surround yourself with positive people when not at work, but you can’t control who your coworkers are. Spending eight hours a day around people who bring you down can be the recipe for a miserable time. I have just started a new job where the training period is very long and the work takes a while to learn and master. I’ve made it through the first week but the next several weeks is when we really get into the meat of the job duties and put them into practice. I’ve made the commitment to be as positive an influence as possible. This will not only hopefully put those around me in a positive state of mind, but will put me in the frame of mind to learn and absorb rapidly and to expect success, not failure! The difference is palpable when I interact with fellow trainees and other coworkers who are positive, helpful, pleasant people. I feel calm, optimistic, and self-assured. On the contrary, interacting with negative, sour, unpleasant coworkers makes me feel negative and unsure of myself. I don’t want to set myself up for a self-fulfilling prophecy, where I tell myself I can’t, so I can’t. I want to use the law of attraction to manifest greatness so that I can be great!

Gaining Closure on Closure

The desire to “gain closure” is a common one, experienced by people who have extended feelings of hurt and loss that ensue following a negative event, such as the breakup of a relationship, death of someone close, or not getting a promotion at work. Pursuing closure is usually thought of as a healthful, positive way of dealing with hurt. However, what happens if closure never happens? If it’s never offered to you? It’s understandable to feel the need to know why things happened the way they did. However, one thing I have had to learn is that many times in life, you never get answers.

Dwelling on gaining closure can act as a defense mechanism that lets us indulge in self-pity rather than making necessary changes, letting go, and moving on. For example, it can be easier to obsess over why your partner broke up with you than to stop thinking about them at all. At least in the first scenario they are not out of your life totally, because they’re still on your mind. Meanwhile, you’re living in the past, convincing yourself it’s the present, and robbing yourself of a future.

Other less-serious incidents than your partner breaking up with you, such as day-to-day interactions out in the world with strangers, can also be hurtful. Examples are not getting a call for a second interview or a stranger in the grocery store sneering at you. These can be smaller in impact but can still add up to a pretty large pain body over time if the right perspective is not taken. What should that perspective be? That we have the power to improve our lives by not dwelling on situations and circumstances, but instead moving past the hurt and confusion, regardless of whether we got the explanation, apology, or atonement “due” us.

Did something happen in the past that isn’t relevant today, but still plagues your mind? Is the presence of this hurt impeding you from living your fullest life? Let go of what you have no control over and empower yourself by making the decisions today that will allow you to grow, overcome, and thrive.

Slowing Down and Self-Care

In a rushed and chaotic world, self-care for me often is all about slowing down and getting back to the basics. Even with all of the technological advancements that are supposed to make our lives easier and faster, people are busier and more stressed than ever. Politics, media, and employment culture are to blame for a lot of it. However, we as individuals can take steps in our every-day lives to help remedy this situation. Even our hobbies are often more stimulating and less relaxing these days — for example, playing video games, watching graphic/over-stimulating/violent movies and television shows, or browsing the internet rather than more traditional pastimes such as reading, writing, communing with nature, or even watching older films/documentaries. I notice in myself a major shortening of my attention span and loss of memory capabilities, which alarms me. I have to wonder if entertainment today is specifically meant to help us forget about our problems, avoid introspection, and numb us, if just for a short time.

The remedy for this situation is to use free time more wisely in order to foster a sense of calm and rejuvenation, instead of hyperactivity and speed. Activities such as taking walks, reading uplifting or educational material, and playing a board game are all fun, healthful, and allow one to fully participate. This is in contrast to watching an action film or playing a video game, which are both fun, but also raise blood pressure and heart rate and relegate one to the position of spectator instead of participant. Of course, playing board games or taking a walk are also better for our social and physical health, respectively, which are important parts of a holistic self-care regimen.

For me, this blog is part of my self-care. I allow myself the time to carefully put into words what I’m feeling and thinking. I’m in a quiet environment and I’m able to focus inwardly, pushing the outside world away if only for a little while. I don’t rush myself and many times come back to edit a post several times before publishing it. This gives me time to ensure I include all my thoughts on a topic and communicate them effectively. Doing so helps make more sense of my often-jumbled thoughts and also invites others to perhaps be introduced to a new perspective or to realize they are not alone in how they feel. After blogging, I feel calm, confident, relieved, capable, and accomplished. I plan to incorporate a nightly walk around my neighborhood into my self-care routine. More on this later.

The Importance of Setting Boundaries

Boundary-setting is vital to a healthy, happy life. Boundary-setting can be difficult because it requires a strong, stable, confident sense of self. Otherwise, it is easy to fall into the trap of putting your own wishes and needs to the side and allowing others to walk all over you.

There are many different kinds of boundaries. There are physical boundaries, which are the most obvious kind and the type most people instinctively know to respect. For example, most people know not to touch someone or walk into their house without first getting permission or to convince someone allergic to peanuts to go ahead and eat them. And most people feel comfortable speaking up if someone violates these boundaries.

Emotional boundaries are more amorphous, less easily protected, and more liable to be violated. What are emotional boundaries? My own definition of boundaries are those issues we cannot compromise on without jeopardizing our mental, emotional, or spiritual health. So, for example, not working on a Sunday because one’s religious convictions forbid it. Mere preferences, on the other hand, should not be considered boundaries and should be up for compromise. For example, eating your second-favorite flavor of ice cream because the first is not available.

The need for emotional boundaries comes up in different areas of one’s life, including with strangers, loved ones, and at work. The level of closeness in a relationship makes it easier or harder to maintain strong boundaries, as well as what is at stake if one chooses to either maintain or violate their own boundaries. It often feels easier to maintain boundaries with strangers because of safety reasons, as well as the fact we don’t feel we owe anything to strangers. Plus, if we offend them, we never have to see them again, so we won’t experience consequences. However, it can be harder saying “no” to a family member, friend, likable coworker, or boss. These are people we want to like us and whom we might need something from in the future. However, if we betray ourselves by compromising our boundaries with those close to us, it sets a precedent. Unfortunately, the people who are close to you are also those in the best position to take advantage of you. For example, if you refuse to work a certain day of the week and made this clear when you were hired, but a coworker asks you to take their shift that day for them, saying “yes” makes it more likely you will be asked again.

If your boundaries are reasonable, it is important to keep them firm. It is also important to effectively and kindly communicate your boundaries so that you do not criticize someone for doing or saying something they were unaware is unacceptable to you. If a relationship is lost with somebody because they refuse to accept your boundaries, that is a toxic person who you are better off without. Of course, this is easier said than done if that person is a superior at work, given the employment culture of the U.S. However, I have found most people will respect your stance and won’t push it further.

Knowing yourself and understanding why you feel and think the way you do are imperative for healthy boundary-setting. Putting your needs before the desires of others, as well as having the self-esteem necessary to enforce the prioritization of your needs, is also imperative. The emotional maturity needed to endure a possible confrontation with another person is also imperative. If you second-guess your own convictions when you’re by yourself, you will have no chance of holding firm to them when they are questioned or criticized by others.

This is a major area in my life I need to work on. I tend to either waver on what my boundaries are, not communicate them effectively, or not enforce them, and then blow up when they are violated. Are there any areas of your life where you find it nearly impossible to maintain your boundaries, or where you need to begin erecting some boundaries?

“Simplify, Simplify, Simplify!”

No wiser words were ever spoken than these from the author, philosopher, and naturalist Henry David Thoreau. Several years back, I began feeling a strong desire to simplify my life. At the time, I had been using retail therapy to help fill the void in my life while simultaneously feeling emptier and emptier. I realize now that the more stressful moments of my life are also the times when my life is artificially full with activities, people, and things that don’t add meaningfulness or value. It is when my life is going well that I also am practicing simplicity. This is not to say that my life needs to be uneventful, boring, or lacking in order for me to be happy, but rather that I fill it with the right kind of activities, priorities, and goals.

For example, many people feel pressure to get married and have children because that is often the message sent out by society, in the forms of television shows, advertisements, job benefits, tax credits, would-be grandparents, etc. Children can be a blessing, but they also require a lot of time, money, and exasperation. Thus, the decision to procreate should not be taken lightly. Likewise, some feel the need to amass certain items or reach certain goals they feel they need in order to “make it”. These could be a new car, home-ownership, or a certain amount of savings in the bank by 30 years old. The problem isn’t the things themselves or having goals. It’s the fact that they come from an inner uncertainty about ourselves and whether we are good enough, in-and-of ourselves.

A simple life isn’t about lack. Instead, it’s about removing the undesirable noise and chaos, regardless if others tolerate the noise and chaos in their own lives. It’s about realizing how precious time and options are and putting thought into decisions (especially large ones like parenthood) before making a decision based on societal expectations. It’s about understanding that every decision for something is by default a decision against something else.

I think about my own problems and those of people in my life, and I can’t help but find most of them are self-inflicted. Many are as a result of not just one bad decision, but a sequence of them. With exceptions such as a debilitating genetic disease or being born in a war-torn country, we have a lot of power over the way our lives will go. And slowing down and figuring out what is vitally important to us will also make crystal clear what doesn’t actually matter at all. I am still figuring out what is important to me and what is not. I have a lot of it figured out already, but still struggle to hear my own voice over those of others telling me what I should do, believe, think, buy, and spend my time on. I just know for most of us life doesn’t have to be hard if we don’t make it hard. “Simplify, simplify, simplify!”

To Wait or Not to Wait and Take Decisive Action?

We’ve all heard the saying “Good things come to those who wait.” But do they? Is it best to wait and hope things will get better or to weigh one’s options and then take the best course of action?

I have personally seen how waiting and hoping that things will get better can backfire and achieve nothing but wasting both time and opportunities. I have witnessed the disastrous effect of wasted lives when someone assumes things will “work out” or that other people will “come through” for them. On the other hand, there are some instances where waiting in order to glean more information about a situation can prove wiser than taking immediate action. For example, it would be wise to put off making vacation plans until finding out from your new job when you can take time off and for how long.

However, if you’re waiting simply because you’re too nervous to take a risk or take decisive action, there’s no logical reason why waiting would be necessary, and there’s no obvious time in the future when making a decision would be easier, then this is nothing but a stalling tactic done out of fear. In my experience, waiting to make a decision or act is in most cases done out of fear, not strategy, and therefore harmful.

Sometimes the reason behind waiting is because all of the circumstances are not perfect, it’s “not the right time”. For example, many people use this thinking to rationalize putting off going back to school, losing weight/getting healthy, or having children. However, life hardly ever offers situations that are perfectly predictable where all possible snags can be foreseen. And it hardly ever offers perfect timing. Often it is only after an opportunity has passed us by that it becomes obvious action should have been taken at an earlier time.

Unless there’s been an impetus to effect positive change, situations don’t magically improve just because a lot of time has gone by. It is empowering to make the decisions for yourself that affect your life. Even if you make wrong ones from time to time, you learn for the future and rest secure in the knowledge that you did the best you knew to do at the time. Is there something you’re currently putting off simply because you’re dreading making a decision that might be of some enormity or you’re worried about choosing wrongly?

How to Increase Your Self-Esteem

There are many terms that all basically refer to an internal positive regard towards one’s self. These include self-esteem, self-confidence, self-respect, self-assurance, etc. I’ve noticed that nowadays self-esteem is often described as something you’re supposed to achieve before you can accomplish anything else. However, I have a different view of it. I believe that self-esteem is something that must be built, nurtured, and encouraged — that self-esteem can only come after accomplishments, not before. First instance, Baby Boomers have been criticized for rewarding their Millennial children with “participation awards” and doing away with bad grades in order to raise self-esteem. They have been criticized for this, at least in part, because many argue these practices have resulted in children who are unmotivated, unhealthy, and irresponsible (ironically, traits that often lead to self-loathing — the opposite of self-esteem).

I have noticed in my own life that if I give into unhealthy habits (for example, eating bad food, lying in bed all day on my day off, reacting without thinking, etc), I feel nothing but self-loathing. However, if I do what I am supposed to do (eat healthful food, get my cleaning or errands done, react appropriately to a confrontation, etc), I feel good about myself and feel an inner calm and stability. This isn’t because of the tasks themselves, but, rather, because I’ve shown myself I have certain admirable, or esteemable, qualities, such as diligence, time management skills, delayed gratification, impulse control, empathy, etc.

Another factor in building self-esteem is that it should come from permanent, non-superficial sources that are within your control. That way, it will be lasting. It should not be based on being the “best” or at another person’s expense, but rather on doing your best. For example, winning a race is a bad source of self-esteem. Why? Because it’s something that can change (there is a big chance you won’t win the next race), and it’s predicated upon someone else “losing”. It’s also very much up to chance, since the other competitors probably practiced just as hard as you did. Instead, an appropriate source of self-esteem would be setting a new fastest record for yourself. Why? Because you’ve proven to yourself that you are hard-working, perseverant, and capable at the task you set out to accomplish. Reaching goals (as long as they are not harmful, and the motivation behind them is not harmful) and building positive character and personality traits, is always a positive source of self-esteem.

It’s important to note that true self-esteem always comes from the internal, not the external, by doing right by others and to yourself. A friend telling you they like your new outfit is nice and gives a very temporary mood high, but is still a superficial source of self-esteem. Whether another person likes your outfit is outside your control, and clothing styles change, so that trendy outfit you’re receiving compliments about today might be ridiculed in a couple years. Likewise, the fancy car you’re driving might get compliments, but did you work hard to be able to buy it or was it given to you? Even if you did work for it, did the people you went to school with and your current coworkers without fancy cars work just as hard as you? It’s quite possible the answer is, yes. Did your schoolmates go into a line of work that is fulfilling in many ways but doesn’t garner them the kind of salary needed to buy a fancy car? Again, it’s quite possible the answer is, yes.

Before closing, I just want to say building self-esteem is something I continue to struggle with and am really working on. I’d like to get to the point where an insult does not unduly negatively affect me and a compliment doesn’t unduly positively affect me, either. Do you have any tips for building self-esteem or any thoughts regarding what I’ve written in this post? Do you agree or disagree with my conclusions regarding this topic? I’d really love to hear!

Enjoying the Present Instead of Documenting the Past

I used to be an avid amateur photographer. Whenever I traveled somewhere new or did something new or exciting, I’d make sure to bring my camera along and get pics of EVERYTHING (and multiple angles of each, in some cases). It made a time I should have been having fun and enjoying myself a little less enjoyable and relaxful and a lot more stressful and onerous. Finally, I realized that I was spending my time documenting the past, as the experiences I photographed are technically part of the past once they’re over. I decided to begin soaking up each experience and participating in it fully by putting the camera down and living in the present. I achieved two things: 1) I now enjoy each experience much, much more and 2) My memories of each experience are much more pleasant. I haven’t stopped taking pictures, but I’m happy getting a few, and taking them with other people as opposed to scenery/landmarks.

In which ways have you been inspired to live more in the present?

Is Sensitivity a Good or Bad Trait?

“Being sensitive” is an interesting trait because it’s often thought of as positive and yet also often thought of as negative. It is sometimes used to describe someone who is empathetic and can easily tell how others are feeling and how their actions/words affect others. Yet it is also used to describe someone who is too thin-skinned, weak, and prone to become hostile at the slightest provocation. In fact, I recently heard the same person use “being sensitive” as a criticism of one person and a compliment towards another in the same week (she probably didn’t even realize she had done it). It’s interesting, because when I Googled the definition of the word, two of the first synonyms to appear are responsiveness and reactivity.

Responsiveness seems to have an inherently positive connotation to a lot of people. For example, someone who is responsive is bound to be considered caring, responsible, organized, and not afraid to lead. On the contrary, being reactive seems to have an inherently negative connotation. When one is reactive, they are often acting on emotion, without first applying thought, and not altogether in control of themselves, almost explosive.

I think if we all were less sensitive when it comes to our own emotions (which are often fleeting) and our own egoic reactions to situations that come up or things that are said to us, while being more sensitive when it comes to other people’s emotions and reactions to what we do and say to them, this world would be a better place. In doing so, we’d all grow into stronger people who are less swift to anger, less given to making assumptions, and more caring towards each other. In short, let’s all try to practice more responsiveness and less reactivity.