My favorite part of this blog is that I have a journal of the last years of my life. I can compare past projections with what actually happened. I can discover how I really felt when circumstances were completely different. Your brain has a unique ability to remember your own feelings incorrectly. (One of the main points of the book “Stumbling on Happiness” by Daniel Gilbert.) This has helped me identify some disturbing thought patterns…
When I embarked on this adventure in my RV over three years ago, the point was to check out a bunch of places and see where I wanted to live. I didn’t realize it would extend for the next 3+ years and leave me with more questions than answers.
It took a year and a half, but I was finally ready to try settling in Portland in Fall, 2011. Just before settling in Portland, I thought I’d be much happier there. Quickly after getting to Portland, I realized I missed adventure. I thought I’d be happier traveling again. A year later, driving my overloaded Subaru with Portland in my rearview mirror, I questioned if adventure was what I really wanted.
The cycle continued. Living in Medellin, I was excited to backpack through South America. While I was backpacking, I was excited to be settling down in Europe for the summer. I landed in Berlin about 20 days ago, and the idea of settling here scares the heck out of me.
In the back of my mind, I’m still searching for a place to call home. I’d love to have a city where I enjoy living year-round, a core group of friends, more than just a bag of possessions, etc. I could still travel, but my homebase would be a place that I’d look forward to returning to. And no, Reno is not this place.
Berlin is not this place. I don’t speak the language, and it’s impossible to learn. The winters here are absolutely unbearable. I’ll have massive Visa issues. Germans can be boring, impatient and mean. (I’ve already been shouted at several times in German and it was not a fun experience). I enjoy electronic music, but not as much as everyone else here. I’m already having an amazing summer here but just wouldn’t feel comfortable calling it home.
I’ve been a vagabond for the last 3.5 years. I needed to think more seriously about where I wanted to plant roots. I could rule out any city without English as the native language. I could rule out any city that had terrible weather. I could rule out any city that sucked massively. I had actually been tinkering with the idea of going back to San Francisco for a bit. It had just came to me when I was hiking in the mountains of Peru in February and had stuck around in the back of my mind.
That’s it! I’ll be happy if I live in a place I call home. I had wanted to since arriving in my RV nearly 3 years ago. I’ll be happy when I can get that car I’ve always wanted. I’ll be happy if I buy a cabin in Tahoe. I’ll be happy when I get an awesome bike, a surf board, new clothes..
I’ll be happy if…if… if… I’ll be happy when…
It finally clicked.
Why couldn’t I just be happy now? Happy with what I currently have. All these external circumstances might make me happy temporarily, but eventually I’ll just become accustomed to them and seek something else. I could see the pattern in my writing.
“I’m so excited to go to city (x+1)! City (x) is getting old. But I still really miss city (x-1) though.”
“I’ll be relieved when my todo list is down to (x-7) items.”
“I can’t wait to be making $(x * 1.25) per month. Or better yet, $(x * 2)! I’ll be so much happier when I have more money.”
“It will be great to have (different amount of possessions). It is such a pain in the ass to have (number of things currently possessed). I can’t wait until I (buy/sell) my car!”
“I miss girl (x-1). She was better for me than girl (x-2). And it doesn’t look like it will work out with girl (x) right now.”
“If only I could bench press (x+5lbs). I’d be the man. Maybe I could get my 5k time down to (x-0:30)!”
“My life will be awesome when I only have to work (x/2) hours per week! Working (x) hours per week is the cause of all the problems in my life.”
“I can’t wait to be (settled down/traveling again). All of this (routine/chaos) is awful!”
With a consistent record of my thoughts on paper, I’m able to look back and connect the dots. Clearly seeking happiness in external things is fleeting. I’ve already achieved so many of my goals. However, I don’t feel as happy about them as I thought I’d be. It was time to do some research and see what was really going on.
I found Shawn Achor’s Ted Talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/shawn_achor_the_happy_secret_to_better_work.html
“If I work harder, I’ll be more successful. And if I’m more successful, then I’ll be happier.”
And the problem is it’s scientifically broken and backwards for two reasons. First, every time your brain has a success, you just changed the goalpost of what success looked like. You got good grades, now you have to get better grades, you got into a good school and after you get into a better school, you got a good job, now you have to get a better job, you hit your sales target, we’re going to change your sales target. And if happiness is on the opposite side of success, your brain never gets there. What we’ve done is we’ve pushed happiness over the cognitive horizon as a society. And that’s because we think we have to be successful, then we’ll be happier.
I have always been pushing happiness over the cognitive horizon. The way I was currently thinking needed to change.
I found another great Ted Talk. The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VO6XEQIsCoM
Clinical depression has exploded in the industrial world in the last generation. I believe a significant — not the only, but a significant — contributor to this explosion of depression, and also suicide, is that people have experiences that are disappointing because their standards are so high, and then when they have to explain these experiences to themselves, they think they’re at fault. And so the net result is that we do better in general, objectively, and we feel worse. So let me remind you. This is the official dogma, the one that we all take to be true, and it’s all false. It is not true. There’s no question that some choice is better than none, but it doesn’t follow from that that more choice is better than some choice. There’s some magical amount. I don’t know what it is. I’m pretty confident that we have long since passed the point where options improve our welfare.
I have more choices than anyone else. How to fill my day. Where in the world to go. I can do absolutely anything and these unlimited options are paradoxically making my life less enjoyable.
I’m always caught off guard when I’m having a bad day and someone I meet admits that they are insanely jealous of my life. This has happened several times over the last few weeks. Just goes to show how much we, as a society, look at external achievements to judge happiness.
The Solution: A Journey Inward
Clearly obtaining more external success and abundance isn’t what makes one happy. I’ve been learning how to live more presently. I’m by no means an enlightened Buddha master. But I’ve made a lot of discoveries about myself the last few weeks and that’s a great start.
I’m reading “The Power of Now”. So far a great book. I’m also doing “The Presence Process” and meditating for 15 minutes, twice a day. I’m doing more research on psychology and happiness and have learned an immense amount. My inward journey has only just begun.