Happily Ever After

It’s been 3 years since we loaded up the car and traveled 1500 miles from Maine to Florida. I’ve been in the process of packing my stuff again. I like this place though, it’s probably my favorite home so far. On paper, I’m only leaving because the owners want to sell and I can’t afford to buy (I’m only a renter). I’m not sure if there’s some higher spiritual-plane reason I’m leaving.

If I had the resources, I’d probably just buy it. I like the town, the neighborhoods I walk, the nearby stores are decent, and there’s access to world-class entertainment – overall it’s been a really nice stay here. I actually lived in this same town a decade ago for three years and then left for Maine when things didn’t quite work-out. I came back because I missed it.

I’m fine with leaving in one sense, but to where? I have no place to go. To be fair, when we headed to Maine and stayed there for a few months during a snowy winter, we didn’t have any reason to be there. We only went because my wife saw a seasonal pie festival mentioned on the Food Network. We ended up living there for 7 years. We even welcomed a little Maine-boy into the family. He currently misses the snow, although he might be willing to trade it for a pool.

I don’t really enjoy too much challenge, I’m more of a resource manager. I like buying, organizing, and upgrading stuff. I’m getting too old for sudden changes in lifestyle. I’d like to settle down into a forever-home and go to my workshop each morning – play with tools, do some woodworking, and tinker with tiny motors. Well, if the Disney movies I’ve been watching taught me anything, it’s that something magical will step in to save the day.

Add the Opposite

Adding a negative number to a negative number makes it even more negative. Whereas adding a positive number to a negative number makes it less negative (or positive if big enough). Likewise, adding positivity to your situation incrementally improves it. But if you’ve stockpiled a lot of negativity over the years, you’ll have a lot to make up for. You’ll have to add in a lot of positivity to get on the positive side of life.

Can’t you just discard the stockpiled negativity? Maybe. A lot of it’s stored in memories. To dump memories, simply ignore them when they surface and stop actively recalling them. Memories are reinforced through repeated recall – stop recalling them, and they fade.

Rule number one of positivity: DON’T FIGHT AGAINST THE WORLD. Don’t battle, struggle, resist, argue… nothing. The world is literally THE WORLD, you won’t win. If the world wanted you dead, you’d be dead. In fact, the world guarantees you’ll die at some point, it’s a promise. So don’t attempt to defend yourself from the world, the world is what sustains you – it keeps you alive.

Therefore, your efforts should not be spent in defensive strategies, your energy should be directed towards the cultivation of calm. You must restrain any tendency for aggression, stop criticism, and arrest anxiety. In short, you should spend your time focusing on what’s good instead of what’s bad. This is no easy task by the way, it takes significant dedication and effort.

As is written: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” But the keys to the kingdom are not simply handed over. No my friend, there’s a quest of course! There are traps galore, all set with bait to lure you into negativity. Resist these invitations! Whenever controversy stirs you to anger, resist! Whenever fear takes you by the hand, resist! Whenever suspicion sticks you to woven webs of delusion, resist!

To obtain your kingdom, this is the algorithm you seek: become gentle in thought, word, and deed.

Likable Things

What are some things to like about life?

Items that delight the senses e.g. baked goods for smelling, savory foods for tasting, music for listening, beauty for gazing, warmth for feeling.

Conversing with close friends e.g. reminiscing about shared experiences, inside jokes, evaluating and debating, giggling about nonsense.

Creating or building e.g. essays, craft projects, works of wood, kits and cakes.

Discovery and finding novelty e.g. new creators, new movies, new tools, new places, new recipes.

Falling in love e.g. with people, places, and things. A new artist, a new town or restaurant, a new tool.

Solving riddles e.g. seeing a solution to a previously unanswerable question.

Collecting and using tools e.g. woodworking equipment, computers, text-editors, pencils, pots & pans.

Immersion in stories e.g. merry romps and tales of intrigue – laughter and amusement in comedy and drama.

Playing games e.g. participation in frivolous activity, camaraderie through competition and teamwork, feeling like a winner.

Growth and adventure and the sensation of time-pressure e.g. going from novice to skillful from start to finish – with the motivation of time-pressure encouraging you to go, go, go.

Therefore, with all these things to enjoy, if you’re not focused on aspects you like about life, you’re doing it wrong.

Puzzle Pieces

Imagine you receive a jigsaw puzzle. You admire the picture on the box, open it, and dump the pieces out of the bag. You’re excited! A reasonably sized puzzle of a pleasant picture. Aha, you found some pieces that go together! The game is afoot! Oh, but now it’s time for bed, darn it – well there’s always tomorrow….

You think about that puzzle and the fun you’ll have putting it together. Finally the next day comes and there’s time to work on your puzzle. Wait, what’s this!? The puzzle is complete?? Fully assembled it sits on your table, not a thing left to do – it’s done. Well you’re happy right? Glad that all the work is done? Phew it’s over! Thank goodness! Right?

No, you’re disappointed obviously. YOU wanted to complete the puzzle. All that potential action and intrigue turned into a lifeless static image. THIS is why we live in an imperfect world. Imperfection provides room for improvement – it allows for accomplishment. Instead of a completed world with nothing left to do, we’re presented with a buffet of potential achievement.

From a certain perspective, the world seems like a mess in which everything is a work-in-progress. It’s junk, it’s broke, nothing behaves as it should. Why can’t everything be perfect!? Because there’d literally be nothing to do!! Every puzzle would be complete. The so-called flaws of life are the loose pieces we get to assemble – without which we’d be staring at a lifeless static image.

Therefore, appreciate the pieces and be grateful that no matter how hard you try, the puzzle will always be a work in progress. This perpetual puzzle is not a curse but a gift. Get to work and try fitting some pieces together. You’ll surely assemble some parts while others remain jumbled in piles. Pick the parts that look most interesting. Day in and day out, look forward to this puzzle that’s always waiting for you.

New Year New Me

I’ve noticed that there’s always a predicament I’m in. Whether it’s a personal wellness matter, a lack of things I want, relationship issues, a looming global catastrophe, or even just existential angst – there’s ALWAYS something. Solving the current issue doesn’t fix things since another problem is waiting around the corner.

In video-games, you typically want an endless supply of obstacles to provide challenge and interest. But what if those obstacles are just too tough or not the type you’re interested in? Well that’s my problem with my problems: I want a new set of problems. Otherwise, I’m going full Buddha-mode and ignoring the very concept of problems.

For most of life my problems have been: social awkwardness, aches & pains, digestion issues, inability to sleep and tiredness, financial lack, anxiety, and pessimism. I’m done with that stuff. It’s the junk-food of life, just quick non-nutritive snacks to stave off boredom. Now I want the good stuff.

For example, how about tool collecting, workshop setup and optimization, finding just the right home, sleeping and eating well, perceiving the goodness of life and feeling appreciative. This last year has been about my negativity-free diet. How about I up the ante and adopt a Delightful Diet for 2021. Yeah, let’s do that.

Striving to Strive

If you think about the rewards you receive in video-games, you notice how lame they are. A high score? A virtual trophy? Your character jumping up and down? A screen that says “The End”. Meh. All that dedication and effort for what amounts to nothing? And that’s true in this game as well, the actual physical prizes available here are kinda lame.

There’s nothing here, that once gotten, you’d feel “Wow, this is IT! I’m done! Nothing left to get!”. Once anything’s received, it’s a fleeting sensation of attainment followed by a new-normal in which it becomes an everyday object that sits mundanely as any other. Therefore, as in any game, experiences themselves are the only actual reward.

I’ve wasted countless hours in video-games attempting to achieve lame objectives – yet, I was perfectly entertained by the experience. The fun isn’t in attainment, that’s just another form of “Game Over”. The fun is in striving after something, anything, even if it’s a frivolous goal. Striving itself IS the goal here.

And I don’t mean “struggle” by the way. You really should find a level of striving that feels comfortable. It’s kinda dumb to stress and strain over a pointless objective when objectives themselves are valueless. Since they’re all of equal value (i.e. zero), pick something fun. And if you actually attain the object of your effort? Great, now pick another appealing objective and keep striving.

Trend Spotting

I’ve been attempting to analyze the trends of reward/punishment in relation to my behavior.

For example, I’ve clearly noticed a negative trend from overeating. It’s not every time, but overall it leads to unpleasant circumstances such as a tummy-ache or a complete lack of energy. But when I eat sensibly, not stuffing myself mindlessly, things proceed much better. I can clearly see a path I should take and one I should avoid.

Another trend deals with thinking about things I don’t like. If I allow unpleasant topics to remain in my thoughts, I typically feel bad. And once in awhile, those undesirable things even show up in my life. Whereas if I reject those unpleasant thoughts and focus on things I do like, my mood is better and my situation tends to improve. There seems to be an obvious pathway here too.

Another trend deals with how I treat people. If I’m careless and rude for example, good things don’t usually follow. Whereas when I present the best version of myself, I’m more satisfied with my interactions and things typically go much better. Again, there seems to be an undeniable path here.

The overall trend seems to deal with the application of mental discipline. If I’m lazy and let myself act like a disrespectful pessimistic slob, things don’t go well. Whereas when I stay aware of myself and keep to the role of a polite lighthearted guy that colors within the lines, things trend better.

Why are there preset guidelines that I must stay within? Perhaps the answer’s simple: it provides me with something to do. In games you move your character, making sure he stays on the correct pathway – that’s it. Life isn’t a movie: if you sit there, nothing happens – and if you stomp the accelerator without steering, you’ll likely crash.

As player of this game, I must remain awake and aware, with my hands on the wheel ready to make micro-adjustments as necessary to keep my character on the pleasant path. A path that’s discoverable through the reward/punishment mechanism. For instance: I have to actively monitor what he eats, what he thinks, and how he treats others.

Lowest Point

Even if everything in your life improves, there will still be a “worst thing ever”. In other words, everything’s relative and there’s always a lowest point. For example, if the worst thing I dealt with was a constant fear of physical violence, and I eventually overcome it, I’ll then deal with anxiety from financial instability. If I overcome THAT, I’ll be worrying about the stability of my long-term romantic relationship. And if I eventually stop worrying about THAT, my worst day is having a headache that won’t go away. No matter what, there will ALWAYS be something to ruin your day.

So what? It means that you can’t achieve contentment through external means. It’s like that saying: wherever you go, there you are. If you simply change your surroundings, you’ll just judge your new environment by your old standards and place old labels on new things. Instead, you have to stop your tendency to criticize, stop applying those dumb labels. EVERYTHING should be 5 outta 5. Reset your rating-scale. You’re now having a full five-star experience! Whoa! Nice!

Everything in your reach is now the BEST. If you used to lie to yourself all the time and claim everything was the worst, why is this any different? Well, it’s not! Except that evaluating at the high-end makes you feel much better than evaluating at the low-end. If you claim that there’s always room for improvement, then you’ll never have a top-tier time — you’ll always feel slightly cheated and a little lacking. Whereas if you call something the best thing ever, you’re suddenly transported to a high-end experience that can’t be topped. Except that it IS exceeded by the very next thing! WOW!!

Wait, is this a joke!? No! The joke is that you’d relentlessly sabotage your experience on Earth by constantly criticizing everything while worrying about unpleasant ideas that you focus on in your mind. That’s a dumb joke. So through the power of mental discipline, flip the script and start thinking of your experiences and surroundings as an awesome adventure through wonderland. It’s madcap crazy! It’s exciting! Use an ounce of creativity to find your way there, paint a rose-colored hue on everything you encounter. Make this your new routine and see if you’re not suddenly living the best life ever.

Enjoying Inefficiency

I could describe the quest for happiness as a search for “enjoyable inefficiency”. The most efficient life is to die as soon as possible. Therefore, our goal is to live an inefficient life. But to last for a long time, we need to find a way to enjoy ourselves — or else we’ll quit from boredom. I happen to love efficiency, so this concept has been a lifelong struggle to understand. “What’s the quickest method that requires the least effort?” That’s the universal question I apply to everything.

Now, I must change it to: “What’s the slowest method that evokes the most enjoyment?”. Instead of wolfing down a meal, it’s about savoring the deliciousness of every bite. Instead of showering as quickly as possible, it’s about the sensation of warm trickling water and the formation of suds on the skin that flow down and around the drain. Instead of a quick breath in and out, it’s about deep lingering inhalation that calms the mind. Instead of an exchange of data, a conversation is a dance performed with words.

Efficiency simply gets you nowhere fast. Within this world, there’s no finish-line to rush to. The application of speed simply ups the intensity but moves you no closer to a desirable outcome. NOT getting to a destination IS the outcome you really want. Every objective achieved simply starts a new mini-game with a new objective. What you really want to find, is the level of inefficiency that induces the most fun. Do you want to raise your own sheep, sheer your own fleece, spin your own yarn? There is some state of wasted-time that will maximize your amusement — experiment until you find it.

“What about laziness and procrastination? Are you saying we should simply become slackers!?” No, inactivity leads to boredom — inertia is not our goal — we MUST constantly remain in motion. But the motion we maintain should be sufficiently slow enough to fill our time on Earth. You must find the pace that suits your taste. If you’re currently dissatisfied, guess what? You haven’t found it yet. Most likely, you’re striving for too much efficiency — add some indirectness into the mix. Find a roundabout way of doing things while avoiding straight paths. It is within the inefficiencies of life that we find satisfaction.

Tool Time

I absolutely love tools. LOVE. Throughout the years I never realized how much I adored them. The problem was: I never had much practical application for them. And relatedly, I wasn’t sure which particular tools I prefered. I would stare at tools and wander through tool aisles and wish to have a use for them — but it mostly stopped there. Yes I’ve collected various tools throughout the years, but they never saw heavy use.

A couple of times I tried to dedicate myself to small-scale carpentry projects but it didn’t last. All that measuring, sawing, and drilling got to be a bit much. The precision was a little too exacting. Measure-twice cut-once or the puzzle won’t fit together. I think my detour into computer-programming was a semi-related tool path. But again, I think the need for precision got to me. I prefer a craft that’s more forgiving apparently, something with a higher tolerance for sloppiness.

And so for the past few months I’ve been engaged in whittling or wood-carving or small-scale woodworking — whatever you want to call it. Things like pendants, spoons, rings, whistles, figurines, spinning-tops, cup-and-ball toys — just little things that don’t require exactness or too much time to complete. I’ve been having a great experience using tools and finding new ones to add to my collection.

In a sense, I really did have to find out who I was. I had to enter life’s buffet and sample the selections until I found items I enjoyed. I also needed to delve deeply into the esoteric details. I knew I liked tools for example, but socket-wrenches aren’t my thing, neither are table-saws. I like pull-saws, woodcarving knives, small gouges, and pin-vise drills. But who knew!? You can’t just guess at something so specific, you gotta try things out and see what you like apparently.

Instead of an office, now I want to create a small shop in which all my woodworking dreams come true. My computer desk has been turned into a workbench and I sit next to a stack of drawers filled with tiny tools. In one sense, I’m a tool lover that expresses that love through casual woodworking — what I create isn’t as important as acquiring more tools. I’m always on the lookout for inefficiencies that can be improved by a new tool. And I like it that way, even upgrading older tools is a great option.

So that’s where I’m at right now: attempting to appreciate and engage with something I enjoy (tools). My previous life-strategy was to complain about everything I didn’t like — that turned out to be an unpleasant experience. Oh well, you live you learn.