Today’s contributor for “The Obsequious Pen” is our own columnist and creator of Thirty-Third Wheel, Ali Pica. Her poem is titled, “That One Time.” She will be reading her works alongside other local writers at this Friday night’s “Love Bites: Writer’s Circle” reading at the Game Chateau in Wilkes, Barre, 7:30 p.m. and at the Writers’ Showcase, next Saturday at 7:00 p.m. This poem was inspired by the song “Two Blue Lights” from Songs: Ohia on his album Didn’t It Rain.
That One Time
I think of you
That one time
You held my hand—
For sentimental reasons
I rejected the possibility of stars
In this universe.
I saw you smile
That one time
Through the haze of your smoke
And self-deprecating humor
Intertwined in the binding
Of literary analysis,
You lit up a ring of laughter
Underneath the flood lights.
That one time
I thought you were into her and
I was invisible as an auditory hallucination,
When I listen to your voice,
I know you know I am real.
That one time
I thought I loved you
And still do—
Don’t know what to do
That one time
I will have to.
Ali along with other local talented writers will be reading their love-scorned works at the “Love Bites, Writers Circle” reading, Friday, February 23, 7:30 p.m. at the Game Chateau, located 1112-PA 315 Wilkes-Barre, PA 18702. The cover is $5 at the door.
Today’s song is “Answer” by Phantogram on their album, Three.
It is what we owe each other. Not what you or I are owed: we are owed nothing.
Or at least that’s the way it should be.
I used to be bullied all of the time as a kid: I was called names, had garbage thrown at me, and had been threatened from time to time. In my adult relationships, I was verbally, emotionally, and physically abused. I used to absorb the hatred and blame myself. Now, I vow to take in hate and produce love like a tree takes in Carbon Dioxide and produces Oxygen. I give air for people to breathe to the best of my ability.
Gestalt theory states our whole perception is greater than the sum of its parts. If we apply this concept to society, shouldn’t we be greater than just the sum of individuals? Then, what the hell is wrong with us as a society? Why do we treat each other the way we do? Why are we so selfish?
I used to think in terms of what I did or didn’t “deserve.” It’s not about me anymore or any of us, specifically. Our world is too fragile to distribute “just desserts” all of the time.
I had an intense discussion with my college students yesterday about the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Gun control aside, I asked them, as mental health advocates in training, what are we going to do to help prevent these tragedies? How do we identify those suffering and stop them before they cause destruction? How do we heal those who have survived? They discussed how they felt unsafe on our campus—a place I see so picturesquely serene and isolated from the world. I vowed to do something to protect it, to protect us, but I don’t know what it is yet.
It is each of our responsibilities to be a part of the solution. We need to stop focusing so much on ourselves to the point that we destroy the people we love or let them succumb to the evils of this world, like self-harm. We may feel as if we do not have control; however, we do. We can love the people we care about so much it hurts. We don’t have to love everyone, but we don’t have to hate either. Hate is a choice.
So, what are we going to do about it? We need an answer.
Today’s song is “An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York)” by Courtney Barnett, from her album Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit.
It’s that time of year again, the Hallmark of b.s. holidays we fall for every time we see it, like a horrible ex, who was great in bed: Happy Valentine’s Day! We spend money on wilted flowers, sparkly mushy cards with professions of love that read like a word salad, lard churned drug-store Whitman’s Sampler chocolates, and overpriced-under portioned dinners at restaurants where we are sardined in a can, hoping to get something in return.
I may be a little jaded, but I would rather take it all back. I would rather drink with my friends on Galentine’s Day. Or any day, really.
Consequently, Valentine’s Day has a way of nagging away my painfully single human existence, just a little bit. It’s only painful if I cared. Then, I reminisced lately about the past as if it were something great, someone great. The thoughts would ebb and flow as I zoned out to whatever I have been binge watching all week.
I recollected my past relationships and romantic encounters as if I were trying to remember what to buy at the grocery store.
I got a text last night, which read, “I was thinking of you and just wanted to say hey.”
“I’m thinkin’ of you too…”
I didn’t actually text that in response. I said something like, “same here” as to be slightly vague and sarcastic. He knew what I meant. We both stay in touch randomly, which I suspect is to ease his singledom. It doesn’t matter to me.
His random text made me think about how a few years ago I had a different life. I would have dates booked back-to-back on weekends, and went to upscale restaurants, roof-top bars, and concerts. I was always surrounded by people, but somehow felt even more lonely? Did I not appreciate it?
As I shift back to the present, I think I would rather bury myself in my hoodie and watch Rick and Morty than deal with the constant search, the mind-numbing dry-wall conversations, the awkward good-byes. Rinse and repeat.
But what’s the point of the mundane every day? I make it sound as if I am as lonely as a microwavable dinner, but I am lucky for what I have. It’s not all bad. I enjoy loving myself and others in my life, even if it’s not the romantic love of partner. I love my spending time with my family. I love having close gatherings with friends. I can talk to anyone if I feel like it or choose to simply be. I love making people happy even if it’s just cracking a joke to make my students laugh, because they had a bad day or listening to a stranger’s problems, because I “seem like I am a good listener and won’t judge. ”
No matter how alone we feel at times, we must remind ourselves of how we fit into the universe and that there are people in that universe, too. Our actions can have a ripple effect on others, good or bad. True happiness comes with self-acceptance in numerous ways. I accept that although I will be single on Valentine’s Day, I am not alone. You are not alone either. And sometimes if you are physically alone, it can be a good thing. Take some time for yourself and enjoy your place. Remember: “Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV.” It may not be a life-changing quote, but it can get us from the present to the future. It may not be a great place where we are, but remember, there is a possibility it can change for the better, tomorrow.
I broke my normal morning routine and decided to play music while I was in the shower. This is the first song I heard from the day: Migration by Bonobo on his album, Migration.
I often feel the universe gives us signs of direction and affirmation. Sometimes those signs are loud and blaring in our faces, yet other times are simple and discrete. We do not need to seek out these signs or make them happen—the signs will come to us. This song, Migration, is special to me, because of I have been applying for jobs across the country as of late. I care about the area, which I live, but opportunities are seemingly sparse, particularly in the field of education. We are going through a hideous transformation in our public-school system here and throughout the country as well. It can be disparaging to invest myself deeper and deeper into something I know can’t hold water much longer. Yet we can try our best to get ourselves out of the mire if we are willing to work together, somehow, someday to avoid drowning.
This ugly situation seems parallel to my own life: I am trying to take care of student loans, other bills, and attempting to be a bit more independent as I seek out some job that will enrich my life or simply help me live. I get the impression that education has become survival instead of a way of living. For my one job, I substitute teach as I mentioned in my previous article. I came to class today to find papers on the desk for the students, which in bold letters read, “MIGRATION.” As you can guess, it was a Social Studies class, which the article discussed how and why people migrate across the country. After you read the same article about migration five times to classes and questioned it, the idea of migrating truly sticks with you in some way.
After over 100 job applications, a couple of dead-end interviews, and a slew of incoming rejections, I started to wonder if this is the right move? I aspire to apply for my doctorate, but I have to study for the GREs. I have two masters degrees in two different, yet somewhat overlapping fields and years of experience in both. Consequently, does this make me under-qualified? Overqualified? Are employers confused about my intentions? I apply for jobs I think I would invest myself in (because you never know), but I pulled in many directions. Then, I thought, does migration have to mean “literally moving” instead of figuratively?
Then, I thought, do I even know where I want to go, literally or figuratively? I have some idea.
For the past month, I have been on what I call a “Headspace Journey.” I subscribed to the app, Headspace, which is an app that teaches you meditation and guides you through meditation exercises. There are exercises for different themes, such as “self-esteem,” “productivity,” and “depression.” Andy Puddicombe, who is one of the founders of Headspace and the narrator, says in the lessons that we may feel frustrated that our meditation is not going anywhere. In so many words, he says that we may feel a sense of unease that we are not making progress fast enough, that we want to make something happen. Perhaps, this is, in a sense is relatable to an urge to run away, to “migrate” to some place in the world or our minds that simply is not ready for us to catch up.
In the meantime, as Andy says, “to be aware in the moment,” gives us the ability to be present in our universe. Otherwise, we may miss out on the small details, like the feeling when a student tells me I am/my class his or her favorite part of the day or when a college student asks me, of all people, to write a letter of recommendation for graduate school. I can be present and see those moments I positively impact people. Though most days we can be blind to those moments, because we are inundated with our responsibilities and thoughts which carry us elsewhere. . If I were not “present,” I would have missed out on these signs that the universe is telling me to stay put, in some sense, literally or figuratively.
Until, I figure out where it is I am supposed to be, I will stay right here. And even if and when I do physically leave, a piece of me will always be here…and in the headspace where I imagine myself sitting in a field with a lone fox peacefully watching me find my place.
Today’s featured song is “If it Makes You Happy,” from Sheryl Crow on her album, Sheryl Crow.
Let’s all admit 2017 has been a shitshow in so many ways that it can be interpreted as a teen dystopian novel with elements of dark comedy (covfefe) meeting the traditional dystopian novel elements, like mind-numbing government thought control through the media (I slightly exaggerate, though Fox News adds elements of dark comedy as well). Furthermore, perverts in power ran rampant (seriously, Louis C.K., I’m not surprised at all—you aren’t that funny and to quote you, you are a “bag of dicks”). I am glad these creeps are finally getting the hypothetical kick in the balls they all deserve. At least we are driving away from the traditional narrative that middle class white boys are the only ones that can truly save the world (e.g. Harry Potter, Ender’s Game, the Giver, to name a few). They are beloved classics, but it’s time to move onward and not look back.
Overall, for the lot of us, I believe 2017 has been seemingly the year of some terrible life choices, difficult, decisions, sprinkled in with some bad luck, and grasping at straws for promises of good times. However, this year was a much-needed wake up call to make positive changes. I spent the first half the year living a picturesque lie that my relationship and career were going somewhere—clearly that was a disaster. I kept seeing my family, friends, and coworkers moving on with their lives—getting married or engaged, building new successful careers, buying houses, and generally getting their shit together, while I’ve been lucky to have work at all. It could be worse, yet three part-time jobs leave me a bit confused about my life and unfulfilled. It has been the longest December of my life, which I am being dramatic. You wonder why I didn’t choose “Long December” as my song of the day? I have my reasons not to dwell on the past.
I tried everything I could do make things right and I keep looking for answers, but it all lead to dead ends. All of my crossroads lead me to the same conclusion that people let you down, but life goes on. I would use the colloquial analogy that finding good people is like cracking pressurized coal to find the diamond in the rough, but I learned that that’s not how diamonds are naturally created. Diamonds came before coal existed. Then again, diamonds can be made from the toughest circumstances.
With the new year approaching, we set ourselves up for grandiose expectations. We make New Year’s resolutions. And ladies, I know some of you have dropped a few hundred bucks at least on buying a fancy dress, shoes, matching accessories, and make-up to fulfill our societal expectation of meeting beauty standards (I have been there). We have survived the pricey $100 ticket to get into hypothetically classy parties where separated guys in mid-life crisis offer to buy you drinks that are included in the price of your ticket and you eat dried out hors d’oeuvres to later throw them up. Or you have paid the $20 cover to have some brah-dude buy you watered down, over-priced well drinks that you accidentally spill because some woman in a too short tube skirt and 6-inch stilettos “accidentally bumps” into you, spilling your drink on your satin dress that doesn’t handle stains well. The situation makes you look like you peed your pants at recess in second grade and everyone in your head is pointing and laughing. Then, “Stilettos” runs off with the guy who just bought you a drink.
We have all been there, despondent and alone in a world surrounded by people we hopelessly try to connect with.
Better yet, let’s just bury ourselves in our favorite hoodies and say, “Fuck it, dude, let’s go bowling,” or watch Netflix, or whatever it is we want to do. The quest for happiness is a harrowing journey sometimes. We bury ourselves in staring at computer screens at work, making lunches for our kids, cutting the crusts of the bread just right, and paying bills, that we forget what happiness is. We think, “if I just had this one thing,” whether it’s a vacation, an engagement ring, or a dream job, we would be happy for life.
There is no happily ever after. Sometimes, there isn’t even a happy for now.
But there’s a way we could fix that. I may not be an expert on happiness, but after all of the mistakes I have made, I know what not to do.
1. Stop looking for outside validation
I have learned quickly that at work and in other aspects of my life, that no one is going to tell you are doing a good job. Most of the time people aren’t going to say anything, unless you are doing something wrong. Take it as a compliment. If people aren’t telling you anything, you’re probably okay. And if you’re looking for attention from people on social media, sit back and watch what people like if you’re into that sort of thing. If you don’t look like you are a mystical fairy waif who doesn’t need to wear a bra, has a triangular tattoo in the shape of a fox, and wears clothing people left behind at Coachella, don’t bother. Although I think these things are ironically cool, I realize that it’s just a representation of someone I am not. If you think that men and transgender don’t go through body image issues, you are also sadly mistaken. We all occasionally look to be our best even if we tell ourselves we don’t care. Even “mystical fairies” have problems. Don’t judge and accept what you are given. Make the best of it. Lastly, stop looking for relationships to validate your existence. Having a significant other (SO) might be nice, but that person shouldn’t be your reason for living. If you don’t have a SO, stop looking for one. They aren’t going to make all of your problems go away. It’s great to get positive attention, but if you think of it as not worrying if the person cares about you, but worry more about if you care about them. What happens the day after and the day after that?
2. “Dreams Don’t Work Unless You Do”-John C. Maxwell
If you don’t like your life situation, whatever it is, get your shit together. Get it together, and put it in a backpack…(my favorite Rick and Morty rant). Stop whining and taking things so seriously. We all fall prey to being sad or angry when our needs aren’t met, but look at everyone else. There are people who have things worse and might need your help. You don’t have to save the world, but you give a little cheer or assistance in little ways. I think being a substitute teacher is like clawing nails on a chalkboard of life. Kids can be obnoxious, they don’t listen to you, act as if you are garbage at times, and try to make you feel like shit (it occasionally happens), but when you are persistent in being the person you are without cracking, it eventually dissipates. You even get a few of them to crack themselves and they stop acting like assholes for a little while, maybe even inspire them to spread their own kindness. I think this philosophy works not only in my job, but in life in general. Treat people with an open mind, but be firm with your boundaries. If you are afraid you are going to be a doormat, you may as well be a quirky inviting welcome mat that you can pull out from under people when they deserve it the most or when you need your space.
On a continuation of pursuing dreams, give up the stupid “New Year’s Resolution” bullshit. If you want to make goals, don’t tell anyone. The more you talk about it, you will feel like it’s already been accomplished, and you’ll never do it. And if you are going to tell someone, tell someone who is going to join you on your goal journey. Goals are best accomplished when you have others who are working with you, not against you. Some people feel worse when they are reminded of what others set out to do or accomplish. They are not your friends. Lastly, if you are making goals, make sure you can do them on a regular basis. Don’t set a goal to go to the gym everyday if you know your schedule is unpredictable. Make goals that you know you can achieve and want to. This month is when I decided I needed to move on, so I sent out hundreds of job applications across the country, which I plan on continuing. Let’s see what happens.
3. Realize when things don’t make you happy.
What stops us from being truly happy is not recognizing what makes us unhappy. This is often difficult, especially when concerning relationships with others. We sometimes get ourselves involved in relationships that are like slot machines. They dispense happy moments at random unexpected times that keep us wanting more. Rewards that are random and unexpected are often the most rewarding to our brains. We become addicted to people or things who act like assholes, because we had scraps of good times. Maybe those good times were the best times we had, but it’s all an illusion when we realize the relationship is based on wanting something more. You can apply the same principle to vices. You might think drinking alcohol and smoking pot excessively on a regular basis makes you happy, but you are probably masking sadness, or something else much worse. Think about my discussion above about New Year’s Eve partying rituals. We set an expectation that everything is going to be fun, and a lot of times it just goes to hell or nowhere at all.
Happiness can also be considered a place, which is literal and figurative. We can have all of the things we hoped for, but it snows 8 months out of the year and we hate being outside in the cold. Sometimes we could ignore our surroundings, but when the highest temperature is 20 degrees three months straight, it gets a little unnerving. Or even if you enjoy your surroundings, but you are not getting fulfillment from your place in life, your job, friends, family, or purpose. Happiness is not necessarily in what you get, but what you do.
4. Do the things that make you truly happy.
We are not doomed to be sad and hopeless. We can take control over our happiness to some extent. Think about the last time you were truly and consistently happy. Were there times that you spent with your friends, not worrying about having a good time, not worried about posting it on social media? Were there times that you accomplished goals you sought to accomplish? Were there times you felt truly relaxed and not worried about what the world thought of your happiness? Were there times you made someone else happy without thinking about what you got in return? Were there times you felt happy being in that moment, in that place in the universe where everything seemed right? Those are truly happy moments. Maybe a vacation or money can provide those things, but remember, those are just tools aiding in your journey to happiness. You can spend the New Year’s chillin with friends at a small house party with take-out pizza, karaoke, and corny paper crowns. Or you could spend time with your family talking about the good times and planning an exciting future? Or just be happy being by yourself, not caring about what everyone else is doing? I’m not saying partying will only lead to disappointment or that a $200 sexy dress you bought on sale won’t make you feel better, but be in the moment. And if you don’t like it, take that shit and put it in a backpack.
Best wishes to you and yours. Be safe. Happy 2018!
Today’s song is “Sea of Dreams” by Oberhofer on their album, Chronovision.
It feels like years since I have written you.
So little, yet so much has happened in the past month.
My life’s purpose has been laughing in my face for quite a while.
My ex contacted me recently to “get back together” (see “Loser”). Clearly, I said, “no” (that’s putting it delicately). However, it made me think about all of the shitty things that happened over the past two years: how I “wasted time” with this person and with myself, how I felt alone even when I was with him, and how I sacrificed my needs for someone, who didn’t appreciate a damn thing.
This past weekend, I discussed life goals with someone that eerily resonated mine. We are the same age, though I felt like he is light years ahead. He teaches Psychology courses full-time and is finishing his PhD. We talked about how we want to write some sort of novel or film. We both haven’t achieved this goal yet, but who knows?
However, I felt embarrassed that I am the one sitting on my hands with two part-time jobs that aren’t really going anywhere, because I don’t have a doctorate or am working on one. I’m not working on anything now or sometimes it feels that way. I need to make this change.
Then, I recalled a recent conversation I had with one of my college students about how it would be amazing to live in Colorado—to live among mountains that make us feel small, yet a part of something bigger. On that note, she talked about how she could have been there now, how she should have made different choices like how she transferred schools, and how she felt she has been “wasting her time.”
In response, I played on a spinet of wisdom: “We are always wasting time.”
She laughed and said something like, “That’s true,” in affirmation.
I reassured her that she would find her place and get to where she needs to be—it isn’t about when you make something happen, but that you make it happen, at all.
Consequently, as a friend said, I have to find a way to fulfill my Ikigai.
No, Ikigai isn’t a hipster term for “happiness”—it is a Japanese term, “iki” meaning “life” and “gai” meaning “value or worth.” Basically, it is your life’s purpose.
I know my Ikigai is writing and teaching, but it involves much more. How do I accomplish these goals? How do I afford them or make a living from them?
I thought about this principle and how we can achieve our Ikigai in a few steps:
1. Stop comparing yourself to others.
This step is crucial in our journey to find our Ikigai. I was so tempted to continuously compare myself with this person, who seemingly has accomplished much more than I have. In these moments, I run away with the thoughts that I will never accomplish my goals, because “I haven’t achieved them yet,” or “I am not trying hard enough.” Honestly, when you think these things, it is probably bullshit because it’s not accurate or even worth thinking about. Comparing ourselves only gives us a reason to hold ourselves back from achieving what we truly want.
2. It’s okay to “waste time.”
Some people may think it’s a waste of time to go out drinking with friends, meet new people, or binge watch Netflix for hours on end, but these experiences can be refreshing or even inspiring. Did you ever get drunk and think of the most amazing idea for a novel, because you overheard someone say something crazy? It may just be a drunken idea or infinite wisdom? Either way, write it down. Worst case scenario, it can provide a good story. And if you feel like you’re really wasting time with your life: Do something about it, even if it means opening that GRE study guide and re-learning Algebra. It will be worth it in the end or another waste of time. Regardless, move onward.
3. Don’t look back in anger.
It is so easy to dwell on our past mistakes, what people have done to us, and what we have yet to do, that we forget our purpose. We drown in a sea of anger and resentment, that we lose our sense of balance. We can’t stop our thoughts, but we can circumvent negative thoughts sort of speak. The principles of Aikido, a defensive approach to martial arts, teach us about redirecting attacks or negative energy per se, thus defending ourselves without harming others. My Sensei joked that I was like “Gumby,” so I translated this as I am freely moving and cannot be caught, spiritually or otherwise. Consequently, I learned how to fall down stairs without killing myself and how to redirect my negative feelings somewhere else in a positive way. Find it in your heart to forgive others and more importantly, yourself.
4. Most importantly, be kind to others.
“Life is chaos; be kind,”-Michelle Eileen McNamara
As the late wife of Patton Oswalt said, we need to be kind to others. We need to forget about ourselves for a little while and focus on sharing our kindness with others, even if they don’t appreciate it. I refuse to let myself give up on others, even though I had so many negative experiences being kind towards others. I realize I don’t need anyone to complete my happiness, but it’s okay to want someone. It’s okay to want someone to join you on your journey in achieving Ikigai or maybe sharing your love with others is your Ikigai. When we communicate with others, especially with dating, we can tend to simply take “pieces” of others to fill a void without any intention in returning affection—”ghosting,” particularly. We tend to forget that there are other people on the other side of an unanswered text. Sometimes we don’t have the energy or it might be the lesser of evils to avoid people, but try to be kind as possible. Psychotherapist, Esther Perel explains this phenomenon of “ghosting” and other related concepts succinctly in her video: https://www.facebook.com/Jezebel/videos/10154831710036356/
I will leave you with these thoughts. We may not know what our Ikigai is or how to achieve it, but don’t forget that we are all looking for our purpose in some way. We are not alone and don’t have to be. Until we find our purpose, we can enjoy our paper sailboat ride downstream. Remember in the words of the fictional character, Bojack Horseman, “In this terrifying world, all we have is the connections that we make.”
If you would like to listen to our playlist, you can find it here and on Spotify: thirtythirdwheel
Today’s featured song is “Present Tense,” by Radiohead on their album, A Moon Shaped Pool.
Do you ever feel like your life is like a dream? I don’t mean like Cinderella or some fairy tale crap, but just the mundane of everyday life cut up into oddly pieced snippets then spliced back together like an artsy foreign film? You can’t quite figure out if you are awake or if every day is just a blur of actions and reactions, then something happens.
Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference—It is a numbness that takes over sometimes when we do the same routine over and over. Sometimes it can be when we see great things happen to other people and not us. Or worse yet, when bad things happen to us or people we care about.
It doesn’t have to be so bad, but lately I have been indulging in ennui. Maybe because I have been so busy with the everyday, I forget to dream about something interesting? Or maybe it’s because I’ve been sick with a cold this week, I don’t feel like doing anything.
Sometimes we need to slow down. Maybe we can bathe in the present tense? Soak our fingers until we are pruning with the day-to-day reality, which is our lives?
Let us not be too real. Let’s pretend for a bit.
If I look at my life, I see that I am underpaid immensely for my qualifications and education. Right now, I am a substitute teacher in the day and teach college courses at night. I don’t make a lot of money, but I am happier than I was with my “dream job,” which turned into a nightmare. The students I encounter when subbing were kids I knew from last year when I taught at their school. They tell me often that they wish I would be their teacher and can’t figure out why I wasn’t hired to teach at their school. After hearing it so many times, I started taking it more seriously, though I can’t fight the political machine and win every time. I can’t dwell on what isn’t.
A lot of us have been there.
My love life was on life support recently, and then I pulled the plug. I was seeing someone off and on, who is considerably younger than me. There are no harsh feelings—I would rather just be honest with myself and realize there is no hope of it going anywhere.
This may sound like I am depressed, but I am okay with everything. People may think happiness is a constant, an object, that you have no control over, like winning the lottery. You may be lucky or you are not and there is nothing you can do about it.
I beg to differ.
I have been reading lately, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” which is the novel that inspired the film, Blade Runner. I don’t want to give too much away, but in the novel, the main character, Rick Deckard is obsessed with obtaining a living animal (because animals have died due to the aftermath of a World War). Living animals are a status symbol to possess, because they are obviously so rare and cost exorbitant amounts of money. He thought if he bought a living animal, life would be so much better. It reminds me of the old adage, “money can’t buy happiness.”
The problem with this is not necessarily that money can’t buy you happiness, but happiness is not a tangible object or concept. We place demands on ourselves everyday: “If only I had that house or great job,” “If only I lived somewhere else,” or “If only I were married.” When we place these contingencies on ourselves, we make ourselves miserable—there will always be another contingency to replace the one that is resolved. If you place contingencies on yourself, practice reframing them into reasonable goals. If it sounds ridiculous, then it is not worth thinking about. These are reasons why I have to live in the present as to prevent myself from feeling sad or disappointment. If I start placing contingencies on myself, I will dwell in failure of a future that may never be.
There are ways to live in the present, but you have to be willing to try:
1. Leave the house and do something different.
You don’t have to go skydiving, another country, or a concert all of the time to be happy. The problem with indulging with social media is that we compare ourselves to others. We see their smiling faces with a bunch of their equally interesting friends doing amazing things, while we are sitting in our hypothetical (or real) Snuggies. We don’t have to be out living life the fullest every night or every weekend to be fulfilled, but maybe try something new. Travel to a nearby place you haven’t been. Do something nice for others and throw a little get together. Ask people to bring food and/or drinks if you can’t afford it. Break up your routine instead of feeling sorry for yourself after another night of Netflix and Ben and Jerry’s bingeing. Even if you are with your significant other, life gets boring when you are always locked into a bubble.
2. Find something to distract yourself.
Need to clean that closet in your house? Repair your leaking faucet? Get a paper done? Just do it already and get it over with. You will feel so much better knowing it is done and when something exciting comes your way, you will be able to join in the adventure, whether you have saved your money, time, or both. If you don’t feel like being productive or doing something you don’t want to do, write a song, read a book, paint something, or go on an adventure and take photos. If you can’t do those things at the moment or it’s more of a thought process that’s holding you back, change your mind.
In Cognitive Behavior Therapy, there are techniques which help you control your racing thoughts. If I continue to have anxiety producing thoughts, I will “thought replace,” which I will shift my attention to something else silly or something productive in order not to think negatively. Thankfully, I have an active imagination, so I will try to think of something funny or random (kind of like an inner improv). Additionally, I have been practicing meditation lately, which there is a method you can try, which is called “Noting.” Noting is not necessarily changing your thoughts, but “noting” that you have these negative thoughts and that’s okay. You can start noting when you have negative thoughts, what situations they occur, and so forth just as you would with “thought replacing.”
3. Make Small Goals for Yourself
Along the lines of distracting yourself, make small goals instead of larger ones. Break your goals into chunks. What do you want out of life? Is it manageable? Can you try to make it happen? I have wanted to be a novelist since I was eight years old, but sometimes if I think about writing a novel, the process sounds daunting and impossible. If I break it down into small parts, like thinking about what kind of characters I want to develop, or what generally I would like it to be about, it makes things easier to process. Certain goals take time, possibly years or a lifetime. It takes us a while to get a degree or start a family. We don’t just obtain what we want overnight, typically. If you want to break it down further, maybe something like you adulted this week by working a bunch of overtime, so you buy something nice for yourself. Whatever your goals, you can achieve them in small parts, which add up to a bigger picture.
4. Don’t make concrete plans for the future.
When I say this, I am not referring to putting money in a retirement fund or making any attainable plans for the future (e.g. getting married, having kids). What I am referring to is to not be so rigid in your plans. Life changes and so do our plans. Be prepared to make changes or to roll with them the best you can. Again, these can be typically the contingencies we create for ourselves: “If I do this, then I will be happy.” It doesn’t always work out that way. Most of the time, it doesn’t, but what you can do is dream. As Blondie says “dreaming is free.”
5. Lastly, Dream, Dream, Dream.
The fun thing about dreaming is that it doesn’t have to be taken seriously. When I was younger, I lived in a world much like Doug Funnie, which I would imagine exaggerated situations and write about them, good and bad. 99 percent of the time these fantasies never happened, but the reality of it though is that I never worried as a kid that “my dreams won’t be realized” or that they had to be. The point was just to let my mind float and sometimes use it to cope with stress. As adults, I think we sometimes forget it’s okay to not worry about actualizing everything we dream about. When I find the dream is not fulfilling or in some cases, becoming harmful, I dream of something else and deal with that negativity in my life, typically by expelling it. For example, I would catch myself daydreaming thinking things would work out in some way with the person mentioned above. In reality, it didn’t “have to” work out, but some part of me wanted it to. When I realized it never would, it wasn’t fun anymore to dream about it. And if something keeps coming back to you, like my dream of being a novelist, maybe it’s time to make that dream into a reality or change your dream.
I hope my advice has served you well in a pressing time of ennui. In the meantime, I am going to enjoy what life brings me on another unseasonably warm October, today.