Once someone said to me, "Todd, you are so lucky. I wish I had your luck." I'm not sure what I said to him but I can tell you what I wanted to say. "Poppycock!" Partly because that word is awesome and partly because he's totally wrong. This is my 100th post here on finding fun and I thought it was a good time to talk about why I'm always having so much fun.
Can we start with a diversion to my childhood? One time my mother-in-law saw a picture of me at 7. She said, "you were so cute! What happened?" So imagine me as a child. Just like I am now, except cute.
Back in grade school, one of my teachers was talking about the upcoming puberty years. She said it is a really hard time for some kids while others sail through smoothly. For a short while I was panicked. What if I was one of the kids who's teenage life was full of turmoil? And then I realized. I would not let myself go down that road. And I didn't.
I don't know if that's the first time I had such a thought. It's often said that you can't control what happens to you but you can control your reaction to it. I didn't learn that phrase until adulthood but I have been practicing the concept at least since my childhood revelation.
A few years later, I remember talking to a friend of my parents. I was about 15 and he was about 35. This guy is your typical overweight, cigarette-smoking American and he was marveling at my youthful energy. He pointed out that when I got older I wouldn't be able to keep that up. I didn't believe him and now that I'm 40 I can say I've conclusively proved him wrong. I approach everything with verve and wouldn't do it any other way.
There are two pieces of my happiness philosophy that I will focus on. My Socratic approach to life and focusing on the small pleasures of life.
When I say I have a Socratic approach, I mean I always want to learn more. When I have to do something I've done 100 times before, I start thinking. Can I do this a little bit differently this time? What might happen? How can I make this more fun? It becomes an exercise in creativity to search for the fun improvement. It becomes a matter of pride that I challenge myself to find a new spin on things.
For instance, on Thursday mornings I swim 50 laps. Swimming in a pool can get rather dull so I think about what I am looking forward to in the upcoming day or week. I might come up with 5 things: someone I want to chat with, upcoming dinner plans, etc. I'll think about each one for 10 laps. I think about what I can do to prepare for each of those things to make them even more fun. By the end, not only have I been thinking about fun things, I have that good physical feeling after a hard workout. Plus I'm hungry and my morning popcorn tastes that much better...
It's not just for the dull tasks. I am always looking to maximize the fun in what I am doing. How can I do that? I learn. One of my favorite things to learn about is why I (and others) do what we do. In other words, what makes people tick. Let me tell you, people who don't do this are really missing out. Finding out why you do what you do helps you to avoid destructive patterns. It helps you understand why your friends and family do things that annoy you (and vice versa). Quite simply, it makes your life better.
Some things you can learn on your own by watching or talking to others. I still remember coming to the conclusion that "nobody likes a complainer" back in middle school after observing some classmates. Another way is to always play devil's advocate. That is something I do for sport all the time. And of course reading is invaluable too. I could give so many articles and sources but I'll limit myself to two of my favorites. If you only click one link from this post, pick one of these.
Why did I bring up focusing on small pleasures? I think it's vitally important for two reasons. First, people are really bad about predicting how major life decisions will affect their future happiness. So putting your happiness eggs in that basket (...if I get this job, this salary, lose this much weight then I'll be happy...) is a fool's game. It never impacts you in the way you expect. But what does work is a lot of little joys.
I mentioned one of mine already. Every day I eat popcorn for breakfast. And every day I love it. I feel a like I've found a loophole. Most people associate popcorn with a party or a movie night or some other fun time. Well, I have that fun time every morning while all you suckers eat a bagel and then later feel guilty about eating simple carbs. Honestly, I'm well known for this breakfast habit at all the places I've worked and I'm stunned it hasn't caught on yet.
but what about...
Are you just charmed? Not a chance. I've dealt with plenty of bad life stuff. Less than some of you and more than others.
Nature? Was I just born this way while others were not? Nobody knows other than yes, that's part of it. But how much a part? I see friends and family dealing poorly with adversity and I wonder...could they do better or are they doomed. Since I am a dualist I think everyone can improve. But I've been me for a long time so I have a head start with my philosophy of what is working for me. I'm not trying to set myself up as the gold standard. I've seen people deal with terrible things while remaining positive and wondered if I could do the same.
Money? Am I just happy because I'm a double-income-no-kids? No, that's not it. But I'll take the opportunity to point out that people don't know how to use the money they have to be as happy as they can be. And also that self-control is one of the keys to happiness I didn't talk about today. I will in a future post.
Meaning? Is happiness really the goal? Of this blog, yes, but of life, no. Finding meaning or purpose is the ultimate goal in life. My practice of lifelong learning works towards both happiness and meaning. I like to think I make the lives of my friends and family better and that is part of my purpose too. But that's another post.
Whatever my impact, other people have made my life better. There is no doubt about that. I'd like to recognize a few of them here. This is off the top of my head so many not listed here also had wonderful impacts.
As Steven Covey says, "put first things first." The person who helps me keeps my focus on priorities is my lovely wife, Christine. She's influenced me in many ways of course, this is the one I'll pick today.
My friend Dave taught me by example that even the toughest situations are manageable if you approach them with patience and caring. Pete is awesome at this too.
The importance of taking joy in my friends was impressed upon me by two friends, Drew and Dejah. The relationships you have is as good a measure of where you stand in life as any other.
I don't think I see the positive side of life so much as I search for it. I learned to practice this creative exercise from Joe and Art.
Two friends that rekindled my interest in creating and playing music are Jason and Jane.
A germ of many of these ideas came from my parents. Not just the nature but the nurture too.
And as a fan of the the cosmological argument, I believe we wouldn't be here without God. First things first indeed.