My Health Problems – Bugs and God

Many of my close friends know this, but I have been struggling with tingling in my hands, face, and legs for the past three years. The tingling feels like bugs are crawling inside my skin – it is constant and never completely goes away. I am not in pain and do not feel any weakness or numbness – just a continuous tingling sensation day in and day out. What caused this to happen? I have two theories. First, three years ago, I went to a Piston’s game with a friend, and I drank too many Budweiser Selects. I was drunk the entire match and upon going home, I looked down at my feet and saw they were beet red. Along with the redness, I felt a mild tingling sensation – I was also up the entire night because of nausea. An important note is that I was never a big drinker in my 20’s and alcohol always impacted me more than my industrious friends. The day after the episode, I felt somewhat normal and the tingling had ceased. Midweek came and all of a sudden I woke up with tingling in my feet and a new phenomenon of tingling in my hands.

The first theory is that my three-year-long tingling is from a bad reaction to alcohol that somehow damaged my nervous system. I have not had a drop of alcohol since that Piston’s game and I now notice that my tingling gets worse when I am anxious or stressed. Here is the second theory: The month before the Piston’s game, I began an aggressive treatment to fix sciatic pain in my back through stretching and chiropractic manipulation. My back pain originated from a fall five and half years ago when I walked down an icy step of stairs and fell right on my lower spine – I laid on the cold ground for 10 minutes in excruciating pain. My 24-year-old self was not smart enough to seek treatment and instead, I went to the gym that day and squatted 250 pounds. For a year after the injury, I had to sit lopsided because there was too much pain on my right side to put any pressure. At this point, you can call me all the foul names you want – I agree with them wholeheartedly.

So back to the month of the Piston’s game when I was trying to aggressively treat my back injury. The chiropractor decided to treat my back with traction – a table that essentially pulls your back to extend it and relieve pressure. I felt no tingling while on the table but there was slight discomfort. Once my tingling began after the Piston’s game, many of my friends and family claimed it was caused by the traction. Today, when I do planks or specific exercises, my tingling gets worse. In respects to my facial tingling, that came about a year later when my wife had a miscarriage – my Mom gets facial tingling and I suspect that my facial tingling is unrelated to the tingling in my hands and legs. In the first year of tingling, I went to three doctors, had two MRIs, had 6 months of physical therapy, and still received no relief or answers.  So what is wrong with me?

To better answer that question, I recently went to another family doctor and a Neurologist. The family doctor didn’t think the tingling was from my back and prescribed me Cymbalta for anxiety – the Cymbalta made the tingling worse and destroyed my sex life. The Neurologist sent me to get an MRI of the brain to check for MS. The results showed that I have three lesions on my cerebellum, but I do not have MS. The Neurologist said the lesions didn’t look serious, but they could be benign brain tumors – in the end, they wouldn’t explain the tingling, and I have to go back in six months for another MRI. I’m not worried about the lesions because I have no symptoms that match a malfunction of the cerebellum. So I am back to square one.

At this point, I believe my leg tingling is from my back problems, my hand tingling is from back problems/anxiety/blood sugar changes, and my facial tingling is from pure anxiety.  I am not an overly anxious person, but I believe my anxiety manifests itself through tingling – other people may have headaches or stomach problems. Overall, my tingling has gotten significantly better since three years ago but my back pain is stubbornly persistent. I am still on a journey of discovery but I wanted to tell you all these things for one reason. God has helped me through all these trials and I am here today because of my faith. When it feels like bugs are crawling under your skin 24 hours a day, your mindset can go to dark places. I had the resolve to fight on because I knew people were praying for me and that in the end, everything would work out. I am a Christian for the very fact that I have seen God transform me over the past three years – wisdom truly comes through adversity. If you are feeling down, you are not alone. Google, social media, and even modern medicine will never be able to give you the strength to completely move forward. We are designed for a deep connection with our Creator – don’t push aside life’s greatest resource. I’ll keep you updated on about my lesions and tingling but, please keep me in your prayers.

If you have a struggle and need a sincere prayer, please email me at jonathan.oldham1@gmail.com.

Would you Like More Tranquility?

Would you like more peace and tranquility in your life? Would you like to gain contentment and step away from the endless cycle of desire? Would you like to get a  handle on your negative emotions? I for one want all of these things and I am willing to make a bet that you would also. The word “tranquil,” is an oxymoron in our crazy world of nonstop meetings, errands, social media updates, and version 2.0 technology purchases. How can we obtain the “good” life? Philosophers and religious leaders have been searching for this answer for millennia. I picked up a book that focused on this question through the ancient practice of Stoicism – A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William Irvine. This is an excellent book that introduces the main principles of a frequently misunderstood way of life. Before reading this book, I always viewed a “stoical” person as someone who had no emotion – like a robotic-British-guard who can’t respond to pestering tourists. This view was completely off track…

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Stoicism began in Greece and was an amalgamation of several philosophical schools. The three main principles of Stoicism are as follows:

  1. A Stoic’s highest values are virtue and tranquility.
  2. A Stoic desires contentment with what they have – not what they would like to have
  3. A Stoic accepts what is outside of their control and accepts whatever their external environment throws at them.

Virtue in a Stoic sense means living a life that’s aligned with the ultimate purpose of a human – that is to be rational. This rationality leads ultimately to the pillars of virtue: temperance, courage, wisdom, goodness, honesty, righteousness, dignity, integrity, trustworthiness, decency and merit. To be entirely rational, one must be in a tranquil state. A tranquil state is one in which no negative emotions exist. To be completely tranquil, one must not let their external environment control their feelings. For example, a Stoic person in an argument would not become angry from insults and would maintain their tranquility – leading to preservation of their rational base of virtues.

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A significant enemy of tranquility is desire. This is especially true when the desire leads to discontentment. Stoics aim to rid themselves of this “desire loop” by appreciating what they already have. This goal is obtained by the practice of “negative visualization.”  To practice negative visualization, just imagine the people and things you love as suddenly vanishing. For example, imagine if you woke up today and there was no roof over your head; rain was pouring on your head, and you were shivering with cold from the dampness of the room. Thinking this makes you immediately appreciate your warm blanket and strong roof – two things that you normally take for granted. Another example is imagining that your wife or husband has died. This thought is deliberate but temporary – it doesn’t make you depressed – but instead makes you joyous with your current possessions. This practice is commonly performed among religious individuals who regularly pray – thanking God for His blessings because those blessings are very transitory.

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Finally, to achieve complete tranquility, we must understand what things are outside of our control. This is a challenging concept to practice, but it is a life-changing concept when implemented. We cannot control what other people say or do. We cannot control what is going on in the news. We cannot control the millions of variables which bombard us on a daily basis. When things upset us that are outside our control, we must push it out of our mind immediately. This doesn’t mean that we give up helping people but rather it requires us to make better goals. We can only go about our day doing our “best” to help make the world a better place. That is much different than the goal of “making the world a better place.” Trying your best is in your control. Changing the world for the better, unfortunately, is not in your control. This subtle change in mindset leads to considerable changes in anxiety, depression, and discontentment. Stoicism complements well with Christianity, and I feel that these two philosophies combined make for the best possible life. I know a lot of religious people who are very anxious and discontented with their day-to-day existence. Ancient philosophy doesn’t have to be relegated to the dusty shelves of a library – there is wisdom all around us.

Stoicism is so important that I am going to make it the next installment in The Tackle the Library Series. Release date June 2019.

Is God Dead?

Today is the holiest day on the Christian calendar – Easter. It is a holiday that celebrates the resurrection of life; Jesus Christ, the son of God, died on the cross for the sins of the world. The secular version of Easter involves bunnies and Easter egg hunts which in Michigan is complicated by the presence of snow. Easter is also the symbolic beginning of spring which makes everyone optimistic about the weather and life in general. I always had mixed feelings about Easter while growing up. I loved the chocolate and the ham, but the church services just didn’t pique my interests. Sure, the flowers and the choir were a magnificent sight to behold, but I didn’t really understand why the pews were filled to the brim. The philosophy of Easter was complicated for me because I didn’t have a good grasp of what it meant to suffer. My parents did an excellent job of sheltering me and protecting me from the horrors of the world. It wasn’t until I went to college that I reexamined the importance of this holiday. My eyes were opened during my Senior Seminar class which focused on the three days of Easter.

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Good Friday is a misnomer because it was the darkest day in the history of the world. Jesus died by excruciating crucifixion on Good Friday and for all intents and purposes – God was dead. People don’t like to think of Good Friday like this, but it is entirely accurate – Jesus was both man and God – His death was the death of both God and the Son. This was the ultimate sacrifice, and for two days, the disciples of Jesus were in a complete state of darkness. All their hopes for the future were gone, and the man they had thought was their savior was gone. We are fortunate to know the end of the story; Jesus rose from the dead, and the world was changed forever – God is not only alive but interconnected to us through that sacrifice.

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To truly appreciate Easter I believe we must understand suffering. We must enter the skin of the disciples on that Friday and Saturday. Unfortunately, we enter that skin way too often even after knowing about the resurrection on Sunday. We live our lives many times as if God were dead – trying to be masters of our own universe; hope and faith are absent more times than we would like to admit. It is for this reason that pews on Easter are filled. People understand suffering and want to feel the mighty power of the resurrection – in their hearts, they know God is alive. So this Easter you need to make a decision whether God is dead or alive. Do you want to live your life trying to be your own god? Do you want to live your life as if there is no one looking out for you? I am tired of trying to control my little universe – I want to give my worries to the Creator of the actual universe. So it’s your decision, Friday or Sunday, dead or alive. I have a postcard on my desk that says “God is here with you Jon!” If you are reading this, know that God is with you right now

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“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. …” Mathew 6:25-34

So this Easter really contemplate the beginning, middle, and end of the story; the end, in this case, is a happy one with an essential sequel. So is God dead? For me, I know God is alive, and I hope you feel the same way in your heart. Happy Easter.

I Hate February

I hate February. February in Michigan is an entire month of dirty black snow piled in the parking lot of Walmart- jamming shopping cart movements and soaking unsuspecting tennis shoes. February, in Old English, use to be known as “Mud Month” and I swear I read somewhere that Native Americans used to call it “Month of Hunger.” February’s only redeeming quality is that it is 28 days long and it doesn’t drag on like January. Sure February has Black History Month and Valentine’s Day but we should honestly move both those events to March which holds more hope and positivity with the advent of spring. My Mom always chirps in when I get sulky over Michigan winters…You know the winter makes you appreciate summer more!” This Michigander philosophy should be the state’s official motto.

Pure Michigan – You Need Brown Snow to have a Summer Glow

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When my Mom says things like this I smile a little because deep down I know it’s 100% true. Once you get used to the seasons there is no going back. I think the change of weather is vital to human health. Have you ever lived in a place where it was the same weather all year round? I have and it destroyed my sense of time and space. Of course, people that live in those areas say it is fine but they don’t know what they are missing. The first legitimate day of spring after a terrible winter feels like a 24-hour orgasm; stepping outside into the sunlight and not having to wear ten layers of clothes is like walking out of a prison sentence. We are designed for contrast and a little masochism.

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The worst thing for our mental and spiritual health is monotony. We need regular changes in stimulus and to look away from the proverbial “white wall” of our daily life. Try to inject various changes into your routine so that dullness and depression don’t creep into your existence. Take a vacation. Go on a day trip. Read a new book. See a play. Go workout. Try some new food. Call up an old friend. Take a walk in the cold.  Spend a day without electronics. Say hi to a stranger. Write a blog post about February. Just try to remember that contrast is the key ingredient to life and without Winter we would never have Summer. I am at the tail end and my own “white wall” in respects to researching Plato for my next installment of Tackle the Library. So in honor of change and contrast, below is a list of all the new books I will be reading starting March 12th. This is a jumbled list of classics and some non-fiction – it doesn’t include six audiobooks which I am still picking out.

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
The Anatomy of Story 
by John Truby
African Game Trails 
by Theodore Roosevelt
Maigret and the Ghost 
by Georges Simenon
The Pickwick Papers 
by Charles Dickens
All Quiet on
 the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
Confessions of an English Opium Eater 
by De Quincy
The 39 Steps 
by John Buchan
The Subterraneans 
by Jack Kerouac
Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga 
by Hunter Thompson
Monsieur Monde Vanishes 
by Georges Simenon
The Moonstone 
by Wilkie Collins
Junky: The Definitive Text of “Junk” 
by William Burroughs
Another Country 
by James Baldwin

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The end of February also marks the completion of my Novella titled “We’re all Chihuahuas” which will be available in early March. I do hate February but at least the brown snow is good for getting work done. Think of some projects for yourself and start some new goals for spring. Don’t be stagnant and don’t waste your precious gift of life. February is almost over and I can see the sunlight peeking out of the clouds as I write this last sentence.

Thankfulness for Loneliness

For the past three weeks, I have been living alone – my wife started her new job as a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner in Benton Harbor, Michigan. I wanted to work a few more weeks in Flint because I like my coworkers and our credit card is smoking because of some recent trips to the furniture store. I knew being alone would be difficult, but I had no idea that the experience would lead to a weird blog post. Before I get started, I must clarify that I was not “completely” alone – my Chihuahua stayed with me so Christina could entirely focus on her transition. The first couple of days after my wife’s exit were not bad at all; actually, it felt like a brief vacation – a break from picking up after myself and worrying about peeing on the toilet seat.

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The two to three-day break from a spouse is the worst possible thing for a marriage. The reason for this is twofold. The first is that it gives a person a false understanding of what it feels like to be alone. Humans seem to have a camel-like reservoir that enables them to go through mini-droughts of human interaction; we are just peachy doing our own thing for a couple of days. The second reason is the natural consequence of our camel mentality – we think that the reserves will never fail and our mini-vacation mindset will last forever – making us question the point of having a spouse in the first place. Pause for an important note. This camel mentality is only present in long-term relationships – so all you firecracker young couples can take a chill pill. As I was saying, it was great being a slob and my longing for Christina was just around 15% battery life.

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Fast forward to four days of being alone. The reserves just seemed to take a pitfall as if my hump was the gas tank of a hummer accelerating on the freeway. From that point on I started to look at pictures online of my wedding day. I watched Sam I Am and actually cried. I dreaded going home after work. I began to talk to my books as if the characters could listen. I called my friends excessively as if we were living in some 1980’s sitcom. I went on like this for close to two weeks. I began to miss Christina as much as a man wandering the desert misses water. My senses started to play tricks with me as if they too wanted some sort of interaction: unidentified objects flew past my field of vision, voices were heard in adjacent rooms, inner thoughts morphed into OCD tendencies.

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It all came to a head on one of the last days before I was reunited with Christina. As usual, I was reading, and the house was eerily quiet. There was a noise in my bedroom that kept nagging at me, and I thought it was just another one of my lonely hallucinations. After finishing my book, I decided to investigate and went to my bedroom. The noise was there, but I just couldn’t pinpoint it. With a flick of the switch, I saw what my loneliness had come to. The sound that I heard through the whole house was actually Max – yet again playing his skin flute on top of my pillow. As soon as the lights came on, he froze like a homunculus deer, and we both awkwardly gawked at each other. It was at that point that I reached my lowest level in this experiment of seclusion. I shut the light, went back to the couch, and just stared at the wall – with the same faint noise continuing in the background. Here is the moral of the story: too much loneliness is not suitable for man or beast. We need people, and we need to appreciate our loved ones. That is why in this season of Thankfulness I am appreciative of my loneliness – just the right amount makes you come bumbling into your wife’s arms like a soldier who has come back from war – or merely a traumatic encounter with a chihuahua. 

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The Count of Monte Cristo

“All human wisdom is contained in these two words – Wait and Hope”
-Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo

The past couple weeks were quite busy for me because of Christina’s graduation and a particular book that I needed to read. This book was The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, and I was putting off reading it because of its sheer size – almost 1500 pages. To read this many pages in a span of two weeks required a lot of time, patience, and questioning. I say questioning because it is not every day you see a person walking around with a massive gray book. On a couple of occasions, young children asked me if I was reading the Bible or the Dictionary. People thought I was a Jehova Witness or some sort of hipster-encyclopedia salesman trying to pawn off printed editions of Wikipedia. The book itself became my second half and each night, depending on my mood, I would stare at it with elation as the best book ever written or dread as the longest book ever printed.

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I just finished it today, and without a doubt, it is one those books that forever changed the way I look at literature and the potential of writing to impact human thought. The plot is one of revenge and redemption: a young man is unjustly sent to prison, escapes, and returns to bring ruin to those who wronged him. Most people have seen the movie, but the plot of this novel is nothing like that of the 2002 film; a 10 season HBO drama would barely give it justice. To better understand this epic story think of those 200 layer salads your aunt brings to a potluck; at first, it looks too formidable to eat, but with each successive layer, you find yourself enjoying the complexity, and eventually, you crave reaching the bottom which contains that mysterious jello.

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The Count of Monte Cristo is a story about revenge, greed, death, despair, hope, love, and wisdom. Throughout the plot, there is an overarching theme of contrast – characters swing from the highest peaks of happiness to the lowest states of depression; opulence is juxtaposed with impoverishment. The main character, The Count of Monte Cristo, was at one point on the verge of death from starvation and at another the most wealthy host of a grand dinner party in the heart of France. This contrast is highlighted throughout the book because it represents Dumas’ ultimate point to the reader, “Wait and Hope.” Or put in another way, one must be patient in life and hope that God will look favorably upon their plight. The Count of Monte Cristo waited and hoped for his rightful revenge, and his wrongdoers were eventually punished.

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Alternatively, other characters in the book waited and hoped for their loved one’s safety and were rewarded with both a stronger relationship and a greater appreciation for life itself. A fuller life is the ultimate reward of “Wait and Hope,” because it allows one to not only reflect on the future but also appreciate what is had in the present. One of the best examples comes at the end of the book when the villain is eventually imprisoned. He has lost his family, his fortune, and his fame but still he waits and hopes that a savior will come. His savior does come in the form of the Count of Monte Cristo, who through his own ability for hopefulness forgives his transgressor. Life is burdensome, and when we don’t feel like it is in our favor remember that even in the lowest depths of existence, hope and patience are tools that can carve a way out of any indomitable prison.

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My Wife…the Doctor

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This June 21st, my wife and I will be technically celebrating our 3rd wedding anniversary; I say technically because, in my opinion, we are going on 8 years. In 2009, my eyes beheld an exotic beauty who would forever change my life. Sure we didn’t have the marriage certificate, but I knew she was the one for me; 100 years earlier, our union would have been sealed in a matter of months. However, modern day society requires a very long waiting period, primarily because of one thing – school. See, back in 2009, our pimply-first kisses were constantly interrupted by an unending load of tests, homework, and research projects. Of course, we made time for each other, but there was always that incessant character of “school” in the corner staring us down during our cuddle sessions. School for me ended in 2013, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief – that sigh was short-lived because Christina was far from done; unfortunately, my wife decided to go on to reach the pinnacle of all degrees – a doctorate. What defined our marriage more than anything was education. Everything that we did had to be worked around syllabi which seemed to always paper the walls as if we were conspiracy theorists locked in a room – connecting each assignment with red yarn. To throw fuel on our fire of misery, Christina approached every project with a resolution that always seemed to satisfy Asian stereotypes.

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Christina approaches school completely different than myself. When I was in school, I didn’t take notes or really study the material – I knew how to take tests and get good grades without stressing out; I was always the guy asking for a pencil and storing my papers between the pages of books. Christina is the complete opposite. She not only takes notes but attempts to convert lecture information into a piece of art – multicolored pens work together to form a perfectly spaced and punctuated tapestry. These works of art are then put into a dewy decimal system – housed in a myriad of trapper keepers – an amount that would even make Staples envious. Folders of all shapes and sizes are strewn throughout the house, and somehow each one needs to be referenced for an assignment. The library of plastic is used to reach a perfect score – this being my biggest struggle with my wife’s schooling. Doctoral school is the zenith of education, you can’t go any higher upon completion. Hence, grades don’t really matter. To Christina, Doctoral school is no different than elementary school in the importance of the report card – the gold star will be obtained at all sacrifice. That sacrifice was my sanity. Here is a typical dialogue…

Me, “Hey my sexy woman, you want to go see a movie on Saturday?”

Wife, (Staring blankly at the computer as if high on meth) “Um…I need today to work on an assignment…it will probably take me a while.”

Me, (Calmly petting my Chihuahua) “Well, how much is it worth?”

Wife, (Now drooling as if a mini-stroke occurred) “5 points but I need those points to bump my grade up to an A-”

Me, (Sticking my chest out in rage and tightening my grip around my Chihuahua’s neck) “It doesn’t matter! You are a fricking crazy Filipina woman! Why the heck did you want this doctorate?!”

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Let’s just say, after 8 years of schooling my patience was at a minimum. There were so many occasions when Christina was flat out depressed, tired, and utterly ready to quit school; and sadly, I didn’t help many times with my negative comments which sent us both into despair. This doctorate tested our relationship on a daily basis and strained our marriage to a point I never want to see again. Like a storm when it reaches its apex, we thought there was no end to the suffering. But at last, hints of sun came from the skies, and the last drops seemed to be falling – not in a hail but a refreshing mist.

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All came to a head last week when I saw my wife walk across the graduation stage and receive her degree. The feeling I had at that moment was one of pure wonderment. Christina not only received a Doctorate of Nurse Practitioner but also earned honor cords for exemplary grades. I thought I knew my wife after 8 years, but that day I saw her in a brand new light; beyond any doubt, she is the hardest worker I have ever beheld. She motivates me to be a better man, and I would never have pushed with this blog if I didn’t see Christina pushing with school. So Christina, I just want to thank you. Thank you for never taking the easy way out. Thank you for raising the bar. Thank you for your patience. Thank you for the life lessons. Thank you for the smile that always crosses my face when I say – “Dr. Christina-Elizabeth Cabuena Oldham.”

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Waiting to Die

My whole life feels like one big waiting game. I could not wait to get done with High School. I could not wait to get married. I could not wait to buy a house. I could not wait to eat my dessert. I am always waiting for something in life and it is not good. We all tend to do this to some degree because we are uniquely gifted with the understanding of the “future” tense. No other animal is consciously waiting for some future event – they are always responding to stimulus in a programmed manner. The ultimate example of the waiting game is that guaranteed end point – death. I am scared that I will eventually run out of exciting things to wait for and ultimately begin to wait for my last breath. It sounds macabre but isn’t that what a lot of elderly people are doing at this very moment. There are nursing homes around the world full of people that have one last future plan. I don’t want to rush through life anymore and try to speed up what is already a fast-tracked existence.

On any given day, I am waiting for a myriad of future events. In the middle of the night I wake up waiting for my alarm. In the morning I wait for lunch time. In the afternoon I wait for the end of the work day to get done. In the evening I wait to eat dinner. While lying in bed I wait for my favorite TV show. While I close my eyes to sleep I wait for my dreams. When I’m waiting for the aforementioned events, I am waiting for even more things in the distant future: blog posts to write, books to read, plans to be made, sex to be had, money to be saved, and chores to be completed. During my waking hours, I probably spend 75% of the time thinking about things in the future or things that are unrelated to the present. Even when I am doing something fun, I catch myself waiting for it to be over so I can move onto the next activity.

When I was in college, I was in a huge rush to get done and start my life. I could not wait to never have to write a stupid paper or turn in an assignment again (ironic now that I blog). I did everything I could to graduate early and now I look back with deep regrets. I missed out on seeing my friends whom I rarely ever see now. There was nothing for me at the end of the process – all I had was that habit of waiting for the next step. Are we all destined to wait out our lives until we’re dead in the ground? I am realistic and know waiting will always play a role in my life. How could I ever plan for the future without daydreams? How could I ever better myself without future goals? I will never stop looking forward but I need to find a way to balance my gaze more towards the present. What is the best way to be mindful? The number one way to get out of the waiting game is to notice the details. Your brain is almost always on autopilot and can function pretty well with minimal concentration. Whenever you take your brain out of its autopilot you begin to concentrate and focus on the here and now. My top two ways of doing this is by focusing on my breath and focusing on specific details. For example, my mind was wandering while writing this blog so I focused on my breath for a couple of inhales. Almost immediately, I began concentrating on the task at hand and was completely present. If you find yourself in the waiting game focus on something extremely particular. I love looking at the sunrise or the stars when I let Max out to take a crap. Focus on one thing and just analyze it for a couple of seconds. You will be present and your thoughts will stay in that state for quite some time thereafter.

I know this is all stuff that people have heard before but I personally always need reminding. Practice being present and stop waiting for the next step. Life is a river that you float down; every bend is unique, some bends are bad, some bends are good, but you can only stay at each for a certain time – once you pass one it is gone forever.

Guaranteed Happiness in 3 Steps

“The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest.”

-English poet William Blake

Are you a bubbly unicorn or a grumpy cat? I find it interesting how some people are just naturally “happier” than others. There is a reason for this phenomenon. We are all born with an emotional set point that affects our everyday mood and outlook on the world. My set point is a slightly uncomfortable 62 degrees while Ashley, my effervescent coworker, has a toasty set-point of 78 degrees. How do I raise my good-feelings thermostat? Why are we obsessed with happiness? Is there any hope for us folks who seem to always be sitting on a cactus? In search of these answers, I recently read Spontaneous Happiness by Dr. Andrew Weil. Dr. Weil is a hippy who got his MD from Harvard and spent most of his career researching techniques to cultivate happiness.

Before we address how to become happier, we need to first look at some unrealistic expectations. America is obsessed with being happy. Every time we greet each other there is an automatic response of “good” “great” or even “absolutely fantastic.” This drives me crazy because I am usually feeling mediocre or just average. Whenever I respond with a “mediocre” the person who just asked me contorts their face in a matter that says, “do you need the suicide hotline number?” America is obsessed with happiness because of many cultural reasons: constant products being sold to increase happiness, the belief that happy people are more productive, America’s preeminence as being the best in every thing – including positive emotions. Happiness is an unrealistic emotion to have at all times. Think of our emotions as a seesaw, they pivot up and down on a fixed set point. This set point is not happiness but best described with the words: contentment, serenity, comfort, balance, and resilience. The Swedish term for this is known as Lagom and means “just right” or “exactly enough.” So our goal is to increase our frequency of Lagom which provides two things: greater emotional balance and the ability to reach spontaneous happiness more often.

So what is spontaneous happiness? Let me give an example. Say I am reading a book under a comfortable blanket and I feel content and at peace. I am not necessarily “happy” but rather in an emotional equilibrium. As I am reading, the doorbell rings and to my surprise it is a free pizza gifted by a fan of my blog ;). This provides me with a rush of happiness and tilts my emotional seesaw upwards. That is spontaneous happiness. How can we cultivate that spontaneous happiness and increase the set point of our contentment?

  1. Go out in nature: We are designed to be outdoors. When we get more sunlight, fresh air, and exercise we feel better and have a greater ability to avoid negative thoughts.
  2. Spend time with people who bring you happiness: This one seems like a no brainer but we tend to isolate ourselves and spend a lot of time with our faces on our screens. Happiness is best fostered with people who regularly laugh, joke, and view the world in an optimistic light. Avoid interactions with conspiracy theorists or people who regularly write book reports on Herbert Hoover.
  3. Foster gratitude: Gratitude is the single greatest tool that can raise your Lagom set point and hurdle you into happiness. It takes practice but start focusing on three things that you are grateful for each night before going to bed. Gratitude and nature also go hand in hand. Walk outside in the cold and when you get home you will be ecstatic to have a warm cup of coffee and blanket to snuggle under.

We don’t need to be happy all the time. The view that we must feel like a unicorn running through a field of ice-cream cones has in part led us to seek antidepressants at a record number – the rate of depression has increased ten-fold since WWII. Depression is complex but it is many times influenced by our expectations that happiness is the norm and our lack of understanding of how to live a content existence. We need a seesaw of emotions so we can appreciate both the highs and lows. If your “thermostat” runs a little cooler than others don’t feel inferior – it is perfectly normal. If you would like to warm up a little bit just practice those techniques – wrapping yourself in a blanket of Lagom and spontaneous happiness.