Do you ever desire extra spice in your life? Ever wondered what it would be like to be rich and famous? Or even just daydreamed about an evening that didn’t include the word “Netflix?” I for one have a high threshold for boredom. This characteristic stands out starkly when I spend time with my sister who is an adrenaline-junky-extrovert; a fun night for me is usually turning on the X-Files while a fun night for her is turning the pedals on her bike for a 20-mile ride.
An awesome component of modern life is the plethora of options available to avoid boredom. This was not the case back in the 1850’s. Life during that time for the poor entailed a lot of hard work for both men and women. If you were lucky enough to have money, life could be filled with all sorts of social activities and luxuries. One of the worst places in society for boredom was that of the middle-class woman. Women in the middle-class had enough money, so work was not required but not enough money to be a member of the social sphere. This equation more times than not ended with the original “Desperate Houswife.” This was the situation that inspired Gustave Flaubert to write his most famous work Madame Bovary in 1856. A story that broke the mold for novels and was banned for some time because of its literary realism.
Madame Bovary follows the marriage, affairs, and extreme dissatisfaction of Emma Bovary. Emma simply wanted more from life than what her simple doctor husband could provide – she dreamed of “true” love which she read about in her novels. Love to Emma was supposed to feel like a gush of refreshing water falling from the skies, not the humdrum monotony of her marriage – even though her husband was patient, caring, and intimate. She not only wanted a prince but wanted to be respected as a princess – when in reality she had the means of a farm girl. At one point Emma did feel she had reached complete bliss during her first affair…
“‘It’s because I love you,’ she would interrupt. ‘I love you so much that I can’t do without you – you know that, don’t you?…I’m your slave and your concubine! You’re my king, my idol! You’re good! You’re beautiful! You’re wise! You’re strong!”
As with so many affairs, the woman and man had very different outlooks…
He had had such things said to him so many times that none of them had any freshness for him. Emma was like all his other mistresses; and as the charm of novelty gradually slipped from her like a piece of her clothing, he saw revealed in all its nakedness the eternal monotony of passion, which always assumes the same forms and always speaks the same language.
Ouch! Unsurprisingly, the relationship dissolved when the chap realized Emma was a little nutty. This dialogue represents the main point of the book: seeking happiness and contentment from outside sources will never be satisfying. Emma never finds happiness because she is always looking for the wrong formula: If I could only have (fill in the blank), I would be happier. Happiness is never something that happens to us. Happiness is something we cultivate internally. It is a practice just like building muscles at the gym. Emma never “exercised” and many people today fall prey to the same idleness. Are you bored? Are you discontent? Are you fed up? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you need to practice happiness. The best way to avoid the “Desperate Housewife Syndrome” is to be proactive and grateful. Gratitude is the single best exercise to prevent Emma-like mistakes that always end in disaster. What are you grateful for? I for one am thankful that I am not Madame Bovary’s husband.
***To practice daily gratitude, I downloaded the app “Insight Timer” which provides various meditation breaks. Try it out and friend me (Jon Oldham).***
People are funny when it comes to eating. Food is arguably the most important thing in life. Without food, there would be no sex, religion, culture, love, or even laughter. Do you remember the last time your hunger got to ridiculous levels? I can remember a time when my wife and I went on a hike in Maine; we got lost and were 6 hours deep into the mountains without any idea where we were. Christina was tired, sore, and on top of that she was ravenously hungry. It began to rain and immediately she transformed from a cute gizmo to a scary gremlin. Having to endure a hike with a starving Asian woman is something that few men have survived – if there was video of that day it would be a hybrid of the The Blair Witch Project and The Last Samurai. The only way I came out alive was realizing that our map was upside down and the car was only five minutes away. I floored it to the nearest grease pit and we indulged in every type of unhealthy food that side of the Appalachian.
I am a Registered Dietitian and usually only eat meats, fruits, vegetables, and peanuts. After some years of giving out dietary advice, I have come to one big realization – people hate being told what to eat. Eating is a very personal thing and there is nothing worse then some emaciated dietitian telling you not to eat something. However, there is one major caveat to this truth. Society as a whole, believes it is fair game to degrade McDonald’s food, McDonald’s customers, and McDonald’s as a whole without one thought of wrong doing. This relentless bashing is so universal that it doesn’t matter if you are a skinny-vegan-white-woman or a fat-coreitarian-black-man. Everyone does it. Walk into a McDonald’s and even the fattest guy is rationalizing his choice, “I know McDonald’s is bad but they put additives in the food that make me buy 10 McChickens.” Everyone nods and begins rehearsing their own defense lines.
Here’s the thing; For the majority of Americans, McDonald’s is probably the healthier option compared to what is purchased at the grocery store. I judge people’s shopping carts and I can tell you they make McDonald’s look like a Panera Bread. Pop is usually hanging over the sides. The only vegetables are frozen potatoes. The staple foods consist of processed meat and processed carbs: bagged chips, cookies, frozen pizza, instant rice, boxed noodles. The carts get worse if there are kids tagging alongside- hovering like some parasitic fish on an obese shark. Kid foods are usually sugary and contain a bunch of weird colors that make everything look like the depressed Circus Circus in Las Vegas. I honestly think that kids are a “get out of healthy eating” free pass for adults; “Oh I buy Lucky Charms for little Susie but usually she only eats a little so I polish off the rest of the bowl when she isn’t looking.”
So what is my point in bashing everyone’s food? My point is to help everyone realize that the food you buy at the grocery store is often times worse then fast food. McDonald’s shouldn’t be the linchpin of all hate when it comes to unhealthy eating in America. McDonald’s is no different than any other burger establishment – they serve greasy food that people want and they should be frequented only on occasion. I say all these things because the unwarranted blaming of McDonald’s distracts us from the unhealthy foods that are eaten everywhere else. Is McDonald’s a saint? No. But, let’s understand that we need to clean up our eating at home before sending the clown to the gallows. I recently watched The Founder and was inspired by the amount McDonald’s has positively impacted American society: affordable food to the masses, a safe place for kids to play, a livelihood for many struggling workers; McDonald’s arguably is one of the biggest forces for democracy in the entire world. In the end, I write this blog to remind everybody that fast food has benefited us just as much as it has hurt us. What we need to realize is that our homes should be sanctuaries of healthy eating and not rationalizations for crappy food…”well at least these store bought french fries and chicken fingers are healthier than McDonalds’s.” Good luck on everyone’s New Year’s Resolutions.
I have a lot of bad habits. Some of my habits have been around since I was a wee toddler and others I have picked up in recent years. One habit that I really want to kick is keeping my back straight when I bend over. I know this seems like an innocuous maneuver but I tend to have this grotesque hump in my back from never bending at my waist. This hump is more of an aesthetic annoyance currently but I am a few decades away from being that old guy who is permanently bent at a 90-degree angle. Speaking of habits, my lovely wife who loves all things psychology checked me out a book called The Power of Habit: Why We do What We do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. Essentially, the brain uses habits to conserve a crap ton of computational power and energy. An example of this is when you started to learn how to drive. At first, backing out of the driveway was a seemingly impossible task. You had to check your mirrors, slowly release the brake, look for pedestrians, look for oncoming traffic, etc. The brain was learning and using a lot of energy during these first few attempts but over time it got easier and easier. Today, you may back out of your driveway without thinking about it because your brain has turned it into a routine. Habits occur whenever there is a cue such as grabbing your keys before leaving the house. When you wake up you probably go straight to the bathroom-the cue was your alarm going off. Smoke cigarettes or eat crappy food? Usually these habits have cues like being bored, tired, or when you’re with certain people. All this is pretty easy to understand but until you identify your cues and habit framework then you can’t change your behaviors.
The framework for changing a habit is as follows:
-Identify the routine (I sit on the couch all night after work)
-Experiment with rewards (I like the feeling of walking after work for a half hour)
-Isolate the cue (Before I sit on the couch I always grab chips)
-Have a plan (I am going to put walking shoes next to the chip bag)
To better isolate the cue, write down the location, time, emotional state, other people around, and immediately preceding action at the moment you feel drawn to the habit. For example, whenever I want ice cream I am at my parent’s house, it usually is around 3:00 pm, I am bored, I am with my mom, and I had just eaten. Which cue is causing me to want the ice cream? Well if I record these indicators over multiple occasions I would figure out that I want ice cream because I am bored. Hence, to break my ice cream habit, I could go do something like watch a movie. Of course, this is all easier said than done but understanding the framework can help you identify which habits you would like to modify, keep, or stop. We all are trying to better ourselves, let us use this knowledge to make it easier and more automatic-in the end, habits can either be our best friend or our worst enemy.
My wife and I have a lot of crap! I see myself as a semi-minimalist but I still feel overwhelmed by all of our stuff. The amount of underwear between the both of us makes it look like were stockpiling for a zombie apocalypse. Go up to our attic and there is junk that is just stupid to have: assignments from old classes, a cheap plastic tape dispenser that is broken, a Hanson CD, and five ear buds that don’t fit my infant sized ear holes. Why the heck do we keep this stuff? Well I think it is because we think one day we will use it. And there lies the reason why most people struggle with an excess of everything! This point and many other minimalist thoughts were mulled over in my most recent reading Do Less: A minimalist guide to a simplified, organized, and happy life by Rachel Jonat. When we buy something we keep it because it cost us money and we believe that we will use it in the future. Unfortunately, we end up pushing said object into an unorganized space to be later forgotten and never used at all. For example, I got a hair up my but to make homemade ice cream. Well I made homemade ice cream one time and then the ice cream maker got shoved in my garage, where my Dad used it to store his golf balls. Another example, I bought some super tight jeans that made me look like a hipster even though my legs are naturally the size of a sequoia. Well I gained 5 pounds and those pants go up to my mid calves now. Did I donate the pants? No… they are still in my closet reminding me of my odd pear-shaped figure.
Living a minimalist lifestyle means getting rid of the stuff you don’t use and only keeping things that you actually need on a regular basis. By reducing the need for “things” in your life you gain more time to do the “things” that matter to you most. If you have a smaller house, a smaller car, less clothes, less electronics, less fancy food, and less internal desires…you need less money. If you need less money then you don’t have to work as much. If you don’t have to work as much then you gain more time. If you gain more time then you can focus on what truly interests you. I love this quote by Socrates, “The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.” In addition to obvious material excess, we need to simplify our social circles. Be willing to let go of friendships that are not a positive force in your life. Stop spreading yourself thin between a ton of superficial relationships and focus on a few deep relationships. Along these lines, find the hobbies that you truly love to do and not hobbies that you think you should do because you see others doing them (think Pinterest). So my challenge to you is to go through your stuff and donate the things that you don’t use regularly. Down size. Spend less. Have more free time. As a motivator, write in the comments your top three hobbies that you would love to spend more time on.
By simplifying my life and spending less money I will have more time to…
- Read (History, Philosophy, Psychology)
- Write (For my blog and my book ideas)
- Exercise (Walk outside and Weight lift)
Let’s end this post with a great quote.
“Fear less, hope more; eat less, chew more; whine less, breathe more; talk less, say more; love more, and all good things will be yours.”