Saturday, July 6, 2019

Reflections as I turn A Year Older


In today's Weekend Walkabout, we take a closer look at Happiness.
I am turning a year older and it won't be long before I say goodbye to the 30s. It makes sense to look both within and without at the things that either occasion or obstruct happiness, satisfaction and fulfillment in our lives.

That said, let's get right into it.

* * *

Does happiness really come from within or without?

There is a very interesting quote by Hellen Keller that I often come across:

Happiness cannot come from without. It must come from within. It is not what we see and touch or that which others do for us which makes us happy; it is that which we think and feel and do, first for the other fellow and then for ourselves.

The appeal of saying happiness comes from within is overwhelming since it is a statement of personal responsibility and empowerment. This means that should you not feel happy,, you are in a position to do something about it. And by extension, you cannot go around blaming others for your lack of happiness.

In his book The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt dedicates Chapter 5 (The Pursuit of Happiness) to this particular question.
The long-held notion that we cannot seek happiness in external things, or that external conditions don't affect our levels of happiness has since been challenged.

According to Haidt, happiness comes from between.
It is not something you can find, acquire or achieve directly. For happiness to happen, you just have to get the conditions right and then wait. Some of these conditions are within you. Other conditions require relationships to things beyond you. 

Haidt's explanation revolves around purpose and the meaning of life, which emerge once a person gets these conditions right.

* * *

And speaking of levels of happiness, is there a limit to how much one can be happy in this life?
It is funny that despite various attempts at chasing happiness, a majority are likely to spend an entire lifetime oscillating around a seemingly pre-set level of happiness.

By extension, personal income levels have little impact on an average person's happiness. And of course, money will not buy a person happiness.
What this boils down to is that once your basic needs are satisfied, chasing more money, fame, power, sex or beauty will not lead to a happier life.

* * * 

It is true life isn't a simple matter of proclaiming "I won't worry, I'll be happy." But we can at least agree that happiness becomes very elusive when we spend so much time and energy chasing it. It however, follows us when we focus on doing the things that matter and add value in life.
Doing such things makes us happy.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

How to Avoid Living like a Signpost

PHOTO | Gerd Altmann (Pixabay)

Depending on how you look at it, a signpost is the epitome of altruism. It shows you the way. It points you in the right direction.

Over the weekend, I read some pages of Ayn Rand's 'The Virtue of Selfishness', where she takes a rather contrarian view of altruism.

Ayn Rand dissects altruism, and the moral questions it lumps together. One is what values are, the other being who should be the beneficiary of values.
The problem with this is the widely accepted notion that any action taken for the benefit of others is good.
On the other hand, a concern with one's self interests (the exact dictionary definition of selfishness) is deemed evil.

There is a loophole in here, if you look closely. But that notwithstanding, today's post is about oneself and why there is a danger in not looking inward as much as we should.

* * *

There is something called Moral Licensing. In my opinion, Malcolm Gladwell, in 'The Lady Vanishes' (S01E01) episode of Revisionist History, gives the most succinct explanation of what this social psychology concept is. He says:

Past good deeds can liberate individuals to engage in behaviors that are immoral, unethical or otherwise problematic, behaviors that they would otherwise avoid for fear of feeling or appearing immoral.

We all see this in action every day in life. Locally, the best example is a politician who does one huge, very public albeit insincere act of benevolence (such as a huge donation at a fundraiser) that gets him elected, then spends an entire 5 year term in office embezzling public funds and engaging in corruption.

This point was further amplified by Evelyn Waithira (Muithirania) during a interview with Kameme TV. She speaks of a man whose work is to announce throughout the village of a 'Baraza' that he himself doesn't care to attend.

I have admittedly often found myself engulfed in this moral licensing phenomenon. Time and again, I find myself doing the very things I have publicly and on record, spoken against on this blog and elsewhere. At times with reckless abandon.
Since I began posting on The Walkabout a decade ago, many are the times I have fallen short of what I write about here, stuff that's meant to offer insight, inspire us and aid in self discovery.

However, all is not lost.

* * *

Many years ago when I was a University student at JKUAT, I used to have regular chats (actual face-to-face conversations) with my pal Doreen. At the time, Kiss 100.3 FM was pretty new and played actual "Fresh Hits."

Now, the only problem with that is just how repetitively any new song was played on Kiss 100. 'Redeemer' by Nicole C. Mullen was a new release at the time, and not an hour would pass without hearing that song play again and again on Kiss.

One hot afternoon, we are walking along the main corridor (it runs from Assembly Hall to Hall 6) and someone in Hall 3 who had obviously made "The Big Switch" was tuned in to Kiss 100 and as expected, 'Redeemer' was blasting away on his stereo. I pointed out how Kiss FM is ruining our listening experience by overplaying such amazing songs.

Doreen's view was different, that such repetitive radio-play wasn't necessarily a bad thing as it gave that particular Gospel track much needed exposure on a secular radio station where it would reach those who wouldn't otherwise tune in to Family FM (a christian station).

We had a small argument over this, and at some point, she asked: "Are you even listening to yourself speaking?"

It is due to this very statement that I've had to, almost a decade later, re-examine myself as I look back to the things I have been posting here, but seldom practise in life.
And it is that moment of clarity that first came my way thanks to Doreen at JKUAT, that insight which has again been brought to my attention by Ayn Rand, Malcolm Gladwell and Evelyn Waithira,  that I have elected to do the needful and walk a different road.

* * *

In the previous post I shared an excerpt from Safe Haven in the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book [PDF], but omitted the first sentence. It now reads like this:

Now willing to listen and take suggestions, I have found that the process of discovering who I really am, begins with knowing who I really don't want to be.

And best believe me, just as Doreen advised many years ago, learning to actually listen to oneself makes a difference. A BIG one. There is a conversation I need to have with me, and that calls for a moment to myself.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Are you Trapped, Or Constrained?

It's 1st of July today and this being my birthday month, I have decided that now is the time to stop being so selfish...

I am ashamed that I consume a massive amount of information (epic reads, documentaries, podcasts and great TV shows). I, however, give back very little.
Now is the time to write more, as I ought. And I'm starting right here on The Walkabout.

* * *

Back in June, I embarked on a spirited quest to finish reading a number of books that I did start but got distracted along the way ( happens, you know!). These include 'The Confidence Game' by Maria Konnikova, 'The Andromeda Strain' by Michael Crichton, 'Fooled by Randomness' by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and two other books that inspired today's post.

* * *

For quite some time now, I have been feeling trapped. Certain aspects of my life haven't gone according to plan and a number of things haven't turned out as expected. Some of these mishaps have been due to character defects or lapses in my judgment. Others still, have been purely inadvertent.
But I am a very firm believer in things getting better. And it is for this reason that almost all my online accounts simply have "In Repair" as my bio.

This quest for escape routes is what informed my decision to read 'Escape Routes' by Johann Christoff Arnold. It is a good book, with the solid truths and included Biblical references a great way to tackle a vexing subject for many who are seeking answers.

On the creative side of my life, the book 'A Beautiful Constraint' got my attention in an episode of 'Under the Influence' with adman and CBC radio host Terry O'Reilly back in 2016. In the Bookmarks episode, Terry talks about tension due to constraints fueling a high degree of creativity.

It is my humble opinion that besides the natural human tendency to postpone things until the last possible moment, constraints, as much as fast approaching deadlines, are at times necessary to "persuade" us to do our absolute best.

* * *

So how does all this add up?

It was while watching the 9th episode of the 1st season of the 911 TV series that I realized what I have for so long overlooked: getting trapped and being constrained are not exactly the same thing.
In fact, it's very easy to mistake one for the other. But it gets all the more easier to differentiate by just looking from the inside out, instead of the all-too-common outside-in perspective.

Here's deep words from the opening scene in the aptly titled 'Trapped' episode:

People are resilient.
I think we're designed that way.
It's embedded in our DNA to forge ahead, soldier on.
It's a whole lot easier to do with an army at your back.
But sometimes it feels like we're on our own.
It might even feel like the world is conspiring against us at times.
A test to see just how much we can take.
How do you get out? How do you break the cycle? 

And now, the closing scene:

A wolf will chew off its own leg just to escape.
Which makes perfect sense.
If you're being held back, cornered, forced into a situation, you do whatever you can to change it, to break free, to survive.
But sometimes escape isn't our default.

Sometimes we stay the course.
We cope, we navigate.
Because traps don't look the same to everybody, especially not from inside one.
Sometimes what the rest of the world sees as having us pinned actually ends up pushing us forward, giving us purpose, control, someone to talk to.
And once in a while, the very thing everyone thinks is holding us back is also what makes us feel at home.

You may want to read the entire 'Trapped' script.

Many are the times we pause and think, even loudly ask, if the next decision will be yet another bad one. And it gets particularly bad when the clouded judgment that is occasioned by entrapment makes you think any additional effort will simply be an exercise in futility - akin to "trying to get your hands clean in dirty water" as Soulsavers put it in 'Revival.'

But there is hope. Should you still feel like you are aimlessly wandering about, blind with your eyes wide open (another Soulsavers reference), you may want to first identify how you're looking at it all.

I'll end with one of my favorite extracts from the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book: Personal Stories III - Safe Haven [PDF]. This I chanced upon many, many years ago in Prison Break, where Michael Scofield sends an encrypted message contained in the A.A. book, to Sara Tancredi... but this is besides the point. Following is what is important for the purposes of this post:

I have found that the process of discovering who I really am begins with knowing who I really don't want to be... like the power that causes an airplane to become airborne, it only works when the pilot is doing the right things to make it work.

It does help to find out first the very nature of what stands in your way. Certain limitations are actually advantages.

So, are you trapped, or merely constrained?

* * *

All said and done, you wont have to ask "Am I Wrong?" for thinking out the box, trying to reach the things you cannot see and for choosing another way.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...