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Back during my days of deep depression, one of my unconscious coping techniques was to put down the little things that brought other people joy. The phrase “that’s stupid” fell out of my mouth like a tick. Nothing and no one was safe. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? Stupid. Just donate money without the attention. Disneyland? Stupid. The most miserable place on earth. Hobbyist birding? Stupid. Who cares about random birds?

This reaction, of course, came from a most selfish place. I couldn’t find joy in anything, and it pissed me off that delight seemed so easy for others. I never stopped to think that maybe they took responsibility for their own happiness and worked for their joy. It never occurred to me that maybe they had pain too, but that they didn’t let suffering define them as a person.

The ability to experience a glimmer of joy is a litmus test for your psychological state. When I work with clients in antidepressant withdrawal, one of the first things I ask them to do is to start noticing little flickers of creativity, joy, or clarity that tend to come up as the drugs leave their system. These nanoglimmers of light may be barely perceptible at first, as simple as a deep inhale of freshly ground coffee or noticing how your eyes linger on the details of a flower. For people working through depression and getting off antidepressants, these nanoglimmers signal the mind’s innate ability to stop the mental loops and detach from the physical weight of depression—even just for a moment.

In my experience, as the nanoglimmers grew from fleeting seconds into longer chunks of time, the use of the phrase “that’s stupid” faded from my vocabulary and gave rise to curiosity and spontaneity. Birding might never be my lifelong passion, but what did it matter if other people enjoyed it? Who was I to put it down when it had no impact on my life?

To let others do their thing without making it about you is a hallmark of healing. They are on their path. You are on yours. It may take weeks or months or years of hard work to grow one nanoglimmer into a life filled with joy, but noting the existence of a single nanoglimmer proves that it is possible. What you can do one, you can do again. With time, one can always become two.

Coming September 6, 2022

May Cause Side Effects

Brooke’s memoir is now available for preorder wherever books are sold.

This is a heart-rending and tender memoir that will start conversations we urgently need to have. It’s moving and important.

Johann Hari, author of New York Times bestseller Chasing the Scream and international bestseller 
Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression—and the Unexpected Solutions

More articles from the blog

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September 23, 2022

The Flowering of Human Consciousness

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September 16, 2022

Three Weeks

read the article

September 9, 2022

Wanting

read the article

September 2, 2022

The Ashton Manual: A guideline for withdrawing from psychiatric drugs

read the article

“The calmer and quieter you breathe, the larger your blood vessels open, enabling better circulation and distribution of oxygen throughout the body, including the brain. Oxygenate the brain—breathe less.”

– Patrick McKeown, author of The Oxygen Advantage

In 2018, two years after I’d taken my last antidepressant, I found myself still struggling to remain steady in an unmedicated world. After fifteen years of relying on antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs to do all the coping work for me, I didn’t have any sense of how to self-regulate my emotions or nervous system.

Around this same time, an acquaintance of mine, Taylor Somerville, became certified as an XPT Coach. Built on the researched-backed principles of managing stress response and wellbeing through breathwork, movement, and recovery, I went down the XPT rabbit hole and decided to get certified myself. Using Symmetry as a blueprint, my intention was to eventually use the XPT principles in my work with clients in antidepressant withdrawal.

Like most things in life, my plan strayed from reality. The majority of XPT’s methodology wasn’t a great fit for people in active withdrawal, but it was a perfect fit for where I was in my recovery. While Taylor went on to build Symmetry, a business dedicated to helping people regulate stress through breathwork and exposure therapy, I decided not to follow in his footsteps and instead, learn from him.

Two to three times per week, I pop into Taylor’s 45-minute, virtual breathwork sessions. Designed to combat dysfunctional breathing patterns and lower stress response, these sessions act as internal barometers, providing me with immediate feedback on my mental and emotional state.

You might be asking yourself, “How are breathing and stress connected? Doesn’t my body naturally know how to breathe?”

Take a look at this chart:

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the metabolic stress messenger in the body. Suffocation, for example, occurs when oxygen levels go down and carbon dioxide levels rise to lethal levels. Although the body can survive without air for 4-6 minutes, most people will panic within the first 30 seconds due to increasing CO2 levels that create uncomfortable sensations throughout the body. These sensations release stress hormones into the body which increase heart rate, constrict blood vessels, and create a flustered state. Assuming we are not actually suffocating, all of this makes for a continual, negative feedback loop. Sustained over time, our CO2 tolerance goes down and our body remains in a constant stressed and anxious state.

The good news is that breathing is the only system in our body that acts on both a conscious and unconscious level. Because we have control over it, we have the power to change the level of oxygen and carbon dioxide in our blood. That’s where intentional breathwork comes in. By learning to manipulate our breathing, we can reverse dysfunctional breathing patterns and increase our tolerance to CO2, which leads to a lowered stress response.

I’m sharing all this with you today because Taylor is opening his virtual breathwork sessions up to a larger audience, and I figured someone out there in Happiness Is A Skill land needs to hear about it.

Come join me! Hit this link to sign up!

Coming September 6, 2022

May Cause Side Effects

Brooke’s memoir is now available for preorder wherever books are sold.

This is a heart-rending and tender memoir that will start conversations we urgently need to have. It’s moving and important.

Johann Hari, author of New York Times bestseller Chasing the Scream and international bestseller 
Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression—and the Unexpected Solutions

More articles from the blog

see all articles

September 23, 2022

The Flowering of Human Consciousness

read the article

September 16, 2022

Three Weeks

read the article

September 9, 2022

Wanting

read the article

September 2, 2022

The Ashton Manual: A guideline for withdrawing from psychiatric drugs

read the article

A parable, borrowed from the religious but relevant for the atheists: A man is alone in his home when the storm comes. The local news channel tells him to evacuate, to move to higher ground, but instead, he shakes his head and says, “I will pray to my God and he is going to save me. I have faith” The rain beats down and the wind picks up. The streets start to flood and just as the water begins to rise over the man’s driveway, a knock comes at the door. A local policeman, with a rowboat, says it’s time to go, but the man shakes his head and says, “My God will save me. I have faith.” The wind wails and the water rushes in. It rises to the man’s ankles, knees, then hips. He climbs the stairs to his second floor, where it is dry. He waits there, for hours, and when a break in the storm comes he spots someone in a motorboat. “Come with me!” the floating figure yells, “The storm is only half over!” But the man shakes his head and says, “My God will save me. I have faith.” The eye of the storm gives way to more rain, more thunder. Water tickles the man’s toes, and he climbs the ladder to his attic. The wind rips the roof off his house, but when the man looks up, a rope is falling from a helicopter. “Grab on!” the pilot shouts, but the man shakes his head and says, “My God will save me, I have faith.” Reluctantly, the pilot recoils the rope and flies away. The man waits for his God to save him. But the house begins to crumble and soon the water is rising rising rising. It splashes over his legs and his torso and soon it is at his shoulders, his neck, his chin. The last thing the man notices is how the water shimmers on the tip of his nose. When the man reaches the heavens, he finds his God. “I had faith in you,” the man says, “I prayed to you. I believed in you. And you didn’t save me. You let me drown!” To this, the man’s God replies, “I sent you a warning, a rowboat, a motorboat, and a helicopter. What more could you ask for?”

Coming September 6, 2022

May Cause Side Effects

Brooke’s memoir is now available for preorder wherever books are sold.

This is a heart-rending and tender memoir that will start conversations we urgently need to have. It’s moving and important.

Johann Hari, author of New York Times bestseller Chasing the Scream and international bestseller 
Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression—and the Unexpected Solutions

More articles from the blog

see all articles

September 23, 2022

The Flowering of Human Consciousness

read the article

September 16, 2022

Three Weeks

read the article

September 9, 2022

Wanting

read the article

September 2, 2022

The Ashton Manual: A guideline for withdrawing from psychiatric drugs

read the article

To my favorite group of humans on the planet, this blog post is a little different because it exists just to tell you about my new favorite thing I’ve made: The Fuckit Bucket™.

Tee hee hee.

The Fuckit Bucket™ was born out of sheer delight. A friend of mine, embroiled in the world of C list celebrity and a nasty split from her baby daddy, was talking about how her life was so screwy that she was running out of fucks to give. I suggested that she put all the fucks in a bucket for rationing. A “Bucket ‘o Fucks” we called it. I even made a prototype:

I thought, everyone should have their own bucket. For two years, the Bucket ‘o Fucks noodled in my mind. I giggled every time I thought about it, and wanted to make a talisman of sorts to keep me giggling day to day. And then, sometime between 2016 and 2018, I heard the phrase, “Chuck it in the fuck it bucket and move on.” Fuck it bucket had a better ring to it, so I stored the phrase away. I would know when it was time.

In 2019, I caught a headline about how the Supreme Court deemed that swear words were, in fact, a form of free speech. The US Trademark and Patent Office would no longer be allowed to reject applications with swearing or immoral words or symbols. I searched “Fuck it bucket” on the USPTO website, and found that the phrase had not been trademarked. It was time to create.

As a former small business owner and small business lover, I did not want to produce the bucket overseas, even in exchange for a lower bottom line. After designing my little bucket, I found a smelter in upstate New York to cast the product. While he was pouring molten metal into my design, I went to work on trademarking. I figured that best case scenario, people would get a giggle out of the Fuckit Bucket™ like I do and snag them up on Etsy. Worst case, I wouldn’t sell a single bucket but I’d never have to buy anyone a Christmas or birthday present again.

Turns out, people love it. I launched the Fuckit Bucket™ just last week, as a response to the train wreck presidential debate. This year continues to pound down, and I decided it was time to bring a little levity back to the dog & pony show that is 2020. And given that we still have two more debates, an election, and the holidays coming up…well, everyone is going to need their own Fuckit Bucket™.

Buckets are available on a necklace, keychain, or as a stand-alone charm.

We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming soon, folks. After so many years of depression, I am basking in the fact that I can find so much joy in creating a silly little bucket. This is why we do the work. Because when we clear out all the emotional crap, we make room for creation and laughter to come in, which results in both art and delight!

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Over the past six months, I have watched a curious trend develop amongst the people in my circle. Faced with a clear threat —COVID-19- two courses have emerged. First is the group that follows whatever rules and precautions that exist where they live but who also generally accept that COVID is a part of life. These are the people who went back to the gym when it opened, socialize within their bubble, and go to restaurants. Life is normal (ish).

The second group follows strict, often self-imposed rules. One thirtysomething friend of mine hasn’t left his house since March. Another makes sure never to miss the nightly news, so she can stay informed on the latest numbers. Still, another barricaded herself in the attic to keep distance from the family. They put these practices in place to keep themselves safe. They are running from the threat. And it’s been working. Until now.

The thirtysomething friend came down with a fever and a deep, dry cough. Coronavirus or otherwise, he asked himself, “How the hell did I catch something when I haven’t left the house?” The friend watching the nightly news experienced so much anxiety that she gave herself raging ulcers that ate through her stomach lining. And the acquaintance in the attic? She developed a lung infection unrelated to COVID but refused to go to the hospital because she was worried about catching COVID. The lung collapsed. She was hospitalized and left with a much bigger problem than the initial infection.

It is a most human act to focus on an outside predator, convincing ourselves that if we just get stronger or run faster, we will evade danger. But the process of protecting ourselves from an obvious beast can skew our perception. Fixated on a single threat, we lose our peripheral vision and are blindsided by an unexpected blow…even though signs were there all along.

At its core, this tendency stems from the brain’s inability to truly conceptualize its death. That’s all we’re doing right? Telling ourselves that if we stay inside, watch the news, and keep away from other people we will not die. Death is a scenario that will befall other people. But not us. Because we are in control.

Except, we will die. Yes, even you. Fixating on this one particular method of death is futile. Avoiding it does not eliminate the end result. It simply shifts the target.

Easier said than done, of course. Your psychology, risk tolerance, physical health, and life experience will dictate how you handle a crisis with so many unknowns. But no matter your particular brand of peccadilloes, it’s worth asking, what exactly are you running from? And what is happening around you, when you’re blinded by the chase?

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September 23, 2022

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Gratitude. Oh how I loathed that word for so many years. Throughout the depths of my depression, gratitude taunted me like a schoolyard bully sniggering at the poor kid’s hand-me-downs. What was there to be grateful for when my world was nothing but darkness and pain? Why be grateful for the basics of life — food, water, shelter, breath — when I didn’t want to live in the first place? How could I create a practice around something I didn’t feel?

It’s not that I didn’t try. For a while, I scribbled in a gratitude journal. Or as I referred to it, a fucking gratitude journal. When that didn’t work, I tried a gratitude jar, but all I wanted to do was shatter the thing against the wall. Then I tried reading some Stoic philosophy. And listening to Oprah. Nothing stuck. Gratitude, I determined, was for suckers or the anointed. I was neither.

Color me surprised when, in January of 2017, I stood in front of a lopsided fir tree growing just off the highway in Prague and felt a surge of gratitude so great, it warmed me down to my frozen toes. It’s like its needles reached into my heart and jolted me awake with the force of a defibrillator. I stopped cold in the middle of the sidewalk, turned, and stared like it was the first tree I’d ever seen. They grey highway and the grey sidewalks and the grey sky melted away, leaving nothing but the deep green tree swaying in the breeze. A sort of tingle twitched between my shoulder blades that flooded through my body — gratitude for life itself.

I went back to the tree nearly every day during my four weeks in Prague, trying to encode the flush of gratitude into my cellular memory. I worried that the tree was a beacon I might never find again, like I would leave the city and lose the signal. If I could only hold onto it and recognize it, I figured, maybe it would find me again.

And it did. Slowly but surely, it did.

When it comes to living a happy life, gratitude sits at the center of almost every teaching, philosophy, and religion. The Bible says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18.) The Buddha said, according to Kataññu Suttas scriptures, “A person of integrity is grateful and thankful. This gratitude, this thankfulness, is advocated by civil people. It is entirely on the level of people of integrity.” The Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius coined the phrase, “the attitude of gratitude” and the modern spiritual teacher, Ekhart Tolle, says that “It is through gratitude for the present moment that the spiritual dimension of life opens up.”

But for years, no matter what I tried, I couldn’t access it. Why?

Two things are at work here. First, gratitude is a feeling, not a reasoning. In my experience, it is impossible to access gratitude through the intellect alone, which is why my attempts at gratitude jars and journals failed. The practice was there but the embodiment was not, and without the physical and emotional connection, the reasoning was futile. This is the same reason why it’s useless to tell kids to clean their plates because there are starving children in Africa. Knowing that people are starving is at odds with the fact that the kid feels full, and the lesson does not sink in.

Second, gratitude is no match for grief, loss, or the untrodden path of phenomenal change. It is simply too delicate, too nuanced. The image of a flower tossed into the base of a waterfall comes to mind. Beauty and wonder crumble under thousands of pounds of force.

The waterfall could not thin and let gratitude shine through until I began to stabilize from antidepressant withdrawal and work through the grief — and subsequent depression — of losing my father. But once I finally felt gratitude, I learned to recognize it when it randomly showed up. After recognizing it a few dozen times, a practice allowed me to access gratitude on command. Only now does that gratitude journal serve its purpose.

Think of it as software. Until the software is downloaded onto the hard drive, the computer cannot access it. But you must format the hard drive to remove any corrupt data before the software can be downloaded, otherwise, the software will also corrupt. But once the hard drive is formatted and software is downloaded, the computer can run the program. It runs best when the hard drive is clear of viruses and clutter, but as long as you clean up the hard drive now and again and don’t let malware seep into the system, the software can run forever.

This is gratitude. It must first be felt before it can be regularly accessed, but it cannot be felt until the corrupt energy is cleared away.

Thus, the first step to healing and happiness is not “be grateful.” It’s to start clearing the corrupt files, one byte at a time.


From Productivity to Psychedelics: Tim Ferriss Has Changed His Mind About Success | GQ
From Productivity to Psychedelics: Tim Ferriss Has Changed His Mind About Success | GQwww.gq.com

I find few interviews to be truly worth reading, but this interview with Tim Ferriss is packed with useful nuggets about managing the mind and overcoming yourself. A quote: “The inescapable fact that if, at best, you tolerate yourself, and more often berate, hate, or criticize yourself, how can you possibly fully engage with others, accept and love them, and find peace of mind and life?”


The secret to happiness is simple: live like a Stoic for a week | The Independent
The secret to happiness is simple: live like a Stoic for a week | The Independentwww.independent.co.uk

What have the Romans ever done for us? Well, obviously the roads – the roads go without saying. How about guidance for how to live in the 21st century? That seems less likely, but in fact the last few years have seen a flurry of interest in the work of three Roman Stoic philosophers who offered just that.


Why you can smell rain
Why you can smell raintheconversation.com

The smell of rain, or petrichor, is one of the few sensory experiences that instantly transports me into a state of gratefulness. But why does that smell happen? This 2 minute read explains why.

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My mother always told me that I was born to do something big. This idea sprouted just a few months after I was born, when my parents took me to an astrologist my father had been working with for years. According to the planets and the stars, the astrologer said, it would never be enough for me to help just one person. I would want to help the whole lot of them.

While this prophecy motivated me to take risks and aim high, it also set me up to equate recognition with my own definition of success. And not just any recognition. The right recognition. It’s not enough for friends, family, or some no-name publication to tell me that I write pretty or cook well. If it’s not big and obvious, I see it as meaningless.

Obviously, this isn’t a great way to live. And like all stories we tell ourselves, life has a way of taking our bullshit narratives and making us repeat them over and over again until we learn. Case in point: my memoir about antidepressant withdrawal has now been rejected by 16 presses, most of whom work under the umbrella of major publishing houses like Penguin/Random House and Harper Collins. The rejections are fabulous. The editors that read my work are over the moon with the quality and power of my writing, but for whatever reason, they “have to pass but can’t wait to see where it ends up.” These are the gatekeepers with the money and status to take a book about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and turn it into the mega-bestseller and blockbuster movie, Wild. They are my definition of big. And they are falling out of my reach.

Watching the window close to the major publishers is devastating. I quite literally ripped the shirt off my own back and tore it into tatters after I received my last rejection. That’s how much this matters to me. But after weeks of mourning and an uncomfortable amount of anger, 16 repeats of the same pattern is enough to get me to start reevaluating. And so I’m asking myself, what does it really mean to be big?

Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, for example, comes to mind. Semmelweis died in a Viennese insane asylum in 1865 after his life work, The Etiology, Concept, and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fevers, was rejected by a panel of German physicians and pathologists. Semmelweis’s thesis? Disease is caused by a lack of cleanliness, and that postpartum mortality decreases by tenfold if doctors wash their hands before delivering a baby.

It would be another 20 years after Semmelweis’s death before Louis Pasteur’s work on germ theory led to an acceptance of Semmelweis’s claims and practices. Today, of course, washing hands to prevent disease may as well be a global sport. But Semmelweis would never know about his big contribution to the world. His work, through the lens of his own existence, did not make a dent.

I wonder how Semmelweis felt about his work. During his early stages of madness, did he regret all the time spent on a life that amounted to ridicule? Was the fact that he saved a few hundred women from dying of infection enough to offset the knowledge that countless more would die because other doctors rejected his thesis? Or was it the weight of perceived failure that drove him to despair?

***

Do you know of any other ordinary figures whose little known work changed the world? Please send them my way!


Are You Downplaying Luck’s Role in Your Life? - Facts So Romantic - NautilusAre You Downplaying Luck’s Role in Your Life? – Facts So Romantic – Nautilusnautil.us

Think blood, sweat, and tears are the reason for your success? Think again, says Robert Frank, a professor of economics at Cornell University. Luck, he says, is the invisible hand.


Ridding Happiness Contaminants 1: Ego Anxiety | Psychology Today CanadaRidding Happiness Contaminants 1: Ego Anxiety | Psychology Today Canadawww.psychologytoday.com

Russell Grieger Ph.D., breaks down the concept of Ego Anxiety, a never ending cycle consisting of the desire to always do well and be approved, followed by the idea that failure = worthlessness, which in turn furthers the need to always do well and be approved.


Ignaz Semmelweis, "father of infection control," pioneered hand-washing but died before many took his advice - The Washington Post
Ignaz Semmelweis, “father of infection control,” pioneered hand-washing but died before many took his advice – The Washington Postwww.washingtonpost.com

If only Semmelweis could see how his contribution changed the world…

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After three months of closure, my gym in Vancouver re-opened on June 1st. Even though I’ve been a gym rat since 2013, the pandemic took a huge toll on my physical performance. Six weeks later, my workout capacity hovers around 40% of what it once was.

I see this deficit most clearly on an indoor rowing machine. The treadmill of canoes, rowing machines produce resistance thanks to air flowing through a flywheel. The wheel connects to a chain, and the combination of pushing with your legs and pulling the chain handle spins the flywheel. The faster you row, the faster the flywheel spins and the more resistance it creates. The amount of power you produce — measured in meters, calories, or watts — is displayed on a small screen, giving you instant feedback on each stroke.

Two ways to get the flywheel moving: brute strength or proper technique. In the past, I could muscle my way through at a reasonably respectable pace for someone built for ballet, not rowing. But thanks to a combination of three months off, nagging injuries, mid-thirties hormones, elevated base level stress, and extra glasses of pandemic wine, I have been forced to adjust my strategy. Pulling the handle like all hell just doesn’t work anymore.

Like most things that seem simple, rowing technique is complicated. Arms straight. Head neutral. Shins vertical. Heels lift. Push through the legs, then extend through the hips, then pull the chain. Legs, hips, pull, release, hips, legs. Don’t let the chain slack. Don’t hunch. Don’t lead with the back. Don’t bend the arms too early. Legs, hips, pull, release, hips, legs. Breathe. Legs, hips, pull, release, hips, legs. Repeat.

My goal is not to become a professional rower. It’s to get through the rowing portion of my afternoon workout so I can move onto the next movement. Focusing on every aspect of my rowing technique would be a waste of my time. Instead, I focus on one thing I can do to increase my efficiency: get the handle to the proper starting position, every stroke, every time. Focusing on the handle’s placement guarantees that 1) my stroke length will be as long as possible, which increases speed; 2) positions my back and legs to fire in the right order at the right time, which increases power; 3) keeps my mind zeroed in on one thing rather than 100 things, and 4) distracts me from how awful rowing is.

Why is this relevant to happiness? Because by focusing on one aspect of rowing technique, my power and speed are guaranteed to increase, thereby improving my overall performance. I don’t need to be great everywhere all the time. I just need to be a little bit better, repeatedly. Over time, this will translate into more strength and stamina…without breaking my spirit.

The same theory applies to happiness. It’s not about making sweeping changes and overwhelming the system with hundreds of new processes, only to beat ourselves up for failure. It’s about taking stock of your life and focusing on doing one thing right, every time that will set a stronger foundation for each process that follows.

For me, that one thing is staying off social media. Maintaining that boundary gives me greater emotional and psychological resilience, which means I am able to consume more meaningful information, brush off minor irritations, and more quickly bounce back from major roadblocks.

For my sleep-challenged partner, Justin, that one thing is making sure that he dims the lights in the apartment at least an hour before getting in bed. Keeping the lights down and the candles lit sets him up for a better night’s sleep, which means every aspect of the next day gets easier.

For my mother, that one thing is keeping the house clean. But instead of doing a big clean up once a week and then getting irritated as the week moves on and the mess piles up, she commits to tidying up two things every time she walks in a room. The result? The house is always well kept — in no time at all.

What is one thing in your life, when done right every time, that makes your day easier and lighter? Find it. Focus on it. Do it right. Every time.


How to Be Great? Just Be Good, Repeatably
How to Be Great? Just Be Good, Repeatablyblog.stephsmith.io

To create something great, we are told to take baby steps, put one foot in front of other, and take it one day at a time. We’ve heard these platitudes our entire life, but in the moment it can be hard to see how small changes add up to something bigger. We want to be great, now. In this piece, Steph Smith shows us that greatness is a myth. To be great, she argues, just be good enough…over and over and over again.


Jim Collins – Concepts – The Flywheel Effect

Jim Collins is a researcher focused on business management and sustainability. This excerpt, from his book Good to Great, highlights “the flywheel effect,” which states that in any great creation, there is no single defining action that leads to success. Instead, it is about making relentless, incremental progress until the flywheel gains enough momentum to turn on its own.


The secret to giving a compliment that makes people glow |
The secret to giving a compliment that makes people glow |ideas.ted.com

Struggling to find that one thing to do right each day? Try giving one person per day a heartfelt compliment. Educator and TEDx speaker, Cheryl Ferguson, shares how.

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Yesterday, I was listening to a podcast with renowned couple’s therapist Esther Perel. She was talking about how couples were coping with the pandemic and said, “You can’t be feeling great in this moment. You can feel relieved. You can feel thankful. You can feel appreciative for what you have. You can feel humble. You can feel thankful to things, but you can’t feel great in this moment, because if you’re feeling great in this moment, you’re detached, you’re disconnected.”

The episode was recorded sometime in late March/early April, about three weeks into lockdown. Had I listened to it at the time, I likely would have agreed. How could someone feel great when the world was but an ominous shell of itself, with an air of fear and uncertainty thick enough to choke even the healthiest of lungs?

But in listening to Perel’s comment now, three months later, my thoughts on the matter are different. Why can’t we strive to feel great in this moment? And why are we encouraged to exchange our own well-being in order to stay plugged in to global suffering?

Because it’s important to stay informed. Because ignorance is dangerous. Because a good person cares about other people. Because it’s selfish to look out for number one. Because the world doesn’t revolve around you. Because people are dying. Because. Because. Because.

Happiness is a most rebellious act. To be happy, especially when others are not, is to break an unspoken human rule that equates thriving with selfishness. The Australians call this Tall Poppy Syndrome, referring to the expectation that a field of poppies should grow together. If one grows too tall, it needs to be cut down. In human terms, this means we celebrate the downfall of high achievers and shun those with enviable qualities. Poppies that stand out for doing well don’t fare much better than those that stand out for doing poorly.

But I feel guilty for being happy when so many people are hurting.

To tear down others for perceived happiness is a fundamental misunderstanding of happiness in the first place. It assumes that happy is a destination rather than a state of existence, and that choosing personal happiness is a callous blow to collective suffering. It is the guilt, not happiness, that emerges as the most selfish act. Guilt is what happens when we take someone else’s pain and make it about ourselves. It does nothing subtract pain, and instead doubles its existence while taking focus away from the issue at hand.

Think about it. How do you feel after a day when you’ve been wracked by guilt or have spent too many hours following the latest on infection rates or political incompetence or unrest? Are you left with the emotional capacity to answer the phone when a distressed friend wants to talk? How do you respond when your kid knocks over an heirloom and shatters it on the floor? What vice to you choose to numb the pain you just witnessed? How does any of this help you and the people around you?

But by pushing guilt aside and allowing ourselves to learn happiness—or strive for greatness—even in a time of anguish, we actually expand our capacity to help others who are suffering. We are able to more freely move between contentment and action, without getting tangled up in a collective web of pain.

So grow tall, break the rules, rebel with happiness. The world may not understand you, but now more than ever, it needs you.


Viktor Frankl on the Human Search for Meaning
Viktor Frankl on the Human Search for Meaning www.brainpickings.org

The Australian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor said of his experience in Auschwitz: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”


Consciousness Isn’t Self-Centered - Issue 82: Panpsychism - Nautilus
Consciousness Isn’t Self-Centered – Issue 82: Panpsychism – Nautilusnautil.us

Humanity has convinced itself that consciousness is an inherently human trait. But what if it isn’t? This is a fascinating read that focuses on the scientific search to determine all things—plants, stones, a fork—have consciousness.


Dealing with the guilt of privilege
Dealing with the guilt of privilegewww.rappler.com

I love the last line from this excerpt:

“The guilt that many have begun experiencing in this pandemic may be attributed to increased self-awareness of their advantaged position. As with any emotion, the feeling of guilt is valid and normal in light of a realization like this, but it is just as important to realize that being privileged, in itself, is not wrong. Privilege is often something that is given, not something that is chosen. However, what can be chosen is what to do with privilege.”

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