Why I Really Don’t Care If You Vote (and how you can change the world)

I’m not one of those “get out and vote” guys. I’m not. I do vote, but I don’t do it because it’s my civic duty or anything. I don’t think it’s my responsibility. I don’t think it’s yours, either. It’s a choice. I usually take it. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t. There are a couple of times in the last thirty years I’ve thrown my mailer in the garbage, but I don’t remember the last time that was. It was never a major election, and it was never out of disgust. I was being lazy that year and didn’t want to be bothered. I suspect that’s why the other half doesn’t vote in most elections (voter turnout for presidential elections has been just over 50% nationally for the last 40 years), because they don’t want to be bothered. They have lives to lead and the issues are complicated and who has the time for all that?

Considering the fact that most voters, much less non-voters, don’t really understand the intricacies of politics, it would be easy to say that it’s for the best. It would be easy to say that only the informed should be pulling the lever on election day, but the informed are particularly few and far between. If only those who understood the issues, who understood politics and history and economic reality, were to vote I suspect the number of actual voters would be closer to 10%. 1 in 10 people would decide everything in that world. I take that back. 1 in 10 people would get out and vote on election day knowing, undoubtedly, that they were an informed contributor contributing almost nothing to the current or future state of the union. That’s the problem with being informed; you realize how little your vote makes a difference.

I’m not trying to be cynical here. I’m not good at that.

I know a lot of these people, the non-voters. I don’t blame them for their lack of participation in the system. I understand their reasonings very well:

“My vote doesn’t matter.”

“They’re all bums.”

“I just don’t understand any of it.”

I get that. I respect that. It’s closer to the truth than the truth I get from some of the voters I know. This stuff is really hard to understand. We can’t be informed through radio sound bites or gut reactions that are validated by our inner circles. We’ve got to do the work. We’ve got to dig deeper. We’ve got to let go of conditioning and see outside our own tunnels of vision and understand the larger nature of humanity before we can begin to understand the issues. That’s hard. We have jobs. We have kids. We have homes to clean and improve and we have to find some time in all that to be entertained and personally fulfilled. Digging deep into political truths necessarily gets shoved to the bottom of the to-do list, if it makes the list at all. And it doesn’t help that the leadership choices are, indeed, all bums.

So I don’t care if you vote. I really don’t. I’m not really sure it would matter if you did. The truth about politics is that the leaders of the world’s nations all want the same things: money, power, oil. If you vote left or you vote right you’re voting for representatives with varying agendas on how to get money, power, and oil. The system isn’t rigged; it simply evolved. Probably this is the way of leaders since leaders first took command in caves, became governors of city-states, and began arguing river borders with neighboring tribes. This is probably the way of leaders forevermore.

Unless you vote.

Just kidding, that won’t matter.

What you can do, that most people don’t, is dig deeper. Take the time to break away from the pack. Put away the preconceived notions you carry about and have taken with you from your cynical youth. Turn off the radio and the television. Stop the babble. Learn history. Learn politics. Learn economics. Really, really begin to understand the human condition. If you do all that you will change the world. Maybe not the whole world but you will change your own.

And if every single person reading this right now did that we would change a thousand worlds.

Just kidding. Maybe six.

But if everyone, everywhere did that – if everyone, everywhere really understood the machine of the world then you wouldn’t have to worry about whether your vote counted or whether the leaders were all bums. No bum could command a legion of the learned.

So if you don’t like the choices this political season, and they are not good ones, feel free to sit it out. Don’t take the time to learn which of the major presidential candidates are better than the other, or which of the doomed third candidates more closely resembles your world view. Take the time instead to begin to be informed on larger matters. If you do, baby steps you take now will shape your mind for the better over the course of the next four years and when this comes around again you will be able to confidently stride to those polls with me, safe in the knowledge you know exactly the way your vote doesn’t count.

Hey, I never promised a happy ending every time. 😉

But I will promise you this. For every one of you that does take the time to learn we will be closer to the humanity we deserve. We will march closer to democracy. We will slowly cull the bums from our ranks. We will tear down barriers and break down walls. I know I’ve changed hearts and minds with knowledge, and I know that the knowledge that others have possessed have helped change mine. Wisdom can be viral. The virus that has struck us in modern times, in this burgeoning information age, is the virus of ignorance. Somehow, with all this knowledge at our fingertips we have remained blind. That is our choice. Make another choice. Choose knowledge.

Then I promise you, for humanity, a happy ending at last.

Thanks for taking the time to read. That’s a good first step. 🙂

flickr photo by DonkeyHotey shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Two Roads Diverged In A Yellow Wood …

I was struggling with some concepts not too long ago. Concepts of identity I suppose you could say. We all find ourselves there from time to time, questioning our own navigational alignment, standing in the place where we live, thinking about direction and wondering why we haven’t before.

Apologies to REM.

I was. I was wondering whether or not I was writing the right things. Were my words coherent? Broad? Did they have reach? I was starting to think that maybe I should write a bit more about things that are important, on a national and global scale. Get away from me, so to speak. We have this bizarre national election going on between this brilliant con artist posing as a business success and this corrupt career politician whose waited for her turn, and nobody with any sense really wants either of them in charge. We have bombings in places like Syria and you don’t have to dig very deep at all to find the meanings behind these bombings. They smell like oil and shine like imperialism. We have these racial tensions that extreme blacks are calling oppression and extreme whites are calling fiction. We have important things to talk about. To think about.

But I can’t seem to get myself to write too much about it. To think too much about it. In our daily lives, we’re lucky, you and I. If I have the time to write this and you have the time to read this then we have pretty good lives, comparatively. A lot of folks around the world are losing their houses from bombings and are looking for a place to live. They don’t have time to read or to write only to cradle their children in the cold and wonder how they’ll get enough to eat. It’s overwhelming.

I suppose that’s why I shut it out, some days. I suppose that’s why so many live in denial of the awful truths, wrapping themselves in flags instead and saying that their way is the right way and there is no other way. I suppose that’s why I write about comic books and 168-hour weeks and football and puppies. The other stuff is terrible. Frightening. Dispiriting.

And I can’t live my days and nights dispirited. I’m not built that way. I’m an optimist who is better when his days are bright and breezy. I get more done when I’m uplifted. I write more. I dance more. I prefer the archetypal role of the jester to that of the rebel or the hero. I struggle with that.

A quote I read recently, from the guy who wrote Charlotte’s Web – among many other important things – struck me as uniquely Tom:

“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan my day.”

This makes it hard to plan my blog.

I want to change the world, I do. But I also want to enjoy the world for the decidedly limited epoch we get to be a part of it. And it’s a good era we live in. We get instantaneous global communication, mass transit and, with a good battery charge, the knowledge of all mankind at our fingertips. We haven’t evolved beyond our egos so we also still get prejudice, nationalism, and imperial conquest on a global scale. I suppose that’s the trade.

I overcame my recent struggle when a friend said something fairly simple and incredibly wise to me: it’s hard to be a bunch of different things. Folks can’t handle it.

Barfly. Salesman. Fan. Writer. Liberal. Geek. Philosopher. Fool.

Pick one.

I can’t. I can’t be but one thing. Great philosophers of success for the modern era tell me that to be successful I must narrow my goals and focus like a laser on one big thing until I have achieved it.

Nah.

Whenever I have done that I have achieved success. It’s great advice. At the same time whenever I have done that I have felt limited by the stifling nature of the single path. I like divergence. I like walking off the path whenever I feel the whim. If this makes me slightly less driven than, say, Bruce Lee, I’m okay with that. He spent a lot of time in gyms and I can’t imagine living that kind of life.

So whenever I find myself wondering how I got here, or where in the heck I’m going, I have to remember: this is the path – these are the paths – I have chosen. I’ve got a great family. An amazing wife. The world’s best pals. And I’ve got me, exactly how I imagined I could be.

Now if only I could figure out what to do about Syria …

 

A Geek on Sunday

I have a case of the Mondays.

It’s not a terrible case, not an end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it, dread-the-coming-week case of the Mondays. It’s more like a ready-for-more-sleep-after-getting-more-done-around-the-house case of the Mondays. I’d just rather stay home for one more day.

I won’t. I can’t. I can’t afford the dogs’ brand of kibble on what I make doing chores.

So I push my to-do list out until “Thursday,” my next day off, or at until “evenings” when I get off work. There’s always more to do than there is time to do it in the 168 hours of allotted time every week. Priorities are a must.

I’ve prioritized well lately. I have a running list of things to do around the new house. Getting things done around the new house is kind of a passion of mine. New things always lend me hidden stores of energy. I’ve told anyone who will listen that my favorite thing to do, these days, is crack open a cold beer, put on some high octane tunes, and get things done around the place. It’s rewarding. That emotion won’t last forever – newness always wears out in time – so I try to do this thing as much as humanly possible while I still have a passion to do it.

Like blogging, kind of. I have a passion to write, to share my inner thoughts in some sort of cogent manner, but not in the same way I had a passion for it 6 months ago. It’s a part of me now, a routine, and one I still enjoy but it’s not the only thing on my mind all the time. Passion comes and goes.

One of my great passions is social activity. I love getting together with like-minded individuals to drink libations and laugh until our immune systems are strong for another month and a half. I generally get to do that weekly, too. My immune system must be borderline “immortal” by now.

Yesterday – which was Sunday in case you didn’t catch on earlier that this is Monday – was the day I generally spend doing that. Not always, but often. Sometimes one or more of us can’t make it, and that’s cool as heck. Yesterday, nobody could. So I set about tackling that other passion – getting something done around the house while slow-drinking some beers and listening to music watching football. The great thing about Sundays in the fall is there is another passion of mine playing all day long. I got my NFL Sunday Ticket’s worth yesterday, for sure.

When it became apparent that it was going to be a stay-at-home kind of day I scanned that working list. There, on the bottom, was something that’s probably been on my unpacking list through three moves: sort the comic boxes. Oh yeah. This is happening, I told myself. I’ll have this done by the afternoon game.

If you know me, and maybe you don’t, you know that I am a geek. I’m a football geek, a gaming geek, a superhero geek, and a beer geek. Are there beer geeks? I’m a beer geek. But since about the age of 4 or 5 I’ve been a comic book geek and, over the years, I’ve amassed a collection of these 4-color wonders. These days, like most folks, I download my comics to my tablet so I don’t collect so much paper anymore. But I have all that stuff from the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and early 00’s sitting there, in boxes, in the garage, going with me from town to town, from house to house. And those boxes are ratty.

So, when I moved, I ordered a ten-pack of new boxes from Amazon with the intent of repackaging it all into several like-sized cartons that would sit with greater symmetry in the garage.

If you would have swung by the house around 2 in the afternoon you would have seen a mess. You would have seen me surrounded by color amidst the smell of old paper and stacks and stacks of semi-coordinated superhero books. You would have seen the missus handing me my open beer from time-to-time knowing, somehow, that getting up was not an option at that particular juncture but that, by god, I needed a drink. You would have heard and seen the red zone playing on the big screen and me, in my element, just sorting away and occasionally screaming at Jeff Fisher to throw the damn ball.

It was a good day.

I spent more than 8 hours on that project, one I thought would be tackled in about 2. There’s more of them than I thought. I need to order another ten-pack of boxes. I need to go back through what I’ve done and sort them all to make a more cohesive sense. I’m about halfway there.

So I checked off the box on my to-do list called “sort comics” that has been there for years and created a new to-do called “further sort comics.” I feel accomplished. It may be years before I finish this project. Maybe I’ll order the boxes now and the next time no one can make it to “church” I’ll tackle this again. Or maybe some other passion will have consumed me by then. It happens.

But I’ve got a case of the Mondays right now. My lower back is sore from sitting up and crouching forward all day. My throat is sore from yelling. My legs hurt because my legs always hurt anymore. I’ve got a full list of things to do still and I have to go to work.

But I really have to.

I can’t afford more comic boxes on what I make doing chores.

It’s About Time

Do you have a minute to spare?

I bet you do. I’ll bet you have a lot more minutes to spare than you think.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, about how I spend my time. I mentioned a week ago that I haven’t taken enough time to walk, to read, to write. That’s on me, I know that. I never say things like “I don’t have the time!” because I know I do. I know there are 168 hours in a week. I know that only 48 of those hours are taken by work. I know that another 48 hours are about sleep. I know that. 96 hours of my week are set in stone. I have to work. I have to sleep. Knowing that simplifies things.

I’m a numbers guy. I love calculations. I calculate that if I have 168 hours in 7 days and 96 of them are taken by work or sleep then I have roughly 72 malleable hours left over, every week.

Malleable is a great word. Not only is it fun to say (MAL as in “Malcolm,” E as in “easy,” ABLE as in “a bowl.”) but I love the definition of it:

“Able to be stretched or bent into different shapes.”

“Easily changed or influenced.”

“Capable of being extended or shaped by beating with a hammer.”

I especially like that last one.

That means I have 72 hours – 3 full days when you think about it – every week that I can extend or shape by beating it with a hammer. Malleable time.

I know what you’re thinking. Tom, you’re saying. I have SO many responsibilities outside of work and sleep. How can that be malleable time?

Good question. You’re a smart reader.

The truth about malleable time is that unless it is mandatory that we be present, as with work and sleep, all the rest of the stuff – though necessary – is up to us. We stuff it in where we want to, and spend as much time on it as we wish. Malleable time. Shaped by us.

But it’s not all FREE time, is it? Nope.

We still have to mow lawns and clean the house. We have to run errands and sit down and pay the bills. I get it. A few years ago, right before Robert Downey Jr. became Iron Man, I was reading an article on his life while waiting for my dentist to prep the chair for some excruciating oral activity. He was recovering from a lifetime of addiction (Downey, not the dentist) and learning to finally be an adult at the age of 43. In the article he made the statement that “life is 70% maintenance.” I wrote that quote down. I use it all the time.

I don’t know if that statement was based on scientific inquiry. I suspect not. But it sounds about right, give or take. And if it’s true, and 70% of our lives are spent either working, sleeping, or “getting things done” then I’ve got a bit of good news for you:

30% of your time is YOURS.

In a 168-hour week, that means that somewhere around 50 hours of your week is free time. It’s your choice. You can choose to work more, some do. You can choose to go back to school and study; a good choice. You can choose to watch TV, read a book, spend time with the kids, go to the gym, drink with a friend, take a hike, or write a blog. Some do. You can chase money. You can chase a dream. Your choice.

Obviously, these numbers vary. Some of us have longer mandatory work hours, some of us have less. Some of us need more sleep, some need less. Some of us have kids, and kids eat up malleable hours like nothing else. The equation has only one fixed number, the 168. Subtract your variables – work and sleep. Take out the flexible maintenance stuff and what is left is uniquely yours.

You might have to put in a little effort here to get to the bottom line, but it’s worth it. Especially if you think there aren’t enough hours in a day, or days in a week, to do what you really want to do. There is. There most certainly is.

So go ahead. Run the numbers. Write it down. Do it today.

You have time.

One Sunday In

With 87.5% of the games already played for week one, I have some thoughts:

The Colin Kaepernick saga continues. Kaepernick himself doesn’t play until tonight, but some players around the NFL joined his silent protest yesterday. A few, like Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters, stood for the national anthem but raised their fists in a traditional symbol of Black Power.

I remain where I was when this all began – stand, sit, raise your fist, cover your heart … it’s fine. It’s a free country and free means free to me.


I went into yesterday’s games having a hard time picking any powerhouse teams – teams that are immediately projected to be favorites to win it all. The Arizona Cardinals were one of the teams on my short list, but they fell in a hard-fought contest to a New England Patriot team minus Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and key members of the offensive line. The Patriots themselves might be the best team in the league come mid-October, but right now it would be hard to say there’s a true super-team. The number of close games we saw on the first Sunday of the season lends credence to the idea the league is especially competitive this year, with many contenders for the title.

We’ll see what Pittsburgh does tonight.


Eight quarterbacks threw for over 300 yards. Nine wideouts had over 100 yards receiving. One of them caught 12 passes during the game and closed in on 200 yards. Only one running back, Lamar Miller, broke the 100-yard mark in rushing. He ran for 106 yards, but it took him 28 carries to get there. Only seven running backs had 20 or more carries.

After some initial thoughts that the era of the running back had returned – with 2 top 10 picks in the draft going to ball carriers in the last 2 years – the overwhelming evidence is that the passing game still dominates in the NFL.

The feature back appears to be a dinosaur.


At this point, the decision to take the 2nd best QB in the draft with the #1 overall pick appears to be biting the Rams in the ass. Carson Wentz is 1-0 as a starter with a 101 QB rating. Jared Goff is a 3rd-string backup. Jeff Fisher, your thoughts?


Completely unrelated to sports, but what  the heck is really wrong with Hillary Clinton?


Thanks for taking the time to read … look forward to hearing your thoughts. The NFL is King!

The Biggest Game

It’s opening day 2016! I thought I’d take the occasion and re-post my very first entry, published 7 months and 5 days ago on Facebook – just before Super Bowl 50. It’s been a long and intriguing offseason and I can’t wait to get the games started again, for real. Take a moment, if you can, and re-read the one that started it all!

I was too young to remember the first one. In fact, the first one was played 500 days and a month before I was born. I missed the second one, too, by about 24 weeks. By the time of the third one I was about 6 months old and Joe Namath was guaranteeing a victory for the upstart Jets. I didn’t watch it; I only remember it through pictures.

Throughout my youth it was always on in the background. I can remember people talking about it as early as 1972 or 1973, but I was a baby with a big imagination and a fascination for superheroes not footballers. I was probably 10 or 11 years old before anyone got me to really pay attention to the thing. I was around that age when I chose a favorite team for the first time, but it wasn’t because I’d ever seen them play. I chose my favorite team out of spite, but that’s a story for another time.

I don’t remember ever sitting down and actually watching a game, much less a Super Bowl, when I was young. The first one I really remember watching wasn’t until 1983, when John Riggins ran roughshod over the Miami Dolphin defense in the Orange Bowl at Pasadena. I think I went over to visit a buddy on a Sunday, I was about 14, and he was the best Dungeon Master I knew. Before he would run a game, though, he wanted to watch the Super Bowl. I was reluctant, but fuck it. I gave it a go.

It was two years later when I watched my next NFL game, and it happened to be a Super Bowl, too. My buddy at the time – not the same buddy as the other buddy – was a huge Miami Dolphins fan and just about everyone else I knew was a San Francisco 49er fan. Those two teams were meeting in the biggest game of the year so our youth pastor had a Super Bowl “party” and invited us all to come see. I wasn’t impressed; it was a really lousy game and my buddy’s team lost to the only team I hated.

Yes, I hated the 49ers even before I was a football fan. I told you the story had spite.

But the very next year I had the fever. A TV Guide showed up at my door the next summer – or was it a Reader’s Digest? – and it had a tiny cover story called “Who is the best running back in the NFL?” In the corner caption was a picture of a guy in royal blue with bright yellow horns, wearing goggles, and he looked for all the world like a superhero to me. His name was Eric Dickerson and he was the best player on the team I had spitefully chosen as my favorite several years before. I think the article ranked him second and said he was the most explosive player in the league. Ranked #1 was a fella named “Walter Payton.”

I had to see what that guy was like.

Well, that happened to be 1985 and that fella was a Chicago Bear and the Chicago Bears were about to make a historic run that fell just one game short of a perfect NFL season. Walter Payton’s team beat Eric Dickerson’s team in the game before the Super Bowl and then Walter Payton’s team won the 20th Super Bowl ever.

And I knew all about these guys. I read about them before the season ever started. I was hooked.

I don’t think I ever missed a Monday Night Football game after 1985, and I know I never missed another Super Bowl. I came to love John Elway as much as I hated Joe Montana. I got to see both of those luminaries perform incredible Super Bowl heroics over the next ten years. I got to see the Bills fall short 4 times in a row. I saw the rise of Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman. I saw that flashy maverick Brett Favre get a championship ring. I saw the Greatest Show on Turf. I saw the New England Patriots go to six Super Bowls in twelve years and beat everyone but Eli Manning.

And now the number is 50. And here comes the venerable Peyton Manning leading the Broncos in his probable last game ever. He’s facing off against a Carolina Panther team that fell one mishap away from a perfect season, much like that Bears team 30 years before.

I’m not here to pick a winner. I’m here to enjoy the experience. I’ve been a fan of the game now for three decades and I’ve seen valiant performances, miracle plays, and astounding comebacks … I’ve seen amazing adventures and astonishing tales. It never gets old. I’m prepared for the game, I read about it all the time. I know all the players now.

They’re like superheroes to me. 😉

Autumn Days

perfect fall
The scale reads closer to 180 than I’d like. The morning and evening temperatures are noticeably lower. The sun doesn’t show up quite as early nor stay quite as late. Football – real football – is less than 36 hours away.

It’s starting to feel a lot like autumn.

Technically, we still have 14 more days of summer. Where I live, we’ll probably see temperatures in the 80’s, and even some in the 90’s, for another 6 weeks or so. “Indian Summer,” some will call it. But for me, Labor Day has always been the honorary end of summer. The first kickoff has always marked the official beginning of fall.

The summer has been one of indulgence, and one of change. The former isn’t out of the norm – summers lend themselves to immoderation – and the latter was easily for the better. I’m a better person, in a better place, than I was when the summer began. That’s all that we can ask from any season, I suppose. If we can somehow trace it with memories that last a lifetime, even better. This summer was that.

Since the time the summer began I’ve been to two wonderful weddings where people who are truly in love swore their lives to each other. I’ve been to birthday parties and pool parties. I spent an incredible week with brothers and sisters, cousins and more, at our biennial family reunion. I spent one amazing night at my quinquennial high school reunion. The wife and I celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary. I celebrated my 48th year on Earth. We moved. For the first time in 12 years, we moved. The ripple effect of that culture shock is still reverberating.

I finally got to 175 pounds. I found my way back to 180 again. That’s summer.

I haven’t gone walking in a month or more. I’m getting no exercise at all. The running thing didn’t stick; the beer drinking did. I don’t sleep as many hours as I should. I’m not reading enough or writing enough or relaxing at all. There’s always too much to do and always too much going on.

That’s summer.

In theory, and historically, the indulgences will begin to wane now. The resolve toward health will return. I’ll get up earlier, rested, and get the boys out of the house for daily walks. The cooler nights require less beer but, at the same time, the lingering sun can still light the pages of a book. Until late November there will be a respite, a lull. A renewal. In theory.

That’s fall.

I’ll work on some resolutions; every season needs them. I’ll set some goals. I’ll make some promises, to myself and to others. I’ll be more alert. I’ll be more temperate. I’ll be healthier, in body and mind. I’ll spend less money on things I don’t need. You know, all the usual oaths.

I’ll watch a lot of football. This, I swear.

I’ll watch from home on Mondays, most of the time. I’ll watch from home on Thursdays, most of the time. I’ll try and catch the Rams games at home, since I paid the satellite company for the right to do so. I’ll spend more time than I mean to at a local tavern watching football with a tremendous group of friends. That’s a given.

I’ll watch a lot of football.

We all need at least one resolution we know we won’t break. 😉

Happy Autumn Days, everyone. Here’s to another season to remember.

 

Raising Joy

I think it’s fairly obvious that I’m a pretty jolly person. I come from a pretty happy family and I surround myself with a fairly happy bunch of friends. I read a lot of books about happiness and I’m attracted to quotes that are uplifting and inspirational. One of my favorite all-time words is “positivity.” I smile and joke a lot, and I try to never be cruel. I guess those are good indications of a pretty happy guy.

I don’t know for sure if happiness is easier for some than others. I don’t know that. I don’t know if some people are prone to happiness or if this is something we all have to work at equally, but we do all have to work at it. Nobody gets to be happy without effort, this much I know.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, considered one of the world’s leading experts in empirically-studied positive psychology, tells us that our happiness is 50% genetic. We can’t do anything about that. A further 10% of our happiness is dictated by circumstances in life beyond our control. Environmental factors, the ones we cannot change. This means, combined, that our contentment is 60% fixed. Now, you pessimists out there in the studio audience might be saying to yourself this: If over half of our happiness is beyond our control, what hope do we have!

But that ain’t what Sonja says.

Sonja, who has forgotten more about staying positive than you and I will ever learn, is overjoyed by the empty part of the glass. 40% of our bliss, she exclaims gleefully, is controlled by us!

I’ve never met her so I’ll confess, the “exclaims gleefully” part of the above sentence was creative license. But I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts she’s exclaimed gleefully once or twice about it. Happy people do that.

I first read Lyubomirsky’s book, The How of Happiness, a few years ago, maybe around 2013. It’s a good book and one of the best in the realm of positive psychology. I didn’t know the percentages mentioned above when I started the book, but I did know that a large portion of our satisfaction in life, and a great deal of our destiny, is controlled by us. I know that because I challenged the universe for it and won.

Fifteen years ago I was a miserable person, more or less. Money was tight. I didn’t like where I lived. I hated the work I did, and I saw no prospects for growth or happiness in my future. It was tough. I told a friend of mine back then that I woke up one morning and wished I could burn everything down in my life and take only my wife and dogs with me.

Not long after that, that’s exactly what I did. Well, I didn’t burn anything, that would be arson or something. But I dumped it. All. I chased a new dream. I’m still chasing new dreams but if I don’t achieve them, that’s okay for me. Because I’m not in a miserable place anymore. I’m happy. Now.

I know that. I know that because around the time of that low point I created a spreadsheet for myself and I listed all the most important things in my life – things like marriage, health, home, outlook, camaraderie – and I entered them in that spreadsheet. My life is measured in these (currently) 11 attributes on a scale from 1 to 4. 1 is lousy. 2 needs improvement. 3 is good and 4 is perfect. About every 3 months I open the old spreadsheet and I rate each of those important attributes and when I’m done the bottom of the grid gives me a percentage for my current state of happiness. I call it my “Quality of Life Scale.” 15 years ago that scale fed me the number “47.5%.”

That’s a pretty low level of satisfaction.

I vowed then to fix whichever aspects of my life ranked below a 3. Systematically. If it ain’t “good” or “perfect,” to me, it’s got to change. Today, and for the last several years, my quality of life has ranked in the 90th percentile. That’s like waking up joyfully 9 out of every 10 days, or better.

My genetics have not changed. The relative, uncontrollable circumstances of my life have not changed, around me, in years. I still get hit with shit all the time. I didn’t know it when the journey upward began but I was working on Sonja Lyubomirsky’s 40 percent. I was working on the only thing I can change, and that’s me.

I could tell you how. I can tell what negative environmental factors I’ve had to dump along the way. I could tell you the struggles we face when we change and how some people don’t like it. I could tell you about the times I’ve lost my way.

I could. I probably will. But today’s session has already yielded 33% more words than a standard entry should, so all of that will have to wait.

I’ll finish with this, though:

If you’re feeling down, find out why. Write it down. Categorize the ten or so aspects of life that mean the most to YOU. Rate the categories. You’ll probably find out that there are many aspects of your life that are fine, even great. Then take the ones that are not and figure out how to make them better, by your standards. Forget what makes the world happy with you, or what is considered “good” or “perfect” by societal or cultural standards. How does each category get better for you.

Happiness isn’t a gift. It can’t be presented to us by anyone. We have to find it. We have to find it and we have to work to get it and we have to fight to keep it. But I don’t believe anything is more important in life than happiness. And we control nearly half of it.

That’s a pretty good percentage, by any measure.

So go fill the rest of your cup, my friends.

Go fill it with joy.