Building A Better Tom

I’ve been thinking a lot about the things I want to do, and the improvements I want to make, so let’s talk about that for a minute. I’m not sure I can do that in 400 words or less, like I promised, but I’ll try. Those 18 words didn’t help. Neither did those 5. Or those 4.

Okay, stop that.

In so thinking, about Tom being Tom, I’ve been looking over previous documents. I took a good honest look at my homemade Quality of Life scale. On the scale, I’ve basically been in the 90th percentile of personal contentment for about two years now. That’s the best it’s ever been. Some of that has come from incredibly good fortune. Most of it, though, has come from making a conscious decision to focus on what I can control, realizing what can be done to improve any aspect that is lacking, and following through.

So simple a dog could do it.

But, just like any good canine, we can only stay on track with our good behavior and good intentions as long as we are reminded what they are. For Ludo, it takes Daddy or Mrs C to do the reminding. For Tom, there is only Tom.

This morning, in my quarterly QoL update, I scored a disappointing but honest 75%. That’s still a pretty happy guy, a guy who is 75% content. For most, that would be just fine. But not for Tom. Not for happy-go-lucky, delight-in-life, fool-in-the-rain, get-that-stupid-smile-off-your-face Tom.

No sir.

The good news is, I know from experience – and from the spreadsheet – what is lacking. I know what I can do about it. I know that when my Health rating gets a 2 (NI, needs improvement) it’s because I’ve taken, like, 4 walks in 2017.  My push-ups stopped when I finished the challenge. I’m eating heavier lunches than I used to, and my beer count is a bit high. I control all that; I can fix all that. In fact, looking at the scale, there are 3 or 4 factors I can fix almost immediately that would spring my personal satisfaction rating right back into the 90th percentile.

See, and you thought I was just another pretty face. 😉 I’m introspective and self-improving, too!

There’s more I can say on the subject, and I probably will. But not today.

That’s 417 words. Pretty close. I would have made it without those nonsense sentences in the first paragraph. And this one here.

Have a great day, my friends. Never stop looking inside for answers, and never, never, ever stop improving. 🙂

My Reading Habit Tends to Suck

I’ve been working like crazy on my reading habit lately. In general, I’m terrible at it. I tend to have 4 or 5 partially read books around me, at any given time. I have 160 articles currently saved in my pocket, for later. As much as I try to recover from that number, I always seem to be behind. If I forced myself to consume two of the older ones and two of the newer ones every day, it would take me 40 days to clear the backlog. And I probably add 4 more every day. My reading aspirations seem to far outweigh my reading capability.

I’ve tried everything. I’ve tried to make Tom set aside a certain time, every day, just for reading. But Tom is a terribly elusive person with a mind of his own that likes to pick his particular passions pertinaciously at any point in the past or present. He’s apparently randomly alliterative at times, too.

I’ve checked out all the books on the subject. I’ve read the timeless How to Read a Book, by Mortimer Adler. And when I say I’ve read it I mean that I have a partially read copy around here somewhere begging me to stop being pertinacious and finish it. Terribly ironic, that. That book, by the way is on everyone’s “how to start a reading habit” list. If you ever want to start a reading habit, or finish someone else’s list, check it out.

If you like a more modern take on how to improve your reading time and retention, try Ryan Holiday. He’s got a load of articles on the subject and, despite his busy schedule, seems to find time to finish 20 books a month. That, to me, is ungodly and personally insulting.

I’m doing better, though. I’ve finished (finished!) 3 books in the last 3 weeks. A book a week is pretty damn good by my standards. I did it by making myself read one book at a time, and by enjoying the time doing it until it’s done.

That last reason is the most important. I can’t remember if it was the advice of Ryan Holiday or Dylan Andersen (two of my favorite modern muses) that got me reading for enjoyment again, but I’m glad it came. It’s changed my life. At the very least it’s changed the life of my books, who are happy to be consumed and cataloged away again.

I’m going to continue to do that, most of all. Read for pleasure. I’m not going to set aside a certain time that I must read or set a goal of how many books I must finish. None of that. I’m just going to go find me some shade (or a warm blanket in the winter), and read. As often as possible. As often as I want to. And now that I take great pleasure in it again, “as often as I want to” seems to be all the time.

Now if I can only figure out what to do with that pocket …

The Ridiculously Simple Secret to a Happy Life

Life can be pretty tough at times. No question about it. We’re handed a raw deal a lot of days, battling for survival, fighting for love, toiling for money. It’s easy to get discouraged. In the rough environment of life its hard to stay upbeat, but I do a pretty good job of it. In fact, I get asked all the time, and have for decades, how in the world I can stay so positive. It’s a good question; let me address it.

First of all, I don’t. I mean, I don’t always stay so positive. Tuesdays generally suck, and there are times I say dumb things to my wife and she doesn’t talk to me for a day and a half. I’m not real uplifted at those times. I see what’s going on in the world and I get discouraged. People can be terrible to one another. Especially the rich and powerful ones. The richer and more powerful, it seems, the more terrible. It’s disheartening.

But, by and large, folks are right; I do tend to keep a positive outlook. I always think the sun is going to come out tomorrow, to borrow a phrase.

When people ask me that question, how I can remain so positive, I usually respond in some offhand way and take a drink of my beer. Beer is usually around when I’m talking to people. I’ll often say something sly like “beer” or something profound like “nothing’s ever really that bad, is it?”

And I suppose there’s a little truth in both of those answers but the real big, enigmatic secret of my positive outlook is this: I work on it. I worked on it all the time when I was younger. I work on it all the time, now.

Like anything, when you really work at a thing, you get better at it. It comes naturally. Like the way I write now or the way I come up with superhero gaming stories on the fly that seem like I’ve worked on them for weeks. Or the way I say what the football announcer is going to say about a play moments before he does. Those are my 10,000 hours.

10,000 Hours

Malcolm Gladwell, in his bestseller Outliers, came up with the 10,000-hour rule of mastery. Basically, it states that to be the best, you have to put in the time. Somehow he came up with the notion that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill, or craft, or whatever. Not “somehow,” actually, he did a lot of research. Virtuosos, basketball legends, chess champions, and whatnot, they all put in the 10,000-hours-to-mastery, according to his research. Now, not everyone agrees with the idea of the 10,000-hour rule, but you get the gist, just the same. To get good at something, do the work.

When I was a younger man, I admired people who smiled and laughed, even through the worst of times. I wasn’t able to do that. As a young man, I was shyish, nervous, and depressed, particularly in my teens. I would “fake it to make it,” at times, but overall, not so happy. Along the way, I made the decision that I wanted to be a different kind of man than the man I was developing into. I started doing something weird: looking at the bright side of life, as much as humanly possible. I started to smile all the time. And mean it.

I don’t know when I turned the corner, when I hit my 10,000-hours, but somewhere along the way I did. Now, as long as my wife is talking to me, I’m pretty much upbeat pretty much all the time.

Just kidding. It’s the beer. 😉

Mastery

I know what some of you are thinking. You’re thinking, why in the hell would you waste your 10,000 hours on something so ludicrous as thinking positive and making up superhero stories. I mean, you could have been a chess champion, for god’s sake!

No, I couldn’t. That requires hours and hours of intense concentration and, if you know me, you know I can’t concentrate on any one thing for too long without losing my damn mind. Call it ADD. Or call me a restless soul. Call me Tom, being Tom. I’m actually okay with it. I don’t much love chess, anyway.

But I could have been a basketball legend. I like basketball. If I were taller, faster, and could shoot a basketball, I could have been a legend.

But I digress.

Some of the rest of you are thinking this: well, that sounds like too many hours to me, and I don’t need to be that positive about anything.

I’ll wrap both of your thoughts into one cohesive response in just a minute, but first I want to practice my jumper.


Okay, I’m back. I was 2 for 10. Is that good?


Now, here’s that cohesive response: awesome! If positivity isn’t your thing, don’t worry about it. Your thing may be chasing money, some people really get into that. Your thing may be mountain climbing or knowing everything about cars, or memorizing all the lyrics, or studying the history of man, or astrology or a certain religion or something. Those are really great things, and you’ve probably already put in a lot of time in them already. Sweet. As long as your passion isn’t collecting body parts or torturing chickens, it’s probably a pretty good one.

Follow it.

But here’s the catch: know it for sure.

You’ll know you’re on the right path if you’re pretty much happy all the time. If you spend hours upon hours chasing money but can’t ever get enough and you’re pretty much miserable doing the chasing, it’s not your thing. I know. I tried to make it my thing once and I hated it.

But if you absolutely love the chase and you absolutely love the payoff, climb that mountain. Study them stars. Play that stock market. Sing those songs. Loud and proud.

Happy Life

I read a lot of psychology. That’s still probably my favorite thing to read. There’s an entire branch of psychology, and it’s still pretty young compared to all the other branches, called positive psychology. It essentially studies the condition of being happy.

Some time in my 20’s I came across it and I began to swallow up whole volumes of the stuff from Martin Seligman, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Jonathan Haidt, Sonya Lyubomirsky, Carol Dweck, Abraham Maslow, and Viktor Frankl. Just to name a few. Studying the science behind positivity helped to shape me into the man that I am.

There’s a lot of fluff out there, too. Tons of articles and books try to give you a step-by-step procedure on how to be happy. It’s crap. There are no step-by-step procedures that work for everyone. Everyone is different, so everyone can’t chase the same path to a better life. If it’s acquisition of wealth that makes you happy you’re going to follow a different path to your personal paradise than the person who loves, say, all the creatures in the sea.

The only real secret to happiness, and all the great positive psychologists expound upon this, is following your own path to it. Gasp. Be yourself. Just make sure you know who that is, because the very first thing that happens to all of us in life is we get told by everyone who it should be. Over and over and over again, by parents and teachers and peers. By preachers and advertisers. By society. The first thing I did on the road to a happy life and a positive outlook was break that conditioning.

It’s much harder than you think.

Breaking free from the programming leads most folks into further negativity. Rebels tend to rebel. It’s hard not to get bitter when everyone is trying to move you back into the box. It’s hard not to get judgmental when you feel like you’re free but it seems like everyone else is still trapped.

I don’t think that way.

Wanna know why?

Because just the same way that everyone’s path doesn’t work for me I know that my path doesn’t work for everyone. Nobody’s better. We’re all just different.

So if you can figure out who you are, avoid judging others for who they are, and not cause harm along the way, you’ve done pretty good. In fact, you’ve done great. You can smile and laugh in the utter self-assurance that life is exactly what it should be, for you.

Life is exactly what it should be, for me.

That’s why I’m always so positive. 😊

 

Mission Revisit

As the news continued to pour out of Trump Tower this week about billionaire-selections for cabinet-level posts, and the promise of America took further hits to its central purpose, I dusted off my own mission statement to see if I was living up to snuff. As I explained back in March this document is a statement of my core principles in life; a reflection of the the value of Tom being Tom. It’s a rewarding exercise in discovery I recommend to all human beings of at least moderate self-awareness and current levels of evolution. This site can help you get started.

As I looked at mine, I immediately caught glimpse of certain passages and intentions that needed an update. I decided the best way to go about improving it was to break it down, sentence by sentence, to ensure relevancy. Below I show my work. Here’s what I learned this week, about Tom:

My mission is to delight in life, to show appreciation for each new day.

This I do remarkably well. Okay, sometimes I do this too well, but that’s the price of loving life. I believe we only get one crack at life (since I’m not the spiritual sort) so I think it’s important to enjoy every day and surround myself with positives. I don’t think any of us can afford to wallow in the muck too long, even when the world does stupid things. It does. It always has and always will, long before I came and long after I’m gone. But for these eight to ten decades, I get to be me like nobody’s business. I intend to do that well and enjoy the hell out of it. For the most part, I do.

In so doing I will not wallow in remorse of past things or fear the things to come, but instead revel in each trial knowing that it is in the fire that we are forged.

There’s that wallow word again. I haven’t been wallowing in any kind of remorse lately, so that’s good. In fact, 2016 has been a pretty good year for leaving things behind that wore heavy on me. I have been able to move on. And except for a genuine concern over the possibility of tyranny in America, I haven’t spent much time fearing the things to come. There isn’t much I can do about that, anyway, that I haven’t already done, so it would be pointless to stew too much. What’s that line about accepting the things we cannot change and wisdom and whatnot?

The last bit, about being forged in the fire, seems aggrandized to me. I’m not writing poetry here but a statement of purpose. Everything after the comma is irrelevant. Fires will come; sometimes they will forge and sometimes they will burn. I don’t need that reminder.

For myself I will practice balance, seeking a habit of meditation, moderation and temperance in my daily living.

In a way this has been a very balanced year for me. I have balanced revelry with responsibility, indulgence with discipline, and conflict with patience and understanding. But there are times when my moderation and temperance are out of whack with my mission, and that’s something I can work on. My habit of meditation fell apart early in the year but I have discovered a new level of reflection in my writing that seems to have taken its place. This section needs rewording.

For others I will strive to help them in their journey as I continue to define my own.

I’m not as good at this as I could be, and this has been a divisive year in some ways. I find myself in need of a greater understanding of the voyage that others find themselves on. We do not all have the same boat; we do not all sail the same seas. This line stays as it is but requires effort on my part in the form of greater empathy.

I will show love, devotion, adoration and encouragement to the love of my life, my wife and partner, every day.

I do this. I show my love and devotion daily and even when I misstep – which I do, bless my heart – I try to make corrections quickly. I fail at this most when I think I understand what is better for her than she does. Empathy, again. My mission will be clearer as I strengthen that quality.

I will remember that success, like happiness, is a product of effort and focus.

This line is fluff and will be removed from the next draft. The definition of success in my life is happiness, and I cover that in the first line of my mission. The rest of the process is about effort and focus. This line is unnecessary.

I will honor the thoughts and traditions of others even as I strive to break from traditional thought myself.

This is my favorite line of the whole exercise, and the very definition of who I am along my path. I am a big believer that many of the things that hold us back as individuals, and as a humanity, are related to our obedience to traditional thought. Things like religion and nationalism are impediments to our evolution. I am always seeking to shed such constraints to be freer in my own world view, more objective in my analysis. However, I strive to never disrespect others’ devotion to tradition. For many, it is that which defines them in their personal journey. It is not mine to judge, but to learn.

I will always seek to gain a higher perspective on my path to wisdom and personal evolution. I will find solace, and a creative outlet, in writing.

Mostly fluff. Sounds airy and all, but unnecessary except the last part.


So, after a year of staying mostly on mission, the statement gets a revision while it becomes more succinct:

My mission is to delight in life, to show appreciation for each new day. In so doing I will not wallow in remorse of past things or fear the things to come. For myself I will practice balance, seeking revelry and contemplation in equal measure. For others I will strive for empathy so that I can help them in their chosen path. I will show love, devotion, adoration and encouragement to the love of my life, my wife and partner, every day. I will honor the thoughts and traditions of others even as I strive to break from traditional thought myself. I will seek solace, and creative outlet, in writing.

Nice. But I think I’d like to make it more colloquial, like I’m talking to myself like a real person:

My primary goal is to delight in life. Just enjoy it. Time is short and there are so many great things about being alive. I want to spend as little time as possible wallowing in what was or worrying about what will come. I want balance. I love nothing so much as revelry, nothing so much as reflection. I want to understand the journey of others, and help them along their way. I will love the missus unconditionally at all times because she’s the best. I will be who I am, and let others be who they are, honoring their traditions even as I break from tradition myself.

And I will write. I will write all the time. That’s my thing.

I think I may like that better. Either way, it’s small enough to fit in my wallet now.

So tell me … what’s in your wallet? 😉

On Slowing Down

One good thing about being sick is it makes you slow down. I’ve been battling this bug for almost a week now and in that time I haven’t had my usual gusto, my usual push to “get something done; now!” I’ve had to relax. I’m not always as good at that as I could be.

Slowing down leads to intellectual exercise. Reading is one of my favorite intellectual exercises, but in my regular hustle-and-bustle mode I skim more than I read. I get the gist. I don’t digest. It feeds the beast but it hardly nourishes the soul. I’ve had more time to digest what I read this week.

Another favorite intellectual exercise of mine is to simply reflect. To sit, or lie, in a quiet place and sort through the mountains of data moving through my head. It’s shocking the amount of input we have to assimilate as human beings in the modern world. We become natural compartmentalizers, sifting through the information and storing it in places like “look at later,” “trash,” or “will I need this on the test?” It’s boggling. Meditation is a fantastic way to process it all. Our brains are natural servers and given a little bit of time and a moment away the mind can sort it all out on its own. I think that’s why a lot of folks like hiking in the woods; it’s a natural break from all these inputs.

But here’s what happens to me when I’m “away”:

I’m a natural thinker. I suppose we all are. My mind is always processing this stuff and storing it in that “look at later” folder. Most of the time, that’s the last I see that stuff. I have ideas. I have thoughts I could turn into potentialities, turn into intellectual exercises, turn into blog posts, game ideas and hours-long discourses at local watering holes. I have ideas I could turn into money. But in the cacophony of modern life I tend to pass up more ideas than I use. Who’s got the time to make money?

But in these quiet times, when I’m too sick to run around, too ill to hustle, and too tired to care, the ideas come faster. The ideas get better. The brain works harder on compartmentalizing and it finds a way to make sense of the cacophony. I begin to think I could do something really great, really soon.

But I’m terrible at writing stuff down.

I know, that’s funny, huh?

The kid who won’t shut up, this list person that I am, who likes nothing better than to take his half-baked ideas and blurt them out to the world on social media or a personal blog is terrible at writing things down.

“That’s a great idea, Tom,” Tom will say, “You have to write that down when you get home!”

Too late.

By the time I get home – or to work, or back from the bathroom, or out of the shower – a dozen new things have confronted me. Another text. A golden dog. Dinner plans. A cold beer. A moment of procrastination leads to a hundred more distractions. I’m a terribly unfocused man.

I’m the first to point out my strengths and the first to point out my flaws. I’m a great thinking man. I do it as well as anyone I know. I’m terrible at applying thought to constructive activity. Maybe worse than anyone I know.

Oh well.

I’ll record that transgression, assimilate the data, promise to get better, and store it all in the “look at later” folder. I enjoy the process of thought far better than the application of thought, anyway.


All week long the mornings have felt better than the afternoons, but yesterday morning was particularly bad. By evening, I was wrecked. At bedtime I took some sleepy medicine, it wired me, and I spent the entire night thinking in silence. It was awesome. I had some really good ideas. I was going to spring up and write them all down this morning.

I did this instead.

What can I say? I never even used to do this. I suppose if I live to be a hundred years old, and if my mind stays intact, I might just evolve into the sort of person that takes all these neat ideas, packs ’em between his mitts, and hurls ’em at the world like snowballs. Maybe.

But I’m starting to feel better, I think. I’m starting to get restive. Pretty soon there’s going to be something to get done. Pretty soon it will need to be done “now.” My gusto will return. My hustle-and-bustle will be on. In that world, Tom will go back to being Tom and all these ideas will be shelved.

I guess that’s for the best.

Life’s too short to spend all of it thinking. 😉

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 …

 

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.

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.

The Meaning of Life

meaning of life

The other night I got caught up in a continuous philosophical loop at about 2 in the morning. As sleepless nights go it wasn’t a bad one, full of fret or anxiety … this one was about what really matters. Literally. At 2 AM in a half-sleep stupor on the verge of restful slumber I muttered these words deep down in my psyche:

“What really matters?”

That subject stayed with me over the next 3 hours as I mulled about the concept, about what is really important in life. There are some trivial, peripheral dramas playing out around me right now – and some not-so-trivial major ones as well – so the question became a vital one. I needed an answer to help me make a decision. I needed to refine my focus.

Earlier in the evening I was listening to music, playing some Madden football on the PC and … brace yourselves … drinking some beer. An old song came on that I like by a band that no one likes at all anymore. The song talked about the end of life and, more specifically, how a person might spend their final day on Earth. That song played again in my head, like a soundtrack, in the wee hours of the morning while I contemplated the truly essential bits in life.

Now I’m not here to say that I know what’s important in your life or that there is some universal equation for fulfillment. Happiness varies. What makes your life meaningful may be the exact opposite of what makes mine worthwhile. Some folks fish for zen; others run for peace. There is no problem with what you like to do, with how you spend your living days – or with how you would spend your final one – as long as your pleasure doesn’t increase anyone else’s pain.

Unless pain happens to be their pleasure, but that’s a horse-whip of a different color.

In the three hours I had between the time I asked the question until the time when it was morally acceptable to get up, I answered it for myself. If you’re my friend reading this you already know that my last day would involve time with big beautiful golden dogs, a good three hours in a bar, and an evening of wrapping up RPG storylines. There would be loud music, superheroes, the ’99 super bowl, a lot of writing, a bit of reading, and a barrel of beer. You know that my beautiful companion would be by my side every moment possible. You know that you would, too.

Every day that I am alive I spend as much time as I possibly can with my wife, with my dogs, with my friends, with the Avengers, with the Rams, with my imagination, with this medium, and with a safe amount of ice cold beer. I don’t fish and I don’t hunt and I don’t run unless I absolutely have to. I don’t begrudge another person their pleasures, though. Not ever.

Take a moment today, if you have one, to ask the question of yourself. Try not to wait until 2 in the morning, and please don’t wait until your last day. But if it was your last day, how would you spend it? Once you know the answer to that question you will know what really matters. Go and do as much of that stuff every day as you possibly can. I’m happy to say that I do.

Hey, I guess there was sort of a universal equation for fulfillment, after all.

Now plug in your variables and solve for why.

Spring Resolutions, Tom 4.0

upgrade

As the long winter passes and the bright days of summer approach, I tend to make some promises. I’m not really a “new year resolution” kind of guy because the new year is smack dab in the middle of the most important two-month span in football; I won’t keep any promises with the playoffs approaching. Plus, who wants to exercise in the winter? Baby, it’s cold outside. So I start making my promises right around the third week of March, right around the advent of spring.

I usually make a list, and I usually number it strategically from one to whatever. After moving things up and down the list to find the perfect sequence of priority I generally decide they are in no particular order. So here it is, my list of 2016 promises, in no particular order:

  1. I want to spend more time with my wife. We both work an awful lot, in jobs that don’t have a merciful amount of flex time. The time we get to spend together is usually one or the other of us cooking a quick meal, exchanging funny customer stories, watching an episode of something like “Fringe” or “Longmire,” and then heading off to reading and showers before calling it a night. A brief “good morning” every day and off to work we go. I’d like to get her out of town a bit. I’d like to get her to the cinema more. We both miss sushi.
  2. I want to get in shape. I’m a little older so I don’t really care much about “vanity shape,” but I am starting to get concerned about “healthy shape.” My weight hovers around 185 most winters, which isn’t bad, and I’m usually close to 180 during spring, summers, and falls. It’s acceptable. I have a lot of size 34 pants. I have decent energy and, most of the time, I feel good enough taking my shirt off to jump in a pool. But five years ago, at this time of the season, I was around 175 and all them size 33’s fit, too. Comfortably. I was addicted to svelte. I was so intoxicated by healthy weight loss I found myself at 166 by mid-summer. 166. I slipped into some 32’s; I was damn near skeletal. Although my intention isn’t to find myself in the realm of emaciated again, I’ve had a running goal for 5 years to find myself consistently at the 175 mark and it’s been five years since I’ve seen it. I want to see it again. I want access to all my pants.
  3. I want to read more. Winter naturally kills my inclination to read because my favorite time to read is immediately after work and my favorite place to do it is on the deck. There is absolutely no motivation to read on a deck after work in the cold. Zero chance. So the only time I really read is right before bed time. Nine times out of ten that lasts no more than 20 minutes before the book, or e-book, falls onto my face signaling that it’s time to shut out the lights. You haven’t lived until your tablet PC falls onto your face at the end of the night. If someone would record it I’m betting I’d make funniest home videos. My wife laughs at me every time. So my intention is to read more at times when I can stay awake for it. I might even learn something, and the bruise on my nose would finally go away.
  4. I want to get more done. I’m a procrastinator, no doubt about it. If I can find any reason, any reason at all, to postpone an effort, I will. Yard work, in particular, is a victim of procrastination around my house. I hate yard work. Probably this stems from nearly 20 years in the yard work industry and the daily toll it took on me mentally. Partially this stems from the fact that I’m far more of an informational worker than I have ever been a labor worker. I’d rather sit around and make lists of things to do and strategic ways to get them done than to actually do them. That’s a manager’s mindset. Those cold days of winter make for good excuses to postpone outdoor things. Plus, football is on, right? Well, the sun is shining now (some days) and the only thing on TV is golf and cars racing in circles. I’m just not into that. I can get more done; I’m out of excuses. Or at least until the Lakers get good again … then I can put off yard work until June.
  5. I want to drink less. There, I said it. Out loud, and in a blog. God help me, the repercussions of this one will be profound. For some time now I’ve been experimenting with this, cutting back here and there, challenging myself to bouts of ridiculous and inappropriate sobriety just to see how things go. They didn’t go too bad. There have been times recently where I wish I would have had some drinks when I promised I would not, and times when I wish I hadn’t though I did. I think I’ve found a happy balance. I’ve quit altogether during the week, and that’s improved my mental acuity and level of energy. I like that. I could become addicted to that. I’ve measured the units I do consume in a sitting to make sure I get my fill but not too much. I’ve turned down a lot of free shots. I just don’t like the way it feels anymore, the next day. The next week. I’ve created rules for myself that have worked, but haven’t always worked. I’m still prone to dissipation; I’m the very definition of Jung’s Fool. I’ll make my rules and break them, too. I’m a living constitution, with the daily ability to amend. But if you see me out there, and you want to do something nice, buy me a beer or compliment me on my blog. Give me a hug or something. But don’t buy me a shot, I won’t drink it anymore. I’ve sealed that pact.

This was a lengthy one, so thanks for making it this far. Life is a long mission, one with many roads, and we are constantly in a state of stasis or growth. We are sticking to the old program or downloading an upgrade.  A year ago or so I was bowling with a buddy when I was in league and he remarked that I was only on my 3rd beer in the 3rd game and that it wasn’t the first week he’d seen me so light on the bottle. I told him it was on purpose and that it was only the start of a long journey of evolution, or something like that. He joked that I was Tom 2.0. I ran with it. Right about now I would say I hover around Tom 3.8. I’m installing another upgrade today. Like all first editions it’s going to be buggy as hell but I get the notion that once it smooths out, once all the patches download, it’s going to be the best version of me yet.

I can’t wait to boot it up.