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2016 Year in Review

It’s already that time of the year again where we look back on the last year of our lives and look forward to the next.  It is useful because it allows us to review what we did right, and what we can improve on in the future. You can see my previous years here: 20102011201220132014, 2015 . Here’s a look back in what I did in 2016.

  • I rang in the new year on Koh Chang in Thailand with some friends (Kemji, Austin, Kate, Josh, Champoo, Beth), a beer cooler, and an amazing beach sunset.
  • In January/February I spent a month in Indonesia firstly in Bali with Kemji and then 3 weeks in more remote Indonesia with my good friend Andrew.
  • In March I went to Samut Prakan to the Mueng Boran Ancient City with Kemji, and also to Hong Kong with a couple friends (Steve and Josh).
  • In April I went to Nan province for Songkran to spend time with Kemji’s family.
  • In May I went to Koh Samed and paraglided for the first time.  At the end of May went wakeboarding with friends in Bangkok.
  • In June I went to the US to visit family and travel with my girlfriend to San Francisco, Denver, Salt Lake City, and Las Vegas. I also bought a quadcopter drone, which has been fantastic for aerial photography.
  • In July, I road-tripped through Yellowstone to Canada with my friend Richard.
  • In August I went to Sweden and Romania to visit with my old friend Constantin.
  • In September/October I went back to Europe to travel with my brother John and his friends for a couple weeks to Oktoberfest in Munich, then to Prague, and Poland.
  • At the end of October I went to Phuket for celebrate Kemji’s birthday.
  • In November I went to Singapore, and also ran into my old friend Ayan from the Phillipines. At the end of November, we went to Koh Samed again with a few of Kemji’s friends.
  • For New Years this year I’m heading to the northern part of Thailand (Chiang Mai, Pai, and Chiang Rai) with Kemji.

What went well this year?

Health: Aside from all the time I was away from home and out of routine, I’d consider this year one of the best for my health in my life.  I was running or lifting weights 5 days a week, drank less than I had in previous years, slept consistently well, and only got sick once or twice.  Over the last 6 months or so I’ve been really working on my flexibility after being convinced that flexibility is one of the most important aspects of being healthy. I’m also on a 50+ daily meditation streak.  I can say I’m healthier now than I was a year ago.

Knowledge: I read nearly 30 books this year, and listened to countless podcasts.  I’m far more enlightened now than ever before, though it’s only a glimpse of what is to come.  I still find it incredible how much one can take away from reading a single good book. I’ve got into the routine of leaving a review of every book I read along with my takeaways – this provides a good record of my thoughts.

Business: I’ve launched several new projects and scaled out older ones.  I’ve learned quite a few big lessons this year and have increased my skills in various ways. This year has been one of the best I’ve ever had, with lots of lessons learned along the way.

What didn’t go so well this year?

Health: While I have improved my health from the last year and am making progress, I still have a long way to go.  Next year I’ll be drinking a maximum of once per month, and continuing to work on my fitness (endurance, flexibility, strength).

Writing: While I’ve written more this year, I still haven’t made writing a daily routine, which was one of my goals for the year.  I find writing not only brings new ideas into my mind, it forces me to coherently put down thoughts that otherwise may be jumbled in my mind.  It also provides a nice record of my thoughts as I grow older.

Knowledge: I’ve noticed when I travel I lose routine, and one of them is consistent studying/reading.  For example, when studying Thai language this year, if I was on the road I’d miss several days of studying in a row, or perhaps not read for a week.  This is something I need to work on – just because I’m on the road doesn’t mean I shouldn’t put aside time for these tasks.

What am I working toward?

I’ve had quite a few shifts in mindset this year that have influenced how I view life.  Part of this is driven by what I’ve read and learned this year, people I’ve talked to, and experiences I’ve had, and part I think is just myself growing up.  Thoughts are just thoughts, so I’ve began to realize that is just what they are. I’ve also shifted my mindset more toward financial freedom.  While my goal has always been to enjoy each day as much as possible without too much sacrifice, now I have some goals in mind in terms of “how can I become financially independent?” I’ve learned a lot about investing and 2016 was my first year where I actually started to build a portfolio of things that I consider long term investments. I plan to continue this practice into 2017 and beyond.

Health wise I plan to keep meditating daily and improving my practice.  I plan to attend a 10 day Vipassana meditation retreat in 2017, though unsure where that will be in the world.  I’m also working towards a free-standing hand stand, which has required me to work on my flexibility a lot, which obviously takes time and can’t be rushed.

Work-wise, I’m always trying to get better with managing time, setting goals and deadlines, working on routine, and balancing my work/hobbies.  It will be a life-long process but I’m quite happy with the rate of improvement.

All Together

Once again, this year was the fastest year of my life. Perhaps every year we get older will perceptually feel faster than the previous, though I’m unsure.  Perhaps it depends on circumstance and mindset, and the future is unpredictable. All I can do is live how I see best using the knowledge, relationships, and circumstances I have. I’ll end this year with my top 5 book recommendations of the year, and my top 5 posts of the year:

Books:

  • Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind – Yuval Harari
  • The Life You Can Save – Peter Singer
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman
  • World Order – Henry Kissinger
  • Free Will – Sam Harris

Posts:

Thanks for reading. Happy New year, see you in 2017!

Note: You can follow what I’m reading and things I find interesting daily on my G+Twitter and/or Facebook page.

A Short Mindfulness Guide

There is a lot of talk these days about meditation.  While it is often associated with Buddhism, it really needs no attachment, and this post will hopefully enlighten you on the practice of meditation and why it’s useful.

Mindfulness is essentially being aware of ones conscious state at the present moment. In modern day, the age of attention means there is always someone or something attempting to capture our attention.  As a result, it is ever more rare to have moments where you’re doing nothing.

Why is doing nothing important? People say we spend our entire lives lost in thought.  As crazy as that sounds, it’s true.  Thoughts are constantly arising out of consciousness.  Meditation is the practice of simply observing those thoughts as they arise.  The more you meditate, the more you realize that we are, most of the time, lost in thought.  Having extended downtime to simply sit and think is important to our creative minds, but having time to sit and *not think* is important to our lives just as much.

Studies show meditation makes you more relaxed, improves focus, makes you happier, and helps brings clarity to your thoughts – all things that most humans strive for, especially in modern western culture.  In the Tim Ferriss Podcast where over 100 of the worlds top performers are interviewed, 80% of them meditate daily.  Today, there is no doubt it is a beneficial tool to help us live better, more relaxed lives.  You can find a few links below for further reading:

“Human beings have this unique ability to focus on things that aren’t happening right now. That allows them to reflect on the past and learn from it; it allows them to anticipate and plan for the future; and it allows them to imagine things that might never occur,” said Matthew Killingsworth, a doctoral student in psychology and lead author of the study.

“At the same time, it seems that human beings often use this ability in ways that are not productive and furthermore can be destructive to our happiness,” he added.

The team conclude that reminiscing, thinking ahead or daydreaming tends to make people more miserable, even when they are thinking about something pleasant.

The authors write in the journal Science: “A human mind is a wandering mind and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.”

So what is meditation and how do you do it?

New and not sure what it is? Mindfulness is simply a state of open, nonjudgmental, and non-distracted attention to the contents of consciousness, whether pleasant or unpleasant.  Meditation is incredibly useful and beneficial – it has nothing to do with beliefs, and everything to do with being relaxed, focused, clear-minded, and happy. It is a practice, and the more you do it, the better it becomes.

There are many different kinds and techniques to practice. The simplest one and one that works well is a simple breathing technique.

Set a timer for 10 minutes, get into a comfortable position away from distraction, close your eyes, and focus simply on breathing in and eye of your nose. Try to focus entirely on the sensation of the air going through your nose.

Within a minute, your mind will likely be wandering and thinking of unrelated things – that’s normal and okay. As soon as you notice this, just go back to breathing and focusing as much as you can on sensation of the air going in and out of your nose (this is a form of meditation called Vipassana, generally referred to as mindfulness). The more you do it, the better you get. The goal is to simply observe your thoughts as they arise out of consciousness, and simply observe, but not react to them. It’s a practice which means the more you do it, the better you get.

After you do this a few times, you’ll begin to notice that when you’re solely focused on the sensations in your nose, thoughts may try to come in or go, and you begin to realize quite clearly what they are – simply thoughts. The goal here is two fold:

  1. Realize thoughts are just thoughts.  Happy thoughts are just thoughts, and sad thoughts are just thoughts.  The more you observe them, the more you can control how you react to them, and ideally, don’t react to them at all.
  2. With practice, you’re able to focus more on the present-moment sensations without your mind wandering.  This is a practice, and the benefit of this means that you’re truly in the present, not distracted by thoughts taking you away from it.

Skeptical about all of this? Try it.  30 day challenges are awesome ways to explore new habits, ideas, and ways of living in your life.  More often than not the results will surprise you.  Set a goal, for example, to meditate 20 minutes each day for 30 days straight. I’d recommend using the mobile app Calm, which allows you to document your daily active streaks, time your sessions, and hold you accountable for continual practice.

You can check it out here (it’s free):
Apple (iPhone): https://itunes.apple.com/…/calm-meditation-tec…/id571800810…
Android (Samsung, Nexus, etc.): https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.calm.android

Quantifying Meditation

Humans like direct feedback and having results that are noticeable. For example, going to the gym consistently will show results over the long run, but it may take a month or more straight to begin noticing results.  As a result, most people don’t regularly go to the gym.  You have to trust that the actions you’re taking are leading to positive results.

On the other hand, if you read a book, you see the results right away – you see the book becoming closer to completion and you notice the knowledge or ideas in your head beginning to make you think in new ways.  As a result, you keep reading because the results are instantly noticeable.

With mediation, it’s similar to exercise – it’s a practice that takes time to notice the results, and therefore you have to trust that your actions are leading to improvements in your life.  After the first session or even after the 10th, you may think that what you’re doing isn’t useful.  But again, it’s a practice, and like going to the gym consistently, if you meditate consistently you’ll notice results over the longer run (in 30 days you’ll notice results in your focus and clarity).

With this said, there are some cool new technologies that enable us to get more direct feedback from our meditation practice.  In the Quantified Body podcast on meditation, they discuss a new device that tracks your brain waves and shows how with meditation, you calm your mind.

…we talk about improving your focus and meditation practice with the Muse Calm app. There are many benefits to meditation. Some find that it helps increase their calm. Other benefits include reducing stress, and changing the structure of the brain.

In spite of these benefits, many find it hard to either start or continue meditating. People wonder if they are doing it right, if they are making progress, or if they are getting results.

Muse is a meditation tech device that tracks your brain waves. Using the Muse Calm app, you get feedback on how focused your mind is. Users can see if they are getting the results they want. It also helps you refine your technique in the moment. This feedback and reward system makes it easier to practice long-term.

With devices like these, you can get instant feedback and know that what you’re doing is beneficial, which then would help you continue practicing.

In the future as more studies are done, I think meditation will become more and more common.  Many people are skeptical of the idea as it is associated with monks, religion, or hippies, but really, it is a useful tool for all humans.

There is a lot more reading that can be done on the subject, so it is worth exploring more if you’re interested.  The more you read on the subject, the more you’ll be interested in adding it to your daily routine.

If you have any questions or want to have further discussion on the topic, please leave a comment below – I’m always interested in hearing feedback.

Rural and Urban Bonds

The paradox of choice essentially says that the more choices you have, the more difficulty you’ll have in making a choice and the less satisfied you’ll be with the choice you make.  This is because when you make a choice, you begin to doubt if other choices which were available could have been better.  While making the choice itself, you also have a hard time making the choice in the first place due to the shear selection opportunity. This affects us daily when it comes to choosing food from a menu, buying clothes to wear, renting a house, buying a car, and choosing relationships.

“In 2000, psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper published a remarkable study. On one day, shoppers at an upscale food market saw a display table with 24 varieties of gourmet jam. Those who sampled the spreads received a coupon for $1 off any jam. On another day, shoppers saw a similar table, except that only six varieties of the jam were on display. The large display attracted more interest than the small one. But when the time came to purchase, people who saw the large display were one-tenth as likely to buy as people who saw the small display.” (?)

I want to use this paradox of choice concept to discuss something I’ve thought about recently – how our relationship bonds vary based off our choice availability.

Imagine you live in a small city of 1,000 people 100 years ago where every family knew each other and everyone was well connected.  The bonds you have with the people around you are quite strong and reputable, since everyone knows everyone and your choice of friends, girlfriends, and boyfriends is limited.  You’re quite satisfied with your relationships because there isn’t really a paradox of choice here – competition doesn’t really exist for your bonds.  If you have a great girlfriend, your bond is likely much stronger than if you were surrounded by 100 other girls on a daily basis who were single, looking, and interested in you.  This is because the paradox of choice would then exist.

Now imagine you live in a big city of 10,000,000 people today where no one really knows each other and you’re bonded only to the people you interact with regularly. You have an abundant amount of choices of people to bond with, which partner to choose, who to befriend, etc.  And even when you find a partner or a group of friends, they’re at constant competition with others because of the abundance of other people around daily who compete.  The paradox of choice is now obvious, and the effects of it as described above are also obvious.

These two scenarios I think represent quite realistically how we live today in urban areas (weaker bonds), and to an extent, how many people live today in rural areas (tigher bonds).  The difference, in addition to the people around us, is that there is the internet which adds access to abundance and connections.  Instead of living in a small town and having to befriend people locally, you can go online and meet people in nearby cities.  You can live in 1 place and meet another person online in a completely different place and bond with them.

I’d argue this concept has caused us to be less satisfied with our connections, and that we make weaker bonds compared to the past before urbanization was on such a wide scale.  In 1790, only about one out of every twenty Americans (on average) lived in urban areas (cities),  but this ratio had dramatically changed to one out of four by 1870, one out of two by 1920, two out of three in the 1960s, and four out of five in the 2000s (?). 80.7% of Americans now live in urban areas (?). Bhutan, for example, is 39%, up from 11% just 40 years ago. (?) This trend is the same worldwide.

More people are moving to urban areas, as well as more rural areas becoming urban, so don’t expect this trend to slow (?).  Does this mean that our bonds will continue to weaken?

You may be interested in the devalue of abundance article I wrote a couple months ago.  It’s related and these observations are worth thinking about.

Memories and Time

According to Google, a memory is “the faculty by which the mind stores and remembers information.” Each of us have our own constant experience, which is our consciousness.  It is known to be aware of very little of what is actually happening around us, even though we feel like we’re aware of a lot.

When we consciously recognize something, it has the possibility of becoming a memory. But it is fair to say that the vast majority of what we experience in life is not remembered, and what we remember is just a memory, which is a memory of a memory. Think for a second about what a memory is – it is our memory of what we remembered.  If we remembered something wrong or different than it was actually experienced, our memory is also wrong. Memories say nothing about what actually happened, they simply are recollections of what we recall, which is open to massive distortion.

Life & Memories

Our lives are memories. It is made up of things we remember.  Most things we don’t remember, but the things we do make up what we see as our life.  So, in essence, the more memories you have, the more of life you have.

Try to remember what you did on Tuesday 3 weeks ago.  If it was a normal day, odds are you’d have a very hard time remembering what you did, what you ate, etc. When we’re in a routine, our brains don’t choose to store those days as memories, because they aren’t unique and not worth remembering (typically aren’t critical to our survival, our enjoyment, etc.).  Instead, we remember things that were unique, gave us a lot of pleasure, were fun and exciting, or things which were really bad and tragic.  We’ve evolved to remember this way as it is a mechanism for survival which frees up our conscious mind to focus on that (habits work in similar ways).

Did you know long term memories are remembered from a 3rd person perspective? Try to imagine yourself as a child and you’ll likely picture yourself as if you were looking at yourself from another persons view.  However, short term memories are recalled in 1st person, as if we were experiencing ourselves.  This says a lot about where and how memories are stored, altered, and changed throughout time.

Subconscious Memories

We’ve known for awhile that our subconscious can also have a form of memory (nondeclarative memories).  We can be primed subconsciously which influences us consciously (modern advertising does a lot of this).  We can also dream subconsciously and later when we’re conscious recall the dream. This is fascinating to think about.

“…scientists generally divide memories broadly into two types: declarative and nondeclarative (sometimes referred to as explicit and implicit). Declarative memories are things you know you remember, like the color of your car, or what happened yesterday afternoon. Nondeclarative memories are the things you know unconsciously, like how to ride a bike or how to draw a shape while looking at it in a mirror (or what a word flashed rapidly across a computer screen means).”

“Psychologists make a further distinction between semantic memories, or memories for facts and concepts, and episodic memories, or memories of the experiences of our own lives. Recalling that I had eggs for breakfast this morning would be an episodic memory. Knowing that breakfast is the first meal of the day is semantic memory. Episodic memories are located in time and space: They have a where and a when attached to them. Semantic memories are located outside of time and space, as free-flowing pieces of knowledge. (From “Moonwalking with Einstein“)

Last year, I wrote an article on how we’re living in a age far beyond our comprehension, inspired by realizing how much our subconscious dictates what we do in lives. Our lives are the things we do repetitively, which is mostly done subconsciously. It’s worth reading to learn more about how and why this is, and how priming works.

Time & Memories

Memories allow us to mark the passage of time. Without them, there isn’t a concept of time. The more marks you have throughout the passage of time, the more filled your life seems.  If a month goes by without a unique moment (pleasure, tragady, etc.), in the future you won’t remember that month anymore than a date on the calendar.  If you think back through the year 2005, unless it was an especially unique year, you likely won’t be able to remember an event from every month of that year, if even a few events at all.

In 1962, professor Michel Siffre wanted to test how memories affect time perception. The professor lived in complete isolation in a cave for 2 months, with no light so he couldn’t see the sun and the passing of each day, no clock, and no calendar.  His plan was to spend 2 months in the cave, and his colleagues would come get him when 2 months had passed.  He slept and ate only when his body told him to as he looked to discover how the natural rhythms of life would be affected without “time”.

What he discovered was fascinating – because there were no memories to mark time (everything in the cave looked the same, and each passing day was more or less the same), he thought only 1 month had passed when his colleagues came to tell him that 2 months had passed.  His days melted into each other, each indistinguishable from one another.  He was even unable to remember what happened even the day before, because his perception of time was almost completely gone. His perception of time had been compressed in half – 2 months seemed like 1.

The big takeaway here is that making memories anchors time, and makes time seem slower as it lengthens the perception of time.  With no memories, there are no anchors and our perception of time becomes skewed.

The Most Forgetful Person in the World

In the book “Moonwalking with Einstein” by Joshua Foer, Foer discusses the sport of competitive memory, and provides some insight into the science of memory.  He discusses an amnesiac, “EP”,  who can’t remember anything past short term memory, and also can’t form new memories.  Since his twenties he’s been this way, and for 40+ years he’s woke up seemingly meeting his wife for the first time each day. For the 15 seconds or so that his short term memory works, he can talk, but as soon as he gets distracted, the previous memory is vanished forever. I recall hearing about EP originally in “The Power of Habit“, a highly recommended read.

“EP has two types of amnesia — anterograde, which means he can’t form new memories, and retrograde, which means he can’t recall old memories either, at least not since about 1950.”

“Without a memory, EP has fallen completely out of time. he has no stream of consciousness, just droplets that immediately evaporate. If you were to take the watch off his wrist — or, more cruelly, change the time — he’d be completely lost. Trapped in this limbo of an eternal present, between a past he can’t remember and a future he can’t contemplate, he lives a sedentary life, completely free from worry. In his chronic forgetfulness, EP has achieved a kind of pathological enlightenment, a perverted vision of the Buddhist ideal of living entirely in the present.”

Without time, there would be no need for a memory. But without a memory, would there be such a thing as time? I don’t mean time in the sense that, say, physicists speak of it: the fourth dimension, the independent variable, the quantity that compresses when you approach the speed of light. I mean psychological time, the tempo at which we experience life’s passage. Time as a mental construct.”

The connection between time and memory is very prevalent, though many don’t consider how connected time and memory are.  It is worth thinking about more.

Monotony collapses time; novelty unfolds it. “If you spend your life sitting in a cubicle and passing papers, one day is bound to blend unmemorably into the next — and disappear. That’s why it’s important to change routines regularly, and take vacations to exotic locales, and have as many new experiences as possible that can serve to anchor our memories. Creating new memories stretches out psychological time, and lengthens our perception of our lives.”

Life seems to speed up as we get older for 2 reasons:

  1. Because life gets less memorable as we get older. “If to remember is to be human, then remembering more means being more human.
  2. Because we’re consciously more distracted by our expanding awareness, allowing time to pass without consciously thinking about it or creating firm memories.

“Like the proverbial tree that falls without anyone hearing it, can an experience that isn’t remembered be meaningfully said to have happened at all? Socrates thought the unexamined life was not worth living. How much more so the unremembered life?”

Foer goes on to say: “I’m working on expanding subjective time so that it feels like I live longer … The idea is to avoid that feeling you have when you get to the end of the year and feel like, where the hell did that go?” said Ed Cooke (World Memory Competitor), “And how are you going to do that?” I asked. “By remembering more. By providing my life with more chronological landmarks. By making myself more aware of time’s passage.

“Our subjective experience of time is highly variable. We all know that days can pass like weeks and months can feel like years, and that the opposite can be just as true: a month or year can zoom by in what feels like no time at all. Our lives are structured by our memories of events.”

A meaningful relationship between two people cannot sustain itself only in the present tense.
Josh Foer

“One of the many mysteries of memory is why an amnesic like EP should be able to remember when the atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima but not the much more recent fall of the Berlin Wall. For some unknown reason, it’s the most recent memories that blur first in most amnesics, while distant memories retain their clarity. This phenomenon is known as Ribot’s Law, after the nineteenth-century French psychologist who first noted it, and it’s a pattern found also in Alzheimer’s patients. It suggests something profound: that our memories are not static. Somehow, as memories age, their complexion changes. Each time we think about a memory, we integrate it more deeply into our web of other memories, and therefore make it more stable and less likely to be dislodged.”

now more than ever, as a the role of memory in culture erodes at a faster pace than ever before, we need to cultivate our ability to remember. Our memories make us who we are.
Josh Foer in Moonwalking with Einstein

It is absolutely fascinating – the fact that every thing that happens to us becomes a memory, and how we recall them is how we recall our lives. It is interesting to think about. What we remember is just a memory of what we remember, and is often skewed from what really happened.

“Our working memories serve a critical role as a filter between our perception of the world and our long-term memory of it.  In fact, dividing memory between short-term and long-term stores is such a savvy way of managing information that most computers are built around the same model” (that our brains are known to use).

Conclusion

For the past 10 years or so since I realized how time perception changes as we get older, I’ve been curious about how we form memories, how to remember memories and if they’re accurate, how to improve memory and push its limits, and how we make the most of our time.  I remember as a child sitting and watching the clock when I wanted to leave the classroom and that always seemed to slow things down.  As I’ve become older, more distracted and less willing to sit and watch a clock in my persuit to slow down time, I’ve more and more realized how quickly time does seem to pass, and how short our lives really are.

The fact that our lives are short is perhaps a good thing, because it hopefully motivates us to make the most of the time we have here, enjoy the things in front of us, change the things we don’t enjoy, and improve each day to make our lives the best that we possibly can.  But just being happy and enjoying yourself isn’t enough, I think it each of our responsibilities to contribute to better lives for future generations, just as past generations have given us privileges that we get to enjoy today, like the ability to read this from the other side of the world.

Enjoy life, make memories, improve memories, and help others create memories. If our life is a timeline of memories, the way to have more of life is to create more memories.

Envy

The way different societies and cultures exist is fascinating. For example, countries like America tend to be very individualistic, while Asian countries like Thailand tend to be more communal.

Through noticing these differences in thought and how people view other people, along with themselves, I began thinking about how and why it is this way, and how it affects how we live our lives.

The dominate emotion in society is envy, driven from the idea of equality. It’s easy to believe that anyone can do anything, and that we are all equal. This drives envy, and it plays a huge role in how we view others in society today, how others view us, and how we view ourselves.

When you can’t relate to someone, you don’t envy them because you don’t see them as being equal to you. The closer people are in age, background, and process of identification, the more likely there is to be envy.  Modern society is especially good at pushing this on us – the spirit of equality is there, but reality isn’t. People aren’t equal, don’t have equal chances, and everyone is different. Some people come from wealthy backgrounds, others don’t.  Some people are talented in certain ways which shape their opportunities, others aren’t.  These differences have huge implications as to where and what people do in society.

As a whole, you can make some general observations about society, such as children of wealthier families tend to earn more throughout their career. This, for example, could be because wealthier families tend to have better education, and better education typically leads to better careers and more opportunities.

However, there are obvious outliers and it’s worth considering them, especially when anyone can become an outlier.  You hear stories about people from poor backgrounds building incredible things for the world and thus becoming rich, and while it is rare, it does happen.

It’s worth thinking about trends in society, but they say nothing as to how you will turn out. Defining your own mission, values, goals, and aspirations may be helpful in guiding you in a direction to see fit.  If you begin directing most of your daily actions toward those things, you’ll notice a much lower burnout rate and whenever the question of “why?” comes up, you’ll have it answered.

In an age when everyone is trying to capture our attention, stepping back regularly to look at where you are in life can prove to be enlightening. What things you can improve on? What can you do to help people? Being grateful for all the things that fill your life certainly helps relieve pressure on the dominate emotion of envy.

Choosing a career? A business to build? A lifestyle to live? Don’t envy people. Work with others. Learn from others. Listen to others. Help others. But be independent and question things.  Something that is right for one is not necessarily right for another.

In his TED talk which inspired this post, philosopher Alain De Button suggests that we aren’t living in a world that is necessarily materialistic, we instead peg social rewards from material possessions.  He argues that it isn’t the materials we necessarily want, it is the social rewards from the materials.

Next time you see someone driving a Ferrari, think of them as someone incredibly vulnerable and in need of love
– Alain De Button

Never before have expectations been so high in society, and to an extent, for the right reasons.  We live in a day in age with huge amounts of opportunity, which arguably is shown through the rapidly growth driving massive income inequality.  “Anyone can do anything”, and with this comes spirit of equality.   And out of this comes envy.

In individualistic societies, people own their successes, but they also own their failures.  Since you can’t be successful at everything, this leads to a lower self esteem.

Because of all the unknowns about the future, our existence, the universe, consciousness, among other things, we constantly question ourselves and others.  In a day in age of opportunity, but also of more envy than ever, it’s important to stop and reflect on our own ambitions and worry less about what other people do.

Making the world better

We are selfish. And we have to be, to an extent.  If we don’t take care of ourselves, we can’t take care of others.  The better we take care of ourselves, the easier it is to help others.  When you’re on a plane and about to take off, in the emergency instructions they tell you to put your oxygen mask on before helping others.  Why? Because if you don’t put your mask on, you won’t survive to help others.

There are many benefits to helping others. If it is someone you know, maybe you’ll get satisfaction out of seeing them progress with your assistance.  If it isn’t someone you know, you might feel good about yourself knowing you helped someone, even if you never see them again.

Studies show that happier people give more, and giving makes people happier.

At the most basic level, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) evidence shows that giving money to charity leads to similar brain activity in regions implicated in the experience of pleasure and reward.
– Harvard Business School – Feeling Good about Giving: The Benefits (and Costs) of Self-Interested Charitable Behavior

But this post isn’t necessarily about giving money, it’s simply about proactively making the world better.  Giving money may be one way of doing that.  But there are many ways to make the world better, even with no money – you can do it by creating something, sharing or teaching something, learning something and then spreading it. With the internet, it’s easier today to create something than ever before.  Information and education are abundant, use it.

In Steve Pavlina’s book “Waking Up: Becoming a Conscious Human”, he argues we shouldn’t be making self-centered choices, but choices that benefit the whole.  And he doesn’t argue this just from the point that we should be advancing all of society, but also persuades you that by helping the whole, you’re far more likely be live a happy, fulfilled, and successful life. The whole typically rewards those who they value. And I tend to agree. My brief review of the book is below:

Excellent book. Great message and well written. I think reading it would benefit anyones life. It basically talks about how humanity as a whole is improved by individual contributions that benefit the whole, and brought down by individual contributions that harm the whole (or remain neutral). As a whole if individuals do good, then humanity does good. He uses the analogy of human cells to our bodies. If a few cells are bad, it doesn’t mean our bodies our bad, but by improving each cell, it improves everything in our body (our mind, emotions, physical health, etc.). Cancer is basically a group of collective cells who do harm, just as a gang is a collective of individual who do harm to humanity.

The takeaway is that each decision you make shouldn’t be about your individual gain, it should be about the gain of the whole. And throughout life, if living this way, you recognize that by helping the whole, you not only fulfil yourself but live a better life in many ways. I think his view is simply an alternative perspective to ways people look at “good business” today. They say “focus on your customer”, which really means “help the whole and don’t focus on just you and making money”.

He goes into detail about the 3 different ways to live:
– self-centeredness – focused on what is good for you. The whole is irrelevant and harming other people doesn’t affect you, or at least you think.
– neutrality – don’t harm, but also don’t benefit others.
– onenesss – living in a way in which you constantly think about how you can help others and improve the whole.

He argues that oneness leads to better outcomes in every way shape and form, and how the other 2 actually lead to life issues throughout (friendship, love, fulfilment, passion, etc.). Even neutrality remains stagnant.  If everyone was neutral, we likely wouldn’t be alive today. If I think about my life and the people around me, I can definitely see the patterns he describes and the classifications he makes above.

These are a few quotes that stuck out:
“Be willing to lose what doesn’t matter, so we can all gain what does matter. Paying our bills doesn’t matter, but keeping our bodies healthy does. Getting good grades in school doesn’t matter, but preserving and passing on our collective knowledge does. Start reorganizing your life around what matters, and be willing to shed what doesn’t”.

“Stop thinking about what you want for yourself as an individual. Start thinking about what you want for humanity as a whole”

“Some people are repackaging and selling my work for money. Does that bother me? Of course not. Even though they may be operating at an individual level of consciousness, they’re actually helping. They’re spreading ideas that humanity wants to spreads; after all, humanity gave me those ideas to share in the first place. They’re doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing.”

All of the privileges we have that seem so mundane were from people who made the world better. The toilet, a table, various food and restaurant experiences, the can or bottle, trash bags, the internet, books, vaccines, etc.  They all have made our lives better, and if someone hadn’t been proactive and actually built it and spent time thinking about it, we wouldn’t have these things to enjoy. Most people take them entirely for granted.

I realized years ago that few people proactively contribute to make the world better.  It is a very small, tiny group which contribute to create all the the things that make our lives great. And since we’re born into them, we owe it to all the people who contributed before us to make the world better.  And if we want the people to come after us to live happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives, it is our duty to make the world better, or at the very least, not make it worse.

So, what can you do to make the world better? Giving is the easiest way to start making a difference that compounds (checkout givewell.org), but even better, create something and contribute to the whole.