I can clearly recall a good friend writing to me few months back: “[…] you won’t have any communication with any normal person for 18 years, none of your dreams will come true […] but this child will bring meaning to your life.”
I argued that having a child is just some very basic, very simple meaning. If you see that your child shat himself and cries – out of “meaning”, you’ll do something about it.
I thought someone as intellectually high-aiming as I am will not find much meaning in the basic level of the Maslow pyramid.
Man, was I wrong?!
What I forgot was that this type of simple meaning brought some of the best times of my lives: such as my solo bicycle trip at age 18: when finding accommodation, solving technical issues, eating, drinking and simply, surviving were some of the highlights…
It’s a bit past 7 am today and my 4 days old child lays on my belly as I type this article. Meaning there is. Not global, not very ambitious in a certain sense (although full of challenges now), not something special but meaning there is! Hello, meaning, my old friend I’ve come to talk with you again.
And meaning moves the world. Meaning makes you get up several times a night. Have you walk around, try your best, try again and not give up, stand the pain and failures. Meaning is the goal. It’s like the picture wired into your brain: this is my destination. It just doesn’t matter that you have to walk rather than taking a plane or that you hurt your feet and get lost without a map.
The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed. (William Gibson)
While reading The Rough Guide to Happiness from Nick Baylis I had this positive, warming thought that in a while human existence will shift from trying to be less unhappy to be more happy.
It’s a relatively new idea coming from 1998 from Martin Seligman, that time the president of American Psychological Association. According to Baylis the whole idea came so late because of WW2 and its consequences.
Just as washing teeth was uncommon 2 generations ago but is a most usual thing today there are plenty of habits that make you a weirdo today but will soon become commonplaces and common practices.
I hope that more and more people will be born into a world where actively looking into improving their life quality and more and more will go further than “healthy and bored” or “healthy and meaningless life”.
One of the next generations will probably use a couple minutes daily for mental health: reflecting the day or emphasizing for ourselves things that go well in our lives – or something that we are grateful for.
While the whole world will never be an all-equal place, most of the world is developing in many great ways. The future, if it exists and is not washed away by AI or nanorobots or a full-scale nuclear war (none of which gives me a sleepless night because I can not do a thing about these things) seems a bright one.
People wash their teeth. Maybe sooner than later we’ll consciously devote 3 minutes twice a day to our mental health / happiness too.
I have never encountered a situation, let it be fictional or personal experience where one does not have a choice.
It was a warming feeling that Viktor Frankl found the same conclusion in one of the darkest place ever:
“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate.” [Viktor Frankl: Man’s Search for meaning]
It’s not up to us whether we are born a boy or a girl, handsome or not, healthy or disabled and often whether we have bad teeth or no and whether we live to 16 to 85.
When I was 21 I went to study with a scholarship to Italy for half a year.
My grandpa, who has turned 96 today, got a similar scholarship at the same age to France. It was the spring season of 1940 and the Second World War started. His worries shifted from exams, friends and girls to survival.
It would be not only vain but stupid to say that I’m in any way smarter or better than my grandpa for not facing the same choices. It’s external circumstances we often can do nothing about.
People in my life often tell me: “How could have I done anything else?” “I had no choice.” “It was impossible.”
It’s almost always the sign of poor judgement let it be about kicking out a cheating girlfriend, buying a new iPhone or staying home for the summer.
Before you commit to having a big decision, let it be choosing the faculty your parents push you to do, getting together with a generally acceptable partner you are not sure of or go to the party Friday night you’d love to skip this once, think of Viktor Frankl and his journey where he could find people in a concentration camp who managed to stay loyal to their ideas, even if it meant dying.
And let’s not forget either that we live in a world with several open opportunities. We are not confined in camps and our actions do change the outside world. It’s unlikely that it’s up to you whether WW3 will begin or AI kills of humanity in your lifetime but nevertheless you can do plenty to make the world a more peaceful place. If a butterfly’s wingflap in Brazil can set off a Tornado in Texas your actions might prevent a 3rd world war. Try hard to have the serenity to accept the things you cannot change, courage to change the things you can, and have wisdom to know the difference…
So next time…
…when you feel you are pushed into something you don’t want and you feel helpless: DO NOT GIVE IN. DO NOT GIVE IN…
“The meager pleasures of camp life provided a kind of negative happiness—“freedom from suffering” as Schopenhauer put it—and even that in a relative way only. Real positive pleasures, even small ones, were very few.” (Viktor Frankl: Man’s Search for Meaning)
Happiness is a shady term. At first we think of it as the definition of table (something difficult to describe but we all know agree what is) but it’s more like love. Something we all use and think we mean the same thing by it but apparently it’s all completely else for many of us. (Happiness might be winning big on the stock market; spending time with our parents; or writing poems home alone that we’d never show to a single soul.)
If I’ve been good in something in my life it’s been to reach freedom from (dirty / useless) suffering. It took plenty of effort and many years but now there’s very little involuntary frustration in my life. I’m still trying, I’m still challenging myself, I still have my annoyances: but it’s all for a meaning.
“Freedom of suffering” is the ideology on which our present culture is based. If you buy this great sport shoe you’ll be free from the pain of running and ankle pain; flying business class will free you from the discomfort of a long journey; watching TV and reading news will free you from boredom; taking a comfortable vacation will free you from “your daily hell“.
Based on this we’d be the happiest people if we weren’t worried, weren’t bothered, weren’t suffering, if we, simply, weren’t.
But what if suffering, trying, getting your hands dirty, getting angry and worried made life better on the long run? What if, for an important enough goal you risk of getting woken up at night, lose nerves, worry – or endure prison sentence is worth it?
It’s just that you have to pick your fights very carefully.
If you do anything (hell, even if you don’t!), you’ll get annoyed. We have to wear clothes to avoid public laughter, prosecution and getting sick. We have to go to school every morning for long years. Fancy houses, cars, planes, etc. We need dentists and taxi drivers and restaurants and more.
We have more assets at our hands to gain negative happiness. From Viktor Frankl’s autobiographical book it seems this is plenty to hope for in a concentration camp.
But in a life of infinite possibilities I think it should not be too much to ask to pursue positive action and happiness.
Getting rid of annoyances, negative happiness seems to be ever-advertised for us. And it makes sense: because this creates business. It’s not much of a business if you take a walk under the stars with your love or you indulge in a memorable conversation. There is no business if you are at home and you feel relaxed and safe. There is no business in you getting to a point where you don’t want more things. There is no business in you using your energy to help.
When you feel that “this is time to make a change”
– and you suddenly want to buy something – your major effort is about getting rid of some annoyance
– you want to numb yourself with movies, books or money
STOP FOR A MOMENT.
Often I run into self-help writers that tell people to focus on one thing. It might be losing weight, earning money, learning to play the guitar, traveling the world or devote to afterlife.
Some go as far as saying that they live all their lives focusing on missions like the above-mentioned, in few-months’ blocks. Fair enough.
But most of us are not cut out to do one thing at a time.
It even partly defines us when we cross our borders. From taking the first steps to finally, not give a fuck and move away from home (let it be from our parents, roommates or continent). You can be the guy who never moved out from home or the one that traveled half the world.
But missions end. If you don’t continue on living life only for yourself you’ll find several projects that will be important for you. You’ll want to have time with your family but do a good job or make a change in something. You’ll want to keep friendships running. You’ll want to live a full life with your commitments.
/It sounds appealing to earn a million dollars. But if the price is to lose contact with our family, friends and partner, work our asses off for 5 years and become an asshole you never wanted to become – only to maybe get back to normal to restart a normal life when it’s possibly too late: given these T&C you probably wouldn’t go for it./
What if success, for most of us, does not mean being the richest guy, the most famous girl. Or the woman with the biggest ass around? What if success, rather than focusing on one thing, means to live a well-rounded life, filled with well-being and meaning in most of our actions?
Rather than trying to be like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk most people should try dozens of things, find the ones that they like to do and give up fear of being “average” since a life with meaning is just enough. And meaning is brought from action: if you’re life is full of action you find meaningful it doesn’t matter whether you’re a global or a village player.
Finding meaning for me is a constant attempt to get away from default (when I see only what is good for me, ignoring all the others). For me meaning is when I manage to mentally step up to do something beneficial for others: let it be my partner, friends, family, students, a stranger, etc.
Rather than a way of fame, money and big “game changing”, simple meaning is a life-effort of creation and well-rounded human life. I’m more than happy to recommend it…
In Nick Baylis’ Rough Guide to Happiness the last part of the chapter “Our environment” is dedicated to nature. “Our prehistoric ancestors were wild animals, but so-called civilization has domesticated us through its urban living and high-tech life. We put our well-being at peril if we discount the role of our underlying instincts. We are animal-beings first and foremost – our human-ness is only a specific breed of this. Let’s try to appreciate, honour and fulfil our animal nature.”
He later adds: “Human well-being needn’t cost the Earth. On the contrary, our fortunes are intimately tied to that of our natural world.” (Quotes from the book)
While pretty simple, we often forget about it: we, humans are (very) simple creatures. Many (if not most) of our greatest pleasures come from simple things: eating, having sex, spending time with other living creatures: humans and animals, marvel at nature (or some sort of copy of it).
What if much of being happy is not something abstract, (and certainly not about earning a million dollar, having a yacht, a new sports car or a watch that costs an arm and a leg) but something utterly simple: hiking, swimming, jogging, walking, having sex, breathing clean air, etc.
As for me, it’s liberating to hear.
The first moment I remember in my life when I felt overwhelming happiness I can remember was after reading “The Celestine Prophecy” – and focused on a… …tree for long minutes. One of the most remembered (and later, always repeated part) of our summer time with friends was skinny-dipping at the Lake Balaton. Some of my most remembered trips are bike trips we used to do during summers for 2-7 weeks for years. Falling asleep under the sky, being together, moving 100 kms a day, solving problems. Probably the greatest memory of visiting Machu Picchu is climbing the “Old mountain” on the spot: from ~2100 to over 3000 meters. One of the most memorable parts of a 9-day travel in Israel, West Bank and Jordan was swimming in the sea at Tel Aviv by night, naked.
The same way as it can be a good solution to volunteer at a homeless shelter when one is stuck with the meaningless questions of “What’s the meaning of life?”, it’s probably often enough to go for a long walk or hike when feeling miserable.
After browsing my pictures I’ve had to realize I’m one of those people that need to travel to put things into perspective and realize what simple things can bring value in my daily life. I visited plenty of nature sites on travels (and they’d often become the highlights but looking for them in the vicinity of my home is usually not a priority). A bit cheesy, but true: “There’s always a sunrise and always a sunset and it’s up to you to choose to be there for it” (Cheryl Strayed: Wild)
After all, being in the nature and taking the surroundings in is an active pursuit. Something like a “[…] warm glow that comes from investing ourselves in the world around us, come what may. It cannot be passively consumed or gulped down like a sugary drink. Happiness must be created by own ingenuity.” (Nick Baylis)
Universal ideas are fascinating. Let them be religion, science, self-help or common sense. How amazing it is to find rules that apply to all people – when we are so, completely different…
Now, most of the advice one gets never worked for me. (Fuck god(s), scientific advice that changes every 20 years, who needs self-help to be thin or make a million dollar he doesn’t need – and why should I believe my grandpa that one can not enjoy his work?).
I can not imagine myself standing out somewhere and say “You all have to do this!”
I mean one of these guys out there works too much, so the best advice is “slow down, chale” while for the lazy guy in front the TV one shall say: “move your ass, man, already!”
Writing advices means usually that you’re writing to everyone (or to everyone). They can not work.
The How to Win Friends and Influence People from 1936 is the first self-help bestseller. Time Magazine said it was the 19th most influential book on the 20th century according to Time Magazine with 30 million copies worldwide.
Over 300.000 people gave votes, resulting 4,14 points out of 5 on Goodreads. It’s a very goodscore. The top comment, however tells about a profound – but negative effect on a reader’s life. The lady who took the book’s advice of being agreeable to everyone and looked for the best in everyone ended up with the wrong people – having built superfluous relationships and neglected deeper / long-lasting ones. Her life was derailed thanks to the bestseller.
The Bible or the Quran are great, universal books that are ready to give a social base and background to billions of people. And they ruin millions of people’s lives and take their chances for a better life. Science tells us how to even go to the Moon and is getting close to cure cancer but takes away pride, sense, meaning from many. Tim Ferris’ 4 hours workweek certainly helped some to make a fortune taking it easy and gave completely unrealistic expectations to many.
It’s an awkward feeling to realize for someone who’s always told never to make a mistake (aren’t most of us raised this way?) that taking a strong stand, doing something “important” or public means we’ve got to live with the responsibilities of all the wrong we do too.
I used to believe that reading a paragraph for all people on this planet could change history and human behaviour instantly. If I found that passage now I’d probably burn it.
Quick change is no good change. It’s impossible to give perfect advice to all. But one has to do what he has to do and one has to write and publish when there’s a fire. Quenching the fire inside is a sin – even if sin doesn’t exist.
I can’t recall how it started but I have measured my expenses the last 365 days. Full report below. Summed up: I spent 45% of what I earned, mainly on travels (1/3), home (1/6), charity (1/7), food, drinks (1/8), transportation (1/16), business ventures (1/20).
What I’ve learned from this project:
– I earn more than I thought I did (more from tour leading, less from other sources)
– I spend more than I thought I did (I’ve always said I spent 10-30% of my salary: last year it was 45%; I’ve always said I spent an average Hungarian/Budapest wage but I spend considerably more)
– One-time expenses add up (even though it’s lifestyle that makes the big difference, this is not to be ignored either)
– I bought no items for the pleasure of buying
– there’s nothing I regret buying
– I spent twice as much money eating out than at home (partly because of the nature of tour leading but still, it’s a bit surprising)
– I party little. At times, around 18-22 alcohol was probably the highest expense of mine. Now it’s 1,3%.
– I hope to spend more money in the future on books and concerts. – I’m happy to have taken the time and effort to spend most of my expenses on travels, charity, practical things (let it be a washing-drying machine or a car repair) and other experiences.
– I’d recommend this venture for anyone who’s trying to have a more clear picture of him/herself. Money is probably the easiest thing to measure when it comes to our effects on the outer world.
This was the year when I started monthly charity, business ventures with some of my own money, got started with passive income and for home bought the first TV or carpets in my life.
The changes in expenses reflect the changes of my life that shouldn’t be a surprise at all but they are very nice to see.
Come the report:
891 entries. ~ 100 of them are income, ~800 of them are expense. Income (taxes, accountant’s fee deducted): 100%
– Tour leading: 82,5%
– Locally guided tours: 13,5%
– Investment (passive income): 3,1% – Others (volunteering, money found on the street, etc.): 0,9%
Expenses (compared to income): 45,37% Savings: 54,63%
Expenses (100%) in categories: 1,Travels 31,7%
– South-East Asia (42 days): 21,2%
– Israel & Jordan (9 days): 3,7% – Bordeaux (3-4 days): 2,5%
– Transylvania (5 days): 1,9%
– Bayern, Germany, visit friends (5 days): 1,2%
– Day trips in Hungary, (7, together): 1,2% – Organized trip to Lviv, Ukraine (5 days): 0%
I’m not sure what to think of the book – and it seems like is a completely unknown one with 25 reviews on Goodreads where well-known self-help books get 40.000+ votes and even the Rough Guide to Italy would have 123 of them.
I’m struggling through this dry and impersonal book that tries to go around the whole topic of human happiness through chapters like: sub-conscious, conscious, body, loves and passions, our social nature, environment and even “saving our soul from technology”.
But at the same time it gets me wondering, too. How is it possible that I’ve never learned about any of these topics at school. Purpose of life? Feeling good? Creating healthy relationships? Aren’t these as important as physics, literature, biology and grammar?
“However trite, it’s the truth: We’re emotional illiterates. We’ve been taught about anatomy and African farming methods. We’ve learned mathematical formulas by heart. We haven’t been taught a thing about the mind. We’re ignorant about what makes people tick.” (Scenes from a Marriage, movie, 1974)
Mr. Baileys Baylis gives us a couple ideas on where to look for personal life purpose clues: – Our childhood and teenage interests that may have been neglected – The subjects that never fail to grab our attention – Whatever we daydream about – Experiencing first-hand a host of activities that we might have prematurely presumed are not for us. (A drama class or local choir, dinghy sailing or mountain walking, landscape painting or natural science.)
Let’s keep asking ourselves for whom, for what and for where would it feel well worth turning off the television, keeping fit and getting focused, because our heart beats faster at the mere thought of it. Whom, what and where do we hold in such value that we’re inspired to set off in full sail on their behalf?”
(The Rough guide to Happiness)
To sum a little bit up in what I think about purpose:
We all have some downtime in life – and we let our thoughts flow. You might be thinking of your mother. Or chemistry. Or being a musician. Or building a house. Growing vegetables. Or, more probably, something chaotic and abstract: but still, thoughts that circle around some topic(s). Or, if you’re very interested in everything: your mainstream thoughts still exclude some major topics. It’s a good start.
And the continue getting to know what you like, YOU HAVE TO ACT. Without action there’s no purpose to your life.
/My story here: I wanted to be a hostel owner, a small-time businessman because I didn’t want to say I was just a tour leader. Initiating the project included hundreds of hours of work, my best friend moving to a new city and volunteering in a hostel, negotiations on buying a place, business plans, etc. Then I went to work to a hostel to gain experience. All it took was about 10 night shifts that I fully gave up on the idea of running or owning a hostel. It doesn’t even sound good me any more. The advice for all possible future…
Porn actors? Do porn!
Engineers? Go to the closest universities’ engineer class and work somewhere where you can see what engineers really do.
whatever it is you’re contemplating on: DO IT!
If you think long term, your life needs a purpose. Finding one is often as hard as finding a partner or a friend for life. But do take your time and don’t make compromises. It’s one of those things you’ll look back on your deathbed and will either tap your own shoulders for choosing well or will terribly regret. Don’t choose the latter option!
Until recently I’d never understood why and how people ran out of money.
Then I realized how interested I’ve always been in money: in kindergarten, (between wanting to be a mechanic and a trashman) I wanted to be a banker. And apart from it the richest man on Earth.
And I set out to reach my goal: I started to save money when I was 4 years old. I thought this was a good way to get rich because my parents were collecting discount coupons and my father would spend 2-3 hours doing the weekly shopping, making sure to always buy the best value. I thought my family was rich, back then.
At one point I made art from saving money: I’d spend less than 20 USD a month living at home and not more than 100 USD a month traveling, at age 18. I wanted to eliminate money from my life. But recently I’ve realized money is an excellent problem-solver and it can be used for charity.
Now I like money again. It can be a great asset to make the world a better place. With every penny we spend we make a little change somewhere.
1, Measure: monitor your income and expenses!
This is the apropos for me writing about money: I’ve measured all my income and expenses for 1 year. I’m too tired to make the accounting so I’ll write a separate post about it.
I’ve used the app My Finances.
2, Create an emergency fund
Tomorrow’s gonna come.
If you get your salary monthly and you have a tendency to spend it by or before the end of the month, create an emergency fund (of let’s say 1000 USD). Try not to touch this money no matter what kind of emergency comes. If you have to, fill it back again as soon as you have some income.
3, If saving money doesn’t make you feel better, make financial plans.
They should: as you realize they directly bring you closer to fulfilling your dreams. E.g.:
– I need 4000 USD for my boyfriend and me to visit Thailand for 4 weeks
– I need 25000 USD to get an apartment with a good mortgage
– I need 120 USD to buy the Christmas present my partner wants
4, When buying: focus on the benefit and never on the pleasure of buying
The pleasure of buying (when you have any higher goal in life that can be reached with the help of money) is like cheating on your love because you are drunk ’cause you can’t resist. Or eating a pork knuckle when on a no-meat diet. It’s an instant pleasure that you regret later.
When traveling last winter in Vietnam I’d usually pay 4 USD for a room for a night. I could have payed 40 (or 400) USD but all I wanted was a bed for a night. It didn’t make a difference that others were in the room. It didn’t matter that the location wasn’t perfect.
If all you need is a bed for a night – why would you pay for any extras?
5, Be cautious when making your important financial decisions
All right, I know. It sounds pretty basic and quite dull.
But making financial decisions like: what kind of car, travel, apartment / house and when are one or few time occasions in your life. So you don’t have experience in making these decisions (unlike: which bar to hit; which washing powder to buy, etc.)
Take your time, think these decisions through. Talk to expert and pay for his advice. Bargain hard if you can.
Lowering on your future apartment’s price can mean a year without work in your life.
Going on a vacation in South-East Asia in January will cost you 10 times less than skiing in Switzerland.
Buying a really good used car can be a deal that will save you from looking at grocery prices ever again.
I have a friend with a quite good sense of money management up to a couple thousand dollars. When it came to a new apartment, he made a really bad deal that’s going to affect his life for the next 30 years. It would be better for him to care less about money on a daily basis but make one really good deal with the apartment with the same or less effort.
6, A penny saved is a penny earned
Buying the your 800 USD TV the next day when it has a “Red Friday” 10% discount means that you’ve earned 80 USD with this move. It sounds silly but it’s true.
7, Don’t try to be a millionaire!
Millionaires often fail or make decisions when they risk it all. Billionaires do it over and over again.
I can not teach you how to be like them. But the question is: do you really want to be like them?
I, for one, don’t.
Money is not a topic on which I’d like to spend several hours every day. Being a millionaire with all its perks – and risks wouldn’t be a life I’d want to live more than what I have now.
And most likely you wouldn’t either.
8, Don’t act like a millionaire!
I’ve met a guy with a new Samsung phone who went to the gas station to charge ’cause he had no electricity at home. Dirt-poor looking Cambodian teenagers often flash iPhones.
I’ve never had an iPhone or an expensive Android.
I need a device for calling, texting, Wifi, mobile data and some applications. I don’t need an expensive status symbol in my pocket… Do you need a 3000 USD watch? A Louis Vuitton bag? A 5 bedroom house? A Ferrari? A yacht? A hotel chain with your painting in the lobby?
And still in this section: never take a personal credit if not for investment. If you don’t have money for a big TV:
1, buy a smaller one,
2, wait until you have enough money for it.