The Zen of Passion
“Not only are you responsible for your life, but doing your best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment” – Oprah Winfrey
I don’t want to crush anyone’s dreams of turning their passion into a lucrative living, but I think this article gets it right (click on the title to see the article). The author suggests that we can, and most often do, have many passions but that doesn’t mean we should dilute our joy in those passions by trying to do it full time to earn money. The misguided advice we often hear about “do what you love and the money will follow” is not always realistic and can even lead to ruined passions and a dreadfully disappointing life. Nothing can take the passion out of a hobby like trying to do it for a living. Once you start trying to pay your bills and eat from your hobby it then becomes your job and that includes all of the job like feelings associated with that “time to make the donuts” drudgery made famous in that old Dunkin Donuts commercial from the 80’s. You might just have to trust me on this point but I can back it up as I have many passions that people often tell me should be used to make a living. I am a landscape painter with hundreds of paintings stacked up in the basement. I am a woodworker with boxes of inventory. I am also a writer with a published book, and yet none of these “passions” have created even a hint at financial independence. So I toil away at my real job all-the-while dreaming the unfulfilled dream of finding that one thing that sends me into the stratosphere of fame and fortune. How do I put my passions on the back burner while I work for a living? You might ask…well I really don’t. It would be an intolerable existence if I left my passion at the door to my job so I find the passion in my work and that’s what keeps me going. I tend to follow the Zen philosophy normally associated with “The Art of…” mantra. I practice doing my work well and look for those opportunities to be creative, to be involved, and to create value. I look more to the root of my passion, which is my creativity, and I call upon that passion to help me do my job better and to be fulfilled. This philosophy allows for a greater level of success and the more successful I am at working the more opportunities I have to work on my other passions without depending on them to pay the bills.
This video speaks to the potentially harmful effects of something as seemingly harmless as a fashion magazine. It suggests that a girl can developed a negative self image in just 3 minutes of perusing its airbrushed, overproduced, glossy, seductive interior. This is not that hard to believe and, as most of us already know, it is just the tip of the iceberg. The manipulative power of social influence is not just true for young girls but is true for everyone. Our sub-conscience mind is constantly bombarded by the media, as well as by our associations in an attempt to influence our behavior in a certain way. This influence can cause us to act a certain way, to feel a certain way, and to think a certain way that is consistent with a programmed response. From smoking a certain cigarette to buying a certain car we are all under the influence. For kids there is the added social influence of peer pressure that can positively or negatively affect behavior. Grades, sports activities, and even levels of parental disobedience can all be influenced through this invisible yet powerful social control. Disobedience can be a slippery slope escalating to the point of embracing extreme countercultures totally at odds with their parent’s expectations. This can be seen through mild examples of rebellion such as radical clothing choices, hair styles, music, and overly hash attitudes. In its worst examples we may see extreme body piercings, tattooing, drinking and drug use. The adolescent may view these life choices as control and independence with a twist of parental payback. The reality is they are typically just trading one influential control for another and sadly this behavior can be self-destructive and life altering. Other examples of influential control are television, video games, and internet. For years child psychologists have argued the dangers of violent programming with little effect on media output. Study after study has shown the negative impact on a child’s behavior associated with watching violent content. So why are the acts of violence our children are exposed to increasing year after year? The answer is simple…violence is big money because people continue to buy it. Due to this small fact each study has been vigorously attacked and discredited by counter studies funded by the media giants with their own agenda… Profits! Even when they can’t win the argument with facts and spin they win it by saying it is a freedom of choice issue and people can express their opinion with their remote control or wallets. The problem with this argument is that it puts parents at a disadvantage and at odds with their children. This can create more contention and ultimately more reasons for a child to rebel by acting up or seeking out radical counter-cultural experiences. This is not to say that every child who plays violent games or watches violent content will become overtly violent but the accumulated affects on personality are not really known at this point. All we know is that exposing children to extreme violence doesn’t feel right.
So how do we defend ourselves and our loved ones from the insidious clutches of influence? First off you really can’t…but knowledge is a fairly good attempt at inoculation. It is much harder to manipulate someone without their consent when they know about it. I also suggest applying the four L’s mantra of good parenting. Look, listen, learn, limit. Look for signs of manipulation such as changes in your kid’s wardrobe, language, and attitude. Listen to what they are listening too and taking about. Learn about their lives, habits, and friendships. Limit exposure to questionable influences.
Over the years my kids would sometimes say, “I’m bored” and I would say, “good…kids should be bored, it’s good for you and gives you time to think”, and now it appears the “experts” agree. Do we have reason to be concerned about the distracted, over-stimulated state of our children? I think most parents would agree that it has become a bigger problem with the proliferation of cell phones and electronic gadgets in the hands of ever younger, impressionable children. A case in point, I was standing in the checkout line at Walmart the other day and I happen to notice many of the children, some as young as five or six years old, were staring intently at some sort of electronic device. As the line move up one mother with two young children would scoot them along with a gentle nudge of her body but they never looked up. They just silently shuffle forward all stiff legged and unnatural like little zombies. They were totally oblivious to the physical world around them. Should we be concerned? Not to be an alarmist but the number of cases of autism are up from 5 in 10,000 a few years ago to 1 in 100 with many cases diagnosed in older children. Here are a few of the symptoms: No response to their name when called, avoids eye contact, resists being touched, appears to not hear when spoken to, appears unaware of others feelings, particularly family members, prefers to be “in their own world”, choosing solitary play over interacting with others. Do any of these symptoms sound familiar? Could the isolation and poor social skills of the new autism be a learned behavior? Maybe we find out the hard way unless we encourage a little unplugged boredom in our kids lives. Taking a stand against the rush of technology can be hard when you are a loving parent concerned about your child’s emotional wellbeing. When my daughter was about ten she started asking for a cell phone. My wife and I had thought to make her wait until she was sixteen and driving a car but we quickly decided it would be totally unrealistic so we settled on thirteen as the new milestone. That decision turned out to be more difficult then we imagined but my wife stood firm against the almost overwhelming tide of peer pressure that came from many of our daughters’ friends who at ten years old already had top of the line cell phones. They would carry on texting conversations that my daughter was denied access to. I am sure this made her feel left out and socially handicapped at times but my wife and I felt our daughter would disappear into her own world of texts, chats, tweets, and blogs soon enough without giving in prematurely to the intruder. We felt it important to hold off so our daughter would be encouraged to be more “in the moment” when riding in the car, or walking through the mall, or whatever it is mothers and daughters like to do together. My wife’s thought was to prevent the unwelcomed, third party crasher from interrupting those precious bonding moments between mother and daughter and I think she got it right.
I just read this article about the ten things you should stop doing to be happy, and they are all good things to know, I guess… It may be worth a quick read, but incase you don’t feel like it let me paraphrase it for you. To be happy stop: blaming, impressing, clinging, interrupting, whining, controlling, criticizing, preaching, dwelling, or fearing. I am not saying I disagree with any of them and for the sake of full disclosure my current negative attitude about this advice just might be coming from some momentary negative lapse into a jaded perspective. I apologize for my lapse but a negatively worded article about how to be happy just struck me as odd at best and seriously flawed at worst. I personally hate to be so negative but I believe it falls short for a couple of reasons. My first thought as I read it was “wow…just 10 things… REALLY?”…That’s great news and certainly not as bad as I once thought! But seriously does that sound right to you? I can personally think of a hundred things… well, maybe not a hundred but at least twenty things I should stop doing and most are not even on this list! I am sure we can all think of many things we should change for our own good and most would greatly improve our level of happiness, our health, and even our wealth, but I don’t think anyone will find their unique circumstance in a somewhat negatively phrased, incomplete 400 word article. Now let me tell you how I really feel about it. I also thought some of the suggestions are a little too obscure or abstract, and a few of the others would probably require years of Freudian style psychoanalysis for anyone to really change their behavior. I would also suggest that as well-meaning as the advice is most experts in the field of positive psychology would agree that focusing on the negative aspects of your life is not the way to find happiness. So I would recommend, if it wasn’t such an oxymoron, that the author add “don’t focus on the negative” as number eleven to the list of ten-plus-one things to stop doing if you want to be happy.
Isn’t that interesting? I find it interesting that a guy like Albert would be sitting around thinking about surreal topics like miracles and how to live your life. I mean really! Just imagine a guy this smart, with everything he had to think about! Sounds pretty amazing until you stop to ask yourself, what else is a really smart person going to think about? What else matters at the end of a long hard day but how you lived that day, the last hour and the last few minutes? Then ask yourself what could possibly be more important in your life right now than the miracle of the next few moments? I also think it is likely that a really smart person goes even further and contemplates the miracle filled possibilities for the next few hours, days, and weeks ahead. So what does that look like? I think what Albert was trying to say is that we will see what we expect to see. We can wallow in a mundane, listless, and disappointing life or we can concelebrate the miracle of an eventful, exciting, and fulfilling life. This reminds me of a story about a wise old guy pumping gas on the outskirts of a small town. A car pulls in for gas and the driver asks “how are the people in this town?” The gas guy thinks for a moment and then asks “well, how were the people where you lived? And the driver said “oh, I hated it there because everyone was so rude and inconsiderate. I didn’t have a single friend and I was glad to leave it all behind.” So the gas guy thinks for a moment longer and says “well, if I had to guess I would say you will find people around here are about the same.” A little while later another car pulls in and the driver asks “how are the people in this town?” Once again the gas guy asks “how were the people where you lived?” This time the driver said “oh the people were so nice, I had lots of friends, and it was hard to leave them all behind.” And the wise old gas guy says “well, if I had to guess I would say you will find the people around here are about the same.” If you want to be the best you can be then be a smart person like Albert and put your faith in the miracles of life and expect nothing less than the best for yourself.
I found this experiment fascinating …The attached video clearly demonstrates how the power of even passive social pressure can affect behavior. This easily observable fact should be all the proof you need to justify paying close attention and even controlling who you or your loved ones hang out with. Just image what effect open peer pressure can have on a young impressionable mind. This example is blatant but most social pressures are much less obvious and have an equal potential for negative cognitive influence. I guess this proves the old saying is still true, “if you lie down with dogs you just might get up with fleas”.
Following this logic a little further down the rabbit hole can also lead us in the opposite direction. Applying the “if that, then this” logic of the great thinkers it is not too far of a stretch to consider that hanging out with the right kind of people can have the equal potential for a positive cognitive effect. Said another way you can use this to gain an advantage in your quest for who you want to be. For instance if you want to be successful hang out with successful people, if you want to be healthy hang out with healthy people, and if you want to be happy hang out with happy people. Just like misery loves company this suggests that the opposite is also true and success, health, and happiness will also love company. But even it is not true wouldn’t you rather hang out with someone who is more like who you want to be? Another point to consider is the way it may affect the thoughts you have based on your interactions with your social peers. Your thoughts are part of who you are and peers can exert a tremendous amount of social influence on those thoughts. Social scientists call this phenomenon group think and it references a condition where people who are spending time together start to think alike. If it can happen to a group of relative strangers than just imagine what can happen to a group of friends with common interests? You be the judge…
It isn’t what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it.”
— Dale Carnegie
In my limited study of the great thinkers and philosophers of the world I see that most share a common belief that “you are what you think about”. If the greatest minds believe it I think we can agree it is likely to be true so why not think about being happy? I personally believe that it can get you at least halfway there. I also believe that if you want to get all of the way there you just need to try and make someone else happy. Nothing in the world can make you feel like you matter more than mattering to someone else. Hey, that’s not half bad… I just might write that down someday!