Tag Archives: happiness

Twisted Logic Buster or This Probably Should be a Diary Entry (so you might all be bored by it)

I always thought that I had to do something that makes me unhappy now, in order to be happy later.

Nobody really enjoys the stress and deadlines of university, do they? Or the grunt work of that incredibly inane and boring office job? But it’s the necessary evil that gets you through to the first rung on the ladder to that job. You know the one…the one with the stability and progression and status and salary that are going to take you to that place. You know…that place where you are happy.

I looked at a lot of people doing what made them happy and thought to myself ‘Ha ha! It’s ok that they’re doing something they love and that makes them happy, while I’m doing this thing that I know I should be doing, even though it doesn’t make me happy. Because I’m going to get the last laugh. I’m doing this grunt work now to get me out to that place, while they’re going to reach a place where, because they haven’t paid their dues, they’re unhappy’.

Ok, so I know you’re probably thinking (and it probably isn’t the first time you’ve thought this, if you’ve been reading other posts), that I’m a little crazy. That my logic is clearly, fundamentally flawed. Mostly, I’ve been thinking bullshit.

I should note, in my defence, that I don’t I was aware of this all before… It was more of a subconscious feeling. A kind of self-justification that allowed me to continue to do the things that were what I ought to be doing, instead of what I really wanted. Instead of what made me come alive. It was the story that let me look at all of those people who were doing what they loved, and knew it, and not be shaken to the core at the disparity between what I saw in them and what I was missing in myself.

I told myself that if they were happy now, doing all that they loved, then there was no way they would be happy down the road. You know…because they hadn’t paid their dues.

It never occurred to me that maybe they would be happy down the line, because the had discovered something important: that ability to follow what was right for them. It never occurred to me that this ability might stick with them and continue to allow them to make the choices that were right for them.

But then I had a thought.

When exactly was I going to get happy? When was I going to stop doing what didn’t make me happy to follow what I wanted? When was I going to make the brave decision to move out from the grunt work and into what I love? How many years was I going to spend saying to myself, “It’s ok you aren’t happy now, you’re setting the foundation for happiness later”?

Here’s a hypothetical example of what I’d been saying to myself. It’s particularly exemplary because I almost did it, too.

“I’m in a big name university. I hate it, but that’s ok, because it’s going to pay off later when I can get into a big name law school. Of course, I’m going to have to study and write the LSATs first, which I’m going to hate, because I hate standardized testing and studying for it is stressful and worse, it’s incredibly boring. But that’s ok, because it’s going to pay off later when I get a spot at that law school. Then I’m going to get into my big name law school, and I’m probably going to hate that too, because I don’t enjoy big programs, the competitive academic settings, or the stress of recruitment into a law firm. But that’s ok, because if I do that, then I’ll get into a big name law firm in some high-paying area of law. And I’ll probably hate that too, because of the pressure of performing well, and the office setting, and the paperwork. But that’s ok, because if I do that, then I’ll probably get offered a job at that law firm eventually, and after the hard work (which I’ll find boring and stressful), I’ll get to finally work on a project that I believe in. And I’ll be paid well. And be a lawyer. And that will make me happy…because I’ll have stability and status and wealth. That’ll make me happy…right?”

Thankfully, there were a myriad of reasons why I didn’t go down that path, although until now none of them included recognizing this bizarre framework that I keep that somehow equates current unhappiness with future happiness.

But looking back at that law-school path I almost took, I have to ask myself…why did I ever think that if I keep following the things that make me unhappy, that that will somehow pay off into something that makes me happy?

If I am unhappy every step of the way, why on earth would I think that it would culminate into something I loved to do? When does 1+1 ever equal 3?

Why can’t my happiness now be the foundation for my happiness later?

I should point out that I don’t imagine that there won’t be steps along each of our paths that we don’t enjoy. Sure, we’re all going to face some stressful deadlines, and there will always be parts of what makes us happy that we like less than others. I wasn’t talking about that. I was talking about when the heaviness of unhappiness is routinely and totally outweighing any small happiness.

So. Hello, Happiness. I’ve been chasing you the wrong way my whole life. I never found you under the bed or in the closet or down the back of the couch, because you were never hiding from me. I never saw you at my kitchen table or at my desk or sitting on my bed because I didn’t think I was allowed to find you there, so easily.

I’d like to be your friend, now. I’d like to show you off, just the way I find you. I’m a little scared–I’ve never let myself do this before–that I’m going to be judged for the way I see you. But I’m more scared of whiling away the years telling myself that I’ll find you at the end of the road when, instead, I can walk with you for the whole journey.



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Part Two of ‘This Moment’: Graffiti and Mary Oliver

[Life is short, and we have only the time that we are given, nothing more. Never more. Remembering that in our brief lives each moment of joy will pass, like each moment of pain, is the story of ‘Part Two’, which I will be adding soon]

Part Two

I can’t even begin to tell you how short your life is.

When I was in my teens, I came across a quote that used to make me giggle. I shared it like a joke with my friends and family. “Don’t tell me life is short. It’s the longest fucking thing you’ll ever do”. While I am still amused, I no longer believe it. I no longer have the ignorance and bliss that allows us, as innocent youth, to believe this: that what we have, that family, that love, that all those we hold dear, are forever.

Because really, isn’t that what we all thought? Wasn’t that exactly the falsehood that we believed so ferociously?

Until. Until we lost something irreplaceable. Until we were blindsided by sudden loss and the unbelievable heartbreak of really, truly, finally having to say goodbye.

Before Christmas I lost someone I love dearly. A few months before he passed, he took a trip down to Atlanta to say goodbye to his family there. When he got back home, he told me about how on every other trip he had always left by saying, Au revoir. This means, quite literally, ‘to the next seeing’. On this trip, however, he said Adieu. To god.

We don’t get a lot of time. Often we don’t even get the short amount that we assume we’ll get. Our bodies, these days, can last so much longer than any of our ancestors’. Most among us assume we’ll hit seventy, eighty, perhaps ninety. We have doubled, and more, our life expectancy. “It’s the longest thing you’ll ever fucking do“.

Expectancy. We expect to get the whole package. We expect.

And yet…and yet you could be dying as you read this, and not even know it. Inside of you could already be growing the cells that could turn into cancer. You could be deciding to take that job offer that could lead to getting into that taxi that could lead to being in that car crash.


We don’t get a lot of time.

This too shall pass.

Although you might now be wanting to turn away from the perception of morbidity you think I’m presenting you, I’m going to ask you to stay. Because rather than weeping over death, this is an affirmation of life. We don’t get a lot of time, so use it. USE IT. Hold on to your life with both hands; respect your body and care for it because it is keeping you alive. Did you hear me just then? Your body is keeping you alive, and it is fragile. Respect and care for it.

Those small moments of joy, whatever they are for you: revel in them. Grow. Gift the world with your joy and your accomplishments. Do what you know in your heart to be right.  You are getting so much less time that you expect. Work hard to know what makes you happy; who is important; where you need to be. Your goodbyes are coming so much sooner than you believe. Rush into love, wherever you find it, in each and every one of its myriad of forms. When you find it, let it set you on fire. Blaze with it. This is not a dress rehearsal, and you will never, ever be here again. Be here now. Now is all you’re ever going to get.

And ask yourself:

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

(The Summer Day, by Mary Oliver)

J.M. Barclay

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The King’s Challenge – Part One of This Moment

This post has been on my mind for a long, long time. Let us start with a story. Have you heard the one about the proud king?

nce upon a time, there was a proud king who wished to show that he was more intelligent than all of his ministers, and all of his subjects. He decided that he would prove his intelligence by setting an impossible task. So one day, he called his court together, assembled all his most trusted ministers and greatest scholars, and announced his task:

“I charge any of you to come up with the answer to my challenge: bring me an inscription that is true in every moment of life; that will make the joyful man sorrowful, and the sorrowful man joyful”.

At first, the challenge caused a flurry of activity. The courtiers conspired and the ministers mulled over what the answer to the riddle might be. The oil burned long in the midnight lamps of the king’s subjects as they all raced to be the first to answer the challenge, while the king revelled in the knowledge that he was so brilliant as to have created an impossible riddle.

Days turned into weeks, and weeks into months, and every time a traveller appeared at court, the king issued his challenge. But as the months neared becoming a year, still no one could best the king’s riddle.

Exactly one year after the king had announced his riddle, a old traveller appeared at court. His clothes were ragged and his feet calloused from long miles of walking. He had a long beard that seemed as if it might not have been washed in months, and frail hands that grasped a carved walking stick. As he bowed down before the king, the king asked, “Do you think you can answer the riddle that I devised, that none of my court nor any of my ministers nor a single scholar nor any other traveller has solved?”. The traveller replied humbly, “I can only try, your Highness”. So the king told him the riddle: “Bring me an inscription that is true in every moment of life; that will make the joyful man sorrowful, and the sorrowful man joyful”. So the old traveller bowed down again, and left the court to ponder the riddle.

Later that evening, as the king was preparing a feast to celebrate the one-year mark of his challenge, and to revel in all his wealth and stature and intelligence, the traveller returned to court. He walked up to the king, bowed his head low, and then passed to the king a small piece of paper.

The king’s subjects and his ministers and his scholars all watched as the king unfolded the scrap of paper, and they all saw as his normal, self-satisfied smile turn first to confusion, and then to a frown. For on the little piece of paper were inscribed the words:

this too shall pass


I heard a version of this story a long, long time ago, and since then it has filtered in and out of my mind many times, but usually at moments of great pain or loss. Over the past year or so I have found myself returning to this story frequently as I struggled with certain kinds of ‘rights of passage’ that come with growing up: your body failing, the death of loved ones, the frustration of life’s foibles, the difficulty of truly closing the space between you and another human being.

Despite my initial inclination to turn to this phrase in the most darkest hours, I have come also this year to appreciate its duality: it is as true in times of joy as in times of sorrow. Although the king’s challenge suggests that the phrase will turn the joyful man sorrowful, I have come to realize the beautiful, positive joy of the phrase even when it is read in times of joy. To me, the phrase is not the comfort that pain will pass and sorrow that joy will too, but rather the comfort that pain will pass and the most powerful reminder that we must hold on and immerse ourselves as fully as we are able in times of joy…for they, too, will pass. It is a reminder that each moment of joy is as precious as it is surely fleeting. From this point of view it isn’t sorrowful, but hopeful: it encourages us to soar in those moments of joy.

Life is short, and we have only the time that we are given, nothing more. Never more. Remembering that in our brief lives each moment of joy will pass, like each moment of pain, is the story of ‘Part Two’, which I will be adding soon.

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Thoughts for Thursdays – The Bad Wolf & Anger

Have you heard the story of the two wolves yet?

An elderly Cherokee Native American was teaching his grandchildren about life. He said to them, “A fight is going on inside me, it is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One wolf is evil—he is fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, competition, superiority, and ego. The other is good—he is joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith. This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too.”

They thought about it for a minute, and then one child asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win, Grandfather?” The Elder simply replied, “The one you feed.”

I had saved this story somewhere, and I came across it again today while looking for something to write about. It resonated with me because I have spent the past few days struggling with many of the bad wolf’s feelings: anger, sorrow, regret, resentment…

I don’t think that it is fair to label any of these emotions ‘evil’ all on their own–life is simply not that black & white. I know that every emotion has something to tell you about what’s going on in your life. Anger, for example, is often the messenger that speaks to us of a loss of power, or a transgression of our boundaries. She is a powerful emotion that can allow us to jump into action. Anger is not evil all on her own–she is evil only when you spend too long feeding her. This is where I identify with the story of the bad wolf–I do not judge myself for my anger, but I know that if I feed her too much, too long, she might grow into a monster inside of me. Then an emotion that is natural, that provides self-awareness and insight into a situation, can become distorted into the big hungry bad wolf.

I have spent the past few days feeding the bad wolf. I imagine I’ll be spending a while longer feeding it, too. And when I am ready, I will be able to turn my energy towards the good wolf. Until then, I’ll keep the story of the wolves in mind as a reminder of who I would like to win the battle.

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