Things That Matter

One of the ironies of the modern world is that all of the data and technology we have at our fingertips doesn’t actually make us happier. It makes life easier. But that doesn’t necessarily make it more pleasant.

The sheer amount of information flying around out there is one of the problems. This dearth of data is new to humanity. It wasn’t there when I was a kid. Things seemed simpler back in the day because they were. There wasn’t nearly as much noise to process.

All kinds of different studies have shown that the more options people have, the more unhappy they become. There’s a psychological term for it: choice paralysis. One famous study that shows how people who pick an ice cream flavor from a group of three (or six, I forget) are generally more satisfied than people who pick from a group of 12 or more. The idea is that your brain subconsciously judges the quality of the decision you just made; and the chances that you made the right pick from a group of six are better than from the larger group. As a result, you feel better about your decision when there are fewer options. As Harvard professor Barry Schwartz puts it, “My colleagues and I have found that increased choice decreases satisfaction with matters as trivial as ice cream flavors and as significant as jobs.”

And therein lies the problem. We all have access to an insane amount of information that we can pull up at a moments notice. When you go on Twitter or Facebook, or mindlessly bounce around on the internet you’re bombarded by information. What to do with it all? Who should you engage with? How should you translate all of this information to improve your own life? There are so many options.

In his book, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, Yuval Noah Hariri writes, “Broadening our horizons can backfire by making us more confused and inactive than ever before. With so many scenarios and possibilities, what should we pay attention to?…Humans relinquish authority to the free market, to crowd wisdom and to external algorithms partly because they cannot deal with the deluge of data.” We’re drowning in a sea of information.

It’s tempting to respond by deleting your Facebook account, or your Twitter account, or getting rid of your tv. But is that going to really change things in the long run? I’m not sure. We seem to be careening toward a much more complex world in which focusing our attention on the things that really matter will be much more difficult — and, crucial — than ever before.

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Playing a Different Game

Everyone’s playing the competition game. They look at day-to-day life as a sort of contest, and subsequently feel the need to prove themselves at every turn. This worldview is so prevalent that it was only recently that I began to realize, on a deep level, that I don’t have to play the game. This little cognitive tweak has been a game-changer.

The people who view life in the way I’m describing are the ones who ride your tail on the highway. They’re the folks who refuse to step aside on the sidewalk. They cut in line. They’re Twitter trolls. They give waitresses bad tips for not being fast enough. You know lots of these people.

Such people are often running according to a subconscious script that sees the world as a dangerous place in which they have to struggle to get by. There’s only a limited amount of resources, and it’s either you or me. Survival of the fittest. Fear rules the day.

But life really isn’t a competition. You can get through it without playing the game that most other people play. Doing so gives you a tremendous amount of freedom, and actually makes you a much healthier person.

You just decide that you’re gonna let people speed ahead of you if they want…it’s no sweat off your back. You walk a beat slower and allow that dude who’s in such a rush to go past you. You ignore the negative voices on social media. Just because everyone else around you is banging their head against walls doesn’t mean you have to do the same. Fear is the mind-killer.

Creativity is our default state

“When the paraconscious is clogged through our lack of creative expression and our denial of our intuitions, we suffer from imbalance. We are dynamic beings, just as the universe itself is a dynamic process, and any restriction of the flow of energies causes strain and tension. These eventually lead to breakdown, manifested as disease, trauma, catastrophe. This is the enforced change that results from resistance to change. Whether we are talking about galaxies or individual human beings, the process is the same.”

– Jack Schwartz, Voluntary Controls


Creativity is our default state. The idea that some people are born with it and others aren’t is bullsh*t. Kids are born creative, and anyone who’s spent any time around them knows that.

The difference between those who are perceived as being creative and those who aren’t is the degree to which that first group allows the creative process to be conscious and deliberate.

The idea of making the subconscious conscious and bringing it into the light of day can be scary. But the consequences of not allowing your creative energies to flow are way more terrifying. If you live your life suppressing them, that energy will eventually manifest as something else — something wild and out of your control.

Making the Unconscious Conscious

Until you make the unconscious conscious it will rule your life, and you will call it fate.

⁃ Carl Jung

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I wish I had really understood that quote when I was a younger man. It would have saved me a lot of pain.

It’s impossible to overestimate the extent to which our habits direct the course of our lives. We like to think we have free will — and to a certain extent we do — but a huge percentage of our waking hours are spent on autopilot.

Our conscious mind has limited bandwidth. There are only so many things it can do at once. Considering the cacophony of stimuli we’re exposed to every day, we have to automate certain behaviors or we’d never get anything done.

The problem is that for most of our lives, we don’t understand this crucial process of automation. As a result, we often create habit loops that are devastating to our well-being, and we do it without having any idea what we’re up to.

All this reminds me of another great quote, from a great film: “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” Most of us are blissfully unaware of the habitual behaviors that rule our lives. But that’s where the devil lives. Until you call him out, he’ll continue to call the shots from below the surface.

Shinrin-yoku’in it all day*

The Japanese have a term called shinrin-yoku. Shinrin means forest, and yoku means bath. The English equivalent is “forest bathing”. It’s the practice of going into the woods and soaking in its essence.

The idea is that simply by being there in the woods and mindfully interacting with Nature, you receive tremendous health benefits.

Mounds of evidence supports this idea. Trees, for instance, are known to release organic compounds that help our NK, or natural killer cells, fight off invaders like cancer.

But that’s not all. A dedicated shinrin-yoku practice gives you all these things as well:

  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Reduced stress
  • Increased energy
  • Improved sleep
  • Improved mood
  • More efficient immune system

It really works too. I woke up yesterday feeling very blah. Nothing I did made me feel much better. So I went for a hike just to get out of my head. Within minutes of stepping on the trail, I felt like a new man. My body and mind felt better, fresher…almost as if the forest had cleansing properties.

*all of these photos were taken by me at Harriman State Park, NY on 12/5/18

We’re Living Through Wild Times

Look at this, you scornful souls, and lose yourself in wonder.

For in your day I do such deeds that, if men were to tell you this

Story, you would not believe it.

St. Paul (speaking for God), Acts 12


This Thanksgiving, I thanked our Creator for allowing me to be here, in this place, at this moment in time. We’re at a juncture in history that people will talk about for generations to come. It’s going to be a bumpy ride…but we’ll get through it all, as we always do. And we’ll be a better, more robust version of ourselves on the other side.

I’m just grateful to be a part of it all.

Unprecedented…

…is a word that’s thrown around a lot these days, often carelessly. Everything is “unprecedented.” I think it’s because of our relative youth that lots of Americans take for granted the fact that most things actually do have precedent.

My country is divided in many ways, no doubt. But at least half of us aren’t splitting off to form a new country, as happened a few generations ago.

Our political discourse is indeed toxic, and many of our elected officials behave in ways that make us wince. But at least nobody has been beaten within an inch of their life on the Senate floor recently.

Many of us are not treating our Latin American neighbors with the dignity and respect they deserve; but they’re not the first immigrant group to be treated this way during tough and changing times. My own Irish ancestors faced similar treatment when they came here in droves a little over a hundred years ago.

Crazy stuff has happened in the short history of this country. We’ve been attacked on our home soil…fought a nuclear war…had outbreaks of awful diseases that killed millions…saw Presidents assassinated…and more. And we’ve survived.

History is cyclical and lots of things that seem uncanny have happened before.

I find that to be a comforting thought during times like these.