Appreciation

Daily gratitude journaling! It’s a great habit to get into. Our minds have been naturally trained to spot the threat to ensure survival. This leads to the observed negativity bias. Studies have shown that when presented with frowning face, we will find and process the frowning face much faster than if the experiment is reversed. Again, this is wonderful for survival…not so good for happiness! And since we no longer have saber tooth tigers chasing us down the prairie, maybe it would be a good idea to train the mind to focus on the smiling faces a bit more often. (See Facial Expressions of Emotion: Are Angry Faces Detected More Efficiently? and Finding the face in the crowd: An anger superiority effect.)

Since we have this tendency of focusing on the negative and constantly try to resolve some kind of problem in our lives, we often overlook all the great things we have already, right now! We quickly grow so accustomed that we hardly notice it anymore. It is only when we are deprived of our blessings that we recognize how grateful we should have been. So it might be a good idea to intentionally deprive ourselves of luxuries every now and then, but I’ll leave that for another post.

Instead of hitting the Facebook feed or even worse, the news, first thing in the morning, I am starting the practice of writing out 3 simple things that I am grateful for in my life. And I mean actually writing them out, with pen and paper. Otherwise the temptation is too great to just brush over this with a yeah, yeah! – that’s all fine, but what about my problems! Taking the time to appreciate things will not only put us in a better mood, but also make us less fearful.

Dan Baker, Ph.D. describes in What Happy People Know: How the New Science of Happiness Can Change Your Life for the Better how it is physiologically impossible for a human being to be in the state of gratitude and fear at the same time. From my own experience I know that I make better decisions and that life in general is just a bit better when there is more gratitude and less fear involved. I believe that this can be trained like anything else. It is not the default mode, but takes actual effort to change mental habits over time.

However, it is a really worthwhile practice, because without appreciation, any achievement is really empty and simply leads to the quest for the next mountain to climb.

Today I am thankful for being able to write and share some ideas that hopefully help somebody, just like others were able to help me with their writing.

Breaking free

Drawing-Thoreau-Cabin-at-Waldon

Breaking free for me means to make more time and space for the things that really matter: to do meaningful work helping others, spend time with people we love, care for our bodies and souls, play outside, gently push ourselves into discomfort to constantly grow and learn.

For some, this is possible within the confines of a 9-5 job. Others simply feel that their work is a means to an end, which buys them the freedom to take vacations and enjoy the finer things in life. However, many others, including me, feel trapped in what seems like an inescapable cycle. We spend such a large amount of time at work that does not inspire us, produces a lot of stress and ultimately leaves us unfulfilled. We seek moments of release on the weekends, often by drinking, binge watching TV, or going on some exotic vacation in order to escape the dread of the week ahead and the week behind us.

Some people call this working hard and playing hard, while patting themselves on the back for being able to endure all of these self-created struggles. For a long time I thought this too…I’m being too soft! I just need to suck it up and make the best out of it! Focus on the positive! Every job has its good and bad sides! Besides, I have expenses, and what else am I going to do?

And there is a lot of truth in that. The attitude and things we focus on can make a big difference in how we perceive our day and nobody likes a complainer, including ourselves. Also, we cannot simply run away from our responsibilities. However, to quote Elon Musk: “life has to be about more than just solving one miserable problem after another!” Life should have a sense of adventure about it! And while we can never totally eliminate drudge-work, if we believe our work has meaning, we are more willing to stick it out with a smile. But to simply work a job in order to pay for the things that allow us to continue working that job makes no sense. That is the rat race. That is fight club’s storyline of working a job we hate, to buy things we don’t need, to impress people we don’t like!

So I stumbled upon people who had different ideas. I heard and read about minimalist lifestyles, geo-arbitrage, digital nomads, the tiny house movement and people taking risks to take the road less travelled. I read Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour-Workweek and heard of many other inspiring stories. I would talk to people about these ideas for a long time…in a way trying to convince myself that it was the right thing to. However, as much as I wanted to escape this cycle, I was also very comfortable with this situation. Life was easy and the problems familiar. Especially from the outside it looked like I shouldn’t have anything to complain about.

However, without ever actually taking any of these steps I remember my wise 5-year old nephew calling me out when he was outraged that I told him to jump into the cold pool while I was lounging on a comfortable chair in the sun: “Uncle, that’s not fair! You can’t ask other people to do something that you won’t do yourself!”

So finally I decided to actually walk the walk and start this journey.

I cleared out my apartment, sold my car, and got rid of many of my possessions.

To further make a big dent in the monthly expenses that keep us stuck in the cycle, I decided to leave the big city and build my own cabin in Tennessee/North Carolina. This will allow me to live rent-free and drastically reduce expenses. There is a lot of fear and uncertainty associated with this. Won’t I be bored and lonely away from the big city? Am I getting in over my head with the construction? Will wild boars attack me? As scary as those things are, I know not trying it would only lead to regret and that is even scarier.

As I take these steps to simplify my life and refocus on what matters, I want to share what I learn through this blog, because I feel so grateful for those who did the same and gave me encouragement.