Sea turtle swimming under water.

Just Keep Swimming

Personal Diary

I remember seeing a newspaper headline once, asking something to the effect of “Why are optimistic people so insufferable?” Then, as now, it struck me as a truly bizarre thing to say. Why should we find happy people difficult to tolerate? I certainly don’t. For me, they’re a breath of fresh air and an example of how to embrace the chaos and unpredictability of life with a smile.

In my life there is no better representation of this than my grandfather. He is the ultimate vision of a grateful, meaningful existence. I don’t think I have ever seen him unhappy. Not in a plastic, “fake it ’til you make it” kind of way, but a sincere, beaming display of exuberance. He’s a human embodiment of the warm rays of the sun.

Unfortunately, I am not one of those people. I want to be, but more often than not I find reasons to feel gloomy and pessimistic; forever seeing risk instead of opportunity. I’ve written about Being Eeyore before, and unfortunately that’s a frame of mind that’s lingered over me like a little raincloud for the entire pandemic. All the same, it’s crucial to keep pushing forward.

“Trudging the road of happy destiny” is one thing. At least you’re progressing in a useful direction; doing your best to work through adversity towards brighter days and greener pastures. “Working and waiting to die” on the other hand, as a friend of mine once said, encapsulates the pain of profound despair and is an entirely different matter. Passive resignation of a hopeless and bleak future is no way to live.

So where does that leave us during hard times? “Just keep swimming.”

This is not to say my spirit animal is an animated fish with short term memory loss, but the mantra works. There are many additional quotes from popular culture we could also look to, from Monty Python’s “Always look on the bright side of life,” to Gandalf’s advice in The Hobbit:

“Always remember, Bilbo, when your heart wants lifting, think of pleasant things.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

The point is, finding hope sometimes means looking for it – through action. “Seek and ye shall find,” as they say.

This is where optimistic people are so crucial in the world, at least to me. They provide us pessimistic folks with an example of what a positive outlook looks like, when it can feel so foreign and fake.

Optimistic people aren’t insufferable, they’re irreplaceable.

Buddhist monk sitting

Gaining Clarity

Personal Diary

As bizarre as it sounds, “What do you want?” is one of the most difficult questions anyone can ever ask me. Not “what do you want?” as a roundabout way of implying “I don’t appreciate your presence here and wish you would go someplace else,” but as a meaningful inquiry into my hopes and dreams in life.

I used to pride myself on responding “I’d rather want what I have than know what I want,” but I’ve come to realise, while it is an honest answer, it’s also more of a shield to avoid answering the question.

I admire people who can easily rattle off a list of life goals without exhibiting any strain. Some of them even seem to relish the experience! I’m just not that way. I find it a truly stressful process. I need to sit alone, simmer, mutter, and grumble my way through a list, which gets edited, crumpled up, thrown away, and revisited numerous times before I’m eventually satisfied with it.

It’s meant to be an inspiring process that reveals the endless possibilities of life, but that’s rarely the way it feels to me. All the same, I think it’s a really important topic to meditate on, and revisit – especially when life beings to feel stale.

When I was in uni (aka college), I had a geography lecturer whose mantra was “Once you know what to think, you’ll know how to act.” He must have emphasised that phrase a hundred times by the end of term, and I’ve never forgotten it as a result. I learned a lot of valuable lessons in that class – some geographical, some not – and for that I’ll be forever grateful to him.

If you never spend any time contemplating what you think, want, or believe, how are you going to know what to do with yourself, what decisions to make, or where you’d like to end up in the world? In the worst case, you’d risk spending your life merely existing; whiling away the years until you realise it’s over and you never bothered to think about what’s important to you. That would be a real shame.

For me, clarity brings purpose, and aligning with purpose brings happiness. That’s why pursuing the question “What do you want?” is so important. It’s a process through which we find ourselves; achieving the goals themselves is merely gravy.