Is happiness a state of mind?

You know, one of these days I’m actually going to finish a post when I mean to. Recently I’ve got into the habit of starting posts and not finishing them… I’m not sure why, there’s nothing particularly wrong with them. I just don’t feel like posting them and they get put aside.

I started doing it again with this post; I started writing it on Boxing Day and only got back to it today. I needed a couple of days to clear my mind anyway, so it wasn’t a bad thing… it’s just annoying and feels too much like writer’s block to me. I have enough of that in my life already, thanks.

Anyway, I’ve found myself thinking about happiness a lot lately. What started it was when I had dinner with my parents on Christmas day. A funny thing happened. It was just the three of us as we’re never that fussed about having a big Christmas. A couple of hours before we were going to eat, my mother decided to use the good china and we spent about ten minutes trying to find the good glasses to go with them. I think they must have vanished into the Twilight Zone because we couldn’t find them, so we settled for some champagne glasses instead.

I don’t drink much, so it was just ginger ale and it probably would have been easier to have drunk it out of the bottle. But it seemed like a nice idea, so I went along with it. My mistake. I’m halfway through the meal – a nice salad; we can’t imagine a roast on a hot day – and start to take a sip. Except I can’t. The glass won’t go past my nose.

I’ve never thought of myself as having a particularly large nose, but I must have as I just couldn’t get the glass past it. Maybe my nose was broken when that sandbag hit me ten years ago; maybe I’ve been telling too many lies like Pinocchio. Either way, it wasn’t working and tipping my head back didn’t help. I had a decision to make; either admit defeat (ha!) and get a different glass, or work out some other way.

So very slowly I started to slide down in my chair. I was able to angle the glass more and eventually the drink started to tip out. Of course by this time my parents were in absolute hysterics and I’m busy studying them, trying to work out which was to blame for my humongous nose. Strangely they’re both quite normal. I guess the gene must have skipped a generation. ๐Ÿ˜•

Later on I thought about it and I realised that, in a strange way, it was a nice experience. I mean, yes, I was being stubborn, but I didn’t feel embarrassed or stupid; I was with family and it’s been a while since we’d laughed like that. Even now when I think about it, it still gives me a happy feeling and that’s something I’ll remember for a long time.

Happiness is a strange thing, isn’t it? It’s something that can feel so different; contentment and peace can give us one kind of happiness, intense joy another. The way we each experience happiness is different, as is what makes us happy. Something I find funny – a show like Seinfeld or Friends – might be annoying to someone else; likewise some of us might go through our lives without showing much emotion, but might still feel peaceful and content. Happiness is so hard to define, but plays such an important part in our lives.

What I’ve been wondering recently is, do I feel happy in my life? Am I a happy person? If I’m being honest then I’d have to say I’m not sure. Most of the time I’m probably not; I like to laugh (and make people laugh) and try not to take things too seriously, but I consider things carefully and that’s my natural response. At the same time I’m not unhappy or sad either. I actually think I’m at peace most of the time. Happiness or sadness is an emotional response for me; I’m neither all the time, I’m just going about my day.

I think a lot of people confuse being “positive” with being “happy”. Being positive is a way of looking at life; being happy is an emotional response which comes from your mindset. You can choose to be positive, but usually something happens that makes you happy. I’ve heard people say they’re positive and so they’re happy, but I’m not so sure. For a lot of people having a positive mindset is a great thing; it lets you look to the future and it’s helped sportspeople and people in everyday life. But I’ve met several people who I’ve thought are so positive that they’re miserable. They work so hard at creating their outlook that they bring everyone down, including themselves; their relations with their families and friends are strained and though they’re positive, they never seem particularly happy… they always want more.

I think having a positive outlook in life is more likely to make us happy, but doesn’t mean we will be happy. And I suppose that’s why I’ve been thinking about this. I’ve been reading some articles recently that indicate if you’re happier, you’ll be healthier too. One study found that “happy” subjects were one-third less likely to develop a cold, while another found that people who thought in happier and more positive ways were more likely to increase their longevity by an average of 10 years.

If that’s right then there’s a definite reason to want to be happier. And so maybe I should make more of an effort to be happier and not let things bother me… although again I don’t feel like I’m unhappy or particularly negative. I’m content with who I am and think I’m a fairly realistic person. Plus isn’t the whole idea of what makes us happy all relative? I’m writing a new poem at the moment and like a lot of my poetry, it’s quite melancholic… some people might find it depressing but even though it’s sad, it makes me happy because it’s something I want to write. I think the key to happiness is respecting yourself, and in that way I’m at peace.

I wonder what you think? Does being happy make us healthy? Is happiness a state of mind? I’d be interested to find out, and I wish you all peace and happiness in the new year. ๐Ÿ™‚

Are you a child of the 80s?

Are You a Child of the 80s?

I had a post planned for today but I haven’t been able to finish it yet, so I thought I’d post a quick quiz instead. This one caught my eye. I’m definitely a child of the 80s; I love the cheesy movies and the bad fashion, U2, INXS and the power ballads, and I’m just old enough to remember Full House when it started (unfortunately).

My result surprised me a bit, though; I knew I’d do well but I know more about the 80s than I actually remember. But I’ve got pictures of my mother with shoulder pads, watching Top Gun always makes me want to be a fighter pilot, I loved ET, we had one of the early VCRs in Aus, and Thriller was cool! Not to mention I know all the words to Sweet Child O’Mine, and there’s a little film called The Empire Strikes Back I like. ๐Ÿ˜‰

I think I’m out of my time. I’m trying to bring the mullet back, but it’s not working… what about you? Are you an 80s tragic or was your experience totally bogus? ๐Ÿ™‚

2000 Miles

Do you have a favourite seasonal song? If I had a favourite one it would be The Pretenders’ 2000 Miles; it’s such a beautiful, sad song… whenever I hear it it takes me somewhere far away. 2000 Miles and Joni Mitchell’s River are two songs I can listen to at any time of the year and still get shivers.

I found this video on YouTube and it’s a wonderful live performance… Chrissie Hynde has never sounded better. I could listen to her voice for hours.

I still can’t believe it’s almost Christmas. The years just go by more quickly. I don’t think I’ve felt the spirit as much this year, though. Maybe I’ve just been too busy, and I still haven’t finished all my shopping yet! But listening to a song like this brings it all back.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone, and my best wishes for a peaceful New Year.

Forever Young

I came across this photo on Stock.Xchang earlier and fell in love with it. I love how the tree spreads to fill the image and is framed against the ocean’s glare, how the ocean blends into the sky. The empty bench seems almost sad as well, like there’s no one there to appreciate the beauty… I’m a bit of an amateur photographer and it makes me feel jealous!

What it reminds me of more than anything is summer. It just feels bright and summery. I like the summer months. Well, I don’t enjoy the heat; sometimes it tops 40ยฐ C in Sydney and not many people enjoy that. But I like the feeling that comes with summer, the extra light and warmth wiping away the last cobwebs of winter. I love the fresh smell in the air; the lazy days running into one another; sitting under a tree, watching the people go by.

Whenever I think of summer it brings back my adolescence. Some of my fondest memories come from the summer months, on days just like the one in the photo. Playing cricket with my father in the school nets; watching the tennis on TV and playing on the weekends under the hot sun. Listening to Rob Thomas’s and Santana’s Smooth. Drinking a half-melted Calippo, biting into a juicy peach… walks along the beach, the sun gleaming off the ocean.

I cherish those memories but thinking about them also makes me feel sad in a way. I’m at the age where I’m accepting more responsibility and control in my life, but the trade-off is that those days are behind me. I’m happy with who I am but sometimes I miss that feeling. Not wanting to see the world through younger eyes, but to be more carefree and not let things get to me so much. In some ways I wish I could stay forever young.

I love Alphaville’s Forever Young. It was released the year I was born and it’s such a haunting song. There are a couple of lines I’ve always related to.

Some are like water, some are like the heat
Some are a melody and some are the beat
Sooner or later they all will be gone
Why don’t they stay young?

I’ve always thought the lyrics aren’t just about staying young and growing older but also about beauty…. I’ve noticed recently that I don’t look at the world in the same way as I did before. That’s not necessarily bad, but what I used to stop and notice around me now I don’t notice as often. My life has more priorities; I have less time to sit and watch the world go by. I find that sad… if I can’t find time to appreciate beauty, what’s the point of all the rest?

People say that you’re only as old as you feel inside and I know what they mean… I think for as long as I live my heart will remember how I felt during those golden summers and I’ll never lose it. But there is a danger in that as well. It’s simple to value the past so much that we become lost in it; that we’d want to spend more time with our memories and watching old TV series than experiencing the present. That’s something I never want to do; I value life and my journey too much for that. What I think staying forever young really means is holding onto the joys of our life as we move forward; if we can do that, then we are never old. And if our memory lives on, we never die.

The photo reminded me of that, the empty bench looking out at the ocean… and it reminded me again that I need to take more time to look at the world around me, its beauty. As a writer I’ve been looking at the world in terms of people, but that’s only a small part of life.

Strange how something as simple as a photo could touch me so much. But then beauty comes in all forms; it’s our job to recognise it. And I was lucky enough to this time.

Courage and courtesy

I’ve had a couple of strange experiences this week. Nothing that would make you wonder if it’s a full moon or something, but strange enough that they’ve stood out. They’re actually related and that’s part of what I find strange.

The first thing happened when I was finishing the last of my Christmas shopping a couple of days ago. I decided I’d get the bus back as it was late and I had a few things to carry. It was fairly busy and a mother and her baby sat in front of me. The baby seemed fascinated by my appearance. Maybe it’s the beard or maybe he thought I was particularly ugly but he just stared at me the whole time. Have you ever had a kid just stare at you? It’s freaky. I didn’t know where to look, so I looked out the window and every now and then glanced back. He didn’t move. I swear this kid could break someone in Guantรกnamo.

Anyway, after about ten minutes they started to get off, her balancing several bags and the kid in one arm and trying to pick up the stroller with her other hand. I got up and offered to carry the stroller down for her; she looked stunned that I’d offer. So I carried it down and she thanked me, but still seemed surprised that I’d want to help. I didn’t say anything but as I returned to my seat, I couldn’t help but wonder why she thought it strange that I’d help. Was it something about me that made her think I wasn’t the kind of person who’d notice she needed help? Or was she just surprised that anyone would help? I suppose I’ll never know, but no one else moved, not even the driver… I found that very strange. There were at least thirty other people on the bus and twenty near where she was sitting. Are we really so involved in our own worlds that we wouldn’t think to help a mother who obviously needed it? Or did they all think that someone else would do it? I don’t know which is worse.

The second thing happened a day later. I was out again and on my way to browse in a couple of bookshops to kill some time. A woman and I both reached the escalator at the same time; I had a little more room and probably could have gone first, but I stepped back and let her go. She looked at me with that same look on her face: half-bewilderment, half-smile, like I’d just done something very unexpected. Maybe I had but it’s actually something I do a lot, for men and women. It’s partly because I try to be polite but also because I don’t like getting bumped on the escalators; I’ve lost my balance several times when somebody’s brushed past me, so I find it easier just to let them go first.

It was only a small thing, but again it struck me as strange. Is it really so unusual that someone would do that? Are we so used to forming long queues and yelling at each other on the roads that when someone gives way, it feels unexpected?

Truthfully I wouldn’t have thought much of it, except that two similar things had happened in as many days and now it’s got inside my head. I don’t believe in coincidences and it’s made me wonder if courtesy is slowly dying. Well, not wonder; I know it is. There’s no doubt that people aren’t as polite to each other and when they are, it often feels fake. No doubt that people speak to each other more harshly and are always in a hurry; no doubt that we spend a lot of our time listening to music inside our heads, unaware of what’s going on around us… I just hadn’t realised that it had come so far as to seem strange when someone actually did a kind act. Shouldn’t it be the other way round?

What it’s made me think about as well is courage. I’ve said before that I think it’s much harder to do the right thing, to make a right decision, than it is to do the wrong thing or make a wrong decision. There are many different ways of approaching something; there might be many favourable outcomes, but I would say there are many more unfavourable ones because there are so many obstacles that can get in our way. Sometimes you need to back yourself and go ahead no matter what people say, or do something you know is right when everyone disagrees.

I’m not going to say that anything I did was courageous, but I think you need a bit of courage to perform a kind act. You need not to be afraid that you’ll make a fool out of yourself (always possible) and to believe that you can help. Sometimes you need to swallow your pride and do what has to be done. And sometimes you need to stand up for what you believe in even when it might seem better to stay quiet. How many disadvantaged people have been helped because someone took the time to listen? How many small acts of kindness have changed lives because someone had the courage to say “I want to help”? More than we’ll ever know.

Maybe I’m making a big deal out of two small experiences, but I find it very sad to think that common courtesy is becoming a thing of the past. This isn’t me lamenting the death of society or how inconsiderate people my age are; if anything I think the opposite. I just think that the way we deal with each other says so much for who we are, for who I am as a person. I can go round listening to my iPod quite comfortably and not notice anything outside of it; I bristle when someone says something harsh to me like anyone else, and I can just as easily say something harsh back. Sometimes that’s entirely appropriate. But the way I behave affects other people too; carrying a stroller or letting someone go first is such a small thing, but can make such a difference. Both those women were surprised but pleased; my doing one nice thing for them gave them a good feeling. It would have been easy for me to do neither, and it wouldn’t necessarily have been wrong, but I think the world would be a much colder and sadder place to live in without those small acts of kindness. So I help where I can.

With Christmas so near it’s simple to get caught up in the frenzy and forget about the impact we can have on other people, so I think it’s important that we make the effort to be polite and helpful if we can. It’s not easy with all the noise and music and people, but a kind word or gesture can make all the difference in someone’s day. So my resolution from now until Christmas (and beyond!) is to try and do something nice for someone each day. A stranger, a friend, whoever, I want to show that courtesy isn’t completely dead. Anyone want to join me? ๐Ÿ˜‰

Naughty or nice?

Little Naughty

Were You Naughty or Nice This Year?

As my last post was about getting into the festive spirit, I thought it might be fun to look at a few Christmas quizzes. There are a couple of interesting ones at Blogthings, particularly one on How Much Do You Know About Christmas? I didn’t agree with a couple of answers, though, which is why I didn’t post it (it’s not 9 reindeer, is it? Rudolph doesn’t count).

The one I liked more was this one on if you’ve been naughty or nice. Apparently I’ve been a little naughty this year. Hm, I hadn’t really thought about it, but I guess it’s not far off. I’ve got an image to maintain, you know. ๐Ÿ˜‰

I remember I used to make a big deal about it when I was younger. What about you? Did you ever try to bribe Santa? It never worked for me. ๐Ÿ™‚

The smallest of truths

Image from Stock.Xchang

The smallest of truths
Hidden in a field of lies
Towers over all

Beauty without form
Colder than a frozen heart:
Only anger warms

A forbidden kiss
Reflected in candlelight:
My heart remembers

Memories of life
Strongest before the darkness
Fade away with dawn

A final goodbye:
A time for joy and sorrow
Time enough for love

Leaves falling to Earth
Branches reaching to Heaven:
Finally at peace

Licenced under a Creative Commons Licence

Is the glass half empty or half full?

While I was putting together my list of 5 sayings that don’t make sense a few days ago, my mind kept coming back to “is the glass half empty or half full?”. Not because it doesn’t make sense, but because I just detest the expression with a passion. I think it was inflicted on me a few too many times as a child; I’ve never liked being psychoanalysed to begin with and now I just cringe whenever I hear it. Seriously, I don’t think there’s an expression I hate more; “because I said so” and “let’s face it” would come close, but even they don’t set my teeth on edge the same way.

A few years ago I used to hear it so often that I tried to make a game out of it; I thought if I could come up with a different answer every time, I might somehow preserve my sanity. I came up with some pretty good ones and sometimes I’d just change my answers to mess with people. It’s half full. It’s half empty. Well, it’s half empty, but really it’s full because the other half is full of air. Right now it’s half full, but there’s a crack in the glass so soon it’ll only be a third full. I decline to comment because it will reveal more about my psyche than the police are willing for me to reveal. And my personal favourite: There is no glass. You should have seen the way they’d stare at me, then turn to look at the glass when I said that! It was priceless. ๐Ÿ™‚

But of course the reason the expression exists and has become so popular is because it asks such a simple question, but has no simple answer. We’re fascinated by the way optimistic and pessimistic influences appear in our lives; that’s why there are so many psychology books, so many self-help books – our thinking determines how we act in our day to day lives, and it’s daunting to think out mindset might have a negative outlook.

Why should it worry us, though? What’s so bad about seeing the glass as half-empty? I’ve never quite understood why. Most of us know it’s not good to be pessimistic; being in a negative state of mind makes it more difficult to function and brings you and everyone around you down, as well as having an impact on depression and other illnesses. But I don’t buy into this idea that just because I look at an equation one way, that means I’m more likely to subscribe to a certain kind of mindset. It’s just too simple; too black and white. I know it’s not that simple because whenever I try to answer the question seriously, my answer varies, and not for the reasons people think.

Does anyone else find that as well? Maybe not, but my first reaction when someone asks me “if the glass is half empty or half full?” is that it depends on whether the person is pouring or drinking. Does that make me pessimistic? I think it makes me realistic; I can’t answer the question without knowing. If you are drinking from the glass, it’s half empty; if you’re pouring water, it’s half full. Prove me wrong! ๐Ÿ˜‰ But if I put that aside, I’ll often answer based on how I’m feeling that day; if I’ve had a good day, I’m more likely to say half full; a bad day, half empty. For me it’s about mood and not mindset; because my mood changes every day, how can one answer be an accurate reflection of my thinking overall?

It can’t. And that’s why I hate the expression, because people swear by it as fact; I’ve had many arguments with people who just don’t seem to accept that my answers are outside their definitions. Well, maybe they’re right from a certain point of view, but that doesn’t mean I’m not entitled to my opinion.

My definition of pessimism (or optimism) isn’t based on a thought but on a lifestyle; it’s not how you answer a question, but how you live every day. I’m more in the camp of Arthur Schopenhauer’s definition of pessimism than this current idea of negative thinking. To me pessimism is the belief (constant belief) that the world around us is the worst possible; that things will only become worse; that evil will triumph over good. Optimism is the belief that we exist for betterment and goodness; that we have value and people and events are intrinsically good; that the world has a positive influence. For me the only way to judge either is through someone’s feelings and personality rather than their mindset.

Personality is an interesting thing, isn’t it? I posted a quiz called What Kind of Soul Are You? the other day and thanks to everybody who took the time to take it ๐Ÿ™‚ , you can see some quite distinct differences. It was just a fun quiz but it was surprisingly accurate with my results; I’m fairly trusting and impulsive, and I like to think I’m creative and nonconformist. What really interested me was the way different types of people were more compatible than others; that’s true in real life. How often does someone rub you the wrong way, or you’re unable to form a connection for no reason? And yet with others, you’re on the same wavelength right away.

I think it’s because we recognise similar traits in each other; we all have our likes and dislikes, and over time that becomes part of our psyche and difficult (though not impossible!) to look past. So it’s not so strange to think that we’d form connections with people who best complement us. Often more positive people will be drawn together, and likewise negative people. Someone who thinks on a more intellectual level will crave that in return, while a docile personality might gravitate toward the opposite, to someone with strength to dominate the relationship. Our personality is unique to us, a reflection of our humour and everything that makes us an individual; whereas our thoughts can change day to day, our personality is much harder to change. It reveals much more than we vocalise; our intensity, our hopes. That’s why it’s a better judge of what kind of person we are.

So what kind of person do I think I am? The truth is, I don’t think of myself as either an optimist or a pessimist. I don’t like categorising myself as anything because then I’m putting myself in a box, and once I’m in there it’s hard to get back out. Deep down I’m a positive person; I don’t chastise myself often and usually my thoughts and dreams are hopeful. But I don’t like closing myself off to my negative thoughts either because I learn more from them than from my positive ones. If I can ask myself, “why am I thinking that?”, then I can actually turn it around to my advantage; I’m not afraid to face my insecurities, and that’s why I have few fears.

If I had to say something, I guess I’d call myself a realist. Maybe that’s a cop out, but that’s just me being honest. I wonder how you see the glass? Or maybe there isn’t any glass at all? ๐Ÿ˜‰

Profile: CJ Levinson

CJ in ArgyleInterests: Reading, writing, history, mythology, movies, music, cricket, tennis.

Favourite Movies: The Cider House Rules, Blade Runner, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back, Finding Forrester, The Green Mile, The Man Who Cried, Pan’s Labyrinth, Lost in Translation.

Favourite Music: (pop/rock) U2, Coldplay, SavageGarden, The White Stripes, Tina Arena, Sarah McLachlan, Fleetwood Mac, Crowded House, Joni Mitchell, KT Tunstall, Sarah Blasko (scores) John Williams, Michael Kamen (R.I.P.), Alan Silvestri, Vangelis, Rachel Portman, Howard Shore.

Favourite Books: Darwinโ€™s Radio by Greg Bear, The Green Mile by Stephen King, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link, The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick.

On writing: I like the initial creation of a story most, when the characters and plot come to life for the first time. I write by hand and I write four to five pages a day. The story starts to come together when I’m editing it. I’ve become much better at editing, looking back at my earlier stories. I enjoy that part of it more now.

On ideas: Sometimes something will just jump out at me from a magazine or newspaper, but usually I’ll start with the characters and try to develop an interesting setting that would impact them or society; the impact of a new technology or drug, etc. I also read a lot; if you don’t read, you can’t write.

On the future: I’d love to have a novel published. I’ve had 10 small publications so far and interest from several agents. Realistically I’m still a long way from that; maybe when I’m 27 (another 4 years or so) I’ll be ready to send more of my work away. I find it difficult looking back at my early work now… something like Monica Davis shows how far I’ve come since A Glimpse of the Future.

On the world: I’d like to be optimistic, but it’s hard to be optimistic right now. Ever since 9/11 the world’s been a different, scarier place, and it’s hard to see that changing. The Terror War touches us all; through our televisions, the Internet, on trains and buses and planes, at security terminals and shopping malls. You can argue whether the war is being fought the right way (and much of it is a mess), but the most important thing to remember is to make sure we don’t lose ourselves in the process; give away too many of our freedoms and what do we have left to fight for? The problem is this isn’t just a Terror War, it’s an age of fear. We live in a time when terrorism, abductions, paedophilia, drugs, AIDS, etc. are more visible than ever, brought home every minute, every day by 24 hour news… it paralyses people, and an irresponsible media covering terror for ratings doesn’t help anyone.

On Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal: Federer is a joy to watch and is probably my favourite player of the last 30 years. He makes shots no one would dream of making and carries himself so well, on and off the court. I’d love to see Federer win the French Open, but it’s great seeing Nadal doing so well now; he deserves every accolade and their rivalry is good for the sport. Nadal seemsย  to be getting stronger and better and he seems a real chance for the Grand Slam, which would be a wonderful achievement. Hopefully their rivalry will keep Federer hungry in this new stage of his career as well – the last thing we want is for him to quit early like Borg.

On the Ashes: The 2006-07 series was disappointing after all of the hype. I certainly didn’t pick a 5-0 result to Australia, although obviously I was glad with the win. England never seemed like they could beat Australia and in the end it became more of a farewell for Langer, Warne and McGrath. I imagine this series will be different. I doubt we’ll get a series even half as good as the 2005 series but both Australia and England have shown signs of improvement recently after lackluster performances in 2008. Johnson has come of age as an all-rounder and Strauss seems to be providing stability as captain to an England side that badly needs it. I think it will be a good series but Australia will win 3-1. The battle between Johnson and Pietersen will be particularly interesting.