The Happy Life

Happiness does not lead to gratitude. Gratitude leads to happiness.” Monk David Steindl-Rast

I find happiness to be elusive. One minute I will feel happy, the next minute the coffee I was drinking is finished, or the weather changed, or one of the kids is loud, or the series I was binging has finished.

This sort of happiness seems so fickle because it is entirely dependent upon what is happening to me and my focus is only on what I am consuming. I hate that. I want to be someone that is always happy, no matter what is going on around them.

Bob Dylan said that happy is a ‘yuppie word’. It’s a word that gets used by people who are so fortunate in their life that they have time to think about whether they are happy or not. He went on to say that ‘it’s not happiness or unhappiness, it’s either blessed or unblessed.’

I don’t know what unblessed looks like, but I know that if I have air in my lungs, enough food to eat, a roof over my head and people in my life that love me, then I am blessed – and that makes me happy.

It’s Hard To Do in Your Own Home

Every year in February there is the Random Acts of Kindness Day, during which we are encouraged to show small acts of kindness to strangers that we encounter, to make kindness the norm. I love this idea and am encouraged by the movement. As with all parts of generosity, the science behind it proves that it is good for everyone involved, so get on it.

The challenge that I am putting to people (mostly me) this year is, alongside your random acts of kindness to total strangers on February 17, find small random kind things that you can do to your own household.

For some reason, when thinking about participating in random acts of kindness I automatically assume that it will be for someone I have never met before because that’s exciting. To imagine their surprise and delight when I gift them with something makes me happy. I find it harder to think of creating the same experience for those in my family. Perhaps I’m just a terrible person, but it seems to be a more challenging project.

Maybe the difference is the expectation. If I do a random thing once a year to someone I don’t know, then on February 18 no one is waiting expectantly to be surprised and delighted. It’s a ‘no pressure’ type of kindness. Kind of like the ‘one night stand’ version.

If I create a kindness experience for my family, those that I see every day, that see me every day and know me the best, if I have a bad day when I am ‘not as kind’, then they can rightfully ask where my kindness went. I’m not sure if I want to face that sort of scrutiny. Which is crazy because I know that if I can be kind at random intervals to them then it will serve my family well and deepen our love for each other.

So here’s to random acts of kindness everywhere but also in my household on February 17, and hopefully more to come after as it becomes the norm.

Power Over Others is Weakness

“Power over others is weakness disguised as strength.” Eckart Tolle

It’s obvious when it happens to other people. I can see it as clear as day, and I can’t figure out why they can’t.

A negative comment, a harsh opinion, and quite frankly, offensive words, from someone that is unknown to the individual. Someone that hasn’t earned the right to have any opinion that carries weight, but still it upsets. In that moment they are allowing this anonymous person to have power over them, and that anonymous person is stepping into that position of power by taking on a role of ‘expert’.

The truth is this: anything that is said or done, especially from someone whom you do not know, has nothing to do with you or your behaviour, and is all about the other person and their issues. Their pain and insecurity is overflowing and manifesting as judgement and outrage.

It is easy to see when it is happening to others, but when it happens to you, when someone judges you for something you say or do or write, it is a lot more challenging to not be swayed by ‘public opinion’. It can be difficult to not give someone power over how we feel.

It is even harder to spot when you are the perpetrator of that ‘public opinion’. When you are tearing someone down because of their ‘awful’ behaviour sometimes it is almost impossible to see that your pain and insecurity is overflowing on to others. That feeling of power and influence is intoxicating.

Power is an illusion. We seek it and wield it because it can help us feel strong, but ‘power over others is weakness disguised as strength’.

True strength comes from humility. It comes from generosity. It comes from lifting others up. It takes great strength to not be swayed by ‘public opinion’ and secure in your own identity.

If you are in a position of power, or a seeking a position of power, perhaps take a moment and discover what area of weakness you are trying to cover up.

Don’t Work for a Charity

People often like to hear about the work that I do, and say things like,

‘It must be nice to have a purpose in what you do every day’, or

‘You must find it very rewarding’, or the almost condescending,

‘Is that your full-time role?’

The answer is ‘yes’ to all of those.

I see the longing in their eyes as they think about how amazing it would be to work in the not-for-profit world. Whilst I love it and I wouldn’t change it, here is my encouragement to you if you think that…

Don’t do it.

Not because charitable organisations are challenging places to work (which they can be), or because charitable organisations can be limited with funding to pay staff (which they can also be), but because not everyone should do it.

Here’s why you shouldn’t work for a charity. Whilst we could do with more great people who work for charities that are doing good, it is more important for the world to have more people creating amazing businesses and organisations – making as much money as they can, so they can give away as much as they can, to do the most good that they can.

Instead of working for a charity, create businesses people want to work at, that are known for their amazing culture and incredible generosity, and I guarantee that not only will you make a significant impact in the world, people will also say the same three things to you that they say to me.

In saying all of that, volunteer for a charity as much as you want.

Give Yourself a Break

It is exhausting. Keeping tabs on people, making sure they are behaving themselves and not doing something that they shouldn’t be.

I’m not talking about parenting. I’m talking about monitoring the behaviour of your friends and family. Because if you aren’t there looking over their shoulder to keep them on the straight and narrow, then who will?

It may sound ridiculous, but it is easy enough to find ourselves in that space, even if it is just for a little while. We watch other people’s lives as spectators, seeing where and how they fall short, and not living up to what they hoped for. When they don’t reach their dreams or achieve their goals, failing in the process, we secretly (or not so secretly) judge them from the safety of the sidelines.

Judging other people’s behaviour can feel good in the moment, but it is exhausting. Partly because you have to keep track of them, but also you need to ensure that you don’t act in the same way so that when you judge, you can feel ‘morally superior’.

I’m encouraging you to give yourself a break from that. Take some time away from it, because here is what I have discovered…

We judge because we are afraid. The mistakes that we fear making are the areas in which we are the most judgemental of others. This leads to inaction and stagnation.

So, lay off other people and face your fear. Try that thing you have been afraid to say out loud. It is such a better use of time and energy, and it may just lead to something amazing.

Generosity is Not About You, But it’s About You

“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”

– Frederick Douglass

It is generous to help those living in poverty, but not the way that you think.

Outside of the positive impact it creates in overcoming poverty (and the fact that it is the right thing to do), it’s generous to you.

But it’s more than how it makes you feel. It’s more than the health benefits, be they physical, emotional, psychological or spiritual (and it is all those things). It is about the world. Your world.

We are fortunate that there are so many benefits for us when we give. What makes it more extraordinary is that an act of generosity towards a just cause shifts the balance, one step at a time, from oppression towards freedom. It helps to remove the foot of injustice off the neck of those living in poverty, so that they can not only breathe but create a life that provides for their family and improves our world in the process.

We cannot be content with our progress and success at any level when there are those who are unable to meet their basic needs. Until we are able to fix that, ‘neither persons nor property will be safe’. If you want to overcome the problems we have in society, help lift those living in poverty out of that man-made cycle.

What do we do from here?

Make a stand for those suffering injustice. In whatever way that looks for you. Be it donating to an organisation that helps people work their way out of poverty, or finding your way to restore justice so that we can all be safe.

2021 Theme

I’ve had a theme for the year for a while. It’s something that I chose to focus on throughout the year, usually encompassed in one word.

This year my theme is Hope.

It may not seem like a strong word, but hope is the fuel for a courageous life.

If you have ever been in a position where you are without, or have lost, hope, you will know just how vital it is. I have had some days like that, and it’s frightening – to look ahead and feel as if things will never improve. I have learned through experience though, when I am having one of those days, that tomorrow will always be better, and it gives me the courage to take the next step.

That is the power of hope. It provides a way forward, out of despair because of what it represents. We have hope in something, from something and for something.

We hope in something, which is faith. We have faith in a god, or humanity, or our family or ourselves – something that we believe is good and can create meaning and purpose. Out of that faith comes hope.

We hope from something. The reason we hope is because we are not content with our current situation. We are looking for something more, something better or a sense of purpose or understanding. When stuck in a place where we don’t want to be, we hope because we don’t want to stay there.

We hope for something. You only hope for something when you don’t have it yet. It is innately optimistic because, even though it comes from a place of not being content with the current situation, it acknowledges that there are better things to come. Whether it is to change where we are or become a better version of ourselves in a challenging place, hope assures us that better is possible.

There is biblical wisdom that urges people to be ‘joyful in hope’.

Being joyful in hope sounds counterintuitive because hope is only necessary when there doesn’t appear to be any joy. Joy only comes because of hope. Hope first, and then you will find joy.

2020 Reading List

Building on my commitment to myself (starting last year) of reading one book a month from my reading list, I decided to up it to two in 2020. It’s lucky that I did because what else was there to do this year?

Here are the books that I’ve worked through this year, some planned, some unplanned, but all worthwhile…well most of them. Some weren’t great.

January

The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell

Classic Gladwell. A book about how little things can make a big impact and what it takes for an idea to reach critical mass to become a significant movement.

The Dispossessed – Ursula K Le Guin

This is the first of a few books that I read this year which I have no idea how it made it on to my list. But it was there. So, being a slave to my list, I read it. It was an intriguing fiction novel about different planets and other space type things which are not normally interesting to me. However, it was worth the read.

February

The Infinite Game – Simon Sinek

I have heard Simon interviewed about this book a few times, and whilst the book doesn’t really provide much more than what he covers in the interviews, the concept is brilliant. The idea that, in business and other areas of life, we are not playing a game with set rules and timeframes. Nobody ends up being the ultimate winner. Sometimes we will win, sometimes we will lose, but shifting your mindset to understand that the you are not in competition with the person/business next to you. Instead, you are playing your own game.

Utopia for Realists – Rutger Brehman

The best first line of a book ever. “Let’s start with a little history lesson: In the past, everything was worse. For roughly 99% of the world’s history, 99% of humanity was poor, hungry, dirty, afraid, stupid, sick, and ugly.”

Essentially the book is about a vision for a realistic utopia, with universal basic income, a shorter work week and open borders. A very interesting read.

March

Enlightenment Now – Steven Pinker

500 pages of why things in our world have never been better than they are now. Still much improvement necessary but a great perspective on history and humanity.

April

Better Than Before – Gretchen Rubin

One of the many books about habits Gretchen talks about the pillars of habit and the four tendencies being an upholder, a questioner, an obliger and a rebel. Whilst not going deeply into the psychology of habits, Gretchen does appear to understand and explain some of the complexities of how we all create habits differently. This approach is different from what I’ve come across before where she unpacks some of the methods that we can use depending on what type of personality we have to help create habits and facilitate better habits

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth – Chris Hadfield

Probably my favourite book this year. Chris Hadfield is an experienced astronaut having travelled to space 3 times in his career, this book outlines some of the practical things that he learned during that process. He is really funny too. Many times I would chuckle to something humorous in the book which piqued my wife’s interest and she in-turn, read it and loved it.

His ability to work the problem in front of him regardless of all other challenges he faced, is inspirational.

Dark Matter – Blake Crouch

Another book that I have no idea how it ended up on the list, but, well, it was on the list. A fiction novel about the multiverse. Tripped me out a bit, but quite the entertaining read.

May

Meditations – Marcus Aurelius

I think this is a book that I will read every year as there is just so much to it. It is the writings of Marcus Aurelius, the stoic philosopher and Emperor of Rome, as he wrestles with some of the most significant questions about life and meaning.

It has provided me with a quote that I am striving to live up to…

“If someone can prove me wrong and show me my mistake in any thought or action, I shall gladly change. I seek the truth, which never harmed anyone: the harm is to persist in one’s own self-deception and ignorance.”

The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemmingway

Having never read anything from one of the greatest author’s ever, I thought I better do so. At first I struggled with the pointlessness of the story but recognising that it was first published in 1926, I was impressed by the ability of the author to tell an engaging story. Even if it didn’t seem to have a point.

Renovation of the Heart – Dallas Willard

On a suggestion from Donald Miller from Story Brand, a look at the state of our hearts. “We live from our depths – and we understand little of what is there”.

Predictable Irrational – Dan Ariely

Dan is in incredibly intelligent and thinks about the world in a very interesting way. The premise of this book is that we are not rational beings in the decisions that we make and whether we approach our lives but that irrationality is predictable dance studies really inside but the majority of them are done in university colleges in the US don’t have the reach or the breadth of the entire community as a whole. The sections on pricing and the psychology behind it is fascinating. The section money and deception is terrifying.

June

Give and Take – Adam Grant

The book of generosity. Adam lays out why those who are generous in the workplace become more successful than those who aren’t. Outside of the Bible, this is my bible. A true encouragement to not shy away from seeking the best for those that you work with and around as it will make you better at your job.

Deep Work – Cal Newport

Cal Newport outlines what he means by that phrase in deep work and then he outlines why we should all be looking to create more opportunities to do work in our lives especially in our work lives. The opposite of deep work being shallow work which is all the things that actually distract us in our work life or can be things which are just not helpful to us. the capacity for someone to create a great amount of work when they have access to the work is extraordinary and there is something that everybody can take out of this book even if they are not an intellectual store professor he does bring a specific view of a professor to this work and there is some things that will not translate into other areas of life especially when it comes to taking time off. There are times when it comes off arrogant but his insight is second to none.

July

The Bourne Initiative – Eric Van Lustbader

In light of not having a Jack Reacher novel to read (as I had finished all of them), I thought I would give another series a try. You will notice there is no other mention of the Bourne series in this list. There is a reason for that.

Atomic Habits – James Clear

Another favourite. James unpacks how little things that we do build up over time and can create a significant impact. We get to choose what daily things we do to either create a positive impact or a negative impact.

August

Hiking with Neitzsche – John Kraag

Having never read anything by Neitzsche this was a nice introduction to his philosophy and life journey. This book is about John Kraag’s two trips following in the footsteps of Neitzsche through the Swiss Alps, one he took as a teenager and one 17 years later as a married father of one. An amazing journey into the depths of despair and depression and seeking out meaning in meaninglessness.

Bruce Lee – Matthew Polly

Having never seen anything with Bruce Lee in it, or really understanding who he was, this story captured me. His intensity and influence across martial arts and the movie industry are overwhelming. Every familiar ‘tough guy/girl’ in movies today can be traced back to him. All of this at the same time as being caught between two cultures. Not accepted as fully Chinese and not embraced as an American, we are only left to imagine what else he could have brought had he not died so tragically.

September

Man’s Search for Meaning – Victor Frankl

On the back of my Neitzsche journey in August, more staring into the face of darkness and despair. Frankl writes about his time in Auschwitz from a psychological perspective. It was through this experience that he shaped the framework for his practice in psychology in the years to follow. He doesn’t go into great detail about the atrocities that occurred, but he does talk about the importance of finding a meaning and purpose that can keep you going in the most troubling of circumstances.

The Only Story – Julian Barnes

Random addition. Written from three time perspectives, it is a story of forbidden love but is unusual in the sense that it plays out the relationship to the end. The complexity of what a relationship between a teenage boy and a middle aged woman looks like ten years down the track, and then even further.

October

Fear & Trembling – Soren Kirkergaard

Kirkergaard is revered as a deeply influential thinker and so I have been attempting to get an understanding of that. I find him very challenging to read with moments of pure inspiration. This entire book describes the journey of Abraham on his way to sacrifice his son, Isaac. It is about faith, courage and whether or not Abraham was a sadistic murderer.

Thirst – Scott Harrison

The story of Charity: Water as written by its founder. His is an intriguing story and upbringing. From the darkness of running nightclubs in New York to digging wells in Africa, Scott is brilliantly honest about his journey, mistakes and all, in an attempt to bring clean water to the world.

November

The Happiest Man on Earth Eddie Jaku

Another inspirational book from World War 2, Eddie went through many concentration camps, including Auschwitz, as a Jew. His survival and life after has been a miracle. This is a really easy read, written very simply and does gloss over some of the finer details.

Jack Reacher – The Sentinel – Lee Child

The brand new release, timed well as it was about the 2020 election and how it could be hacked by Russia. I hate to say it but I was disappointed. I think Lee tried to shoehorn an idea into a story to fit the year. It lacked the normal Jack Reacher flair.

What’s Your Plan – Suzzanne Laidlaw

Written by an Opportunity International Australia Ambassador, Suzzanne shares her story and then couples her journey with business principals to help those starting out, or trying to get a hold of their business. Suzzanne’s story is one of the most unique, gut-wrenching and inspiring challenges that I have ever come across. And her heart is one of the largest ones that exist.

December

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

I did not know a thing about this before I read it. Everyone seems to know it and the answer to the question of ‘What is the meaning of life?’ being 42, but I had no clue what that was all about. For a sci-fi book that was written in the 1970’s, it is refreshingly creative and engaging. It was a wild ride, although I found the ending a little disappointing.

That’s it for another year – I would love to hear your suggestions for my list for 2021!

The Entrepreneurial Panic

If you have ever been overcome by the sheer weight of just trying to provide for your family, then you will understand it. The panic that comes when there is not enough to get you through. You can see the end of your financial runway and it is getting closer at a frightening speed.

Entrepreneurs feel this frequently. Many of us have felt it this year, even if we aren’t entrepreneurs, as the reality of financial insecurity hits and all of sudden we start to think of other ideas that could create some extra money. “What can we sell?”

There is a versatility that comes from this. A special ability to adapt and change as the world around you shifts.

I see this in the world’s poorest entrepreneurs. I have always said that if you can survive in a slum in Delhi, India, then you already have some incredible skills which give you an astute business mind. In fact, some of the savviest minds that I have come across are from small business owners in India and Indonesia. They have created something special, seemingly out of nothing, and are forging a path forward for their family – a path out of poverty and into a life that is not defined by trying to find their next meal, or to save enough money to buy medicine for their sick child.

If you place a global pandemic into the mix though, that is obviously going to create further challenges. And it has. The true impact will not be seen for a long time yet and it is so disheartening. But I am confident that these savvy minds will continue to find a way through, though they just need a small amount of help.

Make 2020 Great Again

Sure, you may have had some challenges this year. It may have been one of the most difficult, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t finish it in a way that makes it still one of the best.

It’s all about stress.

We have a negative relationship with stress but stress is neither good nor bad, it is what we do with it that gives it meaning. We can either experience it as distress or eustress.

Stress that creates distress, manifests in extreme anxiety, sorrow or pain – this is the stress that we try to avoid because it is uncomfortable. Examples of things that people often refer to as distress are things like a failing grade, or a family illness or a global pandemic.  

On the other hand, stress that creates eustress comes from seeing situations or experiences as a challenge to be met and an opportunity to grow. It is a positive response to the stressor. Often people give examples of this happening through travelling somewhere new, significant life changes like getting married or moving house, or learning something new like a language or an instrument.

The remarkable thing is that it is not the event that dictates whether we experience it as distress or eustress, but it is how the event is perceived. If an experience is seen as a threat, this it will create distress, if it is seen as a challenge then it will create eustress.

The key to making something eustressful, is finding a way to create meaning, hope and energy out of the challenge.

If you have had too many distressful experiences in 2020, let me help you create a eustressful one, through finding meaning, hope and energy through a generous act. This is one of the simplest and most effective way to create that positive experience that 2020 needs.

Make a donation to Opportunity International Australia, and help end poverty one family and one community at a time,

…or some other organisation that you like. It will make your 2020 great again.