tales from urban dilettantia

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A sound, an echo

I spent five days hiking through the forest, over the dunes, and along the beach this week. 72.4km along the coast of the Southern Ocean between Denmark and Albany; no internet, no phone. Just me, 12kg on my back, a camera, my barefoot running shoes and a hammock.

For some of the journey, hilarity, stories, silliness, life, the universe and everything flowed between me and the two dear friends who accompanied me on the trail. But much of the time was spent re-reading Marcus Aurelius in the long, light evenings, and contemplating, untangling, thinking, step after step.

There were birds and beetles, tiger snakes – so very many tiger snakes, venomous and shy – and many hours walking under and through the wind farms, the gentle sound of them rocking me to sleep at night.

One night at sunset, I climbed the hill and lay in the grass, photographing the wildflowers in the fading light. There, alone up the hill with nothing but the wind, for a moment holding the logos of the Stoics in my mind and knowing that this is all there is. Remember.

The map is not the territory, but today it will suffice.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted one of my maps.  And now there are two!

The first is a picture of something I’ve been working on since January; namely, the idea of sovereignty.  The idea is a work in progress, and the map is one of many spanning that progress.  I am posting it for Nathalie and Jaunita, who are right there with me when I need them.

The second is a picture of change.  Once upon a time I was the girl who could not walk across campus without tensing every muscle for fear people were looking at her.  The girl who would blush and stammer rather than hold a conversation.  The very queen of awkwardness, the non-phone-answerer, the one who declined every invitation.  Twenty years on, I am the woman who will pounce upon a friendly looking stranger with a ‘hi, I’m an enormous introvert; pleased to meet you!’  How did this happen you ask?  Still trying to work that one out, and I am posting this map for a dear friend who is on the journey too.

Pictures make me feel less mopey about the ten half-finished blog posts in my notebook. Let’s all forget about those posts and enjoy the shiny.  Or else.

Tiny Shop is Tiny

Entertainingly, I woke up this morning to an email saying ‘you have made a sale!’ even though I haven’t yet mentioned there is something to sell.

A number of people have poked me to say ‘hey, you know all those little sketches and happiness maps and ligers and octopodes and things you make – put them somewhere people can buy them!’ (Many thanks to Ju and Amy who have been stubbornly supportive and mentioned this repeatedly, in the face of my procrastination.)

And so I have.

There are t-shirts and matted & laminated prints (including the requested Map of WIN) for sale on RedBubble.

And there are magnets and mugs at Zazzle.

I’ve done some research as to quality and so forth, but the reality is that I have no idea how these will turn out. One day, I feel I should buy some to see for myself. But for now, there they are, roaming free on the internet!

Happiness Elsewhere

A recent post over on the Wired Science blog reminded me that I have been neglecting my favourite subject lately, discussing as it does the way in which happiness and sadness appear to fit the infectious disease model in large social networks. The Wired article leans a little far towards generalisation and pop-science for my taste, but the original study looks quite interesting and has made me wonder about the underlying assumptions, methodology and data set.

Looking through my bookmarks, it turns out that over the past few months I’ve hoarded quite a number of interesting articles on life, happiness and well-being.  In March, Scott Berkun wrote something that really challenges me to read, dealing as it does with being unbusy, being still and cultivating time.  It’s called The Cult of Busy.

Last month Dave Navarro (no relation) from Rock Your Day posted How To Stop Telling Your Sad, Sad Story, which I really loved; it’s such an ass-kicking.

Over at Fora.tv, you can watch Is The Pursuit of Happiness Making Us Miserable (which is probably is, if we take ‘happiness’ to mean hedonic pleasure).

Tim Ferris has written an epic piece on vagabonding, simplicity, travel and well-being.

Everyone’s been writing about Stuff versus Experience this year. There are posts on Unclutterer and CNN and The Frontal Cortex. This is something I wrote about some time ago, at least in relation to my personal experience, and it’s interesting to see it unfolding elsewhere.

On a slightly bigger scale, The Atlantic has an article from back in February on What Makes Cities Happy.

And lastly, the FlowingData blog has these two wry charts: Flowchart to lifelong happiness, and Path to happiness gets complicated and confusing.  FlowingData blog, you make me happy.

Day Two: On should, need to, ought to, guilt and language

Being Day Two of the Festival of Miss Dilettante Posting Things About Her Happiness Project That She Didn’t Post Last Month or Indeed Last Year, which really is a fairly awful name for a festival and may need to be revised.

In the process of looking at language, communication and mental health, I’ve also come across some of my other ways of speaking (both internal and external) that haven’t been particularly healthy.

By far, the most pervasive of these has been ‘should’ (and other ways of saying should – need to, ought to, and so forth). For a born perfectionist and procrastinator, these phrases are the devil. For me they carry loads of guilt, obligation, resentment, self-blame, pressure and expectation. I’m learning to say ‘I will do x’, ‘I’ve chosen not to do x’ and ‘I would like to do x, but don’t have the capacity right now, so I’m putting it on my ‘maybe-someday’ list’. Do or not do, there is no should!

Is this anything more than semantics? Perhaps not, for some. But for me, the improvement in my quality of life is dramatic when I’m not playing ‘should’ and spending every second moment cringing in indecisive guilt.

Part of this, I think, is to do with the sheer weight of indecision, and part to do with the paralysis of perfectionism, but there’s another part too. It comes from the knowledge that committing is to take a side, to make a decision, and to accept that not everyone will agree with my choices.  It’s about not camping on the fence, and not spending my life chasing an unattainable goal of juggling the happiness of others.

Old Year’s Resolutions

[2007] [2008]

In the grand tradition of previous years, behold my list of retroactive resolutions for 2009!

Refrain from triggering apocalypse.

Spend more time involved in activism of various flavours.

Find and buy myself a house.

Consume less, recycle, gift away and reuse more.

Compost.

Watch far, far less television.

Help a dear friend give birth.

Learn even more about being self-sufficient on a bicycle.

Become fitter – run, bicycle, roller skate, box, walk and lift free weights.

Plant a vegetable garden.

Begin to learn to ask for help.

Make a large number of new (and lovely) friends.

Read about non-violent and more effective communication.

Retain a job throughout the GFC.

Draw more, and for more collaborative projects.

Improve my ability to set boundaries and ask for space.

Learn about the care and keeping of rabbits.

Work on and further improve my photography skills.

Attend Quaker Meeting with interest and open-mindedness.

Sit on and actively participate in a committee for Perth’s future development.

Be honest and forthright regarding my philosophy and thoughts on life, the universe and everything, and learn to be more open when talking about these things with others.

Learn to joyfully be in love without expectation, possibility or reciprocation.

Learn to wait patiently, when being impatient will not help.

Learn to love and accept my analytical and rational leanings (they that have me saying things that often attract a ‘wow, that’s cold‘ response) as fundamental and functional parts of my character, not as defects.

Do many, many things that terrify me.

Spread more love, more of the time.

If You’re Into It

I’ve been interested in many new things / people / places / concepts / ideas / projects at the moment and haven’t written about any of them in detail. Or indeed at all.

So, in lieu of detail, here’s a picture:

Further, I have a table full of oranges from my mother’s house.  They will become something, but as of yet, I’m not sure what.

The Thing About Happiness

While I haven’t written about it in some time, my fascination with happiness and optimal human experience continues. Two years and counting, in fact.

After all this time spent dabbling in psychology, philosophy, psychiatry, ethics, politics, communication, the productivity movement, the Slow Movement, passion, creativity, genetics, sustainability, love, life, the universe and everything, one would hope that I might consider myself a fundamentally happier human being than before. And so I do. But in the course of reading countless books and engaging in more conversations and debates than I can recall, I also seem to have run headlong into my happiness project’s elephant in the room.

The thing I’ve noticed about ‘happiness’ is that we each mean something different when we use the word. (‘Love’ works the same way, sometimes leading to a whole lot of hurt and misaligned expectations. The ancient Greeks did a little better, distinguishing philia, eros, agape, storge, and xenia.) And yet so few authors, both of the positive psychology genre and otherwise, take adequate space to define what they mean when they use this slippery word, and so few conversations make time for the parties to confirm that they’re both talking about the same thing, instead leaping straight into the talking at cross-purposes.

While reading What Makes Us Happy? over at The Atlantic earlier this year, I noticed that psychiatrist George Valiant uses the term ‘happy-well’ instead of merely ‘happy’. Although a little clumsy, I appreciate this because it not only aligns reasonably well with my own usage of ‘happiness’ but also represents an understanding that the term ‘happy’ alone is profoundly ambiguous.

So…happiness. I’ve seen it used to refer to hedonic pleasure, an absence of suffering, sustainable well-being, an absence of negative feelings, an abundance of positive feelings, the experience of a sense of purpose and meaning, euphoria, balance, contentment in the moment, a more fundamental sense of contentment or ‘rightness’ about one’s life, inner tranquility, complete fatalism or submission to a higher power and more, not to mention that warm feeling induced by a glass of wine or five. And, when you think about it, some of those are very different things indeed.

Reading that list, it strikes me that there’s simply no way that I’d dedicate my time to pursuing some of those user-defined experiences of happiness, nor encourage others to do so. The ‘happiness’ in my happiness project would more accurately be defined as ‘maintaining a sustainable level well-being, physical, psychological and otherwise, through both joy and sadness, with realism, rationality, courage and the conviction that my well-being does not exist in isolation from that of my environment and fellow travellers’. This, of course, makes a crap name for a project. ‘My happiness project’ is much catchier, particularly given that my brain has a damn short attention span sometimes.

However, in spite of its essential ambiguity I still like the word ‘happiness’, just as I appreciate the awkward, elusive, often-tricksy concept that is ‘love’. It’s a big, interesting umbrella-term that’s full of all manner of ideas – many of them contradictory. My happiness project may not be your happiness project, nor even encompass your understanding of happiness, but given that I personally find happiness in complexity and sometimes in contradiction, that’s all well by me.

(crossposted from LiveJournal)


Resources

Some Happy iPhone Apps (Depending On Your Definition of ‘Happy’):
Gratitude Journal
Live Happy
DoGood
I Can Has Cheezburger

Gretchen Rubin’s new Happiness Project Toolbox

My recent del.icio.us links tagged ‘happiness

Flickr


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About

@dilettantiquity is interested in an unreasonable number of things, including the wide and wonderful universe, happiness, well-being, wine, optimal human experience, non-violent communication, complex systems, existential nihilism, rationality, technology, grassroots organising, cacophony, music, creativity, learning and love.