Your Best Life

Lower Manhattan NYC from Weehawken NJMore than a year ago, I had a thought. What if I took all of the things that are supposed to make life more fulfilling and healthy and positive and introduced them one by one into my life? All of them.

I had to try it.

The obvious start was to give up drinking. I quickly realized that alcohol subtracts everything from life and gives nothing meaningful in return. The impact was immediate and visible. Suddenly, I was spared the empty conversations, the dull listless mornings, and the appalling loss of time.

I went to the gym five times a week and started running. I kept a journal every day to describe my mood and to keep a record of my progress. I began meditating for twenty minutes every night before going to sleep for the recommended eight hours. In the morning, I listened to upbeat music and avoided the news.

As each negative thought came into my head, I stopped. I looked for its origin, its meaning. And I ended it. I stayed away from negative people. That was a big one. People love to complain but it serves no purpose. Listening to people complain is like planting negative seeds in your brain that will eventually grow into a vast forest of destructive thoughts.

I started to dream. I formed a dream of how good my life could be and I pictured it in every detail, regularly throughout the day.

I monitored my diet. Which foods made me feel awake and energized and which ones made me sleepy and down? I discovered that the effect of food on the mood is far more dramatic than I had imagined. Yes, I still ate chocolate and ice cream.

I spent more time with the people I love. I became far more interested in their lives and stopped taking them for granted. I found that true joy can come from a thousand daily interactions with the people you care about. I smiled a lot. People mostly smiled back at me. Happiness is infectious.

It is now more than a year since I began this experiment. Was it a success?

No. It was a spectacular, life-changing revelation. It has been the single best year of my life. I feel shockingly alive. I have achieved ten times my prior output professionally and personally. I wake up every morning knowing what it truly feels like to be alive and present in the world.

And sometimes, just sometimes, I feel this incredible sense of exhilaration that I have never experienced before. I could be standing on a subway platform or walking up Broadway. It doesn’t matter. The feeling is one of overwhelming joy and excitement at not only being alive but of the possibilities of this life. Here and now.

And then I think I could live forever.

The Secret

 

I’m sitting on a bench by the East River, beyond the end of Wall Street. The traffic is thundering above my head on the FDR Drive as runners sprint and jog along the waterway. I’m watching the amazing variety of human existence. On one side of me, the administrators, security guards and analysts run for the Brooklyn ferry. On the other side, the billionaires step from their limos to get airborne in their helicopters, flying efficiently to their homes in the Hamptons from the Wall Street helipad.

Magic Forest - Med Res

What divides them is not the point of embarkation, nor their wealth. It is the expressions of life in their faces. Some look dead already, and some look like they are excited to be alive.

If people are watching me, do they see what I feel? Do they know I’ve found the secret to happiness? I would gladly tell them my secret if they asked, but they’re all rushing to get home, wrapped up in their lives, good or bad.

I know we should all try to live in the moment but that can’t be all. If all we are doing is living for today then we would be eating bacon, egg and cheese rolls for breakfast and not organic muesli with 2 per cent milk. And we wouldn’t be worrying so much about credit card debt and male pattern baldness.

Because true happiness needs a dream.

When you have a dream, you have something to live for. You have plans and goals and aspirations. You have a future that you can build and picture in your mind. You have a place to go in your head when you’re having a tough time of things.

There’s a little girl sitting beside me. She’s my daughter. She is talking incessantly about what she sees and what it all means to her. I’m telling her that her imagination is unlimited, that no one can control her thoughts. And no one can stop her from dreaming.

With all the energy we have inside of us, if we were to switch just a fraction of it from worrying and complaining to dreaming and creating, we would see a massive positive change in our lives and in the world.

It’s that simple.

We’re walking back up Wall Street. I’m going to buy a slice of pepperoni pizza with extra garlic. My little girl will have chicken wings, not too spicy. We will talk about our day and how there will be more days like this only they will be different. They will be astonishingly good days because we will make an incredible future with the energy and ambitions of today.

Together, we will build the dream.

A Rough Week

Christmas Bulldog - Web Res

It has been a rough week. So many things went wrong and there was so much to complain about in my complicated life.

Let me think about that.

I was horribly tired and stressed from traveling so much, from being jet-lagged and stuck in the wrong timezone for days and days. Nothing seemed to go right at work. But I don’t toil at mindless, dangerous tasks for twelve hours a day in a Chinese factory, so toxic that I won’t live long enough to see my children grow up.

No, I am lucky.

My kid won’t do her piano practice and wants to play on her iPad all the time and it seems like an endless cycle of conflict. But I’m not selling my children to give them a pathetic hope of a better future. A hope that is a hideous lie of prosperity. A hope that becomes slavery and prostitution just to line the pockets of human-trafficking thugs who profit from the desperate misery of children.

No, I am lucky.

I was hungry every day because I was watching what I ate, in anticipation of the holiday gluttony. But I wasn’t hungry because there was no food and won’t be any food for days on end, even until I am eating dirt. I am not starving and weak, horrified by the sight of my children dying in front of my eyes because I cannot feed them.

No, I am lucky.

There were police and troops at the entrance to the subway, checking people’s backpacks and I wondered about my safety. But I don’t live in fear that armed men will break down my door and rape and murder my family before dragging me away to be imprisoned and tortured.

No, I am lucky.

We complain about our lives in paradise while others suffer in a man-made hell, surrounded by hatred and horror. We complain about the meaningless trivia that disturbs our otherwise perfect existences while others are raped and murdered. We complain about nothing at all while others watch helplessly as their children starve to death.

No, some are lucky. Some are not.

Yeah. It’s been a rough week. And I am the luckiest man alive.

Dear Me

Colorful VortexI think it is about time that I spoke with my teenage self. I want to let him know what I’ve learned throughout my adult life.

Let’s start with something simple but fundamental: do not be afraid of women. They can be wonderful and mysterious and generous and caring. Even though they intimidate you, it helps to actually talk to them and not take rejection too personally. It’s OK if you’re not their type. There are many women who will want to know you. Eventually, one will love you unconditionally.

Be who you are. Don’t worry that you like poetry more than football. If we all blended in with the crowd, there would be no change in this world. Do not live inside the prejudices of others. Change comes from being different, even if that means being ridiculed. One day you will be the difference that others envy.

Make choices from the infinity of your existence. Don’t live inside a box with a label on it. The labels are put there by others, people who see life through limitations.

Don’t let your ambitions become unrealized dreams. There are many bumps in the road to fulfillment but don’t take those as failure. Failure is giving up. Failure is accepting someone telling you that you’re not good enough. Failure is believing in the doubts and fears of others.

Take risks. When you have nothing, you have nothing to lose. Later in life you will have responsibilities but now you have none except to yourself. A career is something people talk about to justify a job. Take your passions and make them work for you.

Don’t make enemies. Revenge is like gluttony. It’s satisfying for a moment in time but leaves you feeling ill. Rise above the petty grievances that weigh others down in meaningless pursuits. You are better than that.

Make a difference. It’s not about designer clothes, Swiss watches or German cars. The difference you make is about the people you meet, the positive thoughts that you can infect them with. The progress you make in your life can also be the progress for others. Greatness comes from impact.

Your life ends one minute at a time. Never waste a single moment. Live in the ecstasy of wonder, the joy of discovery. Cancel the dark thoughts with the exhilaration of what is possible. The light shines brightly from within you. Others may try to extinguish it but never dim that light yourself.

You are alive. It is the greatest gift of all.

Live it. Never be forgotten.

And I will never forget you. Because you are me.

The Darkness Within

Ghostly view of the bay

We all have a dark side. For some, it follows us around like a childhood ghost, just visible in the corner of our eyes. And then it’s knocking on the door, demanding to come in. Like we would ever want to welcome that dark guest into our lives.

But we do.

Your dark side goes through life gathering up anxieties and worries and stores them for those moments when you wake in the middle of the night and need something to be fearful about. And then you start the worrying game, worrying about things that matter but about which you can do nothing and worrying about things that don’t matter but seem so utterly overwhelming.

It helps to have a safe place to go. Not a physical place because you won’t always be able to go there. No, it needs to be a place inside your head where the child you once were can think about fireside stories, of cups of hot chocolate, and your faithful dog. The happy memories that create a warm glow, keeping you safe from the perils of the world.

We also need to know what triggers the darkness. Many of our fears and anxieties were laid down when we did not have words or sufficient thoughts to understand them. And then those terrors and dreads are there to drown our emotional state in blackness without the logic of any rational explanation.

In many ways, it is better that we acknowledge the existence of our dark side because denying its existence is like denying your enemy. Putting your head under the blanket in the middle of the night while the darkness grows stronger inside you.

So when darkness comes knocking on your door, ask what it has to say. Ask why you should let it in and what miseries it has brought as unwelcome gifts. What past regrets, what future anxieties does the dark side want to unwrap.

The truth of who you are is a bright light that shines from deep inside you. It is a light that creates happy memories and beautiful futures, like photo albums of human treasures. It is a light that fulfills your ambitions and denies the threats of failure that stop you from ever beginning. It is a light that can extinguish the suffocating darkness.

You need it to shine. And the world needs to see it. The light was there at the beginning and it needs to be there at the end.

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