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.

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.

Remembering Fathers

Love DadI don’t have many memories of my father, but I remember like it was yesterday how he said he was going out to see a man about a dog and never came back. I was six years old. The only time I heard from him again was when he sent me a postcard to say I was now the man of the house and should take care of my mum, the way he knew I would.

For the rest of my childhood, I held onto that tiny postcard and slept with it under my pillow. I played a movie inside my head in which my dad had taken passage on a boat from England to America where he was making his fortune. Soon, he would return and we would eat chicken everyday and drink lemonade, even if we were not thirsty. He would hug me and give the greatest gift of all – his smile and praise for being his boy.

But I would not see my father again until I was a young man. He cried when we met and I wondered about all the adventures he had had without me. We were strangers with no shared memories beyond him joking that he wanted some of my hair because all of his had fallen out.

And then, by some hideous twist of fate, he died on my birthday. It seemed like a tortured final gift from someone who had never sent gifts for any birthday before. He died alone and in poverty. There was no adventure in America, no fortune, no lemonade. Any chance for us to know each other as men was gone forever.

But I have no time for pity parties. I found ambition from my father’s absence. The same movie that he should have starred in became my movie and I came to America to find my fortune. The memories that I should have had as a boy became the memories I made as a father to my own children.

Now, my youngest daughter is six years old and I cannot imagine abandoning the memories of her upbringing to a stranger. I cannot imagine the emptiness of losing a thousand moments of joy that are made just by coming home and having her leap into my arms. And I cannot imagine the loss that a man must feel when he realizes it is all too late because the child he could have known is grown and the beautiful age of innocence is lost forever.

Fatherhood lives in shared memories. It is the movie that is the life of our families. It is our authentic, unique existence.

Around the world, we are celebrating our fathers and being a father. We celebrate fatherhood because it is the greatest gift a man will ever know. And as we stare into the loving eyes of our children, we have our own precious sense of immortality.

And no one can take that away.

Final Words

Haunted HouseI signed my will at the weekend. They still call it a Last Will and Testament, conjuring up images of grieving relatives weeping at your bedside as you sigh your final breath and let go of this mortal coil to meet your maker.

But as I signed the document, my first thought was not of my grieving family but of a movie called the Cat and the Canary, starring Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard. I saw that movie on TV when I was a small boy and, although it is a comedy, it scared the living daylights out of me.

In the movie, the will is read at midnight and the entire estate goes to the beautiful, young Paulette Goddard. But there’s a catch for the heiress: because of a concern about a streak of insanity in the family’s blood, she must stay sane for thirty days or lose the fortune to another family member.

Everyone has to stay the night in the spooky mansion, haunted by many spirits. It’s an open invitation for greedy relatives to drive her, overnight, into a state of total insanity.

I doubt there will be such drama when my will is read, even if there is a streak of insanity in my family’s blood. But signing your will does make you think about death. We’re all going to die, but thankfully, most of us don’t know when the end will be. So maybe we should start living as if this is our last day.

Well, if I was living each day as if it were my last, I can tell you that it would be one heck of a lot different from what it is. For a start, I would be eating a bacon, egg and cheese roll for breakfast. With a beer. And not organic muesli with skimmed milk.

And another thing, I would be spending all my money on a beach holiday with my friends and loved ones, partying till I drop. And not getting on the New York subway at 7 am to spend twelve hours in the grasping clutches of corporate America.

What’s more, I would get a sleeve tattoo and always speak my mind, whether people liked what I said or not. So no. Living each day like it is your last does not work at all. Unless you’ve inherited someone’s fortune.

Maybe living like we know that life won’t last forever is a better way to think about it. Just stop worrying about all the meaningless trivia and enjoy it while we still can. Before we’re all declared insane for eating organic muesli and getting on the subway at 7 am.

But I do like the thought of my will being read at midnight in a haunted mansion.

It’s a Dog’s Life

Dog at the KerbWe mourn each passing stage of our children’s lives because we know that those years are gone forever and with them disappears the beauty of perfect innocence. We console ourselves that the next stage of growing up will bring with it many new discoveries and joys.

That’s why we get our children a dog. If you have ever lived through the life of a dog you know that its lifespan of ten to fifteen years is equivalent to the period of innocence of a child growing up.

Our little puppy was small enough to fit in the palm of your hand and she shook with fear just being looked at. But soon enough she began to play and bounce around and attempt a funny little growl.

In no time, she was house-trained and allowed to sleep in the bed with our little girl. They would dream together of running in summer fields, jumping to catch the dandelion clocks in that momentary wind. Breathless in their love for each other.

Then coming home from school to a dog who’s so excited, she’s left a puddle on the floor but no one minds a bit. And someone slipping a piece of chicken under the dining table, claiming that it fell off her plate.

The excitement of Santa Claus, still real for now­—but time is running out. And the dog sleeping guard under the Christmas tree, protecting the presents according to our little girl. But we knew it was the smell of peanut brittle and candy canes, too much for any dog to resist.

As our girl runs faster, the dog runs faster too, even though our dog’s legs are aching and old and now she dreams of puppy days, long ago when her best friend was a toddler who danced for the first time not long after she learned to walk and Mummy cried.

Our little dog doesn’t look much older, even though her fur is greying and her best friend has grown so tall. But she’s still as excited as she always was when our girl comes home, like it’s the first time she has ever seen her.

And then the emptiness begins, like shredding old photographs and we know that soon the time will come when both our girls will be gone. One gone to the world of grown-ups and the age of lost innocence. The other gone back to those fields, running in the sun with our baby daughter, with all the energy in the world. Gone to the endless fields where one day we hope to meet again and run together for all eternity.

Because it’s a dog’s life.

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