Until just recently, negative thoughts were considered a good thing. You had to be on high alert— one eye open type of living to ensure your survival. Whether the enemy was a pack of wolves, a snow storm, an opposing klan, the black plaque, it just made more sense to hope for survival at best! Nowadays most of us aren’t facing such dire threats. In fact, most people live long and relatively comfortable lives these days (avg. life expectancy is 78 according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention). Thanks to modern shelter, urbanization, modern medicine, among other factors, our negative thoughts just don’t hold the same utility they used to. Not only are they (mostly) obsolete, often times, negative thoughts are counterproductive to our wellbeing and act as a roadblock in our lives. Unfortunately for us, evolution is a slow and tedious process— meaning these thoughts aren’t going anywhere any time soon.

On the bright side, we can counterattack our negative thoughts and train ourselves to be more optimistic. One of my absolute favorites— the person who reinvigorated my love for Buddhism, mindfulness, and meditation— Dan Harris, talks about this strategic reprograming in his book, 10% Happier. In his podcast, of the same name, he dives deeper into this by interviewing master meditators, healers, scientists, professors, and others alike. This is where I stumbled upon the legendary Joseph Goldstein. Goldstein is the co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society and a master meditation teacher since 1974. A nasal-y voiced, original “JewBu,” Goldstein has taught countless meditation students countless lessons— here is the one that stood out.

Is this Useful?

“Is this useful?” is the question that Goldstein asks himself whenever he is having a negative thought. It is a very simple question, nothing revolutionary, and yet it’s a complete game changer. Think about it. Two paragraphs ago I explained the uselessness of most of our negative thoughts AND, most importantly, how we will continue to have them because they have been deeply infused into our DNA. So why wouldn’t the remedy be as simple as reminding ourself that they are no longer useful? Wouldn’t you stop using the microwave if you realized it didn’t work anymore? Wouldn’t you get a new bike if you couldn’t ride your old one anymore? Of course you would. The difference is that it is blatantly obvious when the microwave is broken or our bike chain is rusted. It’s not so obvious when our thoughts are working again us and that it way we need the reminder.

We cannot reply on intuition to tell us these things because in this case our intuition is working against us. Remember, there was a long stretch of time when negative thoughts were very useful and our evolution as a species has not caught up to the fact that we do not need to rely so heavily on these negative thoughts to survive. Using a gentle reminder, such as asking ourselves “Is this useful?” can help us regain perspective. Here is an example; It is five o’clock on Tuesday and you get told by your boss that you were selected to make a presentation to a client next Thursday. You start thinking about the presentation on your way home and all the anxious, negative thoughts start to swirl, “What if I tank?” “What if the client isn’t happy?” “I’ve never done a presentation, I don’t know what to do.” “I can’t do this.” and on and on. At some point you realize you are exhausted just from thinking and ask yourself, “How useful is freaking out about this presentation to me right now?” The answer is, not at all! The presentation is next Thursday, today is Tuesday so there is nothing benefiting you right now by worrying about a presentation for next Thursday. It is arguably more reasonable to worry about the presentation on the presentation day, especially if it will make you more alert and ready to present. It may even be useful to worry next Tuesday, again if it will make you prepare and practice for the presentation. However, today, at this moment, it is completely useless to worry about next Thursday.

Again, the trick is to make a judgement call on how useful your negative thoughts are. How are they serving you? In the example above I made the point that the negative thoughts may be useful on the day of, if they help you perform better during the presentation. Another example; you signed up for a swimming club but you start to think to yourself that you aren’t that great of a swimmer. This propels you to practice before the first meeting. In this case, the thought was useful because it activated your motivation to become better. Now you are at the swim club meeting and you still think you aren’t as good a swimmer. This is causing you to make silly mistakes and further dampen your mood. Now the thought is counterproductive— it is no longer useful. If you can notice this, you might see the thought as counterproductive and let it go.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that negative thoughts are an integral part of our fight or flight response system. Their basic function is to warn us of danger and help us make survival decisions accordingly. The dilemma lies in that our response is more or less automatic making it difficult for us to tell the difference between an actually life threatening situation and a situation that brings up negative emotions for other reasons. Fear is always a great example because we can fear public speaking (not inherently life threatening) as much as we can fear grizzly bears (arguably life threatening). It is up to us to recognize what is objectively a danger and what we have labeled dangerous in our minds.

Related Article:

Calming Your Brain During Conflict by Diane Musho Hamilton

Understanding the Stress Response by Harvard Health Publishing


Cat Marte is a Career and Success Coach who helps success driven people grow their careers or launch and grow their online businesses. Book your free introductory call today to learn more.

Yesterday I stumbled on a rare sighting: an interview with rapper Joyner Lucas, the artist behind the iconic I am Not Racist song. The first question of the interview was, “Why do you not do interviews?” Lucas said he stop doing interviews when he realized people didn’t really care what he had to say and were just interviewing him for clout. I was crushed. Based on his storytelling style— touching on controversial topics like racism, devilish thoughts, snitching — I knew this interview was worth listening to. I took so much from this interview that I thought I’d share my three takeaways here for those who aren’t familiar with his work or who generally would not run into his music. He has a very familiar rags to riches story that many rappers have, nonetheless, he’s wise beyond his fame and fortune.

3 Takeaways from Joyner Lucas

Be Accountable.

Radio personality and best selling author, Charlamagne Tha God asks Lucas if he feels as if he is not getting the recognition that he deserves as a talented rapper? What Lucas said next surprised me. For Lucas, if he is “underrated” then it’s his own doing. He should be working harder, smarter, trying different things, etc. He takes full responsibility for his outcomes, whereby allowing himself the opportunity to improve and keep working towards the outcomes he desires.This is a classic example of the crossroads between taking a victim mentality vs. a victor mentally. The victim blames their circumstances, their relationships, and everything except them for their situation. While a victor (a victorious person) skips the excuses and uses their energy to find solutions to improve their situation. From his response, you can tell Lucas has a victor mindset. He understands that the only way to grow is to take responsibility for your outcomes.

BE HUMBLE.

In a subsequent series of questions, Lucas is asked how he ended his infamous “beef” with fellow rapper Logic. Lucas tells the story of how he came to realized the beef stemmed from his own jealousy and sense of entitlement towards Logic. He felt he should have been where Logic was in his career and resented the fact that he wasn’t. Once he realized his misdoings, he called up Logic and offered a sincere apology. Logic was so taken aback by Lucas’ sincerity and genuine change of heart that they have since become good friends. What Lucas displayed is a deep sense of humility and ability to evolve as a person. Humility is so essential to growth because it allows us to learn from our mistakes and move past them. Alternatively, if you are the type of person who can never admit you were wrong and always claims to be right, then in your mind, there is no need to grow and evolve because you know it all. This type of person stunts their own growth with their refusal to amend their wrongs.

BE observant.

Throughout the interview, Lucas said several things that resonated with me, however this is one I’ve been preaching for a while now. He told a story of how he visited Mark Wahlberg and Will Smith while he was in LA and was dumbfounded by the sheer size and magnificence of their homes. According to Lucas, Wahlberg told him that his work ethic and drive would get him a similar house one day. For Lucas, Wahlberg, a fellow Boston native, and Will Smith (the inspiration to his song Will), are his mentors and role models. He observes the footprints of those who come from similar beginning and sees the path in front of him. Whether you’re fortunate enough to befriend the likes of Will Smith, or you simply admire them from afar, it is critically important to have role models and mentors. These are the people who will show you the way and reinforce the belief that if they can do it, you can too.

Often times we are quick to judge a book by it’s cover, but if you listen carefully, you might find inspiration and lessons learned in the places you least expect. I’ll end with a great line from Lucas’ song Zim Zimma where he says “I know a couple of rappers that don’t know the business and all they do is rap.” It’s not enough to be great at the thing you do, you have to work on yourself as well, and study those who came before you. You have to know the business practices of success — accountability, humility, and observance are great places to start.


Cat Marte is a Career and Success Coach who helps success driven people break through their self-limiting mindsets and get to the next level in their careers and businesses. Book your free introductory call today to learn more.

2 Life-Changing Habits to Live more Intentionally

How to really create change in your life.

close up of beer bottles on wood
Photo by Bruno Scramgnon on Pexels.com

What is life??

Does anyone else ever worry that they are just strolling through life without a clear plan or goal for the future? I know there are a lot of “I’m just taking it day by day” types out there, but I just get the feeling some folks might be ignoring that life has a way of just passing you by without you even realizing it. At the same time, living day by day doesn’t mean living in oblivion does it? One can choose to live day by day and still develop meaning and purpose in their lives.

Seek Clarity

A life with meaning and purpose is a life worth living. It’s your WHY. So many people go through life without these two things, constantly searching for the next big thing that will make them feel seen, heard, and grounded in life. Your version of WHY can be many different things, or just one thing. I know my mother’s WHY are her children and her family. My WHY is the love and appreciation I feel for my family, my community, the planet, the people on this planet, the other living things on the planet. Once you gain clarity around your WHY, you will start developing a life with meaning and purpose that is centered around your WHY. Here are some concrete habits you can develop to live your WHY.

Practical Exercise- Start a Gratitude List

Gratitude is the feeling you get when something brings you happiness. You feel gratitude because you are thankful for whatever happened to bring you this happiness. Keeping a gratitude list is a visual representation of all the things you are thankful for. After a while, you will start to see patterns. I am always thankful for the love and support of my family— could they be a part of my WHY? I am always thankful for my dog Lucy— is the love of animals part of my WHY? In this way, we can start to see clearly the things that are important to us and the things we should be focusing more of our time and energy into. If you want to go the extra mile, you can start a gratitude journal. This will help you capture in greater detail why certain things give you gratitude and in what circumstances. Similar to a gratitude journal, you can start a habit tracker. This is for those who know already what brings joy and satisfaction to their lives and what to make sure they are incorporating those things everyday.

Make Definite Decisions

This is hot off the press in my life. I just came across this idea of making definite decisions as I was listening to my audio book by Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich. His main argument is that those who are indecisive (i.e changing their minds frequently) are less likely to get anything done in the end, in which case, indecisiveness and procrastination are one and the same. Hill gives several examples of successful people who made a definitive decision and stuck to it, only to reap the benefits of their persistence. This is something I personally struggle with because I seem to overthink things to the point that I can’t tell which is the better option. One way to get over this is to realize neither might be better than the other and just pick a course and stick to it. Otherwise, inaction will stunt your growth and leave you stuck in place.

Practical Exercise- Start a Hobby and stick to it

Often times hobbies are things we like to do…often times. Sometimes we pick hobbies that we know will challenge us, or make us grow in ways we deem necessary. Which ever the case, I’ve found that sticking to your hobbies is closely related to making definite decisions. It’s a small thing, in the grand scheme of things, but an area where you can practice the art of making a definite decision. Sticking to a hobby that you like and enjoy is easy and can have the added benefit of making it to your gratitude list, but what’s even better is sticking to a hobby you realized you don’t enjoy as much or a hobby that makes you uncomfortable. For example, I signed up to play softball on a social league a few summers ago and initially I thought it would be great! When the season was about to start, all of my anxiety and suppressed feelings of athletic inferiority came rushing back. But I stuck to it, and I stuck to it (mostly because I had a friend doing it with me, if I’m being honest!), and once it was over, I was really proud of myself for accomplishing something despite my discomfort. In the end, I became more confident in my ability to deal with adversity (I still can’t play softball, but alas!) and I felt great about following through on something I’d committed to doing.

The Bottom Line

Self-care and self-improvement are essential to showing up for yourself. When you show up for yourself, you free up the space that uncertainty, ill-feelings and no direction took in your life, allowing you more room to show up in other ways. That is one of the reasons why personal development and professional development are related but different. Aligning your everyday life with your WHY, building consistency, confidences, and resilience in your personal life are all things that will make you a better leader, expert, and professional, but even more important, they will help you live with intentionality.

My friends and I unofficially started a little book club and this was the first book. We all braced ourselves for a tear jerker and potentially the saddest think we’ve ever read (based on the reviews). I didn’t think it was all that sad, frankly. Maybe because I felt it was an unfinished story or maybe it was the philosophical tone of the whole thing, I don’t know.

From my perspective, Paul was objectively looking at his own mortality as if he were observing the life of someone else. It didn’t necessarily feel impersonal, but it was very “as a matter of fact.” This isn’t a criticism though, I actually enjoyed the book — as much as you can enjoy a book about death and dying. Actually I’m not convinced it was about death in the first place. It was as much a story about life and virtue, meaning and happiness, as it was about death and dying. What I really appreciated were Paul’s revelations in the face of death. What he chose to do after he found out his time was imminently coming to an end was really telling and quite inspiring!


Related Books

Guess what? I wrote my own book on death and dying. It’s loosely based on my father’s death and the part of me who died with him. Coming oh so soon!

I was complaining to my co-workers over lunch about the terrible crowds at Trader Joe’s and how people have to get in line as soon as they walk through the door because the line wraps around all the food isles. One of my co-workers mentioned that he usually shops while in line to move things quicker and then burst into laugher from the look of horror on my face.

All my life, and definitely more now, I’ve enjoyed my time at the supermarket. I like to stroll down the isles and get a good look at all my options, read all the labels, check the prices, etc. Some might think this is a waste of time but for me its me time. It’s time I dedicate to myself to make sure I am making healthy choices and focus on buying quality. You could say I am a mindful shopper.

The utility of “mindfulness” goes well beyond our grocery needs; it’s something that I try to incorporate into my daily life. To be mindful is to pay attention; to be mindful is to live with intentionality. That is the goal— to pay attention and live with intentionality.

But I already have some much on my mind…

Exactly! Our minds are so distracted by the chatter of our thoughts, that we often find ourselves going through the motions without even realizing that life is just passing us by. Most of use are running a marathon on the loop of death; we think “when this happens, I’ll be happy,” then it happens and we aren’t happy, “when I get this, I’ll be happy,” then you get that and you still aren’t happy. We are constantly running in this loop, day in and day out, with no end in sight.

Breaking this cycle takes the realization that 1. the journey is more important than the destination, and 2. every moment counts. Once I realized that I was chasing thin air, I was finally able to open my eyes and take a good look around. What was the state of my life? Was I living the life I wanted? Was I happy? Asking myself the hard questions helped me put things into perspective.

I’ve heard there are two types of happiness: the happiness that comes from looking back at your life and feeling satisfied with how things turned out, and the everyday happiness you feel when you wake up in the morning and go out your day. By helping me find joy in even the most mundane things (like grocery shopping), and helping me take pleasure in living out my day to day life, mindfulness is helping me find happiness now and in the future.

5 Things I do Mindfully

I’d like to think I do everything mindfully, but let’s face it, no one is perfect. Here are 5 areas that I’ve been actively working on (I also talk about different ways of being mindful in my post, The Art of Mindfulness).

  1. Shopping — Cutting down on excessive consumerism is something I’ve been working on for years, but still continue to struggle with. Being mindful of what I buy and taking into consideration what I actually need verse what seems cool or what has been continuously advertised to me, has been a huge help in this.
  1. Self-care — Again something I’ve been working on for a long time. I’m a firm believer that your physical appearance is a major indicator of your health, both mentally and physically. Things like acne, split ends, beer bellies, baggy eyes or all physical signs that hint to poor eating habits, lack of skincare, lack of sleep, etc. Making the effort to listen to my body and what it needs has made a significant improvement in my overall health and self-esteem.
  1. Eating — Piggybacking off number 2, paying attention to what our bodies need, especially when it comes to food is both difficult and rewarding. For me, this means, being mindful of when I’m hungry vs. thirty, when I’m hungry vs. just bored, when I’m hungry vs. the food looks really good. It’s also about portion control and listening to my body when it’s full. Most importantly, it’s about actually enjoying what you eat vs. mindlessly gobbling it down.
  2. Listening & Processing — Now piggybacking off number 2 & 3, listening is such an important skill! After reading Dan Harris’ book, 10% Happier, I realized that many of my conversation are reactive instead of responsive. It’s not that I am picking fights with all my friends, rather that I find I tend to react to the first thing someone says and already have a response before the other person even finishes the sentence, causing me to half listen to the rest of whatever they were saying. I’ve made it a point to listen to everything the person has to say and process it before I formulate a response.
  3. Bedtime Routine — As I get older I realize how important sleep is. While I’d never had issues falling asleep, I also never had issues if I didn’t get enough sleep or quality sleep. The toll of subpar sleep or lack of sleep is more noticeable as time passes. These days I am mindful of my sleep patterns and mindful of my bedtime routine, making sure that I am unwinding as the time gets closer to bedtime.

The Bottom Line

When you go through life on autopilot, you look back and see everything blurred or hazy. You might miss out on important moments thinking that whatever you are doing instead was more important. In general, I’ve been more aware of my day to day actions, decisions, and impact. I’ve also focused on unlearning bad habits such as multi-tasking, which is less effective and efficient than focusing your time and energy on one task at a time (Seriously! Read more in this Forbes article, “Why Multitasking Doesn’t Work). And because I take time to think about what I am doing, purchasing, supporting, putting my energy into, I find that I make healthier decisions, ultimately leading to a happier, healthier me.

Recently I heard the term “Budget your Time” and it intrigued me because I’d never heard someone phrase it in that way. More often we hear the term “manage your time.” The term “manage” for me has a negative connotation, suggesting that your time is something to be dealt with, supervised, controlled even. On the contrary, when I hear the term “Budget your Time,” to me it closely resembles “Budget your money” which makes me feel that my time is precious, thus I should be Budgeting it, or designating it to the things that are important to me, just as a designate my money. It’s all about perspective right? Did you waste your time or did you spend your time? And just like your money, if your wasting your time, you need to learn how to budget it. Let’s jump right into it.

Steps to better budget your time.

Clarify your Prioritize

As I’ve said in the past, life is about priorities— how can you budget your time if you don’t know what to do with it? What are the things that are important to you? This is a hard one because often times the things that are truly important to us are not the things we spend our time on. For example, some very well meaning parents might spend most of their time working to be able to spoil their children with all the things they never had, meanwhile spending very little time actually with their children. Of course they care about their kids, but where does there time go? This is why it’s important to take a step back and ask yourself, “What are my priorities? What do I want to spend time doing?” This will give you a clear starting point.

My “I want to spend time doing” List
  1. Connecting more with my family and friends that are far away. Ideally I’d like to check in more often and keep them updated on my life as well.
  2. Building a meditation practice. I’ve read a handful of books and tons of articles about the benefits of meditating, but I can never get around to doing it.
  3. Taking my dog on longer walks. Granted, she’s a “house dog” and doesn’t need as much exercise as other dog breeds, but she loves running around in the outdoors and I want to spend more time giving her that experience.
  4. Reading more.
  5. Writing more.
Identifying your Time Wasting Behavior

There are the things that you want to do, and the things that you inevitably do instead. As a prime example, right before writing this post, I spent a good 4 hours watching Youtube videos! Granted they were very informative and even inspirational, but perhaps 4 hours is too much time being marginally productive. Like watching tv/Youtube/Netflix/screens of any kind, there are other things we want to do less of. Taking a few minutes to think through our days and identify the things that are sucking up our time is a useful tool in the reallotting process.

My “This is blowing through my time budget” List
  1. The aforementioned screen time, whether it’s on my phone or my tablet or my tv, I find myself going through information rabbit holes that I can’t dig myself out of. The other day I fell into a cloth diapering hole where I decided I needed to know everything there is to know about cloth diapering, despite having absolutely no intentions of having children any time soon.
  2. Worrying. I spend alot of time worrying about things that are out of my control and some that will become self-fulling prophecies if I keep worrying about them (i.e hair loss).
  3. Sleeping. Lately my sleep cycle has been a bit out of wack so I’ve been falling asleep later and waking up later, causing me to be sluggish in the mornings, which is my usual prime time to be productive.
Restructure Your Days

There are many things that you can do to help you with “time management” and potentially getting more things done, but they won’t help you get the things that you necessarily want to get done, done. I find the easiest way to think about this is going back to treating time as you would treat money when you are budgeting. A good money budget, allocates most if not all of your funds to something specific. As such, you need to allocate your time accordingly.

You also want to think about the things you want to incorporate into your time budget and consider what you are currently doing vs. how you will designate your time moving forward. For me this looks something like this:

How I Currently BudgetRestructured budget
10:30pm-6am-Sleep. 10:30pm-5:45am-Sleep.
6am-8am- Wake up just in time to get ready for work, walk dog, out the door.5:45am-8am- Wake up 15 minutes earlier to sit and meditate for 10 minutes, then get ready for work, walk dog, out the door.
Misc: See friend/family calling or texting, ignore because I’m in the middle of something.Am I really in the middle of something?? Is it more important or am I just watching a movie?? If it’s important, pick up and tell them you’ll call them back, then ACTUALLY call them back. If not important, pick up and pause whatever you are doing.
Never in the schedule?? -Take my dog on long walks whenever I have free time.Wednesdays 4-6pm- take my dog out for a long walk.

Bottom Line

Oftentimes I write these posts to remind myself of things I should be doing. The idea that our time is valuable is nothing new or groundbreaking, and yet, we forget all the time. Making more time for the things that are important is challenging for most of us who already feel we’re short on time. To remedy this, I’m going to attempt the Ben Franklin approach. Essentially, Ben attempted to tackle one of his thirteen virtues a week for 13 weeks, instead of virtues, I will use my “I want to spend more time doing this” list and attempt to create more time for a least one a week.

Is life balance possible?

Source: Gaiam

In a previous post I briefly touched on the Buddhist concept of “The Middle Way,” in relation to love and relationships. The gist was that we should neither rush into falling in love nor reject love altogether. Instead, we should slowly progress towards a meaningful love.

The middle way isn’t just relevant to love, it’s the overarching philosophy that governs Buddhism. The Buddha developed the Eight Fold path, to help us live the Middle Way life. You can further condense the Eightfold path into sub-categories; Ethics, Meditation and, Wisdom.

I am neither Buddhist nor do I believe everything in the Buddhist religion. While many people see Buddhism as a “way of life” or a “philosophy of life” and despite being mostly a non-theistic religion, Buddhism is still a religious journey for many who practice it. What I found most intriguing what the religion was the Buddha’s insistence that he was not a God nor should you take his teaching as truth, rather, you should explore them for yourself and then make a judgement. I find many of the teachings a good map to navigating life and understanding our own short-comings. For me, Buddhist teachings are something I incorporate into my arsenal of life lessons, and my favorite by far is the idea of the Middle Way.

Incorporating the Middle Way Into your Day to Day

It seems like extremism is the new way of life these days. Politically speaking, it’s obvious—you have your alt-right, progressives, etc. Even the moderates can’t be seen mingling with the “other side” for fear of political suicide. But beyond that, you have the vegans and the extreme sports enthusiast. I’ve even heard bookworms say, “oh yeah, I read that 400 page book in a day.”

The problem with extremism is obviously that it can lead to terrible things (terrorist groups, stealing farmer’s livestock to “protect them,” etc) but more than that, it’s that life is complicated and trying to fit everything into neat binary lines is not possible. Take for example, abortion. You are either pro-choice or pro-life, right? But what about the pro-lifers who get abortions? They are hypocrites, right? Well what about the pro-choicer who says they would never get an abortion…are abortions okay for you but not for them? Are abortions just for the poor and the unfit? It’s…complicated.

The point is that we cannot live our lives so rigidly. Life is messy and the answers aren’t always clearcut. In my personal life I confront this all the time. For instance, I am borderline obsessed with living a non-toxic, organic, natural lifestyle. The problem that I face is that it’s extremely hard to be a purist. Because of the society we live in and because of abundance of information that’s out there, I find myself overwhelmed and frankly confused about what is “the right” way to be non-toxic and natural.

AGAIN, the problem was that I was taking it to the extreme, I wanted to rid myself of all the toxins in the world and all the unnatural things that we use in our daily lives. This is technically possible, and some people have accomplished just that, but it isn’t very practical, or cost effective, or even the safest bet. The biggest hurdle though, was that it was stressing me out and giving me major anxiety. So sure, I could do it, but at what cost? What I realized was that it was OK to utilize some of modern society’s tools, as long as they were safe, non-toxic and good for the environment.

I reached this realization by sitting down and really analyzing what my goals were and also listening to the other side. I’d done all the research and learned so much about non-toxic living but I hadn’t been objective enough to hear out the other said, and as the buddha would say, make my own judgement.

Here is a good example

In the natural beauty world at large, essential oils are the holy grail of literally everything, from cleaning your face to acne treatment to moisturizing, etc, etc. The reasoning behind using essential oils is that they are a naturally derived product that substitutes harsh artificial fragrances and is safe to use on skin.

THE TRUTH IS…

Essential oils can be safe to use on your skin and in your household cleaning products and diffusers, you name it, HOWEVER, essential oils are also extremely potent and can be very irritating if used directly on the skin. Not only that, essential oils take up a huge amount of natural resources to produce, making them eco un-friendly. So while I do like essential oils and believe in their benefits, it’s so important to me to use them in moderation and be mindful of their negative effects.

Another example

Since we have a skincare theme going, let’s mention retinol. Retinol is a derivative of Vitamin A that helps in anti-aging. It is found in many conventional skincare products. Many “clean beauty” products use retinol alternatives…but not for the reasons you think!* The hard core natural, non-toxic living community would never indorse or recommend something like retinol because like, Cocamidopropyl Betaine which is derived from coconut oil, anything that is chemically altered is considered “unnatural” and subsequently, “unsafe.”

THE TRUTH IS…

There have been countless scientific studies on the use of retinol and it has been found to be safe across the board. Like essential oils, it can be very potent and irritating to the skin, but it is not harmful if used as directed. As mentioned, retinol is derived from Vitamin A, which our bodies naturally produce, making it also something that our body naturally produces. After having done all my research, I concluded that retinol is something I’d like to try—an ingredient I would have likely never learned about if I’d strictly stuck to the natural beauty community.

The Bottom Line

What I’ve learned is that there is no right or wrong, we are constantly learning new things and adapting. The Middle Way has taught me that you should never pursue nor avoid something to the point of deteriorating your mental, spiritual or physical health. Trying to be 100% natural in an environment where consumerism thrives caused me more stress than benefit. This is not to say I don’t strive to live a natural, non-toxic lifestyle anymore, it just means my definition of that goal is more flexible. The Middle Way is synonymous with balance; don’t not pursue your goals and don’t allow your goals to become self destructive.


*Clean beauty products use alternatives to retinol because of how potent it can be. Alternatives are usually gentler on the skin and also less effective. Learn more from Allure mag’s 11 Retinol Myths That Derms Want You to Stop Believing.

Chapter 6 of the Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt, is all about relationships. Do we need relationships? Are they useful? Do they bring us joy? For the most part, we’d all agree to answer “yes,” right? It almost seems outlandish to question the value of relationships here in the Western hemisphere where we’ve mastered rom-coms, marriage counseling and, a weird, possessive attachment to our pets.

Dr. Haidt’s argument is that Siddhartha Guatama, the Buddha or enlightened one, had it all wrong. According to Dr. Haidt, the Buddha,—and Buddhism at large— teaches us that our worldly attachments are what cause our suffering, and for this reason, we should let go of said attachments (i.e our attachments to other people). He goes on to explain the history and current research on attachment theory and the wide-spread belief amongst psychologists of the importance of building and maintaining strong relationships.

While I don’t disagree with Dr. Haidt, and for what it’s worth, I find his insights very enlightening 😉 , I do think he missed the mark on Buddhism. Yes, the Buddha does speak on suffering and our attachment to insatiable desires, but he isn’t necessarily suggesting that we abandon our attachments to other people.

Let’s break it down

Dr. Haidt is probably refering to the 4 noble truths; the truth of suffering, the truth of the origin of suffering, the truth of the cessation of suffering and, the truth of the path to the cessation of suffering. Essentially, the truths are a remedy for suffering and a way to break from it.

First Truth
Even when we are not suffering from outward causes like illness or bereavement, we are unfulfilled, unsatisfied. This is the truth of suffering.
Second Truth
The root of all suffering is desire. This comes in three forms, which are described as the Three Roots of Evil.
The three roots of evil
1.Greed and desire, represented in art by a rooster
2.Ignorance or delusion, represented by a pig
3.Hatred and destructive urges, represented by a snake
Third Truth
The way to extinguish desire, which causes suffering, is to liberate oneself from attachment. Nirvana means extinguishing. Attaining nirvana – reaching enlightenment – means extinguishing the three fires of greed, delusion and hatred. Someone who has attained enlightenment is filled with compassion for all living things.
Fourth Truth
This is a set of principles called the Eightfold Path. The Eightfold Path is also called the Middle Way: it avoids both indulgence and severe asceticism
Source: BBC.co.uk

The four truths are intertwined, you cannot dissect one truth without understanding the others. The first truth is that there is suffering, the second says it is caused by “the three roots of evil”— none of which mention loving or forming relationships, by the way— the third suggests we detach from the three roots of evil and, the fourth gives us a roadmap for accomplishing just that.

Note, none of the truths are questioning our relationships, but rather, our desires. Ironically, this seems to be the same conclusion that Dr. Haidt comes up with in his “alternative” to the Buddha teachings; he believes people should strive for compassionate love, rather than passionate love, which fades as fast as it forms. By his definition, passionate love is similar to drug addiction, creating an intense high at first and fading over time, whereas, compassionate love is built steadily over time.

By his definition, is passionate love not fueled by desire? Delusions? Destructive urges?

By his definition, it seems he is advising to detach yourself from the the roots of evil that is passionate love and opt for the more reasonable, longterm compassionate love. Just as the third noble truth suggests, compassion is encouraged.

Attachment is forbidden. Possession is forbidden. Compassion, which I would define as unconditional love, is essential to a Jedi’s life. So you might say, that we are encouraged to love.

Anakin Skywalker

Much of the confusion regarding Buddhism is in regards to its emphasis on impermanence. Very relevant to relationships, when it doesn’t work out, we mourn and we suffer, and when it does, we live “happily ever after,” right? So is it then that the Buddha is saying, don’t develop attachments to people because relationships aren’t permanent? Not quite. What the Buddha is really saying is “Don’t develop attachments to the future.”

Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.

Buddha

The overarching theme in his teachings is to live in the present moment. Do not assume just because you’ve developed a relationship with someone that it will last. Instead, you should be enjoying the moments you are currently spending with those who bring you happiness and by detaching yourself to the future, you can free yourself from the pain and anxiety of maybe losing someone later on. Buddhism is not a proponent of complete detachment. As the term “Middle Way,” suggestions, it’s about avoiding the extremes of self-indulgence and self-denial. In other words, Buddhism is not so much about isolation as much as it is about understanding the temporary nature of things like “passionate love.” It’s about not allowing yourself to be consumed by things that will eventually fade or cease to exist. And most importantly, it’s about finding balance.


This post is part of the Happiness Series. View more posts from this series.

Check out Dr. Haidt’s book site: Thehappinesshypothesis.com

Growing Wealth, Risking Health-Why money can’t buy happiness.

I’ve recently started a #debtfree journey, where I’ve mapped out how I will pay off my debt (aka student loans) and become financially free. Related to this, Chapter 5 of the Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt, is appropriately titled, The Pursuit of Happiness, wherein, he discusses our often misguided pursuits of wealth, fame, recognition, etc.


People who report the greatest interest in obtaining money, fame, or beauty, are consistently found to be less happy, and even less healthy, than those who pursue less materialistic goals.

Dr. Haidt, Happiness Hypothesis

Further in the chapter, he explains how Western culture, and particularly American culture, strives to achieve status and perceived happiness, more than we actually strive for happiness. According to the book, this is why we (Americans), would rather take less vacations and make more money, instead of taking more vacations, make less and, subsequently being happier. Essentially, it’s always been about Keeping Up With the Jones (or the Kardashians??), it’s about one upping your competition and gaining power and influence.

I think we can all agree wanting to be powerful and influential isn’t a bad thing, in and of itself. The problem is that power and influence are mistaken for happiness. We think that when we are rich, or when we are famous, or when we rise in social status, we will be happier, yet, this is almost never the case.

Should we all renounce our materialistic ambitions?

It’s important to note, while money does not buy happiness, necessarily, it does offer piece of mind. Dr. Haidt mentions this briefly as he notes, “once basic needs are met, money simply cannot buy additional happiness.” The way I understood, “basic needs,” is a state where you have enough money to cover your bills and your rent or mortgage, have food on the table and, money left over for other basic needs (i.e gas, clothes, diapers, etc). What does that mean for someone living paycheck to paycheck? Or someone struggling to save, or someone like me whose “basic needs” are met but also lives with crippling debt?

I do agree with the general idea “money can’t buy happiness,” however, we need to revise the notion that “once basic needs are met” we will not gain anything from having a few extra coins in our pockets. Using myself as an example, I have a middle class income; I live alone; I follow all the “best practice” advice on how much I should spend on rent, groceries, etc, I have plenty of “spending” money, and yet, I have crippling debt. Yes, all my basic needs are met but I live with consent anxiety over my never ceasing student loan debt.

Once we’ve reached financial freedom, money simply cannot buy additional happiness.

This brings us to the idea of financial freedom. Being financially free is a state of living where you are not tied down, anxious, stressed, or worried about your financial status. In todays world, where things like credit card debt and student debt has had a negative psychological effect on so many people, it is safe to say that meeting our “basic needs” is no longer enough.

Instead, we need to be proactively educating ourselves on financial literacy, and how we can control money so that it does not control us. To Dr. Haidt’s original point, this is not about Keeping Up with the Jonese, this is about an internal practice that will improve our daily lives, offer peace of mind and, reduce stress and anxiety—all which can lead to a happier life.

Final Thoughts

There is nothing wrong with wanting to improve your financial situation, especially if it is the cause of stress and anxiety in your life. The key is to have intentionality; what is your true motive for building wealth? Is it to become financially free? To save for the future? Note these are all “behind the scenes” goals— no one will know how much money you have saved or that you are debt free just by looking at you. In turn, if you want to build wealth to buy fancy things, or to show it off to your friends, then you are in it for the wrong reasons. Yes the wealth may bring you influence and power, but the pursuit of wealth, will not lead to happiness. It may very well lead to unhappiness. This is something we should fully understand and accept as true before making sacrifices to build wealth.


This post is part of the Happiness Series. View more posts from this series.

Check out Dr. Haidt’s book site: Thehappinesshypothesis.com

Where we left off…

 I want to explore how we obtain happiness in our everyday lives. How do we cut down on stress and worry, and start living our lives to the fullest. To tackle this seemingly impossible task, I’ve decided to write a series of posts to review and summarize Dr. Haidt’s book and other works out there on happiness.

Now…

I’d say I’m about 1/3 done with the book and so far, Dr. Haidt has reiterated points we’ve all heard before—things like, you are in charge of your destiny and, life is about the journey. He makes it interesting by also including psychological studies that back up these points and give them a bit more “scientific merit.”

So far the book has been centered on our perceptions of ourselves and how are brain works to create these perceptions. But for me the most interesting thing has been on how our perception of ourselves can help us resolve (or at least give a different view of) our conflicts with others.

This is not about improving our self-image or self-esteem…

When talking about the way we see ourselves, specifically in a moral sense, Dr. Haidt brings to light our tendency to think ourselves morally above our peers. In the book he details a series of experiments where people can more accurately guess the moral compass of others, while having a skewed (favorable) perception of their own morality. This observation helps us explain in part why we can be so hypocritical, judgmental and self-righteous at times.

Dr. Haidt cleverly gives us the solution to this problem at the very beginning of the Chapter with these two ancient proverbs;

“Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?… You hypocrite, first tale the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. “

Mattew 7:3—5

“It is easy to see the faults of others, but difficult to see one’s own faults. One shows the faults of others like chaff winnowed in the wind, but one conceals one’s own faults as a cunning gambler conceals his dice.”

Buddha

Now what?

In Chapter 4’s closing paragraph, Dr. Haidt invites us to use this knowledge of ourselves to improve our relationships with others. Next time you get into a fight with someone, he encourages you to think about what you might have done wrong and offer that in the discussion. According to him, this will trigger our natural tendency for reciprocity, wherein, the person we are at odds with will also offer something they did wrong and the two will get closer to resolving the issue.

Final Thoughts

I liked Dr. Haidt’s suggestion of looking within and I appreciated him backing it up with the theory of reciprocity, mentioned earlier in the book. I think he misses something important though…by trying to make the explanation very scientific and data driven, he misses the humanizing effect of looking within. For me, the idea of accepting some blame or responsibility for our own contributions to a problem also serves to remind us of our humanity. If we can see the fault in ourselves, we can more easily accept the fault in others, whereby, softening our judgments and our animosity.

Does this bring us closer to happiness? I think so. We are social beings, who thrive on meaningful, healthy relationships; Improving them can only make us happier.


This post is part of the Happiness Series. View more posts from this series.

Check out Dr. Haidt’s book site: Thehappinesshypothesis.com

A quest for answers…

I recently started reading Jonathan Haidt’s book, the Happiness Hypothesis, and while only on chapter 3, I find that it has opened my eyes to really interesting findings on the human brain, psychology, and morality. This makes sense since Dr. Haidt is a moral and ethics professor at NYU. But the book, according to its title, isn’t about morals and ethics, or the human psychology, rather about happiness.

Without having read the entire book, I suspect Dr. Haidt’s conclusion is that we are the key to our own happiness. But what does that mean? What does happiness mean? Is it a sense of content with our lives? Is it the feeling of joy and excitement? Is it living without regrets?

I think there is a big difference between looking back at your life, feeling content or satisfaction with how it played out, and living everyday as a happy person—as someone who is truly happy in every sense of the word. I want to explore how we obtain happiness in our everyday lives. How do we cut down on stress and worry, and start living our lives to the fullest. To tackle this seemingly impossible task, I’ve decided to write a series of posts to review and summarize Dr. Haidt’s book and other works out there on happiness.


This post is part of the Happiness Series. View more posts from this series.

Check out Dr. Haidt’s book site: Thehappinesshypothesis.com