Sometimes everyone has bad days. You know what I mean…when things just feel a bit off and a bit bleak. You wonder why the world is the way it is and why people are the way they are. You flop down and feel a bit shitty about all of it. It’s not depression or anything of the sort, it’s just that things seems a bit all for not. I use to have more days like this rather than the bright happy face days. Until I stumbled upon a couple of books that changed the way I saw the world and my place in this world. Anytime I feel a bit angry and in that dark place I go back to these two books and it seems to give me a guide back to the bright-smiley face path to life. The first is The Art of Happiness.
I’m not the most religious person but the book gives me a perspective to seeing the world through the eyes of people a lot less fortunate than me and how folks with nothing of material value find so much happiness in their life. It’s a reminder to exercise my mind and not just my body.
The second is Born to Run. This book talks about a group of Indians in the northern mountains of Mexico who run 40 to 100 miles late into their lives. When asked how they run so much at their age the answer was so profound… “No one told them they weren’t suppose to!” Brilliant huh? With the media blasting news about when we are suppose to retire and when we are considered too old for this and that, we set limitations on ourselves that really come from, well- ourselves. Limitations we put on ourselves exist in our own minds a lot of the times. Made me realize how powerful the mind and the human body is once you overcome what society has programmed us to believe. All of this might sound a little bit hokey, but sometimes we need a little hokey to get us through the tough times. What are some of the things that you use to get back to the smiley face place?
ALFREDO: I LOVED Born To Run. This from someone who gets winded walking outside to pick up the morning paper. OK, three routes to my smiley place: 1. re-re-re-reading anything by J.D. Salinger. The man oozes humanity and compassion in a non-corny way. 2. Working at the soup kitchen once a week. Now before you accuse me of using this ATH as a pretext to pat myself on the back, think again: half the reason I do it is for the feeling of “there but for the grace of God go I.” Feeling bad that your used car ain’t that great, or that your promotion isn’t coming fast enough? Go to a place where people are broken, drug addicted, mentally ill, or just plain down on their luck, and you will suddenly find yourself thanking the universe for what pass as “hardships” in your own life. 3. Tutoring kids. I sit side-by-side with kids as a writing tutor, and when you see that light bulb go off in their heads? When you see them smile and can literally feel their self-esteem rising? Jesus, it’s an endorphin rush rivaled only by cheeseburgers and sex.
DHH: Usually, to refresh and recharge, I try to go to another place, which may be in my mind, or through a different sort of activity. This can include cooking, spending time with my kids, mentoring students and younger writers, or doing yoga. The following may expose me as a complete workaholic, but sometimes just writing my scripts can take me to a sufficiently meditative place that I feel happy afterwards (of course, other times, when the writing’s not going well, it has the exact opposite effect!). In addition, I think just being the child of Asian immigrants to America helps me put things in perspective. When I think about my parents’ or grandparents’ stories, I might be bummed cuz my script’s not getting made, but that pales in comparison to wars, famines, and kidnapping by pirates!
IRIS: OK, call me the crazy cat lady, but cuddling my cats always makes me feel better. My Balinese cat, in particular, has a sweet disposition. She’ll start purring, sometimes when I just walk into the room. I love just listening to her purr. It’s very soothing. They have therapy programs using pets, so I know there’s something to this. My calico is very entertaining and always makes me laugh, which is also very therapeutic. She’s addicted to the iPad, so I can just bring that out and we’ll both be entertained for a while.
QUENTIN: I try to find inspiration and faith in everyday life whether it’s from my cockatiels or from my hip hop class instructors. One hip hop instructors always remind us that being in a class is a gift in itself. Can you imagine that some people can’t even dance? Some people don’t have a leg? Some people are injured and they can’t move? We should simply appreciate that we can be in a class and be able to try out different movements so be in the moment and enjoy rather than beating ourselves up.
ROGER: I believe the human spirit, much like a car, requires constant and consistent maintenance or else it will just naturally rust, break down, and fail. As of late, I’ve been attracted to a few websites that provide bite-sized chunks of daily inspiration in hopes of keeping the “dark forces” of anger, envy, scarcity, and depression at bay (or at a hopeful minimum). If anything, a few minutes of reading/watching this stuff here and there keeps my perspective fresh and reminds me to have gratitude in all that I have.
My go to website right now is Zen Habits. As my life seems to get bigger and more complicated, I am drawn to concepts of simplicity and “less is more”. I love Leo Babauta’s (author) idea that by living simply and with less stuff (material and spiritual) we are able to gain back our most precious asset, time, and focus it on relationships, community, and shared experiences.
Another website I’m really inspired by right now is *faircompanies by Kirsten Dirksen and her compilation of videos on the tiny house movement. What is the tiny house movement you ask? Well, it’s people shifting gears, reassessing their lives, and completely re-engineering their lifestyles to complement a move into much smaller living spaces. How small? How about less than 450 square feet…350 square feet…98 square feet! It’s pretty cool. For me, it’s much less about the tiny house and more about the mindset of how much abundance we can have and gain by letting go of all the unnecessary stuff – material and spiritual. (Oh, and on a fun side note, I met the founder, Kirsten, during our Better Luck Tomorrow promotional tour 11 years ago. She was the camerawoman and co-producer for MTV’s Suchin Pak’s documentary on BLT. Kind of cool how we didn’t stay in touch but now I’m a huge fan of her work.)
PHILIP: I’m probably happiest when I’m working but that’s probably not the best answer. But nothing beats good food, good company, and good music. Any of those three by themselves works but when you can have all three at the same time, that’s the best.
BEVERLY: Sung, I understand those bleak days too well. I actually fell into triathlon because in my 20’s, I was so depressed over the acting career (which I have now blissfully shelved for the time being) and physical activity is my saving grace. I don’t do tris anymore, but I positively LOVE trail running. It has nothing to do with how fast you are, it has everything to do with how beautiful the surrounding nature is and how you can only see it if you made the effort on foot. And I go home feeling like I’ve seen something that most people don’t give themselves the time to see. And when I get home, I bury my face in my cat’s fur (like Iris!) and just revel in the fact that a creature from a whole other species trusts me enough to let me do that to her.
One of the books I loved while growing up was Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. I always remind myself of a scene in it where the father of a family is determined to make the family a ‘happiness machine’. He spent hours in his garage filling this box with all the pictures of the great things in life: the pyramids of Egypt, the Eiffel Tower, etc and therefore missing dinner with his family every night. And when he finally debuted his Happiness Machine, everyone who went in, came out extremely sad. Because it reminded them of beautiful things OUTSIDE of their realm, and made them long for things out of reach instead of loving what was right in front of them.
Lastly, there’s a great documentary out called Happy that really puts happiness around the world into perspective.
These things put things in perspective for me, that life isn’t so bad, and that it’s actually quite good if I open my eyes and take a look around.