On Happiness: are there good and bad kinds?

Dear quarter lives, 

I was flipping through a magazine recently and this self-help exercise came up. Its aim was to help you identify moments of happiness you had experienced within whatever time frame you chose to explore, be it a day, a week, or years. I guess the point of that was two-fold: first, to train yourself to recognise happiness and second, to be able to better understand what triggers those moments so you can increase them. But as I read through the exercise, I couldn’t help but wonder if this logic of identifying what made you happy and trying to increase it was limited only to certain kinds of happiness — the good kind.

I don’t really know who decides what’s good or not but surely there are kinds of happiness that are more destructive. So perhaps let us step aside from good and bad happiness and speak of it instead in terms of its usefulness to ourselves and to others around us. Maybe we can refer to happiness as being of a productive kind and a destructive kind. I never really thought of happiness before as having any sort of diversity or texture but now it makes sense why sometimes deep down I feel a certain aversion to happiness. Yes, there is the normal doubt that kicks in that wonders if I deserve this happiness and insists to base it on some sort of criteria that is commonly referred to as “goodness” although we might be all referring to wildly different criteria, we all use the common terms good and bad to grade our progress as humans in this world. For some, goodness may be based on the spiritual, for others, it may be more financial or related to marriage or having children or a successful career. The thing is it doesn’t really matter what your criteria is; what matters more is that you have one. Why is that important to identify? Because it means somewhere deep inside of you sometime long ago, you decided that you cannot be happy until …, and now fill in the … with your criteria. While having a reward system in place might be useful to help you achieve other goals in life or to teach your children the value of discipline and how to work towards something, when it comes to happiness this is one of the most cruel things we can do to ourselves. We end up delaying happiness because of some idea in our heads that happiness only belongs to people who are … . Happiness, like sadness, like anger is an emotion. It is a temporary response to a thought, to our environment (internal or external), to events (internal, external, past, present, real, assumed) and to people as well, and all these responses, these feelings we feel about things influences how we experience and perceive the world. But happiness like other emotions comes and goes. It cannot stay forever but yes we have the power to call it in by influencing the inner or outer environment it is responding to. The inside we can influence with which thoughts and feelings we choose to pay attention to. The outside we can influence by taking ourselves to places we love, eating food that helps nourish both our bodies and souls, seeing and connecting with people we love. So you see what the magazine article was trying to focus on is the aspects of bringing in happiness we can control and influence. 

Though I must say that needs to come with many buts and disclaimers because not all sources of happiness are created equal, and therefore, not all resulting happinesses are the same. Happiness that you get from winning at the casino might be more dangerous and quite destructive to try to get more of than happiness you get by having an intimate heartfelt conversation with a friend. But in fact, I would say even the spending time with friends kind of happiness if done too much that it starts to impact your progress in life elsewhere then even spending time with friends becomes now a destructive source of happiness. Hence why at the very beginning of this I asked you to put bad and good on hold and refer instead to productive and destructive because it means that we steer away from blaming anything as being the cause of less happiness but rather take back the responsibility and emphasise that it is not burgers that are themselves bad but how many burgers we have, it is not alcohol itself that is the culprit but our relationship to it, it is not our desire for beauty that is bad but rather how much money we are spending on new clothes rather than saving for a home, if saving for a home is something you’ve been saying you want to do but just haven’t gotten round to doing it yet. 

At the end of the day, there is no universal strategy to happiness. One, because we all mean different things when referring to happiness. And two, because we ourselves will mean different things when we speak of happiness now and in ten years time. We are always changing and so is the world we live in, and perhaps there is nothing more destructive than holding on to an outdated idea of happiness because after all what is a human being without their capacity to adapt, to grow and to change. Can you imagine a tree refusing to shed its leaves in the winter because it’s being stubborn and holding on to the idea that it cannot be happy without its leaves? It is absurd. So why do we humans refuse to call ourselves out and catch the absurd demands we are making of life and of ourselves? Why put all this pressure on yourself to not shed your leaves when it is winter and on top of that criticise yourself for it? Now how damaging is that to your happiness?

May we all learn to see where we asked the impossible of ourselves, where we have demanded the impossible from life, and forgive our hearts for shedding happiness during the winter. May we make together kinder spaces in our minds so we can hold the truth that much of what we do, we might not fully understand. May we all learn to just live through it all because there is a happiness to be found in all the corners of this earthly experience. Even when it is darkest, happiness sparkles throughout like the stars of the night sky shimmering and reminding us that we are always surrounded by Suns, even when our own Sun is yet to rise; the stars remind us to have faith. Faith that sooner or later, the Sun will shine again, so until then learn to enjoy the Suns you can see now, even if they are fainter and scattered. May we all learn to enjoy the sparkle of our own night sky and embrace it in all its magic! 

With love and as always for peace,


On the Beauty of Conflict 

Dear quarter lives, 

Recently I found myself telling a friend that I don’t really understand how someone could enjoy watching other people fight. Even though my friend agreed, something inside of me wasn’t satisfied with that response. I felt that maybe my friend and I weren’t really paying attention, maybe we weren’t seeing something important that was so clearly there, that everyone else could see. A few days later, as the thought simmered and cooked itself in my mind, an answer arrived slowly, trickling through my resistance to accept something so “aggressive”. After all, I was all about peace, so how could I let myself see that there was beauty in conflict, in war, in fighting, let alone fighting as a sport. But I couldn’t not see it. It was there showing itself so beautifully and so transparently.

I had been the kind of person that tried to avoid conflict with others. I wasn’t so confrontational, and always afraid to cause upset or to cause myself upset through another’s upset. I was hiding behind peace hoping conflict wouldn’t find me. Ironically, I was already in it but just couldn’t see it. I was refusing to see the truth that I was bathing in conflict, some of it was for fun and some was more serious forcing me to grow and move forward through life. I love stories, and conflicts are at the heart of every one of them. It’s what makes a hero out of the human in every story. It is what captivates us because we understand that conflict is how we all grow, how we mature, how we get closer to those around us, how we get closer to ourselves. It is there at the centre of it all, like a sort of gravity that pulls our lives together, connects the dots between the different lines and threads. So you see, people go to see boxing matches not because they like to see others in pain or bleed but because it is a celebration of the “fight”, the fight that we are engaged in from the moment we begin to make our way through our mother’s birth canal. It is a celebration of the force that is “opposite”; it is a celebration that duality moves us forward, that the strength of our spine comes from having to resist and grow against gravity. Watching people fight reminds us that fighting is normal. It reminds us that it is sacred, that there is pleasure to be found in the pain. 

Characters facing great obstacles and conflicts are an integral part of any captivating story. This is the stuff that makes for good TV. This is the stuff that we are willing to give our time and attention to. Why? Because it reminds us that conflict is beautiful, that what starts out one way will end somewhere else, that every conflict is a journey in and of itself, that it has an end just as it does a beginning. It reminds us that the fight is survivable, that we can do it, that we are all warriors in our own way. I understand now what I couldn’t see before because I was refusing to see the opportunities conflict was presenting in my own life. I had told myself the story that it was all harmful, that all conflict was painful, that it was all personal. Now, I can see a much bigger picture. I can appreciate the closeness I feel with someone who I am able to work through a fight with. Making space for conflict in our lives is not only important but it’s what makes it interesting. It’s what pushes us to evolve and change.

Watching a fight reminds us that there are always winners and losers, and that both are important for the growth of the other, and that being a part of the fight is what’s more important than winning or losing because one day you might be a winner and another a loser. It teaches us that there is meaning and joy to be made and had in the process, so we better not get attached to winning or losing but that it is best to learn to be both. Watching a fight reminds us that engaging in conflict is a creative act and that there is a big element of uncertainty that teaches us how to listen and be more sensitive. One of the perhaps more useful elements of watching or observing conflict is that even though it might look like chaos, but there are always rules; even wars have rules and when these rules are violated, people need to be held responsible. And different conflicts have different rules, and rules like your opponents are to be respected if you want to play the game and fight the fight. Of course, it could be argued that we see too much conflict in our world and perhaps we need to see more peace. But the thing is peace, resolution and unions all begin with conflict, they are the creative products of conflict. So perhaps the fact that there is so much conflict around us might be a sign that we are not following through till the end, that maybe we are leaving too many conflicts open-ended, unresolved and without an end which leads to long-term dysfunctional conflicts. And so like anything, conflict can be productive as well as destructive. You can choose how to manage your conflicts, you can choose to be brutal or compassionate. You can choose to prioritise immediate gains of winning the fight or long term gains of winning the relationship. You can take ownership of your mistakes or blame everyone else. Conflict is a great teacher, a beautiful one and a brutal one at times. But life is not just a walk in the park; it certainly can be sometimes but it is also the sand storms and hurricanes that turn and transform people’s lives. So today perhaps take a moment to recognise all the goodness conflict has brought to your life, recognise the muscles you have acquired through conflict, and the confidence with which you have learnt to protect your boundaries. 

May you always have it in you to fight the good fight.

With love and always for peace, 


On the essence of Joy

Dear quarter lives, 

Have you ever wondered what joy is made of? Have you ever wondered what force acts upon us that causes us to feel joy? Have you ever wondered what actions you take that cause someone else to feel joy? For years I contemplated joy, trying to understand how it came, what it felt like when it happened, how could I get more of it. But I just couldn’t figure out anything about it or what made it happen. It was like I was blind to the language of joy. So instead of trying to understand the whole of Joy, I wondered instead about the everyday kind of joy, the everyday moments that no matter how often they happened, they would make me feel like I was having a fabulous day, all the little things that happened moment after moment that made me feel alive. I wondered what these moments felt like, what they smelt like, what I was doing, was I saying anything or not, where was I, who was there, what was there, was it hot or cold, did I have breakfast or not, did I exercise that day or not, and so on. What all this wondering did was help me realise that first a big part of joy came from my senses; and secondly that my senses were allowing me to communicate with my environment and the more I could communicate with my environment, the more joy I felt; and the clearer these communications were, the more joy I felt. I knew that joy had something to do with communicating and connecting but I didn’t know much else. All I knew was joy was happening between things. It may reside inside of us, but it doesn’t happen there. It requires some other force to act upon us, or us to act upon another force. It requires movement. In physics, we know that force causes motion. And so without a force acting upon us, the joy inside of us remains immobile, static. Because we can’t know for sure what force is acting upon us, it is harder to know what causes joy to happen to us. But what we can know is what kind of movement our force causes when we use it. In other words, it is much easier to know how we bring joy to others, then how others bring joy to us. Here others includes anything outside of us, from the room we sleep in to the earth we walk on, the dog we feed, the plants we water, the people we know and the many others we don’t.

According to the Oxford dictionary, to be joyful literally means to feel or to cause great happiness. So one way to be joyful is to cause great happiness to others. Once we focus on causing happiness to our immediate environments, we become the messengers of joy. And when we deliver joy to others, we feel it too. We are now part of the process by which joy happens. We become an active component of joy. In communicating joy to other people, we get to feel it move inside of us and that movement I believe is what we call the feeling of “feeling alive”. Generating joy is similar to generating electricity; like it is the directional movement (not random) of electrons that generates electricity, it is too the intentional movement of joy that creates the feeling of it. Joy remains quiet and still inside of us until we decide to move it towards something or someone. So I encourage you to move the joy inside of you outside of you. Do not hoard it and keep it to yourself. For joy is a different kind of currency, it is one you accumulate by giving away rather than saving it all for yourself. And the more you exchange joy, the richer and more joyful you feel. And we have many names for this exchange of joy. When we exchange joy with God, we call it Faith. When we exchange joy with another soul, we call it Love. When we exchange joy with another body, we call it Sex (sacred energy exchange). So the essence of all joy is every single communication of joy, from that of a smile between you and someone, to the exchange of a beautiful scent between you and a flower, the communication of a beautiful sight between you and a painting, or some kind words between you and your mother —-these are all expressions of Joy. So dear quarter lives, be intentional communicators of joy, exercise joy, move it, express it, speak it, paint it, eat it, that is how we feel it. 

Joy is a currency of happiness, one we get richer in not by accumulating it all for ourselves but by giving it to others. The more joy you give, the more happiness you receive, the richer and more joyful you become.