Will this choice enlarge me or diminish me?

In the first issue of his weekly newsletter, Sunday Snippets, youtuber and doctor Ali Abdaal wrote how he and his friend have the hedonic adaption in their minds as a reminder while they are picking out houses to live in Cambridge.

According to Science Direct,

“Hedonic adaptation refers to the notion that after positive (or negative) events (i.e., something good or bad happening to someone), and a subsequent increase in positive (or negative) feelings, people return to a relatively stable, baseline level of affect (Diener, Lucas, & Scollon, 2006).

From: Advances in Motivation Science, 2018

He and his friend have the concept of hedonic adaptation in their heads so that even though there are houses that are looks great but costs a lot for their budget, they would not be tempted to choose it because in the long run, it will not affect their happiness.

After pondering about this matter, I remember what writer Oliver Burkeman shared, an advice he received for making major life decisions,

When stumped by a life choice, choose “enlargement” over happiness. I’m indebted to the Jungian therapist James Hollis for the insight that major personal decisions should be made not by asking “Will this make me happy?”, but will this choice enlarge me or diminish me?” We’re terrible at predicting what will make us happy: the question swiftly gets bogged down in our narrow preferences for security and control. But the enlargement question elicits a deeper, intuitive response. You tend to just know whether, say, leaving or remaining in a relationship or a job, though it might bring short-term comfort, would mean cheating yourself of growth.

To bridge over this two concepts, I remembered how, a year ago, my father asked for my thoughts about living on a bigger house with a swimming pool and wherein me and my siblings will have our own rooms. I answered how I think that our current house is fine. It’s small but it’s perfect for our family.

Back then, if I was asked the question, will a bigger house make us happy? I would have answered yes.

But knowing about hedonic adaptation and reflecting on my past actions, such things would make us high at first but it will not affect on our long-term happiness.

But if I was asked, will a bigger house enlarge us?, I would answer no. And with that, we could focus on bringing our money to other much more important matters.

And today, whenever I get anxious about a project or an assignment, I will remember that whatever may be the outcome of it, I will always return to my natural state which is happiness.

Choose joy

March 14, 2020 almost seven months ago… I wrote this entry on my journal:

“Know that sometimes things will not go your way even if you do your best, and regardless of whether you deserved it or not.

Do not confuse your aspirations with how the universe should turn out. “– Jonas Salzgeber

Everything really happens for a reason. Lately, I have been thinking of what would happen if I applied to the Interior Design program instead of Archi. I am 101% sure that I would not pass the exam for ID and would not have been considered. I would probably be in a pre-med program and would be bored as hell.

BUT I am here in a situation I never actually dreamed of but I am happy to be here. Yes, I still have thoughts of wanting to apply again at Minerva [a university abroad in which I applied twice and got rejected twice too] (I guess I will always feel like that bcoz its my dream school).

BUT I know that maybe it really is not my path now (maybe in my next life lol). God put me in this journey on this day and the days onward for I have a purpose to fill. If I got in to Minerva, the first time around, would I have met the amazing community of MakeSense? Will I learn how to sketch, draw, color, and render? Will I have known Likhaan, Tita Rosie, & other crafters? Will I be able to explore the museums in our country? Will I be able to [learn how to] crochet? Will I be able to help the ppl that I am surrounded with every single day?

It might not seem obvious to others but for me, I take time to see how I am making a difference in the specific place I am in. Whether its just buying something at a local store or helping someone w/ the directions or just simply riding the public transpo, in a way, I am thinking that I am helping to others. I was meant to be here because I have to do this or buy that.

So I do not like get so worked up because I did not get in twice but rather I am happy thay because this is how the universe should turn out. I did my best but it really is not for me (now). I am very very grateful of this journey I am taking on. I hope to meet more people, to connect, to learn, and to always remember to be in the present.”

I have the habit of re-reading my past journals because it makes me remember that where I am right now is something that my past self worked hard to get to and that this is something I wanted and I should not take it for granted.

I love how seven months ago, I choose to look at the silver lining of what’s happening. So far (or maybe, ever), I am grateful that I did not make it because I am having a lot of fun today and all the previous days that passed or… maybe its because I just consciously choose joy.

Regardless of what will happen, I will choose joy and I hope I will always will.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.

You cannot predict how smart or skilled a person can be.

In the book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, psychologist Carol Dweck wrote,

“Benjamin Bloom, an eminent educational researcher studied 120 outstanding achievers. They were conert pianists, sculptors, Olympic swimmers, world-class tennis players, mathematicians, and research neurologists.

Most were not that remarkable as children and didn’t show clear talent before their training begain in earnest. Even by early adolescence, you usually couldn’t predict their future accomplishment from their current ability. Only their continued motivation and commitment, along with their network of support, took them to the top.

Bloom concludes, “After forty years of intensive research on school learning in the US as well as a broad, my major conclusion is: What any person in the world can learn, almost all person can learn, if provided with the appropriate prior and current conditions of learning.“”

And in connection with this, do you know that Ted Geisel aka Dr. Seuss (author of many children’s books like The Lorax) was voted by his classmates as the “person least likely to succeed” among their class? Because he was never the studious type. He would rather watch a movie, go to the zoo, or just draw. (Basically, he followed his interests and hobbies.) And this is why using a compass (with your interests and hobbies leading the way) is important instead of a map.

Also, this proves that you can’t predict what a person may become in the future. Aside from “not to be judgemental to anyone” message of this post, having the knowledge that you cannot predict anyone’s future, is good for ourselves.

We do not know what will happen and that thought alone is exciting! We may have mediocre work right now but given enough time, we may produce something great occasionally. But ultimately, its all about just loving what you do and being excited to where it just takes you. So just start. It doesn’t matter if you failed, what is important is you had fun doing it. As author Srivinas Rao wrote in The Art of Being Unmistakable, “We often do not know where stories end, where unpaved roads lead, and who we’ll become along the way. Therefore, you just have to start.”

Casual Magic

Mary Oliver:

Instructions for living a life:

Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.

Around a week ago, I moved into a new bed and that bed is positioned where you can soak in the first rays of the sun every morning.

I noticed that and since then, I get excited at seeing sunlight every morning. I tried grasping it as if it was something tangible.

Lately I have been thinking why am I taking this granted for years. But then again, I think it means that I am growing. Appreciating the environment I am in right now is a reminder that I am growing.

Even though this may seem mundane, I believe this is a casual magic of my everyday. Casual magic is a term , from the youtuber Unjaded Jade, which means finding magic in the mundane. It can be as simple as cooking meals for your family or cleaning your room after weeks of putting off your tasklist.

Everyday is not your birthday or Christmas. But you can treat it like one. There are research findings that says that when you are younger, you find ‘extraordinary’ things fun (ex. concerts, birthday parties, roadtrips) but as you get older, you started to feel joy out of the ‘ordinary’ things (ex. talking to a friend over the phone). And what bridges the gap through the ages is how you frame your life.

For instance, I may be young but I am not usually into parties or roadtrips (because of financial reasons). However, that doesn’t make me feel sad at all. I believe that they are just not something that I would like to do, hence, what I do is I continue to do things that bring me joy (ex. I read a book, spend time with my family, write a journal, etc).

And framing your life is certainly essential to how your attitude will be.

I got rejected so many times for various job applications this year and yes, I still feel joy in my life regardless and I think its because of how I framed it.

I have no job and it means I have more time to follow my curiosity, learn what I want to learn, and partake in volunteering opportunities. I would neither have learned what I learned nor read the books that I had read if I was accepted to a job during this pandemic.

The whole idea is amor fati, which means loving everything that happens (yes, even the bad ones). Though it could have been different but it’s in the past and I learned from it.

Again, today I saw the first shine of the sun. Everytime I see it, it gives me hope. Today is a new day to live, to see magic in the mundane, to forgive, to love, and to do. This is my casual magic.

What’s yours?

Keep a notebook wherever you go

Aristotle Onassis (according to Britannica, “Greek shipping magnate who developed a fleet of supertankers and freighters larger than the navies of many countries”) suggested:

Always carry a notebook. Write everything down. When you have an idea, write it down. When you meet someone new, write down everything you know about them. That way you will know how much time they are worth. When you hear something interesting, write it down. Writing it down will make you act upon it. If you don’t write it down you will forget it. THAT is a million dollar lesson they don’t teach you in business school!

And this is why I carry a notebook either physical or intangible. If I left my notebook, I make sure I have a gadget with me wherein I can write ideas or things down as I go. It doesn’t really matter if the idea is good or not, I just write it down because I never know when will I need it.

Most of the time, I use Google Keep to write down ideas. And whenever I write something new, I will look back at other things I wrote and hopefully, making sense with them. Sometimes, I feel that some ideas are not yet ready to be “realized”. Hence, I just keep them there. For example, for blog post ideas, I will keep them written and stored, and once I read a lot, I will go back and find that I can write it now.

My another blog: Empathy In Design, was just a simple thought that flashed in my mind. I wrote it then, after a week, I realized that there aren’t websites or blog dedicated solely for human-centered design and I even researched more products/architecture that empathizes with people during that week. Thus, after that, I started making preparations for it and launched it last July.

Leo Wildrich called this the inner-outer technique, in an article posted in the Buffer:

I will do all the research, jot down notes into my word editor and not worry at all about the actual blogpost. That is the first outer task. Then I have a few inner task follow. I will respond to emails, might have a brief chat with the team and do other tasks. Then, towards the end of my day, I get back to the second half of the outer task. I would sit down and then actually write the article, edit pieces and put into publishable form.

The amazing thing that happens is that even I don’t work on the blogpost during my inner tasks, my subconscious brain does. It will do all the work, and then gradually present the solutions to me when I get back to working on it later on.

But, first, how do we get ideas?

So, in my case, I get ideas during a time wherein I let my mind wander and when I let my mind wander, it is when I’m doing something “unproductive” (aka leisure).

Drew Hansen wrote in the Forbes, tips on notetaking ideas:

“2. Write down your thoughts immediately. You think you’ll remember, but you won’t, and you’ll forfeit all the thoughts that flood you after you’ve freed your mind from remembering the initial spark. Don’t judge them at this stage, either. There’s a reason they occurred to you this way.

3. Expound on your thoughts later. Don’t let your flashes of brilliance wither from neglect. Find a quiet time to explore your initial thoughts in more detail.”

Do not reject the idea at first glance just because its new to you. Just write it down. Carry a notebook and just write them all down. After a few days, come back to it and you’ll start seeing connections.

Drew Hansen: “Start small. Write down what you’re thinking and build on it. Follow it wherever it’s supposed to go, and one day your small thought could change the world.”

Make Time To Do Something Unproductive | In other words, take a break from school/work

Neil Gaiman (author of Coraline) advises to anyone who wants to be become a writer to “get bored.

[Ideas] come from day dreaming from drifting, that moment when you’re just sitting there… The trouble with these days is that its really hard to get bored. I have 2.4 million people on Twitter who will entertain me at any moment… it’s really hard to get bored. I’m much better at putting my phone away, going for boring walks, actually trying to find the space to get bored in. That’s what I’ve started saying to people who say ‘I want to be a writer’ I say, ‘great. get bored.’ “

And although Neil Gaiman advises this to anyone who wanted to be a writer, research suggests that doing something unproductive (in other words, taking a break or something “boring”) is important for your physical and mental well-being. When we work more than what we can and we needed, we ended up exhausting ourselves. This is the reason why even though we have worked for long hours or get ahead, we ended up being more stressed even we accomplished a few things.

We try to ‘catch up’ and ‘get ahead’, but that only piles on more stress and less control. The stress of pop-up problems, like an infertility diagnosis, can make you feel like you don’t have time to just play and relax,” wrote Georgia Witkin, Ph.D. in Psychology Today, “when your sense of control goes down, your emergency response system increases your adrenaline, your body’s natural stimulant. Now, you’ll find yourself still having to deal with the stresses and the side effects of adrenaline. Adrenaline, which sometimes manifests as panic attacks, is putting your brain and body on alert so you’ll be ready for the next crisis.”

Also, while your body and brain is on alert for the next crisis, it uses up other hormones like serotonin, which means your using up resources that you needed to be calm and joyful.

On the other hand, she wrote relaxing and playing, “…prevent the high adrenaline output and increase those mood-elevating hormones. Not only is relaxation nice, the clinical benefits are shown to increase overall health!”

At the end of her article, she shared that practicing mindfulness for only 20 minutes each day can improve your day and reduce your stress levels. Breathing exercises are a good way to go!

My own way of relaxing is to listen to music every morning. I play songs that motivate me and dance to it. At the same time, I watch the sun rise from our bedroom window. These moments are the best because as I watch the sun rise and get a feel of it every morning, it reminds me that I’m human- that I’m not in some race of sort, that I can slow down and walk at my own pace, and that I’m not a machine.

Why we need to relax

Jonah Lehrer explains it in his book Imagine: How Creativity Works:

“Why is a relaxed state of mind so important for creative insights? When our minds are at ease— when those alpha waves are rippling through the brain— we’re more likely to direct the spotlight of attention inward, toward that stream of remote associations emanating from the right hemisphere. In contrast, when we are diligently focused, our attention tends to be directed outward, toward the details of the problems we’re trying to solve. While this pattern of attention is necessary when solving problems analytically, it actually prevents us from detecting the connections that lead to insights. “That’s why so many insights happen during warm showers,” Bhattacharya says. “For many people, it’s the most relaxing part of the day.” “

“Relaxing or taking a break makes me feel guilty”

I experienced this many times last year. And since classes has started a few days ago, I’ve seen more and more posts like this one. Our constant working and belief that life is all about hustling made us feel and think that way. It’s the toxic hustle culture that made us believe we should be working all the time, forgoing time for family, friends, and even, me time.

In her book, Do Nothing, journalist and public radio show host Celeste Headlee confessed, “It was the hard-work culture that made me believe I was lazy if I stopped working for even short periods of time.”

Once, she learned that working for long hours doesn’t equal productivity, she started applying it into her life as well as to her employees. “I wrote a handbook for my producers that including the following advice: Don’t work a long day, go home, and turtle on your couch with a frozen dinner. Solid research shows forcing yourself to get out and go to the bar with friends, have dinner, see a movie, meet people and socialize, reduces your stress and makes you more efficient. Have a hobby.” Also, research shows that employees who completely disengage themselves from work during leisure (or non-work hours) live healthier lives emotionally and physically. They are less overwhelmed and they sleep better.

In my case, I start the day slow. Like I mentioned previously, I start my day mostly listening to music and watching the sun rise. It is to remind myself that it’s okay to slow down and I am not late for anything. I am just on time. Second thing I do is I keep a logbook.

Keeping a logbook

A logbook is where I keep everything that I did for the day, which includes making my bed, doing the laundry, what have I wrote about, what articles I read, etc. Every time the sun comes down, I will look at my logbook and I will feel relieved that I have accomplish things for the day and then, I’ll proceed to relaxing (aka total disengagement from org responsibilities and school), I watch my favorite show, write here in my blog, read a novel, etc.

Having an awareness of how you spend your days is helpful in terms of knowing that you are in control of your life and that you do not lack time.

Having no clear understanding of how you spend your time can leave you feeling more overwhelmed than necessary, which can cause you to make decisions that lead to more stress and anxiety, which feeds the sense that you’re pressed for time, and you end up feeling more overwhelmed than necessary.” wrote Celestee Headlee in her book, Do Nothing.

She mentioned about “time perception” which is an understanding of how we spend our time. People who have little time perception spend more time scrolling on social media sites and they feel more overwhelmed. Contrastingly, people with high time perception feel more in control because they have an exact idea of how they spend their time. They knew how much time they spend working, hence, they can make time for family, friends, leisure, and contemplation.

Celestee Headlee noted, “You may believe you can relax if you put in a few more hours and get ahead of your workload, but actually you’re more likely to reduce your stress level by taking a break.

Logbook is extremely helpful when I am relaxing at night because it shows me that I deserve to rest after hustling for hours and I can focus on other matters other than school and orgs. It leaves me feeling accomplished and that I did the best that I can for today.

Stop comparing

Lastly, avoid or stop comparing to how you spend your time to others. Hustling for more than what’s necessary is like a badge to other people which is overall unhealthy. Remember, this is your life and that is their life. The point is not to be as busy as your friends or be more busy, but its saying, “I am living my best life at this moment! I am grateful and I am in control.”

How I spend my time is more or less different from yours and that’s great! All we just need to remember is to be human. Be present. Focus on what you are doing right now instead of worrying about the work that you have to do tomorrow.

Celestee Headlee: Stop trying to prove something to others. Reclaim your time and reclaim your humanity.

Additional reading:
Work Is Play
Do More of What Brings You Joy
Why Do We Need To Play Even As Adults
“You cannot be really first-rate at your work if your work is all you are.”

What Kids Can Teach Us

[I am aware that I write about kids like most of the time but, honestly, there is just so much to read and learn from them (or who we once were) that we should not forget as adults as we grow older.]

Austin Kleon (author of Steal Like An Artist) brings his kid to a museum because, ” [kids] will make you rethink what’s interesting and what’s art. (After all, what are cars but fast, colorful, kinetic sculptures?) This, of course, should be the point of museums: to make us look closer at our everyday life as a source of art and wonder.” Also, if you don’t have a kid, he advises you to borrow one. “Borrow a kid. Spend some time trying to see through their eyes. You will discover new things.

Corita Kent and Jan Steward wrote in the book, Learning By Heart, “For so many years we have been learning to judge and dismiss — I know what that thing is — I’ve seen it a hundred times — and we’ve lost the complex realities, laws, and details that surround us. Try looking the way the child looks—as if always for the first time—and you will, I promise, feel wider awake.”

John Baldessari noted, “I learned so much about art from watching a kid draw. I taught at the grade-school level. Kids don’t call it art when they’re throwing things around, drawing—they’re just doing stuff.”

I interviewed a schoolmate about her art teaching experience and she mentioned that the best students she had are kids. Because, she noticed, kids do not complain. They just simply do the work.

Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about the musician Tom Waits in her book, Big Magic, “Waits had once been the opposite of that as a creator. He told me that he’d struggled deeply with his creativity in his youth because—like many serious young men—he wanted to be regarded as important, meaningful, heavy. He wanted his work to be better than other people’s work. He wanted to be complex and intense. There was anguish, there was torment, there was drinking, there were dark nights of the soul…

But through watching his children create so freely, Waits had an epiphany: It wasn’t actually that big a deal. He told me, “I realized that, as a songwriter, the only thing I really do is make jewelry for the inside of other people’s minds.” Music is nothing more than decoration for the imagination. That’s all it is. That realization, Waits said, seemed to open things up for him. Songwriting became less painful after that.”

Earlier in the book, Gilbert wrote, “Over the years, Tom Waits finally found his sense of permission to deal with his creativity more lightly—without so much drama, without so much fear. A lot of this lightness, Waits said, came from watching his children grow up and seeing their total freedom of creative expression. He noticed that his children felt fully entitled to make up songs all the time, and when they were done with them, they would toss them out “like little origami things, or paper airplanes.” Then they would sing the next song that came through the channel. They never seemed to worry that the flow of ideas would dry up. They never stressed about their creativity, and they never competed against themselves; they merely lived within their inspiration, comfortably and unquestioningly.

And my main point here is to relax. I meant this for myself and to anyone struggling and stressing about creating. There is this belief going on that “You have to suffer greatly in order to create something great.” (A lot of people concluded this after observing that a lot of whom we consider great artists suffered a lot while creating their masterpieces.) But like the epiphany of Tom Waits, creating doesn’t have to be so serious and dramatic that you have to compromise your physical, spiritual, and mental health.

When I was around 14, I wanted to write a novel. However, I get stressed a lot that I can’t find the perfect idea, the perfect plot, that it would not be popular anyways, and that I’m not experienced enough. But if I could talk it out to my younger self, I would say, just write. Yes, at first, it would not be easy. But the perfect plot will not come, just write what you can write. (Somehow, I am just grateful that I went through this kind of experience because of that, I am able to grow, learn, and improve myself or better yet, learned to re-connect with the kid inside me.)

Similar to when we were kids, we just draw and we just write. Want to write? We just write. Want to draw? We just draw. And writing or drawing something, we just set it aside and eventually, our parents are gonna throw it. Then, off we go to another thing that we want to write or draw. We just create so easily when we were young and somewhere along the way, we restrict ourselves. I made it hard for myself to just create something by rejecting the idea as soon as it was born and telling myself, “Its not worth it anyway.”

But that is not the point. The point is to create. The point is to do what keeps you alive and not rejecting yourself of an adventure. Just creating for the sake of doing just like when we were a kid. Just like in the book The Little Prince, we must not forget how we were as kids or else we might be very, very odd grownups.

Why I Write

I just started publishing short stories on Wattpad (there are currently two!) and in my bio I wrote,

I’m Claire.

I write short stories because I like doing so. They may be in purpose of informing or anything (which is true, yes). However, my main purpose is I love doing it just for the sake of doing it. Similar to Zadie Smith (author of Intimations), writing, for me, is something to do. It keeps me sane, makes me alive and what the world needs are people who have come alive.

I, sincerely, hope that you do what makes you alive too.

Back when I read novels on Wattpad around six years ago, I had this urge to write. But that did not continue. Now, I am not rejecting myself any longer. Hence, I just write in any form I wanted. I’m now venturing to short stories and I’m excited for what lies ahead. All while remembering why I decided to do this in the first place. It is because I want to do it and I love doing it. Creating itself is the reward for me.

Author and artist Austin Kleon wrote in a blog post, “What if you stopped thinking about your ideas as things you need to let out of you, but things you need to let in to you? Things you need to be ready to receive? If you start to think about creative work this way, Gilbert says, “it starts to change everything.” You can stop being afraid and daunted and just “do your job. Continue to show up.””

Like what I wrote in my bio, I hope you do what makes you alive. For me, it is writing. And regardless of the external outcome, author Elizabeth Gilbert says, “do your job. Continue to show up.

Week of novelty

So I just played some features of Instagram story and I had fun creating short “blogs” in each picture. What an amazing morning that was. Also, what I did not mention in the photos is how I am absolutely just grateful that I get to control what I do in my life like I can choose what books I read, I can choose what to spend time on, etc. And I love that. I love that, okay, God has a plans for me, but I know that I still am the one who’s gonna do the work and trust Him that He will lead the way.

Last week, I had neither planned on writing a short story nor learning how to cook. But its okay. I mean… spontaneous things? Why would I not want that? That is a quìck reminder for me that life will not worked out in anyway I planned it to be (but I never really plan out that much anyway), but it will still turn out in my favor.

Life works in your favor.

When Words Do Not Come

Is it when words do not come or rather when words do not arrive yet? I believe that they still haven’t come yet so its the latter.

Today I struggled with connecting words together. I had them in my head like bits of words and they just do not connect when I wrote them down.

My article for my school paper just got published in public and I’m growing anxious by the minute. I’m anxiously waiting for a comment saying, “This article is bad. They should fire the student who wrote this.” or whatnot. I came to the conclusion that as much as I enjoyed writing the whole article together, I still need to learn how to not care so much of what the world thinks.

I’m still learning and I hope I will learn to get past this.

Back to the when words do not come, I read an entry from the Red Hand Files of songwriter and musician Nick Cave. Someone asked him “What do you do when words aren’t coming?”

Nick Cave answered, “The idea of lyrics ‘not coming’ is basically a category error. What we are talking about is not a period of ‘not coming’ but a period of ‘not arriving’. The lyrics are always coming. They are always pending. They are always on their way toward us. But often they must journey a great distance and over vast stretches of time to get there. They advance through the rugged terrains of lived experience, battling to arrive at the end of our pen. In time, they emerge, leaping free of the unknown — from memory or, more thrillingly, from the predictive part of our minds that exists on the far side of the lived moment. It has been a long and arduous journey, and our waiting much anguished.

Finally, he ended with, “Our task is to remain patient and vigilant and to not lose heart — for we are the destination. We are the portals from which the idea explodes, forced forth by its yearning to arrive. We are the revelators, the living instruments through which the idea announces itself — the flourishing and the blooming — but we are also the waiting and the wondering and the worrying. We are all of these things — we are the songwriters.

I believe this does not only apply to songwriters. I believe it applies for all writers as well. Its not when words do not come, its just that they havent arrived yet. While we are patiently waiting for them to arrive, it is our task to be aware of them at all times and still continue to live our life.