Staying True To Who We Are In The Reality TV and Social Media Age.

Americans live in the wealthiest country in the world with the most opportunities at our fingertips, yet we are still unhappy. The 2016 World Happiness Index rated the U.S. the 13th happiest country. Out of the 12 that ranked higher, only Norway had a higher GDP per capita.

Unhappiness is a virus rapidly permeating every aspect of our lives. The television and the internet are the hosts for this type of virus. Turn on the news at any hour of the day and it is a relentless drip campaign of negativity, one fatal car crash after political scandal.

Our social media accounts are wonderful tools for observing others who are having more fun, making more money, and doing much better than we are. Instagram and Facebook are the highlight reels of everyone’s life. Everybody is posting their eighty-yard touchdowns and buzzer beating shots, never their fumbles on the goal line or game losing turnovers.

A study from 2016 surveyed 1,787 adults ages 19 to 32 and found that those who used social media the most were at the highest risk of being depressed.

The constant need to keep up appearances can be suffocating in today’s reality TV era of society, and losing the sense of who we are in the rat race is effortless.

This past weekend I got together with two friends I haven’t seen in a while. We convened at what others have raved as one of the hotspots in town, and walked through tables lined with pretty people all seeking something different yet specific, out to the patio, which held what we really desired – a wonderful view of Los Angeles. Smoke and laughter drifted by our table, and as we reminisced about past memories, our roaring laughs became a full-bodied contribution to the scene.

Stories of past events that are forever set in stone in our own personal history books were exchanged with more warmth and spirit than the obligatory chore of keeping up with our current situations.

Intermissions of these episodes were marked by a silence that would settle the mood, broken by one of us commenting on the surrealism of the whole setting. Acknowledgement of that comment didn’t have to be spoken; it was intuitive between the three of us. We knew where we had come from.

We all had our own struggles; I was out of college about a year and was using my degree to stock shelves at a Tilly’s. The job was seasonal and I was soon unemployed, there was little stability or certainty in any area of my life. Through perseverance, faith, and most of all the guidance of others, I found my way into writing, which is my passion.

But everyday I remember the emotions I felt when life was uncertain and somewhat grim. That is my truth, as much a part of who I am as my name and telephone number.

My greatest fear today is not losing what I have, but forgetting where I came from. When I remember those dark days of solitude, I have gratitude for everything in my life. If I forget, I could have all that I dream of, and not be able to enjoy any of it.

I am guilty of losing my way and deviating from my moral compass. I created a character I thought I was supposed to be in the world, and played that role until I had a moment of clarity where I realized how unfulfilling it was.

I looked at who I was, both good and bad attributes, and from that I saw an honest picture of who I was. If I want to be comfortable and truly happy I need to face both, and be willing to work on the latter.

The effects are immediate; it is amazing how many of our problems are solved just by simply identifying them. The more difficult aspects of ourselves take time to work on, but at least we have gained an awareness of them.

A big part of finding my truth and being aware of it was sitting in silence with myself, which is something I try to do on a daily basis. I completely disconnect from the world for a small amount of time each day, sometimes as little as ten minutes. I turn all the electronics off, leave my phone in the other room and sit in silence with myself. It was a strange experience at first, but it is one of the most significant practices I’ve come to rely on.

We can’t be anyone but ourselves, despite what society tells us who or what we ought to be.

My Debut Book Released!

My first book titled “Thoughts” has been published and released by Libero Media!  It is a book of short stories and life that commentate on the human condition and experience in contemporary society.  You can check it out via the link below.  I hope you enjoy it and appreciate all feedback!  Thanks

 

Delaying Gratification Is The Most Powerful Tool You Can Adopt To Change Your Life.

When I was younger we ate Sunday dinner at my aunt’s house with the whole family. I have a vivid memory of one of these Sunday’s in which my mother, cousin, aunt, and myself were baking cookies for dessert. At seven years old, I was a mischievous troublemaker with a riotous sweet tooth, and extra eyes were on me as ingredients changed hands.

My older cousin, the most vigilant of the three, quickly became bored and moved on to other affairs. My mother and aunt would periodically yell, “Do not eat the dough! You have to wait” just for good measure. I would smile and nod, and dump some more chocolate chips into the mix.

It was a classic battle of wills in which they would eventually wear down and turn their backs, and no sooner would I take a mouthful of chocolate chip covered cookie dough right off of the mixing spoon.

I just could not wait for the cookies to bake; I had an overwhelming impulse that I had no control over.

In the mid 1960’s, thirty years prior to my cookie baking debacle, Walter Mischel, a Standford Psychologist conducted his own impulse control experiment with cookies. In Mischel’s experiment children were given a cookie and told that they could eat the cookie immediately, or wait 15 minutes and receive a second cookie.

The results of the experiment showed that children who were unable to wait the 15 minutes were at higher risk of obesity and addiction, while children who were able to wait generally did better later in life. The one’s who delayed gratification had higher SAT scores, better health, and higher incomes.

Impulse control is the single most effective tool we can implement to better our lives, because it is at the root of almost all of life’s major problem areas.

Many young people jump at the highest paying job they are offered right out of college or graduate school. We take jobs with fewer benefits and less time off in an area we don’t enjoy because it will pay more money and satisfy the immediate desire to make more money. We will rarely take a job we enjoy if it means less pay. In the short term the extra money feels good, but over the course of a year, sometimes less, people are burnt out and unfulfilled.

We do the same with love and expect immediate results. I have never been in a long-term relationship with someone I became intimate with after only a date or two. My experience has always been that relationships develop slowly over time, usually beginning as friendships.

Society today is fast paced and so instantly gratifying that it is damaging to human relationships and fulfillment. Want love? Swipe right on tinder and you can find a match today. Want to feel good? Post a selfie on Instagram and watch the “likes” stream in, boosting esteem with every notification received. There’s no need to wait for anything anymore and we are not happier as a result.

Mischel’s study left us another nugget of information on impulse control, and that was how the children actually controlled their impulses. The kids who held out did not torture themselves by looking at the cookie for fifteen minutes. Instead they distracted themselves while they waited. They sang, played, or did anything besides sit and stare at the cookie.

I think to the past of other impulsive decisions I have made and reflect on their pro’s and con’s. I do a quick analysis of the outcomes of those impulsive decisions. At best the decision made on impulse did not fulfill me like I thought it would, and at worst it created a mess in my life that I had to clean up later.

Hobbies are another tool I use to keep my mind off of whatever the new shiny thing in front of me is. Many times I have been faced with a problem that I perceive needs an immediate solution, but I’ll go for a run first, or do some writing. When I am finished, the immediate problem I perceived wasn’t really a problem at all and my first idea of a solution would’ve surely created a problem.

The old cliché tells us to “sleep on it” when faced with big decisions, and while it tends to be overlooked because it is a cliché, it became one because it is true.

United We Stand

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It seems like every time I turn on the TV I am bombarded with news story after news story that shows the uglier side of the human condition. Seemingly every issue that is raised immediately gets polarized and politicized. A line is drawn in the sand and people scramble to pick sides before the dust even settles. Added to this we are in the midst of a bitter presidential election, which has brought the worst out of some.

What I haven’t heard or seen much of these days in news or politics are real messages that aim to unify a population that is becoming more fragmented and divisive. I know they are out there, but they are definitely not on the mainstream news cycle I have been watching. There are many reasons for this but the main one I see is that when people come together they have hope, and when they have hope, they tend to be less fearful, and there is no motivator quite like fear. An entire Republican presidential campaign is being run by exploiting the fears of Americans. Fear of the economy, fear of terrorism, and the list goes on and on. It is the main motivation of many people as they decide who to vote for, where to spend their money, and what side of the line (or aisle) they need to be standing on.

The schisms we are seeing in our society are not going to be solved on a macro level. The word compromise is going the way of those out of date words from Shakespeare. Somewhere along the way compromise turned into weakness. Instead, laws are shoved through in backroom deals. When funding can’t be agreed upon, it’s considered better to shut the government down, and when a Supreme Court spot is left vacant, there’s not even a vote held to fill it.

Like it or not we all call this country home, and while we don’t have to agree with one another, we sure need to figure out a way to play nice with one another.

So while my hope for a call for unity on a macro level dwindles, my belief that real change can occur on a micro level remains strong. What I took away most from the Bernie Sanders campaign was his message that we need to work together to make our country a better place. Regardless of your political ideology, race, class, gender, or sexual orientation, we can in fact find a middle ground and a way to compromise because at the end of the day we are all in this together. His campaign had what a lot of campaigns lack these days: humanity. It was a local, personal, grassroots movement. Whether you agree with his politics or not is irrelevant at this point but the message of collectivity and unity which millions of people rallied behind is one that all of us can carry forward independent of who becomes elected president.

I grew up in New Jersey, lived in New York for a short period of time before spending a few years in New England, finally calling Santa Monica my home. Each of these places couldn’t be more different from each other, culturally, historically, and politically, each facing unique problems from one another. But regardless of where I have lived in this country, I have met genuinely good people from all walks of life. On a micro, person-to-person level I have been the benefactor of the kindness of people, more often than not. So, while the challenges that threaten the unity of this country are very real, I won’t accept that they are insurmountable, as my experience has shown me otherwise. Each one of us can begin to make a difference just by how we treat people in our daily interactions. For me the two worst places for my bad behavior are while driving and surfing, so that means I will try to let someone into my lane instead of cutting them off and be kinder to others in the water. Nobody can do everything, but everyone can do something.

-Mike

Lesser of Two Evils?

As a young American who studied political science in college, I got the pleasure of studying in depth my heroes such as JFK and FDR. However, I draw the unlucky card of having a Trump v. Clinton election as my first presidential election I will be voting in.

This election is one of those elections that is sure to rile up your racist, inappropriate uncle at the family get together.

But if you have half a brain, which if you have the capability to read this I assume you do, voting for Donald Trump is out of the question and Hillary excites you about just as much as morning traffic on the 405. So what is one to do with such a dilemma.

You can put your head in the sand and stay home on Election Day. But if you do that, remember that you are giving up one of your most inalienable rights as a citizen of the United States. That right of the people to decide who will govern them has been fought for and died over. People have struggled for that right since the first day man attempted to govern himself. Matter of fact the right to vote is so engrained in who we are that we’ve actually tricked ourselves into thinking we are entitled to it, and that abstaining from it is just as fine as cancelling that terrible tinder date you had planned.

So let’s assume you are an engaged citizen of this democracy who is going to vote. You have quite the dilemma. So if you don’t want to vote for a tyrant and possible second coming of Hitler or a lying, do anything to get elected, run of the mill politician, then vote for a third party. Or pencil in a name, and don’t ever let anyone make you feel bad about that.

This isn’t a rant on the two party system, there’s plenty of those out there. But the fact of the matter is, with the two party system we have, we as citizens only get the two options given to us. And if those two options sucks, then I won’t vote for either of them. We are citizens of the greatest society, the greatest nation in all of human history, (despite what your trump-loving uncle, or socialist college professor told you) and as a result we should not accept mediocre candidates to be shoved down our throat. If enough people are pissed off and sick of the mediocrity and refuse to accept it, then we will see change. If third party candidates, or other votes start significantly taking away votes from the two major parties, then we will see a change.

By voting for a third party your voice is being heard, loud and clear. It is not a wasted vote, it is not a vote for evil because your taking votes away from the good candidate. No. It is you exercising your right as a citizen of this democracy for your voice to be heard. This election I will not be voting for either Hillary or Trump. In all honesty I will probably just pencil in the first name that comes to my mind when I am in the booth and by doing so I am letting my voice be heard. As a citizen of the greatest nation in the history of civilization I refuse to have inept candidates forced onto me, I refuse to pick the lesser of two evils, and I refuse to stay home on Election Day because of it. As a result, maybe my vote, and millions of votes like mine will someday make a difference in creating change that will better our nation. That’s what my vote is for.

-Mike

Originally published in the Santa Monica Daily Press 9/23/16