In last week’s newsletter, I talked about how currently most of happiness studies are focused on sculpting away unhappiness. I outlined the basic ways in which we can sculpt away unhappiness in that post.
The things I talked about in the last post (sleep, exercise, diet, awareness, and self-talk) are almost medicinal. They are great delayers. They are important because they delay health problems, both mental and physical. In doing so, your happiness span (like life span but for happiness) is increased.
While these things are very important, they are not the entire picture. Doctors, psychologists, and modern day self help only talk about delaying or removing unhappiness.
But I just don’t want to delay death, unhappiness, and health problems. I want to to be truly and fully alive now. But how? Well, each of these deserves a looongg newsletter post in itself, but I’ve tried to summarize them.
Today’s newsletter we’ll be talking about 2 of the things you can do to be happier and more alive.
1. Shake Your Shadow’s Hand
“Where there is light, there must be shadow, and where there is shadow there must be light. There is no shadow without light and no light without shadow.” - Haruki Murakami
In psychology, the shadow is all the parts of ourselves that we don’t identify with ourselves. The shadow is all the parts we’ve denied because they feel weak, bad, or unallowable.
We all have things we try to repress in daily life.
In his book, Untethered Soul, Michael Singer calls these the inner thorns in our lives:
“Imagine that you have a thorn in your arm that directly touches a nerve. When the thorn is touched, it’s very painful. Because it hurts so much, the thorn is a serious problem. It’s difficult to sleep because you roll over on it. It’s hard to get close to people because they might touch it. It makes your daily life very difficult. You can’t even go for a walk in the woods because you might brush the thorn against the branches. This thorn is a constant source of disturbance, and to solve the problem you have two choices”
You can either create a life so your thorn will never be touched...
If you’re lonely, you must avoid going to places where couples tend to be. If you’re afraid of rejection, you must avoid getting too close to people,
If you decide you have to keep things from touching the thorn, then that becomes the work of a lifetime.
If you make the first choice, your hidden, repressed, and unexamined sides of your shadow will run your life. Most people live like this (sometimes without realizing it). Their thorns run their entire life.
“It affects all your decisions, including where you go, whom you’re comfortable with, and who’s comfortable with you. It determines where you’re allowed to work, what house you can live in, and what kind of bed you can sleep on at night. When it’s all said and done, that thorn is running every aspect of your life. It turns out that the life of protecting yourself form the problem becomes a perfect reflection of the problem itself.”
Or you can remove your inner thorn.
“You can look deep within yourself, to the core of your being, and decide that you don’t want the weakest part of you running your life. You want to be free of this.
You want to talk to people because you find them interesting, not because you’re lonely. You want to have relationships with people because you genuinely like them, not because you need for them to like you. You want to love because you truly love, not because you need to avoid your inner problems.”
We can remove the inner thorn by doing what I call “shaking the shadow’s hand.” First, we have to shine the light in our shadows. This can be difficult because often we are so scared of being open with our shadow.
The first step is to be aware and let yourself feel the full extent of your emotions, even the “negative” ones. Then ask yourself what messages are these feelings trying to send you? Remember, even feelings like envy have important messages.
You might repress these messages because they can be life changing. Maybe you realize you are dating the wrong person, or you’re in the wrong career, or something bigger! Once you listen to these messages, it’s your responsibility to explore whether they have any validity.
When we acknowledge, validate, and shake the hand of our hidden parts, we can integrate them. We can become fully developed people.
It’s important to remember that:
“A harmless man is not a good man. A good man is a very dangerous man who has that under voluntary control” - Jordan Peterson
You should develop and validate your fear, your danger, and your sadness.
As I put in my newsletter about your being most alive, befriending your shadow (or devil) is tremendously useful:
Once you learn to love the devil, you see through his occasional dumb advice and can see his good qualities. Sometimes he gives great profound advice. Sometimes he propels you to act where there is injustice. Sometimes he tells you to take time to grieve when you are suffering. Sometimes he shows you your childish, playful, rogue side.
If nothing else, remember this: There is no beauty without sadness and there is no courage without fear.
It is in the healing of our psychic wounds that we come to know ourselves. . . . In the evolution of consciousness, our greatest problem is always our richest opportunity. -Sheryl Paul, Wisdom of Anxiety
The difficult emotions you feel are part of the process. There can be no shadow without light. And no light without a shadow.
2. Dance to the Music
“Without music, life would be a mistake.” - Nietzsche
You know the drill by now; I had to sneak in a Nietzsche quote somewhere in this newsletter lol.
For a while I’ve been interested in great, charismatic, attractive people. There are some people in our world who seem to effortlessly glide through life. They are happy, gracious, successful, powerful, and wise.
I spent a lot of times codifying what they do differently than “normal” folk. What I found was that greatness is less about the what and more about the how.
These people I admire have all the admirable qualities they have because they’re more alive than other people.
Everybody hears music, eats food, who sway on the dance floor but they are alive few who really listen, who really savor, who really dance.
You too can be the type of person who is more alive.
It sounds cheesy, but it comes down to hearing life’s music and learning to dance to it.
I’ve talked before about creating a Great Beauty Journal. This is what I said:
Every evening write 1-3 things that happened that were moments of great beauty. At first, it’s hard. By writing that every evening you learn to lower the bar for what qualifies as a “Great Beauty moment”, but more importantly you notice great beauty more deeply in your life. To write in your journal, you become present and realize how awe-inspiring life can be. It’s still difficult, but I’ve found moments of beauty that put my problems in perspective and made me appreciate life more. For example, a certain guitar riff, an amused smile from a friend, and even a shade of sunlight can have Great Beauty.
It’s all around you.
What we regret most in our lives is not what we could have achieved, but how much we could have been alive in the moments in which we were sleepwalking through life.
First, endeavor to live and feel deeply even on the bad days.
Coming alive is becoming alert and aware to the thousands and thousands of blessings that we receive — even on a day on which we have to go to the dentist or on a day we are really sick. -David Steindl-Rast
Then, incorporate more play into your day-to-day life (my friend Ritesh is obsessed with this idea in his newsletter Playtime).
Where are moments in your life where you can laugh more, play more, dance more? Where are the moments you are in touch with your inner child?
I say you should fill life with more solo dance parties in your room! More singing in the shower, more time for fun.
If you do nothing else, next time you play some music, let go of your inhibitions. Let your body sway, dance, and gyrate. Who cares if it’s weird, learn to go beyond society’s orders. Find the beauty in the inhibition-less chaos.
As you get better at listening to life’s music and dancing to it, you’ll realize it requires a certain bravery too.
Playful chaos is a rebellion against the boxes society needs to fit us in. It’s a lust for the present that prevents us from feeling the wounds that companies need us to have so they can sell us more useless stuff.
To be truly alive means being different from the zombies that sleepwalk among us. The ones that are too scared to feel the unadulterated emotions of being alive.
As Nietzsche supposedly put it:
Those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.
My goal is for you to be so happy, so alive, so charismatic that you are thought to be insane by other people. You'll be insane because you're more alive than others...
because you integrate your shadow and remove your inner thorns.
because you see the great beauty they won't.
because you can hear the music.
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