3 JULY 2022

Pull and push

Hello sunshine, living for the weekend and doing more of the right stuff

It was easy to tell how the weather was doing simply by looking at people’s faces as they were walking by. Parents, travellers and fellow pedestrians alike with wide grins, carefree expressions, chins lifted upwards — clearly the sun was out with no clouds in sight.

I was sitting on a bench doing some writing at a public park at the time, and indeed there was plenty of sunshine and a clear blue sky on that day. I remember this moment very clearly, because there I was sitting on some random bench feeling like the happiest man in the world, and all I needed was some sunlight at an open air public place, a pen, a notebook and some warm clothes.

Could it really be this simple?

If you were to go back in time and ask the younger versions of me, ‘hey kid, what are the most important things that make you happy?’, I probably would have answered with ‘delicious food, video games and family.’

As I have gotten older, these priorities have slowly shifted and evolved towards slower and less transient things, with the focus shifting from external to internal also.

In Life Warriors previously, I had wrestled with the idea of ‘living for the weekend’.

If we have the capacity to wholeheartedly craft a plan all week long and commit five days to live fully for the two-day weekend, what would it look like if we took the same level of passion to wholeheartedly craft a good life?

Today, it strikes me how much of the ‘living’ that takes place on the weekends always seems to, by default, involve some form of intense activity —  of doing ‘more’. Typically, this means leaving the house and exploring unfamiliar terrain, ranging from breakfast at a new café to a multi-day camping trip at an isolated location. The idea is to go away for some time, occupy oneself with a whole bunch of to-dos, then come back before restarting for a new week.

Not to say that there is anything inherently wrong or bad about such activities, but in my experience, the time-crunched getaways in particular leave me drained, exhausted and stressed by the Sunday evening; so much so that it simply piles on to the accumulating pressure of ramping up for the new week, in such a way that it almost negates the original purpose of ‘getting away’ in the first place.

Getting away? From what, exactly?

It is interesting to me to notice how tightly coupled the itinerary of weekends are with the ambiguous pressure that pushes towards ‘doing more stuff’ — the primary objective being to fill the calendar to be as full as possible so that none of the time ‘goes to waste’.

In stark contrast to this, experiences like sitting on that park bench basking in the winter sunshine or wandering aimlessly around a museum with no particular care for time or direction have taught me that it is possible to spend time wholeheartedly and in a way that it nourishes and fuels, rather than spike regret or stress — what is intriguing to me is how the former often takes shapes that do not explicitly seem to be much at all to the outside observer.

Walk around a museum? What is even there to see?

Naturally, as I have discovered more and more of such things that fuel me more than they consume, I have leaned towards being more deliberate in spending ever greater proportions of my time on the things that spark that internal sense of contentment. Somehow, the things that have been most effective at doing this are not necessarily the most glamorous or even amount to much activity at all — contrary to the beliefs of my younger self. For a long time I had believed that peak states of happiness existed along the path of ‘doing more stuff’ — seeing more places, meeting new people, having fancier things, telling grander stories, eating exotic foods and spending more money.

But today, I think that there is more nuance to it than that, and it looks closer to something like: ‘doing more of the right stuff.’

Right? On what basis? This is up to the individual asking to decide.

The idea is to focus less on accumulating experiences for the sake of having glamorous stories to dangle in front of the eyes of others and more on discovering the stuff that works.

The framework that continues to serve me is the ‘Be, Do, Have’/Master Key System approach.

‘If I were a happy person today, what would I do with my time?’

‘If I did all the things that a happy person does, what would I then have in my life?’

Replace ‘happy’ with whatever adjective you see fit, and just watch for what comes up to the surface.

Today, if you were to ask me that same question of, ‘what are the most important things that make you happy?’ I would answer with the following:

As you can see, there is a whole lot of doing involved with all of the above. What ultimately matters to me is not the quantity nor doing for the sake of doing, but to continuously hold that focus on seeking out and following what works. To spend less of my time blindly following the default set of behaviours that come about automatically.

The automatic stuff is dangerous to me, as it tends to lead to places where my time gets sublimated and I am left at the end of it dissatisfied and with a bitter tinge of guilt of having ‘wasted my time’ — a spit in the face of a genuine attempt to diligently follow in line with the sorts of activities that work for ‘most’.

I will end this post with the following.

Discover what works for you, not anybody or anything else. The tricky part is in navigating through the journey of discovering who it is that you want to be, what the necessary steps are for you to get there and what it is that you really want to have. No amount of passive reading, asking or following is going to lead you to where you need  to go. You will have to go out there, experiment and see things for yourself and build things with your own hands. Not to find yourself, but to relentlessly participate towards the creation of who you could be.

There is probably way more to ourselves than we can reasonably expect to understand in a single lifetime. This is where the fun lies. In balancing the call to push, and to be pulled.

“What makes life worth living? No child asks itself that question. To children, life is self-evident. Life goes without saying: whether it is good or bad makes no difference. This is because children don’t see the world, don’t observe the world, don’t contemplate the world, but are so deeply immersed in the world that they don’t distinguish between it and their own selves. Not until … a distance appears between what they are and what the world is, does the question arise: what makes life worth living?”

 — Karl Ove Knausgård