The Happiness Machine isn’t Meaningful

A couple of years ago, when I first started this blog, I decided the purpose would be for posting about things that made me feel alive. I think for a long time, that meant posting about things that brought me joy. Life experience = Feeling Joy = Feeling Alive (or something like that). And that equation is true. Mostly. Feeling joy really does bring fulfillment and meaning for me. However, that equation has become more complex over time.

Life experiences that allow for feeling joy aren’t the only ones that lead to feeling alive. Big, harder to deal with emotions and experiences also make me feel alive.

Grief.

Passion.

Fear.

Anger.

A lot of different feelings are formed through important life experiences and each are part of life. However, two years ago I wasn’t ready to accept these emotions. It was terrifying to think that I will have to feel real grief in my life. It was terrifying to think that I might love someone so much that it might change the course of my life (MY LIFE! Wasn’t it mine to own?). It was terrifying to think that I might love someone so much it would actually hurt to lose them. Ultimately, I wasn’t allowing myself a lot of life experiences because I was afraid they might lead to my unhappiness.

There was an argument in one of my philosophy classes in college called the happiness machine. Basically, if happiness is the meaning of life then there shouldn’t be anything wrong with creating a happiness machine where people spend all of their time becoming happy and don’t do anything else with their life. They go into the happiness machine, they become happy, the end. (A more present day, realistic alternative would be to say that there is nothing wrong with a person using heroine everyday who happened to own an endless supply of money and a caretaker because it makes them happy and happiness is the meaning of life. Can life be truly be wasted on drugs if the person is happy because of the drugs?)

I knew at the time that there was something wrong with this idea but I couldn’t tell my professor what it was. The answer that I now think to be true is that happiness is not the meaning of life.

But don’t we do everything to be happy?

Happiness is a good feeling, of course, but our lives are not built around happiness and nor should they be. Isn’t constant happiness boring? Doesn’t feeling pleasant everyday also make pleasant feel mundane?

The more pleasant our lives become the more inconvenienced we become by insignificances. My nail polish is chipped and I’m too embarrassed to wear that flashy ring that will draw attention to my hands, and God, I really wanted to wear that ring tonight. And then I stop and think, do I really care about my nail polish or am I just looking to care about something?

Classic case of “first world problems”. I’m so grateful for the life I’ve been able to live. I’m grateful that the only problems I’ve had to deal with are insignificant ones. However, those problems really did matter to me. But maybe I would’ve cared less about insignificances if I’d found more significances to care about.

I believe that the purpose of life is to care about life. Having passion for a subject, an activity, and a person have all brought meaning to my life. So that’s what I’m setting out to do. I’m setting out to find a subject that I could ace the jeopardy round to, because I love learning about that subject. I’m setting out to find new hobbies that I love to do even if they are terrifying (skiing is literally falling down a mountain and I am obsessed). I’m setting out to allow myself to be vulnerable, because the risk is also the reward.

Will I ever like mornings?

I woke up this morning the same way I’ve woken up the whole summer, snoozing my alarm until it’s ten minutes past the point of me being able to get ready in time to not be late for work and feeling like I’m in desperate need of some kind of change. Maybe if I cut off all my hair I would feel different. Maybe I just need to redecorate my apartment. Maybe what I really need is to quit my job, start working at a coffee shop, and spend all of my spare time writing poetry. The only certain thing in life is that it is always changing, and somehow, in this interim of almost being done with school and almost being done living in the city that currently claims me and almost starting a new part (I would say chapter but it feels slightly bigger than that), I feel like I walked through drying cement barefoot. Maybe this is my minds way of preparing me for the changes that are coming my way. Or maybe it really is past the time for me to make that appointment at the hair salon.

When I Was 16

When I was 16

I went to a lavender farm.

The whole field was purple

and swarming with bees

and the scent enveloped me

in the most irresistible calm

I’d ever felt.

Now I try to bring that feeling home with me.

I put the purple flowers in the vase

on my windowsill,

I diffuse oil,

I imagine myself

walking through that field.

It’s never quite the same.

When I was 16

I took my first pilates class.

The instructor’s voice

was almost hypnotic

and the ceiling fan

was pushing waves of air over me

like some sort of great relief,

like all of my bad energy

was being washed away

and I suddenly understood why

there were people who believed

in the possibility of achieving enlightenment.

I don’t enjoy workout classes the way that I used to,

maybe I just haven’t found the right one.

I still sleep with my ceiling fan on

whenever I have access to one.

It doesn’t help me fall asleep

the way that it used to.

When I was 16

I thought my ten year plan

was a sure thing because

I’d written it in pen.

That confidence in the future

isn’t really something I go looking for anymore.

I know I’m going to look back on 22

and wish I could find some part of myself

that I left here, I just really can’t imagine

what part that is.

-EKJ

 

My Week Without Coffee

I’m a coffee drinker. I’m a HUGE coffee drinker. To explain just how big of a coffee drinker I am I’ll let you know that by the time I was in fifth grade, I was brewing the family coffee pot when I woke up in the morning. When college rolled around I might have drunk 4 cups everyday, maybe more if I felt like it. I didn’t just drink fancy Starbucks lattes either. I drank it black in the morning, with milk during the day, or with sugar as a sweet night treat. Any way it was served, I probably enjoyed it.

I loved coffee, but I also needed it. One day I tried to do an experiment with myself because I had decided my coffee drinking was becoming completely excessive. I figured if I could go one full 24 hour period, caffeine free, then I didn’t have a problem and I just wouldn’t worry about it. Unfortunately, according to my made-up standards, I indeed had a problem. The experiment lasted until 10am, at which time I had caved because I had a pounding -I can’t do anything but lie down- headache.

Cutting myself off cold-turkey obviously wasn’t an option. Instead, I slowly started to ween myself down. I cut it to a three cups a day maximum. Although, I tried for only one cup a day. Eventually (within the last six months or so) I got myself to a point where I didn’t need coffee everyday. I could skip a day with out my body completely freaking out. It felt good.

Then, this month when I was in Seattle (ironically, the coffee capitol) visiting non-coffee drinking Cutie Pie Boyfriend, I only drank coffee about three times a week.

When I got back to Baltimore I came down with a cold and coffee just didn’t seem like something that was going to make my throat feel better. I was trying to kick the illness quickly because I’m traveling again this weekend. So, I just didn’t make any coffee. At all. All week. And you know what? I woke up fine. I didn’t have any pounding headaches. I didn’t really NEED to have the coffee.

Of course, coffee is still something that I enjoy. It’ll always be something that I like. My friend Thao gifted me some really awesome Vietnamese coffee beans for Christmas, and today I was starting to feel better so I decided to brew some up. It was absolutely delicious.

What I realized today, while sipping on my first cup of coffee all week long, was that the coffee was actually more enjoyable. I could function just fine without downing the cup, and so I took my time to really taste it. It was truly a great feeling to have something, for the sole reason of just wanting it, and not because I needed it.

 

 

Pictured: A cutie cat journal that I needed to share because I’m absolutely obsessed, also gifted to me by Thao!

img_2171

Being the Inviter

Asking a semi-stranger, someone you just met or someone you don’t know that well, to hang out used to be SO HARD for me. In fact, I just didn’t do it. Instead, I would find myself in those situations where I would talk about hanging out ‘sometime’ and we would never end up committing. And the tragedy? I would always miss the opportunity to be friends with someone I know I could’ve gotten along with!

I’ve been lucky and have a couple of people in my life (Sweetie Pie Sister and Cutie Pie Boyfriend) who are great at reaching out and connecting with people. It feels like it’s part of their personalities, but after many conversations with Sweetie Pie Sister, I found out that she thinks it was more of a conscious decision for her. One day, she made the choice to be more social. To be the one reaching out. To plan and invite and make as many friends as she could.

Now, I’ve been working on this for awhile. Last year, when I moved to Seattle I took a small, but formative step forward. Whenever I was asked to hang out, go on a date, or show up somewhere… I said yes. I stopped making excuses when I felt too nervous. Was I ever outside of my comfort zone? Of course. But the thing is, I made real friends.

However, Friday night was the first time that I really felt like I have finally leveled up to connector. I reached out to a stranger with a mutual friend who just moved to my city and I invited a girl from my class that I had just met (who happened to be celebrating her birthday!). Said stranger is definitely going to be around again. Said girl was introduced to another girl from my program (who I also invited), they hit it off and hung out together the next day!

At some point, I just stopped being afraid. It was like, the worst that can happen is they say no. I remembered how hard it was moving to a place where I didn’t know anyone. I remembered how grateful I was for the opportunity to hang out with literally any other human being. I felt like the potential for getting a no was suddenly worth the risk of making something great happen.

The beautiful part about Friday was that it was so dang easy. There was minimal planning, we just picked location (an awesome inside beer garden) and time (8pm). Now my friend group is growing, I’ve checked one more local Baltimore hangout off of my list, and I felt great knowing that I did something to make a few people’s days a little bit better.

 

The New Year Came Early

I decided that I’m not waiting for January 1st to make some drastic change in my life as an attempt to meet unrealistic resolutions. With a “there’s no time like the present” attitude, I have began a good habit kick without even really realizing it.

Last year I read somewhere that 90% of New Year resolutions fail. Instead of becoming depressed by that statistic, I decided that I would make ten resolutions. That way, when 90% of my own resolutions failed, at least I had one that put me a step closer to the person I wanted to be.

I don’t want to say that this method had nothing to show for itself. After all, I did have 21 celebration-worthy items on my Birthday Thoughts post. However, this week made me feel like my life has so much room for improvement and I didn’t want to set a start date. I just wanted to start.

So, I went to the gym.

I’ve eaten healthy.

I studied to learn, not because I had a test.

I’ve been reaching out to friends.

I’ve finally been doing things that I keep telling myself that I should do.

And I don’t want to hold myself to some crazy diet plan or unattainable goal just because I’ll get to say “new year, new me”. I don’t really care about the new year. As far as I’m concerned, the new me can begin right now, and it can begin by doing the things I know I want to have done.

Birthday Thoughts

I’ve heard nobody likes you when you’re twenty-two. Is that true? I hope not. In any case, I’d like to think I spent year twenty-one well. In honor of the last year, here are twenty-one things worth celebrating.

  1. I moved to Seattle (a place I have always had an affinity for)
  2. I learned how to drink wine
  3. I went skiing for the first time
  4. I met my cutie pie boyfriend (and may I even venture to say fell in love?)
  5. I’m going to grad school
  6. I’m going to grad school at Johns Hopkins
  7. No classes were skipped this entire semester (even when I wanted to)
  8. When I wasn’t going to school, I found a job that I liked doing. (One for which I was completely under qualified, but did well despite that.)
  9. I moved to Baltimore (even though I was scared to)
  10. I’ve lived alone
  11. I’ve taken public transport on my own (really 8. and 9. are a combination that say that I’ve become more independent)
  12. A lot of really good friends were made
  13. Old friends were not lost
  14. I’ve cooked a really excellent meal
  15. A pink couch was set up in my living room (yes, this deserves it’s own number)
  16. This blog was started (and kept!)
  17. I stopped being embarrassed to admit I like things that other people might not (aka music, art, books, food)
  18. I learned to give advice with out being forceful (I think and hope)
  19. I’ve become more empathetic
  20. I’ve worked on listening to the things that the people around me are saying and learned that maybe everyone has ideas that are just as good (okay, sometimes a whole lot better) as my own
  21. Many books were read this year (many new ideas were pondered)

My Solo Salt Lake City Day

Spending time alone has never been hard for me. I’m easily entertained and am usually fairly flexible with plans. However, this Thanksgiving break was the first time I found myself wandering solo in an unfamiliar city. As a student, I was obviously on a budget. I was also without any kind of itinerary. I never took the time to plan the 12 hours I had to kill. Luckily, or perhaps willfully, the day was no waste.

At around 9:30 AM my plane from Baltimore was sitting on the tarmac and I took the opportunity to pull out my phone and look through several blog posts about what to do in Salt Lake City. Here is what I found. There were a few interesting locations worth noting. I was especially keen on keeping my eye open for what wasn’t going to cost me anything but a couple of hours.

Transportation

The first item of business was to get from the airport to the hotel in order to drop my suitcase and lighten my load enough to easily navigate the city. My original thought was Uber or Lyft. The ride was going to cost about $25 (actually fairly cheap compared to other places) and I was cringing at the thought of what else that $25 was capable of going towards. Fortunately, my fate was changed when I saw the light rail sign. Light rails get you where you need to go (or close by) for less than $3, and since I was in no real rush I was ready to commit.

IMG_1739

No Need To Stick To The Plan

Around 45 minutes later I had made it to my hotel near Temple Square, had dumped my baggage (literally), and was ready to find out what the day had in store. City Creek Center was recommended to me by my sister who had spent a summer living in Salt Lake, so that’s where I set off for first. Her exact wording described the mall as “beautiful and huge” and I thought, although I wouldn’t be buying anything, it was worth going to see. My GPS gave me an estimated 20-minute arrival time if I walked and that’s what I set out to do.

About half way I was stopped by a charming bookstore and coffee shop called Ebore Books. I love reading and I loved everything about this little store. Upon walking in I was hit with the smell of old paperbacks and the cappuccino I ordered was exactly what I needed. After I spent some time enjoying my find (Pillars of the Earth, A Great American Read book!) I decided it was time to continue my adventure.

City Creek Center

I know malls don’t sound like place anyone needs to visit on their one day exploring the city but this one was! Honestly, I didn’t expect to be impressed but my sister was right to send me. The building itself was gorgeous (I mean, come on! Look at that ceiling) and there were plenty of cool views of temple square, which happens to sit on the next block.

Image-1

IMG_1742

Temple Square

Temple Square is captivating. The buildings and statues look solid and pure and lasting. I felt like they demanded more than a five-minute walk through and so I gave them more time. Walking slowly and pausing occasionally allowed me to really recognize the worth and the beauty of what I was looking at.

UMOCA

Next, I wandered over to the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art. In the past, I have found that I appreciate paintings the most, however I found the artworks witty and inspiring. This was the only thing I paid for all day and it was only $5!

IMG_1745

The City Library

In case you thought I had my fill of books from the cozy shop earlier in the day, I hadn’t. The City Library was on several lists of things I should see, so I went and saw. The building had an interesting curve that gave way to a great mountain view. Plus, there were a bunch of cute shops to look through on the first floor.

IMG_1746-1

Café Rio

Last but not least, is it really a trip to Utah if you skip out on the best fast food Mexican restaurant ever?

 

Maybe it was the fact I was on my own schedule. Maybe it was because it was such a nice day for spending time walking outside. Whatever it was, I think I’ll be back to Salt Lake soon.

Also, in case you’re wondering if I’m capable of traversing the world on my own, I think this should give a good indication. Okay, okay, I’m being dramatic as per usual. At least the day was one well spent!

The Two Fridas

I finally broke my Halloween streak of dressing up as a witch after years of putting on dark lipstick and feeling especially spooky. I wasn’t tired of being a witch. I might even go so far as to say that I almost missed not pulling my black lace cloak out of my closet in celebration of one of my favorite holidays. However, I decided that it was time for a change inspired by one of the strongest, most admirable bad girls I know of.

Dressing up as Frida Kahlo didn’t feel like I was putting on a costume. The giant flowers on my head and the thick eyebrows painted on and the bright red on my lips all gave me confidence and strength that I didn’t think would come. In her life, Frida was fearless. She painted feelings other people shied away from acknowledging. She left her husband when their relationship wasn’t good for her, even though that meant she was going to be on her own. She took actions to support what she believed in. She struggled for most of her life against physical disabilities, and still she wouldn’t let the pain deter her from doing the thing that she lived for: painting. I find her art, and her life, inspiring. I might not dress like Frida Kahlo everyday of the year, but she is someone I think about when I’m feeling scared or too small for an obstacle in front of me. And being able to embody everything Frida represents for the night? Worth hanging up my hat for.

IMG_1667

Yellow Paint

I’ve heard the story about how Van Gough ate yellow paint, despite its toxicity, because he thought that it was a happy color. He thought that maybe he would be happier if he could paint the inside of him yellow.

I don’t believe in romanticizing mental illness and I don’t even know if that was a true story, but I do think that life should be filled with color. When I see the bright giant sunflowers at the farmer’s market, I will buy them. When I have the option to wear a black dress or a red dress, I will choose the red one every time. I think life is too short to wear neutral colored shoes or to fill your apartment with things that look nice, but aren’t things you love.

My sister came up all the way from Tennessee to visit me and my new apartment and when she left my apartment really did feel more alive. While she was here we spent time painting a few large canvases to fill my empty walls. And they are beautiful and bright and I love them. IMG_1473