Could Everybody stop the Whining please

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Think about it if you next time are tempted to start whining and complaining. One example of a recent panic. Overall, the world displays an astonishing resistance against going down. Since 4 billion years! 🙂 

I don’t know what your experience is, but something I frequently notice lately, is that I am very often standing out as the only optimist in a given round.

I mean, not always, and certainly not within my close friends, who are a great bunch of people with very positive mind-sets. But often when I am at a party, business occasion or – worst – wherever in that toilet room called internet, I find myself surrounded by people who are all more or less of the opinion that the world is doomed, all is going down, etc.

People whine about our politicians (while themselves being too lazy to engage in politics), they whine about refugees (while themselves hoarding piles of money they will never be able to spend), they whine about Germany getting too much foreign influence (while themselves having no kids – do they expect this fertile piece of earth staying empty forever?), they whine about Greece costing our money (while sipping their champaign or pushing buttons on their brand new Apple computer), etc. pp.

As I like to oppose this view, I very often get accused “Gutmensch” (negative word for a positive person), “naive“, “dreamer” etc. 🙂

This is a pile of crap!

All this apocalyptic stuff is not only very boring to listen to for outsiders, it is also unhealthy to your own mind if you worry too much about stuff that (a) you cannot change (b) you are too lazy to DO something about and (c) did not materialize and thus is only a product of imagination at this point of time.

My theory why people love to whine and complain is like this:

  1. Some are lazy egoistic bastards, who do not want to really make the world a better place if it costs them any effort or money. Thus they complain about everything being messed up anyway giving them a perfect excuse to stay passive.
  2. Some are un-imaginative people, who have too little ideas what to spend their time on, so they spend it on complaining.
  3. Some lack self-esteem and any basic idea of “meaning of life” and they slowly sense that something is missing. They circumvent that by saying: “Doesn’t matter, all is going down anyway“.
  4. Some lack social interaction and positive feedback (maybe because they give so little of it themselves), and thus really see the world as a grim place.
  5. Some are simply getting old, and thus lose their ability to adapt to a world that is ever-changing (and was ever-changing, and will be ever changing). Or they don’t have kids, so see no need in caring for tomorrow.
  6. Some people somehow feel that they messed up their lives and now want to find somebody outside to blame.
  7. Some people lack attention and want to get if by screaming “FIRE!“.

Somehow, this whining mechanism seems to be built in deeply into people.
Throughout the centuries, you can find dozens of examples of apocalyptic scenarios that fascinated people at their times.

I have a little list somewhere myself where I from time to time note the “current crisis” and “actual reasons why the world will go down” and do a reality check a few years later.

Just from my mind, among many others, the following topics are on that list:

  • AIDS (that was when I started the list 😉 )
  • Dying woods (big issue in the late 80s)
  • Ozone hole
  • Peak oil (no oil will be left around 2010, total breakdown of economy to follow. Today we swim in oil)
  • Devastating food shortage and hunger (in fact hunger is at record low today, compared to the decades before)
  • Y2K error (atomic rockets to start automatically due to an IT error at 1.1.2000)
  • Ebola I. (early 2000s)
  • SARS

more recently:

  • Finanical Crisis
  • Ebola II (last year)
  • Energy revolution (in Germany, atomic reactors get abandoned for renewable energy. The whiners said multiple brown-outs will follow. I have seen not a single one since four years)
  • War with Russia over Ukraine (one year ago, no big deal anymore)
  • Greece and Euro crisis (half a year ago, no one gives a f*** anymore)
  • Refugees (the newest hype, at least in Germany)

Number of the above topics that in fact did make the world go down or did put a catastrophe on us?

Zero.

I don’t know if this is a “German Angst” thing, but it’s funny, isn’t it?
While many whiners always argue very convincing and prompt millions of “facts” and call me and others the “dreamers“, actual evidence is on the dreamer’s side!!

Think about it if you next time are tempted to start whining and complaining.
Because it is not good for you.

Don’t take me wrong, I have no problem with a little bit of complaining here and there. This is normal social behaviour and can even provide some social glue (we are the good ones, all outsiders are idiots). But it does get dangerous if you dig too much into your whining, start to feel like a victim etc. And that is what many people unfortunately do.

In the long run, there is only one result of too much whining: Bitterness.
Not a nice thing.

You should avoid that at all costs!

Cheers,

Woodpecker

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Get Rid of Your Money-Attachment

raffende_haende

It is in your own interest not to become the owner of this hand.

Every human strives to life a live as happy as possible. Much, if not most, of what we do, is geared to make our lives better and to increase happiness.
However, most people do not really seem to progress in their pursuit of happiness.
Why is this the case?

I think it has a lot to do with the means that people want to use to increase the quality of their life.
In our outward looking and materialistic western cultures, and in our religion-stripped consumption focussed times, the view – more than ever in history – is focussed on material things, on possessing, on body improvement and on other features of the physical world.

Most people constantly think about what they need. What they want. What they would like to add.

Interestingly, instead of looking for more to add, it is equally important to look for letting go to become happy.

There are several concepts out there describing the benefit of letting go, but the one phrase that describes it best is the word “Attachment” (German: Anhaftung) that is used in buddhist philosophy.

Attachment means the negative way that humans getting dependent on certain things, on feelings, on their position, on regard by others etc.

Attachment clearly produces suffering and has to be overcome.

To make things more clear I will revert to my own case that you can even reconstruct when scrolling back in this blog.

Five years ago, when I started the mission of downshifting, I was very much impressed by the ideas of massive saving, accumulating passive income, retire early etc. I introduced a strict savings plan (that worked out quite successful), and started to find ways how to consume less and to save more.

All fine and good so far. But after a few years I recognized (with the help of some hints from Mrs Woodpecker) that things somehow went wrong.
Instead of feeling more and more happy when looking at the growing savings account, I got more and more unhappy and impatient whenever small blow-back occurred (e.g. when a tax or the rent was raised, when a costly and non-sheduled repair came up, when I had to push my calculated retirement age back etc).
I was spending massive time with my stocks and personal book-keeping, in the order of, well, I’d say 15 hours a week. Hell! 15 hours! Yeah, yes, yes, it was all for the good thing, all for increasing returns etc. blabla, but still…15 hours of prima age life spend every week only to have more time later at a age where time is not so scarce anyway?!
At that time thinking about money was a second nature to me, it was always there, with every small spending the internal calculator was active, and that was finally the moment when I realized:

I am attached to something very pathetic. I was attached to accumulating money.

It was not more about doing a wise thing (saving still is wise, and stupid consumption still stays stupid), but money became the measure of most things, and thus an “obsession”. A mild sort of obsession only, but still this is what attachment is all about:

You are no more controlling the object (in this case money), but it controls you.

To cut a long story short, I think I was able to overcome that particular attachment until now. Woodpeckers still save, we still look for efficient deals, we still do not consume excessively but with care. But all of this is more natural now, with less force and with much less bookkeeping. With more acceptance of the tides of life and fate and with the knowledge that long-term plans are nice, but in the long run reality does tend to ignore them.

In parallel I looked around and found that so many people around me were attached to money! And they all fueled that negative trait in me.

Only a few of my friends, but a lot of acquaintances, some colleagues and many people in business life or in finance internet forums are clearly attached to their money, to their returns, to making the good deals etc.
Some of them to an extend that is ridiculous and sad at the same moment. I could add countless anecdotes here, but leave it to your observation skills to find cases in your life.
You identify a money-attached easily if you dig a bit deeper in any serious discussion. Let it be politics, refugees, the future, ecology, economy, the society etc. All of this topics are very very complicated I know, and very very often we are far from an optimal solution, but with the money-attached, in the end, all of their arguing always end up in their fear that they have to pay something or something could be taken from them.
There is a lot of hiding this behind moral, wanting the good, protecting others, but if you drill down it will boil down to:
“OMG! I might have to pay! This world is so unfair, this politicians are so bad, everybody around me is evil, corrupted or stupid. It would be much better if I was in charge! Because then, finally, I would take care that my two birth-rights will be respected: Not to pay more than now. Not to get less than now”

The effect often is the stronger the richer the person is. Maybe because the more you have to more you are obsessed with protecting it.

It is pathetic and stands so much in their way of leading a fear-less and happy live. And yet it is so difficult to overcome, because so many forces around us secretly whisper: “YESSSS. YOU NEED TO HAVE MOREE. YOU ARE ONLY WORTH SOMETHING IFF YOU HAVE A,B,C. YOU EARNED IT. YOU DESEERVE IT. YOU HAVE TO COMPEEETE TO STAY UPPP.”

But all of this is crap of course.

So I am asking you:

Do you see that pattern in your environment?
Do you even have a self critical moment and see it at work in yourself?
Nothing un-normal, as this is the disease of our time, most people are infected to some degree.
But once you recognize this mechanism at work within yourself, do me a favour:

Cling to it, observe it, scrutinize it, see how it beats you down, because, damn, the more you have the more you can loose. And damn, there are always forces out there beyond your control, no matter what you do!
Drill your thought and fears down to its source: The fear of loss.
And finally: Kill that fear!

Accept the world for what it is. Accept the risk it brings. Start to understand that you can never fully protect yourself against the world. You are part of it. Start to trust in your own power to handle future problems should they come up.

And your fear will vanish…your attachment to money will yield back. The fog of worries and threats around you will lift.

YOU will be the first to benefit if you are able to get rid of money-attachment.

And for the time being, avoid others that are money-attached.
They will try to comfort you in your attachment. And they will attack you as a naiv good-do-er, or a “Gutmensch” (stupid german derogative word for people thinking beyond their own benefit) if you do not follow their path anymore.

Later on, when you ended your struggle and erased your own money-attachment you can come back to these people.
On the other side: Chances are that you will not. Because they will no longer be interesting to you. They have nothing to say other than “I want to get as much as possible and I do not want to pay”. And you heard that often enough, right?!

Cheers,

Woodpecker

 

The Importance of Ethical and Good Behaviour for your Happiness

 

Among the Living, this guy has probably the most to say on how to be "good": Dalai Lama.

Among the Living, this guy has probably the most to say on how to be “good”: Dalai Lama.

You want to transform your life into something beyond being a pure economic subject that consumes, works, produces, pushes the GDP and ultimately dies to be replaced by the next robot?

Then it is worthwhile to look back in time on what previous big minds have said about self-actualization and living a good life.

The thing is:
While many things change very quickly, the large questions about meaning, sense etc., stay absolutely constant over the centuries. And the “old” masters of happiness and good life (btw: they were called philosophers, not as today “coaches” 😉 ) have one advantage:

Their theories obviously passed the test of time.

If you can still buy and read the books of those persons that lived hundreds or thousands of years ago, there must be a profound truth in what they said. A basic truth that was able to withstand so many waves of change and progress (whatever progress is).

So this reading is what Woodpecker did in a quite difficult time of his life, i.e. long before this blog, at a time where I decided that I am not happy with the average consume-produce-die-approach to life that so many people around us want us to pursue.
At that time I basically went through a whole library of philosophers, starting from the ancient Greeks (Aristoteles, Platon, Epicurus, Diogenes, Stoa), over romans (mainly Cicero), the big Germans (Kant, Schopenhauer), some others (Kierkegaard, and a lot that I forgot). Plus I added some religious and spiritual leaders, because very often there were (and are) intelligent and progressive people among them too.
All of this writers were people who thought way beyond their own ego, who ventured out to picture the big lines.

Plus I also added to my reading the big negative examples in history, to understand the dark side as well: Caesar, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Napoleon.
Being sinister people who in contrast were only interested in themself, their own power and their own ego.

The learing benefit of spending these 5 years or so of reading was nothing less than massive. It definitely changed my life and my view on the world (much to the better!) and it is a treasure that will delight me until the very end.

Why do I write all of this?

Because one fact really struck me as amazing, and it is a good starting point if you do not have the time now for five years of reading:

Through the history, throughout the centuries and over all cultures, be it west or east, philosophers and religious leaders stress the importance of ethical living if you truly want to become a happy and fulfilled person!

Recommending an ethical living is the most common denominator from ancient Greeks over buddhism, from Emanuel Kant to Dalai Lama.

There are only very few exceptions, but if you continue to explore the biographies of those, you quickly see that while intellectually fascinating, you do not want to follow their path (e.g. Nietzsche was one, but he became mad and died alone and in bitterness).

Thus I safely can follow this large minds and recommend ethical living, too.

We all are no mother Theresa, thus we will not always succeed, but I can say that from the day of this insight on, I tried to follow that path, much to my satisfaction so far.

Here is my observation on trying to do so:

1. The benefit of being good

Aristoteles formed a comprehensive theory on happiness and "virtue".

Aristoteles formed a comprehensive theory on happiness and “virtue”.

(a)  My observation is that people who only look for their own benefit, typically expect others to do so as well, thus they seem more often to distrust others.
They seem to lose faith that the world overall is a good place and that humans overall are good. Just because they themself do not care too much about being good, and you always project your own view of the world outward. So you look for the bad in people and will focus on it.

(b) The other way round if you try to be positive.
Trying to life ethical opens your eyes to the many positive and gentle things out there in day-to-day life. Your basic primary belief in others will be that they have good intentions, and very often you will find that, focus on that and be rewarded by your belief.

(c) Helping others without expecting something in return gives a deep satisfaction.
In the end it is not entirely selfless to help, because you feel needed, integrated etc. Good things and no one says you shall not benefit by helping others.

(d) You start to ask others for help, too. And you will see that people love to help.
Actually people deep inside want to have a positive and selfless impact on others. There is a deep-wired social component in all of us to let others around you benefit from your skills. The “market” unfortunately tries to press much of this into economic patterns. But just look at the internet: So many blogs out there, so many great content, all for free! Some of my best reading, some of the best pictures, recipes, travel tips, and many of my best investment decisions: All coming from blogs where nice people put them out there for use! Thank you, dear world!
Why do they do this? Ultimately the same reason than myself: People WANT to give something to the world. For free. Outside of a market and without pay.

(e) Ultimately, people behave reciprocal.
At least subconsciously, people will notice who wants them good and who wants them bad. And they will remember, even over long stretches of time. If you meet again in the future, they will treat you accordingly.

(f) If you behave ethical, you have more luck in life.
Lets be a bit pathetic: You can say the universe is thankful. And if you want to explain that more sober, look at point (e): There is serious theories out there that say that “good” people accumulate positive attitude towards them over time. After decades, so many people around them remember that they behaved positively, that the occasions where this people get something positive back “out of nothing” get more and more numerous. Plus again, behaving positively will automatically make you focus more on the good things happening to you, and just accepting them without doubt.

(g) Other way round with the un-ethical person.
They accumulate negative feelings against them. And beware when the lose their power over others (e.g. the nasty but powerful boss: Once he quits job, he will be surprisingly alone and become bitter despite all money and fame in the past).

(h) You will get into contact with good people very easily and all around the world.
People have an amazingly good sense if a foreigner is truly friendly to them or a potential threat. They will recognize you as an ethical person, you will recognize them and you will have a good time. And you will save money if you trust. (e.g. the laptop I am writing on this moment: It was bought via telephone from a Turkish guy living 500km away from Munich. After a chat on the phone we both decided to trust each other, I transferred 500 EUR to this total stranger and two days later this wonderful and very cheaply sold computer was here. Saved me 150 EUR compared to offers close-by…)

(i) To some extend, there emerge two worlds.
As ethical people will go out-of-the-way of un-ethical people in the long run (see below), and thus the latter are forced to deal among themselves to some degree, both groups somehow get what they expect: The non-ethicals will be surrounded by other non-ethicals (confirming their pessimistic view on the world) and the ethical people will have large networks of other ethical people around them. Both groups, to some degree, being separated from each other, at least in private life.

(j) Philosophers claim, that behaving good, apart from all fact above, is absolutely necessary to unfold your true human nature, to fulfill all of your potential.
Simply because the human nature is to help and to support others, and if you act against it, you life an unnatural life, a life that can never succeed.
I absolutely agree to this one, too. Seems to fit all observations I make.

2. What is the disadvantage of behaving “good” and ethical

I can tell you, because there are a few:

Immanuel Kant, who formulated what acutal "good" and "ethical" behaviour means.

Immanuel Kant, who formulated what actual “good” and “ethical” behaviour means.

(a) You will be called “Gutmensch” (german negative word for people trying to do good. Is it “do-gooder” in English?) from time to time.
You will be called “dreamer”, “naive”, and so on.
Just ignore that. It is mostly people who are bitter or envy you for you being able to have a positive view on the world. These people somehow feel that their approach to the world is incorrect, but to safeguard their mental system they try to argue that behaving good is actually bad. This effect was already described by Aristoteles 2500 years ago.
Don’t get in a defensive position about that. If the other person continues to insult you that way, just go out of their ways. One human contact more he/she lost. Too bad.
But in my opinion, your humanistic attitude does not require you to take all the hits. In the end, most of us are still small humans down here and neither Siddharta or Jesus nor Mother Theresa.

(b) You will get exploited from time to time.
This is the most imminent danger. As you will always go out open and expecting the good, some “bad” players can more easily exploit you than if you go out sceptic and cautious.
This will happen in private life (but not that often to my observation), and in job-life: more often, as unfortunately often the powerful people came to their position not by competence, but by playing ambiguous political games. And you will never be good in political games, because political games by nature require dishonesty and opportunism or at least concealing information. All of this is not your métier as an ethical person and should not be strived for.

(c) You can shield yourself to some extend by playing tit-for-tat
This comes from game theory and says that you always start out positive or “good”. But if the other persons responds with “bad”, you react with “bad” as well. In the end, ethical yes or no, you do not want to be exploited all the time. But that’s no fun game, so on the long run you better break off the contact if possible: Find new friends, other business partners or a new job.

(d) Economically you will do a bit worse
In the end, there is no talking around it: On the economic side, you pay a certain price for behaving “good”. It is no secret that you will miss out some career move, a bit of higher salary, some dirty earnings here and some evaded tax there, compared to the ruthless self-maximizer.
This loss is partly mitigated by the reciprocity that will also bring you additional job opportunities or small favours from others.

But all in all there is a certain economic cost, so you have to make a decision.

3. Conclusion

If you are uncertain yet, please go back up in this post, and really think what is important in life: One career step more? A few thousand bucks more on your account?
Or the priceless feeling of living in a great world surrounded by friendly people?
You can also look at old people. See who is happy and who not. Think about how all of this persons might have behaved in their past life and what is the respective result. You will see the pattern.

Or read one of my favorite books:
The life of Dorian Gray (who, by some magic, is able to transfer all the negative results of his bad behaviour to a picture of him).

I hope I was able to convince you to join the “club of the naive, dreaming, ethical living people” (Woodpecker trademark, haha) !

If yes: Welcome! Let’s have a good time!

Cheers,

Woodpecker

Downshifters! Avoid to get a Rich but Boringly Selfish Person!

Ammersee 096_bearbeitet-1

Sunset over lake Ammersee, near Munich, while having a beer with a friend.

The “Rich Guys Trap”

Collecting money, securing your material well-being and planning Financial Independence are important building blocks for any downshifter around. Financial Freedom is a great asset to have.

But we must not forget that the ultimate goal is not downshifting or FI per se, but leading a happy and fulfilled life and develop ourselves to the fullest extend possible.

In other words:
Climb up Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs up to the top and it is very likely that you can truly say yes, when asked if you are a happy person and have a fulfilled life – no matter if you are FI or have a job, are young or old, have a huge villa or a small flat, have kids or not.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

And as we have learned, in Maslows pyramid only the first two steps are dealing with “material” needs.

The three advanced steps are about your mental/spiritual/psychological (call it whatever you like) development.

I think this is important to remember:

All the financial thinking, all your investments, all the blogs about frugal living, or financial independence can only help you to climb two out of five steps. These two are of course very important, as they set the base for the following steps. Also, downshifting and a maximum of independence and freedom are in most cases very helpful to have sufficient time and “muse” available for working on the subsequent steps.

But the true story and the real greatness of being a human being starts only beyond materialism!
It is the upper three steps where we distinguish ourselves from an animal!

Thus if you get stuck in the financial thinking, in the accumulation race, in pushing your financial independence further and further beyond real need, then you creat you own new rat-race, and in fact you more are not much more than an intelligent animal. In that case all your striving becomes simple boring greed, camouflaged as “I want to be independent”.

I think it is important to ponder on this, as the danger to end up in this greed trap seems very real to me when I look around.

After years and years thinking about material things (during climbing the lower steps), it is not easy to recognize once you actually got where you wanted to get, and to subsequently let go and turn to other goals. Instead, most people who get wealthy get gridlocked in fear of loosing their wealth, many lose sight of the needs of others, many simply got so used to judge everything in monetary terms that they lost the ability to see things in the world otherwise than in economic terms. This is why there is a strong measurable correlation between richness and selfish behaviour (Article here).

Some however escaped that trap.
So there are encouraging positive examples out there. But honestly, they are rare. Sad, but not surprising, as the highest parts of Maslows pyramid are certainly thinly populated, and climbing them needs character, humbleness, inner strength and social values – money is by no means sufficient, or even more: The abilities needed to climb the top are very different from those needed to make money (we come to that later).

But if you look, you can identify the positive examples easily:
They will not talk about themselves or about their needs anymore (because they realize their own needs are fulfilled anyway), but they talk about the needs of others and how they can contribute to make the world a better place.
E.g. Bill Gates would come to my mind. Not the so much praised Steve Jobs, who seemed to circulate around himself only in my perception. But I am no expert in studying wealthy guys’ biographies, because in my view you cannot learn much from them. You are neither Bill Gated nor Steve Jobs, and you should not pretend to be them. You are simply yourself.

So what are the ingredients you need to hover yourself beyond the material steps?

I think this can easily be answered, as since the dawn of men the most intelligent people of the human race pondered this question and, driven by their inner need to help the human success story, they luckily shared a lot, spoke about it, wrote it down.

Thus you can go through the great works of philosophy and religion worldwide, and you will find a striking set of common values. As they repeat themselves so often I tend to declare them as:

The Critical Values of a Good Life.

In this post I will start by looking at one of those:

1) Compassion and Giving

What is compassion? Why should you give in this cruel, though and competitive world?

I read something very clever about this that I’d like to share:

“You should always act in a way that is not led by enforcing your rights, but so that our all common life on this planet is made as pleasant as possible”.

You see the different focus?

In contrast to economic thinking, the focus is not on maximizing your own wellbeing (e.g. by enforcing your rights) but on maximizing the common wellbeing. A very noble thing, as everybody will benefit: The others obviously as you give in, and yourself because this will lift you in a way that is actually difficult to understand for a more science and rational driven  person like Woodpecker 🙂 . But you know what I am speaking about, and if not, try out.

What is the downside of this?

There is a chance that you get exploited from time to time by other, more selfish, persons.

Persons that mis-use your “softness(as this behaviour is called among economic thinking people) against you. In fact, this happens from time to time. Interestingly that happens less often over time, because no-one said you have to let others exploit you permanently. So what you do when you recognize somebody is playing the selfish game, is reducing contact. And you increase contact to other non-selfish persons.
And there are plenty of non-selfish persons around! (If you don’t see any, you should check if you shied them away by playing selfish too often yourself!)

That way, something magical will happen:

The circle of non-selfish and helpful people around you will grow (you will attract them and be attracted yourself), and your life will get richer, deeper, more and more harmonic and with fewer and fewer fights. You draw increasingly self-esteem from this selfless interactions, and you will get more and more immune against the “hit” to your self-esteem when you are “losing” in a “battle” (thats what they think life is) with selfish persons.
This is what I call the social dividend and your social capital. You invest time and gentleness into others and you will get back manifold in the long run.

What if I cannot avoid the selfish guys?

Good point, as sometimes it is not possible to go out of their way. E.g. in the job you cannot always choose whom to work with. (sidenote: This seems to be the true reason of many looking for FI. To simply get rid of a job they hate)

For that annoying cases, I’d come back to economics at last, in that case game-theory:
Play “tit-for-tat”.
Always start the nice way, but if the other person does responds in a selfish/negative way, then you will switch to selfish behaviour too, to avoid getting exploited permanently. However, you should be always open to forgive and switch back to cooperation if you see the other person came to his/her senses. But don’t be too naive either. If somebody mistreated you two or three times, it is unlikely that he/she will ever become a true friend.

Anyway, let’s be frank:

To some extend, your more “soft” attitude will be exploited from time to time.

This is the price you pay.

But after thinking a bit about it, I came to the conclusion that a bit of getting exploited is still much better than becoming a hard and selfish person, mistrusting every move of others.

The rewards you gain by building up an environment of caring and helpful people around you, plus your own personal growth is much greater than what you lose by sometimes being pulled over the table. Especially if you learn not to take this personal.

Any thoughts from your side? Let us know!

Cheers,

Woodpecker

Prometheus – on the Art of Empowering Yourself

Prometheus brings fire to mankind.

Prometheus brings fire to mankind.

From time to time, even the true downshifter, who is much less interested in power, money, glamour that the average chap, will feel a stitch of envy.

Especially if you are a self-made man or woman, who started without rich daddy, without great family connections, helping little ties etc.

A downshifter will typically not envy the powerful or rich career makers who made it to the top on their own account and paid their price to climb up the ladder, because he theoretically could have done the same but decided not to.

But he might envy the 1% (or 5%, whatever), who did just nothing, who did not work hard or invest clever. Those who simply and by stupid luck were born rich and powerful, in the right family, at the right time, in the right place. Those that (although they – as the only ones – will never see that) got their status, their wealth and their (apparently!) care-free life not by effort, but by pure luck.

As most human emotions envy is nothing wrong at all, but holds a function:

It’s a signal from your subconsciousness, that something is wrong here, that you seeing something unjust.
Of course the signal can be wrong, but often it is also right, because – please don’t tell your kids – life is indeed unjust.
There was never full justice in the world, there is not today (not even in your country, company, family) and there probably never will be full justice in the future. I don’t like it, but that is the way it is.

On the other hand, too much envy is certainly not helpful, so today I have something for your comfort:

 

One of my favorite “heroes” from Greek mythology and a “role model for the modern middle-class employee” (woodpecker interpretation 🙂 ):

Prometheus!

As you might know, Prometheus was the guy who stole the fire from the gods and brought it to humankind.

In the Woodpecker modern interpretation:
Prometheus was the anti-authoritarian self-made man, who empowered himself, built his life from scratch without the help of a devine birth and then took what needed to be taken from the powerful without caring too much about their permission (in fact no harm done, of course the gods still have their own fire too, but they just wanted to keep it all for themselves). And he had his pride about his self-empowerment and about all he had accomplished HIMSELF despite his low born start.

To better understand, read my favorite poem from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
Simply replace “Zeus”/“the gods” by the “rich and the powerful born class” and “Prometheus” by yourself or “the self-made-man”.

You will see how Prometheus/you can be proud about the house he built on his own and in fact is envied by the gods for the warmth of his hearth. A warmth that they will be able to enjoy.
You will see that the gods/the rich born are poor in a sense that they all depend on the mercy of the people plus owe their whole status to our all masters: time and fate.
You will see that Prometheus/you overcomes disappointment, empowers himself and decides on his own to be as happy as the gods/the rich&powerful, and you can be as well.

You will understand that you, the self-made man/woman, have sources of happiness at your hand that the rich born will never know.

That is independence.
That is real comfort.
That will shield you and make you an upright and self-confident person, no matter where you stand on the “social ladder” of your country.

What a fantastic piece of art by Goethe!

(English translation of the poem here)

Prometheus

Bedecke deinen Himmel, Zeus,

Mit Wolkendunst!

Und übe, Knaben gleich,

Der Disteln köpft,

An Eichen dich und Bergeshöh’n!

Mußt mir meine Erde

Doch lassen steh’n,

Und meine Hütte,

Die du nicht gebaut,

Und meinen Herd,

Um dessen Glut

Du mich beneidest.

 

Ich kenne nichts Ärmeres

Unter der Sonn’ als euch Götter!

Ihr nähret kümmerlich

Von Opfersteuern

Und Gebetshauch

Eure Majestät

Und darbtet, wären

Nicht Kinder und Bettler

Hoffnungsvolle Toren.

 

Da ich ein Kind war,

Nicht wußte, wo aus, wo ein,

Kehrt’ ich mein verirrtes Auge

Zur Sonne, als wenn drüber wär

Ein Ohr zu hören meine Klage,

Ein Herz wie meins,

Sich des Bedrängten zu erbarmen.

 

Wer half mir

Wider der Titanen Übermut?

Wer rettete vom Tode mich,

Von Sklaverei?

Hast du’s nicht alles selbst vollendet,

Heilig glühend Herz?

Und glühtest, jung und gut,

Betrogen, Rettungsdank

Dem Schlafenden dadroben?

 

Ich dich ehren? Wofür?

Hast du die Schmerzen gelindert

Je des Beladenen?

Hast du die Tränen gestillet

Je des Geängsteten?

Hat nicht mich zum Manne geschmiedet

Die allmächtige Zeit

Und das ewige Schicksal,

Meine Herren und deine?

 

Wähntest du etwa,

Ich sollte das Leben hassen,

In Wüsten fliehn,

Weil nicht alle Knabenmorgen-

Blütenträume reiften?

 

Hier sitz’ ich, forme Menschen

Nach meinem Bilde,

Ein Geschlecht, das mir gleich sei,

Zu leiden, weinen,

Genießen und zu freuen sich,

Und dein nicht zu achten,

Wie ich!

 

(side note: Prometheus was harshly punished by the gods for his theft, thus be a bit careful with the “stealing” part 😉 )

Cheers,

Woodpecker

 

 

Book Review: Stop Thinking Start Living

stopWhen doing the winter trip last week and writing the last post, about the importance of the here and now, I actually had a few insights in mind from a book I read recently:

 

“Stop thinking, start living” by Richard Carlson.

 

The book is a bit repetitive in parts, but the central idea is quite compelling:

 

  • How you feel is entirely dependent on your current thoughts.
  • I.e. whenever you feel unhappy, bad, stressed, it is a result of “negative” thoughts that stayed in your mind too long.
  • You cannot control what thoughts enter your mind (they are created by your sub-consciousness) but you can learn to control if you allow them to stay in your mind.
  • Most people cling to negative thoughts too long and turn them around and around in their minds, thus creating an unnecessary feeling of unhappiness.
  • Too the contrary what the mainstream says, “Thinking problems through” is in most cases not helpful but harming.
  • Most “problems” are better solved when not thinking about them but letting the subconsciousness (your “wisdom“) solve them without active thinking-effort.
  • Querying your wisdom (i.e. listening to your intuition) will yield much better results and save you from bad feelings due to negative trains of thoughts.
  • If you are in a bad mood, always understand that this is just a symptom of some bad thoughts you had before, and not reality.

In a nutshell, Carlson is opposing basically all the psychological opinion in saying you should not dig around in your problems, your bad thoughts and the reasons for that.

According to him, you should learn to let negative thoughts simply pass by and get a distance between you and them.

I am not yet sure if I would go as far as Carlson in all of his conclusions, but in some points he seems to be damn right:

  • Learning how to not follow negative trains of thought is very valuable. Especially if you are already aware that you cannot change the situation now.
  • Getting a better connection to your intuition sure also is a good advise. Intuition is not something esoteric, but it is neglected in today’s world as it is not seen as “rational“.
  • Getting distance to your negative thoughts and also to negative feelings makes sense. The trick is to accept both the negative thoughts and negative feelings (not to fight them), but to say to yourself in the same instance: “This is just a negative thought or feeling, it is not reality. My mind is currently clouded, thus I do not see things realistically but much more negative than they are in fact.”

At least for Woodpecker, especially the last bullet was a very valuable advise that seems to work.

Try out yourself or better read the book!
If bought used, it’s not more than 3-4 EUR. 🙂

Cheers,

Woodpecker

The Importance of the Here and Now

 

View from Benediktenwand, close to Munich. A day nothing short of "perfect" - if you are able to enjoy it...

View from Benediktenwand, close to Munich. A day nothing short of “perfect” – if you are able to enjoy it…

An important (and a very difficult) ingredient to leading a good live is living in the here and now.

To not spend unnecessary thoughts on facts and circumstances that you cannot change anyhow.
The idea is very simple on the one side and VERY difficult to put into practice on the other side.Basically – if done right and taken to the extreme – living in the here and now means that you never spend any thoughts on anything that you are not doing right now.In other words: In the optimal case, your thoughts and your doing is always fully aligned.

  • When you take a shower, you take a shower. You do not think about the argument you had with your boss.
  • When you are driving, you are driving. You do not think about that vacation trip you still have to organize.
  • When you are doing a hike, you do a hike. You do not think about your stocks which could have performed better.

In theory that sounds like a simple thing, and you will find the idea repeated throughout all schools of philosophy and religion.

However, there are probably only a handful people on the world which are able to fully put this into practice. And in ZEN-Buddhism, a philosophy that has much to say on this idea, they would be called enlighted, so rare are they.

Anyway, as Woodpecker and probably you too are unfortunately quite a bit away from getting enlighted, let’s focus on a first step:

Realize how often your thoughts are distracted from the here and now to something negative, and how these thoughts ruin an otherwise pretty perfect moment.

Walk through a valley, Bavarian alps. Focus on the very moment and happiness will follow.

Walk through a valley, Bavarian alps. Focus on the very moment and happiness will follow.

I tried to practise this a bit during a two-days winter hike on another alpine hut with an old friend of mine.

In fact, this two days were – objectively – nothing short of perfect:

The weather was fantastic, cold and crisp, but sunshine and fresh, dry air.
A winter wonderland landscape only for ourselves, not spoilt by any other hikers, who all have been partying carnival or whatever.
A cosy hut all for ourselves alone, enough firewood to have it warm (after two hours of non-stop power-firing the stove 🙂 ), totally calm and peacefully surrounded by a mountain cirque. Great fresh food and wine that we carried up in large quantity to the hut.
We both being healthy, alive, not tired, no ache, all fine.

And still, it is so easy to damage that perfect atmosphere.
In that case it was not so much me (although I play that part often enough myself) who was unbalanced, but Woodpeckers friend.
I do not at all blame him, as he currently is going through a difficult time, I only want to highlight the mechanism at work in all of us in some examples.

  • We parked at the wrong parking place. Meaning +30 minutes additional walk. A walk through a very nice, winter-snow valley plus we had a lot of time, so actually something great and we were there to walk anyway! But made my friend uneasy for not having found the “right” parking.
  • He forgot to bring “vanillin sugar” that was needed to prepare a Kaiserschmarrn (traditional Bavarian sweet dish) after a recipe from his grandmother. It had to be replaced by normal sugar, not a big deal and the result still tasted fantastic, but made him rant for not less than half an hour.
  • Instead of enjoying the evening, he was repeatedly bothered by the fact we only had one night at the hut because he did decide not to take two days off but only one. A second night would have been much more relaxing.
  • A lot of discussion on Munich city government’s stupidity regarding traffic planning and what could all be better if they were not so stupid.
  • Woodpecker did ok “here and now”-wise these two days, but of course I also had my “moments”, e.g. a mood-lowering discussion with him on a car shortcut he proposed and I was so damn sure my way was better (I initially asked for him to do the navigation, and of course it turned out he was right). etc.

So you get the picture.
It was all minor normal things that happen all the day in human interaction.
And don’t mistake me, it was still two great days out in nature – fortunately not great harm done.

Self catering hut of the German Alpine Association. (Cost per night: 12 EUR.)

Self catering hut of the German Alpine Association. (Cost per night: 12 EUR.)

But still my point is:

All of the above happens all the time.
This kind of negative thoughts are of absolutely no use, as you cannot change the given situation anyway. And (for the given moment) this kind of thinking takes significantly away from your happiness.
If you observe closely, you will find that all of us have this types of thought very often.

But now the good news:

If you continue to observe, you will get better and better in stopping this kind of thinking.
You will not dwell on an error you cannot change anymore (the forgotten vanillin sugar) for 30 minutes but only for 10 minutes, and later for 1 minute. And even later you will just accept it and laugh about it, turn the fact from a mishap into something increasing your happiness, e.g. by seeing the absurdity of the situation and enjoying it!

This is and important step towards happiness. Start today and try it out!

Take the next situation were you feel you get upset. Observe it closely and try to put some distance between you and the situation.

It will be difficult in the beginning, but the more often you practise, the easier it will get to stay calm and let the negativity spiral pass by.

Cheers,

Woodpecker