Coping With Reality

I got an email a year ago. A friend of mine was asking what I thought about happiness. He was especially thinking if we should pursue happiness? Or not?

I wrote back a lengthy email that covered different revelations that have helped me in pursuing happiness. Or perhaps not pursuing happiness, but coping with reality.

What’s my meaning in life?

When it comes to happiness (or success), I’ve followed Viktor Frankl’s words

Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it

His book The Man’s Search for Meaning had profound impact on me several years ago, as I realized what truly matters in my life and organize it according to it.

He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how (Nietzsche)

Those of you who haven’t read Frankl’s book, the part that resonated the most with me, is where he goes through different types of whys you can have for your life

  • Love
  • Work
  • Dignity in suffering

Of these love and work are the ones that provide meaning for me. They give me a reason to wake up every morning. They also give me a reason to overcome whatever challenges I encounter in my life.

I love my son and wife, who I provide my physical and mental presence as much as possible. In case of work, my journey to create software development approach of the next century, is a cause greater than myself and which I’m approaching by trying to understand as much as I can on how we (should) develop software. It’s also something where my passion meets the needs of other people and I truly believe I can make a difference.

Managing your life according to your meaning(s)

The first step years ago was recognizing what provides me a meaning in my life. The second step was to reorganise my life based on those. If my son and wife gives me a reason to live, I can’t spend majority of my time to work or hobbies. I wouldn’t act according to my values.

What helped me in reorganizing my life, was a video of big and little rocks. It’s just a demonstration of how you can fill more rocks and sand to a jar by filling first the big rocks to the jar. Regardless of the science behind filling the jar, it was thought-provoking metaphor.

I decided to make sure I give enough time to things I value

  • Family
  • Work (not over 40 hours per week)
  • Sleep (minimum of 7 hours per night)
  • Physical exercise (I don’t own a car so I bicycle to work every day around the year, we also have floor ball session once a week at work during the work day - so it doesn’t take time away from my family or sleep)

These were the big rocks. After that came small rocks (sand) if it had space to fill in. Sand was for example

  • Reading articles, listening podcasts, watching conference talks
  • Attending conferences that required me to be away from home several days (or evenings)
  • More time consuming physical exercise (for example going to gym or playing badminton with a friend)
  • Watching Netflix

I’ve kept this approach several years now and it has felt good. I think there’s a good balance in my life and I dedicate my time to something I truly value.

Besides just managing my time, I also changed other habits during the past few years. I wanted to increase the probability of living healthy as long as possible. In order to accomplish that I

  • Quit drinking alcohol completely
  • Increase vegetarian food in my diet
  • Reduce weight (from 90kg to 78kg) & lower cholesterol (from 6.5 to 4.5)
  • Eat everyday walnuts

Empathy toward yourself

Years ago I didn’t have good ways to handle moments where things didn’t go as I hoped they had. Especially if I thought I had failed, I used to be really hard on myself. This would affect my mood for a long time and in the end it didn’t do any good for anyone.

I was fortunate to find someone who helped me in becoming more empathic toward myself. That person was Jerry Weinberg.

Through the books, email and face-to-face discussions with Jerry, I’ve been able to stop being too hard to myself. Instead there’s couple sayings that help me over difficult moments

  • There’s no failure, only feedback
  • Accept what is and build on it

Whatever happens, only thing that matters, is what you do next. What do you take from the moment of frustration and build on it? How do you use the observations and feedback for becoming a better version of yourself?

We all face moments where someone is being hard on us. Let’s not do that by ourselves. There’s no need for that.

Empathy toward others

Besides being empathic toward myself, I’ve done my best to be empathic toward others also. Here I’ve followed another advice from Jerry

No matter how it looks, everyone is trying to be helpful

I used to get frustrated on what someone said or did. At some point though I started to, regardless of how sure I was to believe otherwise, assume that people were trying to be helpful. That they were acting the way they did because that’s the only reasonable way to act. Considering what they’ve gone through and what their current situation is.

While there certainly can be situations where someone is deliberately trying to hurt you, I also many times got to a point that the other person showed a sign of vulnerability after me being sympathetic. There’s been many email conversations where I’ve got a response that could be interpreted as ill-intentioned. Instead of attacking against that response, I’ve noticed that sympathetic face-to-face conversation or response from my part, has often solved the situation. This has led to much more humane further responses from the other person.

I just mentioned communication. That’s a skill that has actually helped a lot in maintaining my empathy toward people generally. Mainly because it’s how I’ve managed to solve those tricky situations where I’ve felt someone is hostile toward me.

If I had to highlight few things that stand out from my approach to communicating with others, those would probably be

  • Emphasize your feelings when communicating to others
  • Observations over interpretations
  • Express empathy
  • Solve disagreements as soon as possible
  • Don’t assume you know what other person is thinking