Happiness is an elusive notion that is frequently chased and rarely achieved. You think if you made more money or had more time things would be better. If you had the body you wanted or the partner you wanted or whatever it is your heart desires, things would be different. Some people spend their time dreaming about these things. Other people spend their lives working for these things. And in the end what do they get?
You have goals you want to achieve. This is not one of those motivational posts that is going to tell you to get off your butt, work hard, and you can do anything. While this is true to an extent, it is not the whole picture.
The truth is, there is no such thing as happiness when happiness is the goal. If you spend your days trying to please yourself, you will only increase the emptiness that is inside you. But if you choose to live a life that is driven by personal values, you might fare better.
To truly be happy, first you must die to yourself. Give up your own selfish wants and desires. Stop doing things that please yourself and do what is right. Live in the moment not for the moment. Put others’ needs before your own and just see what happens.
It’s hard not to feel like a failure sometimes, when life doesn’t go the way you want it to. Like you’re worth less as a person and people have a right to look down on you. You spend your days wondering what went wrong, why you’re this way when other people are so successful. I think we’ve all felt this at least once or twice and it’s not a pleasant feeling.
And then when things go your way suddenly you’re a hot-shot. You get that feeling like you can’t wait to run into so-and-so from high school just so you can rub it in their face–in a totally subtle, non-obvious way of course. Suddenly you’re a worthy human being, and you know it, and you want other people to know it too.
The thing is that’s not really how it works. We are all worthy human beings no matter what our current situation is. We all have our ups and downs, but situational ups and downs cannot touch our inherent value as a human being that we are all born with. There is no such thing as an “important” person any more than there is a “worthless” person.
This is a lesson I taught myself as I fought off the depression that often comes with failure. However I did not anticipate the way it would impact my outlook on life when things got better. Just as I beat myself up less when things go wrong, I also find less cause for celebration when things go right.
Maybe this does not sound like such a great thing, but I’m telling you, it is. When you succeed at something, don’t spend all day patting yourself on the back and thinking about how awesome you are. This image will only shatter at the next setback. Rather, acknowledge that you have value that is separate from this success, be grateful for the success, and be willing to embrace the next failure.
When I was a kid I was scared of the dark. Not like I couldn’t sleep with the lights off, but I didn’t like to walk into or out of a dark room. I felt like I was about to get ambushed, or like there was someone sneaking behind me. I especially hated walking up the basement stairs in my childhood home. The light at the top of the stairs was hardly comforting compared to the massive darkness that was threatening to swallow me from behind.
Sometimes I still get that feeling. That even though I’m moving forward and I’m moving up and I’m moving toward the light, I might still get swallowed up from behind by that massive darkness. I’m not even entirely sure what the darkness consists of…old memories? Old emotions? Subconscious fears and insecurities? That’s the funny thing about being afraid of the dark. You aren’t afraid of something you know is there.
You’re simply afraid of the uncertainty.
Don’t want to give too much away yet, but I’m working on something new. Something big! It’s been on my mind for weeks, just needed to acquire a large enough canvas. Finally got one! Painting is a form of non-verbal communication. The question is, does anyone get the message?
This is my mandatory holiday post. Yes, the holidays are upon us. But as a minimalist (have I mentioned I’m a minimalist?) they don’t bring me the joy that most people experience this time of year. I believe in celebrating the underlying cause for the holidays, having been raised a Christian I’m not trying to take away from the importance of celebrating the birth of our Lord. However, I can’t help but feel nauseous at the level of commercialization that has taken place during this time of year. It’s amazing how people seem to believe their lives will be made somehow better or they will become happier if they own this or that gadget…and yet everyone falls for it.
But think about it…the unopened box is almost always more exciting than the gift that it contains. Why is that? Because the idea of something is almost always better than the reality. As long as the box is unopened, it might be something better than just another hat and scarf. It might be a million dollars! It probably isn’t. But your brain doesn’t know any better. And even if the thing inside is something you really wanted and something that brings you a momentary source of joy, what’s the next thing you do? Look for another unopened box.
I guess this is just the way our brains are wired, though. It’s similar to what’s going on in your brain when you see you have 12 new notifications on social media. That immediate surge of dopamine occurs before you even know what the notifications are for. But I’m getting sidetracked.
I guess what I’m saying is I don’t like the holidays because I don’t like to waste my money on things I think people shouldn’t even have. I don’t like getting a ton of gifts that I’m going to slowly give away because they’re cluttering up my house or contain toxic chemicals that I refuse to rub into my skin. I also don’t like the holidays because in the past I’ve had the intention of giving artwork to family members as gifts, only to realize that 1) my family always considered my artwork too dark; and 2) I never could finish it on time.
So that’s my mandatory holiday post.
I am notoriously bad at self-portraits. I’m just not good at making faces look like the person they are supposed to be. I’ve learned to look at my various attempts as “interpretations” of myself, such as this one from when I was 16 and a smoker:
I deliberately kept it vague so it was more of a representation of me. Then there was the honest attempt I made when I was in an art class at 23:
Which I like even less. You can see I tried, but I was so focused on getting the individual features right that the whole face turned out distorted.
But of course, it’s time to try again. This is my latest attempt, although at 27 I made myself look 40. That’s ok. Sometimes I feel 40 but without the advantage that another 13 years of experiences would bring me.
I had an art teacher once tell me I should steer away from color paintings until I had a better understanding of how to use them. I still don’t understand, and I often have anxiety once the colors start hitting the page. But I like the way this one turned out, at least up close.
Does it look like me? I guess you’ll never know. But the answer is no, not really.
Anxiety…it’s a familiar word for many people. I think most people experience it at one time or another, others are constantly plagued by it. I fall into the second category. I won’t bore you with too many details, but when it comes to being an artist anxiety is an interesting thing. On the one hand, it can serve as powerful inspiration. Some of my favorite works of art were born out of my own anxious thoughts or feelings. But on the other hand, anxiety can prevent a person from performing pretty basic tasks that most people find easy, thus making it difficult to be successful long term.
I always thought I was destined to be a successful artist. Maybe not famous, maybe not full time. But I thought I would make a name for myself at least locally, or apply my skills in some profitable way. Funny that never happened.
I think part of my problem is I can’t perform well if I’m feeling pressured to please other people. When I was in school I would occasionally get a request for a drawing or something like that and for whatever reason I just couldn’t do it. I remember being a teenager and my school bus driver asked if I would draw her a picture of a tree so she could make it into a family tree. I happily agreed. Then the anxiety set it.
What kind of tree was she looking for? How big? Using what materials? Color or black and white? Realistic or stylistic? These are some of the questions I had spinning in my mind. I could have asked her but I never did. Instead I got on that bus every day for the rest of the school year empty-handed and feeling guilty. Each time I sat down to draw that tree I decided I was doing something wrong, this couldn’t be what she wanted.
It was just a tree. And yet it defeated me.