Door Number Sixteen: Doing Nothing

 

     “How beautiful it is to do nothing, and then rest afterward” ~Spanish Proverb

We live in a fast-paced society that promotes constant activity. We work long hours and spend our weekends cramming in all the activities and projects we don’t have time during the week to accomplish. Most of us are so busy when we do find ourselves with some downtime we feel guilty. Now while one of the doors to a successful existence includes having fun hobbies, one should also dedicate some of their life to doing absolutely nothing. This may seem to fly in the face of all conventional wisdom about the value of staying busy and engaging in hard work, but there are a number of reasons why one should consciously make time for inactivity.

Doing nothing allows us to process our thoughts. The problem with being busy is many times we fail to fully register every experience we have. For example, if you ask the average person to tell you what they want out of life you will probably get a myriad of answers ranging anywhere from a successful career to a happy marriage. Many times once those same people achieve those goals they will experience a sense something is still missing. A feeling that may come from the mind not having the time to figure out why it wants the things it does or if it even wants them in the first place. Something easily avoided if we just allow ourselves bit of rest from constant activity.

Doing nothing allows our body and mind a chance to rest.  Being active is great for our mental and physical health. It keeps us sharp and helps us lead a better quality of life. However, if we don’t take a time out every so often, we run the risk of burn out. Be it a physical injury in the case of exercising our body, or a minor mental breakdown in the case of constant mental engagement, too much activity without rest can be counter productive. Just don’t get too carried away and fall asleep in a mountain valley for twenty years.

Doing nothing helps us realize our true priorities. Keeping ourselves busy all of the time without stopping can cause us to lose sight of our priorities. We begin to jump from one activity to the next not because we want to, but because it has become part of the routine and we do not have the energy to break it. By finding a moment each day to reflect and let the mind relax we give ourselves time to think about what we would actually like to be doing. Like a pause button for life, it allows to consider whether we really enjoy what we are doing throughout our day or whether we should shift gears and try something different.

Opening the door of nothingness is important because it allows us to process our thoughts, gives us the rest we need, and makes clear our true priorities. Does this mean we should dedicate our lives to eliminating the things that make us busy? Probably not. Rather, it is important we take brief breaks from life. Even if there seems to be no time available to spend doing nothing, the short-term sacrifice of productivity is well worth the long-term gain. As with most things in life a fair amount of balance is the key when incorporating inactivity into your life. Unless of course you are looking to destroy Fantasia, then feel free to let The Nothing consume you.

Advertisements

Door Number Fifteen: A Healthy Sense of Competition

“Live daringly, boldly, fearlessly. Taste the relish to be found in competition – in having put forth the best within you.” ~Henry J. Kaiser

Competition permeates all levels of our society. From the day we are born we are put in situations that put us in direct opposition to others. When we’re young we battle for the best toy. As we go through the rigors of the education system we strive to get the best grades to get us into the best schools. The job hunt puts us in direct conflict with others who we must beat out for the job. We even spend our free time and money engaged in activities centered around the clash of opposing forces. While there are plenty of dangers inherent with being overly competitive (just talk to any Minnesota Vikings fan), there are a number of reasons maintaining a health dose of competitive fervor in one’s life is a door that should be opened.

Competition is a motivating force. While in a perfect world we would all be inspired to do great things simply based on our ideals and values, sometimes we need a little push. Knowing there is someone else trying to do what we are doing either before or better than we do it creates a sense of urgency that pushes us to work harder and faster than we might otherwise. Take out the contest, and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is just about an aimless teen who dates a couple of girls and then goes back to being directionless. In fact, take out the sense of battle and most heroes (both fictional and real) would probably have settled for the safer path of mediocrity.

Competition teaches us how to work with a diverse amount of people: especially those we disagree with. The thing about opposing others is it puts us in situations where we are forced to deal with people we want to fail and often don’t agree with. The key to these situations is learning how to remain on positive terms with these individuals when the area of conflict is over. By learning to leave our feelings of rivalry in whatever arena it resides we are able to work with people we may otherwise have conflict with. Giving us the edge needed to survive in an increasingly dog-eat-dog world.

Competition teaches us how to deal with disappointment. Ideally, we would emerge victorious from every challenge that comes our way. Unfortunately, a great deal of the time we instead suffer at the hands of defeat. However, just like Luke Skywalker at the end of Empire Strikes Back, only by tasting the bitter medicine of a crushing loss do we learn how to cope with the inevitability of disappointment. Which is why we must seek out competition from time-to-time. By learning this coping mechanism we are able to bounce back and return to the game when it really matters.

Opening the door of competition is an important stop on our journey to finding our 50 doors because it serves as a motivating force, teaches us how to work with those we disagree with, and gives us the coping mechanisms necessary to deal with the disappointment found in life. While becoming obsessed with winning is not a good idea, its important to have the drive to succeed. We must go into every situation with the desire to come out on top. That way, even if we come up short there will be no doubt we gave it everything we had.

 

Door Number Fourteen: Taking Time to Travel

“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” ~ Lao Tzu

As we travel through life it is easy to stay content where we live. Between the financial demands of everyday life and the time constraints placed on us by our careers, family, and other responsibilities its sometimes hard to fathom fitting in a journey away from home. In addition,  the sense of security one gains from being somewhere familiar is hard to argue with. However, much like Bilbo Baggins, in order to live a truly fulfilling life it is imperative one makes time to voyage there and back again every once in a while.  Which is why there are a number of reasons taking time to travel is yet another door that must be opened on the quest to find one’s fifty doors.

Travel broadens perspective. The danger of staying in one place for any extended period of time is it becomes increasingly less likely we will be forced to confront ideas and viewpoints we are uncomfortable with. It is not they won’t present themselves, but when we are in a place of familiarity, we have many inherent safeguards that allow us to filter them out. Whether it be visiting another city 300 miles away or a country 3,000 miles away, when we expose ourselves to new outlooks in place we have never been, we are able to lower our defense enough to open our eyes to a larger world. Just like Luke Skywalker, if we ever want to learn the ways of our personal force it is necessary we leave behind our personal Tatooine from time-to-time.

Travel expands a sense of community. The greatest detriment to a productive society is fear of one another. When we huddle into like-minded communities afraid to engage with those different from us, we create a culture of distrust not conducive to an open and free society. By leaving behind our local support networks and social circles for lands unknown we allow ourselves to interact with those much different from us in their backyards. More often than not, this causes us to realize no matter where we come from, fundamentally we share a great deal in common. This alleviates our initial anxiety allowing us to see ourselves as part of the larger society that comprises our world.

Travel disrupts complacency. The older we get the faster time seems to move. In light of this, it becomes easy to fall into a comfortable routine. This state of being can cause us to become rigid and lose the creativity needed to pioneer innovative solutions to life’s problems. By traveling we pull ourselves out of the monotonous machine of our existence and force our minds into a state of refreshed vigor. While in many cases this may only be a temporary respite from the daily grind, it has the potential to refresh our mind enabling us to escape the downward spiral into contentment disguised stagnation. Only then are we truly awake.

The door of travel must be opened regularly throughout our lives to not only broaden our perspective and expand our sense of community, but to disrupt the day-to-day complacency plaguing us as we grow older. There are many factors in our life that may make this difficult. Be it financial or time constraints, we must find a way to overcome these challenges in order to see the corners of our world yet undiscovered. As with any good investment, the short-term costs of making this a priority are far outweighed by the long-term benefits. After all, as the venerable Saint Augustine once said, “The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”

Door Number Thirteen: Finding Physical Fitness

 

“Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.” ~John F. Kennedy

For many of us, finding the time and effort to exercise seems about as likely as a simple walk into Mordor. All Tolkien references aside, staying in shape is hard. Not only do we have to find the motivation to actually make our bodies suffer through a light jog or weight routine, we also have to set aside time out of an already busy day. Coupled with the ease of access to unhealthy foods, it is no wonder the United States leads the world in obesity. But, I digress. Despite these difficulties, it is vitally important we find a way to open the door to exercise in our lives for more reasons than one.

Physically fit people are happier. Numerous studies and scholarly research has shown those who are more active and physically fit tend to live happier lives. Endorphins are released when one exercises, leaving the individual happier and more relaxed. Furthermore, when one regularly works out their self-esteem increases exponentially. Furthermore, there is the sense of accomplishment one receives from completing a workout that is hard to compare to. The factors ( as well as many others) make the case for why striving for a state of constant physical fitness leads to a more satisfying outlook on the world.

Physically fit individuals live longer. Another common sense point, that I’m sure  is backed up by a number of studies. Besides, do you think the Highlander would have lasted as long he did without an intense training schedule? Me neither. While there are sure to be exceptions to this rule, as no amount of exercise can save us from getting hit by a bus or struck by lightning, the fact remains that taking care of one’s health greatly increases life expectancy. Until we find the legendary Fountain of Youth or manage to create the mythical Philosopher’s Stone it is the best method out there for prolonging the limited time we have in this life.

Pursuing physical fitness increases our focus. In a world constantly bombarded by distractions, one of the most difficult challenges we face is a lack of focus. While it might seem counter intuitive to add another obligation to our already busy schedules, doing so actually assists in improving our ability to direct attention to all the elements within our lives. The happiness and relaxed state we feel give us the ability to overcome the stress and distractions that would otherwise impede our focus on the goals set out before us. Furthermore, when our health is in a good state we are able to dedicate resources often times caught up in combating preventable ailments to other more lofty professional and personal aspirations. Like catching up on one’s favorite blog for example.

There are plenty of reasons why maintaining physical fitness in one’s life is important. Happiness, a long life, and finding a greater level of focus all increase the level of our contentment. While perhaps the most obvious of doors we should make an effort to open, it is most often times the one easiest to ignore. The key is starting slow. Finding an activity that promotes one’s health and is also enjoyable. For some, maybe it’s training for a marathon. While for others, it may be as simple as taking a walk around the neighborhood every night after work. Whatever it may be, the secret to success lies in persistence. Continually striving to engage in an action that better’s one’s health will lead to a world of possibilities once thought impossible. Besides, it is impossible to become a Jedi if one can’t even manage to run a mile.

 

 

Door Number Twelve: Helping Others

“Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others.” ~Booker T. Washington

As we continue our ongoing quest to satisfaction it is important to remember it’s not just about us. What this means in context of pursuing our personal doors to happiness is that we should always dedicate a part of our time to volunteering for causes and activities that benefit other people. This can mean  cleaning up your local park or spending time mentoring at-risk kids. There are almost an endless number of organizations who are looking for help in furthering their goals of making the world a better place. Many of which can be found here. You might be asking yourself how helping others will improve the quality of your life. Well, as usual, there are a number of reasons.

When we volunteer and focus on bettering other people’s lives, our problems lose some of their prominence. Do you think Aragorn ever would have got over his personal demons and fulfilled his destiny to unite the Race of Man under the flag of Gondor if the quest to help Frodo destroy the one ring hadn’t distracted him from the personal doubts and elf-related romantic troubles. While possibly an extreme example, the simple fact remains: by focusing on the plights of others the obstacles standing in our path lose prevalence to the more pressing concerns of our new-found mission. This increased sense of positive progress increases our ability to take the needed steps to accomplish personal goals otherwise thought impossible. And if we’re lucky, maybe we’ll even land that elf prince or princess of our dreams.

The act of improving the lives of others gives us a greater sense of self, which in turn improves our self-esteem. When one commits a selfless act something happens. All of sudden a realization dawns on the individual that they can positively impact the lives of others. Realizing we can improve the station of others is an empowering feeling. Take the simple act of donating money to your local school’s sports team in order to help them afford a trip to a playoff tournament. Knowing that your small contribution could make the difference between a student athlete participating in an event with the potential to set them on a path of personal success otherwise unobtainable should make anyone feel pretty good about themselves. This can be expanded to any volunteer experience. A winning proposition for all parties involved.

Serving others improves our communities. Probably the most straight forward benefits of helping one another, is also the most compelling. No matter who we are, or where we live we are all part of a community. Luke Skywalker had the Rebel Alliance, Batman had Gotham City. What they understood, and what we can learn from, is that our standard of living is directly tied to well-being of those around us. If we focus solely on ourselves, and don’t work to make the world better for everyone around us we are doomed to living in a world not as great as it could be. We owe it to ourselves to be the personal heroes we are capable of being.

On the pathway to a complete life it easy to forget about the importance of serving others. However, once we realize this type of volunteerism enables us to take the focus of our problems, increases our self-esteem, and make the world a better place it becomes clear this is a necessary component to finding our fifty doors. Of course we can’t all be Mother Theresa. Life is busy, and finding times to selflessly spend time on behalf of others is not always easy. However, by realizing this is a priority that will enable us to find many of the other doors we are looking for it will be far easier to find the time to embark on such a worthy endeavor.

Door Number Eleven: Finding Your Partner in Crime

“There is no feeling more comforting and consoling than knowing you are right next to the one you love.” ~unknown

After a brief respite, it is time once again to embark upon the epic journey to find the fifty doors of fulfillment. What better way to dive back into things than to explore the door that for many is the primary motivating factor in life: romantic relationships. Namely finding one’s PIC (partner in crime for those of you not familiar with Role Models). I’ll be the first one to admit this is an area of life I have yet to fully master (if I had a Facebook relationship status it would read “single and complicated”). Also, there is something to be said about waiting to embark on the journey for a romantic partner until one is ready. However, as complicated as I’ve found this area to be there have been some clear benefits I have observed over the years that may justify walking down this path eventually.

Physical contact with another human being does wonders for our sense of well-being.  And before you get too excited, I’m not just talking about sex (If you want more on that, I’m sure Dr. Drew can help you out). While, few people would disagree with the importance of that element, my focus in on far more tamer levels of physical contact. Something as simple as a hug from someone you share a romantic connection with can cause the stress and problems in your life to melt away, if only for a moment. This calming effect enables us to overcome the weariness of life, while offering the same opportunity to another human being, making life both more tolerable and inclusive.  Though, if your goal is to become the next Batman, the edge that comes from a lack of physical contact may be just what the doctor ordered.

The quest for love takes up a great deal of our time and effort. This is perhaps the most logical argument for why at some point it’s not a bad idea to find someone to settle down with. The romanticism of finding one’s soul mate dominates every aspect of our culture. There are countless movies, books, songs and even video games that propagate the epic journey to find one’s destined love (though some might say they are the reason for all the heartbreak in the world). As a result, many of us spend a great deal of our resources and mental effort on a quest to find this mythic individual at the expense of other pursuits. However, all of this becomes far less important once you finally find a satisfying relationship. You can focus on improving the lives of others, making the world a better place, or simply spend more time stopping and smelling the roses. Having someone eliminates the need to find someone. A simple joy that should not be underestimated.

Having a partner in life can help combat the forces of loneliness. We are all plagued at some point or other by a feeling of loneliness. In the immortal words of Ramona Flowers, “you are not alone you’re just having some idiotic dream.” In all seriousness, despite all the indicators pointing to the fact we are surrounded by people, the loneliness still creeps in. However, when we achieve the closeness often times found in a romantic relationships it is far more difficult for these insidious thoughts to sneak in. Furthermore, even if they manage to grab hold, there’s someone you can go to that will be interested in dispelling them. Something that is extremely helpful in a world struggling to maintain a sense of deep community as it becomes more connected on the surface.

While jumping head first into a relationship may not be the solution to life’s problems, there are many benefits to at least keeping the door open. The well-being that comes from having a physical and mental connection with someone makes it easier to confront the many challenges one will inevitably face. Furthermore, many of us find ourselves either consciously or unconsciously pursuing an idea difficult to realize thanks to the influence of romanticism on our culture. By finding that relationship that complements our life, we can work on finding greater meaning in all aspects of our existence. Meanwhile, for those of us still not convinced it’s a path worth traveling right now there are plenty of other doors to open in the meantime.

Door Number Ten: Connecting with Nature

“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.” ~Aristotle

In today’s busy society it is so easy to go an entire day spent entirely indoors. In fact, many of us spend the majority of our life either in an office building, commuting to and from work, or sitting in front of a computer or other electronic devices (And lest you wonder,  yes I understand the meaning of irony). While it is probably not advisable to quit our jobs and move into the wilderness, there is real value in making a conscious effort to take some time each week to appreciate the beauty of the great outdoors. In fact, unlocking this door is vital to a complete life for a number of reasons.

By spending time enjoying nature we are able to gain a brief respite from the busyness of every day life. There are literally thousands of things vying for our attention on a daily basis. The important deadline at work. The television show we can’t miss. And that’s just the stuff we choose to be distracted by. Add in the countless advertisements and other background noise society bombards us with and it takes a miracle to even get a moment of peace and quiet. However, by taking simple steps, like taking a stroll through a park or taking a weekend off to go camping we are able to escape from this echo chamber of activity. So while we may not be able to completely leave it all behind and escape to a deserted swamp-planet like some modern-day Yoda, it’s always a good idea to escape the monotony of life. If only for a second.

Nature allows us a direct link to past generations. Many of the prominent features of mother nature have been around for hundreds of years. In fact, there are trees that have been around longer than most of modern society. While the technologies and structure of our institutions are constantly changing, many of the world’s natural wonders are similar to how they appeared hundreds of years ago. By being in the presence of these ancient features we are able to share in the experiences of countless generations that have come before. Something that gives us a larger perspective on the world in which we live.

By experiencing nature we better understand the need to preserve it. When one looks out at the clean, pristine waters of a lake at sunset its hard to imagine doing anything to ruin that image. However, so often we lose sight of such beauty in the pursuit of modern convenience and financial gain. When we fail to take in these sites it becomes even easier to support policies and engage in activities that are detrimental to the very nature we should be taking steps to preserve. By reminding ourselves of the inspirational landscapes the world has to offer, we are motivated to work towards preserving the world we live in before we end up in outer space drinking our meals in shake form oblivious to grandeur of the planet we left behind.

While most days it might seem like more trouble than its worth (especially for those living in the city), it is important to take time to appreciate the beauty of nature. Not only does it allow us to slow down and gain a better perspective on things, it also raises and awareness of the importance of keeping the environment in tact for future generations. Whether it be a simple walk or bike ride down by the river or a week-long excursion into the wild, finding some type of connection to nature is a door we should all take a moment to open from time to time.