Get Over Yourself Already: Living How God Wants Us to Live

‘He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him.’  John 12:25-26

It’s so easy to lose focus. When I spend too much time inside my own head, thinking about me and my desires, problems, and concerns, I get depressed. I get anxious and stressed out. I get distracted and off-kilter.

I just listened to a TED talk by Stanford University psychologist Kelly McGonigal. Among many other fascinating things, she mentions in her talk an interesting discovery about stress and compassion, noting a study that links stressful life experiences to early death (unsurprisingly). The twist is that, as she puts it, “people who spent time caring for others [helping family members, friends, community members] showed absolutely no stress-related increase in dying. Zero. Caring created resilience.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard that caring for others instead of focusing on myself is good for me and a possible remedy for stress and anxiety. Father Evan Armatas, host of the weekly call-in show “Orthodoxy Live” on Ancient Faith Radio, once addressed anxiety during his program. He said that people who suffer with anxiety should make time to help others; he gave the example of serving in a homeless shelter, but the advice can apply to any kind of service. I’ve been trying to implement this in my life lately by focusing on what I can do to serve my husband and our marriage instead of thinking about what I should do to serve myself.

And I’m happier. When I stop thinking about me all the time and focus more on caring for other people in my life, I end up happier and more at peace than when I’m only thinking about myself.

It’s one of those things that seems counterintuitive at first (if I want to be happy, shouldn’t I focus my time and energy on me?), but, at the heart of things, makes perfect sense.

I believe our technology-driven world makes it easy to tend towards narcissism and, in turn, depression. There’s plenty of discussion out there about the possibility that social networking sites like Facebook make us depressed. I can only speak anecdotally, but I have noticed that the more time I spend online, looking in on the lives of others, the more dissatisfied I start to feel with my own life. The dissatisfaction ranges from vain concern over my appearance (I’m not as thin/tall/pretty as her) to worry over the health and progress of my relationships or personal goals (Maybe their marriage is stronger than mine; Maybe that friend from undergrad is smarter and harder working than me because she’s already got a master’s degree).

Of course, I know that most peopleincluding meput a brave face on their online personas. Most people aren’t going to air their dirty laundry in a Facebook status or confess their deep insecurities via Twitter. Yet even though I know that, I still find it so easy to fall into the belief that everyone else is doing better than I am, in one way or another. And this certainly makes sense: the more time we spend comparing ourselves to others, the more we’re going to focus on what we lack rather than what we have.

Interestingly, I never worry about whether someone’s prayer life or relationship with God is better than mine. The more I think about myself and compare myself to others, the more trivial my concerns become. Perhaps this is one of the devil’s tactics for tripping us up; if he can distract us with thoughts about things that are less important, we’ll have less time and energy to focus on what truly matters.

The reality is that twenty or fifty or a hundred years from now, no one’s going to remember (or care) exactly what we said, but they’ll remember if we spoke with kindness and love. No one’s going to remember if we looked perfect in every Facebook photo, but they’ll remember if we acted gracefully and selflessly. In the end, no one’s really going to remember whether or not we ever got published, or became a CEO, or traveled the world. We are less likely to be remembered for everything we do, and more likely to be remembered for how we live and what we use our lives to accomplish. And it’s not just about how we’re going to be remembered; it’s also about what we’ll have to show for this gift of life we’ve been given when we someday stand before God. Above all, in the end, it’s about becoming the person God wants us to be, rather than the person we think we should be.

And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?’  Mark 8:34-36

Image via Flickr.

Video Games, Intelligence, and…Happiness?

I was going through my usual blogroll, which includes the ever useful and interesting site Lifehacker, when I came across this post. A defense of video games? Being a gamer myself, I couldn’t help but click through, to see what sorts of arguments were going to be put forward. Continue reading Video Games, Intelligence, and…Happiness?

David Foster Wallace: Fighting a Culture of “Me”

Unless you’re a devoted fan of NPR or The New Yorker, it’s unlikely that you’ve heard of the late David Foster Wallace. Unbeknownst to many, David Foster Wallace, or “DFW,” as he is sometimes called, was one of the most influential and insightful writers of our age.

Deeply aware of the social illnesses that pervade western society, Wallace aptly articulated our psychological and sociological norms, paying particular attention to the onslaught of media that now encompasses our collective way of life. It is not merely the quality of media for which Wallace articulated concern, though this is part and parcel to his main worry. Wallace was largely disturbed by our generation’s incapacity to endure silence, boredom and self-restraint. To have freedom, he argued in his Kenyon College Commencement Speech, a person must be disciplined:

“Learning how to think” really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about “the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.” This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth.

Contrary to modern cultural standards, Wallace articulated a profoundly old truth; arguably, a “natural law” that beckons to the very heart of human existence.

Being an adult requires self-sacrifice, not merely in order so that we may receive future gain, but also so that we might not lose ourselves in the culturally sanctioned decree that we have a right to get what we want, how and when we want it. It is a culture of self that determines personal happiness to be the highest virtue. Wallace adds: “[T]he world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self.” But freedom,involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.”

Our own Dustin Steeve articulated a similar concern about on-demand technology’s effect on human development and character. We must ask ourselves: how much are we losing by allowing information to flood our every waking minute?

Television and internet were a customary part of my daily routine when I was growing up. Rarely did I wait to be stimulated by entertainment, or forced to put strenuous effort into anything outside of an average school day. Somehow I made it through college in spite of this, and now as I encounter adulthood, I recognize just how difficult it is to choose to confront discipline and boredom for future gain, rejecting the pleasure and ease of immediate gratification.

My experience is in large part a symptom of my generation. The uniqueness of our situation lies in our culture’s devotion to convenience and demands for entertainment. Wallace noted this when he said that while our culture, as times past, is committed to narrative art, “television,” the most prevalent form of narrative today, is of the lowest sort.

It’s a narrative art that strives not to change or enlighten or broaden or reorient—not necessarily even to “entertain”—but merely and always to engage, to appeal to. Its one end—openly acknowledged—is to ensure continued watching.…Television’s greatest appeal is that it is engaging without being at all demanding.

There are many hard working people my age, and yet, the choice to endure hardship has become increasingly “a choice” and less a requirement of which all responsible adults are expected to take part. Our reclaiming of discipline and self-sacrifice as a standard part of adulthood will be essential if we hope to retain our freedom from our “hard-wired default setting” of self-centeredness.

*For those who aren’t familiar with David Foster Wallace, I’d like to briefly acknowledge the fact that his death was openly identified as a suicide. Regardless of the motivations or rationale that accompanied Wallace’s act, the truth of his words remain the same. No matter who participates as the mouth piece for this truth, self-sacrifice and endurance is an objective good. Having said this, we should also admire Wallace for his ability to discern and display what is good; especially as a voice within a society so disposed to keeping truth buried in self-mire. ‘

Sacrifice vs. …Sacrifice? : Doing What You Love

Seth Godin recently pointed his blog readers to a heart-warming—and considerably thought-provoking—documentary. Appropriate to Godin’s field of work, “Lemonade” interviews over a dozen laid off advertisement professionals who use their new found freedom to pursue work and recreation that they truly enjoy.

If you scroll down to read some of Hulu’s viewer comments, you’ll notice that the concept of “doing what you love” full-time is controversial. Many argue that “pursuing one’s passion” is often mismanaged, resulting in failure, the loss of other opportunities and a decrease in quality of life. The potential for success may not be worth the enormous risk.

Of course, it’s normal for us to seek pleasure over pain, happiness over unhappiness. There is logical consistency in choosing activities we enjoy over those we despise. Pursuing work that inspires us can be opposed to our basic needs or our familial responsibilities. Even the non-basic comforts of our lifestyle are enough to hinder us from pursuing a motivational occupation because we can’t bear the loss of them. Consequently, immediate needs usually take precedence over long-term goals.

Achieving success while doing work we enjoy is also not as predictable as, say, a corporate job. Some individuals see their corporate work as a service to others, whether they’re serving their coworkers or indirect recipients. But more often than not, it’s the paycheck that keeps them in their offices. Money, after all, can open doors for activities we really enjoy. Saving and preparing for a family’s future is also one of the major reasons people choose higher paying jobs. None of these are unworthy goals.

The potential pitfalls of choosing work solely because we love it can be numerous. Seth Godin—who, if you don’t know, advocates the pursuit of meaningful work—outlines these pitfalls thoroughly in an article from a couple of years ago.

Yet choosing work we enjoy can be rewarding, not only for ourselves but for our families and for our community. Making a documentary about surf camps, for example, “that provide free, therapeutic surf lessons to kids with cystic fibrosis” is a powerful way to impact a community; something as simple as home roasting coffee beans and selling them at the local farmer’s market is yet another way to link people together.

If we truly love the work we do, we’ll be devoted to it, willing to suffer for it, and consequently, be much better at it.  There are times when hard work is not enough to accomplish something. Usually we need certain knowledge or the right opportunities in order to achieve success. But success isn’t possible at all without devoted persistence.

As human beings created in God’s image we find the most enjoyment and meaning when we act according to our natural skills and abilities, which includes the act of creating. By doing that which most fits and inspires us we’ll be able to more fully serve our community (and create better art) as a result.

Even though money itself can be a means to better things, we frequently make the mistake of building our lives around it. Some people are able to make lots of money doing what they love, but for those of us who can’t, is the loss of money worth the loss of utilizing the gifts God has given us?

It’s okay for us to simply live and be and do. The wisdom of Ecclesiastes reminds me that, first, “all things have been done before,” but also that living humbly, I can do work which is most suited to me. It isn’t worth wasting time and energy in an attempt to achieve material wealth when it is not ultimately for the good of our families, for our community or for our own well-being. We should know who it is we want to be and what it is we want to do. Whether it means working to make money for the good of one’s family and for added opportunities, or giving up material goods for the pursuit of higher things (like art, invention, discovery or the betterment of our community and society). ‘