Halloween isn’t about death in practice, but you can use it to kill off the problems between you and those you care about

Happy Halloween! For a holiday associated with death, dark creatures, and general wickedness, the majority of people have a fondness for halloween. It’s like horror movies- you don’t like the vicious creature that’s slowly hunting everyone down, you like the thrill. And Halloween is a thrill! Operating at night, talking strangers out of their candy, masking your identity: these are all pleasurable activites because they are customs that we take part in as a community. 

For some, Halloween is just an excuse to party. However, the importance of the holiday isn’t that it’s celebrating creatures of darkness, but that we are celebrating a time together with people we care about in a light hearted manner. The features of the holiday are creepy, but sometimes creepy is fun! It’s an aesthetic that marks it apart from the rest of the year. It has a sort of childlike glee compared to Valentine’s day or Thanksgiving. 

Whatever your views on Halloween, just remember that it’s a holiday. At the end of the day,  it’s not about some costume or summoning demons, but about having an excuse to be with the people you love, sharing in traditions you care about. Even if you hate everything about this night, don’t close yourself off! Sometimes you need to shake things up from the routine.

From where you’re at 

Intelligence is actually incredibly hard to pin down with a solid definition. Academic success depends on the class, past knowledge, family situations, even who you sit by. IQ can only predict success to a certain degree, and it judges only how good people are at finding new patterns and solving problems. Some argue only looking at academic intelligence cuts out creative or practical intelligence. Emotional intelligence is a term for how well people know and understand their own and other’s emotions; it’s been shown to strongly predict interpersonal success. Even from culture to culture, intelligence can be seen as something focused around how you deal with people, or how you deal with information. It is multifaceted and the line between intelligence and talent is slimmer than most people realize. 

However, we are obbsessed with intelligence. We want to believe it’s something you are naturally born with, that you can’t escape, but that’s not necessarily true. A person can actually raise their IQ to a certain degree, more effort can increase one’s grade and success in the workplace, and happiness isn’t even correlated with IQ! Pyschologists have been trying to pin it down for forever because it’s not as simple as “If you are intelligent, you will succeed in life.” 

I have my own little theory about intelligence, and it is this: intelligence is how well a person can adapt and solve problems, while wisdom is how well a person can apply things they’ve learned to the “real world” ane real relationships. There’s overlap between the two. People have different amounts of each. It’s hard to judge something as complex as intelligence in something as small as a single number. When you go out and about your day, just remember that you can improve from wherever you’re at. 

The nature of courage

Being able to learn is a gift. One of your common phrases of conventional wisdom is that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. The idea someone would purposely do the same thing over and over again is absurd because who would ever want to live that way? Stagnant? A common horror trope is having someone live the same day over and over again. Even if it’s a wonderful day, over time it becomes a miserable prison. The real question, however, is why we let ourselves remain stagnant when we’re not even caught in such a loop. 

I’d argue that we are mostly held back by our fear. It’s easier to fear the unknown, so we tell ourselves its okay to live without ever really moving forward, even if we’re miserable there. It’s not that you don’t want to be an artist, it’s that you fear being able to support yourself. It’s not that you don’t want to write a book, it’s that you fear no one will like it. It’s not that you hate strangers, it’s that you fear they will hate you. The core destroyer of dreams isn’t some parent or teacher or reality even, but the fact that we are afraid of what we don’t know. 

And yet! We long to grow. It’s the most satisfying part of every narrative. We are humans who love to learn, we’ve developed entire fields based on a simple question: “Why?” Maybe you feel 100% content with your life, but if you do, you are in a very small number. Everyone can improve themselves, everyone can learn to be better than who they were yesterday. Fear is always there. Courage, however, is being able to scream and crawl your way past it so you just get it done. Be courageous, learn and grow, even when you want to play things on repeat. 

Dragons are seriously awesome 

Fantasy stories hold such appeal for humans because we like the clarity. A hero has a designes purpose, they band with their friends and overcome obstacles, then they defeat the Final Boss and they get a reward. Granted, some fantasy stories put different twists on the predictable ending, but the thing that is most persistent is the purpose. Sometimes it takes the whole book for the hero to find it, but they always do. There’s a message, a moral, that teaches the audience. 

One of the interesting things about pyschology is that we grasp narratives much more than combinations of events. We set a beginning, middle, and end to our recitations of our day, to our conversations, to many things. From here you could easily branch into talking about truth, the purpose or lack thereof of existence, and so on. However, it is in our design to look for the climax where the hero defeats the villain. It helps motivate us because we know where we want to go. 

The fact is, we are very distractable creatures. It’s much easier to watch someone else learning their purpose and accomplishing things than to seek out the truth ourselves. It’s not totally obvious which dragons we’re supposed to defeat and which we’re supposed to befriend. Sometimes the band of friends we think will carry us through gives way. We lose our narrative and it can be exhausting trying to get it back. However, no matter what you believe, purpose can be an incredible force for good. Let’s not let life pass us by, let’s make it into a stunning story. 

where we focus our aim

Habituation is when a stimulus in your environment is so constant, your mind ends up filtering it out; think about white noise, the feeling in crossed legs, a chair that’s always there. Our minds get used to the information coming in, so the neurons stop firing so much. The ‘cure’ is focusing on it, or moving. When it comes to life, we filter all these little things out a lot. It makes sense to do so, and so our brains are designed to work like that. However, it’s important to remember that we do filter things out because we have to choose what we focus on; we can’t take in everything.

We have a bad habit in America of wanting to achieve 3,000+ things and then ignoring when the stress messes up our health. No matter how talented, experienced, or clever a person is, they can’t be amazing at everything. We each go through periods of our lives where we focus on a a particular goal, where we have to be selfish and get our careers figured out, or where we have to be  selfless and figure our relationships out. There are different stages of life, and we learn how to deal with our problems as we grow through them. 

It’s okay to be habituated to white noise! It’s okay to give yourself a break on one things and focus on another. Today is a good day because you’re figuring it out, even if it seems like some massive knot of a problem. Just focus on improving a little bit, and then the little bits will add up. 

You don’t have to be depressed to write a good poem

Happiness is related to a stronger immune system, better cardiovasular health, reduced pain, better sleep, higher performance in general, and surprisingly, creativity. I’ve personally always be prone to the belief that miserable people tend to be more creative and intelligent. However, studies don’t support either one of those. IQ has minimal affect on happiness, and as stated before, happiness actually improves creativity (Gilovich, 2015). So why do those stereotypes exist? And why does it matter for us?

First off, we think creativity and intelligence  is related to misery because throughout history, some of the most depressed people have been the most intelligent and creative. You think of people like Mozart, Van Gogh, and Hemmingway. In fact, it would be too simplistic for me to say that happiness is the only way to be creative; there is a connection afterall, between mental illness and creativity (Adams, 2014). However, the key here is that you don’t have to be miserable to be creative. As Adams talks about, mental illnesses can make a person take in more information, which leads to stranger associations and more flexible thinking. Happiness can help do the same thing, without the horrible side affects.

We can learn to be more happy by being more grateful, by surrounding ourselves with social connections, by giving more than we recieve, and meditating (Gilovich, 2015). Being happy doesn’t “cost” intelligence and creativity. The only thing holding us back is oursleves. 

Adams, W. L. (2014, January 22). The dark side of.   creativity: Depression anxiety x madness = genius? Retrieved September 24, 2017, from http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/22/world/the-dark-side-of-creativity-vincent-van-gogh/index.html

  • Gilovich, T., Keltner, D., & Nisbett, R. E. (2011). Social psychology. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

Reconsider your cup of tea 

I’ve always imagined the color gray would taste like Earl Grey.  The color is something I associate with long windy days, comfy oversized blankets, sturdy books, neat notes, tall stone walls, and apparently a fruity tea!  In fact, Earl Grey gets its distinctive taste from a fruit called bergamot, which is typically grown in southern Italy. The rind of the fruit is used to become the tea we all know and love. The thing is, however, is that Earl Grey doesn’t taste like our usual notions of fruit. It just doesn’t, until you know its source. 

I share this personal revelation because I did what we all tend to do: not think. I can’t tell you what I thought Earl Grey got its flavour from, I certainly considered it a few times. However, it was one of those things you grow up with and don’t question. It’s sort of in the same category as how food you eat over the sink doesn’t count calorically, or how we don’t question the phrase “stealing your thunder”. (For those who care, **)

A lot of times, we can assume things and it turns out to be hurtful. Even if it wasn’t meant maliciously, not thinking about our words can put us at odds with others. The thing is, it’s always going to happen. We will always assume. We’re built that way. However, each day we are given a choice to question our assumptions. We don’t have to question everything, I’m sure people will turn out just fine knowing Earl Grey is from a fruit, but we should question some things. When we deconstruct our beliefs, we can understand the foundation of them, and build it back up stronger than before.  

So ask questions! Even the silly ones. Think about who you are. Each day, each choice is a gift. Let’s not be discouraged by what we don’t know or understand. Everyone is confused from time to time. Everyone makes mistakes. Let’s not let it end there!

And so it goes

A clever note to myself is to never again put  coconut milk in a sugary coconut black bubble tea, because while coconuts are fabulously delicious, gulping down pure coconut syrup-like gunk as fast as I can on my work break isn’t my most thoroughly considered decision. Nor is going to talk to my boss and blankly standing there because I can’t think of basic words my proudest moment. The fact is, we make a lot of mistakes, I make a lot of mistakes. Not the dramatic ones as much as the just plain annoying ones. Part of the allure of cheesy action adventure movies is that when the unrealistically huge explosion goes off, the hero still looks put together. A deep part of our humanity is desiring that, wanting to look suave and perfect. 

But we aren’t. As much as we try to be and look professional, we can’t always keep the facade up. A big part of life seems to be learning how to not care if the image doesn’t line up in perfect little boxes. Are you selfish? Are you honest with yourself?  Are you being the kind of parent or child or sibling or lover or friend that you should be? Life is demanding, there’s a lot to it, and we miss a lot of opportunites when we don’t have our priorities straight.

 Looking professional is awesome, but when our public ego driven lives becomes more important than who we truly are as people, there’s a problem. When your automatic “How are you?” isn’t sincere, it’s a sign that you’re missing something important. Everyone is in a state of becoming, whether its for better or worse, and its always better or worse, there’s no plateau. We can either accept the silly mistakes and go after solving the big problems, or focus on the small things and miss out on something really huge. Go for it. Live. You’re not a power ranger, its okay to take shelter from an explosion. 

Own up and glow up

Koalas have unique fingerprints like humans. In fact, in some instances stolen property was traced back to a specific mischievous koala. I’m not sure if the koala was represented properly in court, but the thing about fingerprints at a crime scene is that it’s not as upfront as it may seem. You only get partial prints, or perhaps the person was there but didn’t commit the crime. DNA at a scene of crime can be planted purposefully. In the case of the koala, I don’t think anyone nefariously decided to frame the beast. However, it is a thing of importance to remember that responsibility for our actions is primarily our own choice.

The funny thing about humans is our bias. We overestimate our abilities in forseeing an event in hindsight, we compare ourselves to those who are slightly worse than us. We even convince ourselves we are skilled at certain tasks by twisting the definition of “skill”. Maybe Sally doesn’t make the best tasting food, but she makes food in a systematic way that keeps her kitchen more “put-together” looking. Taylor has food everywhere and is a mess, but the outcome is delicious. In both Taylor and Sally’s minds, they are both “good” cooks, but they define it in the way that works out best for themselves. (Gilovich, 2011)

That being said, humans hate taking responsibility for when we mess up. It’s not pleasurable in any manner. With only bits of information, we can convince ourselves it was someone else’s fault. However, that only hurts us in the long term. By being honest and saying , “I messed up”, we get to move on. We get to grow and become better people. It’s up to us, whether we want to go after who we want to be. 


Sources

  • Gilovich, T., Keltner, D., & Nisbett, R. E. (2011). Social psychology. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

Do you know what you’re doing right now?

Everyone could always do more, but we don’t because we are human. We need sleep, food, and social interaction. We need to rest and do nothing every once in a while, to mentally relax. Still, its hard to know where the line is. Where does ‘needed rest’ end and ‘unhealthy procrastination’ begin? We could always do more, but do we always know what things we should put the most value on? Afterall, family is important but if the Boss expects something to be done by Monday, how do you navigate the waters well enough to give everyone what they need? 

Balance is such an important concept, entire religions center around it. Still, with our human limitations, how do we learn to keep it? 

We don’t, not at first.  What we do instead is learn. When we mess up, it gives us the hint that we pushed too hard in one area and not enough in another. The reason older people have been treated with respect over the centuries and different cultures, is because they’ve simply had the experience of messing up enough to learn how to do less of it. Everyone fails. The key is to take something away from it and rush back into the game anyways. There is nothing shameful about trying your best. No one particularly knows what they’re doing, you just get better at pretending like you do. So go out! Learn the limitations and do great things.