Letting the Spring Weather Set the Tone for Positive Energy and Good Vibes!

Weather Induced Positivity

Finally, there is warm weather in Massachusetts as spring arrives, and with it comes long awaited hope. All my worries and doubts seem to have melted away with the snow, and now it feels like nothing can hold me back. The winter is behind me, and if all goes to plan, it will have been my last full winter in New England.

The winter definitely makes me appreciate warm weather, but I think the same appreciation would be felt from a week of bad weather, versus six months. And the appreciation doesn’t seem to last much longer. You will NEVER hear me complaining about the heat up here, but others seem to quickly forget what we just went through!

I wanted to capture this optimism before I go out to spend the entire day outside. It is so much easier to do the Pollyanna thing, and play the glad game, when you can just get outside, and run through the fields like Julie Andrews. (Yea I know, different movies.)

Left Brain Right Brain Skirmishes

I’ll be making an announcement soon about a book I’ve been working on for over a year. I am the type to over-think things, so naturally, my brain is back and forth between pessimism and optimism about the prospects of this next project. But something about warm weather and sunshine just burns away the negatives! I find my confidence solidifying as I put more days between me and the winter of despair.

The Future of the Mind, by Michio Kaku actually has some insight into the balance in our brains of pessimism versus optimism. Obviously it is great to be optimistic, but unbridled optimism could spell disaster if it makes you take risks that put you in danger. On the other hand, uncontrollable pessimism can paralyze you with fear or apathy since, “everything always goes wrong anyway”.

In order to run proper simulations of our future, which is basically all our brains do, pessimism and optimism need to be balanced. They say the left brain tends to be more analytical, and the right brain more creative. The tendency is that the left brain brings optimism, and the right brain pessimism. I thought this was interesting, as it conjured up images of troubled artists and writers like Picasso, Hemingway, and Poe. On the other hand we don’t tend to think of Einstein as emotional, and the image of a scientist is that they are giddy with excitement about their analytical feats.

Balance

So I don’t want to go into this next endeavor with blind optimism as it may be a huge letdown, especially if the optimism stops me from taking steps to increase the chances of success. But if I start with too much pessimism, the defeatist attitude will invade with the, “why even bother” thoughts.

Yes, success is going to be hard fought, certain things might be disappointing, and not everything is going to go exactly according to plan. No, my book doesn’t suck, people will buy it, and there will be plenty of opportunities for promotion.

I need to balance the positive and negative energy, making sure to keep the negatives in check. There is no point in letting the “what if’s” dominate; just consider the most likely scenarios.

Can I do anything about it? No? Stop dwelling on it. Yes? Prepare for the worst, hope for the best.

As for the positive feelings, let them run wild! But make sure you know the brain is throwing in more than a couple grains of salt. Will I be nationally recognized by August? Probably not. But as long as I know that it is a long shot, why not dream, and set a high goal to strive for?

They say that the people who imagine themselves successful, and daydream about achieving accomplishments and reaching goals are more likely to realize those dreams. Now if I had never written a book, being a famous author would simply not come to fruition, no matter how much I planned and dreamed. But I have written a book, and it is just the first of many.

Happy springtime! Let the sunshine guide your energy.

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Brains, Computers, and Meditation

As I was laying in bed last night trying to go to sleep, I figured I’d do some meditating. I tried to clear my mind, and simply view the thoughts that came to me, then let them go. As I was doing this, it reminded me of a computer shutting down, which was a problem, because then according to my meditation, I should have viewed that thought and let it go. But I wanted to blog about it! So I reviewed it a couple times in my head so that I would remember, then continued with my efforts.

It is so strange trying to think about nothing, because then seemingly random thoughts will pop into my head as soon as the others have faded, instead of the usual continuation of one subject evolving into another. And at this point, I can’t clearly remember what these thoughts even were, but at the time, it reminded me of pop-up ads as you are trying to close a browser. You realize there were all these ads behind the main window that you were focusing on. Maybe they weren’t taking up much of your thought, but they were certainly making the computer or internet run slower.

The same applies to background programs on the computer that you don’t even know are running until you shut it down. Then all these windows pop up like, “are you sure you want to close this?” and “forced shutdown could make you lose data”. But in the end the computer always seems to run better when it is restarted.

Our brains are probably very similar. Even though when we sleep we are often refreshed, it seems like it would be beneficial to shut down each memory train that is running in our brain. They reveal themselves as soon as you push out the more pressing thoughts closest to the front of your mind. Then random imagery, words, people, events, or fiction pops into your head. But somehow I doubt it pops in randomly, it must be playing off something else, or perhaps hanging out in the back of the mind the whole time just waiting to get some attention.

If anyone has a psychology background or understands how the brain works, let me know if I am onto something. But even if I am not onto something scientific, it certainly was good imagery to focus my meditation session. And then it puts my mind at ease, because I feel like I am putting to rest tiring backstories that need not constantly play in the subconscious.

Close those brain pop-ups down one at a time, and then enjoy the blank space, the clean surface, the properly functioning drive. Just clear it out, reset, and everything will run smoother when you boot it back up. Perhaps only truly important backstories will reboot, and you can put some of the nagging ones to rest.

The Simple Joys of Spring Approaching

Would springtime be special if not for the vast contrast with winter? It’s not spring yet, but there some encouraging signs. It has been almost a week since any snow has fallen, and the daytime temperatures have been above freezing for a solid five days! It feels so good!

I still have to wait for the snow to melt, but I am itching to go for a hike, run, canoeing, anything outdoors! I have been deprived. But would I be so excited about doing these things if I did not live in a frozen wasteland for half the year?

I have considered the possibility that I might let years go by without canoeing if I lived in a warmer climate, because the opportunity is always available, so there is no urgency. In Massachusetts on the other hand, there is a clear marker every year at the start of canoeing season.

These past few days would have been the coldest of the year in Georgia, and felt miserable by comparison. But here, they are the warmest days in months, and make it feel like the tropics. I still plan to move south. I will just make sure to spend a few days or weeks in the north each year, in order to garner my appreciation for warm weather. I just can’t handle being cold for half the year and stuck inside, when everything I love to do is outdoors.

Still, the enchantment of spring is a pretty good consolation prize. There’s that wet dirt smell of melting snow that tells you some plants are going to start peaking through the surface. A slight breeze no longer makes you recoil and crunch up inside your coat like a turtle. There is even a chance to soak up some warmth from the sun, which seemed like a cruel taunter in the sky for the previous frigid months.

I was just saying in the last post how quickly we get used to things, so I do worry a bit that down south in the warmer weather, I might become complacent, and no longer have an appreciation for spring riding in like the cavalry. But then the prospect of constant warmth is so inviting!

And I suppose down south there are still plenty of changes, like the greening of the scenery. And that might be the worst part about Massachusetts; even in May, things are just starting to look pretty again. Well I will have to make sure I appreciate the transition of seasons this year, since if all goes to plan, this will have been my last full winter in New England.

How Quickly We Adjust, for better or worse

After the February that Massachusetts had with the snow and cold, it was nice just to be warm! Pumping gas suddenly had a refreshing quality to it. Just being able to walk to the car without your hands aching was a treat. And hiking around outdoors was nirvana.

cruiseocean

The funny thing I noticed though, is how quickly I get used to something. Not just the weather, but also the stimulation; no matter how much is going on, it seems to level out, and I return to my typical demeanor. Shouldn’t I have been energetic and filled with excitement for the entire cruise?

There’s a lot of pressure when you have committed time and money to a vacation. I need to have fun, I need to not waste my time, I need to make the most of it! But this can make it less enjoyable and more stressful sometimes. Sitting in a pub on the lower decks of ship suddenly becomes boring. Sitting in a pub in Massachusetts a week before was my entire plan for the night, and possibly the most exciting thing I did all week.

cruisebar

But on a cruise ship, I wasn’t contrasting the pub with work or shoveling snow, I was comparing it to swimming in crystal blue waters, and scaling a rock climbing wall. This relates to an earlier post about stress levels: it always seems that no matter how great we have it, the amount of stress on us feels relatively the same. And it didn’t matter how awesome this vacation was, there were still going to be highs and lows.

cruiseclimbing

Even though the low of the vacation is still higher than a typical high in a winter week in Massachusetts, it is hard to recognize that in the moment. How quickly I forget! Two weeks ago I couldn’t imagine ever being warm again, and one week ago I couldn’t imagine ever being cold again.

Likewise, the first couple days in Florida were spent doing things like lighting a large bonfire in order to clear some brush and junk wood from my cousin’s land. Now, I just so happen to like this sort of activity, but I can’t express through words the joy and satisfaction I felt spending all day outside doing yard work. I hadn’t been outside for that long in three months, possibly longer! And when I was outside in New England, it just hurt.

cruisehammock

And yet a week later I had adjusted and strolled lazily around a beach in Mexico, napping in a hammock under palm trees, standing just feet away from huge crocodiles at an exhibit. How drab. Yet if I could immediately teleport back to that hammock right now, my elation would be untamable. I would probably even go swimming, even though it was only about 74 degrees, and breezey.

cruisecroc

It all gets back to appreciating things and making sure to enjoy each moment. I certainly never complained about the heat down there, and when I felt annoyed that it wasn’t warm enough, I had to remind myself where I came from. The psychology of it all is fascinating; you would think everyday on the cruise I would feel as alive and happy as I did burning dead wood at my cousin’s house. But it is easier said than done.

cruisewindow

Really, it was an awesome vacation. But again a comparison poses a problem: last year’s cruise was even better. Had this been the first cruise I ever went on, there would be nothing to rank it against, and therefore nothing to be disappointed about.

My main takeaway from this is that without effort, things call fall into dreariness. It actually takes work to have fun and enjoy yourself sometimes! But stepping back and having appreciation for the opportunities offered can always kick me back to that place of gratitude. I had an awesome vacation, and I have an awesome life, for which I am grateful everyday!

cruisewavrid

Sometimes Posts are Better as a Series

I will be on vacation this week, on a cruise with no internet, so I won’t be posting. I have, therefore, assembled some suggested reading from past posts.

Do you like the weird philosophical posts about what life is, who we are as individuals, and what happens next? Read the following posts as a series:

What if Life is Just our Souls Playing Video Games?

Sleeping and Dreaming: Does this fit with my Souls Playing Video Games Theory?

Humanity is a Puzzle, and We Are the Pieces.

What if we only Age Because We Expect to Age?

Cherish Your Time as an Individual.

Do you like the encouraging self help style posts that energize you to do what you love, and never give up on your dreams, or being happy?

The Legend of (Your Name Here).

Don’t Be Scared into the Status Quo: Ordering off the Menu versus Building Your Own Life.

Breaking the Cycle: From Ideas to Action.

Addicted to Happiness: The Brain is Your Dopamine Dealer.

Do it for the Perspective: Money Isn’t the Only Valuable.

Enjoy! You will all hear from me again soon!

Winter Blues

Winter does a number on me, as it affects many negatively. This just strengthens my conviction to move somewhere that is warmer all year round. The winter offers a snowball effect to derail many things that make me and others happy.

It is cold. Perhaps this in and of itself would not be such a big deal, but the cold makes me more likely to stay indoors. The problem is, I love the outdoors! It takes that much more effort to go outside though, and that much more energy to enjoy the time outside—a natural warm breeze can invigorate me, and the only good thing about a cold wind is that summer seems so much better in comparison.

I exercise less. With effort I can change this, but the cold is a large disincentive to excercise. Even going to the gym seems undesirable in the cold, and I am less willing to get off the couch, covered by a blanket, and lift some weights. Running outside is essentially off the table for me, despite the people who tell me, “you’ll only be cold for a few minutes”. Then I’ll be sweaty and chaffing in the dry weather.

It gets dark so early. Even in the summertime there is something about when the sun goes down that can trigger those existential thoughts about the inevitability of death. Also, brightness is just happier! I go fewer places and do fewer things. It is not so much that these things are impossible in winter, there are just extra barriers. And when physical barriers are coupled with mental barriers, the tipping point of, “I’m gonna go do it!” becomes harder to reach. Sometimes it is indeed the snow that traps me indoors.

But all is not hopeless!

It just takes is a little strong will, positive vibes, and determination to get yourself out of a funk and just be happy! That is what I talked about last weekend as a guest on the radio show “Under the Gun”. Generally we discuss politics, in reference to my other blog JoeJarvis.me, but this time we did a “happy show” which focused more on the subjects discussed in this blog.

The recording cuts in after the intro for some reason, but the only thing you miss is the Mark Twain quote which starts the show: “Whenever you find yourself in the majority, pause and reflect”. I cannot embed the half hour show here, so if you want to listen, click here to go to my other blog, and listen there. Let Joe Jarvis explain it all with his voice, instead of his keyboard!

Music or Magic Spells: What’s the Difference?

There is that certain part of your favorite song that always seems to cut deep inside you. It makes you invigorated, it makes you cry, or it makes you laugh. You want to belt it out, and dance to the rhythm. I have been to a lot of concerts, and when that song that I am waiting for comes on, it is like being in a different world. Without any mind-altering substances added, standing there with the crowd as the booming music ripples through me, I feel it. The magic of music.

Magic is a weird thing. The definition seems tough to nail down. Many people from centuries ago would think the way I am writing this post, the way it is being transmitted to you, and the way you are reading it is all magic. Since it is not mysterious to us (well actually, I am not super well versed in exactly how all this technology works, but I digress) we do not consider it magic. It is not supernatural, it is technology.

But if I conjured a fireball in my hands, would that be magic? What if it was then explained by science, and we found out there is a legitimate explanation for how I did this? Magicians don’t really do magic, they perform illusions. But if magic is simply influencing things without a clear method; effecting the course of events with mysterious or supernatural means… well that would seem to fit the definition. I don’t know how magicians do most of their tricks, so it is mysterious to me. Even if it is slight of hand, could that not be considered magic, since it is still not very clear how the slight of hand was achieved?

My point is: what’s the difference between magic spells and music? I would say the difference is success rate and fine tuning. I don’t know any magic spells that work, but I know songs that work in some ways to do some things. There are songs that work to make me happy, or energetic, or pumped up, or relaxed. Is that so different than chanting a magic spell: and mysteriously influencing a person’s mood?

But we are all so different (like puzzle pieces) that the same song is not going to always work the same on every one of us. You might have no use for country, while a certain country song might make me feel like the world is my oyster. Why rely on snake oil placebo elixirs in a vial when we have real magic spells in the speakers?

In lore there are incantations and chantings that give life, sew death, change attitudes, and influence the material world. But is not much truth conveyed in tales and myths? Perhaps songs are a primitive form of magic. Music is certainly involved in essentially all worship in one way or another. We have songs for hope, songs for change, songs for sport, songs for play. Is it so far fetched to think that with a little fine-tuning we could create “spells” that work on almost everyone?

There are patterns of music that people like. Many of the top songs use a very similar arrangement of tunes. Pachelbel’s Cannon in D can be heard in countless songs, as this comedian points out.

So can you explain why Pachelbel’s Cannon in D hits a chord with so many music enthusiasts? If not, then this fits the definition of magical. It is influencing us through means that we do not fully understand. Another example is this mashup of 6 hit country songs, check it out.

There is an official explanation for why we like certain songs: human brains like patterns but get bored easily. So if there is a pattern that changes slightly with each verse, our brains enjoy it because we eventually feel smart when we not only recognize the pattern, but can predict how that pattern will change slightly the next go around.

But still, someone just got inside our brains and influenced us, and we were powerless to resist. And playing the numbers, it seems certain types of songs are able to affect the masses; they know which spells will work. Taylor Swift must have some very powerful sorcerers working for her.

I know it happens to you too, you hear some crappy song once in the store, and then you are whistling it all day because it’s so damn catchy! It’s catchy because someone just cast a magic spell on you, and you go around spreading this spell to others who may also get the tune stuck in their head, for better or for worse.

Please share your thoughts below, I would LOVE to get a discussion going on this topic. But let me leave off by attempting to cast a spell on you all. This one is a calming spell intended to also elicit empathy for your fellow humans.

Addicted to Happiness: The Brain is Your Dopamine Dealer

I decided to see if there was any science behind the fact that I love vacations (I know, who doesn’t?) and it seems to alter my brain activity. What I found suggests that, like many other enjoyable things, more dopamine is released when you are on vacation enjoying yourself. You see, I may actually be addicted to vacationing.

In the past, dopamine rewarded humans by being released to promote survival. Psychology Today uses an example of a berry patch being found, which promoted survival for primitive humans. So the next time they saw a berry patch, or something that last time led to a berry patch, dopamine is released. This ensures the brain is rewarding things that will help you survive.

But it is not always like that these days, probably because it is so easy to survive. An alcoholic gets a dose of dopamine when he sees a bar, and a doctor when he finishes a surgery. I get a dose of dopamine when I explore a new city. But if I always went to the same city, my brain would not release as much dopamine, so I would need to find a new place to explore in order to get the old “high”.

I made this from Caribbean shells that I picked up in February on my cruise, and first vacation of the year. I attached them to a piece of palm bark from Georgia on my way home from my last vacation of the year. Even though I can't always be on vacation, I can bring back the memories and feelings when I see my little creation.

I made this from Caribbean shells that I picked up in February on my cruise, the first vacation this year. I attached them to a piece of palm bark from Georgia that I found on my way home from my last vacation of the year. Even though I can’t always be on vacation, I can bring back the memories and feelings when I see my little creation.

This is the same thing that happens with setting, working towards, and accomplishing goals. Each of these things encourages your brain to release dopamine, thus helping you on your way to “survival”. When I talk about this small goal/ large goal paradigm to promote happiness, this is the scientific explanation behind it.

Everything that makes your brain release dopamine will inevitably get old, or run its course, which is why you need to always have different types of goals you are working towards and accomplishing. Once you accomplish a goal though, your brain is going to want another. Otherwise, the absence of dopamine will make you feel sad. That is why it is important to diversify your goals, and your hobbies.

Work goals should not be your only source of dopamine, because then you might not be happy when you are at home. And hobbies cannot be your only source of dopamine, because then you will become irritated in other settings. The Psychology Today article points out that we need to make peace with our “unhappy” brain chemicals in order to reap the full benefits of the “happy” chemicals like dopamine.

Eventually your brain will be rewired to the point where it knows it can survive the unhappy chemicals. It is like replacing instant gratification with long term rewards. If you can wait it out, and weather the boring or unhappy times, the dopamine reward in your brain will be that much better when it comes.

If the chemistry behind your feelings interests you, check out the Psychology Today article. It also talks about the other “happy chemicals” that course through your brain. If dopamine equals success, serotonin equals importance, oxytocin trust, and endorphins “brief euphoria that masks physical pain”.

They are all released by our brains to promote survival, though congruent with my theory, our brain is essentially still serving cave man needs. That is why it is important and beneficial to understand our brains, so that we can usher them into the modern era, and make them work for us, instead of being a slave to our brain chemicals.