si dawson

experiments in self-improvement

Month: May, 2014

I’ll Be Happy When

As humans, we have a strong tendency to put off our happiness.

We think we’ll be happy…

  • when we achieve some goal (new car, new job, “success”)
  • when we’re loved
  • when we feel safe
  • when we have $X
  • when “something” changes for us

… and of course, the advertising industry plays right into this. They love this tendency – it makes it a doddle to sell us all manner of crap. All they have to (implicitly) promise is that when we buy their whatever, it’ll make us happy.

There’s a key problem though. Humans adjust. Quickly. Our “I’ll be happy when” list will definitely change over time (do you still want a GI Joe action figure for Christmas?), but it never empties.

When we get the new job, then we want to have saved more money. When we’ve saved more money, we want a partner. When we have a partner, we want them to be nicer…

At the core of this whole mess is a very simple truth:

We’re not allowing ourselves to be happy.

We’re putting up all these rules, these conditions – much like we do with love, or judgement

Sure, a new car may be nice, but do we really want the car or do we want the feeling (happiness) that we think the car will bring us?

Obviously there are practicalities with having a new car (it won’t break down as much, we need it to carry groceries, etc), but at its core, so much of what we want is because we think it’ll make us happy (feeling loved, feeling safe…).

When we get that thing, we then push the goalposts farther away, thereby ensuring we’re never actually happy.

We have the whole thing backwards.

The secret here isn’t to get the stuff (although that’s fun too), it’s to decide to be happy before you get the stuff. At the very least, even if you don’t get the “whatever” you’ll still be happy. More useful is that it’s always easier to achieve a goal if you’re already happy.

Now, the practical bit – how the hell do you do that?

Well, the first thing to realise is that all these conditions are just pictures in our heads. We can let them go. Remember, you’re the boss. Of all of it. Every single silly picture in your head, you can let go of and replace with better ones. And really, why think about something if it’s just making us miserable?

So, how do we find those pictures? How do we call them to the surface so we can let go of them?

What I’ve found works well is just to ask myself

“I’ll be happy when…”

and let my mind fill in the gap. Nature abhors a vacuum, so our minds will automatically fill in the end of the sentence with… something!

Once we have that picture – the whatever-it-is that will finally enable us to be happy, simply let it go.

You can always ask yourself “Can I let this go?” but really, unless you’re answering yes, you’re lying to yourself – or deliberately harming yourself (this can happen too). The bottom line is, you can always let it go. You’re the boss of your mind.

You’ll be amazed at the giant list of nonsense that will sprout up once you start asking yourself this. It’s ok. Just let each thing go, and you’ll feel yourself getting lighter and, yes, happier. By letting go of each thing, we’re gradually giving ourselves permission to be happy. We’re removing all those artificial conditions we’ve placed in our way.



    Stay Loving When Your Partner’s Not

    Ever had an argument with your partner (or, frankly, anyone important in your life)?

    Arguments typically go something like this:

    The other person gets pissed off and start whinging, shouting, criticising, or worse, refusing to say a damn thing at all.

    So then, of course, you get pissed off with them and you both continue to rark each other up.

    (and yes, if we’re honest, sometimes the arguments start from our corner too).

    In short: One person getting upset results in a race to the bottom of the misery pit.

    This. Isn’t. Helpful.

    Think about it: where’s the benefit in both of you getting upset? What does that gain you, either of you?

    Of course, when someone is going off their nut at us, there’s good reasons why we respond the way we do.

    • We want to be heard
    • They’re wrong and we’re right
    • We want them to love us
    • We want them to stop

    Let’s take these one at a time, it won’t take long.


    Do you really think they’re listening while they’re pissed off? No, of course they’re not. Not really. They may grudgingly concede a point, but they’re not REALLY listening, they’re just trying to get to the end of the argument.

    If you want to be heard, it’s much, much better to try talking to them when they’re back in a calm, loving space again.


    So what? Who gives a shit who’s right?

    Seriously. In that moment when they’re upset, how is them having an epiphany and realising that they’re wrong going to help them (or you)?

    For a start, they’re probably not really even listening to you (see point 1)

    Secondly, this is us trying to control them. And nobody likes being controlled. Smartest thing is to let go of that.


    Ok, now this is completely understandable.

    When someone we deeply care about is attacking us (or it feels like they’re attacking us), that can hurt.

    Why does it hurt? Because we want their approval.

    Now, the subtle thing here is, if we want their approval, it’s because we don’t have it (if we already had it, we wouldn’t need to want it, now would we?)

    However, by sending out the message that we want, we’re also sending out the message that we lack their approval.

    By feeling needy, we become needy.

    What’s the solution? It may seem a little paradoxical, but let go of wanting their approval.

    Ultimately, you’re better off loving yourself than looking outside for approval. You have infinite love inside yourself – you just have to find and allow it.

    The more you let go of wanting love from others, the more you’ll find the love inside yourself.


    Again, this is wanting to control them.

    Hint: IT WON’T WORK.

    (it can also be that we want to feel safe in our relationship – but see “feeling needy” above – the same thing applies. Let it go)

    Sure, you can control someone, for short periods of time. But ultimately? All that builds in them is resentment and the propensity to lie. In other words, to hide things from you so they can do what they wanted to in the first place.

    Here’s a gentle irony. Long time readers will see this coming a mile away. The fastest way to get someone to calm down when they’re upset? BE LOVING.

    It’s impossible to fight someone who’s not fighting back. It’s like pushing against air. You run out of steam very quickly.

    Don’t take my word for it. Try it some time. When your significant other is upset, to everything they say, reply (in your head) “I love you.” Let go of all non loving thoughts and feelings that arise. Feel as loving as you possible can towards them. Feel your heart open up and envelope them in your love.

    Just keep saying “I love you” and watch their resistance dissolve in seconds.

    It’s a choice. It’s always a choice.

    Sometimes it takes a bit of practice, or we forget, or we’re tired or whatever. But it’s always just a choice. Try choosing to be loving and see what happens.

    So if you do want them to stop, (and quickly) let go of wanting to control them and be unconditionally loving instead.

    Think about it this way. Why are they upset? Typically, for exactly the same reasons. They want to be heard. If you’re loving? You’ll be listening to them. They want you to love them. Hello? Bingo!

    If they do want to control you (and you don’t agree), well, isn’t that conversation going to go a lot better if you’re both in a loving space? If you stay in that place of love, you are the powerful one in the conversation. They will come to you (impossible to fight, remember?)

    The other thing that happens here is the more we let go of these reactions inside ourselves and choose to be loving to them, the easier it becomes to love ourselves. To calmly set respectful boundaries. To extricate ourselves from situations that are unhealthy for us. To help grow a mutually supportive, mutually growing and healthy relationship.

    Realising that just because our partner is upset doesn’t mean we have to be too is the first step to a massively improved life together.

    You can see this really easily with children. When a child gets upset, you have two choices:

    1. You can let them be the boss – ie, you follow their lead and become upset too
    2. You can remember that you’re the boss of you, stay in an upbeat, loving place, and let them come to you.

    When you stay in a loving space regardless of what’s going on for them, they snap out of it super quickly. Remember, you’re the boss. If you hold a loving space, the child will come to you. You’re the mama duck, whether they realise it or not they’re constantly following your example of how to behave.

    You have to let go of all judgement. All criticism. All non loving thoughts – but that’s surprisingly easily done. Just focus ALL your attention on feeling loving towards them. Let every other thought go.

    Kids are great to experiment with like this (their moods shift so quickly you’ll have lots of opportunities to practice).

    Once you’re comfortable staying loving when a three year old is having a tantrum, you can up the ante to a grown up. Coz really, do we ever truly grow out of this kind of nonsense? We learn more sophisticated ways of expressing ourselves, but our behaviour is often not that different from a three year olds.

    Additionally, people we’re not close to are easiest to do this with. The lower the level of emotional connection, the less attached we are to how they react to us.

    For example, if some random dude on the street goes nutty it’s relatively easy not to get swept up in his tidal wave of grumpiness.

    However, if your partner (or heaven forbid, mother) disses you, it’s a major affront.

    We want to be liked by people we like.

    We want to be loved by people we love.

    Remember the paradox above? If we want something, we’re subtly letting the universe know we don’t have it.

    In order to BE loved, we have to let go of WANTING love.

    It’s like that old saying – be the person you want to fall in love with.

    So, if you want someone to love you, be loving to them – without condition or consideration of reciprocation (that’s the trick, of course).

    (Obviously there’s all the usual caveats here about co-dependence, setting healthy boundaries and avoiding being used).

    Think of it like holding jelly. If you squeeze it too tight, it’ll all slop out between your fingers.

    Same thing here.

    And you don’t want your love slopping out between your fingers, now do you? No, of course not.

    The challenging thing is – how much someone needs love is directly proportional to how much of a pain in the ass they’re being.

    You could easily put a positive spin on this though. The more upset someone is, the more powerfully you’ll affect them by staying loving.

    You’re not gonna make much difference to someone’s life if they’re already in a happy and loving place.

    If they’re upset though? You being loving, caring, supportive is EXACTLY what they need. Staying loving is the most loving thing you can do for them.

    Best of all, if you don’t get it right this time (and you both end up upset), there’ll always be plenty more chances to practice until you learn to stay happy and loving no matter what.

    Being happy – isn’t that we all want?


      A Weekend in Ireland

      Last weekend, my ridiculously lovely girlfriend took me on a surprise trip to Ireland for my birthday. My instructions were simple – turn up with a passport. Until we were through security, I had no idea which country we were going to, and even after we landed, I didn’t really know where we were. (For the fun of it, I was quite happy to cover my ears and turn away while she talked to officials and handed our boarding passes etc over)

      early morning

      In case you’re curious what London looks like at 4am in the morning – this is it. Kinda beautiful. Once you get farther away from the city lights, the sky opens up and the earliest moments of the dawn break through.


      si & m

      Tired but super excited and dressed for inclement weather. M & I on the plane. As I said, even after landing I wasn’t totally sure where we were. However, one hire car and an hour or so of driving later we ended up here:

      moher cliff with grass

      First stop – The Cliffs of Moher. Now, as exquisitely beautiful as they are (and up close? They truly are jaw dropping), they’re exciting for another reason too. These are the Cliffs of Insanity, from The Princess Bride! If you’d like to see what it’s like to climb them, check this:

      Apparently climbing is easier if you’re a pirate – no footwork is required – inconceivable!.


      moher cliff with tower

      To give you some idea of the huge scale of these things. It continued from here to the right about another 50%, and around the corner to the left you can see them stretching off into the far distance. Oh, and that tiny little blip on top? That’s a two storey castle. After all the climbing I’ve done, heights aren’t too much of an issue for me – but I have to say, being up there (with the highly variable wind gusts and no safety gear) standing closer than a foot to the edge definitely made my legs a little wobbly.


      sweater shop!

      After that we headed up to Galway for (what else?) a pint. On the way, we saw this – a super cute sweater shop. Which sold (of course) super cute sweaters.


      After walking around Galway, and driving the car back to the hire place, we then caught a cab to Limerick. Now, the Irish are notorious for liking their pubs. Indeed, the first place we stopped in Limerick was a wonderful little pub recommended by the cab driver (nothing like a local suggestion for a great place to get beer). Upon walking around we found this glorious stretch of road. It may not be super clear from the picture, but that is four, yes FOUR pubs in a row. Right next to each other. On one street. In a row.

      Ay. May. Zing.

      Never seen anything like it in my life.

      After Limerick, we trekked on to Dublin by train. Oh, I do love train journeys. We stayed in a gorgeous little hotel (with a wonderful bed and deep, fast filling bath) a short walk from town.

      Then, first thing the next morning – guess what?!?!?


      m with the guiness gate

      Yeeeeppppppp, the Guinness Brewery!

      If that’s not a perfect start to a birthday day, I don’t know what is.

      Now, I’ve been on the Guinness tour before, about a decade ago, but they have really picked up their game now. There’s a reason it’s been voted the most popular tourist attraction in Dublin two years in a row. For a start, there’s about five times as much information as before. The vast majority of the tour you just wander around at your own pace (you can get audio guides if you don’t speak English). They have almost no staff for the entire tour – they just don’t need it. There’s lots of clever multimedia work (eg being able to put yourself into a Guinness advert). So, they have massive throughput, vastly reduced staffing costs and a far superior tour. It’s a win-win-win. Smart. Genius, you might say.


      me pouring perfectly

      For example, as part of the tour, you get taught how to properly pour a Guinness. Along with getting to drink it, of course. Hey, I even have a certificate proving I can pour a perfect Guinness – with my birthday date on it! Woohoo! And if you think that was an accident, ha ha ha. I’m regularly reminded that while I’m no slouch, M is still farrrr smarter than I am.


      a guinness advert

      Another ridiculously fun/silly experience? This. Hehe. (I’m looking a little high, dammit, but still, awesome)

      all the guinnesses!

      Now what’s not to love about that? Perfect.


      dublin homeless

      Of course, with any travelling, it’s always the little things that are most fascinating. A homeless bedroll – ok, common enough. What I found most interesting here? Count the books. There’s three books left there with their roll – a veritable library. Oddly intriguing, I thought.


      dawson st

      Also, this. Oh boy.


      trinity bell tower

      We also checked out Trinity College, which was started, essentially, as an Irish answer to Oxford and Cambridge. That’s the central bell tower, which we were reliably informed peals out if ever a virgin walks underneath it. It hasn’t sounded in over 200 years. *cough*


      st patrick's cathedral

      As a small sign of how far I’ve come in terms of getting rid of my Catholic detritus, when M suggested visiting St Patrick’s Cathedral, I jumped at the chance. It’s obviously architecturally stunning. One whole end of it was repaired by Sir Benjamin Guinness (yes, of those Guinnesses) in 1860ish. There’s also a very interesting display on the left hand side, with a bunch of flags brought back by the Irish from various wars, dating back hundreds of years. Many of the flags are burnt beyond recognition. An odd place to store them, but a strong reminder of how core to the community these ancient houses of worship truly were.


      m in the garden

      There are, of course, many beautiful parks.


      And on a random whim, we went on an utterly impromptu pub crawl – The Dublin Literary Pub Crawl. This is without a doubt the most fun public pub crawl I’ve ever been on. It’s run by a couple of actors, so has a combination of skits, poems, stories and general literary exposition and explanation. Now, I’m hardly a high brow reader (I read a couple of Pynchon’s books earlier this year and they just about made my head explode) but these guys made the whole thing incredibly approachable, entertaining and informative. I really can’t recommend it enough. It went for a few hours, but I could easily have hung out with them for several more.


      yarn bombed posts

      There’s also general merriment to be found. A different kind of bombing going on in Ireland these days, although the pain of The Troubles, even as far south as we were, was still widely felt and acknowledged. Never quite-too-directly talked about, but often surprisingly near the surface.


      yarn bombed bike

      First time I’ve ever seen one of these – that’s quite some effort there.


      train view

      We spent a ton of times on trains – which was glorious. Endless hours watching views like this – always different, always gorgeous.


      train snacks

      And of course, the best thing about travelling on trains – lots of secret snacks!


      cork floor plate

      One more train trip, and we ended up in Cork. Many of the streets in Cork have these gorgeous plates set in them. They appear to describe often defunct side alleys, many tiny, several blocked completely. Still, the plaques are intricate and exquisite.


      st fin barre's cathedral

      Cork has the Protestant St Fin Barre’s cathedral, which utterly dominates a huge part of the city. It also has statues of a groom, five wise virgins and five foolish virgins guarding the front door – which sounds like one hell of a wedding.



      After walking around utterly and somewhat intentionally lost for a couple of hours, we stumbled across this utterly wonderful local pub. They had a happy hour on, and as such the only beer we found in Ireland that was cheaper than London. I have no explanations what’s up with that.

      Eventually, our time in Ireland came to a close, so we headed back to the airport.

      airport fisherman

      Where we found this guy. I’m not sure what the fishing is like in an airport concourse, but he seems to be doing ok.


      airport cops

      The crazy thing is, the adventure still wasn’t over. As we came into London, the intercom came on – they were looking for a guy. Since he (apparently) didn’t immediately offer himself up, the entire plane was exited through the front door. There were two armed policemen waiting, checking everyone’s passports. Wait, did I say everyone? I meant just the guys. Eventually, some elderly fellow, in his 60s or 70s, hobbled down the stairs. He was the one they were after. The cops pulled him and his (obviously long suffering) wife aside and everyone else was allowed to go on their way.

      What a trip.


        Tetris Relationships

        There’s an amusing saying:

        “If Tetris has taught me anything, it’s that errors pile up and accomplishments disappear.”

        I don’t know a better quote for describing the effect of holding grudges.

        Where this is particularly noticeable, and damaging, is in the area of relationships.

        Everyone is growing. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone is occasionally tired, thoughtless, distracted or careless.

        Things happen and people get hurt – no matter how careful we are towards the person we love (see also: every parent ever).

        This is a normal part of life, and to be expected.

        Where it all gets messy is when our partner makes these mistakes and we choose to hang on to those mistakes instead of letting them go.

        Eventually, this will kill any relationship. How can it possibly survive when every time we look at them our head and hearts are filled with the thousand awful things we remember them doing?

        As always, it’s helpful to keep things simple. Make a choice:

        Do you want to have a loving, happy relationship …

        … or do you want your relationship to die?

        I realise that sounds melodramatic and a prime example of either-or thinking, however on a long enough time scale, that’s your choice.

        Of course, if you’re only in the relationship for the short term or you really don’t give a shit about the other person, then feel free to ignore everything I’m saying.

        The thing is, if we don’t proactively choose to let go/heal/whatever the myriad of minor (and not so minor) bumps and scrapes that eventuate from any average relationship, then we are actively choosing to let the relationship die.

        No one can sustain under that much pain. Eventually, the traumatic blocks stack up until they hit our ceiling and it’s game over for that relationship.

        If we refuse to learn, if we refuse to let go of these blocks, these hurts, we’ll be doomed to live the same relationship over and over. Watching blocks build up, experiencing all that pain until eventually we’re forced, once again, to quit.

        The other thing here is – much like Tetris, you have to keep working at this constantly. Couples counselling once a year or once a decade isn’t going to cut it. You have to get up every damn day with the intention of letting go of whatever pain comes up.

        If we don’t let it go, we’ll be doomed to think about it again and again, letting that wound fester like a rotting abscess.

        Every time we rethink about something that has wronged us, to some degree we are reliving that trauma. We’re strengthening the neural pathways. We’re making it worse for ourselves.

        What may have been a fairly minor misunderstanding, after we’ve thought and rethought about it dozens or hundreds of times can expand into a soul crushing trauma of biblical proportions. How on earth can we be expected to remain loving towards someone with that kind of storm raging through us?

        Plus, of course, much like Tetris, small hurts or mistakes lead to larger ones.

        Why is this? Because we look at events through the filter of our minds. If we decide (for whatever reason) that a person is, say, untrustworthy, then everything they do will be viewed through that filter. Every little word and action will be judged and suspected. Grudges lead to judgement.

        In short: once we have a belief, we use our brains to find data to validate that belief.

        Now sure, some people are untrustworthy, that’s fine. But a lot of the time we paint people incredibly unfairly, simply because of some trauma or other that we’re carrying around. Half the time it really has nothing to do with them at all.

        On top of that – this is someone we’re supposed to be in love with. Shouldn’t we be at least trying to be loving towards them? How can we do that if we’re harshly judging every little thing they do and say?

        The key, of course, is not too get too carried away with our minds. Realise that it’s our belief that is making us “find” supporting evidence. Once we drop that belief, voila, most or all of that evidence will fall away with it. We’ll see that our prejudices have been colouring our observations. Our pain has been creating more pain around us.

        The great thing is – when we knock out a grudge or limiting belief, it’s like knocking out a line in Tetris. Except it also ensures that it will (almost) never come back. When we heal the hurt that caused us to believe someone was untrustworthy, we will have learned that lesson. For a start, we’ll be able to accurately interpret their actions. Secondly, we’ll stop attracting seemingly untrustworthy people into our lives. We won’t need to; we’ve learned what we needed to learn, the universe can now move us on to our next lessons.

        Best of all, unlike Tetris, the more we let go of the slower the blocks stack up. It’s a game which starts insanely hard and gets easier and easier the more we play.