Enjoy Being Awesome

“Who can say where the road goes? where the day flows? only time” (Enya).

Today we ask ourselves, “Who am I?” It’s a straight forward question with obvious answers: I am a human, I have a name, a family history, I think and do such-and-such and want this-and-that.

With further examination, however, from a scientific, psychological and philosophical perspective, you might arrive at something unexpected. It could be that who you think you are is distorted by your way of thinking. You might be more than you think, and less than you know.

If you press the question beyond superficial, you might feel a light-hearted feeling. This is natural. When you experience the switch from thinking in terms of “little old me and what I want” to the feeling of being one with all things, you remain calm in any situation. You are free of mass confusion when you understand cause and effect and the big picture.

According to science, as a human being, you are a Homo sapiens. Homo sapiens is Latin for “wise man” or “wise creature.” It comes from homo, meaning, “creature, man, human,” from humus, “earth, ground, soil”—literally, “earthly one”—and sapiens, meaning, “one who knows” (source).

A Homo sapiens is described as a bipedal primate with large brain, vertical forehead and dependence on language and tools.

Homo sapiens sapiens | Description & Facts | Britannica

Homo sapiens call themselves the “wise creature” despite historical evidence and current affairs. No doubt other animals would argue that Homo sapiens are pretty stupid. According to experts “animals can have cognitive faculties that are superior to human beings” (see: Humans not smarter than animals, just different).

The Far Side by Gary Larson.

Despite intelligence, and to their own detriment, Homo sapiens are the most destructive Earth creature.

With their comparatively weak bodies and inferior senses, Homo sapiens would not have been able to dominate the planet if it wasn’t for their ability to cooperate, make tools and pass knowledge from generation to generation (source).

As In a Nutshell put it, “to survive, all living things seek to secure resources and multiply. Competition between species favours those with advantageous traits” and because humans are inventive, cooperative and expansionist, they’re able to put all other species at their mercy (see: Why We Should NOT Look for Aliens).

According to science, humans are complex machines composed of about 99% six elements and about 0.85% five other elements (source). All eleven are essential elements, meaning, they come from the air, water and soil (the Earth) and are “required by living organisms for growth, metabolism and development” (source).

This is you:

As a subjective experience, however, you probably don’t feel like eleven essential elements. You probably feel like a single thing—like a walking, talking, hot-water balloon with interior armature—but your body isn’t one thing.

Your body is composed of around 30 trillion human cells of about 200 different types and around 38 trillion non-human cells, which are smaller, each with its own structure and lifespan and all working together “in harmony to carry out all the basic functions necessary for humans to survive” (source).

Your body has more non-human cells than human and if you go even smaller, “the average cell contains 100 trillion atoms” (source).

Source: ABC Science “The big and the small

Humans are, for the most part, except on occasion, oblivious to the highly complex operation performed by nature on its own without intervention.

Every human is a world unto itself. Each one is having private thoughts about economics, politics, pleasure, etc.. Each one is localized in a single point of awareness. Each one is living in a waking dream whereby reality is perceived by sensory inputs that are interpreted by the brain’s imagination.

Some of the smartest humans spend their time inside virtual reality or working on things like artificial intelligence, high-tech weapons and robots to replace human beings.

Psychologists are divided as to how to define the human species. Evolutionary psychologists say humans do what they do⁠—including invade countries, murder and rape⁠—because of genes and more than two million years of natural selection as hunter-gatherers; whereas, cultural determinists say humans are not defined by their genes but by what is learned as members of a community (source).

According to cultural evolutionary theory, however, it isn’t one or the other, as in, “nature vs nurture,” it’s both together.

If you ask yourself “Who am I?” and in answer make a list of achievements, failures, likes, dislikes and life events from birth until present, that is an excellent exercise for understanding yourself so as to make rational decisions and live a happy life based on reason, but that isn’t quite what we’re after.

The philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) said that we can acquire important knowledge of reality simply by thinking (source). As Bryan Magee observed, “Spinoza saw total reality as being one thing or substance of which all apparently different objects and indeed people like ourselves are merely facets, merely modes, merely aspects” (source). This matches with the phenomenon of entanglement (source) and with the First Nations, Inuit and Metis perspective of seeing everything in the universe as interconnected (source).

So far so good. Now it’s time to take off your thinking cap and glasses. As Rabbi Shemuel ben Nachmani observed, “We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are” (source).

Go outside. Take a break. Enjoy the peace of looking at the world as yourself. Stop seeing things through your desires and your sense of self locally defined and separate from nature.

As Michael James writing of Sri Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950) advised, “we do not need literally to ‘seek’ ourself but just to be ourself… Self-attention is thus a state of just being, and not doing anything… a state of perfect repose, serenity, stillness, calm and peace, and as such one of supreme and unqualified happiness” (Happiness and the Art of Being, p. 347-48).

The stand-up comedian Bill Hicks (1961-1994) joked about seeing a positive drug story on the news:

Today, a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration. That we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively. There is no such thing as death, life is only a dream and we’re the imagination of ourselves. Here’s Tom with the weather” (source).

What Bill didn’t realize, however, is that drugs aren’t necessary. By investigating your own consciousness beyond self-driven thinking, you can be enlightened. We’re all part of something bigger, something infinite, awe-inspiring and connected.

The trick to real enjoyment is to stop thinking from a self-deceptive perspective. Be one with all things. Be happy. Be wise. And most of all, enjoy the ride!

Enjoy Being Wise and Save the World At the Same Time

“You think that I don’t even mean a single word I say. It’s only words, and words are all I have to take your heart away” – The Bee Gees, “Words” (1968).

As has been said before, “the world is a mess and getting messier still” (To think or not: Zen, Tolstoy, Depression and Enjoyment).

The number of problems we face is astounding (UN Global Issues). It’s like the world is going to hell in a handbasket and we’re the cause. Go to any zoo, refugee camp or suburb. See for yourself. How can a person enjoy with a clear conscience when so much is wrong?

Even though we know, “The whole surface of Earth is a series of connected ecosystems” and “every factor in an ecosystem depends on every other factor,” we continue to pave over ecosystems with joyous abandon (National Geographic).

But a change from soil and water to roads, suburbs and industry has a funny way of affecting plants and on animals depending on those plants.

We have pollution in the ocean twice the size of Texas (source). We have poverty, crime, racism, road rage, distrust, violence and an epidemic of death by drug addiction. We have cancers and viruses and the doctors and scientists who try to help us get death threats (‘I hope you die’: how COVID pandemic unleashed attacks on scientists).

Image by Martin Shovel

It’s like nature is out to get us and humans don’t get it. Plants and animals go extinct as economics drive global destruction. People are more irrational than ever and no amount of intelligence, Artificial or otherwise, seems able to save us from ourselves.

So, what’s the answer? Is it escapism and surrender? Is it global conflict and action? Is it ruining your life worrying and not enjoying?

How can a run-of-the-mill human (one of 7.9 billion no less) make a difference, be a good ancestor, live a good life and enjoy good times with love and a calm state of mind?

In such a messed up world what can philosophy do?

Well… a lot actually.

Philosophy comes from the Greek “philein” and “sophia” meaning “lover of wisdom” (source). A lover of wisdom relates to any area where intelligence is shown. Wisdom is the ability to think and act using “knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense and insight” (source). If we valued wisdom more than money, celebrity and immediate gratification, if we practiced wisdom religiously, as in, “with consistent and conscientious regularity” (Dictionary), we could easily solve all our problems both individually and collectively.

Psychology was born from philosophies dating back thousands of years (source). Philosophy is logic. Philosophy is religion stripped of wishful thinking. Philosophy is understanding yourself, other people, the world, and your relationship with the world and other people (source).

“Understanding” means to “stand in the midst of” from Old English understandan meaning “to comprehend, grasp the idea of, receive from a word or words or from a sign the idea it is intended to convey” (Etymology Online).

The answer starts with attention and self-awareness.

According to Kruger and Dunning (1999) without mental tools we can’t see our own incompetence. For example: “hunters who know the least about firearms also have the most inaccurate view of their firearm knowledge, and doctors with the worst patient-interviewing skills are the least likely to recognize their inadequacies” (The more inept you are the smarter you think you are).

There are so many websites endorsing the Dunning-Kruger Effect most people don’t question it, but they should: “Dunning-Kruger Effect Is Probably Not Real“. Truth is, if we’re not paying attention, we’re all susceptible to cognitive biases, as in, “systematic errors in thinking.”

Research shows, for example, there is an asymmetry in our thinking towards negativity, meaning, we register the negative more readily and frequently than positive (Negativity Bias).

But on the flip-side, we’re also susceptible to Optimism Bias whereby our brains are overly optimistic. “If,” for example, “you were asked to estimate how likely you are to experience divorce, illness, job loss, or an accident, you are likely to underestimate the probability that such events will ever impact your life” (source).

Positive events lead to feelings of well being, while negative events lead to risky behavior and not taking precautions (source).

Consciousness is being aware of your environment and body. Self-awareness is the recognition of that awareness. Self-awareness is how you understand feelings, motivations and desires (source). Whether you think overly negative or optimistic can depend on your mood. People are less optimistic in a bad mood and more optimistic in a good mood (source).

A mood is a “temporary state of mind or feeling” (Dictionary). Thinking is a way of dealing with moods. We can think our way out of a feeling by finding solutions to meet the need behind that feeling (University of Cape Town).

According to the World History Encyclopedia (2005, p. 409) the first philosopher was Zoroaster (aka Zarathustra) who lived somewhere between 1500 and 1000 BC (source).

Zoroaster praised “Ahura” (Lord) “Mazda” (Wisdom) and founded “Mazdayasna” which means “Worship of Wisdom.” Before the 6th century BC, philosophy and science were not separated from theology which probably explains how Zoroaster, the world’s first philosopher, started the world’s first monotheistic religion (source).

Imagine that! The first monotheistic God was Wisdom itself!

Starting with Pythagoras (570-495 BC)—who, incidentally, first coined the word “philosophy” (source)—Zoroaster’s followers taught ancient Greeks about the love of wisdom (source).

Pythagoras influenced Plato and Aristotle who influenced Western philosophy which influenced Christianity through medieval scholars like Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) who developed his own conclusions from Aristotelian ideas. 

Farrokh Bulsara before renaming.

Zoroaster’s religious philosophy is known for its motto ‘Good thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds.’ It teaches sharing, generosity and kindness. What could be better? Even the rock star Freddie Mercury (1946-1991) born Farrokh Bulsara got into that.

Zoroaster was also the world’s first proponent of ecology through care of the earth (source).

Let us practice wisdom in thought, word and deed! Let us enjoy thinking, Air and a little ping pong.

We can be lovers of wisdom and save the world, one mind at a time.

Utopia, Hedonia, Eudomania, Ataraxia (Oh Yeah)

Thomas More’s Utopia (1518). Photograph: The Granger Collection, New York

The word “utopia” is a pun on the Greek ou-topos meaning ‘no place‘ and eu-topos meaning ‘good place‘ (British Library). Thomas More (1478 – 1535) came up with it for his book, Utopia, which is about an island uncorrupted by greed that has qualities of perfection (read: Utopia).

More was a lawyer, judge and Catholic who practiced self-flagellation and wore a skin-irritating hair shirt. He saw Protestantism as a threat to society and served as Lord Chancellor of England until retirement, but then he irritated King Henry VIII by not attending Henry’s wedding and by not acknowledging Henry as head of the Church of England (source).

“Take that for irritating the king!” and the crowd went wild (Thomas More Trial, 1535).

More described European society as a place where, “Idle monarchs and nobles seek to increase their own wealth and power at the expense of the people, who are left in poverty and misery;” therefore, More’s utopia is “communal, allowing its people to easily meet their needs” (source).

But then we know where communal living gets us sometimes. Look at injustices in the former Soviet Union or wealth disparity in China which is as bad as anywhere.

source: Making Billions: The Richest People in the World (2020)

Nothing has changed since Thomas More’s time except for the names (and a lot of pollution). Instead of Czar Nicholas II, we have Vladimir Putin. Instead of Rockefeller, we have Bezos and Gates, among others.

Is anyone surprised?

Surely not.

Illustration by O.O.P.S.

Our problem isn’t political, it’s psychological. We can complain about unfairness, but who among us wouldn’t enjoy being rich? The drive to feel important is strong.

Cue music:

Trouble is, studies show, when people even think about money, it makes them selfish (see: Mere Thought of Money Makes People Selfish).

Psychologist Paul Piff has done studies proving selfishness occurs as a result of having more than others (see: The Science of Greed).

In one study two people played Monopoly and by the flip of a coin, one person was given an unfair advantage that made them rich. As the game went on, the “rich” started to act dominant and in the end, despite advantages clearly given, they saw their win as a result of ability.

Piff has found that people are willing to put others down to put themselves up. “A sense of power and addiction gets fueled more and more with the gaining of money” (source).

We may enjoy watching billionaires get their money taken by “f*** society” in the show Mr. Robot (2015-2019), but we know, if we were a billionaire, we too would probably think we’re special and cling to our money.

Trump appears with other greedy billionaires in Mr. Robot.

But then, how can knowing people are unfair make life beautiful? Grumbling about injustice doesn’t make things just! Feeling hostility doesn’t help us fix things. It just drains our energy and keeps us focused on problems instead of solutions.

A perfect world is perceived as impossible, so why bother? Utopian is considered “visionary reform that tends to be impossibly idealistic” (Britannica). You’re more likely to see a dystopia (a place of great suffering and injustice) than a utopia. Dystopias seem more doable.

Some people even say we’re in a dystopia now (see: Dystopia is Realism: The Future Is Here If You Look Closely).

Journalist and Presbyterian minister, Chris Hedges, paints a dystopian picture: “The issue before us is death. Not only our individual death, which is more imminent for some of us this morning than others, but our collective death. We have begun the sixth great mass extinction, driven by our 150-year binge on fossil fuel….” (Confronting the Culture of Death).

Most of our problems individually and collectively are the result of hedonia or hedonism—from Greek hēdonē meaning “pleasure.”

Our inclination is to enjoy and seek escape by indulging in TV, video games, golf, food, drugs, drinking—whatever it takes to detach from what is displeasing (see also: Facing a Pine-scented Breeze).

Image by Jon Kudelka

Trouble is, for some of us, no sooner is a pleasure over when it’s wanted again (just ask any addict). The ancients knew this. Aristotle (384-323 BC) said, “I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies, for the hardest victory is over self” (source).

Perturbed people perturbing.

For there is a danger in pleasure when people do what they please—especially when there are 7.9 billion of us (see Worldometer). By focusing on personal pleasure we put our self before others and neglect responsibilities.

Moreover, some people are susceptible to the disorder of psychopathy which is a lack of care for others, extreme egotism and a failure to learn from experience (source).

What do you think? Get to know yourself with these two tests:

  1. Measure your degree of psychopathy with the Psychopathy Spectrum Test.
  2. Measure your philosophical leanings with the Dichotomy Test.

The philosopher Epicurus (341-270 BC) promoted pleasure but not a materialistic money-oriented version because it lacks prudence, as in, “the ability to govern and discipline oneself by the use of reason.” Epicurus taught that “grabbing easy worldly pleasures is a mistake because ultimately they don’t satisfy” (source). His goal was the pleasure of not suffering.

The Roman Stoic Epictetus (c. 50–135 AD) seems to agree saying, “Don’t demand that things happen as you wish, but wish that they happen as they do happen, and you will go on well” (The Enchiridion).

This is where the Greek eudomania (U-de-‘mO-nēa), ataraxia (at-a-rax-ia) and “Oh Yeah!” comes in.

Eudomania means “good spirit,” or “happiness” in English. Aristotle said that eudaimonia is “the only human good that is desirable for its own sake (as an end in itself) rather than for the sake of something else (as a means toward some other end)” (Britannica).

From eudomania comes ataraxia which is “tranquility” or serene calmness “untroubled by mental or emotional disquiet” (Merriam-Webster).

For ancient philosophers like Epicurus, Aristotle and Epictetus (along with most religious traditions), serene calmness or peace of mind is the ultimate pleasure, but it only comes by way of practicing self-control and virtues like justice, prudence, fortitude and temperance.

Here’s the kicker:

You can be in a good spirit in a good place here and now! No need for dope, booze, or anything in particular. You don’t do anything but watch how thoughts come and go. Watch how thoughts stir up emotions that can rob you of joy and trouble the world.

Forget concepts and look around. We’re in a utopia now. It’s called Earth. Only, we don’t see it as it is (Anaïs Nin, 1961).

We’re blinded by profit margins and personal desires, but if you practice virtues like prudence as advised by anyone wise, you can enjoy simple moments of beauty, tranquility and transcendence until you too get it and say, ” Ooooh Yeah.”

Enjoy.

Thinking, Being and Plucking

Now we look at three philosophies inspired by death and suffering. Two came from poets—carpe diem and To be or not to be—and one came from a beggar—Life is suffering—who started a religion.

After looking at all three, we’ll think about thinking and end by enjoying.

We begin with carpe diem.

Most people have heard of carpe diem. Robin Williams taught us all about it in Dead Poet’s Society (1989).

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines carpe diem as “the enjoyment of the pleasures of the moment without concern for the future.” Google concurs saying, “used to urge someone to make the most of the present time and give little thought to the future.”

We moderns translate carpe diem as “seize the day.” It is assertive and refers to taking control or possession of something.

Advertisers use the expression to sell products—t-shirts, posters, beauty products, fragrances, necklaces, wine. They like to remind us that one day each and every one of us will be dead so we better buy their product and book that trip now before it’s too late!

In Carpe Diem Regained (2017), philosopher Roman Krznaric said that “seizing” the day brings to mind people who take what they can get and get things done.

It’s the philosophical equivalent of actor Shia LaBeouf screaming at us to “DO IT! JUST DO IT! DON’T LET YOUR DREAMS BE DREAMS!

People use the phrase as a warning or direct order to take charge of your own happiness and make the most of it, but then the question becomes: “How do you carpe diem?”

Carpe diem first appeared in 20 BC in book 1.11 of the Odes by Roman poet Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65 BC – 8 BC), aka Horace

260 Hello, My Name Is... ideas | hello my name is, my name is, name tags

Horace’s poem emphasizes the fleeting nature of time. He says we shouldn’t worry about how long we live or waste time talking (presumably about death). Most translations say Horace told us to “Seize the present; put very little trust in tomorrow (the future)” (Wikipedia). 

Years later Jesus (1-33) is quoted as saying something similar, “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (Matt. 6:34).

No offence.

It’s no surprise that Horace and Jesus advised us not to worry about the future. Life was short in ancient days. If you include infant mortality (and crucifixion), life expectancy in the Roman Empire was about 22–33 years (source).

Trouble is, carpe diem doesn’t actually mean seize the day.

Horace has been lost in translation and distorted by modern culture. According to Latin scholars, carpe diem is really a horticultural metaphor designed to encourage people to enjoy the sensory experience of nature (source).

Funny how nature isn’t part of carpe diem today.

(Then again, maybe it isn’t.)

Nature On The Eve Of Destruction -- The UN Extinction Report
Carpe this!

Carpe comes from carpō meaning to “pick or pluck” fruit when it’s ready and diem comes from dies which means “day.”

“Pluck the day [as it is ripe]” or “enjoy the moment” is a more accurate translation than “seize,” as in, “take hold of suddenly and forcibly” or “take (an opportunity or initiative) eagerly and decisively.”

It’s a subtle difference but philosophically speaking, it’s huge. Instead of a fist pump to “Seize the day!” and assert one’s will, it’s an open palm receiving what is given by nature (of which we are).

Cue music: “Think About It” by SAULT.

But what if you can’t enjoy the sensory experience of nature? What if you’ve thought yourself into not wanting to live? What then?

2 bee or not 2 bee dark shirt Kids T-Shirt to be or not to be Kids Dark  T-Shirt by corriewebstore - CafePress | Bee humor, Bee quotes, Bee

In Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, Hamlet asks himself if he should suffer the misery of life (a “sea of troubles”) or should he kill himself (“take arms against a sea of troubles”) to end “heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks.”

But then Hamlet wonders if there is an afterlife, and if there is, what if that afterlife is worse than life?

afterlife Archives - The Funny Times

Hamlet’s question of life and death is a question of existence and nothingness, but according to Harvard professor Jeffrey R. Wilson (2017), “To be, or not to be” is not what it seems to be (source). Hamlet could be faking because he knows someone’s listening.

Wilson points out how philosophy and drama are different. Philosophy is about knowing whereas drama is about doing.

Years before Hamlet debated life vs. death and Horace had his horticultural insight as master of a country estate, another aristocrat, Siddhartha Gautama (the “Buddha”) (c. 5th-4th century BC), bummed everybody out with his Noble Truths including: “birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering, union with what is displeasing is suffering, separation from what is pleasing is suffering and not getting what one wants is suffering” (source).

That’s a lot of suffering. You can’t win, so why even try?

According to this philosophy you’re born to suffer, but if you accept that life is crap, you won’t be surprised when it is crappy or expect it to be any other way.

If the Buddha worked in IT.
“Philosophy Tech Support”, Existential Comics 51: https://existentialcomics.com/comic/51

This idea that we cause ourselves suffering by resisting what is, is something Stoics, Epicureans and Bill W., founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, also discovered.

Gautama maintained that things which cause pleasure eventually fail because when we like something we think about it and we want it again (and again…) and it’s the craving that causes trouble.

The idea is that suffering is created by our craving for pleasure, but if Guatama had an Electroencephalography (EEG) to show brain activity in psychological states, he would see that liking and wanting are in “two different motivation systems in your brain” (source).

Better decisions: two systems 🧠. “If there is time to reflect, slowing… |  by Lloyd Carroll | UX Collective

Unconscious thinking (System 1) is fast, intuitive, and emotional whereas conscious thinking (System 2) is slower, more deliberative and logical.

In Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011) psychologist and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman (1934- ) explains how the two systems drive the way we think and make choices. Kahneman challenges the idea that “people are generally rational” because errors arise not just from emotions that can cloud judgement, but from our built-in brain machinery.

If you eat fried chicken, for example, you are conscious of the taste and smell in the present moment, but if you want fried chicken, that wanting could be unconscious because you smelled chicken as you walked by. It’s like a button was pushed in your brain (and you didn’t know).

The trick is to slow thinking down. Forget Hamlet’s mental perambulations and remember Horace’s advice to enjoy nature with your senses. Watch what you’re thinking to identify biases and become aware of what’s going on in your brain and all around.

It’s all interconnected.

Now we dance, eat an apple, and enjoy simply.

Much love.

Where Happiness Hides

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is untitled.jpg
“Son of Man” (1964) by René Magritte (1898-1967)

In René Magritte’s painting “Son of Man” we see a man in an overcoat and bowler hat in front of a low wall with sea and cloudy sky behind and a green apple in front of the man’s face.

Why is the apple there? Is the man hiding? What does it mean?

Cue music: “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” Eurythmics (1983)

The painting is open to interpretation of course but the title, “Son of Man” refers to Jesus and in Christianity the apple symbolizes the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. In the Garden of Eden everything is unity until Adam and Eve eat the apple and suddenly know separation between themselves, God and the world around them.

It’s a bit like when we were newborn babies. In developmental psychology when a baby is born it has no idea there’s a difference between itself and the world, but then we chew our thumb and our blanket and notice we can feel one, but not the other. Over time we figure out how our thoughts and emotions further separate us one from another thus fortifying the notion that one’s self is separate from everything else.

We discover that instead of one big, undifferentiated “Self” we have self and other which is the birth of selfishness and the start of all the world’s problems (and the secret to knowing where happiness hides).

The knowledge of good and evil equals the knowledge of opposites and of separateness as opposed to an awareness that there is no self and other or separation between ourselves and nature.

Of his painting Magritte said, “Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see, but it is impossible. Humans hide their secrets too well…

René Magritte

“There is an interest in that which is hidden and which the visible does not show us. This interest can take the form of a quite intense feeling, a sort of conflict, one might say, between the visible that is hidden and the visible that is present” (source).

According to Magritte, “If the dream is a translation of waking life, waking life is also a translation of the dream.

The dream world appears so real we don’t even know we’re dreaming which can lead us to wonder: If the dream world feels just as real as the waking one, how can we know we’re not living in a dream?

As the British professor of neuroscience Anil Seth observed in “Your Brain Hallucinates Reality,” the world we perceive through our senses is interpreted by our brain based on available information and its best guess so what we think we see, hear, feel or understand might not be true at all. Our thoughts can distort our version of reality such that we don’t see what’s really happening.

Do you see a hidden baby?

The key is in a subtle awareness beyond immediate concern (see also Enjoy a Funny Feeling). If you look at the problems we face individually and collectively, you might see the answer is in the problem itself. It’s just we don’t see it. There’s something blocking our view, like that green apple.

As the American meditation teacher Shinzen Young said, “Everybody is looking for something, but what people think they want is happiness dependent on conditions, but what they really want is happiness independent of conditions” (Enlightenment and the 10 Ox Herding Pictures).

If you watch the rats in Steve Cutts’ animation called “Happiness,” it is easy to see how the search for happiness dependent on conditions is misguided.

In the book with the loud title, “I AM THAT” (1973),  Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj (1897-1981), a Hindu spiritual teacher who lived in Mumbai, said, “Pleasure lies in the relationship between the enjoyer and the enjoyed. And the essence of it is acceptance. Whatever may be the situation, if it is acceptable, it is pleasant. If it is not acceptable, it is painful…. The personal self by its very nature is constantly pursuing pleasure and avoiding pain. The ending of this pattern is the ending of the self. The ending of the self with its desires and fears enables you to return to your real nature, the source of all happiness and peace.”

To find real happiness Maharaj recommended, “Give up all questions except one: ‘Who am I?’ After all, the only fact you are sure of is that you are. The ‘I am’ is certain. The ‘I am this’ is not. Struggle to find out what you are in reality.

In a music video inspired by another of Magritte’s paintings, “Golconda” (1953), the Beatles and Le Ballon Rouge (1956), we can see and feel where happiness is. Happiness is in our real nature beyond thinking “I want this or that.”

Happiness isn’t hiding. It’s there, in good times and bad.

It’ll just take some practice.

A Philosophy of Life (to enjoy)

Philosophy is all around us. It’s how people think. It’s even on billboards.

In the Way to Wisdom (1950), psychiatrist (and philosopher) Karl Jaspers (1883-1969) wrote, “the essence of philosophy is not the possession of truth but the search for truthPhilosophy means to be on the way” (p. 11).

“…the question,” writes Jaspers, “is not whether a philosophy is conscious or not, whether it is good or bad, muddled or clear. Anyone who rejects philosophy is himself unconsciously practicing philosophy” (p. 12).

In other words, even if you don’t think you have a philosophy of life, you probably do. You just don’t know it.

Source: Garfield Weekly

A philosophy of life is the mental framework (i.e. intelligence) for understanding the world and yourself in it. It’s how you decide what’s good and bad, what the meaning of life is (or, if there is one), and what the purpose of life is (or, if there is one).

How you think affects how you feel which affects what you do and how you live. People don’t think much about how (and what) they think about, but it’s quite possible that how people think is the most important thing there is.

As psychologist (and philosopher) William James (1842-1910) put it, “Philosophy is at once the most sublime and the most trivial of human pursuits. It works in the minutest crannies and it opens out the widest vistas” (50 Philosophy Classics, p. 6).

Cue music:

There are basically two kinds of people: people (a few anyway) who have a clear philosophy of life that they use to guide their actions in peace and understanding and people (everybody else) who do not

It’s not that people don’t have a moral compass, it’s just they don’t know where it is (or how to use it).  

Look at “Karens,” for example. A “Karen” is a woman who acts entitled and uses privilege to demand her way at the expense of others. If you see a “Karen” in action, you’ll see a woman who probably thinks she’s thinking clearly but who is clearly out of her mind.

If only “Karen” had a philosophy of life that was more congenial, but like Confucius said, “It is easy to hate and difficult to love.” Our default setting seems to be impulse and gut reaction.

People look to psychology and religion for answers but whereas philosophy seeks to explain right ways of behaving, psychology’s objective is not to study what is moral but to provide therapies and intervention, increasingly in pill form (as seen on TV).

Drug companies spend 19 times more money on advertising than on research and development. Source: Big Pharma.

As for religion, philosophers find meaning in religion to help people understand the truth of life. The difference being, whereas religion involves supernatural beliefs, ritual and faith without evidence, philosophy has no rituals and will only believe what is true by way of reasoning.

Source: “12 Times Calvin and Hobbes Taught Us About Philosophy and Religion”

To be wise means toggling between subjectivity, “My experience of being me from my perspective,” and objectivity, “A truth independent of my individual subjectivity and bias.”

Philosophies come in many forms. Every philosophy has its opposite. For example:

You’ve got your materialiststhose who consider material possessions and comfort more important than ideals (or who support the theory that nothing exists except matter).

A materialist.

And there are idealists—those who value ideals (aka principles) more than possessions. Both groups can be further broken down into individualistsindependent, self-reliant—and groupiststhose who see other people as group members rather than as individuals.

Exercise #42: Spot the philosophy of life of people in this video.
People they come together / People they fall apart / No one can stop us now / Cause we are all made of stars

What’s your philosophy?

If you don’t know what your philosophy is, try this: Look at what other philosophers have said throughout the ages to see what rings true. You can take a saying to heart and train your brain towards wisdom and change the world.

Commence brain training:

Eastern philosophy phrases (oldest to newest):

  1. “If you correct your mind, the rest will fall into place….
    Love the world as your own self, then you can truly care for all things.”Lau Tzu (around 601-530 BC)
  2. “The mind is everything. What you think you become…. Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without. It is a man’s own mind, not his enemy or foe, that lures him to evil waysGautama Buddha (around 563-483 BC)
  3. “He who conquers himself is the mightiest warrior….Never do to others what you would not like them to do to you.” Confucius (551-479 BC)
  4. Unruly beings are as unlimited as space, they cannot possibly all be overcome, but if I overcome thoughts of anger alone, this will be equivalent to vanquishing all foes” ― Śāntideva (685-763)

Middle Eastern philosophy (oldest to newest):

  1. “Patience is beautiful.” – Arabic proverb
  2. “A reflective, contented mind is the best possession….With an open mind, seek and listen to all the highest ideals. Consider the most enlightened thoughts. Then choose your path, person by person, each for oneself.” – Zoroaster (around 628-551 BC)
  3. “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Jesus (around 1-33) Matt. 6:34
  4. “Instead of resisting to changes, surrender. Let life be with you, not against you.  If you think ‘My life will be upside down’ don’t worry. How do you know down is not better than upside?” – Shams Tabrizi aka Rumi (1185–1248)

hey socratesHey Socrates everyone is an idiot

Excerpt from Existential Comic #344

Western philosophy (oldest to newest):

  1. The brave man is he who overcomes not only his enemies but his pleasures.”– Democritus (460-370 BC)
  2. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”– Aristotle (385–322 BC)
  3. “Freedom is secured not by the fulfilling of one’s desires, but by the removal of desire.”– Epictetus (50-135)
  4. “Morality is not the doctrine of how we may make ourselves happy, but of how we may make ourselves worthy of happiness.” – Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
Conclusion: Study wise phrases. Make them a habit of mind and enjoy them. You'll be a beacon of wisdom in no time and remember: It's the path that matters, not the destination.

Happiness or Wisdom? Enjoy A Clearer Picture

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In this time of pandemic, amidst threats of death and illness, social distancing might just be the ticket to give us time for contemplation. We begin by looking at our self (which may not be singular) and then we look at the question: happiness or wisdom?

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Like a Polaroid picture that develops in front of your eyes, from whiteness into shapes that become more visible, so too do ideas mix and mingle in your mind, to form a clearer picture.

boring meeting 2It was in a Human Resources Leadership seminar that a Power Point slide with two bullet points was shown:

      • People are not thinking creatures.”
      • People are feeling creatures.”

(See also: Enjoyment, Cookies and Purposeful Purposelessness.)

What the would-be leaders didn’t know was that these bullets were misfires from what brain researcher Jill Bolte Taylor said, which was, “biologically we are feeling creatures that think” (My Stroke of Insight, 2006). Her point being: we feel first, then we think.

Bolte Taylor’s message: “Based upon my experience with losing my left mind (the result of a stroke and not misplacement), I whole-heartedly believe that the feeling of deep inner peace is neurological circuitry located in our right brain” (TED Talk, 2008).

But back in the leadership seminar, inner peace isn’t on the agenda. Attendees prefer coffee with their accreditation. Their brains’ position between rationality (left brain) and instinctive, sensual responses (right brain) remained skewed leftward.

Right Brain and Drawing Ability
Source: Artclass Challenge

Note: Researchers determined to debunk clear left/right brain functions as endorsed by people like Matthew Fox (the priest, not Lost actor), Oprah Winfrey and author Daniel Pink, for self-help and spiritual purposes, have found that logic, intuition and creativity engage both sides of the brain (Beyond the ‘left’ and ‘right’ brain…).

As William James put it in 1901, “A mind is a system of ideas, each with the excitement it arouses, and with tendencies impulsive and inhibitive, which mutually check or reinforce one another” (Varieties of Religious Experience, p. 194).

william james

Said James, “… our moral and practical attitude, at any given time is always a resultant of two sets of forces within us, impulses pushing us one way and obstructions and inhibitions holding us back. “Yes! yes!” say the impulses; “No! no!” say the inhibitions” (ibid. p. 256).

rubics cube head 2It could be because, as psychologist Brian Little says, we have three “selves” that argue (How Many Selves Do We Have?…).

The first “self” is “biogenic” (bio as in biology). It comes from our genes (note: saying, “My genes told me to shoot people,” doesn’t make it OK).

The second “self” is “sociogenic” (socio as in social). It’s how surroundings, family and culture shape us (note: saying, “My culture made me racist,” doesn’t make it OK).

The third “self” is “idiogenic” (idio as in idiosyncrasy). These are the things that make you youthe features that, as Little says, “emanate from our core concerns… the things that matter most… and afford us the opportunity to be stewards of our destiny” (TED talk 2016).

biogenic sociogenic and idiogenic

Needless to say, not all our “selves” play nicely. This explains why you might act like someone you don’t know, as if driven by outside forces.

you're not you when you're hungry

As Little explains, the quality of your life is “contingent upon the sustainable pursuit of core personal projects” (Little, 2008).

The question is: What’s your core personal project? Do you have one? Is it happiness or wisdom? (unless they’re not mutually exclusive).

wrong way

(see also: A Way of Seeing (Part 2))

Writer and teacher Andy Wood put it this way, “Wisdom is a boring, party-killing, nag… Wisdom asks questions about consequences when all I want to do is enjoy myself…,” and yet, “I can’t remember seeing any wise people fired for cutting corners. Or arrested for embezzling money” (LifeVesting, 2010).

Happiness refers to quality of life or well-being. It implies that life is good without specifying what exactly is good about life.

good dog

Some philosophers say wisdom is a supreme part of happiness while others maintain that a wiser view on reality can make one less happy.

Ad Bergsma and Monika Ardelt (2011) found that wise people possess positive qualities such as “a mature and integrated personality, superior judgment skills in difficult life matters, and the ability to cope with the vicissitudes of life.”

wisdom for dummies

They found that the development of wisdom may be joyful by way of self-transcendence. Viktor Frankl, for example, found his higher purpose while suffering in a concentration camp.

Nisbett, Grossman, and other researchers found that happiness fosters wisdom when feelings of well-being facilitate wise-reasoning which helps us to navigate life’s challenges (source).

graph of well-being and wise-reasoning
In this graph we see the association between well-being and wise reasoning by age—the wiser people were, the higher their well-being (source).

Ralph Waldo Emerson observed how wisdom engages a “special kind of happiness that transcends normal pleasures.” He broke it down into two camps, Materialists and Idealists: “The materialist insists on facts… and the animal wants of man; the idealist on the power of Thought and of Will, on inspiration…” (The Transcendentalist, 1842).

ralph waldo emerson quote

Through advanced technology, researchers are finding connections between materialist and idealist, between spirituality, art, the brain and states of consciousness. It may well be that we are more than “meat puppets” controlled by robot-like brains.

Thousands of years ago Epicurus observed how you can have the most happiness by prudently evaluating things to avoid and things to choose.

epicurus quote

Wisdom and happiness go together like “milk and cookies” for the ultimate enjoyment (unless you are lactose intolerant).

(Cue music: Beegie Adair Trio, “Autumn Leaves”).

The trick: Enjoy being wise by wisely enjoying.

To think or not: Zen, Tolstoy, Depression and Enjoyment

morning_dew_on_grass___landscape_by_slysnakesamhardy-d4thcpa

In this world that is sometimes nice, sometimes not, and sometimes blows up in your face, you often meet people who don’t enjoy life.

You can generally tell if someone is not enjoying by their crying, taciturn nature (as in, uncommunicative) or apathetic attitude (as in, nothing  matters), but not always.

Some people who repeatedly say, “I feel depressed” (not clinically, but sad nonetheless) risk labeling themselves and initiating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Nonstop melancholy kills happiness when brooding (as in, deep unhappiness of thought) becomes a controller of character.

coffee and depression

Source: PsychCentral

When life isn’t the way we want it to be, disappointment hits us. Reality feels like it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Something is missing. Something more. What it is remains beyond our reach.

As clinical psychologist, Leon F. Seltzer, PhD said, “Whenever you feel that something vital is missing from your life, yet lack the  drive to pursue it, you’re afflicted with this curiously “emotionless” emotion” called “apathy” which is, “essentially the feeling of not feeling” (The Curse of Apathy).

You yourself might not be enjoying at this time (or overall). Maybe that’s why you’re here.

For a lift.

aballoonreminderBut if all joy is fleeting, like the clown says, then so is “despair,” “despondency” and “apathy”– possibly. If all emotions—including the “bad” ones—are fleeting, then one need only let them pass fleetingly.

Some people who are not enjoying argue they can’t help themselves. If you were in their shoe, you wouldn’t enjoy life either.

terrible shoes

“Look around,” say the rightfully sad, depressed and angry. “The world is a mess and getting messier still.”

“75% of Earth’s Land Areas Are Degraded”

urbansprawl

(source: National Geographic).

With the destruction of nature—not to mention daily aggravation, physical and mental decline topped off by tragedy—depression seems only natural and inevitable for any thinking person.

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In life there is death, disease and dismemberment—not to mention poverty, loneliness and the heartache of psoriasis.

One approach to unpleasant emotion is to go stoic. Think: “Do what you can and let the rest unfold as it will anyway.

This is reality. You are not super-human. You can’t control the world, only your reaction.”

So say the philosophically stoical who endure pain and hardship without showing feeling or complaining.

Cue music: “Help I’m Alive” by Metric (2009)

Let time and distraction work their magic. Focus on ups, not downs and don’t take feelings serious. You can’t rely on externals. You can only rely on your own responses. 

earlyofshatesbury
1st Earl of Shaftesbury, Anthony Ashley-Cooper: “Indeed.”

The 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, Anthony Ashley-Cooper (not to be confused with rocker Alice Cooper) said like a stoic that it isn’t the things that happen to us that upset us, it is our judgments about them.

Pain is not good or bad, it’s indifferent and the key to it all is in one’s supreme goal (source: Stoicism and Pain Management).

And what is a supreme goal?

(Do you have one?)

If you are emperor Marcus Aurelius, your supreme goal is to endure fear with courage and renounce desire with moderation.

alice cooper
Alice Cooper: “I’m 18 and I like it.”

Marcus A. would tell himself that pain is just a rough sensation, nothing more.

But if that’s the case—if reasoned self-talk removes suffering—what about someone who’s circumstances are not dire, who does the reasoned stoic self-talk without effect and remains depressed in a life not enjoyed even more than ever?

What then?

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What kills enjoyment in someone who should enjoy? Is it self-pity? bad memories? body deformity? the cruelty of others? depravity? laziness? boredom? addiction? what?

In War & Peace (the book) we see a supreme goal in action when on the third day after Christmas Nicholas Rostov, on leave for the holidays, thinks how the spirit of the house is saying to him:

“Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly(Book 4, Chapter 11).

go to your merry place

Enjoyment is a self-creation and emotion can lead to correction. Whereas Zen says that mental chatter and desire inflame suffering, Leo Tolstoy maintained that the highest human attributes of “love, poetic feelings, tenderness and philosophical inquiry skepticism” come by way of thinking and feeling.

Whereas in Zen and stoic philosophy observing thought and feeling with indifference is recommended—like watching clouds in the sky floating by—Tolstoy said thought and feeling are a means to experiencing the joy of living (see: 12 Life Lessons To Gain From Reading Leo Tolstoy).

On a cold day, should you be lucky enough to be warm in a gentle house, reclining, not hungry, not thirsty, a warm beverage in hand, no pain, no loss, no regrets (except a few), sitting clear-headed, sober, and (relatively) odor free, feeling love and friendship, problems have a way of falling away.

The heart of a philosophy of enjoyment is to sing with the band Argent, “And if it’s bad, don’t let it get you down, you can take it. And if it hurts, don’t let them see you cry. You can take it” (“Hold Your Head Up”, 1972).

Unconcerned with age, beauty, ability, upward-mobility and intelligence (or lack thereof), not judged or criticized, but content as yourself in a body, in this world—seeing, hearing, touching, thinking, and feeling—so it is to fully experience life and enjoy it (no matter what).

Breathe in the air (and enjoy)

beautyofnatureOct4

Long you live and high you fly
Smiles you’ll give and tears you’ll cry
And all you touch and all you see
Is all your life will ever be” (Pink Floyd, “Breathe”, 1973)

Contrary to popular belief (and advertisers everywhere), people don’t need a product, service or lifestyle to enjoy life.

A moment of peace in a park or beside a drainage ditch with a Great Blue Heron can stop a busy brain from blocking beauty.

Without the blinders of identity and self-interest, a person can go from listening to an interior monologue capable of souring any perspective (and ruin your life), to enjoying the smallest things—a ladybug on a leaf, ducks quacking and water vapour (for no reason).

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Breathing can be enjoyable. In the midst of a problem, you can enjoy breathing (assuming that it is safe to do so).

If you hold your breath long enough, your body breathes for you. Combine this breathed sensation with a heart beating autonomously and you can appreciate self-driving organic automation. breathinggiphy

But breathing and heart-beating (consciously or not) gets boring. After breathing (even if it is enjoyable), people get distracted and ask like Peggy Lee did, “Is that all there is?

What’s easily enjoyed is easily ignored. We might want to enjoy more, but therein is our problem: What we enjoy triggers our brain’s “reward” centers and makes pleasure habit-forming (see also: “Hedonism, Selfishness and a Womb with a View”).

A pleasure repeated can “set up potentially harmful routines, such as overeating, smoking, drug or alcohol abuse, gambling and even compulsive use of computers and social media” (Breaking Bad Habits).

Enjoyment (and addictive drugs) prompts the brain to release dopamine—a chemical responsible for transmitting signals between nerve cells.

Dr. Russell Poldrack, a neurobiologist at the University of Texas comments, “If you do something over and over, and dopamine is there when you’re doing it, that strengthens the habit even more. When you’re not doing those things, dopamine creates the craving to do it again” (source)

2007-06-22 Are-you-crazy

(Saturday Cartoons)

Therefore, it isn’t prudent to do whatever thou wilt. One will soon find one’s self on auto-pilot, following a predetermined sequence of operations conditioned by habit prompted by pleasure.

One may soon find one’s self on a Hedonic Treadmill chasing a craving for happiness that becomes evermore unattainable.

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source

“The hedonic treadmill, which is also referred to as hedonic adaptation, is a metaphor for your set point of happiness. The idea here is that no matter how good or bad something makes you feel, you will eventually return to your original emotional state” (developgoodhabits).

hedonicadaptation

Cue music: “The Windmills of Your Mind“:

Round like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel
Like a snowball down a mountain, or a carnival balloon…

Like a tunnel that you follow to a tunnel of its own
Down a hollow to a cavern where the sun has never shone
Like a door that keeps revolving in a half forgotten dream
Or the ripples from a pebble someone tosses in a stream…”

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Aristippus (435-356 BC) the philosopher saw danger in pleasure and advised, “It is not abstinence from pleasures that is best, but mastery over them without being worsted” (source).

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“The vice lies not in entering the bordello but in not coming out” (Aristippus)

The philosopher Epicurus (341-270 BC) agreed, but his idea of pleasure was ataraxy, “a state of serene calmness.”

Epicurus advised us not to be ambitious but to live in harmony with nature and strive for tranquility brought by contentment with simple things and the absence of pain.

epicurusExistential Comics: Was Epicurus Really a Hedonist?

Our happiness formula is backwards. We think, “If I do something great, work overtime, get straight A’s, achieve some goal, then I’ll become more successful, and then I’ll be happier.”

But a few weeks after a goal is achieved, the trip over, the new treasure made familiar, happiness levels return to normal and a new goal is needed to achieve happiness later.

hedonic treadmill

The trick to evading the trap of cravings and treadmills is to not wait until later to be happy. Save time and be happy first! To do that, it’s quite simple: Go without expectations, forget who you are and shift from thinking, “I must do something,” to, “I must do nothing.” The real trick is to enjoy reality as it is, because it is.

behappygreatworkbigsuccess

You are free to enjoy, but enjoying the world as it is, as you are, is difficult for people who are weighed down by time and things to be done.

Accepting reality without need, fear, or demand, with a sigh, without resistance, “this is what it is,” you suddenly find yourself relaxing into what there is (see also: “This too shall pass“).

Facing A Pine-scented Breeze

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“Stop every now and then. Just stop and enjoy. Take a deep breath. Relax…” (source).

And if you asked, “In two words or less, what is a philosophy of enjoyment?”

Answer: ‘Live well,’ ‘enjoy life,’ or simply, ‘enjoy.’ 

Enjoy (v.):

  1. If you enjoy something, you find pleasure and satisfaction in doing it or experiencing it (see also: And the Waiter said, “Enjoy”).
  2. If you enjoy yourself, you do something that you like doing or you take pleasure in the situation that you are in.
  3. If you enjoy something such as a right, benefit, or privilege, you have it.”

This might sound simplistic and possibly dangerous, so you ask,

If I or anyone else named I adopted this “Enjoy life” philosophy, wouldn’t that mean living in the “pursuit of happiness” like it says in the United States Declaration of Independence?

The answer is, ‘Yes, but it doesn’t take much to enjoy life’ (see also: happy animals running, jumping and playing).

To which you say,

In the phrase “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” doesn’t “pursuit” mean “chasing” happiness and isn’t that just hedonism? (as in, a bad thing).” 

hedonism (n.)

1844 as “self-indulgence,” from Greek hēdone “pleasure” (see hedonist) + -ism.

“… that the pleasure of the moment is the only possible end, that one kind of pleasure is not to be preferred to another, and that a man should in the interest of pleasure govern his pleasures and not be governed by them; hence, that ethical doctrine which regards pleasure or happiness as the highest good. … Egoistic hedonism considers only the pleasure of the individual; altruistic hedonism takes into account that of others. [Century Dictionary]

Hedonism says that pleasure is what motivates us. Only pleasure, our own or another’s, has worth and only displeasure⁠ has the opposite of worth (source).

Pursuing happiness might be encouraged, but to most people, the pleasures pursued by hedonists are indecent, indulgent and possibly sinful (at least, to the religious).

rich and famous

The common myth is that happiness is about having more good times than bad. The more good times, the more happy overall, but it isn’t about the quantity of ups over downs, but how smoothly we ride them.

Everything is changing all the time. From one moment to the next, good things and bad things happen to everyone. Those who are the happiest don’t have more good times than bad, they just don’t cling to the “good” or run from the “bad” like most people.

They appreciate every minute for what it is knowing it’s not going to last forever (see also: “This Too Shall Pass“).

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Surveys show happiness is the number one thing people say they want (money is number two) but the biggest challenge is: “Not knowing what I want to do” (source).

People don’t realize they don’t have to do anything to enjoy living. Try holding your breath and see what happens.

Time slows right down!

After a minute or two, you’ll enjoy life by simply breathing!

(It’s the little things.)

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Enjoy.