Case of the Mondays

Sometimes it can be hard to get up and going on Mondays, especially if we have jobs that we don’t care for. Having a case of the Mondays is a normal occurrence for many of us. The Monday blues may not be a scientific diagnosis but it sure is a reality for many people.

But, we can make Monday a good day. It may not be as easy as making Saturday a good day. But it can be done.

I recommend that people start Monday with a good attitude. Begin with meditation or prayer. Then, keep the right attitude throughout the day. If your colleagues are grumpy then you’ll have to fight that. But, you can fight it by being in a great mood yourself.

I also think it’s important to set fun and goal oriented activities for yourself on Mondays. Meet a friend for coffee, go on a date, find an activity where you can feel accomplished. We need to find ways to feel good on Mondays. Make sure you identify those ways and then go out and do them.

“I Don’t Care If I Am Popular”

Pink spring blossomsI hear this a lot from people. They say “I don’t want to be popular” or “I don’t care if I have friends” and so forth. Almost to a tee these statements come from people that want more friends, but just don’t know how to get them. I am not trying to be mean, but a lot of people utter these phrases to convince themselves that the basic human desire to be loved and admired is bunk. Such a phrase is likely a lie because it goes against basic human nature.

I think the better solution would be to learn the skills that make a person popular, rather than swearing off popularity altogether. Teaching kids how to be popular in school, for example, would be more effective than having kids cram down their desires for friends and dates while their feelings of isolation grow.

Unfortunately, popularity has gotten a bad rap, and a lot of “popular” people are really just feared. The bullies and jerks appear popular, but are really secretly hated. Fortunately, reality often catches up, and these losers often fail at life after high school. Some succeed and end up bullying people in the workplace. Again, they are more feared and hated, than popular.

Also, people think to be popular they have to sacrifice their values. That is not true either. Some of the most popular people (like Martin Luther King Jr, Ghandi, and Jesus) are admired and loved because they stuck to their values. These individuals knew how to stick to their values without being obnoxious about it, something people of all faiths, political positions, etc, should learn.

So, yes, I do care if I am popular. I do like having friends. I do like the benefits of popularity.

Nobody’s Tool?

What is freedom?

In the past I would have given various definitions, but rarely would they have involved freeing my mind. I used to poke fun at the phrase “free your mind” because it sounded kind of hippieish and a little weird. Plus, the people I know that talk about freedom a lot don’t seem very free themselves, or they tend to like to impose their “freedom” on others so that others are less free.

I have been thinking lately about freedom, and how and why we end up in the systems we live in. Many people play the perpetual victim, and speak of freedom as someone else allowing them to do, or not do, something. But, shouldn’t we actually be questioning the worst limiter of freedom: our own minds, which are often mired in bad systems and patterns??

Before I begin, I want to state that I love my current job. I have a lot of freedom and flexibility, and I enjoy teaching. However, one system that I have been questioning lately is working for somebody else. From a young age through college, and into the world of work (whether this is the Academy, the corporate world, or at non-profits) we are conditioned to work for somebody else. The American dream is usually presented as getting a degree, working for somebody else, getting an occasional raise or bonus, and climbing up the ladder, so you can buy nice things. Even as a child, our career choices tend to fall within the same framework: we “dream” of working for someone else. Most people complain about this system, but still continually buy into it, even if it is physically and mentally killing them. Lately I have realized this system is very limiting, and the answer is not complaining about the system, or shifting around in the system (“same crap, different toilet” syndrome) but rather leaving the system and starting a new one. Let me explain why I question the current “work” system most of us fall into:

1. Working for someone else means that your best time and ideas benefit someone else – For some reason, very few people realize that by working for another person or organization, we basically hand over our time and ideas so someone else can get more money and influence, while we struggle to make ends meet. This happens in the corporate world, non-profits, and the Academy. If you are lucky (and this is a big “if”), the organization you work for won’t get rid of you or cut off your pension when times get lean. One of the issues I had with college0 was that my college was basically using graduate students (who I often found to be more talented teachers than full professors) as slave labor. Their time, talent, and ideas were barely benefiting them, yet many people were willing to put up with the abuse. It took me a few years being in that system to finally realize I couldn’t stand working in such a ridiculous and dysfunctional system. It is just as bad in the corporate world too, with people giving all they have, while the company benefits, and they get denied raises.

2. Your degree may or may not actually help you – I used to believe that to get ahead you had to go to college. I still believe this, but with serious reservations. I value my college education, but many days I question whether the amount of money I put into it (including student loan debt) is actually worth the return. My colleges were laughing at me all the way to the bank. My BA is in psychology and my Master’s is in religion. Both degrees pretty much leave me in limbo. The BA doesn’t qualify me to do anything related to Psychology, and the Master’s in Religion pretty much qualifies me to barely make ends meet for the rest of my life (whether I choose to teach, be an adjunct professor, etc). Yes, I chose these degrees, and yes, other people choose degrees that are marketable, but the system is broken in the sense that I was never told what life is like after college for people with my degrees. And why would colleges be honest? If they were honest, the few English poetry majors that are actually making decent money teaching English poetry (the tenured professors), would be out of a job. It is just not in the college’s best interest to be honest with its young and idealistic students. So, basically I no longer believe having a college degree=success. I think the person him/herself determines success.

3. By working for someone else you are making trade-offs – Many people dislike their bosses and employing company or organization, yet they remain in this system for the stability. This could be a regular salary, health insurance, etc. Others remain out of habit. Others don’t realize there is a way out. There is a way out, and it is called starting your own business, organization, or non-profit. The government makes this difficult (regulations tend to favor companies, especially big ones, that are already in business and can influence regulations), but it can be done. The question, however, is this: can you handle the risk? Doing your own thing requires trading stability for risk, but also trading resentment and monotony for happiness and autonomy. As I have gotten older, I have decided that the risk is worth it.

4. Isn’t working about sacrifice and heartache?? – “Work sucks.” I hear this all the time. If it is so bad, then why in the world would a person get up every morning and devote 40-60 hours of his week to such an endeavor? If you are doing this, stop for a second, and ask why any happy and free human being would do such a thing? Why does it have to be this way? Can’t you see yourself waking up every morning and loving your job? Why can’t every workday be exciting and full of possibilities? Many readers may scoff at this, but does it really take that much to be happy and fulfilled? I know people that are photographers, freelance writers, and handymen that love their jobs. We are taught to settle. We are taught to remain in limiting systems and jobs in which we are asked to do more, for less money and less freedom. We accept that micromanaging bosses and wasting away mindlessly in a cubicle are laws of nature. We are taught that we are victims, and that the only way out is retirement. Not true. You could leave today! You could leave right this very moment. I am not saying that is a good idea without planning, but you could do it right now.

Now, let me ask my readers, have you ever complained about your job or job system (job system= being in the corporate, Academic, or non-profit “worlds”)? Most of us have. Now, let me ask: how many of you have ever questioned the system itself? How many of you have actually looked into exiting the system? Unfortunately, studies show that once humans commit to something, it is hard for us to leave it. If we have gotten a degree, or given 5 years to a job, many people will stay simply because of past commitment. However, who says that spending 5 years working for a job means that you have to live miserably for the next 20 years? If the “system” sucks, then start your own system!

In today’s economy, it is illogical for people to hate business. Instead they should love business. I understand their dislike of big business that conspires with the government to run the little guys out of business and devalue the average worker, but in this era we need more competition, from the good guys, not less competition, so that our only options end up being to work for the unwieldy and uncaring big businesses, universities, and non-profits. This is why one dream of mine is to help schools pair with local entrepreneurs to teach a younger generation how to start and run their own businesses. Whether school systems, which generally encourage conformity and dependence, would ever encourage this, I don’t know.

At age 33, feeling more independent and confident than ever, I question the system. I now dream of being in charge, being the boss, not of other people per se, but of my own destiny. I don’t want to work for someone else or another organization anymore. I may not get rich (I actually believe I will), but at the very least I will be doing what I love, and enjoying my autonomy. Even though I do love my current teaching job, I don’t see myself being there forever. I went to a fundraiser a few months ago, and the teachers and principals were talking about how many sacrifices they have made over the years. The people we were honoring at the event, who donated thousands of dollars to help our schools, owned their own businesses or organizations and were using their extra money and influence to give back to others. I decided I would dream to be like them, not the people who after 30 years were still scraping to get by and scanning their mind for reasons just to get up in the morning. At that moment, I decided I wouldn’t be anybody’s tool, except perhaps, my own.

Is High GPA A Predictor of Success?

No. According to research carried out by Thomas Harrell of Stanford (as referenced in Never Eat Alone), the GPA of MBAs had no bearing on success. So what predicted success?

Verbal Fluency. Those who could use language successfully with others (i.e. they would not only make conversation with everyone, but they would also do it well).

I won’t offer too much commentary, except to say that rarely in college or grad school did I think about anything but my academic standing. Now, at 32, I am starting to focus on things like communication, speaking, success, etc, whereas in my 20s, I just kind of assumed with a high GPA and a Master’s degree employers would be throwing themselves at me (I am exaggerating of course, but I really didn’t give much thought to the importance of interpersonal skills in getting ahead). Fortunately I was born with good people skills, but honing them lately has been paying off like crazy, even if it is changing my desired career trajectory!

All Generalizations Are Lies?

…Do you believe that? It’s a lie, you know. Everything we’re going to tell you here is a lie. All generalizations are lies. Since we have no claim on truth or accuracy, we will be lying to you consistently throughout this seminar. There are only two differences between us and other teachers: One is that we announce at the beginning of our seminars that everything we say will be a lie, and other teachers do not. Most of them believe their lies. They don’t realize that they are made up. The other difference is that most of our lies will work out really well if you act as if they are true.

From Frogs Into Princes, by Richard Bandler and John Grinder

I realize Neuro Linguistic Programming has its detractors, but I have to admit I love reading about it and applying it.

It’s About the Inside, Not the Outside

I have been reading a lot about Neurolinguistic Programming lately. In fact, I absolutely love the subject. Some of the insights are changing the way I view life. Among other books, I have been reading Get the Life You Want, by Richard Bandler.

NLP has changed my view on the causes of my emotions. I used to think the world outside determined my view of life. If I got angry, or discouraged, or whatever, it was because stimulus A or B, in the outside world, made me that way. I also viewed my lack of opportunities the same way. If I wasn’t successful, it was either the government’s fault, corporate America, etc. I even blamed my graduate school for my lack of opportunities. However, I missed one key factor in all of this: me. (I should note I still don’t trust the government, the Academy, or big business; however I no longer believe they have any noticeable effect on my future).

Nobody has to react a certain way. Granted we will all face pain (something author Rick Hanson, in Buddha’s Brain, calls ” first darts”), but how we react to, and deal with that pain, depends on how we respond internally. Hanson mentions that we often throw “second darts” at ourselves, self-inflicted pain that is caused by continually reliving past pain, or, in some cases, inventing pain (for example, when there is no actual pain involved, like when we enter a messy room and explode on our kids for making it that way). In other words, our response to just about anything is really an internal issue, not an external one. It is easy to say “I have to be angry, because look at how I have been treated,” but do we really have to be anything?

This is why you can line 100 people up, and an annoying guy can walk up to them, and 40 will get angry, 50 will remain calm, and 10 will just laugh it off and maybe even make friends with the guy. This is very good news really. It means that the big, bad evil world out there doesn’t control us. We can change our perceptions and change our life. Related to this, one maxim I now live by is “there is no failure, just feedback.” Think about it. Successful people take failure, learn from it, and get back up. They may “fail” multiple times, but they know that by coupling determination with a desire to learn from mistakes, they will be successful eventually. People who view their mistakes as “failures” rarely learn, and are so drowned in self-pity that it creates a downward spiral of even more failure. I used to feel this way, and was kind of proud of how “beaten down” by the system I could be.

Again, this is great news. The power to succeed is inside, not outside. It is great news because I can’t control outside forces. If I believe I am a victim (as many in education want us to believe), then I’ll be a victim. Do you know how many times in grad school I was told how awesome it was to be a victim (even if they preferred terms like “oppressed”). Sadly, for many years I pretty much agreed with them and took jobs that didn’t pay me enough, etc. The funny thing is that the tenured professors who told us how great it was to be victims were making great money and living in the best neighborhoods with great security systems.

I am not saying it is easy to feel a different way than you are used to. Most of us have spent a lot of time feeling ways that don’t work for us (if your head is sore from beating it against the same brick wall, it might be an indication an approach isn’t working!). We have literally built careers and lives based on fear, anxiety, etc.  I now believe it doesn’t have to be that way.

Raising a Millionaire?

I recently bought the book Young Bucks: How to Raise a Future Millionaire for a great price. Since my wife is expecting, I thought it looked interesting. The book, from what I can tell, is about raising a kid with an entrepreneurial attitude. A few years ago, I would have been horrified at such a book, and my visceral reaction would have been negative, but I  have been evaluating my view of work and education lately, as I am aware of my own prospects for job advancement, and the general work situation in America.

I have started questioning the way work “works” in America right now. With a majority of Americans unhappy with their jobs, corporate greed, non-profits squeezing every last drop from their employees, and increased government hassles and regulations, a lot of people just plain aren’t happy with their current job or job prospects. Incomes and benefits are dropping. Our first inclination is usually to blame the individual job or company, so we change  jobs, but then find there isn’t much difference between faceless company A or faceless company B. The same is true of Non-Profit A and Non-Profit B. No matter where we work, it seems like we end up giving the best ideas and time we have so that somebody else benefits (whether the stockholders or institution), and we hope and pray that they give us our fair share (such as raises, benefits, etc), and don’t lay us off when the economy gets a little bad. Basically, we don’t have simple human autonomy. We move far from friends and family just to find that one perfect job, only to find it isn’t really that perfect.

Most of my friends are very frustrated with work. Perhaps it is just a little Facebook over-dramatization, but most aren’t looking for riches, but instead a job that pays fairly and gives them the autonomy to live their lives (e.g. having time with their kids, etc).

One answer to this problem is to resent business, schools, non-profits, etc, and this is the solution many people take (and that I used to take). However, I am convinced now that the answer is not resentment (which only hurts you, not the company), but starting new systems. Instead of working for a bad system, or even changing the system from within, the solution to me is to start something better and compete with the bad: Plant a new tree*. Instead of resenting the financial services sector, start a financial business that does things right and ethically. Instead of lamenting the way stores treat their employees, start a store selling something great and treat your employees right! Instead of complaining that non-profits are inefficient and always begging for money, find a creative way to increase efficiency and get more money.  One of my long-term dreams is to start an energy company that takes advantage of the “crack” in gasoline refining costs, and passes savings onto the consumer so that all the local gas stations aren’t charging the same price (how is that for real competition??). I would love to be the local supplier and station that is always 10 cents or more a gallon lower than the competition.

Ultimately, I don’t care if my child is a millionaire. I want him or her to be happy and have autonomy in life. Research shows that small-business owners are happier than average workers, even though on average, they make less money. I don’t want my child thinking that work=scraping by giving her best for somebody else. If that is what she wants to do (work quietly and happily for somebody else), then I will support that. However, I don’t want this to be the only option. He shouldn’t have to look around at adults hating their jobs and job prospects and think “that will be me someday, beaten down by the very system I am supposed to look forward to.” Whenever someone asks her what she will do when she grows up, good answers will be “in charge” and “happy.”

* – note that for some institutions, I think fixing things from inside is best, as opposed to starting something new. Religions and governments are an example where constant splitting has caused problems. There is value to unity, however not the point of virtual enslavement.

Have I Ever Enjoyed a Meal??

Over the last few months I have tried to analyze my relationship with food. Why is it so troubled? Ever since I was around 11 or 12, I can remember being driven by food. Food. Food. And More Food. In 5th grade I took a great field trip all over the area, visiting steamboats and historical sites. I even got to drive a steamboat for a minute. However, I barely remember caring about any of that. All I cared about was where we were eating on the trip. My brother and I went over the itinerary in our minds before, during, and after the trip, and all that continued to come up was the food. I can still remember where we ate: Western Sizzlin Steak House, and the John Henry Restaurant (both long-closed).  This was the same year the cafeteria cooks knew me on a first name basis, because I was such a great customer. In 8th grade the process continued. We took a school trip to Florida, and all that seemed to matter was that I had 30 (yes, 30) packets of sprees for the trip. I certainly wasn’t “packing light” for that trip!

You would think that all this obsession with food, which I admit continues to this day, would mean I actually appreciate food. Those who overeat know this isn’t true. In fact, the opposite is true. Most of the time when I eat, I go into an altered state, a kind of food trance. I do not savor anything. Rather, I scarf down food as quickly as possible, with as little enjoyment as possible, and I can literally feel my body tensing up as I eat. When I finish, the tension gets relieved somewhat, and I feel bloated and my mind becomes foggy. This is not enjoying food. So, what  is the answer? Well, I think one possible answer is mindfulness.

I have been reading about mindfulness lately, after I picked up Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book Wherever You Go, There You Are. Mindfulness is simply being present and aware, non-judgmentally, in the moment. It is, basically, living in the present to the fullest extent. This got me thinking about the whole idea of mindfulness and eating. Why do I go into a narrow-focused trance state every time I eat? Why do I scarf down meals but don’t really enjoy them? Why can’t I appreciate the whole experience of food?

I decided to buy a book called Mindful Eating. I highly recommend it. I am working my way through it and the result has been pretty much revolutionary. It has made me realize I probably haven’t really enjoyed a meal in a long, long, time. According to the author, Jan Bays, mindful eating is basically being aware of the experience we have while eating. It is being attuned to our own hunger and experience of food. Mindful eating has us asking questions such “why am I hungry” and “how am I hungry.” It has us paying attention to the tastes, textures, flavors, colors, smells, and experience of a meal. In essence, mindful eating has taught me to slow down and actually enjoy a meal, and to live in the experience of eating a great piece of food or glass of liquid. Yes, we can even savor water! According to Bays, mindfulness is the best seasoning!

I have been using the techniques and I am very excited about it. Lately I have been saddened that I just don’t enjoy coffee like I used to. I grab a cup in the morning, at work, and in the evening. I gulp it down while I surf the net, talk to my wife, or drive. Even though we use good Arabica bean coffees (such as Starbucks Pike’s Place and Thanksgiving Blend), all the coffees were tasting the same to me. Recently, I decided to be aware of the experience of drinking coffee. Just aware. No thinking, no judging, and no rushing. I was amazed. I hadn’t enjoyed coffee like this in a long time! I have said how much I love coffee a lot over the last 3 years, but honestly, I haven’t really meant it, until now that is.

Last night I decided to eat dinner the same way. Bays mentions that it is okay to play with your food, so instead of eating at the table or in front of the TV, we decided to “have a picnic” in front of the fireplace. We put a blanket down and faced each other. The cat sat in between us, while the flames kept us warm. My wife made spare ribs with a tomato sauce, over whole wheat noodles. We enjoyed our meal slowly, and became aware of the experience. We talked some, but left plenty of time for just being aware. The flavors and experience came alive! Each bite was a little different, and the blend of spices and texture made it a great experience. While doing this, I became attuned to my stomach, and realized that I was full fairly quickly; I even left some food for later. As I looked up out the window during the meal, I noticed a strong orange and blue hue shining in, as the sun was setting outside our house. I realized that THIS is the way a meal was meant to be. The alternative, staring at a TV screen while inhaling the meal, now strikes me as a virtual waste of time.

I am planning on eating at Chipotle on Friday, and I literally cannot fathom how I will eat the whole thing (even though I usually scarf it down). The thought of eating that quickly makes me a little sad actually, looking back at how many meals I mindlessly ran through. Instead, I will mindfully enjoy it, and whatever is left, I (or someone else) will eat later.

I also think this will help my battle with weight gain. One principle of Mindful Eating is to recognize different types of hunger, and satisfy them. Some types of hunger can be satisfied with things other than food. For example, eye hunger (desiring a food because it looks appetizing) can be satisfied by looking at something beautiful. Who would have thought that if a piece of nicely decorated cheesecake on a dessert tray at a restaurant is calling your name, a simple glance at the sunset outside might satisfy your hunger? As someone who has struggled with food for years, I am starting to think that this mindfulness thing might be the answer. And I can tell you that living mindfully in other areas of life has transformed me as well.

10 Essential GIMP Plugins and Scripts

ducks and lake

The GIMP is a powerful open source (free) graphics editing software program. I use it frequently, since I can’t afford Photoshop and like the idea of open-source software. I have collected quite a few plugins and scripts over the years which make GIMP even more powerful. While the GIMP is not quite as powerful as Photoshop, plugins and scripts help take the GIMP closer to the professional level of Photoshop. Below I have listed 10 plug-ins and scripts, and collections of plugins and scripts, that make GIMP very powerful. These are the ones I use a lot and hope you enjoy. Obviously I have left out some, and may post on these later. I have linked to Windows versions if separate Windows versions exist, because I figure Linux users already know how to get the scripts and don’t need their hands held.

To install plugins on Windows, simply place the file or files (usually .exe) into the following folder:

c:Program FilesGimp-2.0libgimp2.0plug-ins

To install scripts on Windows, place the file or files (.scm) into the following folder:

c:Program FilesGimp-2.0sharegimp2.0scripts

Below are my favorites in no particular order:

1. Darla Purple Fringe – This script fixes purple fringing, an aberration in which some parts of  images have a purple outline. This is common on images shot on many digital cameras. This script helps fix the problem. I usually have to de-saturate blue to -80 to get the best result. Play around with the settings until you find what works.

2. GMIC for Gimp (Windows) – This plugin is a powerful collection of artistic, color, and other tools, which supercharges GIMP. Tools include soft focus, old photo, CMYK color mixer, fish-eye lens, additive noise, and many more!

3. Shadows and Highlights – This is a helpful script that allows you to lighten the areas that are too dark, and darken the areas that are too light. This is very useful in bringing out the details in regions of images that are too dark. However, it won’t “find” details that weren’t there to begin with; make sure you are taking photos that are properly exposed. The image above was enhanced using this script. The stumps on the far left of the image were practically black before I used the script.

4. Re-Focus – This is a nice plugin that sharpens an image in a smart way. I find that sometimes “Unsharp mask” (which comes with GIMP) gives good results, and other times, re-focus does a better job. Both, when used properly, sharpen an image without giving that over-sharpened look.

5. UFRaw – This is a program that runs separately from GIMP, but that is also integrated into GIMP. It allows processing of RAW files, before they are sent to the 8-bit GIMP editing environment. It is a nice program that allows for white balance correction, noise reduction, editing with curves, among other things. I wish it had a sharpening feature, but otherwise, I really like it.

6. FX-Foundry – This is a nice collection of scripts, which includes a lot of helpful tools. There are over 15 color tools alone, and many more in other categories. The one I use the most is “Contrast Overlay” which adjusts the contrast so that dark areas are brightened, and very bright areas are normalized. It also allows for the blurring of a layer, creating a nice “glow” to the image.

7. Technicolor 2 – I like the way this script turns a normal image into a more exciting one.  It makes an image look older and mysterious.

8. Eg Black and White – This script allows you to turn an image into black and white, and filter this based on color. UF Raw and GMIC also have tools for this, but this is a nice, easy-to-use, tool to do the job.

9. EXIF Viewer (Windows) – EXIF data is that information from the camera that tells you shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and a bunch of other information. GIMP doesn’t allow you to view this information without this plug-in.

10. Darla Blue-Sky Gradient – Sometimes the sky in a scenic image can be overexposed (losing detail because the area is too bright), which ruins an otherwise nice image. This script does a good job of fixing that, and making the sky blue (or whatever color you like) again. It does a nice job of knowing where the sky stops and the scenery begins.

Same Crap, Different Toilet

I had a friend who used that phrase a lot, to describe, what Alcoholics Anonymous describe as “insanity.” Insanity, by the AA definition, is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Yet, how easy is it for us to be “insane,” to get into a rut, immersing ourselves in systems that destroy us, and yet the only “solutions” we seek are to move within the system itself. I can think of many examples, a few I have listed below.

Some friends I know find themselves very frustrated with emotion-driven charismatic churches. So, they shift from charismatic church to charismatic church, looking for the one that is not going to make them feel weird for not being emotional, all the while not realizing that it is the system itself the problem, because it is the nature of charismatic churches to be emotional. I went through this myself. Before I finally became Catholic, from 1998-2004 I attended many parishes, and was very restless. I think the reason was that I was not comfortable in the systems I was in (evangelical and Episcopal). For some people, these systems are great, but they weren’t for me, until finally it became obvious that shifting from church to church in the same system was part of the problem itself.

Another example is relationships. I have heard so many times “I only meet jerks; I can’t meet nice guys/girls.” In fact, I uttered this many times myself. However, when I eventually reflected upon it, I realized that if *I* only meet people that aren’t good for me, then something is wrong with the way I meet people, not people themselves.

Finally, I think of people who are deep into the party scene. I have some facebook friends whose status updates are a mix of “can’t wait to get drunk tonight” and “I hope life actually has some meaning this week.” The “solutions” they propose (and put into action) to this lack of meaning include partying more and hanging out with more “party people,” which basically get them deeper into the system that caused the problem to begin with. Finding meaning in this case involves something more difficult than getting drunk every weekend.

Of course, this is actually great news, not bad news. It means that even though it may seem that life isn’t fair, the reality is that our choices are what are limiting us. Although not always easy, we have the ability to get out of systems that limit us. Medical researchers have found that one difference between positive people and negative people is the way they respond to setbacks. Negative people consider a setback a personal attack, lash out at others while blaming themselves, and see no solution to the setback. Positive people see setbacks as unrelated to their character, and view unfortunate situations as problems that can be overcome through ingenuity and effort. In other words, negative people see endless quagmires, positive people see ways forward. While the negative person is moping about how life isn’t fair, and perhaps looking for a different toilet for the same crap, the positive person is replacing the crap.