#125: The way time passes, the sources of wealth, and a question about 2020

One thought from me: The way time passes

Time seems to pass in three different ways.

  1. Time flies by, beautifully
  2. Time flies by, horribly
  3. Time drags

I’m grateful to say that I haven’t felt #3 for several years. Usually, when I experienced it, it is was in some job which I either really loathed or hadn’t learned how to appreciate.

The other two, I’ve noticed them a lot.

The first one can happen when you’re in a moment of flow state, when ideas and creativity and work just seems to flow through you, or it can happen in a moment with family or friends, when an hour or two or three zips past unnoticed.

The second one can happen when you look at someone you love and realise how much time with them you’ve missed: an older relative, now suddenly frailer; or a younger one, now suddenly grown up.

Of course, “suddenly” doesn’t really happen with time. The only thing that’s sudden is the realisation of what has passed, unclaimed.

While we cannot reclaim the past, we can reclaim the present and the future by practising on noticing things in the present, simply by bringing our awareness to right now.

Even once or twice a day. (I wrote a little about these moments of mindfulness earlier this week.)

One thought from someone else: The source of real wealth

The tiny speckles of life are infinitesimal sources of wealth.

I’ve been reading quite a bit by Khe Hy, who is a productivity expert, but a lot more than that too. This short piece, “Real Wealth is Perishable”, references Alan Watts and a searingly tender and beautiful passage from a book I’m not familiar with, Not Fade Away by Peter Barton.

One question for you

In your inner life, does 2020 feel like a constriction or a liberation? What can you learn about yourself from this global collective experience?


#124: Boredom and economic growth, a theory about genius and a question about experiences

One thought from me: How boredom drives economic growth

Distraction from boredom is the main driver of economic growth.

If enough of us become more accepting of our tedious present moments, we might collapse the economy.

Global economies rely on our inability to be okay with ourselves.

It doesn’t have to be this way. It wasn’t always this way.

It has been made this way by developments in four types of technology:

  • entertainment technology (including Netflix, Spotify and YouTube, which have made on-demand entertainment a habit that billions of people will never be able to break)
  • communications technology (including Facebook, Instagram and TikTok, which bring the best elements of the lives of others into our consciousness on a daily — or hourly — basis, and stealthily compel us to feel dissatisfied with our own existence, which we mistakenly think of as mundane)
  • commerce technology (including Amazon and eBay, which make it simple for us to salve our desire to buy things as a treatment for our boredom with our mundane existence)
  • financial technology (including all the world’s biggest banks, which generate profits out of our indebtedness on month-to-month high-interest credit cards)

It’s true that human nature has been susceptible to this for thousands of years.

The Roman political leaders followed policies that were labelled “bread and circuses” by the poet Juvenal:

to generate public approval, not by excellence in public service or public policy, but by diversion, distraction or by satisfying the most immediate or base requirements of a populace — by offering a palliative: for example food (bread) or entertainment (circuses).

In general, people will be susceptible to costly distraction. As two people described when I wrote a little about this on Twitter, it’s akin to a “mass hypnosis” or “mass hallucination”.

So in general, this susceptibility has been around for thousands of years.

But at an individual level, we don’t have to fall victim to it. At an individual level, we can notice when we’re being gently coaxed to purchase a balm against boredom, and once we notice it, we have a much greater chance at resisting it.

A more sustainable balm, I think, is mindful creativity, which I wrote about in last week’s bulletin.

One thought from someone else: A theory of genius

I suspect if you had the sixteen year old Shakespeare or Einstein in school with you, they’d seem impressive, but not totally unlike your other friends.

Which is an uncomfortable thought. If they were just like us, then they had to work very hard to do what they did. And that’s one reason we like to believe in genius. It gives us an excuse for being lazy.

If these guys were able to do what they did only because of some magic Shakespeareness or Einsteinness, then it’s not our fault if we can’t do something as good. I’m not saying there’s no such thing as genius. But if you’re trying to choose between two theories and one gives you an excuse for being lazy, the other one is probably right.

— Paul Graham, writer, entrepreneur and investor

From “What You’ll Wish You’d Known”, an essay of advice for school students who may be about to embark on a college or work career

Paul Graham has written several long essays on life and business, and all of them are worth reading. The piece referenced here was initially to be delivered as a speech to a high school class many years ago, but the speech was cancelled, and he wrote it up as an essay instead.

One question for you

What is one big experience you’d like to have in your life which, for whatever reason, you’ve been putting off for a long time?


#123: Mindful creativity, visualisations of depression and anxiety, and a question for you

One thought from me: How creativity and mindfulness might save you, and save the world

The world is strange right now — you might have noticed.

Leave aside, if you can, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the precipice of economic depression the world may be facing into, and the unrest that is growing as far afield as the United States and Hong Kong.

Far from the worst of what is happening, it is strange also just to be in one’s local town or village, with many businesses closed and those that are open struggling valiantly for some form of normality amid the hand sanitizer and face coverings and social distancing.

A series of related thoughts spring to mind:

  1. The world before the start of 2020 was characterised more than anything by an unsustainable consumption of the earth’s natural resources
  2. While it will bring short-term uncertainty and pain, it is in humanity’s long-term interest not to return to that old way of being (our children and grandchildren and their children and grandchildren may never forgive us if we rush back into the unsustainable old normal)
  3. Much of what was loosely called “economic growth” was based on the unsustainable old normal
  4. Boredom is perhaps the biggest driver of economic growth (the type of boredom that compels us to eat fast food, to make absentminded weekly trips to cinemas and pubs and restaurants, and to make large shopping centres a temple)
  5. The only antidotes to boredom, I think, are either to engage oneself in creative work or to become comfortable with self-reflection.

Exercises in creativity and mindfulness could save you, and also save the world.

Mindful creativity is the opposite of mindless consumption.

Mindfulness is not necessarily about sitting cross-legged up a mountain, or savouring the flavour of a single raisin. Mindfulness is about drawing the mind to the present, away from the endless thoughts about the past and the future.

Mindful creativity — a poem you’ve been meaning to rewrite, a painting on the canvas, a specially prepared meal for a loved one or a business idea you’ve been thinking about trying — is good for your soul.

Mindful creativity is also good for the souls of others, because it is a window into the heart of things that truly matter.

One thought from someone else: A visualisation of depression, anxiety and peace of mind

I’ve always felt that depression and anxiety were extremely closely related.

In my experience, they often go hand-in-hand, the Batman and Robin of mental health conditions.

In the past I’ve thought that depression is usually a deep-seated and negative preoccupation with a version of what has already happened, and that anxiety was a similarly negative preoccupation with things that had yet to happen.

I saw these visuals on Instagram this week, and they hit home for me.

They’re from the Taohaus account, which offers a visual guide to ancient wisdom.



A visualisation of anxiety

Peace of mind:

A visualisation of peace of mind


One question for you

What creative endeavour have you been putting off? And what would it take for you to return to it this week?



Three things in the face of coronavirus / COVID19

The format for my weekly Saturday morning email is now three things to do, read, watch, listen to, think about or question.

Here’s the contents of the latest Three Things email, focusing squarely on the global coronavirus and COVID-19 situation, sent on Saturday, March 14th, 2020.

All of us, all over the world, are going through a collective global emergency right now. The coronavirus / COVID19 is almost universally seen as the biggest challenge facing humanity in more than half a century, and certainly the biggest challenge in the lifetimes of many people.

What to do when faced with such a challenge? Everything I’ve been doing for the past two years (writing, podcasting, speaking and business) has been geared towards identifying and overcoming challenges. This one will test me and all of us. We will all face suffering and mortality, many of us will experience it up close in these coming weeks and months. Humanity will prevail, but it’s also likely that humanity will be changed forever by this. I think of that as a good thing. Worthwhile progress rarely falls in our lap.

This week’s three things:

Some things to see: Humanity’s resilience and beauty in the face the great coronavirus / COVID19 challenge

1. This supermarket in Scotland which decided to create hundreds of free hygiene packets and give them away to the elderly and infirm in their communities

2. These Italian communities forced into nationwide lockdown, taking to their balconies for communal song (see the full list of tweets for loads of examples of human togetherness at its best)

3. This Instagram post of a young Italian nurse showing what her job has become, declaring that she loves that job as much as ever, and pleading for everyone to take things seriously in order to protect (English translation here)

Something to consider: The concept of teleology

I was searching for stuff like “There’s no such thing as coincidence” this week, and that brought me to hitsuzen (a Japanese word meaning events that happen in accordance with some scheme, plan, or design), and that brought me to a new word and concept for me: “teleology”.

From WikipediaTeleology is derived from two Greek words: telos (end, goal, purpose) and logos (reason, explanation). A purpose that is imposed by a human use, such as that of a fork, is called extrinsic. Natural teleology, common in classical philosophy but controversial today, contends that natural entities also have intrinsic purposes, irrespective of human use or opinion. For instance, Aristotle claimed that an acorn’s intrinsic telos is to become a fully grown oak tree.

The idea of natural entities things having an innate purpose seems sort of obvious, although I’m led to believe it’s widely rejected by evolutionary scientists.
As to why I was searching for “no such thing as coincidence”, let me explain. I have a watch, a silver Citizen, which my wife Lorraine bought for me a long time ago.

For a number of years it gathered dust in a drawer. One day I plucked it out and decided to start wearing it again. But it wasn’t working, so I brought it back to the shop for a replacement battery.

The lady in the shop took a look at the watch, and then at me, and broke the news to me as gently as she could. “This is an Eco-Drive. It’s powered by light. Just leave it in sunlight for a couple of minutes and it will work perfectly.” She was right. And it’s been working perfectly for several years since.

Until this week. I put it on earlier this week and noticed it was five hours slow. It had been in a drawer for a day or so, so just needed light, I said. I corrected it, and wore it, and it was fine. Until this morning, when I noticed it was several hours slow again.

So I started thinking about what all of us and the world are going through right now. It feels like a giant and collective and wholly necessary slowing down of everything, to allow the choking planet to breathe a little, so that it can sustain us and everything on it far into the future. Lorraine has described what we’re going through right now as a “Pause”. I’ve called it a “Correction”. Either way, it seems to be a slowing down and a shift, and while it will be a painful one for many, it feels like a necessary one too.

Evolutionary science is hard to argue with, and I won’t try, nor am I sure I want to.

But there’s also something else in the world. An underlying energy to everything. Call it a higher power, infinite intelligence, the divine, God, the universe, the cosmos, Mother Nature, Gaia, or whatever you want, but it feels real to me.

What this means for the present situation I’m not sure, and will take some time to mull over. But I do know that all of us – me, you and everyone else – are part of this unintelligibly complex ecosystem where everything is interconnected, and sometimes just observing that ecosystem without judgment is a good thing to do

Something to make you smile

We often allow ourselves a little snicker at dogs in their dog cones after operations.

Like Harriet here.


But they can maybe have a laugh at us now…

That’s all for this week, thanks for reading, *|FNAME|*.

Stay strong, safe and healthy, and see you back here next Saturday.


Mission: All my work, including writing and podcasts, and the speaking I do and the business I’m working hard to build (which combines coaching and marketing to help mission-driven businesses first get clear on where they’re going, and then help them get there), falls under the Life Well Lived project. Everything good in life comes from time spent doing meaningful things. The Life Well Lived mission is to change the perception that downtrodden, browbeaten circumstances are unavoidable facts of life and to help people reconnect with meaning and purpose in their lives. The project will try to achieve this mission by providing support, guidance and inspiration for people all over the world to navigate and overcome life’s challenges, fully embrace their own individual uniqueness and live with energy, purpose, contribution and fulfilment.

More writing: I try to write one blog each day Monday through Friday, and at least once a month there are longer articles on something that’s been turning over in my mind.

Podcast: The latest episode of the Life Well Lived podcast (Episode 26) is with Tracey McCann. I was delighted to have Tracey on, and I hope the show does some justice to her incredible story of will, endurance and optimism. You’ll find this episode here. All other episodes are here. You can also find and subscribe to the Life Well Lived Podcast on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.

Patreon: You can support the writing and the podcasts on Patreon. You’ll find all the details of how to support the project here.

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The Happiness Bulletin, #82: Flowing like water, being like water, sitting by water

This post was originally sent to the “Happiness Bulletin” email subscribers. Sign up here to receive that short email on life, living and happiness every Saturday morning.

Welcome to Saturday, and thank you for opening this week’s email

This week’s email is mostly about water.


Because water is cleansing, and life-giving. Because scientists say we are more than 60% water, and our most vital organs, our heart and our brain, are more than 70% water. Because water offers the opportunity for play and the threat of danger. Because water is the most mysterious of substances (see Neil DeGrasse Tyson bullet below).

  • A short poem by John O’Donohue
    John O’Donohue was 52 when he died suddenly in 2008. He wrote best-selling books of philosophy and spiritual development, including Anam Cara. [In the Irish language, “anam cara” means “soul friend”.]
    “Fluent” is a tiny poem about life.
    I would love to live
    Like a river flows,
    Carried by the surprise
    Of its own unfolding.
  • The philosophy of actor and martial artist master Bruce Lee, who was just 32 when he died in 1973.
    “Running water never goes stale, so you gotta just keep on flowing … Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless, like water. You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put it in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can flow, or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”
  • Kavanagh’s advice for happiness
    I spoke to a friend this week who said he’d met one of Ireland’s best loved poets by chance last year. He asked him, “What’s it all about? Give me one piece of advice”. The poet quickly replied with a short story about Patrick Kavanagh, the great Irish poet who died in 1967. Kavanagh spoke about not caring as the key to happiness.
    Kavanagh on “the matter of human contentment”,
    Something that I might say is the very heart of the matter of human contentment or as near as we can get. This is the secret of learning how not to care. Not caring is really a sense of values and feeling of confidence. A man who cares is not the master. And one can observe this in the matter of simple singing in the rain or in a pub. The fellows who around Christmas sing in pubs are not just chaps enjoying themselves. Enjoying themselves has nothing to do with it. They are expressing themselves. This is their art, their reason for existence. And they are usually very humble and ashamed of their own selves, for they always assume the part of some singing star or other. No wonder I squirm. I do not blame them; few people have the courage to be themselves. And when they do appear themselves it is all put on with spadefuls of bravado. It took me many years to learn or relearn not to care. The heart of a song singing it, or a poem writing it, is not caring.
    I bring up Kavanagh here because of the presence of water in his poetry, perhaps most memorably in “Lines Written on a Seat on the Grand Canal, Dublin”

    O commemorate me where there is water,
    Canal water, preferably, so stilly
    Greeny at the heart of summer. Brother
    Commemorate me thus beautifully
    Where by a lock niagarously roars
    The falls for those who sit in the tremendous silence
    Of mid-July. No one will speak in prose
    Who finds his way to these Parnassian islands.
    A swan goes by head low with many apologies,
    Fantastic light looks through the eyes of bridges –
    And look! a barge comes bringing from Athy
    And other far-flung towns mythologies.
    O commemorate me with no hero-courageous
    Tomb – just a canal-bank seat for the passer-by.

Thanks for reading.

I wish you a great weekend and week, and I’ll see you back here next Saturday.

Before I go, if you were forwarded this email and would like to get it in your inbox every Saturday morning, you can sign up for free on my website here.

Finally, if you’re online, please say hello. I’m @shanebreslin on Twitter (where I’m most active). I’m also occasionally on Instagram here, and Facebook here.