When the going gets tough

Disastrous Business

I recently heard that one in three people will suffer from anxiety, depression or both at some point during their lives. That’s a lot, but hardly surprising. Almost everywhere I turn I see people struggling with life. Not saying that life should always be easy, but for many it seems to be a bit too gloomy and scary for comfort.

Few things are more stigmatizing in our society than psychological illness, even the relatively mild cases that a large number of people suffer from in silence (Just to clarify, I am not talking about heavy cases of mental illness in this post). You hardly ever meet anyone who openly talk about their problems with anxiety unless it is someone very close to you. Because no one must know that the perfect façade hides a person who is afraid. This is very different from physical conditions that (too?) often seem to be excellent topics for social conversation. People enthusiastically share their problems with migraine, aching backs or cancer with whomever wants to hear, even complete strangers. This is taken to the extreme when people even go on TV to have their hemorrhoids and verrucas exposed and broadcast to the whole world in British reality show Embarrassing Bodies.

Suffering or having suffered from  psychological conditions is oftentimes something that people carry with them as a shameful burden for the rest of their lives. A bit like a broken vase. It may well be whole again, but it is forever scarred and considered more fragile compared to one that has never been broken.

I believe one reason we have trouble dealing with anxiety and depression in a healthy way is that these problems by many are not considered health problems, but rather character defects. Sufferers and bystanders alike may therefore think that these are simply weak-minded people who even also may be partly to blame themselves for their problems. Well-meaning advice often includes solutions like pulling themselves together, just cheering up or to not worry so much. Gee, I am sure they hadn’t thought of that already!

Why is it so hard to view this for what it is, namely health issues? You would not tell a cancer patient or someone with chronic back pains to pull themselves together and get well. Yet, telling a teenager struggling with anxiety and depression to do just this seems legitimate to many.

HandsHoldingGrowingPlantIf one in three develops anxiety or depression during their lives it goes without saying that the causes are numerous. It may be traumatic experiences, stress, substance abuse, abusive relationships, simply being genetically predisposed and lots of other things. My point is that I do not think that the average sufferer from mental disorders is any more responsible for their own condition than patients with more physical troubles. So why the taboo and stigma? Why do people wait in the longest to seek help for their constant sense of impending doom? Or even worse, why do people tolerate this as a natural part of life and deal with it themselves instead of seeking professional assistance? Dealing with this oneself may include self-medicating on drugs and alcohol, becoming abusive themselves or holding it together until total collapse. These are all things that would almost inevitably affect family, friends, colleagues and everyone else around the sufferer.

I am not a health professional and am therefore not really qualified to give any advice on psychological problems, apart from encouraging people to seek help if they feel that life is a bit more difficult than it should be. Seeking help could start with talking about it to a friend or seeing a doctor or therapist. You may be surprised at how many who have experiences to share, either from their own lives or through someone close to them. Experiences that can give hope, guidance and the knowledge that things will get better.

Life is way too short not to be happy. And I am convinced that a lot of people could improve their quality of life if they only would give themselves a break and respect their own limits. Because we all have limits, and depression and anxiety may be your body and mind’s way of telling you that you are pushing it. If you keep pushing it chances are it will say stop in a big way a bit further down the line. And let me tell you: No one will be thanking you the day you hit the wall! Neither your friends, family nor your boss.

I don’t see anxiety and depression as signs of weakness and I don’t think that people who have suffered from this and recovered are more fragile than others. The contrary may actually be the case. In fact some of the most sorted people I know have made their very own personal experiences in this area. People who have felt their own limits, and are aware of them may in fact be living healthier, happier and more sustainable lives in the long run.

As for the vase-metaphor mentioned above, I rather like to think of it as a seam. For isn’t a seam that has been repaired often stronger than the original seam?

Mentally Yours,

Kristian

The beauty premium

Beautiful girl with clean fresh skinBeauty is in the eye of the beholder is a pretty worn out phrase we have all heard countless times. But is it? Is beauty really subjective? Or is this just mumbo jumbo to make lesser looking people feel better? According to a lot of studies, this may actually be the case. During my last year of university I wrote a paper on if good-looking people were better negotiators, and consequently plowed through a lot of research on the field.

Although it is nice to think that someone considered ugly by one person may be found beautiful by another, this is may not be how the world works. At least not objectively. If you ask people from all over the world to arrange ten portraits of random people in order from ugly to beautiful, they are likely to make similar judgements. This means that if people think that your sister is more beautiful than you in Alaska, she probably will be considered more beautiful than you in Thailand too.

I can only speak for myself, but I quite like being surrounded by beautiful things. By things I also mean people. Shallow I know. But I do. By saying that, I don’t dislike being around not so beautiful people either. But beautiful people add an extra visual bonus to any setting. And I am convinced this attitude is far more common than most people care to admit.

What may come as a surprise to many is that persons endowed with an attractive exterior also make more money than the rest. Yup, that’s right. Physical beauty affects wages. At least statistically. Economists talk of a beauty premium, and this premium may in fact be twice as big as the corresponding, what should I call it, ugly penalty. In other words employers are willing to pay more to hire an attractive person than someone average looking or less. How unfair the world is. I can however see some rationale in this, if the worker will be face-to-face with customers and clients. People are actually easier persuaded by good-looking people. This was once tested on a campus in the US where both handsome and not so handsome campaigners were trying to have people sign their petition against meat in the cantine. Not surprisingly the good-looking ones were far more successful at convincing people, regardless of gender (I only hope the campaigners were not informed of which category they were in). Also, anyone who has ever worked in a bar has probably noticed how attractive bartenders often sell more and get more tips than the ones looking average. Because who doesn’t want to be served by someone dreamy looking if we have the choice? That’s only human, right?

Another finding is that good-looking people often communiate more efficiently than the rest. A possible explanation here is that beautiful people have received more attention from relatives, teachers, peers and others even from childhood. Being popular in their early years may therefore have made them more skilled in interacting with others, simply because they have had more opportunities to practice with more friends and attention. I remember speaking to a mom once who totally aware of this made a point of dressing her daughters in fancy clothes so that they would get more attention in kindergarten.

Ok, as I am writing this now I feel that this is enough. Because my point with this post is not to make beautiful people feel even better about themselves and leave everyone else feeling down. There is of course more to a person than his or her exterior. Another well-known phrase is that A beautiful exterior catches my attention while a beautiful interior keeps it. Because I really don’t care how beautiful someone is, if their attitude stinks, they can really piss off.

Beauty is not only what you have been given from nature; There are countless things each and everyone can do to up their market value, so to speak. Clothes, hair, teeth, make-up for the ladies, physical fitness, personal hygiene and more can be just as essential as genes. And my point is that I think many can benefit from caring a bit more about how they present themselves to their surroundings. Not only on a personal level, but also in their careers and elsewhere in life. Because the one losing out if you don’t is probably mainly yourself.

Since dashing out beauty tips is not really my thing, I will only give this one: You are always dressed with a smile. Even if your smile is not taken from a Colgate commercial.

Well folks, this has been an edtion of superficial Kristian. Next time I am going to write about war and peace and politics and stuff. You know smart thingys. Kinda. I think.

Beautifully Yours,

Kristian

The easy way to stop smoking

stub of cigarette

I used to smoke like a chimney. Literally. I used to say I smoked 20 a day but being completely honest, I was probably more of a 50-a-day smoker. Yeah. That bad! I am happy to say that in January it had been five years since I smoked my last cigarette. Reactions I get when I tell people I have gone five years without a smoke are normally along the lines of:

Wow! That’s amazing! You should  be really proud of yourself!

Which of course is very nice to hear and excellent for boosting my ego, but truth be told I almost feel like a cheat taking credit for it. Why? Because it has been dead easy! Yeah, that’s right! Quitting smoking was easy peasy. And had it not been that easy I would not be writing this post today. I am constitutionally incapable of not enjoying myself and I have no resilience whatsoever against sweet little habits that give me instant satisfaction. None. Nada. My willpower against cigarettes was (and probably still is) virtually non-existent. If I had wanted a cigarette even once in the last 5,5 years I probably would have smoked it. But I haven’t wanted one.

Anyone who has ever been addicted to nicotine knows that the mere thought of quitting is overwhelming. Like looking into an endless, unhappy abyss which is the rest of your life. What doesn’t really help is that smokers constantly hear how incredibly hard it is to give it up. You may have heard the expression Once a smoker – Always a smoker. You know, the ones who even after 20 years still want a cigarette, and who go through the rest of their days feeling deprived of something that used to bring them great pleasure. How sad! Really. What in God’s name is the point of quitting if you cannot enjoy it? Make no mistake: I am here to tell you that when I quit smoking I thoroughly enjoyed every step of the process.

So what is this miracle cure? Hypnosis? Antidepressants? Jesus? Nope. I went to a 5 hour workshop (with smoking breaks) one late afternoon in Oslo on January 11, 2007. That was all.

You may have heard of the book The Easy Way to Stop Smoking by Allen Carr. I had read that book five times prior to January 2007. All five times I had stopped smoking but started again after everything from 2 days to 2 months. I liked the method but somehow it just would not stick. Luckily, there were also workshops available where you could learn to quit using the same method, but from a live person instead of a book. You cannot ask a book anything if you want something clarified, don’t understand something or let it know that you disagree. With an instructor you can, and I believe that made all the difference. The workshop was led by a former smoker by the name René who the whole experience very enjoyable.

The method is no hocus pokus. You learn why you think you smoke, and why you actually smoke. You may think you smoke because you like the taste, it relaxes you and so on. But honestly, anyone who has ever smoked a cigarette knows that they don’t exactly taste like strawberries and cream. And cigarettes as a relaxant? Try to notice your pulse before and after lighting up a cigarette in the morning. Can something that increases your heart rate really be relaxing? I will not go further into the method here, because I want to leave that to people more qualified than I.

As I said I had no willpower to resist smoking. My willpower can be strong when it comes to many things but in the face of smoking it was useless. It was like trying to climb out of a 10 meter deep hole using a 5 meter long ladder. Nothing wrong with the ladder. It is just not long enough.

I quite simply hate being miserable, and wanting a smoke and not allowing myself one is pure misery. I could never do that, so therefore I thought I was forever stuck in the nicotine trap. Albeit not being armed with sufficient willpower I did have a very strong desire to quit, but I had no idea how to do actually do it. My primary motive to stop was that I felt I was selling myself short by smoking. It was (and still is) important to me to be all that I can be, and constantly inhaling poisonous gases, coughing and not exactly smelling like roses would not exactly pull me in the right direction.

I am not writing this to showcase my success. I am writing this because I want to tell smokers who think they must choose between continuing smoking and being miserable that there is a third option: Quit smoking and be a happy non-smoker. I normally hate the phrase If I could do it, anyone can, but it is actually very true here. Try not to buy into so-called universal truths that surround you telling you how hard it is, because it doesn’t need to be. It certainly wasn’t for me, and it does not need to be like that for you. 

So if you (or someone you know) want to quit smoking I can warmly recommend these workshops. I went to one in Oslo but they are available all over the world. In case you are wondering if I am getting paid for this the answer is no. I am doing  this solely because I want others to experience the wonderful feeling it is to quit smoking.

It is time to leave the sinking ship!

Non-Smokingly Yours,

Kristian

Pointless worrying

SmilingTreeLogsWithDaisies

Don’t worry, be happy is the title of an extremely annoying tune that was big in my 1980s childhood. Surprisingly, the more I learn about life, the more true the message of this cheesy song becomes: The less you worry, the happier you will be. But is it really that simple?

Over the weekend my family gathered to celebrate my father’s 60th birthday, meaning I got a chance to catch up with family members that I don’t see very often. As you do, you talk about what goes on in your own and their lives and as in all families life is not just smooth sailing. Everyone has their problems to deal with, big and small, which is completely normal. What is also normal is that a huge part of people’s problems actually lies anticipating obstacles and then worrying about them. What might happen? What’s the worst case scenario? You know, just in case.

It is impossible to worry about something that is happening right at this moment. If you have a genuine problem right now, like a car speeding towards you, your only real option is to deal with it. Worrying is not to deal with problems. It is to spend time and energy focusing on something that you at this very moment cannot or will not deal with. Worry is without exception focused either in the past or in the future. Everyone knows that you cannot change the past, it is over and done with. Finito. Worrying about it will not change anything at all. Not even a little bit. So why worry about it? Really?

I do however believe that for most people a majority of their everyday worries lie in the future. What problems may arise? How am I going to deal with this and that tomorrow and next year? It could be illness, money problems, relationships, career and the list goes on and on. Our worries become vivid projections of the mind that can be both scary and unsettling. The good news is that right at this moment this is only fiction. It is not real. It only exists in your mind and absolutely nowhere else. I read somewhere that only 8% of worries actually come to pass, with the remaining 92% being forever left in the imagination. I have no idea how someone has landed on those numbers, but somehow I don’t think they are completely off. Because isn’t it so that most of our worries thus far have never manifested themselves in reality?

The Dalai Lama teaches that if you have a problem that is solvable then there is no need to worry, and that if you have a problem that you cannot solve then there is also no need to worry. That simple. This is beautifully summed up in this simple flowchart:

Worrying is not going to change anything. Trying to carry tomorrow’s sorrow today only ruins today and quite frankly does not make tomorrow’s sorrow any less painful. There is no discount. Guaranteed. So then again, why do we keep worrying?

The point is that worrying never adds anything positive to anything. It only steals happiness from today without making the potential unpleasant situations that may arise in the future any less painful. Humanity seems however to have accepted worry as a completely normal activity of the mind, and to most people life would be incomplete without it. The habit of worrying is so deeply rooted in us that very few even stop to think if there actually is any point in doing it. And truth be told: It is completely pointless.

Some people think they have to worry to care for someone. I have news for you: Worrying about someone rarely leaves the recipient of the worrying thoughts feeling any more uplifted. As a matter of fact the contrary is probably more often the case. Not only have they got a real problem on their hands, they also get to live with the knowledge that their own problems are destroying the happiness of others. A double burden. So if you do have to worry about someone you care for, do them a favour and keep your worries to yourself. This does not mean that you cannot care for, love or be there for someone. But it means that you may want to look for other ways to show your concern than to inform them of the pain they are causing you. Make it about them, not about your reaction to their problems.

Worry is not a necessity to prepare for the future, if anything worrying can work against you in the form of self-fulfilling prophecies. When you expect a bad result, chances are you will attract one. And vice versa.

American novelist Alice Hegan Rice once said:

It ain’t no use putting up your umbrella till it rains!

I think that is pretty good advice.

 

Happily Yours,

Kristian

Police lineups are a hoot!

line up

I have had quite a number of different jobs in my life, with one of the more interesting ones being in police lineups in Hong Kong. A year ago I was fresh out of university in Hong Kong, out of a job, and had signed up with a local talent agency to see if it could bring in som extra cash.

A police lineup is a way to make sure that the police has got the right guy when the suspect has not confessed to the crime. Typically 10 people are lined up behind a one way mirror in front of one or more witnesses. Only one out of the ten people in the lineup is a suspect with the other nine being completely random people who have nothing whatsoever to do with the crime. If the witness can pick out the one who did it from that line of people it is considered as a positive ID, i.e. it gives the court a pretty good indication that they have the right guy. Let me also just mention that the legal system of Hong Kong is completely separate from the rest of China. Hong Kong law has remained largely unchanged since the territory was a British colony and is therefore very similar to the legal system of the United Kingdom. But enough about that.

With me always being a good boy, I was of course one of the nine random guys who were there to confuse the witness. Fun! Ideally, the nine others should be physically similar to the suspect both in age, hair colour, build, height etc. However, with the number of caucasian men with nothing better to do on a weekday afternoon in Hong Kong being pretty limited, the Hong Kong Police Force can not really afford be picky. As long as gender and ethnicity match, it is all more or less good. This is however not as bad as it sounds, since many Chinese people think all white people look the same. Just like someone who has only seen white people all his life will have a hard time telling Chinese people apart.

I did this twice. Both times I was asked to meet at an MTR (metro) station in central Hong Kong with the other nine random whiteys before being taken to the police station where we would wait in a room labeled “Actors”. An excellent gesture since the majority of the specimen were aspiring actors. (Let me just point out that we did not sign any non-disclosure agreement nor were we asked not to talk about what we heard and saw so at worst I am getting a bit of bad karma here).

The first time was a bit sad really. The nine of us walked in and found this 20-something guy who looked as if he were on the verge of a nervous breakdown. And his lawyer. The sweat rings under his arms were visible from space and the guy was literally trembling. We had all been asked to come wearing casual clothes but sadly, the suspect had obviously not gotten this message and looked way too overdressed compared to us. His lawyer decided that he wanted him to trade shirt with one of us. This made us all look down in an instant, keeping the sweaty armpits in mind, praying not to be picked. The facial expression of the lucky guy who did get picked was priceless, but we of course all pretended as if we took no notice of that. I mean we are not mean people. The suspect’s hairdo was, eh, loud so in order to make the whole thing a bit more fair they decided to put shower caps on us to hide the hair. Then, enter witness #1.

Because of the mirror we could not see what went on on the other side but instead it gave us an excellent view of the shower-capped line and more importantly the suspect. He was now standing with his arms folded on his back as if (mentally?) handcuffed looking straight down in an obvious attempt to show as little of his guilt-ridden face as possible. The rest of us looked pretty relaxed, not exactly helping the man in question. I mean, had a random person walked into the room and been asked to pick out the one who looked the most guilty I am pretty sure that 99% would have chosen our guy. Because of the mirror we could not see what went on in the witness room, but to my great surprise we could hear everything. And as if for our benefit the first witness was not a local meaning that everything being said was in English (instead of Cantonese) making it easy for us to follow. This nervous fella had smashed a beer bottle on someone’s head in a bar in Hollywood Road and then made a run for it. Unfortunately for him, the long arm of the law had obviously caught up with him and because he had denied doing it he was now trembling in this room in Sheung Wan Police Station with us. But to no avail. All witnesses picked him out without hesitation.

The second time a couple of weeks later was a bit more, uh how should I put it, Winona Ryder kinda stupid. Again, the same procedure with us waiting in the room labeled “Actors” was repeated, and when the wait was up we walked into the room with the mirror. This time a 40-something guy and his lawyer were already there, and this one looked a lot more composed than the wreck who had met us the previous time. To my great joy, we got to dress up this time too. The person had apparently worn black glasses when committing his crime so we were therefore given a pair of black plastic specs. You know, the very cheap kind that you use for costume parties. The only thing missing was the fake nose. Again we lined up and were ready for witness number one while hoping that also this time one of the witnesses would be non-Chinese giving us the audio track in English. And again we were in luck.

This guy had bought several very expensive suits in a top Italian designer store in Hong Kong, but decided to nick a couple of silk ties at the same time. Slik ties costing only a small fraction of what he had already spent there. You know, just for sports. As the investigator read up the synopsis of the deed the suspect looked more and more embarrassed, almost to the point of blushing. All of us kept sneaking peeks at him in the mirror. And I was probably not the only one thinking: How stupid are you? Did he not know the entire store was covered with surveillance cameras that caught him doing it? To top it off he had even left his business card with his contact details in the bowl on the counter next to the till to be put on their mailing list. If there ever were a show called “Hong Kong’s Dumbest Criminals” I am sure he would have got his 15 minutes of fame. He probably did not make it onto their mailing list though.

Ok, this has been a display of my more shallow side, having a ball with other people’s misfortune. I promise to try to score more karma points in my next post.

 

Innocently Yours,

Kristian

God-given licence to act like a prick

CrossOfWoodenSticksI was browsing one of my regular discussion forums today and to no one’s great surprise the topic of religion was of course high up on the list. What amazes me with discussions on religion is that almost every debater demands respect for their views while offering none of that to the counterpart. Amidst labels like brainwashed, doomedinfidel, stupid etc. there seems to be very little constructive debate. And when it comes to beliefs what is there really to discuss? -I believe this! -I don’t believe that! -I like strawberries! -I like vanilla. -Ok. Let’s wrestle!!

I am not a big fan of organized religon. Not because I don’t believe in a power greater than myself, but because I am left with the impression that it belittles and limits its followers more than it sets them free. Believers are rarely encouraged to formulate their own conclusions. Instead indoctrination and blind acceptance of inflexible truths seem to be a prerequisite for a majority of organized religions. Not to speak of the literature that accompanies them. These books are being treated by many as if they once came falling down from the heavens bound in hardback and translated into every modern language. Rightfully, a lot can be learned from these books as many principles are universally accepted truths, but they must never be taken literally. They were written in another time and more importantly they were penned by humans. Fallible humans.

Humanity evolves but this is not done by clinging on to the marvels of the past. We must remember the past, learn from it and then create something even better. Creation is continuous. Treating religious texts as ultimate truths that can neither be questioned (the authors are long gone) nor reasoned with is not to learn from the past. It is to be stuck in it. Look ahead, and for the love of whomever you believe in: Use that wonderful mind that your creator equipped you with.

I have great respect for people who use their religion for the good of the people around them. I have however very little patience with those who use their religion to limit the freedom of others. If your religion can add to the harmony of the world around you then I am all for it. But if your religion is a licence to discriminate, harass, molest and even murder then I am pretty sure that you are on the wrong track if it is eternal salvation you are chasing. Just a hunch I have.

What are my beliefs? Well, really I just want everyone to get along. Seriously. I try to treat others like I want to be treated, an attitude that I believe can go a long way. And I believe that love trumps everything.

Three things will last forever–faith, hope, and love–and the greatest of these is love. 

 

Lovingly Yours,

Kristian

Only the Lonely

According to the teachers, there is only one thing that all people possess equally. This is their loneliness. – Hyemeyohsts Storm

I read this a few days ago and it has been rolling around in my head ever since. Can this be true? Is really every single person on this planet lonely?

Having moved abroad alone twice and also being chronically single I am quite familiar with the concept of being on my own. And frankly, I am comfortable with it too. In spite of being alone a lot I cannot really remember having felt truly lonely. Or at least, I have never allowed myself that feeling. Being lonely in today’s world is something many consider sad, pathetic and even shameful. You can choose to be alone, but being lonely is something that happens to you. It victimizes you.

The fear of being alone is very real to many. The almost insane thought of going out to dinner alone is something that strikes fear in most people. In fact, just arriving 10 minutes before a friend in a café can be bad enough. What will people think?

I believe that regardless of how many people live in your household, how many dates you have during a week or how many friends you have on Facebook we are all alone. We cannot obliterate aloneness. But we can learn to accept it, deal with it and even cherish it.

I came alone to this planet and when the time comes I will leave alone too. Just like everybody else. Through accepting my separateness I can bridge gaps and create meaningful and healthy connections to other people by maintaining my own individuality and appreciating others for who they are. I will spend time with others, not because being alone is unbearable but because I love their company.

I think that the key to cherishing aloneness lies in appreciating yourself. Because let’s face it, you are never really alone. You is always with you, and having a good relationship with yourself can make the time you spend alone into quality time. Through loving and accepting yourself you will transform a desert of loneliness into a garden of solitude.

And finally, one of my favourite quotes on being alone by Marilyn Monroe:

It is better to be unhappy alone than unhappy with someone.

 

Yours In Loneliness,

Kristian