My new piece on optimism

I got published today at Be Yourself (a Medium publication). Topic is optimism—why it’s good for us, why it’s good for those around us.

That is, why our optimism is good for those around us. And not just good, but necessary if we want the best for those we love.

I’m an optimist. I have to be—I see no other way to be functional, given what’s happened in my life and what I see day in and day out. It’s like eating healthy or working out, and arguably more important than both of those things for people who care about whole-person (not just physical) well-being.

I’d appreciate your thoughts, either here or on Medium. Are you an optimist? Why or why not? How has your choice either way in this regard impacted your life?

Some scattered thoughts on materialism

Materialism is a belief in material possessions as the primary—even only—key to happiness, and even to spiritual growth. Materialism is typically not explicit or conscious (thanks to barely-enduring stigmas), but it most often manifests in our deep psyches as we think about how to pursue this kind of spiritual progress.

Or you might simply say materialism is the preoccupation with material things versus intellectual or spiritual things as the highest and best use of our energies, even in regard to achieving spiritual progress.

Material goods are, of course, necessary to survive. Even the Bible itself is rife with allusions to material goods as something to be enjoyed. It uses material abundance as an analogy for the wealth we’re to find in Christ.

“In my Father’s house are many mansions.”

John 14:2

But materialism (as I defined above) is most definitely bad, so I think materialism in practice is typically very subtle. To move from enjoying material goods to believing in material goods is hard to catch, and it’s something to which we all fall prey from time to time—perhaps more now in America than ever before.

Even gift-giving can be a subtle form of materialism. I do think most people have good intentions when buying things for others—that most don’t believe so much that a gift itself brings happiness, but that the act of giving is what makes the recipient—or the giver—happy. But even this is a subtle form of materialism.


What does materialism replace? If we believe in material goods as the key to happiness now, what did we believe before? Or what else could we possibly believe?


I don’t think materialism is an idol. I just think it powerfully weakens our psyches—especially our ability to be robust and resilient.


Like any vice, materialism happens on two extremes – on either side of a healthy and balanced view of material possessions. On one end is the view that material goods are all important. On the other is the view that material goods don’t matter. Both lead to an unhealthy excess, the latter in an ironic way — no regard for the needs of others, no realization of your excess.

(In other words, minimalism is a form of materialism, because it implies that the solution lies in some optimal arrangement of the material.)

What I learned from my brother

I shared this note on Facebook yesterday.

It seems to have encouraged lots of people, so thought I’d share it here.

I hesitated to publish this anywhere, at first. I wrote it for myself—to get my thoughts on paper. I hadn’t been able to do that in regards to my brother until last week.

But I want people to remember Matt. And there’s no point in hiding the hard truths. Unfortunately, we all lose we people love, at some point or other—sometimes in terrible ways. What’s important isn’t that we avoid these things, but learn how to put it all into some workable perspective.

Here’s a quote to go along with the note:

There is, of course, some comfort to be derived from the thought that everything that occurs at the level of secondary causality – in nature or history – is governed not only by a transcendent providence but by a universal teleology that makes every instance of pain and loss an indispensable moment in a grand scheme whose ultimate synthesis will justify all things. But one should consider the price at which the comfort is purchased: it requires us to believe in and love a God whose good ends will be realized not only in spite of – but entirely by way of – every cruelty, every fortuitous misery, every catastrophe, every betrayal, every sin the world has ever known; it requires us to believe in the eternal spiritual necessity of a child dying an agonizing death from diphtheria, of a young mother ravaged by cancer, of tens of thousands of Asians swallowed in an instant by the sea, of millions murdered in death camps and gulags and forced famines (and so on). It is a strange thing indeed to seek peace in a universe rendered morally intelligible at the cost of a God rendered morally loathsome.

Now we are able to rejoice that we are saved not through the immanent mechanisms of history and nature, but by grace; that God will not unite all of history’s many strands in one great synthesis, but will judge much of history false and damnable; that he will not simply reveal the sublime logic of fallen nature but will strike off the fetters in which creation languishes; and that, rather than showing us how the tears of a small girl suffering in the dark were necessary for the building of the Kingdom, he will instead raise her up and wipe away all tears from her eyes – and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor any more pain, for the former things will have passed away and he that sits upon the throne will say, ‘Behold, I make all things new.

David Bentley Hart

How many people have seen a ghost?

That headline is one of the questions covered in the newest installment in my Survey Says series on Medium.

I also cover time-travel, the spirit-world, visions, and belief in aliens.

Suffice it to say, this was a pretty fun survey. I’m surprised by some of the findings (25% of people have seen a ghost?), but not by the overall takeaway—that we’re a lot more superstitious than we let on.

Sure, it’s 2018. Technology is fast-improving. More of us are educated. We know more about the physical world than ever before.

But for better or worse, we often seem relatively unmoved by the most earth-shattering scientific discoveries — even ones with profound potential to enhance the quality of our own lives. Instead, we often cling to superstitious beliefs instead—because, I think, they can be easier to understand (and even easier to believe) than many “scientific” explanations for confusing things.

Anyways, click the link above to read more about my findings. Hope you enjoy!

Focus on YOU, not the UNKNOWN

We worry so much about the unknown.

About things that have never happened before, and aren’t likely to happen at all.

It’s why we spend so much on insurance. Home insurance, health insurance, car insurance, renters insurance. Disability insurance, life insurance, travel insurance, pet insurance. Even oven, microwave & fridge insurance.

Bottom line: We spend a LOT of time and a LOT of money worrying about what MIGHT happen in the future.

But at the end of the day, these things aren’t what makes the difference. What we CAN’T CONTROL might be scary, but it’s what we CAN control that has the biggest impact on our health & happiness. BY FAR.

Things like whether we exercise. Whether we go to church. Whether we slow down and take breaks. Whether we eat right, sleep enough, and stop drinking so much.

Because when you’re healthy, things make more sense. Lower stress, better decisions. And yes, while the big unknowns (cancer, a house fire, stolen identity) are scary, they aren’t what you’ll look back and regret. And ultimately, there’s really nothing you can do to protect yourself entirely. The big, bad things are going to happen, whether you like it or not.

But your daily decisions, on the other hand, are totally up to you.

I’m convinced that if we spent just 10% as much time investing in OURSELVES as we do staving off the unknown, we’d be a lot happier and healthier.

So here’s my idea: Find $200.

Review your monthly expenses on things like insurance, retirement & investment accounts. Find a way to save $200 before the end of 2018.

Then take that $200 and go buy a gym membership. Or take a dance class with your spouse. Or take a cooking class. Or a wine class. Or a Spanish class. Or just take a day off and explore museums downtown.

So many of us have so much, but I promise — it will never be enough. You’ll never “get ahead” on account of your income. You’ll never feel fulfilled by the numbers on your paystub.

What’s important is to be healthy. And I think most of us are better equipped to pursue this kind of health than we’re led to believe.

The best way to prepare for the future is to become a better, more confident person now. Not throw more money at unlikely possibilities that won’t make whatever might happen any easier, in the end.