How sentimentalism steals from your happiness

Lots of people today—especially teens and young people—have an unhealthy obsession with “making memories” and trying to fully realize the value of an experience in real-time while it’s still happening.

I call this real-time memorialization.

It’s a form of cheap sentimentalism. It’s a way of avoiding the more uncomfortable emotions inherent in all of life’s more notable occasions, and replacing them instead with a catch-all feeling of “I’m-going-to-miss-this!” (a feeling that, of course, is tenuously-held and inevitably fleeting).

What happens, then, is we become sad (and only sad) when thinking back to times gone by. Because at the time, we insisted on being happy (and only happy) by ignoring all the reasons—big or small—why such occasions were less than perfect.

And we make it all worse for ourselves by documenting everything with photos and looking back with nostalgia at those photos even while the documented event is still happening.

All of this replaces deep engagement with the present moment. It steals from the actual progress we can make by being fully-present, engaged, and critical with our time and what we’re doing. And ultimately, it fills our heads not with memories, but with vague feelings of wistfulness and “memories of memories” that can never fulfill us in the way actual, organic memories can.

It applies our highest mental and emotional energies toward continually scanning for experiences that might be worth real-time memorializing, rather than toward a goal of personal progress without (or, at least, with much less) regard for how things are going to make us feel.

The result of all this is an emptiness inside. Pervading melodrama. Missing things we’re not even sure we can remember, and being sad of that fact. Perpetual longing for times gone by that were, when they happened, nowhere near as joyous as we remember and that during which, in fact, we were much less happy than we are today.

This is a self-destructive tendency. It’s cynicism in disguise. It will steal from your happiness. Fight it.

Politics and Nutty People

Wisdom from Robert Higgs’ Facebook page:

When I was growing up, without ever dwelling on the matter, I thought of most people as “normal,” that is, like me. What I saw, they saw; what I felt, they felt. Of course a few were weird, and even fewer were bat-shit crazy, but these outliers dwelled, or so I supposed, well outside the realm of us normal people.

As I passed beyond my youth, I became more and more cognizant that the crazy ones were much more numerous than I had supposed while growing up, and I learned rather early in my adult life that I was one of the crazy ones. What I saw, many others did not see; what I felt, many others did not feel; and vice versa.

Now, at an advanced age, I am inclined to regard “normal” people as quite unusual in the overall population. I don’t mean to suggest that lots of people are psychotic or schizophrenic—that is, completely nutso. But I do mean that almost everyone has some twisted or bizarre psychic aspects that make people shake their heads, even those who are equally nuts but in a different way.

In view of how common crazy people are in the overall population, it’s nothing short of a miracle that society and economy hang together at all. That they do testifies, I think, to the fact that even nutty people can usually respond rationally to incentives, that they are sane enough to continue to play a value-yielding role of some sort in the socio-economic order. When they engage in political life, however, their nuttiness is free to run rampant without immediate, visible adverse consequences for them—indeed, they may even be rewarded for acting crazily—so nuttiness tends to be the norm in mass political participation.

Robert Higgs

What is Kanye doing?

It’s simple.

He’s turning his financial empire into a non-profit.

He’s building a church.

Because he HATES the music industry stealing from his earnings. And he HATES the government taxing his earnings. And he HATES anyone that’s ever capitalized on his creativity.

He’s been saying as much for 15 years, now.

So the solution? Become the Church of Kanye.

No more taxes. Less competition. New revenue streams.

He outlined the plan in a recent interview. Watch 50 seconds of this video, beginning at 1:05:00.

The church will produce and sell the shoes. The church will produce and sell the albums. The church will produce and sell everything Kanye wants to sell. And do it all as part of its work for “the church.”

Which means non-profit. Not taxed.

I think it’s fortunate for him that the interviewer cut him off at the end. Before he finished the statement “a lot of people have capitalized on my creativity…”

Because now it’s not on record.

“…and now all of that gets to stay within what I’m doing .”

As in, the church.

His church.

Which pays him.

Which doesn’t pay the government.

Which is under his control.

This doesn’t mean his music is bad. It doesn’t mean he’s not a Christian. It doesn’t mean he’s lying.

But it does mean there’s more here than meets the eye, and that he’s being manipulative.

“No way,” you say. “Non-profits don’t create billionaires. If Kanye wants money, he’d set up his own record company. His own label. His own apparel.”

True. But he’s already done these things. So what’s next?

Kenneth Copeland is worth more than Taylor Swift. Joel Osteen is worth more than 50 Cent. Joyce Meyer is worth more than Barack Obama.

The Church of Kanye, coming to retailers, theaters, bookstores, and auditoriums near you.

Borg on the three meanings of “faith”

I’ve taken these three points, quotes, and ideas from a poignant sermon by Marcus Borg. It’s on the meanings of the word “faith,” and what the differences between these three conceptions mean for the Christian life.

Definitions of Faith

  1. Assent (or assensus): Faith as believing that something is true.
    • It’s opposite is doubt or disbelief.
  2. Fidelity (or fidelitas): Faith as commitment.
    • It’s opposite is adultery.
  3. Fiducia (or fiduciary): Faith as trust.
    • It’s opposite is anxiety.

Believe as Belove

“I’ve already mentioned that for many modern people, “belief” means believing something to be true, though there are reasons to think otherwise. If you go back to the English language before the Enlightenment, Shakespeare and before, the word “believe” invariably means “love.” You see this in the Middle English word believen. That is where you get the modern English word “believe.” Believen means to belove, so that ultimately, what you believe really means what you belove.”

A Quick Thought

What’s a stronger expression of faith than obedience amidst doubt? Even stronger, I think, than obedience amidst certainty. Because certainty is not something won or achieved, but something granted by nature (or God).

Also, I think of William Cowper—a tortured man who seemed unduly obsessed with Christian assensus (and his failure, ultimately, to assent). I highly recommend David Cecil’s biography of Cowper. He was an obedient man, anxious though he was. In this context, he had intense fidelitas to God.

Another Marcus Borg selection

I’m on a Marcus Borg kick.

Here’s another quote from a superb interview. He’s answering the question:

How do you respond to the criticism that many contemporary scholars are taking away so much. We’ve lost the divinity of Jesus, the inspiration of the Scriptures, no virgin birth, our understanding of the resurrection has been modified. People feel like we don’t believe anything any longer. It’s all gone.

First, if believing in the virgin birth, believing that the tomb was really empty, that Jesus walked on the water — if that has not become a problem for you, there’s no reason for you to change your beliefs. If the Spirit of God is working through that belief system to lead you into a deeper relationship with God and growth and compassion in your life, there’s no reason to change your beliefs about that.

The second thing I want to say is, what do you say to the millions of people who can’t take the Bible literally, who can’t believe that the earth is young as a literal reading of Genesis suggests, who are skeptical that God relates to the world in the interventionist way presupposed by the plagues of the Exodus story and the splitting of the seas, who are skeptical that anyone is ever born without a human father? Do you simply say to those folks, “Sorry, you can’t be Christians, because the right way to believe is to believe all this literally.”

Now I am not suggesting that we ought to water down the Christian story to what a modern reductionistic skeptic could accept. I think a robust affirmation of the reality of God is utterly foundational to Christianity. But I think a kind of humility about whether our stories of the spectacular are factual or metaphorical is very much in order.

For Christians to say, for example, “Our stories of the spectacular are factual. The stories of the spectacular in other religions are myth or metaphorical” — to me, that makes no sense.

There’s a story of the Buddha walking on water. If someone wants to say, “I believe the Buddha could walk on water,” then I have no problem with that person saying, “And I believe Jesus walked on water.” What I think has become an intellectual obstacle for many people, including people whom we would very much like to attract into the life of the church, is the privileging of the Christian stories, so that our stories are factual, but the stories of all other traditions are not. I don’t know of many thoughtful people who can accept that claim. So insisting on the literal, factual meanings of these stories has become one of the intellectual stumbling blocks that’s also an artificial burden that’s hard to bear in our time.

Marcus Borg

Marcus Borg: What is God?

I only just discovered Marcus Borg.

He’s a “progressive Christian,” I suppose. A liberal theologian, though that meant something different 30 years ago (when he was most active) than it does today.

But I’m not drawn to his teaching because of that label. I didn’t know who he was until I saw this video. What attracts me is his honest—with himself, his audience, fellow believers.

What is God? How does our conception of God affect the way we live? What about our conception of God is rooted in Scripture vs. products of our own imaginations? And how much does that matter?

Here’s a good quote:

The way of Jesus is thus not a set of beliefs about Jesus. That people ever thought it was is strange, when we think about it — as if one entered new life by believing certain things to be true, or as if the only people who can be saved are those who know the word “Jesus”. Thinking that way virtually amounts to salvation by syllables.

Rather, the way of Jesus is the way of death and resurrection — the path of transition and transformation from an old way of being to a new way of being. To use the language of incarnation that is so central to John, Jesus incarnates the way. Incarnation means embodiment. Jesus is what the way embodied in a human life looks like.

Marcus Borg

Fatherhood as antidote

Getting married, starting a family, and steadily assuming responsibility for an increasing number of people other than oneself — this is a powerful antidote to existential despair and anxiety. And I don’t think there are many exceptions to this rule.

This is something I believe more enthusiastically with every passing year. I think it can help other people my age (and younger). Especially men.

Of course, these responsibilities come with their own stresses. But it’s a different kind of stress. It’s a how-will-I-have-time-for-this kind of stress. Not a what’s-the-point-of-life kind of stress.

This has been my experience, and that of other young fathers I know. I think it has to do with spending more time thinking deeply about other people and less time thinking deeply about myself.

And maybe, too, with seeing firsthand just how much others rely on me (and me on them) for guidance when things get tough.

The demands of parenthood don’t leave much time for over-analyzing thoughts and feelings that aren’t true (vs. manufactured) problems. And we often need this kind of external pressure to help us determine what feelings aren’t worth a second thought.

Sarah Coakley on how religions compare

Here’s a good interview of Sarah Coakley on how religions compare (or ought to compare) to one another.

Here’s a quote from the video that I think summarizes her main point:

If you simply look at those clashes as extrinsic doctrinal incompatibilities, then you’re not really getting to the heart of the issue. You have to probe more deeply than that. You have to look at the practices, attitudes, and lives that are attending these kinds of propositional assents.

Much more important than a kind of pluralism is how grown up we are as religious people. How deeply we have imbibed our own traditions.

That doesn’t just mean by being fanatical. It meany by how much we have actually absorbed and been transformed by the tradition that we’ve inherited.

Now once we’ve begun to look at the relationship between religious traditions in those two different ways—not as slabs of differentiated religion, nor as simply a matter of competing propositional forms of assent—then you’ve got a terrain that is much more interesting and, you might say, more complicated.

Sarah Coakley

To summarize, religions aren’t just sets of propositions. To compare one religion to another based on the veracity of the underlying propositions (about the nature and definition of God, God’s action in the world, etc.) says something, but not everything, about the religions being considered.

A very good, relevant question (and answer) for modern people

I saw this on Reddit just now.

I’m not the only one who’s seen it. It has more than 17,000 upvotes right now, and 95% of all votes were upvotes.

In other words, it’s resonating with people.


Have you ever felt you don’t know/have forgotten who you really are? That you’ve spent years just adapting to surroundings to make life easier and don’t know what’s the real you anymore? If so, how did you overcome this?

I can relate, though I do think I struggle less with this question than the average person. Maybe even a lot less, though I’m not sure why.

But I can stand 100% behind the this posted answer, because I think it’s spot on:

There’s probably no “real you” that exists across time. That’s just a thing you built up when you were younger to give yourself a stable identity and core values.

The you now is just as real as the you then. We all adapt to our surroundings and change to make our lives easier. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

If you’re unhappy with your life now, you can adapt by changing. You need to believe that, and you probably know it since it seems to be something you’re afraid of. But this is the real you now, and you need to focus on the needs of that person, not some idealized phantom from the past.

Lots of truth there. I’m glad people seem to recognize that (more than 8,000 upvotes right now—the most popular answer option).

There’s something from process thinking here. Even process philosophy, emphasizing “becoming and changing” over “static being.”

As Westerners and Romantics, we get hung up on “identity.” Who and what things really are. Who we really are. It’s a worldwide obsession—so pervasive that it’s hard to imagine things being any other way.

But slowly taking off these “identity” lenses has done a lot for my mental and spiritual health. What is there constant but change itself? What exists except this present moment? We have memories and relics from the past, but we are not who we were in the past. We are someone new every passing moment—embracing that can open your mind (in my experience) to a level of spiritual understanding that you may not have known existed.

Anyways, more on this later. Being (lately) more open to this way of thinking has energized me mentally, spiritually and physically more than anything else I can remember.

Scruton on wanting the right things

A Facebook friend shared this quote.

We should look at all those things [the temptations of appetite] from the perspective of our own self-knowledge, and recognize that our happiness depends on wanting the right things, not the things that happen to capture our attention or to inspire our lust. Overcoming temptation is a spiritual task. No political system, no economic order, no dictatorship from above could possibly replace the moral discipline that we each must undergo if we are to live in a world of abundance without putting everything that is most dear to us – love, morality, beauty, God himself – on sale.

…If the problem is the malleability of appetite, how are we to control it, and by what decrees? The fact is that we know the solution, and it is not a political one. We must change our lives. And to do this we need spiritual authority, the ability to make sacrifices, and the refusal to be degraded… This changed way of life does not come from politics. It comes from religion and culture, and in particular from the God-imbued culture that the [New Left] thinkers…wished to replace with a purely political way of seeing things.”

Roger Scruton

What is true freedom? I think a shallow perspective interprets freedom as something like the maximized ability to choose whatever life we want to live with a minimum of external attachments.

That’s freedom for your senses, sure. For your impulses. But what about for your soul? What if restraining your impulses and senses is required to achieve a higher-order freedom—one that can bring lasting happiness, and not just momentary pleasures?

What if it’s not “external attachments” that bind us, but our own carnality and self-interest? My plain experience of life supports this idea—that most people’s worst enemy is themselves and their addictions, and not external forces compelling them to do things part of them doesn’t want to do.

I think we could all spend more time thinking about how we hurt ourselves, and less about how others, or “the system,” hold us back. Both are problems, but the former is something we can control and, I think, something we tend to ignore.

Economics and the USWNT

I don’t like to let bad thinking go unchecked on social media.

Maybe it’s a weakness of mine. Maybe I’m too easily triggered.

But I like to think it’s just me taking things seriously that ought to be taken seriously.

To that end, I’ve seen about 100 posts commenting on the gender pay gap for the US men’s and women’s soccer teams.

Mostly, understandable laments that the victorious USWNT is paid less than the terrible USMNT.

Rather than respond to every post individually, I’ll explain what’s wrong with these sentiments here.

To demand equal pay for equal work, or performance-based pay, is an understandable urge. Why should someone make less just because of their gender, all else being equal?

That said, in light of the USWNT’s recent victory, why should they be paid less than the losing USMNT? It seems unfair.

But what’s glossed over here is how we define “performance.”

There is no committee measuring the objective performance of all professional athletes. Athletes aren’t paid according to their skill. They’re paid by companies with the resources to monetize their talent by selling tickets, merchandise, and advertisements. They’re also paid by brands who use their names to sell more product.

The fact that Lebron James and Alex Morgan are good athletes adds no value to anyone’s life. It’s only when people can watch and be inspired by their skill that their talent becomes valuable. And only when people can see their skill do they want to buy merchandise.

The same isn’t true for, say, the best plumber in the world. We don’t have to watch the best plumber work in order to benefit from his or her labor. What matters is his or her finished product.

A plumber produces good plumbing. A soccer player produces an event.

Few would care who won the World Cup — men’s or women’s — if no one could see it happen.

In this sense, athletes are entertainers.

Only in the past few decades have athletes become the most recognizable faces in the world. This is due to the proliferation of mass media and associated technologies. Athleticism is easy to capture and display on video.

All that said, athletes are compensated by the market in accord with how many people will tune in to watch them. They are not compensated according to their talent alone, just like I am not compensated according to my talent alone, but according to how many people care about what I’m doing.

The fact is, few people care about women’s soccer. The women’s World Cup brought in about 1/50th the revenue of the men’s World Cup. Major networks did not show the women’s games.

You can blame the media for this lack of attention towards the women’s team, but competition in that industry is fierce. You can bet that any major network would have shown every single game if they thought he would give them a financial edge over their competitors.

The simple fact is women’s soccer, and women’s sports generally, don’t draw anywhere near the crowds of men’s soccer. It doesn’t matter how good each team is — if no one is watching, no one will pay.

There is no use lamenting the pay gap when people simply don’t watch or care. If you want women athletes to be paid more, the only thing worth doing is to encourage more people to pay attention to the dominant women’s team.

My last week, plus a cool trick

Here’s installment number two in my new Monday blog series—worthwhile things I read, watched, or listened to last week, curated for your enjoyment.

Things I Read Last Week

This blog produces great, thoughtful content. I’ve followed it for years.
Inspiration for your websites. Remember, when it comes to web design, simple is best. Really simple, even better.
• Remember that missing Malaysian airplane? We’ve learned a lot more about it’s fate than I realized.
• Yes, ok. I admit it. I didn’t read this last week. But that’s because I wrote it. Here’s how to succeed on Upwork, or in any business relationship.

A Cool Instagram Trick

I don’t like using my phone to message. Screen is too small, fingers are too big. Just a pain. I’d rather message on my laptop, which I have with me all the time, anyways.

If you’re like me, then you’ll like this trick: How to check Instagram DMs on (Chrome) desktop

First, go to Be sure you’re logged in.

Then, right-click in some blank area of the page and click “Inspect.” A window should appear on the right side of your screen. Then press Cntrl + Shift + M, and refresh the page.

Voila—the mobile version of Instagram (including DMs) on your desktop.

Quote of the Week

The customer’s perception is your reality.

Kate Zabriskie

Me on Upwork in Entrepreneur’s Handbook

Here’s me in Entrepreneur’s Handbook on how anyone can copy my Upwork success.

I’m a big fan of Upwork. I’ve used it for three years, and continue to use it even as I run my startup. It’s a powerful tool for freelancers and skilled workers, in general. And as far as I know, it’s the best platform in the online freelancing space. Nothing else even comes close.

To elaborate on one of my points in the article, underselling yourself is really important in the early stages of your startup or freelancing career. I talk to too many people who just aren’t willing to work for free, or to put in the 70-hour weeks to get their career off the ground. They act like they’re too good for that.

I’ve even heard this attitude couched in terms of ROI—“I’m not going to do something if I’m not sure it’s going to have a high ROI.”

Well I’m sorry, but the fact is you don’t know something’s ROI until you try it. And the more things you’re trying, the more you’re going to learn about where’s the highest return on your time.

Speed is a part of this. I read a tweet this morning that sums this up.

“The speed at which the founders move.”

Not timing, traction, or product-market fit.

Those things are important, but they can all be fixed. But not if the founders aren’t moving fast and deliberately and working their asses off.

The fact is, while I’ve made a lot on Upwork, I’ve also left a TON of money on the table, and undersold myself to Upwork clients FAR too many times. I made massive mistakes with several clients, and ended up making pennies for work that should have paid my entire month’s rent.

All because I was doing too much, too quickly, and without thinking very deeply about all the implications.

But I there’s nothing I would have changed, because there’s nothing else that would have got me to this point—a place where I can point back to my online freelancing successes, and ride my Upwork score/reputation to literally dozens of unsolicited requests for work every single week.

Underselling yourself is the only way to break into a crowded market. The only-do-high-ROI-things perspective is better put aside until you’ve established some momentum.

And I mean, come on—if you’re not working because you don’t see a obviously high-ROI use of your time, what else are you doing? Fortnite?

My last week

Here’s a different kind of post: A list of worthwhile things I read (or listened to, or watched) last week, curated for your enjoyment. I’ll try to post something like this every Monday—even if only as a way for me to record and later recall these pieces.

And here’s a quote I liked:

The aim of science is to seek the simplest explanations of complex facts. We are apt to fall into the error of thinking that the facts are simple because simplicity is the goal of our quest. The guiding motto in the life of every natural philosopher should be, “Seek simplicity and distrust it.”

Alfred North Whitehead
Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947)

Thoughts on the Meaning of Belief in God

I’m a Jordan Peterson fan.

Here’s a quote from a recent chat between him and Dennis Prager.

To be able to accept the structure of existence, the suffering that goes along with it and the disappointment and the betrayal, and to nonetheless act properly; to aim at the good with all your heart; to dispense with the malevolence and your desire for destruction and revenge and all of that; and to face things courageously and to tell the truth to speak the truth and to act it out, that’s what it means to believe—that’s what it means—it doesn’t mean to state it, it means to act it out. And, unless you act it out you should be very careful about claiming it. And so, I’ve never been comfortable saying anything other than I try to act as if God exists because God only knows what you’d be if you truly believed.

Jordan Peterson

I like this quote because it’s honest. I strive for honesty with myself about what I actually believe, and I think Jordan Peterson does, too.

The past few years of my spiritual life have been an exercise in stripping away the extraneous. Specifically, I don’t like claiming to believe in doctrines or ideas I just don’t understand—especially in ideas that don’t sit well with my conscience.

This means my questions these days regard more about the nature and definition of God than about the details of substitutionary atonement or the meaning of the Trinity. I have a hard time professing belief in anything these days (because I can’t find the right words to express what it is I do believe in), though I’m more confident in the faith I do have.

In this vein, I find it more fulfilling to meditate on what God is not than on what God is. Because I can’t really understand what God is. We have words—omniscient, omnipotent, infinite—but we can’t grasp their full meaning in the context of what we’re trying to express. We conjure up imaginations about divine omnipotence, but (I think) these typically fail to de-anthropomorphize our conceptions of things like power and knowledge, and thus cause us to imagine God as something like a super-powerful human mind. But God, of course, is not a human and has no “mind” like ours. These words and definitions point us in some direction, but I’m trying to be deliberate about leaving them there—as general guides, and not precise or all-encompassing definitions.

In that light, then: Do I believe in God? Yes. Who is that God? I really don’t know, but He’s not what we describe Him to be. He’s much bigger than that.