Category Archives: Happiness

Searching in 2015

by Jessica Dang
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searching

For me, 2015 was about finding happiness.

At the beginning, I thought I could find through my job—I’d started a new one mid-2014, and was excited by the idea of having a regular income. I thought it would mean I could afford to do whatever I wanted. I was wrong.

I worked 50+ hours a week, pouring over business deals, doing everything I could to make sure they went through. It was so stressful, I even thought about them at night, and I couldn’t sleep properly. After continuous disappointments, I felt I couldn’t trust anything anyone said, and I lost faith in people. Where I was successful, I was paid very well, but that didn’t matter because losing all those hours to work, and feeling exhausted after each day meant that I couldn’t do any of the things I wanted to do. I had more money than I had time to spend. I was cash-rich, but time-poor.

About halfway through this year, I was ready to quit. Instead, I was offered a promotion. I thought about it, and decided to accept. Despite the disappointments, I was actually good at my job. I got a pay rise. I had more responsibility. But I should have known it wouldn’t be enough. It wasn’t more money I was after. It was having my own time that I cravedthe freedom to choose how I spend my days.

Three months later, I resolved to quit again. No backing out this time. No amount of money was going to keep my from being happy. I handed in my resignation letter, and cleared out my desk. I didn’t even work off the full notice period. I was free. A weight lifted off me. I cried. The next day, I slept like a baby.

When I look back at how I spent my time this year, I like to think of it as as journey. As much as I was grinding away at that job, worrying about each little problem or email message, considering the bigger picture I accomplished very little. In fact, it felt more like I wasted the better part of a year of my life. But I don’t regret it. Why? Because I needed to learn a lesson.

what I found in 2015

I needed to learn that money isn’t the most important thing. It’s not even the second, or third, or fourth, of fifth…there are so many things that are more precious. Like having free time, meaningful relationships, good health, or the ability to just damn relax. Eighteen months doesn’t sound like a long time to stick to a job you hate, but when you’re constantly dealing with disappointments, and wishing that time would just hurry up, it’s long enough to learn lessons that will last a lifetime.

I wouldn’t have believed anyone if they told me swapping my freedom for cash isn’t worth it. Of course it is, everyone does it! But when you’re not living life to the fullest, what’s the point? Money bought me a comfortable life, but I didn’t have time to enjoy it. By itself, money didn’t give me the things I really wanted. It as only after being deprived of time and freedom that I really appreciated how much they meant to me.

My spiritual journey has been reflected in my writing. Despite being short on time, I made a special effort to publish at least one post a month in 2015. Many of the posts focused on Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life, which I had taken a deep interest in during the cold winter nights this year after a long day at work. His essay confirmed for me that I was wasting my one and only life, and it hardened my resolve to quit.

Later on the year, I moved onto the subject of happinessobtained through noticing the miracles that surround us every day and being more grateful for the little things. After all, minimalism isn’t about paring down your wardrobe just for the sake of it. It’s ultimately about finding happiness within yourself, not from anywhere else. After this year, I believe in it more than ever.

Posts of 2015

January: Zen in a lotus flower

February: On the Shortness of Life – Part I – Finiteness

March: On the Shortness of Life – Part II – Protecting time and living in the present

April: On the Shortness of Life – Part III – Desire and life goals

May: On the Shortness of Life – Part IV – Learning

June: On the Shortness of Life – Part V – Death

July: Live life like water

August: Why Showing Up Is Not Enough

September: 5 Ways to Strengthen Your Spirit – A Minimalist’s Guide

October: Everyday miracles

November: Why Minimalists Live Happy Lives

Bonus: My article on popular personal development blog Early to Rise  Do you have a job, a career, or a calling? Written from my research and experience into finding fulfilling work. More to come next year.

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Everyday miracles

by Jessica Dang rss | t f | g+

 

barefoot

What is a miracle?

A supernatural event? Something rare? Magic, or deception?

Yes, it can be any of these things, but I wonder how many people would say that a miracle can be something ordinary?

Or, at least, something that seems ordinary. Miracles happen every day around us, we just don’t see it.

Most people would call walking on water a miracle, but how about walking on earth? How special that is! Yes, most people can walk on the ground, but that doesn’t make it less of a miracle.

Think about it. Think of all of the things in the universe that had to come together so that you can take a single step. From the beginning, conditions on Earth had to be just right for life to blossomeverything from the temperature to the water and oxygen levels. That’s why life has been so hard to find anywhere else. And even when it wasn’t perfect, like when a volcano erupted, or a meteor struck, every one of your ancestors survived so that you are alive today.

That’s not all. If you want to take a shorter view on it, the fact that you’re healthy and alive right now, and able to enjoy this beautiful day is a miracle in itself! Be grateful for every moment you can feel the breeze through your clothes, or the rain on your face. Be grateful for every morning the sun rises and every evening you made it to the end of the day alive…because, sadly, a lot of people didn’t.

In our modern lives, we can’t expect too many miracles. But if we look carefully, they are all around us. The miracle is not to walk on the water, or on clouds or fire, but it is to walk on earth.

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Live life like water

by Jessica Dang rss | t f | g+

clouds

Take a good look at yourself. What do you see?

Would you think that you are a wonder of the universe? If you’re living and breathing, you already are a miracle.

Why would you seek to be anything else? Look up at the sky. Watch how the clouds float contently by. A cloud is happy to be a cloud. The water within it is happy to be in that state, and doesn’t seek to be anything else. When the time comes, that water will naturally turn into rain, flow along rivers, and into trees and dams, doing what water does. It goes with the flow, and is happy to be that way.

As people, you can be as content as water. Imagine the waves at sea. Each wave has a beginning and end, each has a rise and fall, and each is beautiful in its own right. Does a wave feel fear and anxiety? Does it compare itself to other waves? Does it strive to be a better wave?

If it could look into itself, it will see that it is water, just like the wave behind it, and the wave behind that. The entire sea is one. Once it realises this the wave laughs as it goes up, and laughs as it goes down.

Like a wave at sea, things are changing all the time. You are changing all the time. Things will go up, and things will go down. All you can do is laugh and cry. Life doesn’t always work out the way that you want it, but you are already perfect in your own way.

You are already like water. Just flow, be content.

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On the Shortness of Life – Part V – Death

by Jessica Dang rss | t f | g+

This is the final part of a five part series on Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life.

Read Part I – FinitenessPart II – Protecting time and living in the presentPart III – Desire and life goals, Part IV – Learning.

5. Learning how to live takes a whole life

A typical person living in the Western world is expected to live until about 70-80 years old. There are other factors that come into play, such as income, lifestyle, and access to healthcare, but all that aside, the average life span of a healthy adult is about 70 or so years if you’re lucky.

Do you know how many days that is? Answer: it’s about 25,000.

That’s about 25,000 sunrises, and 25,000 sunsets for you to enjoy during your one and only time on Earth.

Sounds like a lot, right? But there’s a small catch. If you’re like me, in your mid-20’s, you’ve actually already used up about 9,000 of them.

Okay… so that leaves about 16,000  still, not bad right? But that’s supposing you really are going to live until your mid-70’s… which, of course, isn’t a guarantee.

What if you only lived until you were 60, or 50, or even 40? (If you’re roughly my age and you only live until 40, that’s less than 6,000 days left). Sh*t.

Now consider how quickly, say, the last 7 days went by. Hm, pretty quick right? It seems like it was just a day or two ago that I was in spin class, but I only go once a week, so that was a whole week ago… Now that I think about it, the last month went by quickly as well… I can’t believe we’re halfway through the year already… and it seemed like it was just a few weeks ago I was living in Japan, but that was an entire year ago now… wow, where did those 365 days even go? 365 is a sizeable chunk out of 6,000! Sh*t. Sh*t.

… and so on. So far, I’ve realised two things:

  1. That we all have a set number of days left, and,
  2. They’re going by stupidly fast.

If this is a depressing subject to you, then you might be thinking about it in the wrong way. It’s only when you realise that your time is finite that you can start to do something about it.

Knowing this, what are you going to do in the next 7, 30, or 100 days? Would you live your life differently?

Well, if you are already making the most out of your life, then the answer would be, ‘Nope! Everything is perfect!’ and that’s fantastic. But if you’re unhappy because you’re putting up with a life/job/relationship you hate, then Seneca has something to say to that:

“How late it is to begin to really live just when life must end! How stupid to forget our mortality, and put off sensible plans to our fiftieth and sixtieth years, aiming to begin life from a point at which few have arrived!”

 

How do we know we’re going to live until we grow old? We don’t! Nobody does. So I can’t help but think why do so many people waste their precious time being unhappy? Why do people put up with jobs they hate for 40 years, just to save up holiday time for when (or if) they reach 65?

I’m no exception to this kind of thinking. We can’t always do the things we want to, and we’ve got to make a living somehow, but if we’ve really only got a few thousand days to live, why spend them doing things that our heart isn’t into?

I’m not advocating a hedonistic lifestyle in a ‘let’s-spend-every-penny-and-destroy-everything-because-tomorrow-might-never-come’ way, but even Seneca realised it thousands of years ago, when he said that,

“[Only when life] is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realise that it has passed away before we knew it was passing.”

The saddest thing is that most people don’t realise how much of their lives they had wasted until they reach the end of it. Usually, these are the same people who don’t like thinking about death at all, because they’re living in a deluded world where if they don’t think about it, it won’t happen to them. But by then, it’s too late to do anything about it.

all their labours were but for the sake of an epitaph

At the end of your life, if everything you did could be summarised into an epitaph, what would it say? What would you want it to say?

You might not get an actual epitaph, but no matter what, you will have a legacy.

Your legacy could be celebrated by millions, or remembered by no one. At the end of your life, it wouldn’t matter to you which one of those it is. You won’t be bringing it with you anyway, wherever you’re going.

All that will matter is how you feel about it. After all, how you feel about your legacy is how you feel about the life you lived. Seneca also wrote,

“Learning how to live takes a whole life, and, which may surprise you more, it takes a whole life to learn how to die.”

Which is true. But it doesn’t have to take your whole life you could wait until you’re on your deathbed to lament on the time you could have spent on the people and things that mattered. Or you can start now, while you can.

Choose to spend today wisely, as if it was a single precious gold coin that you could never get back.

While we’re at it, we can do the same for tomorrow as well. And the day after, and the day after, until we reach the end, whenever that may be.

You could be happy from right now. Start today. Who needs a lifetime to learn how to live?

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Appreciating absence – A key to happiness

by Jessica Dang rss | t f | g+

In our everyday lives, we tend to notice when something is off. Like when we’re feeling stressed because of work, or tired because there aren’t enough hours in the day, or that we don’t have enough money in our bank accounts to do all the things we want to do.

It’s easy to spot when we’re lacking something. When things aren’t going well, we tend to zoom in on all the good things that we want and don’t have, like fortune or fame, rather than all the things we don’t want, and don’t have.

When was the last time you stopped to appreciate that you’re not in pain? Or that you’re not terminally ill? Or that you don’t live in a war-torn country? Or that you’re not living on the streets? Or starving to death? Or any one of the million types of suffering that life can throw at us.

How often do we take time to notice when we’re not lacking something?

We crave for good things to happen to us, that’s natural. But much of the time, no news is actually good news. A life without much drama is actually a pretty good life.

taking the time to be grateful – for the bad and the good

It’s one of the secrets to happiness – to appreciate the absence of bad things as much as the presence of good things.

We can’t always get what we want, and many of us never will. But instead of concentrating on those few things, why not feel grateful for the almost infinite amount of things we don’t want in our lives, and are still lucky enough not to have, at least for now.

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re living in a country with access to a computer, and the internet, which means that you are lucky enough to be living with a roof over your head, enough food to eat, and access to medical care, hopefully. If not, even without looking too hard, I’m sure there are still many things to be grateful for.

Things could change in the future. Who knows what will happen. But for now, let’s enjoy the present moment, when we’re lucky enough to have our health, or youth, or people who love us, or all three and more.

The ability to see, and appreciate, even just a few of the good things we have in life is key to being happy. The ability to still do that when life has dealt a mediocre hand, that’s a testament to our character.

 

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P.S. On the Shortness of Life series to continue soon!

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On the Shortness of Life – Part III – Desire and life goals

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This is the third part of a five part series on Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life. Read Part I – FinitenessPart II – Protecting time and living in the present.

 

3. You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire

What do we want in life? How do we balance what we want to have and what we want to do in life? Are desires and goals the same thing, or are they opposite from each other?

My attempt to answer these questions could last a lifetime. There are plenty of things that I want to have, and many more things that I want to do. Thinking deeply about them is a good start.

“So it is inevitable that life will be not just very short but very miserable for those who acquire by great toil what they must keep by greater toil. They achieve what they want laboriously; they possess what they have achieved anxiously; meanwhile they take no account of time that will never more return.”

It takes a lot of physical, emotional and spiritual effort to get what we want. We daydream about buying the hottest new thing, and if we’re lucky, and work hard enough, we can afford to buy it. But by the time we get around to it, we’ve already moved on to desiring the next biggest thing, and the enjoyment that we were supposed to get from getting the things we want never lives up to the fantasy.

That’s why I have committed to a minimalist lifestyle (as much as I can). The list of things I want to own is a little different from most people. I don’t want a huge house, brand name clothes or an expensive car (I don’t even like to drive). So I don’t work to earn money for these things.

Yes, I want to live a fairly comfortable lifestyle, but I would feel guilty about indulging in too many luxuries. It feels wasteful and selfish to me. I decided a long time ago that I want to spend my life on things that are important to me, not what my culture, society, or neighbours think is important.

You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire

There are things that almost everyone is scared of – disease, old age, and death to name a few. We are human after all, it’s perfectly normal to not want to think about suffering, to block out a future of which we cannot change, and to fear the unknown.

But in our desires, we act like everything can last forever. If all of us wanted the biggest, latest, fastest stuff, we would end up destroying our environment (more quickly than we are now) and the cruel irony is that everyone will wind up with nothing.

Just because someone has a lot of things, it doesn’t mean that they’ve lived. Indeed, if the cost of obtaining a huge house, lots of money and a fancy sports car was one’s health, relationships and spiritual fulfilment, you could argue that they haven’t really lived at all.

So when it comes to things I want to have, it isn’t too difficult to see the easiest way to be happy is to not desire too much, or at least, desire things we can’t have.

But, when it comes to things I want to do, that’s a whole different story. There is just so much that I want to do in one lifetime I can hardly see myself being able to accomplish it all. And what if I don’t? Will I be unhappy about it? Will I regret it?

“So you must not think that a man has lived long because he has white hair and wrinkles: he has not lived long, just existed long. For suppose you should think that a man had had a long voyage who had been caught in a raging storm as he left harbour, and carried hither and thither and driven round and round in a circle by the rage of opposing winds? He did not  have a long voyage, just a long tossing about.”

You can even travel the world, but unless you’ve learned things about people, about other cultures, lessons that made you a better person, more understanding and open, then you may as well have stayed at home.

In the same way, you can achieve a lot of things in life – it seems almost anyone can earn a million dollars these days – but if they don’t have any meaning, if they don’t make us, or anyone else happy, then what’s the point? If you’re going to spend your precious time on doing stuff, well then it better be bloody worth it.

So what have we learned? Wanting too much leads to unhappiness because we can’t have everything. Trying to do too much can also lead to unhappiness because there isn’t enough time to do everything we want to.

But there is a way. If we pick and choose our desires and goals carefully, then surely happiness can be found where they align the most. Can it not?

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On the Shortness of Life – Part I – Finiteness

by Jessica Dang rss | t f | g+

On the Shortness of Life is a moral essay written by Seneca the Younger, a Roman philosopher who lived between 4BC – 65AD. In his letter to his friend Paulinus, he lays out Stoic principles that have lasted centuries in teaching us about the value of life itself.

1. life is long if you know how to use it

 

Inspired by this essay, I have written a series of posts on my interpretations on the different themes that occur in his writing (Parts II-V to be published). Even if you haven’t heard of the Stoics before, in just a few short pages, a lifetime of lessons can be learned.

life is long if you know how to use it

“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested.”

Seneca introduces the contradictory life lead by most men, in that it is a common belief that the human lifespan isn’t long enough to achieve everything we want to do. Yet, we squander so much of it on things that don’t matter, or don’t contribute to the things that we want to achieve in the first place.

If only we could learn how to use time more appropriately, perhaps then we wouldn’t feel that it is too short, but instead it is a brilliant miracle that we have even the few years that we are given.

“Just as there is no use pouring any amount of liquid into a container without a bottom to catch and hold it, so it does not matter how much time we are given if there is nowhere for it to settle.”

There will never be enough time. We will always find ways to fill up whatever we were given. Even on a daily basis, whether we have an hour to do something, or 30 minutes, we are very capable of using up whatever time we’re given to achieve the same thing.

From my own experience, I can easily find ways to put something off for entire weeks or months, and yet when it comes to the deadline, I manage to do finish it all in one day. Why did I not just take a single day to do it?

Because, despite knowing that my time is finite, for some reason I choose to live as if it’ll last forever. Much of my time is spent at my desk job not being present in the moment, or spent being idle, and ultimately not contributing to my one amazing thing.

Like most people, I have a bucket list, which I’m working on, but I still see myself putting things off way into the future, even though I don’t even know if I’ll be alive five or ten years from now.

I’m not the only one. Life can be a difficult thing to figure out. Seneca thought so too.

“Living is the least important activity of the preoccupied man, yet there is nothing which is harder to learn.”

When we’re asked the question, “What do you do for a living?” we tend to answer with our job titles. Hundreds of years of social conditioning has taught us to. But our one chance to walk this earth isn’t for working.

Distracted by the mundane interruptions of daily life, we forget our main purpose. It’s simply to live.

We don’t have to do something huge and exciting every day to ‘live’. We all have commitments and we’re constrained to an extent by society and the reality of having to earn a living, or take care of those who rely on us. But the very least one could do is to enjoy each and every day that we are still breathing, each day that we have above ground, where we can smell the delicious scent of coffee and feel the sunlight on our cheeks.

The biggest regret I could have is to reach the end of my life, whenever that may be, and felt that I had not lived it fully.

Even if it takes a lifetime to learn how to live, the best (and only) thing you could do is to spend it trying.

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Zen in a lotus flower

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1. A beautiful lotus flower blooms from a muddy pond. 

2. A gardener who wants to grow flowers must also tend to weeds.

Lotus in Mud | Jessica Dang

 

These are lessons we can learn about cycles of suffering and happiness in our lives.

1. We usually think of mud and weeds as something to be discarded, dirty, a waste. But looks can be deceiving.

Yes, mud can be ugly. But from it something as beautiful as a lotus flower can grow.

In the same way, suffering gives birth to happiness.

Without suffering, we can’t realise how happy we are, or can be.

If we’re lucky to go through our whole lives without an ounce pain, we would never know how blessed we are.

Far from being a waste, just like how mud is a source of life, suffering is a source of happiness.

2. You are the gardener of your mind and body.

To take care of yourself, you need to pay as much attention to the weeds as you do the flowers. It isn’t enough to indulge yourself in what you know and like, you must work hard to get rid of the poisons and bad habits that creep into your life.

The things that make you unhappy, you need to tend to those weeds too.

Somehow you’ll find a way to put them back into the dirt, and let them become the mud from which your happiness blooms.

 
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Zen in a toothache

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Kenchō-ji Gardens | Jessica Dang | Minimal Student

What good can come from a mere toothache?

As I have recently experienced, there are a few life lessons to be learned from a small (yet extremely painful) toothache.

 

A few summers back, when I stayed in Plum Village, the monastary of the famous monk Thich Nhat Hanh, there was one day when he made us imagine that we had woken up in the middle of the night with a very painful toothache.
 

Since the dentist wouldn’t be open until the morning, most people would be counting down the hours until it could be treated, all the while hoping that the pain would go down, or go away.

 

We live most of our lives without physical pain like this. Even right now, unless you have a broken arm or leg, or any other major chronic aches or pains, you spend most of your life in relatively good physical health.

 

At the time, I listened carefully to the lesson, but never did I dream that this scenario would actually happen to me.

 

About two weeks ago, I woke up one night from a sharp pain in my head. It wasn’t a migrane, as I had thought, but instead the premolar on the left side of my top jaw was throbbing pretty hard. I tried to sleep it off, but the pain didn’t go away. I tried to ignore it, but the pain was so sharp, and constant, that it couldn’t stop thinking about it.

 

During the last few weeks, I walked, worked, and slept with a winced expression on my face as I tried to put up with this horrible and constant physical pain. I booked an appointment to see a dentist, but the nearest available appointment isn’t for a few weeks yet. In the meantime, I just have to take some painkillers and deal with it.

 

The good news is that there is a bright side to all of this. Well, at least I searched long and hard for one because I absolutely forbid myself to go through something like this without gaining anything good from it. One day, I remembered Thay’s lesson on learning from my pain.

 

An important lesson about pain

The experience of having a pain that is strong enough to take over your life, and distract you from doing anything else is not something that can be easily understood until you go through it yourself.

 

I learned this lesson the hard way, but since doing so, I could imagine that the hard way is one of the only ways to learn it.

 

I genuninely hope that most people do not experience a pain like that, but the bright side for those who do is that, in the end, you will know how to be so damn grateful for not having any pain.

 

Kenchō-ji Gardens | Jessica Dang | Minimal Student

 

Thich Nhat Hanh taught me that sometimes we need some pain in our lives to give us a basis to compare against, so that we may be grateful for what we have right now.

 

People who never go through any pain don’t know any different, and so may not appreciate what they have as much as somebody who lost their health. If you are lucky enough to gain it back, then you feel like you’re given a second chance to appreciate what you have.

 

When we are mindful of the good things we have in life, we are aware of how lucky we are, and we feel good about ourselves. In this case, happiness is born from pain. So pain isn’t always a bad thing.

 

Now, I’m not saying that a toothache really compares to some of the really bad things that can happen to your health. But now that I’ve experienced something as painful as this, I’m reminded that even if there are some difficult things going on in life, at least when I am not in pain, I can be grateful for that.

Let go of your most toxic habit

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Dandelion-Seeding-2560x1600

Whether it’s money, possessions, body type, career, status, fame or fortune, most of us find ourselves doing it almost everyday – comparing ourselves to others.

We see someone else with more or better X, or Y than us, and we feel less of a person because compared to them, we don’t stack up.

It’s something that we don’t usually think of as a ‘toxic habit’, but it fits all the definitions. It’s something that you do continuously, usually without thinking, and is bad for you.

Why? Because while we’re busy looking at how much better someone else has done, we’re not seeing our own accomplishments. We forget to be content with what we already have. It’s one of the most poisonous things you can do to yourself.

Living a minimalist lifestyle isn’t just about decluttering your house, or how to roll your clothes up efficiently so that you can backpack around the world, it’s about so much more than that.

It’s a way of living a life where you are happy with what you have. A big part of this minimalist philosophy is to try to not compare yourself to other people’s measure of success, and find a way to live that means you are happy.

I emphasise try because nobody is perfect. Sometimes we just can’t help ourselves, and sometimes comparing ourselves to people who we admire might help us become better people.

Seeing good traits in others and aspiring to be more like them, such as being more honest, or more adventurous, or having a healthier lifestyle is fine. It’s comparing material possessions that is the most toxic, because this is the universal truth:

There will always be someone with more than you.

Even the richest person on Earth lacks something you have. Always reaching out for more stuff that is ultimately meaningless will only lead to constant dissatisfaction. You will never have enough. So stop comparing your life to other people’s, and start living your own.

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