“Happiness: take away from your desires, not to add to your riches.” – Epicurus
Today is American Thanksgiving. It is a time of the year to appreciate what you have— to spend time with friends, family, and eat lots of (dry) turkey. I think about Thanksgiving as a chance to really “give thanks” — here is what I am grateful for in my life:
First of all, I am grateful to have loving friends and family. Honestly at the end of the day, there is nothing better than having loved ones in your life. For me, it wouldn’t matter if I were a millionaire (or billionaire) and didn’t have anybody to share my wealth or riches with.
I (whenever possible) try to always pay for dinner with friends and family. Why? Because food tastes better when someone else pays for it (true talk). No but seriously— I think some of my fondest memories in life have always been good meals (3 hour dinners) with people who are meaningful to my life. It is a primal thing— we bond over the fire and over good delicious food. To give the gift of food is one of the nicest things I think you can do. And honestly it is a bit of a selfish thing too— you know that sooner or later, your friend will probably repay the favor and pay for your meal (unexpectedly, when you forgot that you bought them a meal half a year ago)— then you are overjoyed.
I am also so grateful to have my health. I have a fully-functioning body, no major illnesses, the use of both my eyes, both my hands, and both my feet. I remember when I injured my ankle playing basketball in College— and how grateful I was the 3 months after my accident— to walk with freedom. But at the same time, I was grateful for all the people who helped me when I was in crutches (people opening the door for me, people helping me get food at the cafeteria, and people going out of their way to pick me up and drive me to my classes).
I am also grateful to live in a society and world where I am not living in constant fear or danger of my life. Unfortunately there are still so many people out here who are starving to death (literally), in the middle of civil wars, and when they go to sleep at night, it isn’t 100% certain they will wake up the next morning. I complain about my “first world problems” (what new smartphone to buy)— and there are millions of people out there with real problems. I need to stop my complaining and slap myself up the face anytime I feel the need to complain.
I am also grateful for photography— the medium perfect for me (someone who has a horrible memory and poor drawing skills). I feel that photography gives me the opportunity to experience life much more vividly. Photography helps me appreciate the small things in life (the little flowers growing out of the sidewalk, the fluffy blue clouds in the sky, seeing an old couple hold hands in the bus, the smile of a loved one, or the fantastic espresso I had for breakfast).
I also am so grateful for the internet. Shit— do you remember how life was like before the internet? Sure a lot of nice things (having dinner without people checking their smartphones every 5 minutes)— but at the same time, think about all the conveniences we have. We can order nearly anything with free 2-day shipping via Amazon (some places have 1-hour delivery), we have access to the entire history of knowledge via Google, we can communicate instantaneously and have “long distance calls” with friends and family for free, we can share our photos with millions of people around the globe, and we really no longer have any limitations on our freedom of speech (assuming you live in America or certain other westernized states, with uncensored internet— I feel bad for my friends in China).
I also am grateful for coffee— I think good espresso is proof that a God exists. 99.9% of the things on the blog (this article is included) are due to the magical effects of caffeine (ironically enough, caffeine is supposed to be a natural defense mechanism of the coffee plant to prevent predators from eating it— but the mild toxin just gives us humans a mild high).
I am grateful that I am able to meet other passionate photographers and to share the knowledge I’ve learned about street photography— and to see them continue to grow and blossom.
I’m grateful that I (for the most part) don’t want to buy anything new (at the moment). I am grateful that I have all my material needs met, and there is nothing I no longer “need.” Sure there are lot of things I would like and “want” (Ford Mustang 5.0 GT, iPhone 6S, black pants, digital Leica)— but I am grateful to have enough wisdom to know that these are superfluous things in life that won’t bring me any real sustained “happiness.”
I am grateful that I am alive and breathing. I think of all my friends who have passed away— and how they no longer have the joy to experience what I am experiencing. Whenever my life feels shitty— I just remember how much of a joy it is to be alive.
I am also grateful to be a part of society. I am glad I’m not stuck on Mars or some desert Island— or locked in my apartment like some kid in Tokyo who has no social skills. No matter how annoying other people may be, I am grateful to go to the coffee shop, chat up my barista, have them recommend me a new coffee with cinnamon (they tell me it is their personal favorite), and have that small interaction. I am grateful that Cindy gives me hugs in the morning (generally only after I make her morning coffee), I am grateful to have a laptop to write these words, and I am grateful to have a family to have a Thanksgiving meal with.
There are a ton of things I could complain about in life. There are so many negatives. But shit— why focus on the negatives in life? Life is short. No matter how happy or “successful” someone may seem— everyone has skeletons in their closets, suffer, and have problems. Funny enough, even billionaires have money worries and anxieties. I heard a story of a guy who was worth 3 billion dollars who lost everything (and only had 1 million dollars left) and committed suicide. I feel sorry for that chap, but honestly, going from 3 billion dollars to 1 million dollars must have felt like death to him.
I read a funny quote from Bion (cynic philosopher) who said, “Pulling out a hair hurts a bald man as much as a guy who has a full head of hear.” Meaning— the pain of losing money is equivalent to someone who is super rich, to someone who is super poor.
Practicing gratitude isn’t easy for me. As humans, we are naturally dissatisfied. “Enough is never enough” (as many of the Stoic philosopher said). We always desire more and more. This explains “Gear Acquisition Syndrome” and why we go to wars to gain more land, money, power, and influence.
What if we lived in a world and society where we were satisfied with what we have? And rather than trying to seek more in life— we would seek to kill our desires, and be more content with our current lives and our current possessions?
Seneca wrote that private property is one of the biggest causes of human misery (he wrote this 2,000 years ago). Except back then— they compared their wealth with their peers (who had more horses, who had the nicer ivory-and-cherry-wood table, who had more slaves, who had the gold-decked ceiling, and who owned acres of land). Now we compare our bank accounts, our digital devices, and our cars.
I am no Marxist or communist hippie. I think it is fantastic to have stuff— physical stuff that helps us create things that bring us happiness and joy. Having a car makes life more convenient, having digital devices help us communicate and have access to unlimited information, and modern society is the best society that has ever existed. Yet— with every upside comes a downside (need to desire more, to compare ourselves with others, and to be dissatisfied with what we have).
Even me— I have a “perfect” life. A beautiful partner, loving family, high-end digital devices, nice camera, doing what I love for a living, and (currently) no financial concerns. Yet I am still not grateful— I always want more and more. I seek the “next step” and that next landmark “victory” (whether social, material, or economic).
When will I ever be satisfied? Never. But I can be satisfied in this present moment— slouching on my nice IKEA dining table, typing on this laptop, watching Cindy on my left (packing boxes), and getting ready for our camping trip in Yosemite this weekend with my mom, my sister, and Cindy.
Happiness is the present moment. That is all we have. And let us be grateful for all the blessings we have in our life.
Whenever I want to buy something new, I try to re-purpose something I already currently have.
I have a problem with buying clothes; so I did this thing— I took all the clothes I didn’t wear for 6 months (a lot), zipped it into a gym bag, closed it, and whenever I have the urge to buy a new clothing item, I just pull out an old outfit, and suddenly that urge goes away.
Whenever I have an urge to buy a new camera, I put my camera on the shelf, and pretend like I literally own no camera (and just take photos on my smartphone). Then when I feel frustrated, I go get that camera (I already own) from my shelf— and I feel ecstatic.
I also have a rule that I keep the checking account of my bank to only $3,000 — which is enough to pay the monthly expenses (rent, food, transport, etc). The rest I put into my savings. This makes me think that I am poorer than I actually am— so it helps me stay within my means in my life (and not to “upgrade” my lifestyle).
I also have tried to “downgrade” my lifestyle (eating normal eggs instead of “organic” eggs), eating normal meat (not grass-fed meat), walking around and taking the bus (instead of driving or taking Uber). And after a few days of that— I realize I am just fine. Then I realize I don’t need all these superfluous fancy stuff in my life to be happy. Even now— I still desire new fancy sports cars (but I think about the headache any new car gives with insurance, car payments, speeding tickets, parking tickets, traffic— and I think otherwise).
Another tip I got from my buddy Seneca— he gave a piece of advice something like, “Whenever you go on a trip, only take the things with you if you were shipwrecked” (apparently a lot of people 2,000 years ago got into shipwrecks). So I make it a point to travel as uncomfortably as possible when doing workshops. This includes only 2 shirts, 2 boxers, 2 socks, 1 laptop (no iPad or Kindle), 1 book (paperback), 1 camera and 1 lens. And then after a 3 month trip abroad, I realize I don’t need all the material possessions at home that are simply weighing me down (physically, financially, emotionally, mentally) and I end up donating it, giving it away, or throwing it away.
Even Zeno (the founder of Stoicism) said (after he lost all of his possessions in a shipwreck): “Thank God I got shipwrecked, now I no longer have any distractions to keep me from studying philosophy.” Badass.
Anyways, I am getting a bit off-topic. Be grateful for what you have, rather than what you don’t have. Nobody has a perfect life, and whoever says they do (are spewing bullshit). Try to cherish the present moment, your ability to communicate with strangers, to take photos, to read books, and to connect with other like-minded individuals.
Oh and as a present to you, here are some new film simulation Lightroom presets to download for free. This is a little gift for you on this American thanksgiving.
Always be giving thanks, to your friends, family, God (or whatever superpower or super being you believe in). If you are atheist, be grateful for the universe, be grateful for your parents, be grateful that you are alive. Be grateful to have your vision as a photographer (our most cherished gift)— and know that even if one day you lost your vision you could still take photos that others can enjoy (apparently there are a few pretty good blind photographers out there).
Thursday, 1:41pm, Nov 26, 2015 @ my apartment in Berkeley (and 2 double-shots of espresso, made on my lovely $1 Capresso machine that Cindy’s mom got from a garage sale, and beans from my friend Chris Dillow who roasted the beans himself).
Oh yeah another little present for you, you can download my current (2015) portfolio of all my favorite photos (full-resolution) on Dropbox below. You can use these photos for any reason you would like (print them out, make it into a wallpaper, or share it with a friend):
Quotes On Gratitude
Here are also some of my personal favorite quotes on gratitude, wealth, and contentment:
- “The greatest wealth is to live content with little, for there is never want where the mind is satisfied.” – Lucretius
- “It is great wealth to a soul to live frugally with a contented mind.” – Lucretius
- “He needs but little who desires but little.” – Publilius Syrus
- “He has his wish, who’s wish can be to have what is enough.” – Publilius Syrus
- “The things that are essential are acquired with little bother; it is the luxuries that call for toil and effort.” – Seneca
- “Luxury began to hanker after things that were inessential.” – Seneca
- “A man is wealthy if he has attuned himself to his restricted means and has made himself rich on little.” – Seneca
- “Everything which went beyond our actual needs was just so much unnecessary weight.” – Seneca
- “Let him compare what he has with what he wants: he becomes a poor man at once.” – Seneca
- “I do not intend to fasten upon my back a burden like this, of which I never can get rid of myself, nor do I nimble and lightly equipped as I am, mean to hinder my progress by plunging into the deep morass of business transactions” – Demetrius