“Letters from a Street Photographer” #5: How to Be Happy

Provincetown-The-Old-Colony-3
Provincetown, 2014

For this chapter I want to focus on a section which I think is important for everyone in life: learning how to be happy, fulfilled, and content with your street photography (and your personal life).

Happiness is one of the most elusive things in the world– which we have always chased for millennia. However the problem is that we often go down the rabbit hole and follow the wrong things. We try to chase money, fame, power, wealth, prestige– all external forms of recognition to confer “happiness” unto ourselves.

However happiness is more than that– happiness is an inner-state, which can be controlled by you (not affected by external conditions).

How do we seek to gain more happiness, purpose, and contentment in our photography and lives? Let us seek the wisdom of Marcus Aurelius in “The Meditations”:

1. Live in the present moment

“Tossing aside everything else, hold fast to these few truths. We live only in the present, in this fleet-footed moment. The rest is lost and behind us, or ahead of us and may never be found.” – Marcus Aurelius

One of the things I learned recently from a psychology study at TED is that the most dissatisfaction occurs when we let our minds wander. When our minds wander, we tend to think of negative things – and get pulled away from the present moment.

Why the present moment? The past has already occurred, the future is uncertain (who knows when we will die). We are only 100% certain and confident of our thoughts, actions, and controls in the present moment.

One of the things that often leads to dissatisfaction in our lives are desiring something. Desiring for more followers on social media. Desiring for a better camera. Desiring to travel to an exotic place. Hope and desire (while both are important aspects of being human which drive us forward) – often lead to dissatisfaction of all the great things we have in the present moment. Marcus Aurelius also encourages us to stop fantasizing about the future– and focus on the present moment:

“Stop fantasizing! Cut the strings of desire that keeps you dancing like a puppet. Draw a circle around the present moment. Recognize what is happening either to you or to someone else. Dissect everything into its casual and material elements. Ponder your final hour. Leave the wrong with the person who did it.”

Takeaway point:

I often find myself mind-wandering. I re-live regrets I have in the past– in terms of my lost-opportunities, in terms of money wasted on cameras and gear, in terms of not traveling to more places (while I was abroad). I have a lot of baggage and regrets in the past.

When it comes to the future– I feel anxious. I feel that I am currently in a place in my life that I am not totally satisfied. I want to have more book deals, to have more packed workshops, and to build my online notoriety in the future. I am dissatisfied what I currently have in the present moment.

However whenever these feelings of discontent creep into my life (whether it is regarding the past or the future)– I count my blessings. I count all of my blessings in the present moment (the fact that I have my health, the fact that I already have a capable camera, that the place I currently live in is the most interesting place to photograph [because I know it really well], and the fact that to simply be alive is a joy in itself.

I also look around my present environment and think to myself: what can I photograph which is around a 1-mile radius from my home, which will be interesting? I focus on the present moment– what I can photograph now (rather than regretting not having taken more photos in the past, or worrying about photos I would like to take in foreign and exotic places).

So whenever you find your mind wandering (and feel dissatisfaction creep in)– focus again into the present moment, count your blessings, and go out and shoot.

2. Be content with where you live

I think a huge sense of dissatisfaction in the lives of street photographers I know is that they want to live somewhere more sexy and exotic– with more people, bustle, and life.

I know most people live in the suburbs with their family– away from the city. They daydream of being in San Francisco, Tokyo, Paris, New York City– or any big city that is bustling with people.

Don’t get me wrong, I love being in a sea of people and being swept away by the energy of the streets. It makes me lose a sense of myself, a sense of time– and I feel fully alive.

But at the same time– I have been able to re-create a similar experience back home in my boring Berkeley neighborhood.

Last night I was feeling a bit cooped up and frustrated, and so I just took a nighttime walk around my neighborhood. I never do this– but when I did, I suddenly saw so many interesting urban landscapes before my eyes. I experimented using a flash, using natural light, and got totally swept away photographing within a 1-mile radius from my home. I thought I had only gone out for a 10-minute walk, but I was away for nearly an hour. Time flew by– as I realized how rich and interesting my own neighborhood was (although by ‘objective standards’ it is pretty boring).

Don’t make excuses for your street photography. Just because you don’t live in City X doesn’t mean you can’t make great street photography. Look at William Eggleston who photographed his own city his entire life (pretty boring place) – and make great photos.

So next time you feel uninspired with your photography (and think travel will be a solution to your problems) – think again. Marcus Aurelius even notes this in the past– that everyone dreams of the perfect vacation (away from home). But at the same time– the best travel and vacation is in ourself, in our own mind, in our own neighborhood:

“Everyone dreams of the perfect vacation– in the country, by the sea, or in the mountains. You too long to get away and find that idyllic spot, yet how foolish… when at any time you are capable of finding that perfect vacation in yourself. Nowhere is there a more idyllic spot, a vacation home more private and peaceful, than in one’s own mind, especially when it is furnished in such a way that is the merest inward glance induces ease. Take this vacation as often as you like, and so charge your spirit. But do not prolong these meditative moments beyond what is necessary to send you back to your work free of anxiety and full of vigor and good cheer.”

Furthermore, know that regardless of wherever you live– because of the Internet, we are all connected and wired. There are no shortages of opportunities in the city you live in. Who cares where you live? Just make the best of where you live.

If you live in a boring city with no photography scene– see that as a great opportunity. You can be the individual that starts the street photography community in your own neighborhood.

If your photography community doesn’t have a bookstore– perhaps you can cobble together some local photographers and make your own communal photography library– and share and distribute books with one another.

If your photography neighborhood is boring– perhaps you can make it a challenge to make interesting photos (in your boring city). Look at the great boring photos taken by Martin Parr, Blake Andrews, and Lee Friedlander all simply in the suburbs.

Remember at the end of the day– you are a “citizen of the world” – and you are connected to street photographers from all around the globe (via the internet, social media, and our common passion for photographing in the streets):

“What remains of life is short. Live it as if on craggy mountain heights, for what does it matter where one lives? Whether in a city or in the wilderness, you are a citizen of the world. Let man behold in you a true man, one who lives in harmony with nature. If they can’t bear it, let them put you to death. Better to die than to live like them.”

Never forget– the good life is where you currently are and live, nowhere else:

“Bear in mind that your hermitage goes wherever you go. The good life is the same here as it in the mountains or by the sea.”

Takeaway point:

Whenever you feel an urge to travel– I do recommend you to scratch that itch. If anything, traveling has helped me gain more appreciation for my own home and neighborhood. After extensive traveling the last few years, I actually feel little to no need to travel (to find interesting subject matter to photograph in my own neighborhood).

There isn’t really a street photography scene in Berkeley, California (that I am aware of)– so I used that opportunity to arrange some meet-ups. If your neighborhood is lacking the same sort of community, be the change in which you wish to see in the world (Gandhi).

If you don’t have the funds, time, or opportunity to travel– don’t despair. Photography books are a great way to travel to anywhere you want in the world– and gain inspiration.

You can also explore parts of your own city or neighborhood that are off the beaten path. Photograph areas that you haven’t seen anyone photograph (however boring)– and see if you can make it interesting.

Constraints help breed creativity.

The best photographs are in your own backyard– and they will be the best photos (because you know it best, and not as many people have photographed it).

3. Be content; be grateful for what you have

As I said earlier on– being content (and grateful) is one of the best antidotes to dissatisfaction, misery, and depression.

I have made it a daily practice to say “3 things I am grateful for” to Cindy at the end of everyday. No matter how objectively “great” my life is– without acknowledging that and sharing my gratefulness (out loud) – I don’t appreciate things.

I think one of the great things in street photography is to simply recognize how beautiful everyday life is. I think this is one of the main reasons, which draws us to street photography– appreciation of the small things. Marcus Aurelius says one of the great ways we can find beauty in the world is to “take a particular pleasure in everything” – however how small and grand:

“The perceptive man, profoundly curious about the workings of nature, will take a peculiar pleasure in everything, even in the humble or ungainly parts that contribute to the making of the whole. The actual jaws of living beasts will delight him as much as their representations by artists and sculptors. With a discerning eye, he will warm to an old man’s strength or an old woman’s beauty while admiring with cool detachment the seductive charms of youth. The world is full of wonders like these that will appeal only to those who study nature closely and develop a real affinity for her works.”

So sometimes when I am shooting in the streets, I might be too slow to capture a “decisive moment” or to make an interesting photograph. But I am still grateful for seeing a scene (an old man in love with an old woman)– or simply a beautiful scene. Sure making a photograph of a great scene is truly wonderful– but also having appreciation for the beauty of what we see is highly important as well.

I think our interest in street photography is a special gift. Not everyone I know or meet is interested in street photography. It takes a unique individual to be interested in street photography. This individual must be loving towards humans, curious about human behavior, and have an appreciation of the small and mundane things of everyday life.

So first of all, before you are grateful for your camera, health, or where you live– just cherish this gift of seeing the world in a peculiar and sensitive manner (as a street photographer). Constantly count that first blessing. Marcus Aurelius reminds us to cherish our gifts:

“Cherish your gifts, however humble, and take pleasure in them. Spend the rest of your days looking only to the gods from whom comes every good gift and seeing no man as either master or slave.”

Furthermore a lot of discontentment in life happens when we forget to appreciate what we have– and we lust after things we don’t have. This lusting can be for that new camera, that new lens, or that trip overseas. So whenever you feel a lust or “hankering” for what we don’t have– Marcus Aurelius reminds us to fix our attentions on what we do have, and to be grateful for it. And on top of that, remind ourselves how sad we would be if we lost them:

Don’t hanker after what you don’t have. Instead, fix your attentions on the finest and the best that you have, and imagine how much you would long for these if they weren’t in your possession. At the same time, don’t become so attached to these things that you would be distraught if you were to lose them.

I have had a personal account in which I thought I lost my camera– and I had a small heart attack. I realized that up until that point– I took my camera for granted. But imagining it gone gave me a lot of pain– and regret. Soon I recovered the camera, and I was so euphoric and happy– like I was given a second chance. I never took my camera granted for that afterwards.

However Marcus Aurelius also reminds us: don’t be too attached to our material things – because if we lose them, it will lead to further dissatisfaction.

So the strategy is: be grateful for what we have (especially when we want new things), but don’t become so attached that we will be sad if we lost them.

The great thing about the power of contentment is that no matter how shitty your life is– you can always find something to be content with.

In Victor Frankl’s “Man’s search for meaning” – when he was incarcerated in a holocaust death camp– even waking to see the morning the next day was a blessing, to see the blue sky, and to see starving people help one another.

So remember– no matter how shitty your camera, where you live– there is always something to be grateful for. Be grateful for your vision, the fact you are born with a passion to make images, and to live in a generation where you can see billions of inspirational images on the internet for free. Marcus Aurelius reminds us– it is always in our power to be content:

It is within your power, always and everywhere, to be content with what the gods have given you, to deal justly with people as you find them, and to guard your thoughts against the intrusion of untested or unchaste ideas.”

Marcus Aurelius sums up all the lessons he has taught us on being grateful, content, and living in the moment. He himself struggled with this in his life– and it is hard. But it is possible:

“Is it possible that one day I shall see you, O my soul, good, simple, indivisible, stripped of every pretense, more solid than the flesh that now covers you? Will you ever know a day of unclouded love and tenderness? Will you ever be content– no hopes, no regrets, needing nothing, desiring nothing, animate or inanimate, not even for a moment’s pleasure– nor wanting a little more time to prolong the ecstasy, or a more pleasing room or view or climate, or a more sweet accord in your relations with others? When will you be content with your present condition, happy with all you have, accepting it as a gift from the gods and acknowledging that all is well with you and that all is well?”

Takeaway point:

No matter what– we can always be grateful. As a strategy to gain more happiness in life– keep a gratitude journal. At the end of everyday, write down 3 (or more) things you are grateful for. I personally try to write down as many things I am grateful for as possible. The more things I write down that I am grateful for, the more things I discover I should be grateful for (however small).

4. Don’t complain, blame, criticize, or make excuses

Negativity begets more negativity. Having a positive outlook in life is one of our most powerful weapons and defenses against the bullshit of everyday life– the bad shit that happens, the negative people we meet, and the feelings of discontentment and depression that sink in.

So how can you create a shining, solid, impenetrable gold plate of armor of happiness? Simple: don’t complain, blame, criticize, or make excuses (about anybody or anything in your life).

a) Don’t complain

First of all, complaining doesn’t do us any good. Bitching and moaning doesn’t change the physical reality of what is happening (or what has happened to us). And psychological studies show that “venting” isn’t good for us. It is bad for us. Venting negative thoughts , anger, and frustration only makes us more negative, angry, and frustrated.

Rather, learn to let go– try to go 30 days without complaining at all. You will be amazed how much this will change your life in a positive way.

For what do we have to complain about?

We seriously live in the best time, in the existence of history. There is less poverty, deaths by starvation, and racism than ever before. With the Internet– our possibilities are limitless. We have more access to food than a king did even a few centuries ago. We have devices the size of a bar of soap that we can stick into our pockets, which can tap into the collective of human knowledge (all for free).

So Marcus Aurelius reminds us– we should never complain about “palace life”. The way I interpret “palace life” nowadays is “modern life” – especially with all of our amazing technology:

“No one should ever hear you complaining about palace life, no one, not even your own ears.”

There are a lot of things we might complain and bitch about. We might complain that our camera is too slow, that it doesn’t have enough megapixels, that the High-ISO performance is poor, that our lenses are ‘soft’. Whatever.

We might complain that people don’t support our photography, that there is too much ‘bad’ photography online, and that ‘everyone thinks they’re a street photographer’.

But throw away all these negative thoughts and criticisms.

If we encounter anything we don’t like in life– simply ignore it, throw it away, or walk around. Marcus Aurelius has a great analogy:

“‘The cucumber is bitter.’ Throw it away. ‘There’s a briar in my path.’ Walk around it. That’s enough. Don’t feel compelled to add, ‘Why are these things allowed to happen?’ The naturalist will only have a good laugh at your expense, as would the carpenter or shoemaker if you complained about sawdust or leather trimmings in their workshops.”

Know that regardless of how well we try to live life– we will deal with shit we don’t like. But Marcus Aurelius brings up a good analogy: if you are a wood carpenter and you complain about sawdust when you are making shelves or desks– you are a fool. Similar in life, how can we expect to live life without some unpleasant things? It is a simple by-product of living.

Furthermore, another good way to not complain is to imagine how ridiculous and foolish you look when you are complaining. You are like a pig squealing and kicking around:

“The next time you hear someone bemoaning his fate or complaining about something, visualize the pig at a sacrifice, squealing and kicking. It’s the same with the person who lies upon his lonely bed, lamenting his pains or cursing his constraints in silence. Only the rational being can embrace his fate and follow the course of events willingly; those who howl and whine can merely follow.”

Lastly– don’t blame anybody for what happens in life. Life is just life. Shit happens to everybody. Fate can sometimes be kinder to others at certain instances– but we are all suffering collectively. Don’t blame “fate” and don’t blame humans. Don’t blame anybody– as Marcus Aurelius reminds us:

“Don’t blame the gods for what happens, for they never do wrong either voluntarily or involuntarily. Don’t blame men either, whose wrongs are all involuntary. Be done with blame.

b) Don’t criticize

Another way to gain more happiness in life is to not criticize. Because the more you criticize others (in a negative way)– the more negative energy you bring onto yourself.

I think it is good to give constructive criticism (which can help others)– but giving simply negative criticism (which doesn’t do anybody good) – is just bad karma.

Always seek to be kind, helpful, and to add value to those you give feedback/comments on. If someone asks you to give you feedback on their photos, don’t just say that their work is “boring” or “shit.” If you actually do feel that way– perhaps tell them why you don’t like their photos (so they can improve).

Marcus Aurelius tells us that if we want to correct or criticize people – do it with tact:

“If someone makes a mistake, correct him with kindness and point out where he went wrong. If you fail, blame only yourself, or better yet, don’t blame anyone.”

He also mentioned that let us not self-criticize ourselves too much (especially if it isn’t constructive). If we fail, nobody else is to blame– but ourselves.

Furthermore, before we criticize others – let us ask ourselves– do I do the same actions of those I am about to criticize?

For example, when I get cut off in traffic and I want to yell “fuck you” to the other guy (road rage) – I remind myself: I have cut a lot of people off in traffic as well (unintentionally). Therefore, I remind myself that I have been an asshole in the past– and not to criticize others.

So before you point a finger at someone, remind yourself: am I guilty of the same thing I am about to criticize the person for?

Whenever you are about to find fault with someone, ask yourself the following question: ’What fault of mine most nearly resembles the one I am about to criticize? Is it love of money? or pleasure? or reputation? and so on until you have identified the closest cousin. By redirecting your attention in this way, you will soon forget your anger as you realize that he can’t help himself any more than you can. How can he possibly overcome the compulsion to do wrong? If you can help him with this, you have helped yourself as well.”

Also another good way to think about things before you criticize a photographer: ask yourself, “Why did this photographer take this photograph? What did this photographer find interesting about this scene– that I cannot see?” By understanding the motives of another photographer is a strong way to empathize and understand him/her:

“In everything you see someone else do, make it a habit to ask yourself, ‘What is his purpose in doing this?’ But begin with yourself. Question your own actions first.”

c) Make no excuses

We often make excuses for our photography (at least I know I do). I make excuses that I don’t have enough time, I don’t have enough money (to travel or buy a certain camera for a project I want), or that the opportunity isn’t good.

There is never a perfect time, a perfect camera, or an unlimited cash-chest of funds. The perfect time is now, with the gear you already have, and the money you already have– to creatively thrive, create the street photography you want, and to live the life you want.

So remember– nobody is preventing you from doing anything. You have no obstacles– but yourself. Marcus Aurelius reminds us that opportunity exists everywhere:

“What is the very best you can say or do with the material you have to work with? Whatever that is, you can say or do it. Make no excuse by claiming that something prevents you. You will never stop bemoaning your fate until it becomes as natural for you to follow the law of your being– in whatever material conditions you find yourself– as it is for a hedonist to go after pleasure. Indeed, every opportunity to speak or act according to the law of your being should give you pleasure, and that opportunity exists everywhere.”

5. Focus on what we can control

Okay so we shouldn’t blame, criticize, complain, think about the past, or worry about the future– what can we control?

We can always control our perception of what happened. So for example, let’s say you missed “the decisive moment.” You can interpret this two ways:

  • a) Shit, I missed that decisive moment– I will never see such a good scene again.
  • b) It sucks that I missed that decisive moment– but I am grateful to have seen the moment. I vow to capture even a better moment the next time I see it.

So the reality of what happened hasn’t changed. However what has changed is your perception of what happened.

The same thing applies in life. We can’t control to what happens us in life (if we fall sick, fall victim to someone yelling at us, threatening to break our cameras, whatever) – but we can control our interpretation of those events– and whether we allow those opportunities to be positive or negative.

Nowadays I am a big fan of Nassim Taleb, and he brings up this idea of being “Antifragile.” The concept is that whenever anything bad happens to us– we can turn it into a positive event.

For example, if someone yelled at you in the streets and gave you a bunch of shit– rather than getting upset and angry at yourself, rather– think of that opportunity as a chance for you to build your courage.

If you failed to have your photograph be accepted by a curator to a street photography show– re-interpret that as a moment for you to re-examine your photos, and perhaps try harder next time.

So realize that your interpretation of events is always within your control. Therefore ultimately– your own happiness lies in your own hands.

Marcus Aurelius reminds us that we shouldn’t depend our happiness in the hands of others. Rather, we should govern our happiness our of our own free will and acts:

“The happiness of those who want to be popular depends on others; the happiness of those who seek pleasure fluctuates with moods outside their control; but the happiness of the wise grows out of their own free acts.

Furthermore, whenever bad things happen to us– we can interpret them in a positive way (or just don’t interpret it in any way).

For example, let’s say you broke your camera. Don’t think of it as a bad fortune. You just broke your camera. It dropped, and it broke. Don’t think of it as a positive or a negative event. It just happened. Rather than getting emotional and upset– just realize that you need to either a) get it fixed or b) buy a new one.

Marcus Aurelius shares the power of having no opinion:

“You always own the option of having no opinion. There is never any need to get worked up or to trouble your soul about things you can’t control. These things are not asking to be judged by you. Leave them alone.”

So always realize that regardless of what the outside circumstances are in your life– you can still be happy, be productive, and thrive. Don’t look for things to actively complain about– just keep making images:

“Let come what may to those who are affected by outward circumstance. They will always find something to complain about. For myself, if I choose not to view whatever happens as evil, no harm will come to me. And I can so choose.”

Regardless of the criticism that others may have of you, your work, whatever– just stay true to who you are. Don’t let these criticisms or negativity change your character. Because they don’t. They cannot. If you are a shining emerald– no amount of words can change that:

“No matter what anyone else does or says, I must be good. It is as if gold or an emerald or purple dye were perpetually telling itself, ’No matter what anyone may do or say, I must be an emerald and keep my color.”

Sooner or later you will piss people off in street photography. The only way to respond is to be calm, collected, and treat the other person with courtesy. Whether they respond in a positive (or negative way) is out of your control. Just act justly (by your own moral standards) – that is all you can do:

“Seek refuge in yourself. The knowledge of having acted justly is all your reasoning inner self needs to be fully content and at peace with itself.”

Once again– once we have a negative opinion of something bad that happens to us– remind ourselves that we can (at anytime) change our opinion of what happened:

If you’re troubled by something outside yourself, it isn’t the thing itself that bothers you, but your opinion of it, and this opinion you have the power to revoke immediately. If what troubles you arises from some flaw in your character or disposition, who prevents you from correcting the flaw? If it’s your failure to do some good or necessary work that frustrates you, why not put your energy into doing it rather than fretting about it?”

In our street photography, we often wish that we were faster at capturing decisive moments, that we were more courageous, and that people wouldn’t get upset at us for taking their photograph.

However rather than hoping that other people didn’t get angry with us– rather work on building our courage.

Instead of wanting to get more followers on social media, work on trying to please yourself.

Instead of wanting to travel overseas, figure out an area near your house that you can explore and travel to.

Marcus Aurelius brings up the point that we should pray to build our own fortitude and character– rather than wanting reality to play our way:

“One man prays, ‘Help me seduce this woman,’ but you pray instead, ‘Prevent me from lusting after her.’

Another prays, ‘Rid me of my enemy,’ but you pray, ‘Rid me of the desire to be rid of my enemy.’

Another, ‘Do not take my dear child from me,’ but you, ‘May I not fear the loss of my child.’

Turn your prayers in this direction, and see what comes of it.

Takeaway point:

There isn’t much we can control in street photography. We can control where to stand, when to click the shutter, and some miscellaneous settings. That is pretty much it. We can’t control whether or not people will get angry at us, we can’t control what the light is going to be that day, we can’t control the color of clothing people will wear, you can control the facial expressions people will have, you can’t control whether people will like your street photos, and you can’t control whether you will get a million followers.

However there is a lot you can control: your own perceptions. You can control being grateful. You can control being proactive with your street photography and shooting as often as you can. You can control how hard you work in your image making, and how brutally you self-edit your work. You can control giving nice comments and critiques to other aspiring street photographers. You can control making photos in your own neighborhood.

So don’t underestimate our ability to be happy at all times– regardless of our external circumstances.

6. Be grateful for difficulties in street photography (and life)

I think one of the reasons why I love street photography is because how difficult it is. If street photography was easy and didn’t challenge me- I wouldn’t enjoy it as much. I think the reason why a lot of people appreciate street photography as well– is because it is so damn difficult to capture “decisive moments” and to have the courage to shoot strangers in public (without their permission).

It is kind of like life. Food always tastes better after physical exertion (and you are hungry). The view at the top of the mountain is always more rewarding if you hiked for hours and your legs are sore. Video games are always more fun when they are challenging and difficult to beat.

Let’s not take the easy route in street photography or life.

I often think the best street photographs are the ones that are the most difficult to shoot. This is why I rarely am interested in boring photos of homeless people or street performers. They are simply too easy to shoot– it is like shooting fish in a barrel.

So let us remember to be grateful for the difficulties that street photography gives us– because it gives us challenges, which force us to build our confidence and courage.

So the next time you get yelled at in shooting street photography (or have a difficult time) – you can say something like, “How fortunate I am to be able to withstand mental beatings from strangers in the streets. Let me take this opportunity to become a stronger person.”

Marcus Aurelius elaborates:

“Be like a rocky promontory against which the restless surf continually pounds; it stands fast while the churning sea is lulled to sleep at its feet. I hear you say, ‘How unlucky that this should happen to me!’ Not at all! Say instead, ’How lucky that I am not broken by what has happened and am not afraid of what is about to happen. The same blow might have struck anyone, but not many would have absorbed it without capitulation or complaint.

One of my favorite quotes from Marcus Aurelius is the following:

Living is more like wrestling than dancing: you have to stay on your feet, ready and unruffled, while blows are being rained down on you, sometimes from unexpected quarters.”

This is a great reminder that life is truly like wrestling. It is hard, unpleasant, sweaty, and could be stressful. Street photography is the same. It isn’t easy. It is difficult to capture beautiful moments, and to overcome the fear of shooting those moments.

And remind yourself – life is only fun and thrilling if we have challenges.

Furthermore, know that you are better than others. You are stronger than others. Whereas others complain, bitch, and moan about difficulties in life– you cherish them, you own them, and you let these difficulties make you a stronger person. Realize that every crisis or negative experience is a chance for you to become a better person. Marcus Aurelius elaborates:

“In every crisis, bear in mind the examples of those who in similar circumstances lost control of themselves, were taken by surprise, or complained bitterly. Where did their actions get them? Nowhere. Do you want to end up in the same place? Why not leave these emotional outbursts to those who are controlled or distracted by them? Concentrate instead on taking advance of the crisis, using it as raw material with which to build something beautiful and good. Just remember that in the end you must approve of your actions and that the aim of the action also matters.”

Another good psychological trick to deal with adversity in your life. Whenever something bad happens to you– imagine yourself having a birds-eye view of what is happening in your life, and that you are simply an actor on a stage. This helps prevent you from taking things personally– rather you just see it as a play, and end up not taking it as seriously.

Also remember that everything happens for a reason. Whether bad or good– every action and event in our life is a chance for us to become great. Marcus Aurelius uses the analogy of a play to drill in this point– knowing that tragedy always plays out in the drama of life:

“Drama, in its original form as Tragedy, showed us the things that actually and necessarily happen in this life. It reminded us not to panic when we see on the larger state of life what we enjoy seeing in the theatre, where we recognize how much is unavoidable

These dramatists have also given us some useful sayings such as:

’Though the gods turn their backs on both my sons and me, For this too there is a reason.’

Takeaway point:

One of my favorite quotes from Marcus Aurelius:

“Only a fool or a stranger on this planet will be surprised by anything in this life.”

You’re a fool if you expect nothing bad to happen to you in life. Bad shit will always hit the fan– it happens to everyone, no matter how good they are, how rich they are, what country they live in– whatever. But realize that all the bad things in life can actually be good things.

How enjoyable would life be if it were too easy? How enjoyable would street photography be if it were too easy and not challenging?

Relish in the challenge– and be thankful for these challenges, which force us to become stronger, to grow, to re-evaluate why we shoot street photography, and to help us thrive.

7. Cheer for others

Let’s say everything in your life sucks. Nothing is going according to plan. Your photography is boring and uninspired. You are going through a creative slump. You lost your job, your partner broke up with you– whatever.

One great strategy in life is to always cheer for your friends and others when things are going well for them (even though things might not be going well for you).

I think one of the worst human traits is envy. And the worst thing about envy is that it can happen to our close friends and family (either us being envious of them– or them being envious of us).

So rather than being envious, let us be grateful and be happy for others. If you see someone becoming more famous and respected for their photography, cheer for them. If you see them getting a book deal, don’t become jealous– cheer for them. If you see someone’s photography improving, let him or her know how impressed you are with his or her progress.

Always keep in mind the positive attributes, qualities, and life events of your friends, those close to you, or anyone else out there. Be not only grateful for what you have and experience– but what others have and what they experience.

Gratitude and praise for others go hand in-hand: Marcus Aurelius tells us all of this:

“When your spirits need a lift, think of the virtues and talents of those around you– one’s energy, another’s modesty, the generosity of a third, something else in a fourth. Nothing is so inspiring or uplifting as the sight of these splendid qualities in our friends. Keep them always in mind.”

Conclusion

We all want to be happy– to live fulfilling lives as photographers and human beings. But the problem with happiness is when we make it too external.

We don’t want our happiness to be held hostage by the opinions of others. We want to become self-owned when it comes to our happiness. Only let your happiness be dictated by your own self-opinion of yourself, your photography, your life, and your progress. The only person to compete against is yourself.

Even if bad shit is happening in your life, think about how you can use those negative events to your benefit. All the negative experiences in street photography aren’t to be avoided– they are like a badge of honor. The more people yell at me in the streets, the more courage I build up. The more people say my photos and blog is shitty– the more encouraged IJ feel (I hear having a lot of haters is a good mark of “success”).

So be grateful, be loving, be strong. Be happy and grateful for everything you have. Be grateful for being alive, for having vision– and having the ability to sense the beauty of the world.

Now go out there and capture it.

Related Articles on Happiness

If you enjoyed this article, here are some hand-picked articles I have regarding seeking happiness in street photography (and life)

My favorite books on Stoicism

If you want to learn more about Stoic strategies, I recommend reading the following books:

1. “The Emperor’s Handbook” (A modern translation of “The Meditations”)

Currently one of the most valuable books in my library. I have read this at least 5 times (especially in times of pain and suffering).

There are tons of translations of “The Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius, but I have found this version to be the easiest to read and comprehend.

You can also find tons of free translations of “The Meditations” online.

2. “Letters from a Stoic

Also another of my favorite books of all-time (written by Seneca). If my house were burning down and I could only carry 5 books, this would be one of them.

You can also read an excellent version of “Letters from a Stoic” the Kindle for only 99 cents here.

3. “Antifragile

One of my favorite books by Nassim Taleb — which teaches us how to live and thrive in a world of uncertainty. For a related article on the book, I recommend reading: How the Philosophy of the “Barbell Theory” Can Improve Your Street Photography.

“Letters from a Street Photographer” book

I plan on producing a book (available online for free) titled: “Letters from a Street Photographer.” Each chapter will be published regularly to the blog. Here are my prior posts:

11 thoughts on ““Letters from a Street Photographer” #5: How to Be Happy”

  1. Cristiano Freitas

    Never commented no article in this blog before, but I would say that the texts from Eric Kim has helped me A LOT in my photographic journey. I’ve printed the articles I’ve read on the bus and coming home every day and made ​​personal notes on. Thanks and continue, our hunger for knowledge is vast. Thank you. (I do not speak English very well, this text is a help from google)

  2. Eric, can you please get this blog to focus again on SP rather than in psychology and other social sciencies? Where are you going with all this rambling? I really think you are loosing the point. Once a very good blog you are offering less and less photography and more and more fastidious (often too long) writing. Eric, don’t get me wrong, I don’t pretend to be rude. I’m European and as most europeans we don’t feel the need to be allways politically correct. You are someone who knows a lot about SP, so, please, show and write about photography. For this kind of stuff we have the self help shelves of the book stores.

  3. Dear Mr Kim,

    for some weeks now i’m reading your blog concerning street photography. It has helped and will be helping me in making further progress in my street photography. Thank you also for this article, which is in my mind a very Important one. It’s unbelievable that you are spending so much of your free time helping others.
    Thanks and greetings from Germany

    Alex K.

    PS: Sorry, i’m not a native english speaker / writer

    1. Eric,

      Please don’t listen to this. I love your discussions of how we can approach photography in a more philosophical way so we can shoot for ourselves and be happier doing it. It’s do hard to do and your thoughtful discussions help keep that focus. Keep up the meaningful work !

  4. Dear Eric
    Thanks for your fantastic job. I’m discovering your blog and I know it will help me a lot.
    This post reminds me a Eckhart Tolle quote :
    “Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it. Make it your friend and ally, not your enemy. This will miraculously transform your whole life.”. Of course this subject is also a part of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh’s teaching. And I like the way you combine it with the photography.
    Greeting from France
    Olivier.

  5. Pingback: “Letters from a Street Photographer” #6: How to Live a Purposeful Life - Eric Kim Street Photography Blog

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