2016, acceptance, expectations, foodie, happiness, letting go, seasons

What This Year’s Fig Season Taught Me About Letting Go

What California doesn’t have in seasons, it makes up for in seasonal produce. For as long as I can remember, my seasons have been defined by the fruits or vegetables available to us at the time. Summer was for strawberries and Autumn was for apples. Now, living in San Francisco and buying my produce mostly from local markets, I am exposed to a broader variety of produce, and much more aware of seasonal availability. From springtime apricots to wintertime persimmons, I know what to expect when. By the middle of each season, its respective produce has made itself abundantly present in my diet—a staple. It is a beautiful thing, eating seasonally, enjoying the richest of colors and purest of tastes.

The problem, however, is that seasons don’t last forever.A loving figure

This year’s was a particularly delicious fig season. One weekend in mid-September, I went to my usual market to stock up on my week’s worth of figs (and other produce). “This is it,” the owner told me as he rang up my items. “What do you mean?” I asked, hoping that he didn’t mean what I thought he meant. “The fig season. I think this is the last shipment I’ll get.” “Really?” I asked with slight disbelief. It had flown by so quickly. “Should I get another basket?” He didn’t say no, and so I did.

For the next week, I made the most of my figs — roasted with cauliflower, spread on toast, cut up in yogurt, and just on their own. Savoring every bite of every fig, I tried to memorize their taste and how I felt eating them. “This is it,” I told myself, “Not again for another year.” And so when I was down to my last sole fig, I was ready to say goodbye. I knew the moment had come.

A few weeks passed, and I began to let other produce into my life, like butternut squash, pomegranate, and sweet potatoes.

Then, one Sunday, I went to a co-op with a friend on our walk home from a coffee shop. As she picked up her produce for the week, I mulled around eyeing the greens and nuts in front of me when someone bumped into me from behind. I turned, and there I was, face to face with heaps and piles of figs. Black Mission, Sierra, and Brown Turkey. I gasped as if I had seen a ghost (the ghost of fig season’s past). Now, it was my turn to accidentally bump someone as I excitedly grabbed a bag and filled it with figs. Like an addict, I had no restraint.

Breakfast

My friend and I parted ways and I walked as quickly as I could back to my apartment, the entire time salivating at the thought of these plump, juicy fruits touching my taste buds. Once in the kitchen, I ceremoniously opened my bag and selected a fig. I pinched it for luck and took a generous bite.

I chewed once and stopped.

It was dry. And straw-like. Sweetness was foreign. I spat it out and stared at my full bag. I tested two more straw-like figs before disposing of the entire bag. Call it ambition, greed, or plain foolishness, I had pushed my luck.

Clouding my memory of the dynamic season is its flat finish.

While we’ve all experienced the woes of “too much of a good thing,” and been advised to “stop while you’re ahead,” the concept, in reality, is rather difficult to master. It requires a jedi-like discipline to stop at the height of it all. A pathetic sadism to deny oneself continued happiness. Without context, it is self-destruction at its best.

The thing about life is that our comfort is set by just a hint of repetition. Be it for something as simple as produce or something as  profound as a career or relationship. We build routines around these comforts and we expect them to remain forever fruitful. And whether we recognize them or not, we ignore all indications of natural endings because these comforts make us happy. Or well, they made us happy, once. We pinch and we squeeze for every last bit of what they have to offer until one fine day we realize that they not only don’t make us happy, but they actually make us unhappy. This, in fact, is self-destructive. That which could have ended amicably before instead rots and crumbles helplessly.

Impossible as it may seem, there’s something to be said for taking certain aspects of our lives in seasons. While, like Seattle rains or London fog, some parts are meant to be forever, we should allow that which must end to end. Done in the right way, these endings will be bittersweet, and they will be preferable to those which are only bitter. And know that when you summon the courage to do so, a new season awaits you, with all the ripe sweetness you deserve.

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happiness, meaningfulness, New York Times, psychology

Our Search for Meaning Means Nothing and Everything At the Same Time

As a child, I loved Valentine’s Day. Or rather, I loved Valentine’s Day cards. For me, the day was not just a day, but an event centered around giving and receiving cards. On the days leading up to the big day, we decorated white paper bag “mailboxes” to place on our desks, purchased a themed Valentine card pack, and wrote names on each card. On the day of, we went around the room placing cards in each mailbox while eating heart-shaped cookies. Giving cards was not mandatory, but it was mandatory to give cards to everyone if you chose to give any at all. That afternoon, we skipped home with our mailboxes full of cards. Once home, I dumped all the cards out onto my carpet, carefully sifting through them until I found the most important one — the one from my crush. My heart would jump as I separated it from the pile. This, the most meaningful card.

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Christmas, Christmas presents, experiences, family, gifts, happiness, parents, psychology, the Atlantic, things

How to Give the Gift of Happiness

Handmade Gift, c. 1995

Before curling up in my parents’ bed and listening for the reindeer hooves they insisted they could hear, I spent the Christmas Eves of my childhood locked in my room making and wrapping presents for them. My parents were my only means of making purchases, so no store-bought present could surprise them. From the year of the handmade ornaments to the year of the coupon book (breakfast in bed, anyone?), I never stopped dreaming of the day I could finally get my parents a “real present.” I defined a real present as one I could buy, wrap, and put under the tree.

My gift-insecurity was by no means driven by my parents; they were happy with any (or no) present. But as I would sit there clutching my new Tamagotchi or staring at that Razor scooter, I couldn’t rid myself of my disappointment. I wanted to badly to reciprocate their gesture with some thing that my parents might have really wanted.

This year, though I had the physical and financial means to surprise my parents with a “real present,” Christmas Eve was no different from those of my childhood. Locked in my bedroom staring at my childhood boxes of markers and crayons, I brooded over what to wrap and place under the tree for my parents. Witnessing the scene from a distance, kid-me would have surely been disillusioned by adult-me.

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birthdays, happiness, job search, no, psychology, rejection, technology

When it comes to rejection, no word is as good as “No.”

When was the last time someone called you to invite you to an event? A dinner date, a birthday party, a trip? When was the last time you called someone on the phone and invited them to something? I can’t remember a time in recent history.

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-GlmUJXUEyQw/UfbMX2PRrXI/AAAAAAAACBA/3aINAxeZ_Yo/s1600/july2013+046.JPG

My childhood was complete with telephone invitations — from asking my neighbor if he could come out to play or a friend if she could sleepover.

I am most reminded of these phone calls in August. After thoughtfully creating a list of names and phone numbers, I would call each of my friends to invite her to my birthday party. I still remember the short moments of nervous wonder while my friend went to ask her mom or dad if she could attend. She always returned with a “yes” or “no.”

There was no “maybe.” No “I’ll let you know.” And even if I didn’t like the response (“My mom said no,”) there was always an immediate answer.

Regardless of each answer, my birthday, and the party, would take place, and the happiest of days it would be.

I wasn’t the only one making and receiving phone call invitations during my childhood.

My mom made and received dinner invitation phone calls all the time. When she was on the answering side, she had split seconds in those moments after, “I’m calling to invite you to dinner on August 18th,” to determine whether or not our family would attend the dinner. Beyond determining four people’s availability, she also made other considerations like how tired my dad would be on a Friday evening or the fact that it was too close to my brother’s piano recital or my history test. Almost never did she respond with, “I’ll let you know,” and in those rare cases, it was assumed that she would follow up within twenty-four hours after family discussion. And she always did.

I don’t know when it happened, or maybe it was more gradual, but my sent and received phone call invitations were replaced by email, evites, and texts. But it’s not just the invitation method that has been replaced. The responses are different too.

The asynchronous nature of invitations makes it easy for us to let the invitation linger — for minutes, for hours, for days — especially when, despite being available, we kind of want to say “no.”

Maybe we’re interested in waiting to see (because these methods allow it) who else will be attending. Perhaps we want to do something but are holding out to see if a better option, a better person, presents itself.

All of this chalks up to the fact that we simply hate saying “no.” It’s such a mean, sad word. There’s something so airy about keeping our options open while remaining kind and cordial. By not saying “no,” we hope to save someone else’s emotions.

There is a definitive happiness in the indefinite.

Or is there?

Let’s step back and think about it from a different lens.

Imagine you submit your resume for a role at your dream job. Three weeks later, you still haven’t heard back. Well, it is a large company. It probably gets a huge volume of applications you tell yourself. I’ll wait a little longer. Three weeks later, still no word. Maybe they’re still getting their act together you justify. You start half-heartedly applying to other positions, but slowly. Murphy’s law, I’ll take another job and hear from Dream Company a day later.

Meanwhile, Dream Company has happily filled the role with some other qualified candidate who is already enjoying free meals and a compensated spa membership.

Imagine another scenario:

You and a young woman have gone on a few dates. You are madly in love. She is the one. One day, she tells you she is very busy but would love to meet up soon once things settle down. “Of course,” you say. You want to give your future wife her space!

You casually date other people while you wait, but never letting yourself care too much. This is a stop-gap. A few months go by. Feeling that things must be less busy, you reach out to your woman friend via text. She responds a few days later.

Totally. It HAS been a while. Would love to catch up sometime. 

Your heart leaps at the response, but you wish it would’ve been a bit more committal. Oh well. You persist. Friday night drinks?

Hm…I *might* be able to. Not sure.

She never follows up and you end up going to the bars Friday night with some friends. Coincidentally, she is at the same bar as you. In a corner, very cozy with another man.

Between technology and adulthood, we rarely get flat-out rejected these days. Employers don’t say no. Publishers don’t say no. Boys don’t say no. We just assume “No” from silence. And we don’t really assume “No” per se. We assume something more like, “Not now, maybe later.”

Without the pressure of a real-time required response, we can easily fall back on our very human desire to keep our options open.

But “options” don’t actually help us maintain light, airy happiness as we think they do.

My brother did joint birthday parties more graciously than I

In a study by Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert, participants were told to choose an art poster to keep. Thirty days later, those who had been told they could change their mind reported being less happy with their decision that those who were not given an option to exchange it. With the option to return it, these people weren’t fully behind their decision.

When we make a firm decision, our “psychological immune system” kicks in to help us justify why that was the right choice. This is the same system that helps our rejected social partners get past the emotional blow. But by leaving things uncertain and in flux, we prevent this rationalization from occurring, which brings us down and brings others down with us.

This limbo state is worse on our emotions than a “no.” This is the same for considering various job options, career paths, romantic partners, or really any other life choices.

Saying “no” is hard. Typing it is worse. But remember that in doing so, you and the person who received it will actually end up more satisfied than if you leave things in the air. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you need to be rude or mean. Your “no” can be cushioned, so long as it is not lost completely.

Going back to birthday parties, think of it this way: It is the best — the happiest — birthday present you can give to or receive from a person.

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counterfactual thinking, happiness, psychology, USA, USMNT, victory, winning, World Cup 2014, writing

Lessons Learned from USMNT: How to Lose Victoriously

“You know, if we were in Portugal’s place, we would have been really happy about the way this game ended,” I overheard a guy say to his friend as they exited a bar (What a smart drunk dude!) on Sunday afternoon. The USA-Portgual World Cup match had just ended in a tie. “That’s totally true,” my friend, also overhearing, said to me.

It was true — and it was a smart thing to say — because Portugal had almost lost the game. Basically lost it.

USA could have had the win. We were so close. We should have won the game. There are plenty of reasons to believe this: At the ninety-minute mark, the official duration of a World Cup match, we had won the game; with only thirty seconds left in the actual game, we had won the game; We had lots of good saves; We had two solid goals; We believed, we believed that we would win.

Despite the fact that we both shared the same outcome, a 2-goal tie, Portugal was likely happier about the score than the US. This is because the US, leading up to the last thirty seconds of the game, was on track to win while Portugal, was on track to lose. For Portugal, the tie was a better-than-expected outcome.

In psychology, this line of logic is called counterfactual thinking. Our happiness is fueled by an assessment of our accomplishments against their alternatives. In fact, research has shown that bronze medalists are significantly more happy with their awards than silver medalists. The bronze medalist is thankful to have not lost while the silver medalist is disappointed at not having won gold. The silver medalist, like the US team, was so close to winning.

In late January, I wrote and submitted an article to a well-regarded online publication. Aware that the publication deals with a high volume of guest submissions, I decided I did not expect a response, let alone an acceptance. Imagine my elation, then, when I eventually received the following email:

Thanks for sending this in. I’m afraid I was snowed under with submissions this past week and have only just given it a read. I really enjoyed it, but I see that you’ve published elsewhere in the meantime. 

Hope to get a chance to work with you on a future story!

Personal victory! The editor likes me. I am a shoe-in next time! I told myself.

Last week, I submitted a new, unpublished article to the same editor. This time around, I received an email response almost immediately. No big deal. I was expecting an email, anyway, I thought when I saw the notification. Unexpectedly, however, it was a rejection. Here I was, victim to counterfactual thought. Unlike the first rejection email, this one left me disappointed and unmotivated to try again (though I eventually will).

Today, despite our Game 3 loss to Germany, Americans across the country are rejoicing. Based on our historical performance and the skill of other teams, the US Team beat expectations and advanced out of the Group of Death.

It is not a win; it is a personal victory.

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Like our friends on the soccer field, we all have goals, both personal and professional. To keep things simple, we identify obvious successes (in the effort to avoid obvious failures). “I am going to achieve this precise thing!” we tell ourselves. Having a guest post accepted by your favorite publication, for example. We fail to realize, however, that even in the most seemingly black and white situations (a match win or loss), there are relative successes and failures.

And it’s these relative achievements, not the absolute ones, that significantly impact our sense of accomplishment and happiness.

Now, this doesn’t mean that we should all sandbag our goals or expect to lose. But once in a while, it would help to remind ourselves that a goal is just a frame. There is a lot of space within that general frame — a lot of net. Instead of giving up, I should be reminding myself that this editor is still willing to consider me in the future. That there are many other well-regarded publications in the world. That every article I write is better than the last. That I will only fail if I stop submitting.

Push yourself. Strive. But don’t expect any obvious win. There is no such thing. Like a soccer match, life is mostly just a series of missed shots at your goal. And as long as you’re consistent in your performance, as long as you remain happy and motivated, you, like our US team, will still advance — even if you don’t make a single shot in the net.

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