fear and intuition

I can’t remember when I exactly realised how much fear was dictating my life. It wasn’t a revelation as much as the result of patiently fitting tiny puzzle pieces of life together and guessing what the overall picture was. Either way, somehow about a year ago it became clear to me that most of my choices and life decisions were driven by fear. Fear explained why it took me about 4 months to plan a holiday, as well as several excel sheets with pros and cons for hotels and excursions. Fear was the reason I decided I didn’t want a serious relationship ever ever again. Fear was the reason I was always more comfortable baking cakes, where the instructions are detailed and clear and remove uncertainty, than free-style cooking with random ingredients.

Actually, the road to my slow epiphany was through ‘gut feel‘.

I’m on a lifelong quest to happiness. This manifests in me greedily reading every book on the topic and attempting every exercise statistically proven to increase happiness. Most of them are actually quite relaxing and come to me quite easily, such as dancing or practicing gratitude. But the one that I just couldn’t do, no matter how hard I tried, was trusting my instinct.

All the mindfulness books and happiness experts tell you to trust your instinct. They claim that somewhere, deep inside you, is a well of wisdom that somehow ‘knows’. Knows whether you should trust person A, take job B or decide what to eat on restaurant menu C. I tried listening to this inner voice. I tried while meditating. I tried while writing. I tried while getting tipsy. I expected the voice to speak clearly and give simple instructions, but I only heard silence. I concluded that I must be more shallow than average and not have an inner wise women after all.

But somehow, gradually, I noticed myself making rather ‘rash’ decisions. At first it felt like being disorganised and uncaring. Going on holidays in 2 weeks and still not having booked a hotel? Foolish! But I just told myself ‘what’s the worse that can happen?’ and went with the flow. And I had a GREAT time. Comforted by the fact that this new attitude was saving me a lot of the time I would normally have spent obsessing, I started applying the ‘what’s the worse that can happen?’ attitude to the rest of my life. More holidays without having prepared the schedule to the minute. New extracurricular activities. Sports, performing, bragging about myself at work. Before I knew it, I was swimming next to a whale shark.

I started to notice that shutting down my brain was basically the way to find my intuition. As opposed to thinking ‘I need to find my gut feeling‘, not thinking is the way to go.

Sure, I’ll never be the devil-may-care, sky-diving, not-knowing-where-the-next-pay-check-comes-from type of person. But I am no longer the stay-at-home, obsessively-plan-every-scenario, can’t-decide-anything-without-excel type of person either. And that is something my inner wise woman feels very good about.


being a woman

There has been a lot of outrage around several events involving women lately.

Before the summer, the Blurred Lines music video with Robin Thicke showed women wearing only skin coloured thongs, walking around fully dressed men. This was seen as sexually objectifying the women. Everyone seemed to assume that there is no way a woman could enjoy showing her body proudly to the world. We should be hiding it instead, evidently.

Then Miley Cyrus twerked with the same Robin Thicke at the MTV music awards and she was accused of too many things to count – sex objectifying herself, being a slut, being racist, etc… Everyone seemed to assume there is no way that she just found it fun. We should be doing what everyone else thinks is appropriate, rather than what we really want, evidently.

Last week, the CEO of Barilla (the Italian pasta company) declared in an interview that his company believes in the traditional role of women in the family and therefore would not use gay families in their ads – and that if gay people didn’t like it, they could eat another brand of pasta. All my gay friends immediately went into action, calling for a boycott of the homophobic pasta, and a few hours later Mr Barilla was apologising. But absolutely none of my women friends took any notice of him wanting the woman in the kitchen. Everyone assumed that we are ok being told we should be in the kitchen, making pasta for the whole family.

And at the same time, McKinsey keeps tracking the abysmal record of companies at promoting women to higher level jobs. The government keeps tracking the abysmal number of women working full time in the Netherlands. Mothers keeps talking about the mummy wars – working mums judging stay at home mums and vice versa.

Why am I connecting these dots? Because I don’t think there is any demographic being judged as much as mine. Women. And there is no other demographic doing as little to change any of it.

I feel we are at the stage where the women around me have given up completely on trying to change Mr Barilla, or companies, or governments, or society. I don’t receive emails or tweets every time a company says something sexist. My facebook stream doesn’t fill with petitions every time a woman is being judged for having fun, or being sexual. We seem to think what we have is good enough – we can vote, we can work, we can divorce, what more could we possibly want? We have decided to save our energy to focus on our personal situation and disengage from any debate. Except that only works up to a point. Do we want our daughters being called a slut every time they try to express their sexuality? Do we want to be told again and again that there is no good reason to be proud of the female body? Isn’t that like one step away from living under sharia law?

Personally, I see myself as much more likely to put a sexy outfit on like the Blurred Line girls or to¬†twerk like Miley than to turn into the traditional woman Mr Barilla wants me to be. But if I say this out loud to people, what does that make me? Well, suffice to say that I don’t say it out loud because I know exactly how I’ll be judged. Including by women.

Facebook and happiness

I’ve read many studies that suggest that social media makes people less focused and unhappy.

Researchers usually are unable to explain why but some of the theories they hazard are around the fact that:

– virtual relationships are not as warm and fuzzy as ‘real’ ones

– fear of missing out accentuates our natural envious ‘the grass is greener’ unhappiness

– the speed at which your streams get new content makes your mind jump from one topic to the next and leaves you unable to concentrate.

I disagree.

As someone who can be moody and never enjoyed the telephone, I have developed warm, fuzzy relationships with many people purely thanks to social networks. Because I decide when I engage and what I read, I’m able to stay away from humans on my werewolf days, and be a (hopefully) supportive friends when I have the energy. It’s also easier for me to share my emotions in my facebook status than to vocalize them aloud, and I must say that looking for the right word to describe how I feel at this moment has helped me get more in touch my emotions.

The fear of missing out aspect is an interesting one. I make a conscious effort to only share positive or constructive, debatable facts and opinions on social networks. This is on one hand because I don’t want my web history to show a life of grumpy posts, but also because I think there aren’t enough positive news facts or comments in my life. I want my stream to be a source of happiness for those who chose to friend or follow me. And by forcing myself to find the positive for my facebook friends, I find the positive all around me. And I realize that I’m continuously practicing gratefulness and mindfulness. The sunrise this morning, which on a busy day like today I would have ignored, became something beautiful enough for me to spend a few min to share with my posse. I find myself thinking less negative thoughts and finding the beauty and pleasure in all the little things.

So facebook has made me a happier person.

On the last aspect – concentration – well, I do have the attention span of a goldfish, but maybe jumping from one happy topic to one brilliant idea to one interesting article is not the worse way to live, is it?