MGU 486 | Life Transformation

 

How can you experience a profound life transformation that lets you unlock genuine happiness and understand your true purpose on earth? For Jeff Golden, it can be done by embracing the sacred and appreciating the wonder within and around you. In this conversation with Whitney Lauritsen, he talks about approaching the sacred, embracing your opportunities, and understanding your privilege. Jeff discusses why happiness has been on a decline since the 1940s, what inhibits our brightness, and how to go beyond self-hate and materialism. He also explains how time affluence is powerfully connected with our happiness, social media’s positive role in our lives, and how conspicuous consumption impacts our personal relationships.

Listen to the podcast here

 

Embracing The Sacred: Transforming Our Lives Through Wonder With Jeff Golden

I am sitting with the first guest I’ve actually recorded with in quite some time because I have a few months to travel across the country as I often speak about on the show. Jeff, who’s here with me, has written a wonderful book with the title Reclaiming the Sacred. Jeff, as I was preparing myself to show up to chat with you, I was sitting outside my parents’ home in Massachusetts, where I’m currently recording, and realized that these trips are my current way of reclaiming the sacred.

It was an interesting thing to ponder. I was sitting out having my coffee in my parents’ backyard. It’s a beautiful fall day in October and my dogs are walking around in front of me. I felt so in tune with that experience, which felt sacred. I started thinking about an experience that has felt prevalent to me in 2023. This is my fourth time doing this specific annual road trip that I started in 2020. It’s been this unfolding and evolution that’s felt organic and authentic to me.

I don’t know if it’s a shift in the state of the world, but I’m very curious to hear some of your thoughts on this. I’m noticing something that’s been there all along. I started writing some notes on this to chat with you about. One that came up is that the more I reclaim for myself, the more I notice how hard that seems to be for others. I notice this in the questions people ask me.

For example, when I say that I travel cross country and I spend several weeks driving out here and then I spend several months out here before I spend another few weeks going back, it’s become this three-month reclaiming for me. It’s a sacred experience. Most people seem to feel confused about that. They ask me questions mostly about money, which is something you spend a lot of time on, thinking about money and happiness.

I’ve also noticed predominantly in 2023 the return to the pre-pandemic states in a lot of ways where the last few years I’ve done this road trip, it was surprisingly easy to meet up with people. It was surprisingly easy to get our schedules to match. It wasn’t until here in 2023 that I started to notice it’s actually been challenging to coordinate visiting people.

I thought, “There’s a lot of that busyness, stress, tension, and distraction.” We’ve seemed to, at least in this context, start to move back into that place of focus on career and responsibilities in a different way that I think the previous few years post-pandemic, it felt like a lot of people were prioritizing slowness quality time with loved ones and more rest. I’m curious if you are experiencing a shift right now or maybe because you’ve been studying this for so many years, what are other people’s relationships too I was going to say the sacred, but sacred is also relative to each of us. It’s a little bit of a tricky question, but I think you know where I’m going with this.

As I mentioned before, we actually hopped on and started recording, when you reached out to me with the invitation to talk, I felt a very strong yes. Part of it was the title of the show. As I mentioned to you ahead of time, I think the greatest danger for us in this conversation is going to be how to stop it with however much time we have. Already, in what you were saying, I have about ten different exciting directions that I wanted to pop off and go and explore.

I think the one that sits the deepest with me right now that I want to acknowledge is when you talk to the very beginning about the title of the book and you and this trip in a sense of being about reclaiming the sacred for yourself. The first thing that I want to acknowledge and appreciate is that the very word sacred is actually a bit uncomfortable for many people.

It evokes for people a sense of religiousness, which for many people then evokes a sense of doctrine or a lot of bad experiences. I would say, in many ways, a very limited and limiting experience of our wondrousness, the luminous in the world, and wonder. For so many of us, our religious experiences did not lift us up into that more and more but tamp that down. For many of us, and I’m talking anecdotally but also statistically in the United States, droves of people have left institutional religion.

One of the things that’s come up for me with the book is that the title Reclaiming the Sacred felt and continues to feel so right to me. There is, for some people, an initial little hiccup there. For the book’s cover, I picked an image that is set in the redwoods. There is sunshine streaming in and gorgeousness. To me, it speaks about the sacredness of the world, us, and life.

For some people, it has a little tinge, again, of religiousness. First, I want to appreciate how you seem able to approach that word in a way that obviously connects with you and speaks to your own depth of experience, yourself, and the world. That, for me, is a mirror image of what I’m going for and what I’m speaking to when I talk about reclaiming the sacred.

It’s not about sacredness according to some institutional religion or something that has been deemed of particular religious significance. For me, it’s much more expansive than that. It’s about what is the most fundamentally important in the world and to us. Reclaiming the sacred is, first and foremost, about you and everyone. The sacredness of us and being able to experience ourselves and others as wondrous miracles moving through this wondrous, miraculous world.

It is about reclaiming the sacredness of our lives and the world as well. As you were naming at the end there, I think that a metaphor that is apt for how most of us, to one degree or another, live our lives. It’s as if we’re sitting on the edge of the ocean, at the top of a mountain, or beneath this blanket of sky and stars and we have a bag over our heads.

Reclaiming the sacred is about you. It is about experiencing yourself and the wondrous miracles in this wondrous world. Click To Tweet

We’re doing the best we can to make the best of our lives, but we’ve got this bag over our heads. The bag can be different things in terms of how that shows up in many of our lives. One of the key things that I focus on in the book, as you mentioned, is money and possessions, materialism, anecdotally, and research based on what we lose when that becomes a priority in our lives and when it becomes a priority in the culture around us.

In many ways, reclaiming the sacred is about exactly what you said. It’s about being able to slow up and pause and perhaps even that word sacredness can be an invitation for someone to notice within themselves or in the world around them and lift that bag up a little bit and peer around and see a little bit more because, in many ways, that is our natural state. The research shows our natural state is that we generally are happy beings.

I think it was Rumi, a famous Persian mystical poet, who wrote something along the lines of, “Do not seek for love. Seek instead all of the barriers that you have erected within you to love.” To me, that nails it exactly. I think that we are wondrous beings living in a wondrous world, which is not to deny the hardship either. When that’s our baseline starting point and we lift that bag up, it is about what are the barriers. What is that bag? How do we remove that so that we can be more present day in and day out, moment to moment with the sacredness of ourselves and this world?

It’s so beautifully said and so many things keep coming up in my mind. I’m grateful for this conversation because I think there are a lot of associations many of us are going to have and it’s very relative for each of us what this speaks to. For example, I didn’t make a connection between sacred and religion on at least a conscious level because to me, the sacredness of a lot of what you’re describing, that word wonder is wonderful. Even the picture you’re describing of the redwood forest, I find nature very sacred and healing.

There’s part of me that, before and during this conversation, reflects a lot on these barriers. I’ve gone through all these different waves in my personal life, and professionally, as I research, put myself in this world of wellness and well-being, and think about these issues all the time. There are moments when I feel like it’s so easy. Why is it so hard for someone to lift up the bag and to peek out even? Sometimes, that feels very far away from people.

It’s a privilege that I’ve been able to do that easily. I have recognized that more and more while I understand what privilege means to begin with. For a long time, because I’ve had that privilege of it being easy for me, whether that’s a personality trait or about my circumstances in life, it’s likely a combination of it all, I can take the bag off like that. Those moments where I think, “Why aren’t other people lifting off the bag off their heads? Why are they choosing this?”

However, I’ve recognized mostly through research because it’s not a matter of opinion, actually. It’s sometimes a matter of facts and statistics that a lot of people don’t have the privilege or even the ability or the choice to take the bag off. I guess my question through all the research you’ve done is how do you know whether it’s your internal situation or external circumstances that are creating that barrier?

Sometimes I think it is a matter of moving through internal resistance, in other words. I’m scared. I’m scared to lift off the bag. I’m scared to peek out. I’m scared to tap into my sacred. To clarify more, it’s how do you know when it’s that internal resistance versus it’s truly an external situation and there’s a reason you’re not taking the bag off that’s beyond you.

I want to dive into that by first creating a bit of a foundation, which is the heart of, at least where my book begins. It is to provide a context for where we are at in terms of wellness and happiness in the United States and how money ties into that because questions of privilege and opportunity tie in very directly with that.

We, in the United States, measures of our well-being and happiness since they were first recorded in the 1940s. It has been in a consistent decline. That is against the backdrop of spectacular financial and, if you will, material gains possessions. We, in the United States, now live amidst material wealth that was beyond the imaginations of 300,000 years of our ancestors and is still beyond the reach of most people throughout the world.

People in the 1940s, again, I mentioned that was a benchmark for us in terms of when we started measuring this. Happiness has been a decline since then. Let’s keep in mind that people in the United States, in the 1940s, most of them had never heard of television. A phone was a luxury. A third of people did not have indoor plumbing. Nowadays, if you went and showed someone a house or an apartment that didn’t have indoor plumbing, that would be a non-starter. It would be offensive. It’s like, “Why did you even waste my time showing this to me?”

Yet, people then were, on average, happier than we are now. I said despite these massive material gains, in many ways, what the research shows and what we might tease out on an intuitive level is that there’s actually a relationship between those. One of the foremost psychologists of happiness, Ed Diener, noted at one point that materialism is toxic for happiness. That wasn’t his opinion. That was his lifetime of him being the foremost researcher in this area.

Overall, psychologists and economists have done extensive research on money and the consensus is that it accounts for about 2% to 4% of our happiness. To be clear, if you cannot meet your basic needs, if you are hungry and do not have shelter, or do not have access to basic healthcare that you need, then additional money does boost your happiness. Once your basic needs are met at a very simple level, additional money does very little or nothing for your well-being.

What’s problematic here is that we continue to focus on money and possessions and prioritize those kinds of things in our lives beyond those basic needs that have been met. We are not only not adding to our happiness through additional money and possessions, but we are missing out on so many other opportunities to tend to those things that nourish our well-being.

Those other things are so important. I already mentioned money being only 2% to 4% of our happiness overall, but to drive that home even further, even for people who cannot meet their basic needs, many of those other factors are still more important. You have people living in extreme poverty. It’s not to romanticize what it’s like to live in poverty and all of the things that tend to come with that. It is also to be realistic about the fact that most of our ancestors and most people throughout the world nowadays, despite the relative complete lack of money and possessions that they have still tend to live happy, if not extraordinarily joyful lives.

Money overall accounts for 2-4% of our happiness. Click To Tweet

This is true even for people living in extreme poverty. In fact, it was Ed Diener who once pointed out very eloquently that it is a powerful reminder of our own bias, we would assume otherwise, and we would imagine that someone living in extreme poverty can’t live an extraordinary life full of love, joy, and wonder.

In your question about how we know where that bag is, is it internal, is it external, and what opportunities or privileges we each have to remove that bag, I want to start by, first of all, acknowledging that for many of us, the circumstances in our lives are incredibly challenging. The places we find ourselves and the material needs that we face, as well as, as you well know, the topic of this show very much about the emotional trauma that we experience and all those kinds of things.

It is not in any way to minimize that, but it is also to, in a sense, democratize happiness and well-being to liberate us from some of the devastating and I would even say violent assumptions of this culture about where we should be orienting ourselves if we want to live better lives. To a very large degree, it’s not about more money and possessions. It’s actually about liberating ourselves from those expectations and the cultural norms that exist around us.

I think that one part of lifting that bag a little bit, taking a bit of a peek, is from the get-go. Recognizing that we each have a tremendous capacity for joy and wonder and to live ex exquisite lives, regardless of our financial and physical circumstances, and without minimizing that. For now, I’m focusing on that half a glass that exists right before us that’s ready for us to drink and take in.

MGU 486 | Life Transformation

Life Transformation: We each have tremendous capacity for joy, wonder, and to live exquisite lives.

 

Why is it that despite our capacity? I see that, too, but again, I’m still peeling back the layers to make sure that I don’t equate my own capacity with others. Unless you’re saying, do we all have equal capacity? I guess that’s the first point of this. Something you said earlier like we’re doing our best. I was sitting with that for a moment, wondering, “I think our best is all very relative.” Given that it’s extremely prevalent for people to have mental health challenges. In fact, I’d be willing to bet mental health is an issue for the great majority of people if not all.

You’re hard-pressed to meet someone who’s not experiencing anxiety or depression on some level. Not necessarily the clinical definitions of it, but sadness, loneliness, fear, and perhaps all of these emotions will always be part of the human experience. They’re not necessarily barriers, but I feel like they can be so strong. Maybe they impact what our best is and what capacities we have.

It starts to feel very complex when you add on the issue of privilege. As I learn more and more about systemic issues, there’s a whole other level of an experience that somebody has based on the color of their skin, the way that they speak, who they love, where they live, or who they vote for. There are all these other factors. For somebody who is in very different circumstances than me, I can’t assume that my best is going to look the same as theirs. How do you even navigate things if it’s very relative?

I think we want to hold up two things at the same time. It can be a paradox, but it feels very important to me, first of all, to acknowledge that those barriers exist. To some degree, as you mentioned, for all of us, there are certain barriers. I also want to tell a story and her name is escaping me right now. Hopefully, it’ll come back to me later.

A very prominent yoga instructor, Sharon Salzburg, tells a story about being at a conference in India with the Dalai Lama. It was a small group of people and they went around. They each got to ask a question and she asked about self-hate and self-loathing. She wanted to know what his experience was with that. He turned to the interpreter to make sure he was understanding, asked a few questions, and then came back to her and said, “I’m not sure I’m understanding what you mean. Could you clarify a little bit?”

She talked about her own personal experience and working with clients about the ways in which so many of us have taken on these layers of, you might call it shame or self-hate. Maybe more milder would be like insecurities. These ideas we have about ourselves have somehow been planted in us by other people and the culture around us.

He, again, talked with the interpreter for a while and then he turned to her and he said, “I thought I had a good understanding of human nature, but this completely boggles me and turns that on its head. I don’t understand this term self-hatred. How can you feel that way about yourself? We are each inherently a spark of the divine. We are wondrous. We are miracles.” There’s a specific word for it that isn’t coming to me right now.

That story, for me, is important because it speaks to the potential for living beyond and outside what might seem to be a norm or even a basic human condition of shame, feeling inadequate, or a feeling that a life of exquisite wonder and delight might be elusive or beyond some of us. It’s just I’m not made for that or my life. My circumstances aren’t made for that. I would say that I expect that I will go to the grave still being impacted by some of the shame that I’ve internalized, some of these self-concepts that got in there that are negative, make me feel bad about myself and inhibit my brightness.

There’s compassion and patience that comes with acknowledging that these things are deeply rooted in us and it’s not quick or easy. They might be with us for the rest of our lives. It doesn’t mean that we can’t move on them, but we can be compassionate and patient. At the same time, I think it’s revolutionary to hold out there this possibility that that’s actually completely cultural. Inherently, as a being, this is what you are. You are wondrous. You are made of love and delight. You are a miracle. Go out there and live that extraordinary life that is waiting for you. It’s both of those.

That’s a little bit of what I’m referring to when I talk about happiness and well-being. It’s being something that is largely accessible to all of us, regardless of our material circumstances. It’s the glass is half empty to a certain degree. I happen to not be focusing on that right now because the other message is so important. There are clearly things that come along with poverty and extreme poverty that do impact our well-being.

Happiness and well-being are largely accessible to all regardless of material circumstances. Click To Tweet

I’m not trying to romanticize that. To acknowledge that even people living in extreme poverty, there are other factors that are much more powerfully determined. Their happiness, well-being, and satisfaction with their lives is a revolutionary starting point for all of us to acknowledge, recognize, and move from that place. It’s holding both. It’s the patience and compassion on the one hand and a bottom-line readiness to step into sacredness and live this singular, spectacular life that is potentially out there for each one of us.

The holding both parts is helpful for me because I sometimes notice that as much as I like living in the gray area, I still find myself in the black-and-white mentality. The holding both is such a great framework. That’s a great example of how our society tends to condition us. It’s taking sides and being polar. Essentially, you have to choose a side.

Binary.

Exactly. That framework can be very damaging to us as individuals and in our relationships with one another and the assumptions that we might make about somebody. It’s a constant learning and reminder for me because I actually do live in both. Ironically, the more I explore this, I can live in the gray area and sometimes I live in the black and white, and yet, I’m in both states at the same time. I’ll have a conversation with someone like you and remember I can have both.

It’s interesting how I think a lot of us tend to believe that there’s always going to be some compromise. We can have our cake and eat it too. In some settings, that might be true, but at other times, I wonder, why can’t we have our cake and eat it too? Not out of greed, but simply that life is not a very binary experience.

What is being suggested to me by what you’re saying, and it speaks to me deeply, is the idea that maybe we are meant to be fed by one extreme or the other at different points. For example, Bell Hooks, a wonderful poet and author and self-identified Black woman, grew up amidst a certain degree of poverty. She has very powerful messages to people about each of us being wondrous in our capacity for love and living extraordinary lives.

She very pointedly said that it’s not simple work. It’s not simple to overcome so much of the negativity that we’ve absorbed within ourselves. If we make it sound simple, then it’s going to be discouraging. That’s an example of maybe there are times where we need to relax into the compassion and the patience and be like, “For today, this is who I am or where I’m at.”

MGU 486 | Life Transformation

Life Transformation: It is not simple to overcome the negativity we have absorbed within ourselves. It we make it sound simple, it will be discouraging.

 

Maybe some days, we need to wake up, look in the mirror, and say and feel truthfully, “I’m extraordinary and look at this incredible life around me. There’s color, breath, birds, sky, my body. I’m moving.” That is a starting place. Some days, that’s a wonderful place to lean into. We can hold both or we’re in the gray area. One day, we swing to the other and swing back to the other. Another day, that’s exactly what we need.

I’m sitting with that and noticing there’s a lot of contemplation there. I certainly experienced that a lot. It’s interesting to slow down. I had an aim for the beginning of 2023, which was to slow down more. Now that the year is starting to come to a close very rapidly as it often does, I’m looking back and I’m noticing times where I have slowed down. I’ve also noticed that it was quite challenging to slow down.

In fact, it almost feels like 2023 was me starting to slow down not necessarily achieving it. It’s hard in a world that’s so fast-paced. We’re encouraged to move faster and faster in all different ways. I was reading about the concept of time compression, which was interesting. I’m still trying to understand exactly what that means.

Essentially, there are references to how fast things start to move. Of course, the older we get, life seems to go faster. Our experience of time shifts. Also, the way that the world operates and the developments we have are shifting our experience of time. For me, slowing down, a huge part of that involved spending less time on my digital devices or using them differently.

At the beginning of 2023, I identified that I wanted to step away from social media in as many ways as I felt like I could comfortably move through life without using it. That shifted my relationship with time. That did help me slow down in some ways. I was finding that I would be so drawn into the types of social media I was using and the ways in which I was contributing to social media. It essentially took me out of the present moment and it put me in almost like this weird virtual reality state of being.

I’m sitting there staring at this device and the world is going on around me and I’m not as in tune with it. I found it harder to be present when I was on social media, which is a very obvious statement because most people experience that. The more I stepped away from it, I noticed so many people around me were absorbed in social media. It’s like I started this conversation that it’s an interesting experience when you slow down and notice how fast everyone else is going around you. That can actually start to feel very lonely.

I want to slow down, but I also want to be around these people that are moving so quickly and it feels like the only way I can have a relationship with them is if I move at their pace. There was a big sacrifice that happened when I stepped away from social media. I feel very disconnected from a huge percentage of people. There are some people I’ve barely heard from, which is very revealing because I stepped away from social media. I realized our relationship was so connected to social media and there was a sacrifice between connection, slowness, and being present.

I’m curious about how that resonates with you if you’ve had similar experiences. You’ve been diving into a lot of very deep things. You’re understanding things on different levels. Sometimes when you make these choices or when you have these understandings, it shifts relationships in an interesting way.

Once again, my mind already went in about fifteen different directions of things that I thought were so interesting around what you were saying that I wanted to think about or speak to. I want to start by connecting back to what we were talking about earlier in terms of the money and possessions and the bags on our heads and that will shift into a little bit more of what you’re talking about.

What are the things that do matter to our well-being? What does the research show around that? What are our personal experiences that we’re talking about here? There was a wonderful study done where they compared homeless people in Calcutta, India, with homeless people living in Oregon in the United States.

As you might imagine, the homeless people in Calcutta, India, the objective circumstances of their lives were much worse. Their access to food, shelter, healthcare, and the kinds of things that they were reporting and experiencing, whether they lost a limb or lost a family member. Those kinds of reports were common versus in Oregon, they had much greater access to food and shelter and weren’t living these other kinds of experiences. Yet, the people in Calcutta, India were happier than the people in Oregon. In fact, they scored positively in terms of their life satisfaction.

The key distinction that was found between those two communities was that the people in Calcutta, India generally had managed to maintain some connections with friends and family that the people in Oregon had not. In fact, the people in Oregon, when asked what they need or miss most in their lives, more than food and shelter and other things like that, was human connection with friends and family.

This speaks to one of the most reliable factors. If you want to look at someone’s life and guess how happy they are, the amount of time that they spend with friends and family, the number of friends that they have, even more, important than the quality of friendships, that’s one of the most reliable predictors for how happy a person is.

MGU 486 | Life Transformation

Life Transformation: If you want to guess how happy a person is, look at the amount of time they spend with friends and family, as well as the quality of their relationships.

 

I like to distinguish between those factors that relate to the world around us and our lives and internal factors because it’s been found that internal factors are more significant than anything happening in the world around us. For now, in terms of those things that you could observe or measure in a person’s life, relationships are consistently perhaps the strongest predictor of how happy someone is. I’m pausing thinking back to your question. I know you already released me from needing to tie things back necessarily, but if you want to make another little note, this was when the author paused for a moment to reflect on where are we going with this.

I can jump in as a comment on that because the experience I’ve been sharing about how different 2023 has felt for me traveling. It’s possible that things have shifted. It’s possible that we’re “going back to normalcy” and people’s lives are going back to a rapid speed. It speaks a lot to my shift in awareness where, based on a lot of research I’ve done and guests like yourself, this human connection and community have been profoundly a top-of-mind for me in 2023.

I have been ramping up my desire to spend quality time. It also happens to be one of my love languages, for those who know about the five love languages. I love being with people and feeling connected to them, even if that means sitting down to watch a TV show. The caveat is that when somebody is on their phone, it is so deeply distracting to me.

It happened on this trip. I was visiting a close friend of mine who I had so many great experiences with. Yet, despite how connected I felt to this person, there was one time when we were sitting down to watch a movie and they were on their phone the entire time. I was so distracted by that thinking, “I don’t understand why they’re on their phone.” I’ve noticed this a lot as I’ve shifted my perspectives about phone usage. I’m still in this state. Maybe this is the process of change.

This is something that happened to me when I went vegan, for example. You notice everybody that’s not eating vegan food. I’ve been vegan for many years. I’ve gotten used to that. It’s not a big deal. When people eat animal products, some part of me is a little upset about it, but most of me, I’m used to the upset.

Maybe I’m not used to the contrast of my choice to put my phone away when I’m having quality time with someone versus it seems like the majority of people want to multitask. The majority of people think they can multitask. The majority of people don’t see the disconnect between quality time and a device, whereas I’ve connected that.

Not to say I’m perfect at this. I go through waves. We were talking about the binary side of it. It’s not a black-and-white thing. There are periods of my life where I’ll find myself absorbed in my phone, going back to social media, and looking to my phone for dopamine hits. I’m not perfect at this. I probably never will be, but I’m noticing it. That’s the state. When you’re talking about these human connections, it’s an interesting time because I think a lot of us know that. Most of us have experienced how nourishing quality time is. Yet, it seems like a huge percentage of the population still chooses a disconnect or a less connected experience.

This is a powerful bridge to a key area that I want to talk about, which is those internal factors that relate to our happiness and well-being. I’m going to go there in a second, but let me start by sharing some of the research around some of the specific things that you named. A sense of time affluence is very powerfully correlated with happiness and well-being and that’s a term that’s often used, time affluence.

How much time do you feel like you have to do the things that are important to you, but also your daily experience of it? There’s an interesting study. Again, it’s paradoxical. It was found that for people who took time to volunteer or even help someone at work, that act of volunteering and helping someone else boosted their sense of time affluence.

They gave up a little bit of their time or added to their plate but, by taking that moment to connect and help someone else, it was a pause and it was an affirmation to themselves essentially of, “I have time to stop and help this other person or do this other thing.” It’s a way to dive a little bit into deeper waters, which soothes us and reminds us that we have this spaciousness available to us to a certain degree.

The research on social media is mixed to the degree that it is feeding what you referenced this addiction to stimulation and to the dopamine hit. Not surprisingly, that’s not a good thing, but there is a degree to which social media can have a positive role in our lives. You acknowledge that to some degree when it comes to certain friends. Particularly, studies that have been done around, say, older people or people who are a little bit isolated, social media can be a nourishing way of human connection.

Social media can actually be a nourishing way of having human connection. Click To Tweet

There is that positive aspect to it. There are also studies around teenage girls. It’s been found that the more time they spend on social media, the less happy and well they are. That has a lot to do with images and expectations, as well as maybe bullying and social conditioning, those kinds of things. Interestingly, overall, social media right now cuts both ways. It’s not a clear cut, positive or negative, depending on the circumstances.

That is a place where people spend a lot of time. For many people, it doesn’t nourish us the way that spending time talking with or being with a friend can nourish us and boost our well-being. However, it can still be a positive in our lives. When we were talking earlier about the bag that’s over most of our heads, I think this is one of the forms that that takes. When we dive into social media and work, for many of us, it’s a way to distance ourselves from being present with the wonder, beauty, and sacredness of the world around us.

It’s also, interestingly, a way that we distance ourselves from happiness because the research around work is consistent as well. That is the less we work, the happier we are, which may not come as a surprise, but most of us don’t live that way or think it’s worth it because of the prestige, the money, and the material things. We’ve already pointed out that that isn’t going to do much for you.

Even for people for whom their work is a calling, that’s a very nourishing way of being in the world when your work is very purposeful. Obviously, the relationship is a little different for those people, but even then, on average, people who work more than 40 hours a week are less happy than people working 40. People working less than 40 are happier than people working 40. All the way down to about 3 to 5 hours a week.

If you find yourself unemployed, not by choice, that does tend to have a negative impact on your happiness. Even then, what’s been found is that it’s not about the money or the possessions. Generally speaking, it has that consequence as well. It’s more about our sense of purpose and the hit we take to our ego. Briefly, to acknowledge that when someone loses workers out of work, that does initially have an impact, which goes away over time.

That exception aside, generally speaking, the less we work, the happier we are. It has to do with a number of factors. It has to do with what opens up then that we can focus our time on and what are the things that do nourish us. It has to do with a little bit of this fundamental thing that you’ve referred to of how present are we with ourselves, with the people around us, and with stopping and smelling the flowers, just to use the cliché.

Truly, how many times over the course of our day are we pausing and noticing things and feeling a sense of wonder, whether it’s within or without? For many people, work is where we spend more of our time than anything else except sleeping fundamentally over the course of our lives. Yet, for most of us, it’s not a place that does nourish our well-being.

I said that this, for me, seemed like a great bridge to a place that’s important to talk about. It’s the heart of your show, which is our emotional well-being. For many of us, social media and that addiction to stimulation, work, and consumption, the desire to always be out there shopping or thinking about what else we want to acquire or again, that dopamine hit when we find something on Amazon and buy it and know that it’s going to be delivered so quickly to us.

There is an aspect of that. That is about that addiction to stimulation. For many of us, there is also an aspect of avoidance. It’s a nice buffer between other things that we may be afraid of feeling or being present with. When I talk about inner factors, these are things like presence, wonder, gratitude, and purpose. It’s also about how comfortable we are with different emotions, which I think would be wonderful to talk about and relates very much to the name This Might Get Uncomfortable.

However, the number one factor is what is the quality of our relationship with ourselves. How do we feel about ourselves both on a conscious level or on a deeper unconscious level? It’s what we were talking about earlier about shame and negative messages. For many of us, we have been overwhelmed with negative messaging about how little we matter, how little our lives matter, or how certain things about ourselves seem to matter so much and aren’t good enough. We aren’t good enough.

There’s a way of numbing ourselves and distracting ourselves through work and consumption. It’s one of the critical factors that makes money important for so many of us, despite the fact that it does so little for us. It’s filling our lives or that space that otherwise might be a little bit uncomfortable. There’s a whole lot more that I could dive into about that, but I’ve also said a whole lot. Why don’t I pause a second?

There’s so much here. I’m examining my own relationship with this because despite having a show about this subject and again, being so involved in this space, it doesn’t make me immune from this. It shows humanity that this is a very big challenge, especially in our society and our cultures. It’s the capitalistic pressures that we feel are the measures of worth and success.

Something that has stood out for me in the past few years, I wanted to not participate in that as much as possible. It’s hard when you live in a country like the United States. It’s a huge part of how things operate. As nice as it sounds to work less, there are certain ways that many of us have set up our lives that require us to contribute financially.

There are choices we make about where we live, for instance, and the taxes. When I lived in California, I’ve now started to think, “What would life be like if I lived somewhere else that had lower taxes?” I’m paying a lot of money in income taxes. That’s something that I’ve been contemplating a lot. I love living in Los Angeles for a lot of reasons, but I was thinking sometimes I feel like I’m working to pay my taxes.

For a few weeks, I was going through my budget and looking at my financial forecast. It brings me a lot of comfort to see where I’m going to be and recognize how much it takes for me to make sure that I’m paying my annual or quarterly taxes and how silly that feels at times. Yet, I have to remind myself there’s something that these taxes are giving me and there’s something I get in return potentially.

That’s a whole other subject we won’t get into. It is something that ties into this conversation like what are we working for? Are we working for this sense of purpose? Are we working to pay the bills for the things that we want, the lifestyle we want, and the choices we’ve made? The ripple effect of our choices is that we might not even recognize how much it would cost. Even having a dog. Right now, my dog is a senior dog and I’m expecting that these last however many years we have together is likely to cost a lot of money to give her a quality of life that I did not consider when she was a puppy.

However, I’ve made a commitment and now I have to make choices to make sure my income meets those thresholds of these important things in our lives. We go towards what you were pointing out, which is the difference between our basic needs versus consumerism and how that impacts our relationship with each other, the world, and our feelings. I try to put it into check whenever I’m making a purchase. I mentioned to you before we started recording, Jeff, that I bought this mug. I remember looking at it. My first thought was, “That’s a cool mug and I like that company. I would like to get this mug. I like the color. I like the style. I like the brand. The price was good. It was on sale. Great.”

There was a moment of I didn’t walk into the store thinking I needed a mug. That mug didn’t exist in my mind. Nothing was there until I saw it and then you factor in the sale. There’s marketing there. It’s going to be on sale to make it feel more accessible and feel like a good deal. Even though the mug, I don’t know how much it was, maybe like $15 or something, was not a huge expense but it was still $15 that I could have put into my dog’s health savings account that I have.

$15 might not seem like a lot but I could spend $15 on groceries. If we start to break down this money and these needs, I ended up enjoying this mug and now I’m glad I bought it, but it could have also been something that went in my cupboard and I used a couple of times a year and then ended up donating to Goodwill or something. This consumerism mentality of how we make our choices and why and why we do it because it feels good. Do we buy on Amazon because we associate Amazon with that dopamine hit of something coming in the mail? How do we navigate that, Jeff, from your perspective?

I think it’s helpful to acknowledge that you and I are having this conversation and we’re slightly placing ourselves outside of that mainstream culture. Yet, to acknowledge that we are submerged with arguably the most materialistic culture that has ever existed. The amount of stuff that we not only have available that we want, the size of it that we want, and the newness of it that we want, again, unprecedented in 300,000 years of human history.

I would add that part of how one can measure materialism is what are you willing to do or give up to get it. We, Americans, have proven that we are willing to give up tons personally and to sacrifice so much in the world around us in terms of other people’s lives, other creatures’ lives, and the environment. What we are willing to do to get a little more money and stuff is extraordinary and unprecedented. It’s important to acknowledge that upfront because maybe it can give us a little perspective because we are of this society. We live where we live and we get constant messages about how important money and stuff are to our well-being and to proving our own worthiness, in fact, our own purpose.

MGU 486 | Life Transformation

Life Transformation: One can measure materialism by determining what you are willing to do and give up to get it.

 

I want to point that out to acknowledge it is difficult and there isn’t going to be a night and day shift from living a fairly consumption-oriented lifestyle to being very much not consumption-oriented. For most of us, it’s going to be little decisions that we make day in and day out. To maybe remind ourselves that my baseline for how I’m even making this decision is already so vastly beyond what most humans have ever imagined. Now I’m sitting here trying to make this decision about skis, mugs, vacations, homes, cars, computers, devices, all of this stuff.

For example, our comparison point might be the next-door neighbor or that colleague at work who got all these new things. Our perspective isn’t 99% of humanity that maybe we don’t have as much contact with, but who have never seen some of these things before or our ancestors who lived quality lives.

Research has been done that we often have this concept of our ancestors and prehistoric humans living this Hobbesian nightmare. This existence was awful. The research tends to suggest that many of them were probably happier than we are now by the measures of things that matter in terms of our happiness, well-being, and quality of life. Some of the things that we imagine that were horrible about their lives didn’t even exist.

Infant mortality was high. That was the number one difference between their lives and ours now and that’s significant. If you survived beyond your childhood, you lived into, and I forget the number right now, a fairly long life. It’s a longer life expectancy than many people have throughout the world now. It’s not as high as what we have in the United States.

I’m not saying we’re all going to go back and live that way instantly. One of the key things here is to try and keep this perspective as we make these decisions to remember, “Look at what I’m swimming in constantly.” To maybe recognize that it’s more about those choice points. It might be that decision to buy the mug and reminding ourselves, “I have this impulse to buy this and it’s strong, but maybe I can at least remind myself that the research has consistently shown and my own personal experience as well has shown that even when I’ve gotten some of these new gadgets, I’m not that much happier afterwards.”

I’m glad you got the mug. I’m not against people buying certain things, but we have these moments where we get to make these decisions. One of the most significant that you named has to do with where we live and who we work with because that sets so many expectations. If you go and buy that, say, 4,000 square foot home, it’s not only that you’re making a decision that’s going to impact you and saddle you for a whole long time going forward, but all of your expectations.

What are the people around you doing and buying? What are their kids doing and buying? All of that is now set for a long period of time. Maybe at those key choice moments, we can focus and say, “Right now, I’m deciding what new car I’m going to get. I’m making a decision about whether I want to accept this promotion or switch to a different company or where I’m going to live.”

Those are opportunities where we can’t dive out of all of this and live as the Native Americans did on the Great Plains before the Europeans came. Studies show that they lived one of the healthiest lifestyles of people in the past 2,000 or 5,000 years in the Americas. We have little choice points where we can keep leaning in the direction of something that will nourish us a little bit more.

I already mentioned the statistic about 2% to 4%. I think that’s a helpful anchor for people to keep in mind. Another one when we talk about that bag over our heads is that the research is clear that the more money and possessions we have, the less we are able to savor daily experiences and the more fleeting that happiness is. There’s something very concrete and right in our face that is available and part of that choice. What am I choosing to focus on and orient myself towards? Is it the money and possessions? In turning away from that, what other things am I going to start to hear, feel, or see?

The more money and possessions you have, the less you can savor daily experiences and the more fleeting happiness will be. Click To Tweet

It’s something that sometimes we have to experience one side of the spectrum to gain a lot of that perspective. It certainly has been for me. I’ve developed a big passion for traveling and am now getting into camping and hiking and a lot of these nature-oriented things. What’s fascinating about them is I’ve been noticing my draw to materialism a bit within all of that in the sense that I want to now get all the gear.

I found this mug I’ve been talking about at a store I went to that sells gear at discounted prices. I find joy going in there and I’ve been examining that joy and why I want to get all this stuff now for this new hobby I have. I recognize a lot that I’ve been buying all this camping stuff, for example, and buying things for my road trips. It started to become a bit of a burden because now I have all this extra stuff.

Yes, the promise is it’s going to make me more comfortable. That’s essentially what it comes down to. It’s like, “If I buy this mattress for my tent, I’m going to sleep more comfortably.” Now I have this mattress that takes up more space in my car when I’m driving to the campsite, which becomes a burden. Now I have to find a place to put this mattress when I’m not camping, which becomes a burden. It’s creating more clutter.

There’s all of this research about clutter impacting us. There is a ripple effect to the things that we choose for comfort. It’s like you were saying. While I might not feel like I’m doing this to numb myself, what I am trying to numb is the physical discomfort in a way. I am finding some joy and stimulation in buying new gear that looks cool.

Honestly, this mug I bought is from a company that’s done a good job branding itself in the outdoor world. On a conscious level that I probably wouldn’t have wanted to admit at the time of purchase, I thought, “If I buy this mug, it’s not only something that I’m enjoying, but it’s like a status symbol. I have a product from this company that most people know and that shows that I know what this company is. This shows that I am spending a little more money because their products tend to be expensive.” There’s a level at which I’m making these decisions for reasons that don’t align with me on a deeper level.

What the research tends to show is that I asked that question earlier. If money and possessions do so little for our well-being and happiness, why are they such a powerful draw for so many of us central to our lives? I’m going to say central to how our society and government have set up its entire purpose. It’s very much economic growth and productivity and those kinds of things.

There are a variety of reasons. I would summarize by saying that, to a large degree, they are about filling the lack of the things that do nourish our well-being. One of those we talked about was deeper feelings of insecurity or shame. One way that it manifests is the term conspicuous consumption. We will spend a lot more money on products that other people will see than we do on products they’re not going to see, like cable companies, choice of soap, or things like that.

MGU 486 | Life Transformation

Life Transformation: We typically spend more money on products that other people will see than those that no one will actually see.

 

The things that other people are going to see, we care about more. It is about the status of showing off how much money we have. It is also what you mentioned about projecting our identity. It’s like, “I’m an environmentalist, so I have these products,” versus the person who is of a different political persuasion and has these huge things over here that make a huge noise when they drive.

They’re showing off their identity. What the research does generally show is that the more that we are living in this positivity of our own lives, the more that we are comfortable with ourselves and living with a sense of presence, wonder, and feeling positive about ourselves, the less impact these other draws have. You tend not to care so much about showing off your environmental goods if, fundamentally, you’re feeling pretty good in your life and if you’re happy and don’t have anything to prove to anyone. It’s a little simplistic, but a lot of those things that do end up sucking us into money, all of those are influenced by the lack of the things that do nourish us.

One other study that I thought was powerful and fascinating. If you ask someone how happy are you with your financial situation, as you might expect, the more money and stuff that someone has, there’s a slight tendency for them to say that they’re happy with their financial situation, but it’s slight. The number one predictor is how happy are they in their lives.

Someone who is happy is pretty happy with their financial situation wherever they are. Someone who is unhappy is not happy no matter their financial situation. It speaks powerfully to the importance of subjectivity around this and how are we sitting in ourselves and in the world as we then relate to these questions of consumption.

It’s interesting that when you say that, I think about that question you often get from people, especially in professional settings about what your goals are, what’s your five-year plan, or whatever. I’ve noticed my tendency is to want to answer those questions with a very simple answer about happiness. It feels like my ultimate goal is to feel happy and satisfied. I’ve noticed a lot of people struggle with that answer because they’re looking for some other more concrete measure that they can relate to.

I also wonder, does that mean they can’t relate to happiness and satisfaction? Our culture and society led to so much disconnect that maybe they’re thinking if you hit this level in your life, then you’ll have happiness. That’s been a thread in most of the conversations on this show. When hitting a certain level of success or a certain metric or whatever it is does not equate to happiness. I’m curious, does that come in your research too that reaching some milestone does not mean or equate to happiness?

A hundred percent. What has been found in the research is that no matter how much money we have, if you ask someone how much money they need to be happy and feel secure, it’s always about 50% to 100% more than what they currently have. That’s even true for someone who, three years ago, gave you an amount and is now there. One of the things they found is that if you ask someone how much money you need to be happy, you’ll get an extremely unreliable number that is always shifting.

No matter how much money we have, we always think we need 50 - 80% more than what we currently have to feel happy and secure. Click To Tweet

If, instead, what you do is look at the research around how much money people have and how happy are they, that’s where you’re able to start to pull out the helpful statistics about how much we do need. As I said, it is about meeting your basic needs. Beyond that, you might have these goals and think that once you achieve this or that, it’s all going to change.

In some ways, that’s like the age-old sad story about, “I’m going to start to live when I retire.” The person that doesn’t live to retirement or then they retire, they realize they’ve spent their whole lives working and they have these regrets. As you were speaking, I wanted to pull out this thing in the book where there has been research done talking with people who are near the end of their lives and asking them what they are glad for and regret the most.

I think these are primarily framed as things that they wish that they had done but there are five that emerged as consistently cited. The first is, “I wish I had let myself be happier.” It’s very telling. “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

It’s one point of evidence but I think a very poignant and powerful one. For people near the end of their lives, what are the things that they wish for? You didn’t hear anyone in there say, “I wish I’d gotten that final promotion,” or “I wish I’d finally gotten that extra X, Y or Z level of income or material things.” It’s about these things that we know intuitively, but we get suckered into a whole other way of thinking and living. It is about being present with ourselves, with the world, with the people around us, and letting ourselves live a truly human existence.

It’s so beautiful and profound. What I’ve noticed is a lot of people struggle with making that all a reality. As we begin to wrap up this conversation, I’m curious, if someone is reading this and thinking, “I do understand that on an intuitive level but I feel so far away from that.” A visual or an observation I’ve had, a couple of people come to mind.

One in general, I won’t call out their name, but there’s someone in my life I’m very close with and they have been caught up in the whirlwind of their work for many years. They struggle with anxiety and have tried therapy, medication, and all these different things to help with their anxiety. Yet, what doesn’t seem like they’re trying is to work less. They work probably more than 40 hours a week, I would guess.

They’re constantly throwing around the words like, “I’m so busy. I’m overwhelmed. I’m overstretched.” To me, it’s the most obvious thing. You are overworked but they’re so caught up that they don’t even know how to stop that cycle. Let’s take that person as an example, Jeff, because I think a lot of people can relate to that on some level or another. Getting caught up in the whirlwind and stepping out of it sounds so risky and hard. Is there something you can do that’s a smaller step that gives you some progress towards happiness?

Yes. I mentioned this earlier, but to emphasize that for some people, major shifts happen in their lives. Sometimes, it comes from hearing a podcast or reading a book. Sometimes it’s about a life-altering experience, maybe a near-death experience. Some of us can and will make dramatic shifts in our lives at certain points. For many of us, it is going to be more about the little things that we do. The great news is that we make each of these little shifts, when we step back a little bit from how much we’re consuming, how much we’re working, when we’re taking a little bit of time, we’re spending more time with friends. It’s what you mentioned about you start to notice things more. There is a cumulative effect that starts to create ever more possibilities.

We start to feel things more. We start to not be able to live that way or even want to be around someone who’s living that way. We develop these sensitivities that all build on each other. Where the critical juncture might be for any individual is hard to say, but there’s a wonderful person, both a psychologist and he does a lot of speaking and coaching, Robert Holden. One of the things that he has pointed out is that so frequently in his work, he’ll be working with someone and they’ll be digging themselves out of this hole. They’ll be right there at the edge of the hole and they either dive right back in or they dive into another hole. What he’s talking about there is a little bit of what you were referring to about the different places where we get trapped.

For many of us, we get so used to a certain way of being that it is scary and we’ve come to identify ourselves that way. It’s hard to break into a new way of being. We can be addicted to our sadness. We can be addicted to feeling bad about ourselves or relating to the awful things in our lives. It’s not to pretend those don’t exist, but for each one of us to look inside ourselves and say, “What is the discomfort, or what am I scared of at this juncture? Am I myself resisting stepping more fully into happiness?” One of those greatest regrets that we read was, “I wish I had let myself be happier.” There are ways in which we get to choose these things and that’s available to all of us.

We can be addicted to our sadness. Click To Tweet

For some of us, it might take a while to break through that and figure out what’s going on. For most of us, we’ll find that there are little things that we can do here and there. I feel for the person you described who’s tried therapy and they’re doing yoga and all these things, but even for that person, what I would suggest is to hang in there. Keep doing the things that you know and that people are telling you do help. Maybe it’s that you needed a little bit more time to notice something inside you that you’ve been running from or that’s driving you or why you’re stuck in this habit of working so hard constantly.

Who are you trying to prove that to? Maybe you aren’t far enough along or it’s going to take a different experience. I think the number one thing I would say is to lean in that direction always. Lean in the direction of those things that you hear about and think can be nourishing for you. Watch how they build on each other and start to create more opportunities, magic, and miracles in your life.

That’s lovely and poetic. You have a beautiful way of speaking that offers perspective and also acknowledges the challenge in this. It’s not oversimplifying. In my work in the well-being space, I’ve noticed that it starts with that awareness portion. Sometimes, that awareness and the noticing take a long time. It’s not like you listen to a podcast or read a book like you said. Sometimes, we’re greatly moved by a conversation like this, a book, a passage, or a poem. However, a lot of the time, it’s adding up towards the noticing.

I experienced this a lot when I went vegan. There’s that joke around like, “How do you know someone’s vegan? Don’t worry. They’ll tell you.” It’s like being in the animal rights and sustainability world. There’s been a massive shift for me. In the beginning, I was also twenty years younger, but there were the beginning stages of my awareness and unfolding and everything I was learning. It was so different than the state that I live in now.

The journey of noticing other people and how it taught me that a lot of people take so many small steps. Sometimes years later, people come to me and say, “I went vegan.” I’d be like, “Wow.” It was like this unfolding for them. I’ve also experienced some people have zero interest in it and it’s not my job or at least not anymore. My work is not to convince somebody to live like me and my work is not to convince them to see things a different way. We all participate in a ripple effect of everybody’s awareness and whether they shift towards our direction or in a completely different direction. We can’t be too attached to it.

I’m mostly vegan, by the way. I didn’t tell you. I fit into the joke by telling you. I want to share two more things before we go. One is I do want to acknowledge that, for many people, there will be a period of ten years or more where there’s been something that’s constantly always there that they haven’t been able to get beyond or they haven’t seen, but so often that it happens. I’ve seen that in so many people.

Some people, some things come quickly and move right along. Other people, you might feel like you’re stuck for 10, 20, 30, or 50 years and then something shifts and you see it differently. With that, the potential absolutely shifts. For that, to be a little gold coin or button that people can hold onto if they’re feeling a little bit stuck in the same rut and I’m trying everything. It happens every day that some new insight, something gets released, something has to be worked on or held for a certain amount of time, or you have to finally get so frustrated or have it happen again and again.

The other thing I want to offer is that Bell Hooks and many others offer this is the greatest barrier that many people experience to the journey of loving themselves more and releasing some of the shame and negativity is, again, not only the culture that we’re in that encourages that. We think that it makes us a better person if we’re tough on ourselves or negative. It’s like, “I’m not going to let myself off the hook.”

MGU 486 | Life Transformation

Life Transformation: The more loving, generous, and compassionate you are with yourself, the more you can move into different things we want to be.

 

One hundred percent of the research shows that it’s the exact opposite. The more loving, accepting, generous, and compassionate we are with ourselves, the more that we are able to change and move into the different things we want to be and leave behind the habits we want to leave behind. When our baseline is, “I’m wonderful and amazing. I did that. I do that. I want to change that,” everything becomes so much freer and a possibility is so much freer, the more that we are rooted in a place of self-love and self-compassion.

For everyone out there who’s reading this who might be trapping themselves in a place of feeling like, “I need to be hard on myself,” maybe gently slowly, we can release a little bit of that as well and recognize that you are spectacular, gorgeous, brilliant, and creative. Maybe there are all these other ways that you would like to improve or do things differently, but that’s the baseline. You have a right to feel that and move in the world feeling that. Have that be part of your connection with everything you’re doing and everyone you’re encountering.

It will help you not only be happier but to move more in the direction of being the person that you want. I think that is a place that many people often get stuck in. The researchers say the number one barrier for a lot of people in terms of experiencing more self-love is that kind of judgment. If anyone out there can release a little bit of that into this possibility of what self-love and self-compassion have to offer, that can be a beautiful grace as well.

Thank you for that encouragement. You mentioned the word rooted in there and I was thinking as you began these final words of wisdom that this time abundance and the time that it takes to shift, I was reflecting on the cover of your book. For those readers who are interested in reading this book, Reclaiming the Sacred, it is linked in two places. We have links for Reclaiming the Sacred book and Jeff’s website.

I appreciate you mentioning the book because I will say that it took over ten years researching and writing this book. There’s a tremendous amount of wisdom in there. It’s along the lines of what we’ve been saying. It’s some of my own thoughts, but it’s over 1,500 citations. That’s why it took me over ten years. In terms of talking to the people out there about possibilities in their lives, I would highly encourage everyone to get a copy of this, even if it’s at your library or you buy it. Open it up to different places and see what speaks to you and see what doors open. Thanks to you for taking a moment to dive into the wisdom that these thousands of researchers and writers have put together and then I’ve collected for you in this book, Reclaiming the Sacred.

MGU 486 | Life Transformation

Reclaiming the Sacred: Healing Our Relationships with Ourselves and the World:

Even looking at the cover, which is what I wanted to reference, Jeff, as a beautiful reminder. When you say thousands of citations and being rooted in yourself and this wisdom, there are parallels to the cover to the redwoods that you chose on there are the second oldest living trees. If you’ve never had an opportunity to visit the Redwoods, I couldn’t recommend it enough. I’ve seen them a few times in person myself and it’s a majestic experience.

That reminder that these trees are often thousands of years old, I think on average like 2,000 to 3,000 years old at their current state of being. That’s a long time. When you were talking about the small steps, if you’ve ever planted something in a garden or looked at something sprouting, you see how there’s so much happening below the surface that we don’t even know.

One day, it pops up and then it starts to grow. It can take many lifetimes. For us, while we may not as human beings, ever go much further beyond 100 years old, we can equate that and do the relative to the tree, whatever the math would be there. How long does it take for this beautiful, sacred, majestic thing to grow to the heights at which we witness it?

In those places, we can look down at the ground and imagine how many things are underneath the surface and equate that to our own lives of what’s below our surface, how long will it take, what is the journey, and being grateful for the abundance of time, whatever that means for us in our lives. You’ve touched upon so many beautiful things, Jeff. It’s hard to end a conversation like this. That’s why I will link to your website for someone who wants to follow the journey beyond the book with you because you offer so much to the world.

Thank you. I appreciate that. What I want to say as my final words is that I am often asked how optimistic I am about our society and about humanity. What I can wholeheartedly say is that I am incredibly optimistic about individual possibilities, the possibilities for each of our lives. For each person out there reading this who’s optimistic about the potential in your life, that is a wonderful place for us all to start.

What a better note to end on the optimism. It’s a great reminder.

Thank you for this conversation.

Thank you, Jeff.

I’m wishing you and everyone out there all the best.

 

Important Links

 

About Jeff Golden

MGU 486 | Life TransformationJeff Golden has been teaching and writing about these topics for over thirty years, most recently at Vassar College. He was a Fulbright Scholar in sustainable development and a recipient of the State Department’s Millennium International Volunteer Award. He is a prison reform and animal rights activist, and has headed several nonprofits promoting social justice, sustainability, and international education. A native of Idaho, he resides in the Mohicanituk Valley in New York, with his children, the river, and the stars.

 

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