Searching for happiness

What do people want?! Happiness. Such a vague thing which can mean, pretty much, anything. For some is plenty of food and a place to sleep, for others is a Mercedes or peer recognition. “Know thyself!” is the commandment written in the pronaos of Temple of Apollo in Delphi. “An unexamined life is not worth living” goes Socrates to extremes. I would gladly give up examining my life and others, finding similarities and discrepancies, if only I could find happiness. But, then, how can I find happiness if I don’t know what it means to me and how can I achieve it, if it’s ever achievable.
A huge part of happiness is made of satisfaction. In my case (although it could be possible in other cases as well). Well, how can one be satisfied?! What is satisfaction?! A dictionary said “the fulfillment of desire”. Step by step, generalizing, then pulling back to particular, being a very unsatisfied young man, raised by people who were never satisfied with his performances, I reached a simple law which I will share with you. To me the satisfaction is given by this simple concept: “Always get more than what you give”. It applies to anything – from job, to personal relationships, to all the earthly things.
I used to be a person who was unhappy in the professional life. Accompanying me to Canada was this completely wrong mentality that I was coming to the land of Capitalism, where the more you give, the better you are professionally, the better you are seen, people respect you and cherish you, your voice is listened and a pat on the back will calm your ego. I used to spend nights learning and testing new things, getting professional certifications, never saying “NO” to anybody, going well beyond the call of duty. I thought that was the way to professional satisfaction, to this forever elusive happiness. I ended up, every time, frustrated – people still saw me as the “tinkering guy”, I was never happy – overworked it is difficult to be a happy person, always on the run, always in a rush, and I made quite a few time the list of laid off people, while the “office plant” would stay behind and get a paycheque. I was getting infuriated when projects I tested for weeks, for which I prepared perfectly, were being sunk in the conference room by people who didn’t know much, didn’t care much but had “concerns” which weren’t even very well articulated.
A moment came in 2007, when I worked for Wells Fargo, when this truth was revealed to me. For 2 months I worked hard, asked for work, fought a well-established system. I was coming from a startup where I had wore every hat, from sys admin, to security expert, from dba to helpdesk etc. After a few kafkian scenes, I gave up and I said “If they are upset on me for working too much, let see them upset over me not doing anything”. I started making excuses (very good ones) for not doing my job, start postponing. I was pretty much by the pool all day, doing nothing but replying to 2-3 emails. I didn’t react when a full-time employee (I was a contractor) stole my work and presented it, in my presence, as his work. I stopped caring and I kept on being paid a humongous salary for this attitude. I thought that soon it will come to an end. To my surprise, after a month, in the daily team meetings, I start being… praised. Yes! “Andi is a solid member of our team”, “Good job” (for almost nothing) and so on. It hit me! It wasn’t them – it was me. I was trying to invest too much, making many people look bad.
In short, here are the two solutions to satisfaction – either you invest a LOT and then you will expect a LOT (and this almost never happens) or – the sane and better way – you invest only as much as it is required and any reward is welcome and makes you happy. Since then, I dropped the towel. I kept my mouth shut, I gave 20-30% of what I knew I could give and when “shit happened”, I took it in stride, thinking about how much undeserved money I got.
Unfortunately, shortly after this lesson of life, I had another one. Yes, it doesn’t rain, it pours! My wife asked for a separation. I found myself in the dating world. I said to myself “OK, that applies only to professional relationships, not to personal ones” and, like a teenager, I start locking onto every good woman I could find (believe me – while there might seem plenty out there, there aren’t as many as you think; just like good men). Every time, I gave lots and lots. I didn’t keep any resource behind, what good it would have done to me?! I thought that giving would have enticed the other person into giving as well. After all, I had been, in my first youth, a person who had been taking. Taking and taking and never saying “Thank you!”. It caught up with me and I was set to change my ways. Unfortunately, when one gives a lot, people take it for granted. The more you give, the more you are asked to give. After all, you volunteered to give so much. What is the cost for you, emotional, financial – doesn’t matter, because they do deserve it, isn’t it?!
It would have been great and maybe it would have worked, should I have been naturally an altruist. Unfortunately, I am a selfish person and after giving a while, I start asking myself “Am I getting my investment’s worth?!”. I got it… for a while. And then, instead of keeping the wheel of giving spinning (I give you, you give me), I found myself giving and getting aloof “Thanks”. I felt cheated and I spoke up. I was told that I have been unfair for asking something back. That I should keep silent and don’t ask for anything in return. The giving had come to be taken for granted and I established the precendent: “You give, I take!”. No, no, no – I give if you think of giving back. And no, dont throw a smile or a good pet on the head now and then! And no, good sex doesn’t make up for everything!
I had broken my own rule. I invested a lot and asked for a lot in return. People are NOT capable of doing this. Everyone wants to take more than they give.
I remember something else somebody said. When prepared by a catholic priest for marriage, she was asked “What do you expect from this marriage?”. She said “I want to be happy. I want peace. I want prosperity” etc. The priest listened to her and then proceeded to explain that marriage is not for yourself, is the dedication to your partner. I loved this story because I really believe that this should be the way to a wonderful relationship. Giving and receiving. I know – an article on BBC said that counting who does what is the way to ruin. But then again, a too great imbalance is not to be desired. I have witnessed couples based on: “I take, you give” and I know that would never work with me.

I am a selfish person fighting hard its selfish part. I deserve something in return 🙂

Just sunshine, wind and speed

If one reads my blog would be left with the idea that all I do is bitching… and it would an approximately correct impression. I wish I was blind, I wish I could simply enjoy life and not care what other people do or think… but that would just not be me. I always envied and blamed my father for having a quality that enhanced his life: being oblivious at everything that went around him. He would tell me often “Why do you get in fights with your mom? Can’t you just do like me: get a face appropriate with the topic, nod and just think about your projects and things you want to accomplish?” Well, the answer is NO. Now I know why – he probably has Asperger Syndrome, just like my son – and what he thought it was a developed trait it’s an inborn one. The only solution for me to be like him would be living on a desert island… and, with my luck, probably dying of appendicitis or something trivial, before I can get to a doctor. And yes – I used to blame him for withdrawing in his inner mind and letting me to deal alone with my mother’s nagging and dissatisfaction.
But no more bitching! Life is – as I often describe – interesting. No, you “shinny happy people” it’s not beautiful – sometimes is sad, other times is tumultuous, in spots is dramatic or happy… but it’s damn interesting.
Recently, as most of my friends know, I purchased a motorcycle. I had some money I was getting back from a credit card, the time is right and prices were very convenient, motorcycles attract women and I am a single dude… so I didn’t honestly was on the edge of my seat due to impatience. I was thinking also about all the hassle for the rider’s license, high-insurance for a new rider so I had my doubts. You imagine my doubts when, after a break of 13 years from the last time I rode, I had to take my new motorcycle home – I was yellow with fear, spun around a close-by parking lot until people thought I was crazy. But then it all came back to me… from the mist of my lost youth (don’t tell me that you found it!) the joy, the exhilaration of being in the wide open, fighting the wind, leaning in curves… I find it hard to describe the happiness that after just 1-2 days dawned onto me.
I was amazed how a simple object – I never believed in buying happiness – could bring so much pleasure, confidence in what is and what will be, and sheer happiness. When I sold my motorcycle – I think it was 98 – it was just like all my dreams of adventure, of open spaces, of the world being my shell had ended. I remember that when my ex would try to talk me into having a child I would tell her: “There is no 3rd seat on the motorcycle”… and then I would bend under the burden of my selfishness. And yet I sold it for all the correct reasons: I am a married man, I can’t kill myself, it’s not practical, it’s not comfortable. When I came to Canada, I flirted somewhat with the idea… but then I gave up. I used to joke (somewhat bitterly): “You know how I figured out that I am getting old? When I came to Canada my wish-list was: 1. Motorcycle; 2. Boat. Then I thought about the wind, the rain, the hassle… and I compared with the tranquility of the boat on an empty lake… and the new order has become: 1. Boat, 2. Motorcycle”. If I was true then, maybe it’s true now and maybe I found the perfect time-travel machine: the motorcycle. When I zoom across empty roads, my mind takes me back to the University’s campus where friends and I used to loiter on a fence and watch the spring wind blow up the girls’ skirts… It takes me back to a time where there were no deadlines, no real obligations or responsibilities. And then I leave the city and get in the middle of nowhere and the cool evening sends in my helmet the smell of “sinziiene” – flowers my grandfather had in the country side… and of dung… In a blink of an eye I am back to my childhood and all those enormous days of summer that ended in a story and listening to politics on a radio with lamps. And these memories are more like feelings than thoughts because I have to stay focused on the road ahead, scouring for rocks or potholes or some animal that might came out the woods.
If somebody thinks that I made a bad investment, think how much you would be willing to spend to be young again?! It’s all there, bottled in that V2 engine and it gets released into my body as I’m sprinting amidst the orange shadows of the sunset.
Yes, it’s true that after 1h of riding my buttocks are starting to get numb, I have a stabbing pain in my back but I simply cannot thing about them.
I am simply happy again. Not as happy as I could be if everything would be perfect in my life but enough to make days at least bearable if not even more enjoyable. I normally go to bed late and wake relatively early and that makes me somewhat grumpy. Now I am going to work with a smile on my face because I get to ride my motorcycle (although the morning rush can be quite unnerving).
Many people are asking me “Aren’t you afraid? So many accidents”. I am afraid – less now that when I purchased it but still the anxiety is somewhat high. Still, I ask rhetorical – why do only things that you are comfortable with? How can we become with new things, feelings, actions if we don’t experience them ever? I like challenges. Just like I love to do only complicated, presumably impossible things in my job, I also try to face any fear that my mind or my body flutters in me.
Yes, I am aware it’s still early to make long-term judgments. It might be that in 1-2 years the rain, the cold, the insurance or even a wipeout, would show me that motorcycle is not really for me. But then I will be able to lay in its grave my youth dream without regrets, love it and remember it if for what it was – a whim of crazy youth – instead of carrying it inside me as a frustration: oh, I could have been so happy if only I had the guts/the money/the X to do it.
I’m going back on my steps and maybe it’s not so wrong to look for happiness in things.

I, Robot!

Last night, although tired, I got stuck in front of the TV watching Star Trek – First Contact. No, although I don’t have much of a life, I am not a fan Star Trek – I was just cleansing my brain (already pretty well scrubbed by the exhaustion; but, you know, one can never be too meticulous about these things).
I was watching quite bored The Borg assimilate humans when suddenly a weird thought came to my mind. Nothing new here – the antithesis between the humans and machines is used and over-used for decades if not for centuries. Who is better? Stupid question! From where I stand it looks even worse – as an IT worker, for me the machine is a machine, a tool to perform some tasks. Am I better that a hammer?! WTF? Still, for some reasons this issue has risen to the level of a real obsession – books are written, movies are made, scientific or pseudo-scientific articles are published… Very few of them come to bring anything new to this conundrum. Last night, somehow, my mind managed to overexpose this (fake?) issue over what I think it is a collapse of the responsibility in society and it got me thinking. I believe that, indeed, there is a collapse of individual and collective responsibility: very few people still want to do what is right, very few people want to live by rules, hence the rejection of religion (people, religion is not equal to sexually abusive priests, to “don’t eat pork” etc.), of academic rigors, of systematic parenting and so on.
What if – pause and think for a second – what if all this behavior, this shedding of responsibilities has a fundament in us trying to make a clear-cut statement: “I am not a machine. I am not a robot.” Yes, I know it sounds far fetched but, incidentally or not, I can find many arguments for this. Technology has reached a level where it suppresses our individuality. While very often claiming to boost individual personality and liberating ourselves, technology – and modern society as a fact – does quite the opposite. Instead of a big fish in a small pond, we more and more identify ourselves with a tiny, tiny fish lost in the pond of globalization, of Facebook, of huge corporations. Yes, we communicate more and world has become a village but it’s a humungous village and we really feel lost in it.
Society managed to impose those rules within relatively confined spaces. Social rules are always much harsher and inflexible in smaller communities than in large ones. In face of technology and of this globalization that tries to change us into little robots, the self defense mechanism might kick in and it might try to assert itself by doing silly things and continuously trying to break the mold.
Even the dullest of persons will not agree that they are boring. We used to distance ourselves from accountants but that is so passé – now we are trying to distance ourselves from The Borg and as it becomes more and more difficult to do this, we are forced to become more and more inventive in doing so. 30-40 years ago stating that you will not marry every was enough to be stamped as different. Now, wearing in public thong, declaring that you are gay, live in a commune and will adopt children would probably not even get a shrug.
This is probably the dichotomy – our desire to be accepted vs our desire to be different. I used to wonder what the heck is with youngsters who, after covering their body with piercings and tattoos, complain that they are not accepted. You made this to be different and when, as different, you are treated differently by the society, you say it’s unfair. We should all understand the truth that lies in “one cannot have the cake and eat it too”.
Technology makes us embrace it by making us believe that we are different. Everybody seems to brag about their GPS, HDTV, PVR, Shine vs iPhone vs Chocolate. At the same time, our strong association of technology with The Borg makes us behave in more and more irresponsible and aberrant ways, trying in a futile and childish way to distance ourselves from The Borg. Sometimes I really yearn for the age when grandmas were baking cookies and telling stories, not getting plastic surgery, marrying men 30 years their juniors and jumping with the parachute.
The dichotomy above presented is present even in this article. On one hand, I come up with this idiotic idea – we are irresponsible because we want to draw a line between us and the machines – and on the other hand I really want people to say “Wow! I never thought of that! He might be onto something” (ok, you may lose the “wow” – there are so many words in English to describe amazement).

Peer Into a Soul

I copied shamelessly the marketing line for the new Kia Soul. Indeed, it is weird to see this commercial just as I was thinking to write something about the soul of objects – and out of all the objects my mind was focusing on my old and modest car. Indeed, I drive a Mazda Protégé, almost 9 years old, 174,000km which was in 2 accidents (one with my ex driving, in 2003 and another one with me, in Dec 2008). By its value on the market – maybe 3K – it’s almost a junk. Even so, after the last accident, I was very happy to get it fixed instead of having the insurance company declare it totaled.
I did manage to upset a woman some time ago – she didn’t say anything but did avoid me after that – by saying that cars are like women. It’s got to be a men thing: when you purchase them, you can’t have enough of all the features and bells and whistles and although you know there are better things out there, you feel like you found the one. Then, 6 mo to 1 year, you get used and start watching all the new models with different eyes, telling to yourself: “If only you could have waited another 1 year, you could have gotten heated seats at no cost”… But that is (should be?) a passing phase and if the car is reliable, if it doesn’t give you headaches, the initial excitement and passion you had for it transforms into some sort of deep attachment, into the warm feeling of knowing that it will take you where you want and you will take it where it needs (mechanic, car-wash etc.)… I should probably used “she” instead of “it” because after all these it’s become more of a “she” than an object.
I know, objects don’t really have a soul… but they receive one from the owner. After I divorced I considered selling my car just so I can get rid of all the associations between it and my complete family. I was hurting and many times I would see with the corner of my eye the shadow of my ex watching me with caring eyes, love maybe… This car had taken us in so many wonderful places – in N Quebec for a wonderful vacation on a huge lake, to Toronto to see CN Tower, Royal Ontario Museum, Wonderland, The Zoo, to Niagara, to Montreal – so many times -, to Quebec City, Sandbanks, Mont Tremblant, Calabogie… These metal sheets have incorporated a wide range of feelings: excitement when leaving, panic when missing the exit, rush when being late, mellow when swept by the sunset orange light we returned home from a sun-filled day, worries when noticing a strange engine sound… It has been a pot in which the feelings of a family (mother, father and son) boiled and mixed… and as such it got memories stuck all over it.
I didn’t sell it because I realized that I should not punish it for things somebody else did onto me. My car did everything I imagined it will do. There are cars 10x better: more HP, lighter on gas, more comfortable and with more options included – but I wish against all reason that I could keep this car forever. Like 20-30 years ago, when people didn’t have the financial power to change cars too often, my car is a member of my family. I know when there will be time to say goodbye, no matter what fancy, sport, expensive car I will be driving then, a tear will glitter in the corner of my eye as I see it leaving, driven by somebody else.
This is why I deplore sometimes the society we live in. Consuming society, peer pressure, our own shallow desires and thoughts, make us replace objects before they have a soul. Maybe it’s better – no attachment, no tears in the eyes when they break and need to be replaced… but also the bad habit of changing something just because we afford it, because we got bored, because there is something better out there. Even the love I notice some people have for their collection cars is not what should be. Going back to my comparison, I believe it is like saying to a woman “I can love you only if you win Miss Universe or at least Miss Arizona contest, if your breasts are this size and if you get me to where I want in 5.3 sec”. I see this often – the Nissan Z350 or BMW Z4 or some other fancy car washed, waxed, loved, cared by the same people who, in winter time, drive some rusted Corolla or Civic, letting it disintegrate and all its memories together with it.
No, I am not crazy – it’s just an object and when time will come I will do the reasonable thing to do. On the other hand I feel that we live in a time when things don’t get to have a soul anymore and I somehow feel that this makes our life less rich.

Carpe Diem

These days, in a world where Latin is quasi-dead, carpe diem seems to be the motto. Everybody seems to live the day – in every meaning of the expression. Young people in debt because they lived the day too hard, old people forced to work because they didn’t think there will be a tomorrow are examples of misuse of this philosophy. Despite my better judgment, I have to recognize, it makes me feel quite inadequate. Slave of the opinion others have about me, I was ashamed to admit I don’t live too much in the present. Today I muster the courage to step out of a closet… probably in another one, since we move from closet in closet (I guess that the trick is not to die in one).


Even so, my analytic thinking says I am not doing anything wrong. My present is not interesting at all. It moves at an even rate with its little joys and upsets. My future? My future was, as somebody said in a radio essay I listened last year (I apologize for my poor memory), amputated when I divorced. Now and then, I catch a glimpse of it but then fog covers the vague shapes.


What is wrong with living in the past? What is wrong, when times are tough, to cuddle back with your parents on a Saturday evening in their bed and watch a black-and-white western movie and then go content that Sunday follows and that I can sleep as much as I want? So what if my nostrils fill with the smell of steak and mashed potatoes and pickles and I read “The Three Musketeers”, or I laugh my ass off watching “Tom and Jerry”, while waiting for Mom to call us in the kitchen for the weekend lunch? What is the crime in remembering the smell of lime trees embracing my street in a warm spring night, after I just returned from the student campus where I met my girlfriend?
We all go places where we felt happy, safe, loved. Some go to Disneyland, I visit the space of my memories. I sift through them and then, when I discover a warm and fuzzy one, I nest in it and let it carry me through the neither-interesting-nor-promising present.


Memory-triggers very seldom make sense. I listen to Gloria Gaynor and I remember visiting my cousins – not having siblings, they were my brothers. I remember the nights I slept over and we kept yapping until midnight, whispering so our parents would not come in. Not that we ever listened “I will survive” together. I smell the freshly-cut grass and I remember the feeling I was getting at my grandfather’s place, in the country, in a cold spring, hidden behind the stove. I remember the smell of burnt wood.
Why is the present so great? We have a lunch with somebody we love, it’s peaceful, the conversation is great, and one sees glitters of love in the other’s eyes. It’s good but it will be a long time before being able to refer to this lunch as one that brought the most happiness in your life. Watch a movie – it’s good, it’s titillating, intellectually stimulating but one will have to waste hundreds of hours lost in stupid productions before acknowledging that this movie was one of the best.


Live in the present? Buying the CDs of all the latest fashion bands just to realize within 12 months, once the craze passed that they are worth even less than the plastic used in their fabrication? No, thank you!


Personally, I don’t see any value in present – it’s a fad, it’s a moment and then it’s gone, it’s without memory and it’s made for people who want to live without history and without future.


I promised myself I will shed my shame of not being aligned with this “carpe diem” society. I will sleep myself in lost times and wait for a spring where, hopefully, I will be able to love more the present through the remembrance of the feelings that crush me today, the past.

Being Death

For quite a while I asked myself why I hate so much the man for whom my ex left me. After all, she’s an adult and it was her decision to start a sexual adventure with him, it was her who fell for him and finally, it was she who hurt me deeply. He, like a true modern-day hedonist, was trying to satisfy his urge for another woman. He asked, she accepted and that should be it. Yes, if it was a fulfilled marriage, more relaxed, filled with love it wouldn’t have happened… or would it? He had 5 very-long-term relationship and the last one he ended to be with my ex, was a calm, friendly relationship. My ex told me that a month before she left me she was declaring her love for me “just because I was satisfied” and my too-realistic answer was that after 13 years of marriage we weren’t doing that bad.
Still, it wrangle my guts to know this man – and many like him – walking out there. Yesterday I was finally able to realize why. Because he is like Death… and I was a moron. I knew that my marriage was not filled with happiness. The crazy years after immigrating to Canada were very hard years, for both of us. I was riding the highs and – more often – the lows of hi-tech industry, burdened by the thought that all our good life relied exclusively on my shoulders, working long hours, she was learning the language, getting college courses, juggling the school and the household chores… But, amidst all this chaos (driving sometimes 120 km/day on city-streets) I had in mind a future where we can relax, a future where I don’t have to scram the money for Christmas presents, a future where the family would have at least a real, 10-day vacation every year, where everything would quiet down and love would sip back into my marriage. I was dreaming about a sabbatical, at least 5-6 months traveling throughout Europe, visiting history where it was made, showing my son and my wife the fruits of all the hard labour, of all the sacrifices we made. Things were on the right track – or so I thought. Disgusted by a disappointing job-market in Ottawa, I left for Arizona to show to myself and to the world that all my certification exams, hours of learning and testing until wee hours of the morning were not in vain. Money was good, taxes were low, I was finding Information Security Specialist title as very satisfying… but far from my family I realized that without them nothing matters. It was in the solitude of the desert, like a true prophet, that I had this revelation. Some might say it was late, maybe too late. I say it was just right: I was able to afford this revelation, we were financially stable, I finally got my confidence as high as to understand that a job is just a job and if one ends, another one awaits you around the corner, provided that you are decent enough and hard-working by nature… Yes, I should have dropped everything and come home but I didn’t: since I had sought this contract I thought that I have to drink my poison up to the last drop. Should have, would have won’t help me now… It was all over in the blink of the eyes: Mr Death, the random man, in search of a boredom break, made contact and then everything went down the drain.
Sometimes We are Death. Like when you postpone to see your Grandfather, thinking there’s always time to see him in the summer vacation and then he is taken away and there are no more chances to say good-bye, this man took away from me any chance of fixing my marriage. Just like Death, who takes randomly, without regard of merits, reasons, this man killed my marriage with indifference, outside of right or wrong. He might as well have killed me for good. I hate him, and it would be a lie to say I haven’t envisioned many times his real death… But Death doesn’t die – if you kill one Death, the Universe will make up another one and it could be you. I hate him and I hate myself. Just like him I killed something thinking that, time and money allows, I will be able to grow it again. I was Death.