How to apply inductively reasoning to happiness

Life is grasping happiness momentarily and then losing it because the sweet spot has shifted. Then we go on hiatus and take a look at life to decide where to redirect our focus. It’s a permanent cat-and-mouse game —where the mouse is the happiness— that makes life interesting. In my case, the prey recently got away from my paws, leading me to take a break from work.

The method of ‘travelling to put your life in perspective’ proved overused, the epiphanies were not happening anymore. Tokyo and Cebu were exciting but too comfortable, so I needed to step it up: This time I turned to Nanjing in China to meet a Spanish teacher who, a month ago, told me that she was considering becoming a farmer, based solely on the fact that taking care of her plants made her happy. At first I thought it was an insane train of thought (you don’t know what becoming a farmer entails!). But perhaps it wasn’t and she’s just outsmarting us all.

The general unawareness of the things that make us happy is striking, as society distorts our needs through marketing or peer pressure. I wrote down on a whiteboard the things I thought they would make me happy: Start a specific project on my own, study Korean, diet, go to the gym, and dedicate some allocated time to think about my professional future. I followed the schedule religiously for three weeks, only to barely achieve anything.

Yesterday I came across Austrian Stefan Sagmeister’s performance “The Happy Show“, and his preceding TEDTalk that originated from his mid-life crisis. After a long trip trying to find out what made him happy, he got to the point where instead of deducting what made him happy, he tried inducting it. In deductively valid reasoning, if the premises are all true (meditation helps), then the conclusion must be true (meditation will help me). In inductively strong reasoning, if all the premises are true (meditation helped me at a specific point of my life), then the conclusion is likely to be true (meditation is good).

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He sat down and wrote down every moment or thing that made him deeply happy in order to try to find a pattern. 5 of the 15 things he listed down had to do with design. He ditched meditation, therapy and pills, the usual stuff people do after a mid-life crisis, and dedicated the following 7 years to designing furniture and artworks for museums among other things.

This method won’t be as cathartic for the general population as it was for him, but it deserves a go. And you should too. I looked into my past moments when I had that tingling deep feeling of happiness, and wrote them down:

  • When I moved to a new city (first-year euphoria)
  • When I had a stable relationship with my family.
  • When I did things outside my comfort zone, especially whenever I pushed my mental limits as a deaf person.
  • When I kept an open, naive, trusting attitude with everyone, without room for judgements or suspiciousness.
  • When I biked as a mean of transportation
  • When I gave love: Complimented, surprised, asked people how they are and listened, just for the pleasure of it without expecting anything in exchange.
  • When I did something stupid and immature. Oh, the joy of it. (without hurting anybody)
  • When I had an extremely minimalistic lifestyle. Making a living with the fewest things possible.
  • When I hosted chaotic and eventful dinner/parties at home.
  • When I read indie magazines
  • When I researched the sociology behind the cultural differences
  • When I wrote.
  • When I had close friends at the workplace.
  • When I was comfortable with my weight
  • When I studied something on my own.
  • When I kept expectations low.

Then I categorised them under three levels of happiness (also learnt from Stefan Sagmeister), to make sure the different depths of happiness are balanced:

  1. Joy, pleasure
  2. Satisfaction, well-being
  3. Fulfilling’s one potential

And then I made a new timetable. The similarities it has with the former one amount to zero. “Doing something stupid and immature” is scheduled this weekend.

Ein Hoch auf Berlin.

When I left Berlin, the newsstands were flooded with copies of Zitty’s magazine (Berlin’s answer to Time Out, a magazine where you check the cultural events of the month), conveniently titled “Orgies for an entire day with crystal. We were there”.

“It’s a city without bounderies” says politely my Japanese friend, a city where judgments are out of the equation. Who cares if you are Jewish bodypositive pansexual poliamorous in an open relationship with three people. I like the way you dress so welcome to our fetish-themed stand-up comedy bar. (I didn’t make that one up, it’s sometimes in Lietzenburgerstr. 13)

Berlin provides a thick safety net so you’re not afraid of failure. Not out of good will, but because it’s the right thing to do. Don’t bother on showing appreciation for it, it’s a waste of time. “I haven’t fallen in love with the city, but Berlin made me stronger”, says my coworker, who’s moving to Ireland with her girlfriend. It’s a city that teaches you how to enjoy the present, the moment, the now. Which is an inheritance from the times when the wall was built, when people didn’t know if everything would continue being the same the next day.

Berlin […]
took me away
from earth,
taught me to fly
and showed me
how to land
without broken bones
or heart. […]

Rix Legêne

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A few days ago, I came across this very illustrative quote in The Economist about the Brexit from ‘a bewildered Bavarian boss in his office’:

“I thought you British were a pragmatic people like us, not an emotional people like the Southerners”

I was a target of this kind of cultural racism as a ‘Southerner’,  specially my first year. Which subconsciously led me to behave in a submissive way towards the superior punctual Deutschekultur, and tried very hard to be part of it, embracing the fact that my emotions or my gratuitous smile had to be considered superfluous. Embracing that “feelings” was a red word in a job interview.

As a result, to my own surprise, my mediterranean warmth languished. I started feeling uncomfortable when making deep eye contact, or when laughing too loud. I was ruder and less tolerant when someone didn’t follow the rules. That created a huge personal conflict that I childishly solved by firing back doing my own fair share of cultural racism against a specific type of germans. This unhealthy and unfair vicious cycle was the cue: Berlin and me might not be meant for each other.

Despite everything, I’m so incredibly proud of calling Berlin home and having met people that changed my life in one way or another. Of knowing where the toilets sitting/standing are -instead of men/women-. Or which abandoned building in Kreuzberg is hosting the last refugees from Syria. Or which Saturday Gayhane is on, an Arab gay party. You’ll be dearly missed, Schatzi. Danke, danke, danke für alles. Danke für die harte Liebe. Ich werde dich nie vergessen.

__

Ein Hoch auf uns,
auf dieses Leben,
auf den Moment,
der immer bleibt.
Ein Hoch auf uns,
auf jetzt und ewig,
auf einen Tag,
unendlichkeit

A toast to us,
to this life,
to the moment,
that stays forever.
A toast to us,
to the now and the eternity,
to a day,
that will never end.

Conversations with Korea

Conversations between a gay Atheist educated in Catholicism (C) and a gay Atheist educated in Buddhism (B).

Conversation 1
B: Look, a Bible! My high-school teacher told us that in order to understand western culture, we should read Harry Potter and the Bible.
C: Wh… wha…
B: Oh, let me find out how the book ends!
C: The bible has no end, it’s not like Harry Po…
*Opens bible at the end* *reads*

“I’m the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last”

B: (silence) Isn’t he a bit… full of himself?

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Conversation 2
C: I came out of the closet way later than you. How come you did it so early?
B: I don’t know. I knew I liked men and that was it.
C: I probably needed to get over all the Catholic stigmas I grew up with.
B: Why?
C: They teach us that homosexuality is bad. Or other things like, sex outside marriage is a sin.
B: Hang on… Is it really allowed to teach that to kids in Europe?
C: … Yes.
B: That’s crazy. That would be unthinkable in Korea.

Conversation 3
Note: Korean Christians are minority in Korea, but they are the only source of hatred against LGTB community, and unfortunately they are very powerful in Korean politics.

B: Look, they hung a sign against LGTB discrimination at my university, but the next morning it was cut open. The association asked people for bandages today, to symbolically heal the cut.
C: Shit.
B: There will be elections soon, I found out that the left-wing party, which is supposed to support gay marriage, has a Christian woman as a member and she’s very outspoken against LGTB rights. It’s disappointing.
C: Maybe it’s just strategy, they are lefties after all and they should stick to it.
B: You can’t really know. Christians are just blind. I worked last year with one guy who believed that God created the universe! *laughs*
C: Euh… most Europeans do think that God created the universe.
B: *stops laughing* What? Really?
C: I believed in that myself.
B: What? But… that’s stupid.
C: I’m surprised you find it crazy. How would you explain our existence? Who or what created the universe?
B: Science will get there. Christians just made that up to explain it.
C: Oh well… only some Europeans think that. And for most of them it’s a painful conclusion.
B: … *shrugs shoulders*

Orlando

The reason why there were so many vigils around the world supporting the victims of the homophobic attack in Orlando (not ISIS attack, please) is because the LGBT people channeled their frustrations through this event. I’ve read several posts of friends from every latitude who found themselves crying, in the vigil or in the train on the way home. Crying over the blood bath, and crying over their own life experiences.

The death toll didn’t really impress me, as I read news about LGBT attacks/deaths that never reach the general media almost every day. The LGBT community is good at showing strength. We are a proud and unbreakable community, like a gigantic drag queen laughing noisily. Showing fear is not an option.

But fear is pretty much alive in our stomachs. I know how it feels to fear for your physical integrity. It takes a second, and it’s terrifying. I felt it, and every LGBT people around the world felt it too. And this is why we cry in the vigils, or in the train on the way home.

This month is the Pride month, and showing fear is not an option. Only love, love, and love, again and again until the fear stops

The fascinating WTF of Cyprus.

I sunbathed in United Kingdom, had a frappé in the Greek side, crossed a buffer zone established by the UN and finished my day with a liver kebab in the Turkish side. That’s how WTF-ish Cyprus is.

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Nicosia, the capital, remains the only walled city in the world. In both sides, both touristic offices give maps of their own side, with the rest of it blank, as if it didn’t exist. Both sides have their own ‘National Struggle Museum’ that serve as an instrument of cheap and biased political propaganda against each other. Both sides have different languages, different food, different smells. How did they get there?

Short story: Cyprus was part of the Ottoman Empire, but later on it was handed over to the British for protection purposes. Greek Cypriots requested to be part of Greece, but the British wouldn’t allow it. Amidst inter communal violence between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, Greeks tried a coup d’état in order to achieve their goal, which was followed with Turkey’s invasion of the north of the island in order to protect the 18% of Turkish Cypriots (from the Ottoman times) that didn’t agree with the idea of belonging to Greece due to obvious reasons. 38% of the island became the Turkish Republic of the North of Cyprus (TRNC), which is an independent country only recognized by Turkey.

Nowadays they are in peace talks aiming for a bi-state country, although they need two issues to solve: First, the 90% of the north of Cyprus was owned by Greek Cypriots: Will they give the properties back? How many of them can they give back without losing the Turkish vibe? How much should they compensate the Greeks? And secondly: Turkish citizens could move to the north of Cyprus visa-free, and according to international laws, illegally. Should they be expelled? Should they stay? How about the descendants?

I bought two newspapers, from both the Greek and the Turkish side, which had exactly the same news but from a very clear difference of perspective. The Greek one calls the Turkish ‘invasors’ and still appeals for merging with Greece, and the Turkish says that properties shouldn’t be given back to the greeks, just because it would be a bureaucratic mess.

I tried to talk about the subject, but people seemed to consider it either a taboo, a worn-out theme, or just knew little about it and they were just too busy with their own lives. At least half of the Greeks have not crossed to the north not even once, because they don’t want to feel ‘tourists’ in their own country and they don’t want to support the Turkish side. Turks on the other hand have all crossed to the south at least once, for shopping, receiving medical care, or traveling abroad from the airport.

That’s probably why in a referendum for unification as a bi-state country, Turkish voted yes, and Greeks voted no. Unfortunately, Turks are already feeling the hate from the Greeks, and now they see the border as a necesary safety measure to feel protected, and turning to Turkey more and more over time.

This is a story of lack of respect for minorities, overreactions, and being the pawn of two stronger states, Greece and Turkey, that have been hating each other since Greece became independent from the Ottoman empire, and never got Constantinopoli (Istanbul) back.

Fortunately, Cyprus remains as another mediterranean country. With its happy and warm mediterraneanness that you can find anywhere along the sea. Sure we need to sort out a thing or two, but as a mediterranean, I felt at home every single minute.

The city’s identity evolution

Some cities are proudly portraying strong identities. The kind of cities that ruthlessly forces you to become one of them or to die trying. A Colombian friend changed all her wardrobe and attended speech therapy sessions in order to become one more Parisian, because she “got tired of being left out of the city”.

On the other hand, there is this increasing trend of identity-less cities. Cities that are fighting to find themselves, ridiculously failing at every attempt, due to historical events, or ethnic/linguistic diversity. They are cities where is easier to feel at home, but it is more difficult to have a sense of belonging. The differences between East and West still remain in Berlin in the form of generation gap, and the strong Turkish, Schwabian, and Hipster communities are distorting any effort of achieving any identity. It’s the same case with Brussels, where most of the locals only understand 50% of the signs, that are in both French and Flemish. Imagine moving there and not being alone in the language struggles from day one. What a bliss.

In the beautiful Kuala Lumpur there is Indian, Malay and Chinese people in almost equal parts. Here is a failed attempt of convincing all the Malaysian ethnic groups that they all belong to one Malaysia, the day before the national holidays.

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The purpose of achieving an identity helps to attract tourists, skilled labour, or a specific crowd that the city might be interested in. But when there is a lack of it, the uncertainty that surrounds the city is excruciating. There is no clear direction on what should be the city’s typical lifestyle, and everything is just organic and decentralised.

The human being tends to search for a sense of belonging to a specific community, and that’s what Berlin, Brussels or Kuala Lumpur will never be able to provide. But that is a small price to pay in exchange of a big upside: They are cities that are forced to accept and love the different, which means your specificalities will be pleasantly overlooked.

Over time, all the cities will be probably evolving towards easy identities like NY‘s or Amsterdam‘s. They have ready-to-use identities, made to be fast to embrace and easy to forget. It gives you a quick and almost fake sense of belonging, like a drug rush. And you can still be yourself.

Paul Krugman and the uselessness of Economics

Most Economics students around the world go to their classes carrying the book “Macroeconomics” by Paul Krugman in order to learn the way countries behave economically. The fluorescent yellow cover of the book shines proudly in a strategic part of my shelf in order to remind me the success of having graduated in Economics. It is the book, with capital B.

Krugman considers himself a social democrat in european terms (liberal in american terms) and Keynesian, which means he supports the state intervention in the economic system, the opposite of being neo-liberal. He was the hero of many students including me, until he committed a huge mistake few years ago: He forecasted something.

Economists analyze history, create economic policies to solve difficult situations and try very hard to increase the welfare and happiness of the people. But they are unable to predict the economic situation in the future. If they gave it a shot, the margin of error would be so huge that the forecast would be useless. However, the world is so desperate to know about the future that they prefer to surrender blindly and grab anything that has a tiny chance of becoming true.

Paul Krugman slipped in 2012 predicting the exit of Greece from the Euro Area within one month. His forecast became so widespread that it affected deeply Greece’s credibility and therefore its economic situation. Unfortunately I haven’t found anybody influential enough asking for explanations for such unfortunate article.

Some people are still asking how can it be possible that no economist was able to predict the actual financial crisis. Economics, my friends, are a desperate attempt of understanding something so complex that goes beyond our understanding. In the past we thought we could rely on the security that numbers and maths give us in order to create some theories, but even Krugman gave up in 2009: “The economics profession went astray because economists, as a group, mistook beauty, clad in impressive-looking mathematics, for truth”.

Myriads of articles and books will be written cramming the shelfs of the bookstores, meanwhile the economic system gets more complex over time, making impossible for the shared knowledge to catch up with the real world. Students from all over the world are tearing up the already out-dated syllabus as a protest against the uselessness of this so-called science. What the rest should do is to just sit down and watch. To enjoy the economic booms and to not get upset in the 7 economic crisis we will probably have to face in the next 70 years.

Berlin: The review

Being gay and deaf has always put me in a specific place in the society where it constantly reminds me that I am different. Berlin allows me to be just one more among the many. Not even the Ethiopian asylum seeker married with a Muslim Vietnamese woman would stand out in this city. People’s appearance or life story has no value whatsoever. What matters is the now, your current contribution to the city.

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The capital is going through the same process as London and New York did, evolving towards radical cosmopolitanism. But unlike Londoners or New Yorkers, who liked to brag about it, Berliners are not pleased. And they are doing their best to stop it before they find themselves not being able to cope with the cultural change.

The lack of flexibility of some Germans is a well-known stereotype, their inability to deal with unexpected events, their need to structure, plan, and create rules in order to have full control is not compatible with a modern intercultural World-class capital. Unfortunately, to make Berlin an enriching exchange point where the metallic German culture blends with the chaotic Mediterranean/Vietnamese ones is only something we can dream of.

In this utopic attempt of covering all the unforeseen accidents, Berlin has been provided with exceptional German social benefits. Whoever earns less than 750 euros; Germany will take care of his rent, food, health and work. This influenced heavily on its culture, making Berlin the best city in the World where to fail.

Taking risks in Berlin is a safe bet, namely with art, with tech start-ups or with clubs that open from friday night to monday morning, all of them being the main elements that shape Berlin’s brand. On the other hand, professional ambition is non-existent, and only few people think of building a professional career as a life goal. The intrinsic life experience of Berlin is more linked to social relationships, sexual freedom and drugs, than to work. Therefore, the choice that most Berliners face is, to reluctantly work for a living, or to experiment and try to survive.

It is undoubtedly a social laboratory that has no equivalent anywhere in the world, beautiful to watch at, but it is not yet the flawless world-capital many people expect it to be.

Madrid: The shamelessly biased review.

It feels like a slap in your face when you notice the hysteric laughs and the naive smiles in the moment you step out of the plane in Barajas Airport. I got greeted by an unknown woman who very expertly started a small chit-chat while touching my arm and my back, and when she learnt that I was not working in Spain she said with a smile “Ouch, I can’t sell you this bank account anymore”, laughed noisily with the mouth wide open, continued chit-chatting and then while strongly tapping my shoulder she said “Have lots of fun around here”.

This unique joie de vivre slaps you so hard that the Universities of Madrid saw themselves forced to start a program to integrate American and Asian students into Spanish culture, because some of them couldn’t cope well. As opposed to Minyi from Shanghai, who got the hang of it instantly by leaving the Asian politeness back home, and introducing herself to my mother shouting ‘What’s up’ while giving her a pat in the back with a smile.

Madrid did not emerge as a capital in a natural way: A King decided to start a capital city from scratch, right in the centre of Spain for obvious security reasons, in spite of having a ridiculously small river. That’s probably the reason of why madrileños look so arrogant. And then when they found out that the city grew too much and the streets were too narrow, they decided to go to one side of the city and cross the capital knocking down buildings until they arrived to the other side, with the purpose of building an entire avenue called Gran Vía. Did I say already that they are a bit arrogant?

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Decades of being locked out to the rest of the world explain why Spaniards are deeply ignorant about other countries. If you are black, you should expect old people to approach you and touch your skin, and then use the awkward situation to start a conversation with you. Spain went from not having seen a foreigner in generations to receive 7 million immigrants in a span of 10 years and still be the least racist country in Europe together with Ireland. Spain was also the third country in the world to legalise gay marriage and become the most gay-friendly country counting with 88% of the population’s support (Germany is second with 87%), making Madrid a world-class gay capital. All of this, amidst a huge crisis which dropped Spain’s GDP abruptly and an alarming 52% of unmployment among young people. Which strongly affected people’s attitude towards life, bringing them into a more community-oriented thinking.

When I got on the plane back to Berlin, I very politely told the Spanish woman besides me (with the ‘please’, the conditional tense and the ‘usted’) that I did not have the airplane magazine and asked if I could use hers. Slightly offended, she stared at me, wondered why so much politeness, sighed, and told me that everything in her seat was mine and continued reading her book. And I couldn’t help it but smile.

The bitcoin and the human nature

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I met an Irish web developer in a bar in Berlin who was traveling around the world while working from the computer and getting paid in Bitcoin. He dared to have his entire little fortune in bitcoins, because he believed in it as an alternative to the actual economic system dominated by banks.

Bitcoin is a crypto-currency, the next big thing according to some experts: One ‘coin’ is actually an archive in your computer. You can transfer it to other person with barely no cost. And in Berlin you can actually use them to buy a coffee just by tapping twice on the phone.

You can buy bitcoins in online exchange markets, and the price of the currency is set by the supply and the demand, like any other currency. Few days ago one bitcoin was worth 476€. Today is 580€, a brutal increase of 20% in five days, which means 200€ of profits coming out from nowhere for a person who had 1000€ in bitcoins. It’s crazily volatile, and it attracted hundreds of speculative investors who want to earn money out of the instability of the crypto-currency.

Many people switched to Bitcoin as a way of being part of the next economic revolution, an alternative economic system without banks that will mike our lives better. What they don’t know is that they are committing the same mistake that created the current financial crisis: They are gambling too much.

I guess we are imperfect humans and we like to keep tripping on the same stone. That does not mean that Bitcoin is worthless, all the economic press is keeping an eye on it and I even can’t wait to see what happens next. Let’s watch it closely and if you like invest some spare euros in Bitcoin just for fun.