I am happy when: I’m with people I love without distractions
Written: 05-15-2014

The Crags, Teller County Colorado (2005)
The Crags, Teller County Colorado (2005)

I’m happy when I am with someone I love and free of distractions.

I recently got a new Mac Mini, which meant that the bulk of my saved photos over the years were stored on a different computer. I luckily had stored the Iphoto library on an external hard drive, so it simply required me to eject it from one computer, plug it into the other and then update the library to the newest version of. Boom, photo library complete. Well, at least I thought I was done. I started to look through some of the photos and realized that they were greatly misorganized. To be more specific, they were never organized. I then decided to take on two tasks:

1. Organize the photos by year. I’ll try and filter in a better way later.
2. Find a place to store the files in the cloud, to make sharing them easier.

I spent the afternoon doing this task. If anyone has a great system for getting the photos from their various devices into one spot and well organized, I’m willing to hear suggestions.

I do not want to share a story about organizing photos. What I wanted to share was something that I noticed as I began organizing the photos. I don’t know if the photo collection completely reflects reality, but it is an interesting observation to start the journey.

The photo albums started in 2003, which is about when I got my first digital camera. I think I had one a year earlier, but who knows where those photos are. What you will find are a lot of photos taken in the woods of Kentucky. I spent a lot of time with friends, such as Tyson, Eric, Beth and random others friends camping, hiking, mountain biking and just hanging out. It was the first year I had lived in Kentucky and they introduced me to all the glorious beauty that Kentucky offers. (Even if I can’t see the changing of colors throughout the seasons due to my color blindness). We also spent a lot of time together that year as a group, adding in Jeff Buhr, doing triathlons.

As you look at the timeline of years, you see this same set of photos through 2004. The major addition to the photo collection was that Nikki started showing up. In fact, we currently have several framed photos hanging on our walls that are from camping and hiking trips we took that year. The following year includes all of the adventures we shared while living in Colorado, including our hike to the top of Pikes Peak. There’s something symbolic about hiking with someone you love to one of the highest peaks in the United States.
I have often looked back at the years of 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 as probably the most happy years of my life thus far. In reflection, I have thought that those years were so great in part because I:

1. Practiced regular meditation
2. Spent time in prayer often
3. Attended or taught yoga multiple times a week
4. Exercised consistently
5. Had been introduced to a new author, Thomas Merton, whom I found great comfort
6. I generally had a stable living, work and school experience

Looking at the photo collection, I started to wonder if those things were not the catalyst. If we can assume that we photograph those things that we find most interesting and bring us the most happiness, then I can safely say that none of those things are true. Interestingly, I don’t even have any photos of my trip to the Abbey of Gethsemani when I visited the place Merton lived and wrote during his life spent as a Trappist monk. I also fear that if that statement is true, what does it mean for the thousands of selfies I see on Facebook and Instagram each week?

When I jump forward in the photo collections, you see similar types of photos for the next several years. They are of weddings, outdoor adventures and races. That is pretty much it. As I shared in my last post on happiness, there was a point that racing stopped being enjoyable. There’s also a point in the collection that the volume of photos starts to get pretty thin. In fact, from 2011 through mid 2013, it is pretty sparse. In fairness, this could be due to the fact that both Nikki and I have Iphones now and we are not as good about saving those photos as we were with a digital camera. But, even with those photos added they would not be of the outdoors, races or spending time undistracted with family or friends. The lone exception might be the 100’s of photos I have of Kelty (whom I will write about at some point, but does have her own section on this blog).

There are multiple variables that play into that period of time. There were external influences, such as a business that I couldn’t get to take off the way I thought it should, along with my anxiety over Nikki going back to school. There were internal factors such as an increasing desire to be left alone and difficulty finding a positive outlet for increasingly depressed moods.

Hindsight is 20/20, but as I now look back, I realize that my desire to be alone was an attitude created from a faulty sense of what makes me happy. There have been times that I have been happy on a trail, for hours, by myself and very content. Those times are very few when compared to the amount of times that I’ve been happy with others, doing something that consumes our attention.

Here are some key suggestions that I feel that I’ve learned through this awareness:

1. Find an activity that you can do with those that are important to you, then plan it, schedule it into your calendar and prioritize it. Do not allow yourself the option of “being too busy”, which as been the most common phrase I have said out loud for the past 3 to 4 years.

2. Nurture the important relationships. It is not feasible to go to events, trips or outings as much as we probably want – so put a little effort into the relationship connections. I have developed a strong habit of not answering my phone or replying to emails. In fact, I have 5,725 unread emails as I sit here and write this. I’m certain that some of those calls and emails, I wish I would have responded to.

One of my three personal goals for 2014 was to write a handwritten letter to 50 of my friends. Or, at least 50 letters to my friends, sending some of them a couple letters. We are mid May and I’m currently at zero. I am trying to learn how to better follow this advice. I have so many great friends from high school, college and since that I see on Facebook and that is the end of the connection.

3. Don’t substitute social media for true connections. This is partly as a response to the statement I just made about Facebook connections. It is easy to fool ourselves into feeling like we are staying connected in a meaningful way because we see a photos on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. It is not true. Nikki and I were eating breakfast the other morning, which happened to be at a place where two people I see on Facebook regularly were also eating. Interestingly, none of us pretended to know each other. Very odd, I think.

4. Remove distractions and be present. Nikki and I were trying to go to dinner together once a week at one point, until I think she go so fed up that she stopped asking. The common experience was that we would go out but then as we ordered and ate dinner, I answered emails, Twitter posts and Facebook messages. Removing the Facebook app from my phone is the best things I have ever done. I’m getting better about leaving the phone in the car at times also.

In summary: Give me a few friends, 20 miles of trails, backpacking gear and enough water and food to last the weekend. Remove LTE and wifi connections. That is one definition of my happiness.