The most precious thing you have in life is your life. It may seem very obvious but most people don’t live their lives like it is theirs. I am not talking about your health. I am talking about the fact that you exist and you have this magical ability to control where life takes you.

Unfortunately some people live as if they don't have any control of their own life. They are living life for someone else. They are living for society. They are living for their parents. They are living for the sake of status. They are living for capitalism. They are living for some ideal created by Madison Avenue. They are just chasing a ghost. They are living someone's life even though that life is theirs and belongs to no one else. It is the only thing in life that you really have. Stop taking your own life for granted. Stop living life like it belongs to someone else. It is yours. Your most precious possession.

Since Thanksgiving, the cryptocurrency madness has infiltrated nearly all minds of everyone around me. I thought it was crazy before but now it is complete insanity. It used to be just about Bitcoin (BTC), then everyone started talking about Litecoin (LTC) and Ether(ETH). Now it's about every alternative coin out there in the world. Everyone is talking about 5x and 10x returns. People literally laugh at 30% returns. It is madness. But it should be expected. We, human beings are insane.

I have always been following what has been going on not because of the potential returns and riches but because of what blockchain can do for the world and society. To be honest, I still like money and making money is nice. As a socially conditioned capitalist, I can appreciate a good opportunity when it hits you in the face. Blockchain technology theoretically can make the world a better place. It can remove banks and their useless fees, saving people billions of dollars. It can democratize investment and fundraising so that normal people can raise money without outdated laws and restrictive rules. It can lower lending cost and increase financial freedom for the unbanked and poor. It can create more transparency in a centralized system controlled by insiders and cronies. It can save companies millions of hours for record keeping and tracking thus saving money and eliminating errors. It can change finance, entertainment, healthcare, supply management and countless industries. It can change the world for the better while enriching everyone.

In it's current form, purely as a collection of crypto currencies, blockchain is far from it's potential. This mania is disappointing because people are interested for all the wrong reasons. The interest is driven by the possibility of becoming a crypto billionaire. Yes a lot of people have made many millions and millions of dollars. Some have become billionaires. But currently, this use of blockchain technology namely for currency and speculation is not making the world better. It is not adding any value what so ever. It is actually causing more problems and benefit to society at this moment. It may be exactly what needs to happen to move into the next phase but this phase is not good. I cannot deny that it is not fun at the moment because sometimes it literally feels like a video game watching the crypto coin tickers.

In trading, no new wealth is created, it only changes hands. The money that people are making are coming from other people. Trading cryptocurrency is a zero sum game. Actually it is a negative sum game if you consider that exchanges and intermediaries charge fees for any transfers and trades. No one is really saving any real money or becoming more efficient. We are not saving any fees by using the cyptocurrencies either. In fact, barely anyone is using it for any real purchases. All everyone is doing is just trading currency while some early supporters and a lot of insiders have been cashing out. The new people are throwing money into the crypto pool pushing the total value of currencies to over $800 billion in market cap at the time of writing this. It is causing people to spend their time on rent seeking behavior (mostly watching tickers and talking about which alt coin will explode next) instead of utilizing it adding real value right now. Yes there are a lot of people also building platforms that may change the world but most of us are just wasting our time on something that will become an historical financial asterisk and probably a really good documentary on Netflix.

Right now, almost all crypto currencies and platforms are not providing any real product or value except for perhaps Ripple (via their bank platform but it is not even decentralized), Ethereum (via cryptokitties and other DApps), Monero (dark currency for "private activities" aka drugs) and Bitcoin (as a store of value before you want to invest into another crypto currency). There is potential for some other ones as well. But as of right now, there isn't much value added in the world. In fact, Dogecoin which started as a joke has become an two billion dollar coin despite not being updated in more than two years. Most of these coins or projects become an after thought while a majority of them are scams and at best, terrible ideas. So in the end, like the Internet 1.0, there will be billions of dollars lost and a lot of memes about how someone lost their homes or retirements betting on the future. It will be bloody. It might be worst than the Dot Com bubble. It might be the craziest bubble in history. Who knows but at least this would make Minsky proud.

Right now, what is happening is a transfer of wealth not real wealth creation. Of course in the future, it can add plenty of value and jobs that is not related to crypto trading but for now, most of the activity is related to the cash of crypto fortunes. Once it is all said and done, there will be a lot of new reports of people losing everything because they bet their fortunes on some altcoin or lost it on an exchanged that got hacked. There will also be a lot of newly minted millionaires and plenty of capitalist who took advantage of this incredible opportunity. Perhaps after we clean all the blood in the streets, blockchain technology will crown a few crypto currency survivors and some real value will be added to society.

It is going to be holiday season. The first question that we ask each other is what we want for Christmas. Christmas was once only about celebrating the birth of Jesus and now has morphed into the epitome of consumerism via the art of mandatory gift giving. This custom oddly started as a way to quell the poor drunks in New York from demanding food and drinks from the wealthy long ago according to The Battle for Christmas.

But I digress, during these times, we are especially focused on our wants and what we do not have. We are eyeing that new iPhone X. We are dreaming about that Tesla 3 that we have been patiently waiting for. We are trying to find an Nintendo Switch to fill those stockings. If we are not thinking about all these new things, we are thinking about what else we are missing in life. Restaurants, vacations, clothes, toys, and the endless amount of stuff that would be nice to have. In the end, our minds are lost in this sea of wants.

What we end up forgetting is what we have in front of us. Our time and energy is used to think of our wants and work toward it. We miss all those events that cannot attend because you have to work to pay for presents. We lose ourselves in the chase of want. Like how was cannot think of two things at once, we cannot want and be grateful. Wanting is the antithesis of being grateful. If want want, then we are not satisfied with what we have now. When our minds are so focused on our wants, we forget what we already have in our lives right in front of us. We forget all the love, things and people around us because our minds are occupied by something else. Sometimes when we forget or neglect people, we lose them and we just end up alone with a bunch of stuff. Instead of wanting, we can use our energy to be grateful and give something even more amazing than material gifts, our time and energy to those we love.

I failed again with another 30 day challenge. I only ended up writing twenty two post; eight short of my goal of thirty. My initial idea was just write everyday. Mostly something short and simple but in the end, I really wanted to write some longer more in depth pieces. Some of them were pretty good but others left a bit to be desired. I wrote about artificial intelligence, Amazon, happiness, expectations and so many other topics. I spent an hour on some of them and spent almost five hours on others. Some just came out of my head but others took hours of reading, research and thought. A rough estimate would be about fifty to sixty hours was devoted to writing about 18,000 words and 247 paragraphs that totaled over 71 pages of writing. It is nice to say that writing is much easier now. The process is a bit easier to understand. I am growing as a writer and a person. Here's a few things that I learned from this challenge.

Your thoughts become more clear. Your writing helps your refine your thoughts. You realize the holes in your though process. You know what you don't know. I reread what I write and realize that my mind is not very clear at times. Of course I think it is but that is seemingly just overconfidence disguised as ignorance. It forced me to demand comprehensiveness from myself and better care in seeing the cracks in my vision. In the end, you learn to catch these little holes and see the details that never existed before.

Your writing helps develop your philosophy. When you put things in writing, you can formulate all the things in your head better. You write down you ideas and thoughts then put them neatly into categories or topics. Each article becomes building blocks to a more finished philosophy. You gain insight into topics that were a bit cloudy. You find out what you stand for because writing forces you to rationalize and justify your stances.

It helps you quantify your mind. Writing is a measure of your mind. How much do you know about politics? Or sports? Or life? You can see it in the words that you write. It is measurable and quantifiable. Is it concise? Is it detailed? How much did I write? How much do I know? I can compare my thoughts and ideas with someone's writing. It becomes a measuring stick where none existed before. We can measure out blood pressure. We can measure our weight. But it is difficult to measure out philosophies and knowledge outside of taking exams. Writing is a wonderful measure of where your mind stands.

It is a mental exercise where you can build your brain. It forces you to apply abstract ideas and formulate frameworks. Certain things that you learn you can apply like learning to ride a bike. You build the physical muscles of your body. But ideas are not tangible results except when you write it down. Your writing is the visual tangible results of your mind. The stronger the article, the stronger your mind is. The longer the article, the more stamina your mind has. Writing becomes the exercise and the articles become your body.

You learn about your voice. Eventually as you become more fluid with your writing, your personality is reflected in your voice. It's becomes more natural. It's like learning how to throw a ball. At first it is very mechanical. Then it becomes more smooth. Then you can add a little bit of customization and put a little bit of you into the throw. My voice is still not there but hopefully one day it'll become as natural as speaking.

You liberate all the junk in your head. I realized that your mind is like storage garage full of all the crap that you kept for later. All those thoughts, ideas, dreams and randomness that you threw in there like things you buy and forget in your closet. Sometimes you forget that you have certain shoes or shirts but they are there in the back cluttering up your closet. Everytime that I wrote something down, it was something that I didn't need to keep in my brain anymore. It was freed up space for something else. I did not need to worry about losing it because when you write it down, it becomes forever and best of all, it became useful. I made it applicable to me and perhaps someone else who reads it. After every article, the space in my head became more organized and clear. There was still lots of things in there but at least it was neatly and pleasantly organized.

I used to feel like the weight of the world was always on my shoulders. Coming from a not very wealthy family, I thought I would have to work hard and somehow be the savior so I focused on materialism. Growing up, being around smart and successful people, I thought that I would have to fit in and belong so I lied. Being impatient and naive, I took shortcuts to get what I wanted so I cheated. When things started coming together, I became a afraid of failing so I stopped living and regretted it. When someone did me wrong, the anger made me want revenge so I could never forgive and forget. In reality, none of these things were barriers in my life. They were not bricks that I had to carry on my back. All of this was in my head. I forgot to live lightly. The forces of my mind weighted so heavy on it that it weighed down my body.

Be Light with Less Stuff

When we do not know exactly what we want in life, we default to wanting everything. If we want everything, the solution to that problem is simply to make more money. Need a new car, make more money. Need a bigger house, make more money. Want a vacation, make more money. But keep in mind, in the end, it's all about stuff. For what reason? we don't know. We just wanted more stuff and money because someone told me that it would make life better. But no one told us that once you got some stuff that you would get bored and needed more stuff.

I used to be so obsessed with the idea of more. I had so much pressure to keep getting more and more stuff. After reading The Magical Art of Tidying by Marie Kondo, I started getting rid of stuff. That was when I realized I had so much stuff. I wondered why I had so many shoes that I didn't wear. So many books that I didn't read. So many people that I called friends that I didn't talk to. I wanted a house, then a vacation home. I wanted a new car, then another car. So many obligations. I realized getting rid of stuff was liberating. In the movie Fight Club, Tyler Duran gives to himself the ulimate revealation about materialism, "The things you own, end up owning you." The more that I threw away, the less that I had to worry about it. When I cancelled the music subscription that I rarely used, I did not have to pay for it anymore. When I threw out the shoes that I wore once a year, it no longer took up space in my closet. When I threw out a shelf of books, I no longer had to remove dust from them anymore. When I decided that friend was more of an acquaintance, I never needed to do small talk anymore. In the end, my life just became not lighter with less stuff physically but mentally it felt like there was less to think about. I was living without not just physical baggage but mental baggage as well.

Be Light with Less Validation

For the most of my life, I always knew that I never belonged in any group very well. It took a while to realize that it was fine to not belong to every group. In life, we all end up walking our own unique paths and no one can walk for us. It is natural to have the drive of belonging to become paramount in our lives. It helps us become safer in big groups. It helps us have a easier life. It helps us feel more self worth. Wanting to belong is not a problem because we should want to belong in our loving families or surrounded by like minded good people. The problem comes when we want to be liked by everyone. But we are limited as human beings. We have only so many hours and so much capacity. We cannot be everything to everyone. If we are trying to do that, we end up having to pretend and exaggerate. Sometimes those little white lies become big monstrous ones. We sometimes begin to believe our lies. Keeping track of all those lies and trying to please everyone becomes this heavy mental and physical burden that will eventually burn us out. One day, we figure out that we are not even true to ourselves. Living a lie. Once I realized that it was temporally and physically impossible to please everyone, I just decided that I should only care about belonging and being liked by the people who loved me for me. It liberated me from the burden of what other people thought. I did not have to try to please and thus exaggerate reality for validation. Less lies means less things to keep track of but also living in the ocean of truth makes you feel like you are floating; weightless in life.

Be Light with Less Guilt

Sometimes there is so much pressure to just get somewhere. When are you going to get rich? When are you going to retire? When are you going to get married? When are you going to do everything on your bucket list? Why are we all in such a rush? We are already here. We are already living. Alive. Capable. With plenty of opportunity.

In the rush of life, we forget our values and take shortcuts. We cut in line. We cheat. We step over people. We ignore people; sometimes when they need us the most. We kiss the ass of people who can help us and forget the ones who need help. When you do those things, you wrong people and you carry a bit of guilt. We are in such a rush that we forget to right those wrongs but when we are so desperate for something, we do not even have time to say you are sorry. In the end, ask why are you in such a rush? The destination is not as important as the people along the way. Slow down. Say sorry when you're wrong. Pay back people that you are indebted to. Fix the problems that you caused as best as you can. I realized after failing and failing that shortcuts only took me further away from life. I took people for granted and overlooked important values. Once you realize, you can start mending fences and live a life with less guilt. You did no wrong and nothing is holding you down.

Live Light with Less Fear & Regret

Once you get something, the fear of loss becomes great. You finally have some respect. You finally have some money. You finally have some love. There were a lot of times in my life where I thought I did well and I somewhat made it. Perhaps not made it but I was in a good spot. Sometimes it was just a lie to myself that I had something but I really had nothing. Thinking that way makes people complacent and in someways scared of losing things. We stop taking risk and left us with the regret of the possibilities. I would say to myself that back in the day, I would have done this or that. But now I just sat around waiting for something to happen instead of making something happen. When you do that, you are living in fear of failure and that fear of failure will end up in regret. For you entire life, you will look back and think of what ifs instead of living in the possibilities. Jeff Bezos lives by the regret minimization framework where you project yourself out to your old age and ask yourself if you will regret a decision. If yes, then just do it. If you say no your whole life, you will be living with the burden of regret. Then regret will follow you with every aspect of your life. Why didn't I find the love of my life. Why didn't I do what I was passionate about? Why didn't I travel the world? Live with less regret and there will be less holding you down.

Live Light with Less Grudges & More Forgiveness

So often, the world seems so selfish. Dog eats dog. Eye for an eye. We climb over each other's backs during times of desperation. Often we take rejection personally and in essence, it is merely someones opinion. We hold grudges and seek revenge. We think the world is against us and it is ultimately unfair. We hold the heat in our hearts and it burns dark. People always say the greatest revenge is massive success but who cares about revenge. Just do let it go. Forgive and go on with your life. When I was younger, every time someone wronged me, I used to want to get someone back. They captured my mind and my heart. They forced me to become distracted and unfocused but most likely the other person might not have known that they wronged me or probably did not care because they were fighting their own demons. In the end, when you hold a grudge, it weighs on your mind and your heart. It eventually takes precious time away from your life and weighs on your body. If you simply say, I forgive you then all that hate goes away and you can just live freely again. Hate is heavy. Love is light.

Just Let it Go

There's so many things that we can easily let go. Our grudges, regrets, guilt, need for validation and materialism are all mental responses to all the negative external traps in the world. Most of the time, bad things just happen to us or we bring it upon ourselves but we can respond negatively with hate or neglect which results in a grudge, some guilt and regret. Or we can just respond in a way that is open, honest, and loving. If we do this, we do not carry any of these things on our shoulders as we leave. We leave and go about our lives living lightly.

I read an article about a theory of why people have divorces and the conclusion was unmet expectations. Relationships break down when we observe that someone has broken our expectations of them. It made me think of not just every relationship in my life but of everything in life. We generally have expectations in our life. In general, we are conditioned to expect perfection these days. We read and hear of success stories. We see professionally photographed and heavily photoshopped images of happy perfect beautiful people in front of a beautiful sunset on an exotic vacation. We do no hear about the failures or all the shots that it took to get that perfect photo. It is like we do not believe that chaos and misfortune exist anymore sometimes. If it isn't perfect and Instagram worthy, we are disappointed. On the other hand, Buddhist believe that life is just an existence of pain, suffering, and misery; far from the perfect world that we expect today of rainbows, unicorns, and rolled ice cream. But life is somewhere in between.

How do we develop our expectations?

If you think about it, how did your expectation of anything form? When we start life, we do not really expect some woman to shoove a breast in our face to feed us. We just cry and hopefully we get fed. No disappointment. Just glad we did not starve and die. After a while, we expect that it without even needing to cry. When this does not happen, we do not just cry, we scream and cry like a climate change induced hurricane prepared to wreck havoc on anyone who opposes us. At some point in life, we just expect things because we get used to things being a certain way because society made things so easy. We expect certain things to be done for us. We expect people to treat us a certain way. We expect certain grades, jobs, salaries, presents, and the list goes on and on. I guess this can be called a sense of entitlement. That somehow we deserve things. Our entitlements become our expectations.

Are your expectations justified?

Some of us have low expectations while some of us have high expectations. Some of the time, we have high expectations for ourselves. We are hard on ourselves and when we fail, we become depressed. A lot of the time, we have extremely high expectations of the people close to us. When they fail us, we are hurt and our relationships fall apart. We have high expectations of society. When society fails us, we want to just climb into a little bubble and run away. No one is perfect and that is what makes being human so human. Inherently we are just flesh and blood. We cannot expect anyone to be a machine; even machines fail. We have to weigh our expectations based on the limitations of our imperfections not our perfections.

Should we just lower our expectations?

Logically, so if we just lower our expectations or have no expectations, then we can never be disappointed. If we have no expectations of your friends and family, then if someone ditches you, then we will never be too upset or if someone surprises, you then you will never be too euphoric. No more broken hearts and blissful excitement. Basically let's just all be indifferent about everything. Be an unemotional rock. Have joyless but also unremarkable life. Again we are just flesh and blood. We are alive; emotional unpredictable beautiful messes. By being indifferent means being dead to everyone and everything. So if you have no expectations, you might as well be a zombie; living but not living.

Should we just have expect to get disappointed?

There are a pros and cons of expectations but in the end, we will have them. We are a big ball of random thoughts going a billion miles an hour. We can make expectations work for us instead of against us. Here's a couple ideas about expectations.

  • Be realistic with your expectations. Set expectations of people and things that are based on well thought out knowledge, facts and evidence. Try to avoid basing your expectations solely on what others or what society suggest because media sets up commercialized expectations of life. Big house, new cars, hot spouse, and without ever working is great but who really lives that life? Life is not like an episode of Friends. People come in all shapes, sizes and abilities. Everyone who runs a marathon will always starts with their first mile. Set expectations that push yourself just beyond your comfort zone. Set expectations for others that are within their abilities and possibilities. Unrealistic expectations will always set ourselves up for failure.
  • Be open about your expectations. We live in a a world of unsaid expectations. In business, all those expectations are written down in a contract. In our lives, unfortunately we do not need to write every aspect our relationships in a contract. We just assume things about our relationships. Perhaps because that is what we expect from ourselves and we expect reciprocity. Rarely do our expectations of ourselves align with expectations of that others have of themselves. Being more open about what we expect and help us have better relationships with people and society. We all know what we want from each other. If our wants and needs do not match, we should not be in a relationship. Tell people when you appreciate people. Share with people who you are and why you are so weird sometimes. Sometimes you need to be a little more obvious and straight forward especially around certain scatterbrained people (Unfortunately I am one of those people). Openness helps communication and helps you build a better relationship with the world around you.
  • Be flexible about your expectations. The world has a way of screwing up. Life is a constant tragedy with climatic problems and solutions. Expect our expectations to be broken, crushed and smashed to a trillion pieces. That black swan of life is always lurking. Accept this and make new expectations. If things go well then let's celebrate. If things do not go perfectly, then let's do better next time. The great thing is our expectations are more like clay than concrete. Thank goodness that our minds and expectations are moldable. Take Bruce Lee's advice to "be like water."

Last month, my 30 day challenge was to get abs. Most of my life, I have always been pretty active and I would say fairly fit but I never had defined abs let alone the infamous six pack. I thought it would be a fun physical challenge since most of my challenges are not physical in nature. I did a lot of sit up in my life but never really focused on it for the aesthetic aspects. For the past few years, I did not do much core work outs and did not lift as much as before. Most of my workouts consisted of running, swimming, basketball and yoga. Weights and abs were more of an after thought. When I did do ab workouts, I would commonly get cramps.

I wanted to take more focused approach to it so I utilized the Pareto Principle. What things that I can do will get me abs fastest? So I went back into the Four Hour Body by Tim Ferriss and did the recommended ab exercises 2-3 times a week. Those exercises were the myotatic crunch and the cat vomit exercise. I only did one repetition of 10 each. Both are extremely painful if done properly. The cat vomit exercise was the worst and made me sweat up a storm. Those two exercises took about five to seven minutes in total. The only other thing that I did was cut my calories which meant reducing my meals sizes and eating more salad. I cheated a lot here but generally cut my body fat and weight during the month. Below is the before and after.

What I Learned

During the month, I came to a few conclusions. But one major thing that I realized was the importance of core in everything in life. For physical activity, it helped me become stronger, faster, and more coordinated. I hope to keep the abs but I want it to be a result of my life not a just goal for aesthetic value. So if my daily routine and activities were not conducive to it, then I can live without it. But if doing what I do like swimming, basketball and yoga as well as my diet is going to maintain it, then it will be great to have. But I do feel it will be a part of my routine because it has helped my health overall.

  • Less back pain. Having a strong core helped me drastically in terms of my back pain. I have had back issues especially with the upper back which has been helped with yoga but strengthening my core actually help alleviate more pain to the point where I rarely experience the same upper back pain from before. 
  • Sport performance. Having a strong core also helped me with my movements as well. I found that that I was able to move faster but was also much stronger even though I was a little lighter. I was less prone to be off balance and sustained basketball collisions better (note I am still not a big fan of people fouling me going to the basket). 
  • Better posture. I also was pleasantly surprised to find that my posture was better and I was standing much taller. Some shirts that I wore became notiably shorter, not because my shirts shrank or I got taller but I was standing taller because my abs caused me to have better posture. 
  • Instagram images are fake. Having taking pictures of my abs, I started noticing other peope's abs much more. I noticed that there is a drastic impact between flexing and not flexing in pictures. Also lighting made a big impact on the results in the photos as well. I came to the conclusion that most photos of fitness people are altered or exagerated in some degree to show those results. In real life, most fitness people do no look like their photos; it is a combination of flexing, lighting, and photoshop. It creates an illusory standard for people. 
  • Diet matters a lot. Most of my progress was seen when I started cutting my food intake in the last couple weeks of the month. It could have been a combination of progress from my exercises and diet but diet made the muscle definition much better. 
  • A little more confidence. I definitely felt a little more confident about my body because it does make a different in how your body looks. It just nice looking in the mirror and being able to see the definition in your core.

This story starts off with good intentions like most stories. The world economy was booming because of the productivity created by the internet and global trade. The world was printing tons of money and people were chasing higher returns because of the low interest environment all over the world. A great place for those funds was US real estate. During the wild wild west of real estate financing of the early 2000s, banks found an innovative way to make more money by providing more loans for people who did not quite qualify. By combining loans to low credit with loans of prime (high credit) customers, they created bundle of loans with three letter names called mortgage backed securities (MBS) and collateralized debt obligations (CDO). By doing this, these bonds were still rated as AAA or top quality. Ironically the same companies rating the bonds were paid by the banks to do these ratings. No good rating; no new business. No conflict there right?

This new source of funding for real estate became the fuel for the fire of the real estate expansion. Before it was difficult to give everyone loans so there were fewer buyers. With the relaxation of requirements for mortgages, banks were able to give loans to people who not only had low or bad credit but also people who only had unverified or stated income. This became a honey pot for people who wanted homes who never imagined it was possible. The American dream fueled by global growth and lax regulation. But it was also a recipe for a kitchen explosion. The kitchen got hotter and hotter as more and more buyers pushed prices higher and higher. Appraisers were using ridiculously high sale comparables to value properties. Appraisers who always magically made the valuation work for loans kept getting hired. People were making tons of money by selling a property that they just bought months before so people didn't care if they could not make the payment. As the banks made more loans, they sold more bonds thus giving them more money to make more loans while extracting enormous fees.

The truth is the going was good. No one wanted this party to end even though there was smoke in the kitchen. The house party was as the youngsters say "lit" and everyone was making money. Real estate agents, loan agents, bankers, and everyone involved the real estate transactions were making more money than ever. Builders and contractors were enamored by the profits and demand. The government was reaping more and more tax revenues; spending on local growth to satisfy constituents. Sellers were euphoric; their homes were giving them equity and they could take out money from their house like an ATM for new cars and material junk. Buyers were happy to get cheap money and the ability to buy their home with very little down and low teaser rates. Investors were happy to get a solid return on these so called safe bonds in a low interest environment.

Then suddenly people did not have enough money to pay for their bar tabs. Banks were lending money to people to party but no one ever expected to pay for anything. As low teaser rates jumped, People who put no money down in overpriced homes suddenly decided to not make payments. Perhaps it was because they could not pay in the first place because they lied about their income or were just irresponsible as indicated by their low credit scores. Or for some, they realized it made no sense to make payments on something that was worth less than the loan on the property. As property prices started to drop, more people decided to do the same and stop paying; walking away from their American dream. This started the downward spiral that affected not just Wall Street but also Main Street.

Wall street found themselves holding a lot of worthless loans. Banks were losing millions daily in 2006 based on the value of their once extremely safe AAA bonds. The value of these bonds were backed by the value of real estate which was dropping like a rock from the sky. The fire in the kitchen was raging and people were rushing out of the house party. No buyers to be found. Banks intelligently stopped making loans and stop the fire from spreading. But it was too late, the fire was spreading from the kitchen to the rest of the house. Real estate construction halted and the engine of growth for the economy stopped. Real estate agents found themselves with no listings. Buyers were no longer buying because no one was giving loans and jobs were disappearing. Sellers were stuck in more debt than ever after spending all their home equity. Bankers, agents, contractors, and everyone related to real estate found themselves jobless and broke. No one was spending money now as people started fearing the possibility of a recession. This only helped the fire spiral out of control as government cut spending and companies laid people off as the economy cooled. Banks were now saddled with debt as well and could not make loans for anything. With credit frozen, even the innocent hard working people who lived next door who went to school, worked hard and volunteered in the PTA were going to get burned. The fuel for the real estate industry was the same fuel for the rest of the economy. The whole house was burning down now.

Ten years later in 2017, our economy is back at new highs. What happened since then? Well we had to call the fire department to save the house. The Federal Reserve (Fed) came in and saved all the banks because if they didn't, the whole financial system may have broken the economy further including innocent people in main street who paid their taxes and worked hard. So the government decided it would need to save the economy by saving the banks who were also the people who started this fire. The Fed needed the banks to provide credit to companies to continue paying their employees and buying supplies. Banks were made solvent to do this. Banks were the only ones who could rebuild this house. But the government decided to take over most of the major banks by buying equity. Bank of America, Citibank, and AIG was once largely government owned companies.

For the government, there was only one solution. They needed to lower short term rates to spur the economy and lower long term rates to spur real estate prices. The banks bought more and more mortgage bonds and giving banks more money to lend to spur the economy again. These mortgage bonds would cause the government to lose billions if real estate prices did not recover. So here's where the incredible shift in wealth happened. People flushed with cash bought up real estate at fire sale prices. Blackstone, a private equity fund became the largest property owner in the US at one point. The banks took the losses while wealthy people gained control of real estate all over the country. Banks were backed by the government so the billions in loses were taken at the expense of the American public. Here is the thing, money does not disappear, it just goes from one person to another. The people who sold the properties at a high got their money from the investors or banks. Wealth stayed with all these people who sold high. When the economy was down in the dumps with artificially deflated housing prices instead of artificially inflated prices, those same people flushed with cash started buying. At the time in 2009-2011, there was little competition because loans were tough to come by so whoever had amazing credit and a ton of cash bought real estate dirt cheap.

When the economy finally recovered, people started buying homes again. Many wealthy people refinanced their properties and returned most of their investment to themselves. For example, if a house that was originally $500,000 was sold for $250,000, then the bank lost $250,000 but was bailed out by the government and shareholders took the losses. The new owner could rent the house out and wait for the price to go back up. If the house price went up to $350,000, the owner can refinance it with a loan to value ratio of 80% of $350,000 or a loan for $280,000. So the owner is paid back the $250,000 investment and $30,000 extra for their troubles. Of course this is not including the rent paid to them during this time. But amazingly, the owner still owns the property with $70,000 of equity or wealth. You can eat the cake and have it too! Now that most property prices are back to it's highs, this owner now has equity of $220,000 with monthly cash flow from the $500,000 house. Banks lost money. Buyers lost their homes, money and credit. The government printed more money. The money just went to wealthy people who had the cash to buy up homes when no one was left to buy. The trillions in bank losses went into the pockets of very wealthy people with the help of the government. This can also be said of the stock market. When people had to sell their shares during the crisis, people with extra cash bought and benefited from the efforts of the government to save the economy.

During recessions, money does not disappears, it just moves from one person to another. Usually it goes from a person with a short time frame who needs cash to someone who has a long time frame who has extra cash. Note this is not a critique of capitalism, banks, or the government. This is a systematic problem that we should all use as a reference for the future. We are all at fault for this crisis. Of course some of us more than others. We are the economy, each one of us. This will happen again and it will benefit those who are ready for it.

We have grown up thinking that happiness is not the default state of being. We end up thinking that we are sad until we get something or do something. If we get this or do that, then one magical day, we get to be happy. We end up believing that happiness is conditional. You have to go to Disneyland to visit the happiest place on earth. We have to graduate from college to earn lots of money to be happy. We need to search high and low to find love so we can live happily ever after. We have to have two kids, preferably a boy and a girl so we can experience unconditional love and thus happiness. Our whole life, we have been taught that happiness comes from a pursuit of some milestone where everything falls perfectly in place, then we will be so amazingly happy. Society and media has conditioned us all to think this way. But conditional happiness is one of those little white lies to keep us from going crazy. If happiness was there all along, what else should I do with my life? Purpose and happiness is not the same thing but we all have been tricked into thinking happiness is the purpose. We just need to jump over those hurdles and finally, we may find it; that warm and fuzzy feeling called happiness.

Why conditional happiness is not happiness

The first problem with seeking conditional happiness is the possibility that we never get pass that condition. What if we set a condition incredibly unrealistic or is beyond our control? If your happiness is conditional upon someone else's love or approval, then what if that person will never love you? Or if they do, then what happens when they change their mind then no longer love you? If your happiness is conditional upon becoming a movie or sports star, what if we do not beat the odds or we never had the physical talents in the first place. I wanted to be in the NBA but if my happiness was conditional upon that, I would never be happy because I did not end up as a tall human being (also I'm not that talented). Having conditions that are beyond your control or unrealistic is basically creating the conditions for sadness instead of happiness. We create our own hurdles and barriers to our happiness. Or maybe someone created those hurdles for us? Either way, we are sabotaging our chances of finding happiness.

Now let say that you are amazingly talented or extremely lucky and you get everything that you have wanted. The second problem with conditional happiness happens once we get something. We should be happy right? More or less the time. Then what happens? Our happiness declines. Why? Everything has a marginal utility, the additional benefit from anything, people or things after each subsequent experience of it. Unfortunately, almost everything has diminishing marginal utility which means we get less and less happiness once we experience something again. That big shiny house that you got, you will be less happy about it everyday after the first until one day, you just think it is just another average house. That amazing person sleeping next to you, there will probably be some point where you will reach maximum happiest with that person then less happy every day afterwards. Sad but in many occasions, very true. We do not get lasting happiness from achieving things. We just get excited momentarily.

In response, many times, we have to find something else to make us happy. A new condition. A new happiness. Then we get it but in the end, we are all sad again. The cycle keeps going. We either need to get something bigger or better. Like a drug, the first high was good but we need a better high next time. What is better than a new car? Two new cars! But when higher doses no longer work, we jump to something else. We realize cars are so boring so we should get a plane! So we shifted our drug of choice from marijuana to cocaine. Bigger house. More expense car. Hotter spouse. More money. Better title. When does it end? It never does. Conditional happiness is a carrot that always changing. Instead of being in a state of happiness, we just keep running faster and faster with more and more pressure. Until one day, when we are tired of the chase, we realize that with all these things, we are still unhappy and empty.

Unconditional happiness

If conditional happiness will never make me happy, then what should I do? Simple. Just stop chasing the carrot. Stop making happiness conditional. Enjoy the journey of life unconditionally. Stop thinking happiness will happen when something happens and everything falls perfectly into place. Just let yourself be happy. You do not need someone or something to let you be happy. Do not ask for permission; just be happy. No magic or lotto needed. Let yourself be happy by just living happily. No limitations. Don't say that you don't deserve to be happy. Don't say that you need to make yourself pretty or better or smarter then you can be happy. No conditions. Enjoy the little novelties of daily life and see the happiness that is already there.

I know some of you will say but what if I need certain things to be happy? Sure go ahead and get those things but do not make those things the reason for happiness. Socrates viewed happiness as something that did not depend on external things but it depended on how we use those things. Yes it is definitely nice to have resources. There are plenty of people with everything that take their lives every year. Things are not happiness. What we do with it, is happiness. Being in love is happiness not the fancy wedding. Working on something that we love is happiness not the paycheck. Celebrating with friends is happiness not the expensive club. It would be naive to say that money is not conducive to happiness. It helps but it is not a necessary condition. You can love, laugh and smile without being rich, famous, or beautiful. You just need believe that happiness is unconditional. Happiness should be your default state not sadness. You are happy until something happens not the other way around. Forget the lie that happiness is conditional and happiness will magically appear.

Remember when you were young and so excited about going out to a loud ear deafening party or club? Then one day, you realized that you find pure joy staying home in piece and quiet? What happened? The two paths of happiness tells the story of how we shifted our paths toward happiness.

If you really just want to simplify it, there are only two paths to happiness. One is to add joy or pleasure and the other would be to remove pain or discomfort. Simply put, you can either add positives or remove negatives to increase happiness. You can add joy by buying a new car to replace your old one. If you have the flu, you can become happier by removing that negative by taking medication and getting rid of that discomfort. On the other hand, you add unhappiness when you remove positives or add negatives to your life. Let's focus on positive actions.

Most of us are conditioned to think about adding pleasure and joy to life. It is a drive that we think about early in life because we tend to live a rather painless life when we are young. We have not had the heart ache of a shattered heart. We do not have the physical pains of tired muscles and milage ridden bones. We do not have the anxiety and stress of adulthood like mortgages, consumer debt, inadequacy of retirement, and the dependency of other human beings on us. When pain and comfort is not on our daily minds, the easiest way to increase happiness is to just add joys. Self indulgence is the way. We chase the joys of sex, youthful fun, and the novelty of everything new. We strive to have more money as a means to adding joy. We strive to impress others to get add more joy. Vacations, experiences, love, and material possessions are quick paths to the state of happiness.

Somethings strange happens as we get older. We get hit in the face by baggage and old age. Both causes pain. For Greek philosopher, Epicurus, pain is any sensation that is negative and takes away from our peaceful state wether it is physical or mental. Physical pain pretty easy to understand. When you get old, your body hurts. It breaks down day by day. Little by little. Our backs hurt. We get less flexible and we break things like bones. We get diseases and other little annoying things like losing hair or needing glasses. Also this physical age causes us a degree of mental discomfort as we have to accept the fragility of life for once in our life. But mental pain can sometimes be even more debilitating. We begin to do things that we do not want like purposeless work or mind numbing traffic or the financial obligations of adulthood. Knowledge becomes anxiety and stress. Another cause of pain, fear starts to appear as we experience more and more life. The longer we live, the more fear we have. Fear becomes a mental road block to adding joy. We learn that there are trade offs to the decisions that we make. The joys of falling in love also come with the possibility of a broken heart. But the scars lingers in the fears of being hurt again so we live less carefree with the possibility of our hearts being broken into thousands of pieces again. Sometimes we do not chase that joy anymore in fear of the pain. So we start living a life of not blissful ignorance but painful consciousness. Petrified to chase some joys, we live in fear just trying to avoid pain. Now that we live in pain, our goals shift from adding joy to just removing or avoiding pain. Date night away from the amazing two feet tall masters that you call your children - euphoric. Three day weekends away from your idiotic boss - amazing. Two hour massages to soothe burnt out muscles and a chaotic brain; pure bliss. Drinking away the night so we do not have to worry about the future - a great escape. Just sleeping in without being disturbed in pure quiet - heaven.

In the end, there is only really two paths toward happiness. When we are young, we blissfully chase the power of adding joy while as we age, we strive to just remove the pain. Either way, both paths end up making us happier. That is why we do not go clubbing when we get older, we are just more happier than way.