Questions about Happiness

A few months ago, over plate of nachos and a vegetarian breakfast platter at Fran’s, a good friend of mine asked me one of the hardest and most thought-provoking questions I’ve come across since ToK (Theory of Knowledge), an IB-mandatory philosophy course.

The television mounted on the wall in front of me was tuned into a wrap of the Jays game when my friend, still dressed in his running clothes (despite the fact it was so late in the evening that all the dumpling restaurants in Chinatown were closed), leaned forward and asked, “In comparison to last year, are you happier today than you were a year ago?”

I had spent the last 48 hours sleepless and frantically squinting at and filtering through rows and rows of data in some excel file. I had called chicken noodle straight from the can dinner all week. With a plate of nachos awaiting me, I didn’t quite have an answer to his question, all I could think was that I was sure as hell happier at that moment than 5h earlier when I realized some data hadn’t been filtered properly, I was late to my first meeting with my mentee, and there were no more chocolate covered almonds in the ziplock bag.

Then there’s also the question of how can happiness be measured.

As I scooped salsa onto the tortilla chips and meticulously picked around the too spicy chopped jalapenos I started lining up the events and stresses of Sept/Oct 2015 against the the 2016 status. At that time last year I was wandering NorCal eating all the tacos and ramen I could fit in my stomach (and I can fit a lot), hanging out with the big bro, still running with the fast young kids, and with a shoe budget. But frictionally unemployed. Flash forward to 2016, the shoe budget has been marginalized by rent, I am old and slow, but employed at a great company in a fun role. In comparing these big ticket events I shared with my friend that yes, I am happier today than I was a year ago.

Upon reflection I realized that I was basing my happiness on the big ticket events and items. Comparing the emotions of being on my first-ever self-paid-for trip to one of my favourite places to that to the marginalization of the entertainment budget. Pairing the fatigue and anxiety of commuting via the (perpetually early) 8:16 train to Union against the current easy-peasy 3 subway stop journey from my first self-paid for lease. Pitting the feelings of uncertainty and anxiety of unemployment to that of the satisfaction of hitting work targets and calming note of somewhat employment stability. While my gut does tell me that I am happier this year in comparison to YAGO, deeper reflection reveals that the logical comparison process that had been used could be refined.

The events that I had put into comparison for the resulting outcome were events of prescribed emotions. A sunny day in SF headlined with a large delicious purchase at Ghirardelli and the discovery of affordable nude Steven Madden pumps is expected to be a happier event than telling friends you can’t make it to dinner because you’ve just paid track fees. Signing a contract of what is considerably a dream starter job is undoubtedly expected to elicit a  higher level of happiness in comparison to frictional unemployment­But what about the micro moments?

By being at the right place at the right time (at my desk) a pair of suite tickets to Game 4 of the Jays (vs. Cleveland) landed in my hand. Born and raised in Toronto, I had never thought I would have the opportunity to see one of my city’s teams in the playoffs in person (since it’s Toronto and I believe in responsible personal finances) much less experience this amazing moment with unlimited Buds, gourmet ballpark food, and last minute fan gear by provided by a friend. The energy of the stadium, especially following the Win, was amazing and out of the world. But I have a confession to make. As happy as I was in that moment, the level of happiness I felt was marginal to that of the regular solo 65 minute run I had done a few days prior. There’s was really nothing special about that run but for 65 minutes I had clipped along the Toronto streets with a huge goofy grin on my face and wished unknown fellow pedestrians a great day. On my experience scale, this micro moment had by far blown the still amazing Jays experience out of the water. But on paper? The Jays experience should have eclipsed the regular ole run in expected happiness.

I can’t tell you what happiness is, how it can be measured, or where to find it. But in our moment it is expected that one is happier when the need to commute on another organization’s schedule is replaced with the independence of living with friends in a downtown apartment. I think we’ve become pre-conditioned to expect to feel and place happiness on a scale for certain events. I believe that the happiness I feel for these conditioned events is true but as I chomped  down on a sweet, juicy, and perfectly crisp Pink Lady tonight, I am reminded that happiness is also can be found in the ordinary. It’s only a matter of realizing, recognizing, and remembering.

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We are Not Invincible

Earlier today my mother and I joked that she would have to raise her grandkids because according to a Chinese midwifes’ tale people who have small ears die young. But despite all the joking we didn’t think that death could come knocking so quickly. 

Yesterday, powered by a crazy night out I hammered a weight workout before hitting the Waterfront trail with my roommate for a brisk 16.5-17k run. With yesterday’s mileage in the legs, a slightly sore ankle, and dinner waiting I made the decision to cut the run short. Having forgotten the compression socks at my downtown apartment I was clad merely in shorts, a long sleeve, and a bright yellow tshirt from my first ever Sporting Life 10k. Slightly sweaty but not cool yet despite the near zero temperature I waited patiently for the light to change before crossing, even before crossing I turned my head to the left just to double check. The only car nearby was one that was quite far down the road, probably at least equal distance to the next closest intersection, yet before I made it to the end of the 2nd lane going north that car was whizzing by me in the left hand lane. 

The car had intentionally run a red. Missing me by probably a foot at the most. 

In shock, system one, with the pre-determined safety mindset pathway turned on, propelled me to cross the intersection to avoid any other moving vehicles. When I reached safety I turned my head in confusion and disbelief – maybe I had misjudged colours of the light? Nope, the crossing countdown was still in the teens.  

Those of you that have run with me know that I am an extremely cautious runner who will not jaywalk on the matter of principle. Even on the Martin Goodman trail we must stop at every single red light to the disapproval and dismay of the judgmental law-breaking cyclists. I never wear headphones when running and when darkness hits I am 100% wearing obnoxiously bright orange or yellow shirts, usually accompanied by neon pink compression socks. The truth is sometimes even if you are as careful as can be the unexpected bad thing will occur.

 

The car that had run the red was going at least 80 in a 60 zone.

 

When a car clipped my foot last year I was able to commit his license plate to memory, I knew the make and model of the car that brushed me at Front and York a few years ago, and the colour and brand of another careless daytime Yorkville driver. But I have no idea what the colour, make, model or brand is of this vehicle that was moving fast enough to kill; not merely injure.

 

When instances like this occur I am re-amped to think about what the value of a human life is, how to enforce avoidance and in this particular incident, if the undesirable happens how can I be prepared. It may be unfashionable, morbid, and culturally inappropriate to touch upon this subject at such a young age but the reality is we are not invincible. In my early twenties, the value of my net worth may be considerably miniscule but that doesn’t mean I can’t sort the affairs.  The truth is, it makes me feel much better knowing that the leather skirt will be passed down to someone who will love it just as much. The book collection needs to land in the hands of the right reader and the donut pan needs to find a new baker. We may be young but it is never too early to set wireframes in place. From an intrinsic side, what type of person do I want to be remembered for? What legacy or mission do I want to leave behind? There are so many things I can set in motion now to help ensure the world that I leave behind is marginally positively impacted. The lengths of our lives cannot be determined by just ourselves so we need to make each day count.

 

***Running friends, please continue to be careful day in and day out.

 

***All, if you are able to help report details of cars running reds please help make a difference. As I was unable to see any details on the car the police is unable to do anything to get the menace off the road.

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Babysteps.

In almost every single chick flick there is a scene where one character will offer their guest a drink, “Wine? Red? White? Beer?”. For some reason these particular scenes have primed my mind to think that a real person has more than one type of beverage on hand to offer guests.

On Friday, as I was unloading the latest deskdrop into my fridge I was faced with a very daunting image. A bottle of summery Moscato was chilling in the right corner and a variety of what is arguably a local micro brew in the form of Mill St was sandwiched by the ever classic Buds. There was even a box of Budweiser NA (newly launch Prohibition Brew) sitting on my kitchen counter waiting to be unloaded. Not only did I have a variety of alcoholic beverages in my fridge, I even had a non-alcoholic adult beverage to offer guests. What am I now? A scripted character? A real person?

Taking a step backwards, the packed upper shelves brought a more familiar tone. These shelves housed food that was not mine. The spinach, smoked paprika tofu, and salads all belonged to my roommate. Even my shelf held food that was not mine; a bag of oranges “borrowed” from my parents’ house and a half-eaten cupcake lifted from the office (from the night where misplaced keys prompted 2 cupcakes to act as dinner).

For some reason now that I am a year removed from being a student I feel societal expectation where I can either be a struggling (relatively) new grad or a starred employed adulting individual. What ever happened to taking baby-steps?

Currently I am a resident of the student-y Annex, I go home on weekends (sometimes with my laundry), and I still shape my off-hours around workouts (like I did as a student). But on the flipside, I am capable of rolling into the office on time for 9AM meetings and adult-y things like rent, packing lunches that contain quality vegetables and protein, and making sure the shoes make it to the shoe rack. The snap of my fridge adequately summarizes my current situation in life; not yet a real person but on track to being one.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Detached homes in Toronto can’t be purchased as a starter home. I went home over the weekend and before I showed my mom my latest shoe purchase I crawled into her lap, she looked over at me and said, “Baby steps.”

 

***Disclosing that I am an employee of Labatt Breweries of Canada. I was not paid to write this post. All words and thoughts are my own.

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And They Say Running Isn’t A Team Sport

“Nice job Danielle!”

My name is not Danielle but for 40 minutes and change today I ran as a member of the W45 age group. I’m happy to share that I’m pretty sure I was able to run Danielle a PB.

Over the last year I’ve been questioning my ability to ever PB again.  When that happens you start questioning why you even bothering training anymore. I’ve been telling myself that I still run because it is often still fun. But on the start line this morning all I could think was how Grade 12 Joanna would beat current-day-working-girl Joanna.

Despite my hobby-jogger status I managed to run about a minute faster than Skinny-Grade-12-Joanna today.

If you had told me this last week I would have told you were crazy. It wasn’t until Monday, while talking to a friend about her training for the SL10K that I realized I wanted to run. Talk about unrealistic goals since I didn’t even have a bib. And the blackmarket for the SL10K bibs was apparently more bullish than anything I own on the TSX.

I’ve never met Danielle but through a mutual friend she gifted me her bib. But she didn’t just give me a piece of paper with a few numbers on it, she also gave back to me one of the reasons to why I run.  Even if I didn’t run a great time, it feels good to know that I can beat Skinny-Grade-12-Joanna.

Of course this wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for the girlfriend that helped me by-pass the race marshals (without the need to hop the fence) to get into the red corral. They say running isn’t a team sport but I’m telling you it took a team to even get me to the startline.

Finally, huge thanks to my Masters training group who have helped me realize it is possible to balance work and training. Thanks for all the laughs and fun at prac that have kept me in the game. Just don’t ask me to run a half marathon PB anytime soon.

Yours till the Friday office beers + too strong martinis, 1:30AM pre-race bedtimes, and peanut m&m breakfasts.

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The Vegan Lasagna for Those That Don’t Like Cheese

“Do you know what’s wrong with you? You don’t like cheese. How can you not like cheese?”

I get this question from my work neighbour every single time I bring out my cheese-less lasagna. He is also not shy in telling me that the lasagna would hold together a lot better if I had only used cheese. I must admit he is right. But this lasagna with roasted eggplant, garlicky spinach, and meaty Portobello is so delicious I wouldn’t trade it for the beautifully photographed cheesy lasagnas of the Internets.

This veggie-packed, cheese-less, meatless, and essentially vegan lasagna is actually super simple to make. The best part is it’s also freezer-friendly!

Cast of Characters

  • 1 small eggplant, roasted with olive oil & salt (I used a medium-sized Chinese eggplant)
  • 2 large Portobello mushrooms, roasted with olive oil & salt
  • 3 cups, spinach, sautéed with 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 package, extra firm tofu
  • 2 TBS, pesto (or to taste)
  • 1 jar, tomato sauce (I used White Linen Mariana)
  • 1 package, lasagna noodles (I used oven ready)

Assembly

  1. Crumble the tofu into your Magic Bullet or food processor and pulse until paste-like or with a consistency similar to a drier ricotta. Puree the roasted eggplant. In a large bowl, combine the processed tofu, pureed eggplant, and pesto.
  2. Cover the bottom of a large baking pan with tomato sauce before placing a layer of lasagna noodles (I like to briefly rinse the noodles before using them) on top. Spread 1/3 of the tofu mixture on top before topping with a layer of sautéed spinach and roasted Portobello. Repeat until noodles are used up (I usually have 4 layers of noodles, 3 layers of veggie goodies) – make sure to cover top layer with a layer of sauce.
  3. Cover with foil and bake at 400C until noodles are soft – approximately 30-35 minutes.

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**I forgot to take a photo, photo courtesy of my mom

***Sauce, noodles, spinach, Portobello, noodles, sauce &etc.

For the record, I do like some cheese– namely in the form of cream cheese frosting

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Same Content, Evolving Channels

Earlier in the month I attended a Q&A with Facebook CMO Gary Briggs. In the hour he shared gourmet donuts and touched upon the evolution of products now offered by the social media parent. As he spoke briefly about Whatsapp, Oculus Rift, Facebook Free Internet in India, and Carousel Ads my mind got drawn back to the Facebook of 2007.

When I first joined Facebook in 2007 the then Homepage was a jumble of updates of everything and nothing. I am cringing as I think of how the old homepage was filled with statuses about what one was doing at the moment in time, conversations via wall-to-walls, large photo albums filled with poor quality images, videos of fun-at-the-time moments, and Notes with quizzical lists. In a way it is astonishing at how new platforms and social media behaviours have arisen in the last 9 years. Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and FB Messenger and other messaging apps are now all channels where we share the moments that were once displayed on the Facebook homepage.

In a way, for a time period, Facebook status updates were replaced by Tweets. But today, Twitter is a platform with more media consumers than content providers. Over time this platform has evolved from being the site of 140 character micro-blogging to being a source for news, real-time events and conversations.

The mass of photos that were once uploaded to Facebook now often live on other platforms. We’ve learnt to curate our photos for Instagram. Even within Instagram I’ve noticed shifts in user trend – diminished are the days of mass food shots, selfies, and multiple event photos. IG has become the place for inspirational shots that display our lives in all the glamour and perfection that can be mustered.

The fun silly shots of the every day that once used to live on Facebook (or even IG) now belong to Snapchat. The disappearing photos and videos have become a platform for us to express ourselves more freely and in-tune with the moment. The power behind this platform is that with the disappearing shots we feel at ease to share more than just the perfect moments, additionally, with Snapchat we are more inclined to share more than just one moment from an event. Once upon a time I would have shared two or more photos from one night on IG but today we are intent on sharing the perfect moment from the night on IG, turning to Snaps for the rest of the night.

That is not to say Facebook no longer plays a role in sharing the photo content. Looking at my Newsfeed, the best of the best that is posted on IG and Snapchat often gets rerouted back to FB for the mass reach. There is obviously a battle between the social platforms in getting us to chose to share our content on a particular one (ie. Facebook has launched live video, Twitter is parent to Periscope, combatting Snapchat in a sense) but I find different platforms do play off each other. How many times have you Snapped someone a picture of something on your FB Newsfeed? I did this earlier today.

What I find the most amazing about all of this is that there are no explicit rules written anywhere that state we should use a particular platform for a particular piece of content. Instead, we’ve all been able to pick up on the fellow user trends to create and post content that fits the channels. I am quite sure no memo was ever sent in regards to how one should Snapchat yet we all somehow know Snaps are meant to be vertical.

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Pass the Ha Gow, It’s Chinese New Year

At Thanksgiving my mother and I pulled out our mah jong table, a table that is likely older than I am, when we learnt that my mother’s youngest sister and my younger cousins didn’t know how to play. I was in shocked into silence.

The revelation that the younger family members didn’t know how to play this traditional game was overwhelming. My parents taught me to play mah jong when I was very young. This game of luck and pattern recognition is as familiar to me as ordering ha gow when we go dim sum. In my mind, like dim sum, mah jong is a cornerstone of the Cantonese culture.

Last week I surprisingly found myself in the position where I was the one demanding for the traditional Chinese New Year dinner. While my extended family had mentioned getting dinner together, no one, none of the adults, actively tried to make plans for this holiday that even other cultures are aware of. I had a Chinese New Year lunch with colleagues in my calendar, the special edition CNY 8-pack on my desk, but no concrete plans for dim sum, pekking duck, or mah jong with family.

I am not okay with this.

We live in an awesome country that is supportive of multiculturalism so why is it that we’re not embracing our culture more?

This instance has opened up my eyes to how we as individuals need to make more of an effort to actively embrace and share our culture with those that share it and even those that don’t – if we don’t, there is opportunity for it to dilute and even disappear.

Ps.

I’m sorry but while I understand it is a busy time of year for those of us with work, exams, and other extracurriculars but as long as you’re part of my family we’re going to make time for ha gow, mah jong, and the traditional wishes that come with the red pockets.

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***Chinese New Year and SB50 ready!

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