Switch to mobile version

David Cain

abundant tree

Everyone who was once a schoolkid knows the two different phases of Summer holidays.

Waking up on the first Monday of summer holidays is a feeling of unparalleled abundance. School seems light years away. It really feels like you have unlimited time.

This feeling continues until one morning in August, when you look at the calendar and have the opposite feeling, because there are only ten days left before school starts.

These two feelings, abundance and scarcity, are ever-present forces in our lives. Often whole weeks, or months, or even years take the general tone of one or the other. But we also swing back and forth between them throughout each day.

You look at the clock, expecting it to be six-something, and it’s 7:48. A feeling of scarcity descends immediately.

You remember this coming Monday is a holiday. A whoosh of abundance.

You arrive at the show and there’s a huge lineup for tickets. You catch a news report about a sluggish economy. Your girlfriend says she doesn’t want fries but will just “Have some of yours.” Scarcity.

Your boss tells you a deadline has been pushed back. Netflix adds a whole second season of Happy Valley. You’ve done every bit of laundry in the house and it’s all clean and folded. Abundance.

Abundance is the feeling of “All I need right now, and more”. It is the feeling that you can rely on your future, on your personal world, to provide for you.

Scarcity is the sense that it’s uncertain that what you need will be available. It activates the parts of the brain that deal with competition, urgency and despair.  Read More

Learn to Meditate

Virtually everyone knows about the benefits of daily meditation, but relatively few people do it in the West. Even though everyone would like to lower their stress and improve their quality of life, people seem to think meditation is weird, confusing or difficult.

It's simpler and easier than you probably think, and I'd love to show you. Learn more here.
Post image for The Two Ways to Move Through Life

Whether we’re aware of it or not, we basically move through life in one of two ways, and each of us has a favorite. We’re either moving towards what we want, or we’re moving away from what we don’t want.

It might seem like moving away from what you don’t want accomplishes the same thing as moving towards what you do want. If you’re successfully moving away from pain, dullness and disappointment, what could you be moving towards, other than pleasure, excitement and fulfillment? It should be a simple matter to decide which way to go.  Read More

Learn to Meditate

Virtually everyone knows about the benefits of daily meditation, but relatively few people do it in the West. Even though everyone would like to lower their stress and improve their quality of life, people seem to think meditation is weird, confusing or difficult.

It's simpler and easier than you probably think, and I'd love to show you. Learn more here.
Post image for 88 More Truths I’ve Learned About Life

In the early days of this blog I published what I thought was a throwaway post, entitled “88 Important Truths I’ve Learned About Life”. It was nothing but 88 sweeping aphorisms I had collected as they occurred to me, delivered with a bit of snark. But it was a huge hit and still brings new people to Raptitude.

Today I can’t bear to look at it. It’s just too preachy. But I understand the appeal. It’s fun to throw down an aphorism, and ask yourself if you really believe it. Here’s what I’ve learned (I think) in the seven years since. Also quite preachy.

***

1. Growth means doing things that are hard for you right now. There’s no other way.

2. The news doesn’t show you how the world is. It shows you whatever will make you watch more news.

3. Metal tools and utensils cost a lot more, but last about twenty times as long as plastic ones.

4. Good listeners are rare. When you find one, keep them in your life. And pay it forward.

5. Nobody sees you the way you see yourself, which should probably come as a relief.

6. Often nobody wants to make decisions for the group. Everyone appreciates the person willing to propose a time or a place.

7. Every generation thinks the one that came before them and the one that came after them are the worst.

8. For whatever reason, everywhere in the world human beings are willing to spend enormous amounts of money and time on alcohol.

9. Almost all casual photos would be improved simply by getting closer. You don’t need to get people’s entire bodies in the frame.

10. You don’t really know someone until you know what they struggle with most.

11. Not long ago, tea, sugar and spices were really hard for ordinary people to get. But they’re still as delicious as they always were. So enjoy!

12. If you spend a week tracking how you actually spend your waking hours, you will probably be shocked.

13. Friendships take work to maintain, and it’s possible the other person is doing all the work. Read More

Learn to Meditate

Virtually everyone knows about the benefits of daily meditation, but relatively few people do it in the West. Even though everyone would like to lower their stress and improve their quality of life, people seem to think meditation is weird, confusing or difficult.

It's simpler and easier than you probably think, and I'd love to show you. Learn more here.
Post image for How to Be Patient

A few months ago someone asked me to point them to everything I’ve written about patience: what it is and how to develop it. I don’t think I’ve ever addressed the topic directly, even though I’ve danced around it a lot.

I now consider patience to be a pretty fundamental life skill, one which directly determines whether a particular elevator ride, social event, drive home or post office visit is an easy experience or an awful one. Whether we can be patient or not is a high stakes matter, because life is at least 90% those kinds of experiences.

I guess some amount of patience develops inevitably, as you get older and gradually realize how self-defeating it is to revile the present, since you spend every instant of your life there.

Still, I can’t recall ever being explicitly taught patience, only being commanded to “be patient!” by teachers, parents and other authority figures. I suspect most people learn the concept in exactly this sort of context, as something that’s no fun at all yet is deemed necessary by adults for reasons they can’t explain, like “work” or “honesty”.

And of course they don’t tell you how. Nevertheless, over the decades I have caught on to its uncanny ability to make life vastly less painful, and have even learned to cultivate it on purpose. So I will tell you what I know, inquiring reader from months ago, and anybody else who’s interested. Apologies for the wait.

Patience is really nothing more than the willingness to live life at the speed at which it actually happens. And of course, life only ever happens at the speed at which it actually happens, whether what’s currently happening is fun or not.

However, our willingness to accept that reality isn’t something we do automatically, and that willingness makes a huge difference to the quality of our experience in life.

Sometimes we can speed up the boring or unpleasant parts with a timely request or suggestion, but impatience doesn’t exactly help us do that. Stewing in a queue doesn’t make it move more quickly, it just makes the time you’re already spending there more unpleasant.

This kind of stewing is just a basic urge to deny reality, which—I’m very sorry—includes many stretches where we are not getting what we want, where no uncertainty is being resolved and no wishes are being fulfilled.

That’s not ideal, but what makes those dry stretches go from unremarkable to insufferable is our trying to live as though they shouldn’t exist, like they’re some kind of cosmic mistake. What? The plane needs some unexpected maintenance? I didn’t agree to that!  Read More

Learn to Meditate

Virtually everyone knows about the benefits of daily meditation, but relatively few people do it in the West. Even though everyone would like to lower their stress and improve their quality of life, people seem to think meditation is weird, confusing or difficult.

It's simpler and easier than you probably think, and I'd love to show you. Learn more here.
guy near bench

I tried something new with my most recent vacation. I planned to spend seven days in Portland, visiting a friend, riding bikes, eating artisanal donuts and drinking craft beers. But I divided this week into two, and in the middle, spent an entire week at a silent retreat.

The basic idea of a silent retreat is to see how quiet the mind can get when you stop feeding it entertainment, conversation, and daydreams. Instead, you notice what’s happening inside you and around you, and come back to that when you get distracted.

Essentially you are meditating in some posture or another—either sitting, walking, eating or going to the bathroom—for the sixteen hours each day that you’re not sleeping.

It’s hard to convey just how aware a person becomes after spending more than 100 hours in meditation over seven days. The world becomes incredibly quiet and simple. You can hear eight different sounds at once, and never lose track of what direction each is coming from.

At first you’re mostly noticing the obvious things: bird songs, the breeze, the weight of doors you use, the feeling of your clothes, the creaking of floors. But then you start to notice subtler phenomena.

Your thoughts really slow down, and at a certain point become obvious, like somebody saying something in a quiet room. The mind becomes so quiet that you notice the tiniest ripples in your feelings. Our experience is full of some very subtle feedback that normally gets drowned out—tiny gut feelings, emotional residue from thoughts about certain topics, faint attractions or aversions to tiny details like the way your food is sitting on your plate.  Read More

Learn to Meditate

Virtually everyone knows about the benefits of daily meditation, but relatively few people do it in the West. Even though everyone would like to lower their stress and improve their quality of life, people seem to think meditation is weird, confusing or difficult.

It's simpler and easier than you probably think, and I'd love to show you. Learn more here.
Post image for The Art of Looking Like a Fool

You’ve probably experienced a phenomenon we could call the “Spiral of Delay”. You put off an obligation repeatedly, until it seems so stupid that you haven’t done it yet that the thought of doing it becomes almost humiliating. So you delay a little longer.

You can’t always know what costs you’ll face in embarrassment and penalties to, say, renew your tenant insurance eleven weeks late, but we all know that those costs can only get larger when you make it into sixteen weeks, or six months. Yet, so often we procrastinate anyway, for a very predictably worse outcome.

I suppose some of you do everything more or less on time, and don’t know what I’m talking about. You can click away now if you like, or you can continue to read, out of curiosity about what’s quietly tormenting many of your fellow humans.

From the emails I get, I know that many of you are horrendous procrastinators like I am, and that for you, having something on your to-do list that’s two months or two years overdue is totally normal, if not exactly comfortable.

Part of what we procrastinators worry about is that everyone will find out we aren’t really adults. We avoid a task for the usual reasons at first—we can’t find a good time this week, we need to look something up before we do it. But once we’ve delayed six weeks or six months or six years on it, we start avoiding it for a different reason: because doing it so absurdly late is revealing to the world (and maybe confirming for ourselves) that we are failed adults, incompetent people all around.

About a year ago I realized it had been about a year since I paid my yearly fee for my PO Box. I’m not sure what else happened that day, but I definitely didn’t go down to the post office.

I remembered it again three months after that. I knew it had almost certainly lapsed by then, and it needed to be sorted out. But already I felt dumb for not having acted when a responsible person would have. By that point, doing the task wasn’t just an annoying prospect, it was embarrassing one.

The usual rationalizations surfaced—they hadn’t phoned yet; maybe I had inadvertently paid for two years? Knowing I’d feel sheepish and stupid no matter when I went, it seemed not entirely unreasonable to do it later.  Read More

Learn to Meditate

Virtually everyone knows about the benefits of daily meditation, but relatively few people do it in the West. Even though everyone would like to lower their stress and improve their quality of life, people seem to think meditation is weird, confusing or difficult.

It's simpler and easier than you probably think, and I'd love to show you. Learn more here.
Post image for How Pop-ups are the Doorway to Evil and the End of the World

It is probably my least favorite information-age experience. I’ve clicked through to an article and I’m reading the first few sentences. Then, for a few seconds it seems like my computer is crashing. My ability to scroll down is taken away, the screen goes grey, and a pop-up text box appears, asking me to sign up for more articles like this one that I have not yet been allowed to read.

Sometimes they also offer a free ebook, given that obviously I’m such a fan already that I can’t wait to read more, as well as tell them how to contact me.

Everyone hates these things, so why would anyone use them? It seems like using a pop-up box to collect emails is about as smart a business move as flinging a pie at the head of every customer who enters your restaurant, asking if they’d like to try the key lime after their entree, which they may only receive once they order the dessert that’s presently hanging off their face.

Well, these sites do it because it works, by which I mean it increases weekly newsletter signups. For the online marketer—and anyone making a living online is an online marketer of some sort—income generally scales with the size of the mailing list.

If I ever add popups to this site you should shoot me. I can’t imagine I would ever be tempted, but I can see how an otherwise good person could succumb to it. Implementing them will almost always give a site owner a higher income, which is something human beings are not accustomed to saying no to.

However, the coldly pragmatic business philosophy behind implementing pop-ups on your website also inevitably results in mass extinction, global warming and a general creeping apocalypse. The connection might not be obvious so I’ll explain.  Read More

Learn to Meditate

Virtually everyone knows about the benefits of daily meditation, but relatively few people do it in the West. Even though everyone would like to lower their stress and improve their quality of life, people seem to think meditation is weird, confusing or difficult.

It's simpler and easier than you probably think, and I'd love to show you. Learn more here.
Post image for Getting What We Want Isn’t What We Really Want

There was a fascinating piece in The New Yorker recently about a man who, in the 1960s, bought a motel just so he could spy on his guests. He had always been captivated by other people’s private moments, by how differently they behave when they think they’re alone. He admits he also wanted to see them have sex.

The article is fascinating for many reasons (check it out here). But perhaps the owner’s most interesting discovery was that human beings are quite typically miserable on vacation.

Alain de Botton has written about this phenomenon: that our vacations never actually resemble the week of bliss and relaxation we expect them to be. In his short documentary The Art of Travel, he describes the hilarious—and all-too-familiar—way in which his long-awaited Mediterranean cruise unfolds as a parade of mild disappointments, even though there was nothing particularly wrong with any of it.

Getting what we want, or think we want—in those brief moments when we actually do—always seems to be more complicated and fraught than what we pictured.

But maybe getting what we want isn’t really what we want in life.  Read More

Learn to Meditate

Virtually everyone knows about the benefits of daily meditation, but relatively few people do it in the West. Even though everyone would like to lower their stress and improve their quality of life, people seem to think meditation is weird, confusing or difficult.

It's simpler and easier than you probably think, and I'd love to show you. Learn more here.
Post image for The Case For Real Smiles

If people in the far future were to unearth troves of 20th and 21st-century photographs, the first thing they might ask is “Why are they always smiling?” It would look as though something happened around 1920 that made people perpetually giddy, or even loopy.

On closer inspection, though, the researchers would realize that most of those smiles weren’t genuine, and perhaps were the product of some kind of oppressive force in 20th century society. Maybe an eccentric monarch demanded everyone appear elated all the time, not unlike how North Koreans were clearly afraid to be seen not crying at Kim Jong-Il’s funeral.

Our compulsively smiley photo culture isn’t quite as totalitarian as North Korea, but if you ever assert your right not to smile in a group photo you will definitely be viewed as a subvert. The camera operator, and maybe your fellow subjects, will scold you for trying to ruin the photo by letting it capture your actual face.

My mother is always telling me to replace my unsmiling social media photos with smiling ones. It is a permanent point of contention between us. I’ve been told I look “psychotic” when I’m not smiling, but that’s just my everyday face, and I have faith that future archaeologists studying those photos will recognize me as the sane one.

I understand why people like smiles. I like them too. They’re pleasant, reassuring, and attractive. Smiling people are more approachable. Smiles have genuine social value.

And that’s exactly why I don’t like this custom of mandatory smiling: because I love smiles, and I love that they have meaning. A human smile is one of the most beautiful sights in nature.

Their naturalness is what makes them special, and natural smiles—real smiles—are fleeting. They’re a momentary, involuntary broadcast of intense joy, goodwill or gratitude. How great they are when they’re real.  Read More

Learn to Meditate

Virtually everyone knows about the benefits of daily meditation, but relatively few people do it in the West. Even though everyone would like to lower their stress and improve their quality of life, people seem to think meditation is weird, confusing or difficult.

It's simpler and easier than you probably think, and I'd love to show you. Learn more here.
Post image for Camp Calm Returns

Finally, registration is open for season two of Camp Calm.

Those of you on the mailing list have probably heard everything I’m about to say now, and some of you have been waiting since December (!) to register. So if you already know you want to do the camp, you can register here right now.

For those who don’t know, Camp Calm is a 30-day virtual workshop for learning the basics of meditation and mindfulness, conducted mainly through email. There’s a daily lesson, a short reading, and a daily practice. There are audio components too on some days—guided meditations and now some audio essays.

Everything included, it requires 20-30 minutes a day in total, split up throughout your day as you choose. The goal is to develop a modest but consistent meditation practice that works with your lifestyle and your preferences.

Meditation now has a huge presence in pop culture. Nobody hasn’t heard of it, and almost nobody hasn’t heard of its purported benefits: reduced stress and anxiety, better sleep, improved confidence in social situations, greater openness to beauty and creativity, better habit management, and improved overall quality of life.

But so many people remain at that “interested, but not actually doing it” stage. The goal of Camp Calm is to ease you into a daily practice, where you are actually doing it. It’s all done with simple sessions of just a few minutes, removing the confusion, the sternness, and the mysticism. It will become very clear to you why people meditate, and how it can improve your own life.

Even a modest meditation practice develops mindfulness, a skillful type of attention that you can use to bring clarity and ease to virtually any moment of your life. It’s a tool that will never cease to be useful, and will never fade with age. Meditation sharpens this tool, and also helps us cultivate other healthy qualities: wisdom, patience, confidence, and calm, to name a few.  Read More

Learn to Meditate

Virtually everyone knows about the benefits of daily meditation, but relatively few people do it in the West. Even though everyone would like to lower their stress and improve their quality of life, people seem to think meditation is weird, confusing or difficult.

It's simpler and easier than you probably think, and I'd love to show you. Learn more here.
Desktop version

Raptitude is an independent blog by . Some links on this page may be affiliate links, which means I might earn a commission if you buy certain things I link to. In such cases the cost to the visitor remains the same.