Boundaries and Spaces

Some of the things you can’t control…

How long you have to wait at the DMV. The weather. Where Earth is in the universe. If your favorite team wins the championship this year. Sunday night is the end of the weekend. Getting laid off. Who your parents and siblings are. Heartache is painful. Some drunks decide to drive. Humans can’t spread their arms and fly. Meritocracy is mostly a fiction. People need oxygen, water, and food (and many other things) to survive. You have to actually do the chores for things to be clean. Time travel is probably impossible. Others misunderstand and judge you. The typical lifespan is 71 years.

These are the boundaries of life. The things that are out of your hands and constrain who you are and what you can do. You might wish things were different. Or that you could have superpowers to overcome limits. But there’s little, if anything, you can do to change and control these things.

Some of the things you can control…

What food you eat. Who you ask out on a date. Where and when you take vacations. How you exercise. What time you go to sleep. How much of your income you save. If you play it safe or take a risk. Your outlook for the future. The city you make your home. Being better informed. Caring about what other people think of you. Your attachment to your phone. Learning new things. How you treat strangers and vulnerable human beings. The time you spend with the people you love.

These are the spaces. The undetermined, pliable things you can largely build and shape as you want. To do like this or like that. To prioritize or ignore. To do the same way for a while, or evaluate and change as you go.

A lot of being able to live well comes down to understanding the things you can’t control and the things you can. The things that guide and limit our path, and the things that we can do the way we want.

We don’t have superpowers. We’re not powerless. We are people. We are both limited and full of potential. Understand, explore, try. Know what shapes you and what you can shape.

Find your place in the boundaries and spaces.

Own It

Have you ever found yourself in denial? In denial, looking for a believable explanation why you didn’t do anything wrong?

Sometimes we try to preempt the desperation for explanation by acting in ways that can be qualified in a favorable way later. By looking for the sweet spot of ambiguity as you go. Plausible deniability. Intentionally doing just enough so that there’s wiggle room. Keeping your opinions and participation vague by design so that you can wait to see how people respond.

If others like what you did, you can stand tall with pride, take all the credit, and let the praise wash over you. If others don’t like what you did, you can deny away and distance yourself from what happened.

I didn’t say that. That’s not what I meant. I wasn’t in charge of it. I was going to but I couldn’t. I didn’t know about it. It wasn’t me.

You’ve never done that, right?

Plausible deniability has become a way of being for many. Relationships are scary. Bosses are scary. Looking like a fool or a failure is scary. Making mistakes and dealing with the consequences is scary. Best to make sure you have a way to keep up appearances in case things go south. Staying on the path of plausible deniability keeps you in the safe zone.

But safe is not where life is. It might prevent you from pissing someone off or losing followers on social media. But it will also prevent you from being your real self and having real relationships with other people.

Expressing ideas and opinions you stand behind, making mistakes, and confidently trying things that might fail are essential to becoming a more flourishing person. If you get knocked down, you learn how to get back up stronger and wiser.

So stick your neck out. Be yourself. Own what you say and do. We need to embrace the scary and the relational friction and being knocked down if we’re ever going to get anywhere.

 

This Week in Upgrades: November 28

Are you still full from Thanksgiving? I’ve eaten Brussels sprouts every day since Thursday and I’m feeling like a champion. That balances out all of the pieces of pie, right?

I hope you had an enjoyable holiday. Here are some things you might have missed over the long weekend.

Some of the best and worst accents attempted in film.

The US Army has sent an eviction notice to the DAPL protesters.

In the US, 40% of food is wasted. Why do we throw away so much?

Here’s the best burger from each state. Is your favorite on the list?

Did you watch the Gilmore Girls revival on Netflix? What did you think?

What do you do when you can’t get along with your boss?

“If you want someone to listen to you, don’t offend them.”

People are making themselves miserable trying to feel happy. A reminder that happiness is more than a feeling.

Thanks, as always, for following along with Upgraded Humans. Have a wonderful week!

Happiness is More than a Feeling

Have you heard of the drug Wellbutrin? It’s prescribed primarily for people diagnosed with “major depressive disorder” or “seasonal affective disorder.”

Sometimes the people prescribed Wellbutrin have recently suffered the death of a loved one. The American Psychiatric Association’s handbook used to strongly caution against doing so. The “bereavement exclusion,” as it was known, pointed to grief as a natural process in the face of traumatic loss. Even as we had developed mood-boosting pills for just about everything else, grief was such a powerful and known agony it remained a special case to be wary about handling with antidepressants.

But in the most recent APA handbook, the bereavement exclusion was controversially removed. The line between grief and major depression has been blurred. Mourning the loss of a loved one for more than two weeks is now considered a potential mental health risk. Considered abnormal.

We live in a happy-obsessed culture. There are an increasing number of official disorders and ready-made fixes for those disorders. There’s little room left for normal moments of unhappiness–even grief. Take a pill and cheer up already. Happiness maintenance has become a whole industry. And a lot of businesses are making great profits from the millions of Americans who aren’t feeling happy.

If we stop and think for a minute, though, do we even know what it means to be happy? If I asked you to describe happiness, what does it entail?

When does it happen? Why does it happen? Can we make ourselves happy? If so, how? Is a pill a good way to support happiness?

Can we make ourselves happy all the time? Should we?

Is happiness a bodily sensation? Is it a state of being?

Is happiness maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain? Is it the feeling that happens when you eat delicious food, hear awesome music, watch hilarious comedy, have heavenly sex, consume perception-altering substances, and see Instagrammable sights? Is it having a lot of money, popularity, or power?

So many questions and so little clarity. We say happy or happiness like we’re all talking about the same thing. But are we?

Pharmaceutical companies operate with a definite sense of what they think happiness is: pleasurable brain chemistry. For them, sadness and other painful detours from happiness are simply a “neurochemical problem.” You have to get the brain chemistry right again–perhaps with a pill that they conveniently make.

Let’s be clear: there’s nothing wrong with pleasurable bodily sensation. There are some pretty great feelings from the food, the music, the comedy, the sex, the alcohol or caffeine, the views. But they always fade. You take the last bite. The final joke is told. The buzz wears off. The vacation ends. The body cools off after sex.

We even adjust to and can become bored by certain pleasures in a process called hedonic adaptation. Sometimes when you’ve had a hit of this and level out, you either need a bigger hit or a different kind of hit to achieve the same level the original pleasure gave you. This is what’s behind the vicious cycle of addiction.

Even if we could constantly find new ways to experience nearly seamless pleasure, the reality is that sometimes things just aren’t OK. No amount of retail therapy, alcohol, ice cream, sex, or whatever else we ingest or participate in can cover the hurt, confusion, and loss of self.

We experience and are meant to experience hundreds of different emotions. They’re our push-notification system for life. Not all of our experiences are positive and awesome and exhilarating. Pixar’s Inside Out nailed this truth. Sometimes joy is laced with sadness. Sometimes fear and anger need their moment. It’s not healthy to aspire to be feeling good feels all the time.

If we do aspire to that, we’re quite likely to overeat, have one-dimensional relationships, have a difficult time overcoming loss and struggle, aspire for more money without ever feeling like we have enough, equate worth with stuff rather than relationships, and worse.

That’s not what being human is about.

I believe that happiness is about wholeness. And I’m in good company. Aristotle and other Greek philosophers used the word eudaimonia, which is often translated as “happiness.” But he wasn’t talking about pleasant brain chemistry. He was talking about flourishing. About being an integrated, growing, maturing, thoughtful person. A state of being rather than a state of mind.

It’s about exercising and challenging your human capacities. About being fully human–as far as it is possible for you. It’s about finding a lasting groove rather than momentary self-gratification. Being engaged in the process of living like you’re headed somewhere. Pushing the limits of your intelligence, emotional depth, creativity, physical strength, kindness, love, and everything else that makes you you. “…To do all the characteristically human things well and from the right motives,” as Anthony Gottlieb describes it in The Dream of Reason. You see the world and yourself in the world, and there’s a powerful synergy and intelligibility.

Some days are awesome. Some days are shitty. But no matter what today feels like, we have to figure out how we’re going to be fully human in it. To flourish in it.

There is no flourishing pill. There are times when we need to grieve. To work through the hurt and brokenness. Or to work through confusion. Or to remind ourselves that we still can. These, and a million other life experiences, are “characteristically human things” to do as well as we can.

True happiness is far more than pleasurable sensation. It’s about lifelong flourishing. True happiness is a life well lived.

Keeping the World New

Have you ever felt bored and cramped by routine? Wake up, work, waste time on your phone, do chores, go out, wake up and do it again? Going through the motions feels repetitive and stale. Even food, one of the greatest of all human pleasures, can become the same old same old–familiar fuel to shove down instead of a hedonistic respite of self-care.

When we get stuck in the routine of everyday life, the world begins to feel small, all figured out, and uninspiring. I’ve had weeks where I did essentially the same activities morning to night, spending all my time either at work or at home (which are only a short distance apart). I felt like I was about to go crazy. Have you ever felt like that? What did you do to break free?

For me, I’ve come to value more and more the need to be adventurous and travel. The routine inevitably does get boring and cramped. Choosing to learn new things and explores new places keeps the world new.

This can be as easy as picking up a book or watching a documentary. People have long freed themselves from smallness and sameness through the escapism of books and film. Or, perhaps, find a neighborhood, theater, hiking trail, coffee shop, volunteer center, or other local place that you haven’t checked out yet. You can widen your world by experiencing more of your own community.

And you can definitely widen the horizon of your sense of the world by traveling even farther. Are there places you can take a day trip to or camp at a couple hours away? How about bigger cities that you’ve yet to experience? When your hometown starts to feel like the beginning and end of the whole world because that’s all you’ve seen for weeks on end, you have to physically extend your felt boundary of the world by going beyond your city limits. Travel, perhaps more than anything else, keeps the world new by exposing you to other communities and ways of life that you’re not otherwise being exposed to. Different plants, landscapes, weather, buildings, fashion, art, language, transportation, and food.

And, curiously, when you come back home, your hometown may feel new itself. It has a fresh context thanks to you broadening your horizon of experience. There’s an old saying that familiarity breeds unfamiliarity. Have you ever returned from a vacation and felt like home looked and smelled a little different? What is your home or apartment’s after-vacation smell?  (Hopefully something other than the trash you forgot to take out before you left). What does the view of the sunset look like when you get back?

After vacation, did friends, family, and acquaintances seem a bit different–a little more complex, fascinating, and enjoyable to be around? Or, inversely, did some people seem palpably toxic and in need of being avoided to a degree? Is that primarily because other people changed, or because you did?

The world and all of us in it are a lot more diverse, interesting, and enlightening than we’re aware of most of the time. It’s just that as we get caught up in the bubble of the routine the world in our experience of it starts to get smaller and smaller, and we get sucked into a pattern that oversimplifies and bores. That’s not what life’s supposed to be about.

It can be difficult to avoid the bubble, and perhaps even natural to get encapsulated in it in a culture that is so purposefully routinized. Most Americans, even if they earn vacation time at work, do not take it. We organize time in an endlessly repeating loop of five work or school days (Monday-Friday) and two rest days (Saturday-Sunday). Monday is the deflated, is the weekend seriously already over? day. Wednesday is the wait, it’s only the middle of the week? day. Friday is the woo-hoo, time to go wild and forget about this shit day. Do you know that Friday feeling? What if you could keep that kind of Friday feeling more of the time?

I really think we can by aspiring to be more adventurous at home and abroad. Does that sound a little cheesy? I suppose. But try scheduling some vacations–day trips or weeks away–to break up the endless Monday through Sunday loop. Try breaking up the daily routine by picking up a book, watching a documentary, or grabbing lunch at a new spot instead of filling the day by checking social media every couple minutes and getting the same takeout meal you had a couple days ago. See if it changes the way that you feel and perceive things. I think there’s a good chance it will.

The world is too interesting for same old same old. Be adventurous. Travel near and far. Keep the world new.

 

The Common Good: What’s Good for People?

A couple months ago, I wrote a Part I for a series of posts about the common good. It’s here if you want to check it out.

The basic idea in Part I is that our barometer for whether or not society is working for its people is too simple. That barometer is a nebulous thing we refer to as the economy. Apparently, if the economy is doing well then all of us are doing well. If the economy isn’t great, politicians and journalists start to peek at more refined measurements like new jobs created, interest rates, unemployment, or wages.

Do any of those things really get to the heart of the common good? Do they get to the heart of your life and what’s good for you?

I don’t think so. There’s an underlying problem that we aren’t sure what’s good when we say common good. And whatever good is, we don’t seem to have it in common. The economy is a kind of lowest common denominator to be able to say something about whether life is going well or not. But it doesn’t tell us much about the complex lives of actual people.

Zoom in a bit closer, and what you’ll find is:

Some do put money, career, and purchasing power at the center. For them, the economy doing well probably does indicate life going well.

Others put most of the weight on adherence to a particular religion. Perhaps for them, if we were all devotees of their worldview then society would be doing well.

Still others are strong believers in maximizing individual freedoms and liberties. The fewer limitations that exist, the more we’ll find happiness in being ourselves–however we please to do so.

And some find their greatest sense of well-being in relationships–in strong bonds with family, friends, and romantic partners.

When we talk about the common good, there are many different ideas of what’s good–none of them held in common–so we have a gauge like the economy slide in. We should talk about that.

Despite our great differences as people, we actually are quite similar. Academics refer to a whole set of shared qualities called human universals. These are the things that are true of human beings because they’re human beings, no matter the place they’re born, the time they’re alive on the earth, their political party, what their favorite sports team is, how much money they make, who they want to have sex with, and everything else that makes us distinct from one another.

Behind the pursuit of money, career, religious perfection, civil liberties, and specific relationships, there are fundamental desires we all long to fulfill.

What are they?

Surprisingly, six basic needs make up the roots of all our other longings and pursuits. The list of six comes from a sociologist, Christian Smith, who’s studied human nature and society extensively. He compiled the work of several other academics into one universal grouping.

First, the endurance of our bodies: survival, security, and pleasure. What does that entail? Avoiding injury and illness. Feeling and being healthy and energetic. Enjoying the pleasures of our senses–music, sex, food, art, and the rest.

Second, knowledge of reality. It’s hard to function if the world doesn’t make some kind of sense to you. So we all have a map in our minds how what we believe and experience fit together. The mental map we establish allows us to navigate life better, even though none of us know or understand everything.

Third, identity coherence and affirmation. That’s a bit of academic-speak for what’s actually a straightforward concept. Each of us seeks to develop a sense of self-identity and self-confidence, and have it endure and strengthen through the course of our lives. Knowing who you are, and feeling comfortable with who you are.

Number four: exercising purposive agency. OK, clearly our friendly sociologist could have given us some more accessible terms. Exercising purposive agency just means you’re able to have at least some influence or power in the world when there are results or goals you want to achieve.

Fifth, moral affirmation. Each of us, on the whole, seeks to do what we think is right, admirable, or justifiable, based on a set of ethics that makes sense to us. We do what we can to avoid fault, blame, and guilt.

Finally, social belonging and love. None of us functions very well alone. We crave and require relationships of varying depth–to know others, and be known. To be welcomed, included, and cared for. In some relationships, to a depth and intimacy best referred to as love.

Together, these six needs form a kaleidoscope of basic humanity. To fulfill these needs is to live well, a state some have called flourishing.

Which allows us to say succinctly: A society that is successfully achieving the common good is a society in which every person, individually and as a community, is able to flourish.

If a society is set up in such a way that it systematically threatens someone’s safety, it’s not yet achieving the common good.

If it systematically marginalizes, discriminates, or oppresses certain people, it has not realized the common good to its fullest potential.

If a society denies or obscures aspects of reality–things like man-made climate change or racial injustice–it is not functioning for the common good.

There are a bajillion examples.

Point the lens of the six basic needs at anything in society, and the common good comes into focus.

Is survival, security, and pleasure preserved?

Does it enhance our knowledge of reality?

Does it promote self-identity and self-confidence?

Does it allow all people to have the influence or power they need?

Does it cultivate a sense of morality, justice, and admiration for what’s right?

Does it encourage strong relationships with family and friends, and the pursuit of love?

Make sense? Is that a way of understanding the common good we can all get behind? I hope so. There’s so much more depth, beauty, and potential than what the economy can fathom.

If you don’t think so, say why in the comments. And, as always, thanks for reading. More to come in Part 3.

 

A Letter to the US of A

America,

What a time to be alive.

Kendrick Lamar and the Broadway musical Hamilton have set new standards for artistry, social commentary, and transcendent performance.

The National Park Service, “America’s Best Idea,” is celebrating its 100th year.

Automakers are about to release the first truly affordable electric cars. They’re also testing self-driving ones. We will soon see roads full of cars that do not require gasoline or humans.

Astronaut Scott Kelly just returned from a yearlong mission on the International Space Station so that we can better understand what will happen to human bodies when we start journeying to Mars and beyond.

At the same time, in recent months, we have also seen some of the most jagged edges of human nature tearing through our country. Too much of the campaign for the next president has unleashed undercurrents of discrimination and hatred. Self-interest and fear of the other have led to everything from rhetorical jabs that make people uncomfortable in their own skin, to full-on physical violence that damages bodies. Space has been opened up for many Americans to feel good about being their worst selves.

What are we doing? What are you doing?

It’s not just one person or one candidate. There’s plenty to decry about Donald Trump. As the leader of an impassioned movement, he could certainly do much more to be a unifier as he boasts. What’s unifying about promoting walls, bans, and deportations, and scapegoating and insulting people of all kinds? At the same time, he is just one individual at the forefront of the movement. There’s a collective of millions of Americans retreating to tribalism, voting for authoritarianism, and inciting violence.

No one should be subject to discomfort, injustice, or danger because their genetics and worldview are different than someone else’s. But many are experiencing exactly that.

We can’t even dialogue about some of the most urgent issues we’re facing–climate change, socioeconomic inequality, suboptimal education, and overpriced healthcare–because we’re stuck in the quicksand of primal power plays and eye-for-an-eye blows.

We are at another watershed moment as a country. The things that divide and damage are rampant. We can either reject an us-versus-them ideology and work together for the flourishing and equality of all. Or we can let the brokenness become deeper fault lines–causing more serious shockwaves than we’ve seen yet.

What do you choose? What will we choose?

America has a complicated, sometimes messy history that’s brought us to where we are. We’ve already been down paths of our worst selves. We’re wiser and stronger than that now.

It’s time to wake up and strive to be our best selves to each other. That’s making America great.

 

Tugging at the Tangle

Your life involves other people. It’s an unavoidable reality. Yes, we all need moments to ourselves, and there are times and places we can get it. But you cannot move through the world without encountering, affecting, and engaging others. Our actions and their outcomes don’t happen inside a personal bubble, separate from everyone else. We’re tangled together. “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world,” as John Muir poetically stated.

Perhaps this seems like an obvious observation. Unless a person lives alone in a cabin in the woods, of course life entails experiences with other people. Fair enough. But how often do we get so caught up in our own stuff that we don’t even think about the other people around us?

It’s easy to get self-absorbed. It’s easy to get preoccupied with the parts that only concern you. I need to get to that place. I need to finish this thing. I need that to feel better. I need this, and I need it to happen now.

But you don’t exist in isolation. You’re tied up with the rest of the world. Whether we’re paying attention to it or not, our actions have consequences for other people. To navigate that, we have to learn how to ask good questions.

It starts with one big one. Before everything you’re about to say or do, pause and ask yourself:

How will what I’m about to do affect other people?

It’s broad, for sure. But that’s the point. Asking it shakes you out of selfishness, narrow vision, or distraction, and begins to open your mind to what the people around you are doing and how you might be altering their experience.

When you ask the one question, others emerge that are variations on the theme.

Will what I’m about to do make someone feel ashamed of who they are?

Will it limit someone else’s chances for success?

Will it make someone feel like an outsider?

Will it make someone embarrassed to be associated with me?

Will it obstruct someone’s ability to complete things they need to get done?

Will it threaten someone’s health or safety?

Will it invite envy?

Will it cast someone in a bad light?

Will it violate someone’s trust?

Will it cause someone to worry?

Will it undercut someone’s joy?

And a million others. Maybe a few have already come to mind.

Most actions will involve several questions at once.

Yelling at someone you love is quite likely to cause a number of things to occur. Making them feel bad about who they are. Rattling their psyche and possibly making them feel like their safety is threatened. Violating their trust. Undercutting the joy they had been feeling.

A politician who acts in a racist or xenophobic or elitist manner is liable to damage the lives of thousands or even millions of people. Limiting their chances for success. Making them feel like they’re worthless or an outsider. Impinging on their safety. And more. People of power or prestige have a disproportionate impact–one person’s actions can shape the experience of numerous others.

But we don’t have to be popular or powerful for our actions to have significant consequences for others. When you gun through the yellow light, you may think you’re harmlessly getting somewhere a little quicker because you didn’t have to wait for the next light change, but it acutely threatens pedestrians and other vehicles. When you show up late or are off your game at work, it may feel like your workday is the only one that’s different, but it heavily burdens and frustrates your co-workers’.

With practice, the questions come faster and more focused. Throughout the day, we start to make better decisions. Interestingly, there’s often a heightened amount of health and happiness than had we approached things selfishly. You flourish more because you’ve done what you could to make sure others are flourishing around you. Human well-being does not have to be the zero-sum game it’s made out to be.

We are all tangled up together. What is your tugging doing to others?

 

Eating Well: Food Doctrine of the Mean

Scallops and Juniper
Photo Credit: Netflix

Food is the most universal language. In many places of the world, you can get by without knowing a word of Spanish, Mandarin, or French. They are widely spoken, but not wide enough to encompass all of humanity. No single, literal language does. But if you’re a human being anywhere, you cannot get by for more than a handful of days without consuming and digesting some kind of edible flora or fauna. The cultivation and intake of food are some of the most fundamental activities of being a person. We have to eat. As such, much of our civilization and culture has emerged around the things that constitute a meal and their sources. Over the course of the last few hundred years, many and varied branches of a thoroughgoing food industry have grown, and we now find ourselves high up in the canopy of the culinary tree without a view or an interest in the trunk and roots below that led to its growth.

We now watch food competitions on television and take smartphone pictures of food seemingly as much or more than we spend time eating it. We order out, drive through, and snack on the go while our pans and pantry collect dust at home. We readily recognize the sight of plastic-wrapped packages of meat in bulk without having any idea of how the animal was raised and butchered. We have kids who struggle to identify tomatoes and potatoes in their original, just-picked state. There are chefs and food industry experts who are nearly as popular and well known as Hollywood celebrities are for film.

We are enraptured by the consumption of food. There are two polar extremes. On the one hand, trying too hard: bombastic, absurdist gastronomy with excessive technique and uncomplementary ingredients forced together (which the average person will largely never be able to taste or learn to make anyway). On the other, indolence: processed junk with grotesque amounts of sugar, fat, and carbohydrates encouraging us to indulge in foods that undermine our well-being. In both, there is a lack of understanding true craft—knowing the essential interconnections in ecosystems where edible plants and animals grow, what constitutes quality, true skill, and approachability. Food is the universal language, but few of us are fluent anymore—even many chefs. We live in one of the two extremes. We’ve lost the meaning of a well-prepared meal and the proper amount of reverence it deserves.

In such a paltry conceptual environment, Netflix’s original series Chef’s Table could not have been released at a better time. It’s food television, to be sure, but it supersedes existing programs in a way that makes it more of an artistic philosophical reflection than pop entertainment. Chef’s Table compellingly presents a middle ground between the extremes of fetishized gastronomy and profane processed foods. Each of the chefs featured are struggling to break free from the status quo of the culinary world and provide people with a resonant, grounded food experience.

Massimo Bottura has established the third-best restaurant in the world by simply capturing the essence of traditional small-town Italian flavors and presenting them with the playfulness of a child sneaking tastes in a grandmother’s kitchen. Dan Barber is a prophet for understanding that the best flavors are inherent to the best ingredients, which is ultimately dependent on the health of the soil and the rhythms of nature. His literal farm-to-table restaurant at a barn in rural New York just won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurant—the Best Picture Oscar of cuisine. Francis Mallmann is a revered chef with the utmost classical technique, who prefers to cook over open fire on a remote Patagonian island with the closest of companions—journeying through life as a sort of renegade band. Niki Nakayama uses the memory of past meals and personalization to every diner to imbue her cooking with additional layers of curated thoughtfulness and relatability. Ben Shewry shows that exceptional food need not be haughty or showy, that creativity often comes out of necessity, and that care of family and friends is just as important as aspiration for brilliance. And in the season finale, it becomes fully clear that eating well is not limited by place or expectations of how a restaurant and its kitchen should function. Magnus Nilsson prepares some of the most renowned food in the world by picking and preserving what arises in each season in remote Sweden—later preparing it in the intimacy of a 12-seat, tightly-staffed lodge.

Each chef narrates their journey of ambition and failure—of perseverance and gaining insight and originality. Like Aristotelian virtues, flourishing occurs in the balance or mean between the extremes. Culinary arts as a genuine art is about: humility in relation to the dirt that produces everything we take and use to eat; learning and sometimes failing at technique to be able to later freely play with it like a virtuoso instrumentalist; and connecting with other people by prioritizing simplicity and enjoyment over pride and recognition. Show creator David Gelb hopes people, “watch these films and then look at their own lives and the places where they eat and see how it changes their perspective.”

In The Unquiet Grave, Cyril Connolly writes, “The secret of happiness (and therefore of success) is to be in harmony with existence, to be always calm, always lucid, always willing, ‘to be joined to the universe without being more conscious of it than an idiot,’ to let each wave of life wash us a little farther up the shore.”

This kind of harmony—such moderation between trying too hard and indolence—is the way the chefs in Chef’s Table engage cooking, and the earth that brings about the bounty of what can be cooked, in preparation for the people who eat it. We, too, can find genuine happiness through food by coming to see the culinary mean between the extremes as we dine.

Space: The Necessary Frontier

Nothing lasts forever. Nothing we know of now, anyway. Our favorite athletes retire and move on from the sports stage they once starred on. Shows like Mad Men inevitably arrive at their series finale and conclude the stories they began years ago in their pilots. Jazzercise is no longer a trendy way to work out; the popularity of CrossFit today will likely fade in much the same way over the next decade or two. Young siblings grow up and move out—the days of everyone coming home from school and work every night for dinner together can never return. As difficult as it is to fathom the length of time, the universe is just under 14 billion years old, which means it hasn’t been around forever—and it won’t be around forever in the future. It’s hard to anticipate the forthcoming end of something when you’re right in the middle. It seems too far off, or too unlikely to happen. That’s just getting started. There are lots of seasons left. It’s cemented its place in society. That’s at least several years away. I just can’t ever see it changing from the way it is. Change of home is probably the hardest to process. You grow deep roots with the friends you make, the schools you attend, arts and cultural centers you frequent for entertainment, neighbors, favorite places to eat and drink, annual celebrations, the recognizable contours of local topography, seasonal transitions, and overall way of life—then uproot everything to go try to settle in elsewhere. Will the roots go as deep there? What do you do with the trauma of the severed, irreplaceable roots from where you left? Whether you’ve called a place home for one year or twenty, it’s difficult and disorienting to come to the end of something that was such a constituent part of who you are. The reality is that even if we’ve built a sturdy, comfortable home to pass on to our family for generations to come, one day home will have to change for all of us. Our planet, Earth, will no longer sustain the lives of people—whether we’re trying to live out of a cabin near one of the Poles, a hut close to the Equator, or anywhere in between. Eventually, our sun will run out hydrogen to burn and turn into a white dwarf. Before that, the sun will gradually get hotter and hotter as it turns into a red giant. In a little over a billion years, much of the earth will be completely uninhabitable: no plants, no animals, boiling bodies of water. This, of course, assumes that we won’t first completely wreck the planet through more anthropogenic climate change over the next several years. But whether we’re looking at 100 years or 1 billion, it’s become increasingly clear that Earth will not be our sustaining home forever. Space is not only the final frontier, as Star Trek has spiritedly suggested: it is the necessary frontier. We have to find somewhere else to journey to and make home. To do that, we obviously need a place to go and a means to get there. NBD. That colossal project is only in its infancy. We haven’t truly identified any proper earthlike planets. Mars is sort of a half-option: it’s in our own solar system, and with the right kind of engineering we could probably survive there in smaller colonies for a while. But even beyond the difficulties of radiation, bone loss, lack of indigenous oxygen, cramped living space, limited water sources, and the rest, it will succumb to the same fate as Earth with the decay and death of the sun. And though Mars is relatively close, we do not yet have an existing transportation structure to even make a one-way trip. SpaceX, the most innovative space technology company at the moment, recently had viewers around the world on a seat’s edge as they nearly landed a rocket stage for the first time, which would make it reusable—cheapening the costs of space travel and quickening the rate at which missions and innovation could take place. But comparably, that’s like someone being able to only mispronounce “bonjour” and “merci” in relation to free-flowing fluency of the entire French language. It’s stages prior to baby steps. Even infancy may be a bit of a stretch—cosmic exploration is prenatal right now. It’s all kind of a real life, race-against-time drama. Maybe we have several million years, but if we cannot reduce our negative impact on the planet and stabilize the global warming trends, maybe we only have a handful of decades. We can’t count on millions. Can we find a new home in time? Can we develop the complex, powerful technology to get to wherever that is and survive—even flourish—on it? The reality of this urgency and necessity is part of what made the underappreciated film Interstellar so compelling. It’s not merely fiction. Even if you have artistic critiques of Christopher Nolan’s film as a film, its story is solidly founded on one possible version of our future as human beings and the challenges we face to endure (as well as why we should endure). Whether it’s from blight, unmanageable global warming, the death of the sun, or something else that makes earth inhospitable in the end, we need to adventure well beyond the frontiers of the place we call home now if we want to ensure that our own story continues. Like all things, it will not be home forever.