I am short of breath. My brow is wet with sweat, and my fingertips are tingling. I can't seem to concentrate. I'm happy, but there's this idea nagging inside of me that I might lose that very happiness I'm feeling. That is indeed the cause of my anxiety. It's not the fault of the happiness per se, but rather that idea many people have that it can't last, and that life will be unbearable once it has forsaken us.
It's been 10 years since I've adopted Buddhism as my philosophy of life, before embracing it as my religion. It's deeply improved my well-being, more so than any other spiritual practice had done before.
One of my greatest reliefs was realizing that my suffering came from my desire that all that I enjoy must continue indefinitely. I suffered from not being able to accept every little thing in life just for what it was â€" swaying, temporary, free to stay or go, whether I liked it or not. Let's face it: A new television will at some point cease to function, that shiny new car will get its first scratch, your son will grow up, women will leave you, you will lose well-paid jobs, your reputation will be tarnished. In short, everything that brings you a certain joy is beyond your control and is bound to change, without forewarning or asking for your consent.
And yet, there's no shortage of occasions for lasting and sincere happiness. Offering a smile and receiving one in return, paying someone a real compliment, that feeling when you have someone's trust, seeing a flower that broke through stone to grow, listening to a child laughing, feeling the wind, the sun caressing your skin. All of those are out there for all of us now.
This full awareness, in vogue but very difficult to practice, indeed refers to the ability I might have to feel, with each of my senses, in my utmost focus on the present moment, these things in life I would normally pay almost no attention to.
Just as a magnifying glass can concentrate rays of light into a fire, I have that power to concentrate my rays of joy and set my soul ablaze for an intense moment of happiness. So, why can't we just all feel this joy in its purest form, without it being diluted by the anxiety, the fear it might slip away?
Feeling the moment in Tokyo â€" Photo: Mrhayata
All cognitive behavioral therapies, as well as all forms of spiritual wisdom, insist on the importance of working on our thoughts. Of course, when someone close to us dies or is in an accident, it's hard not to attribute your emotion to the event. The feeling of disgust provoked by an abhorrent crime is a revealing example too. And yet, though it's difficult to admit, our emotions stem from our thoughts, our perceptions, rather than from the events we experience. When we tell ourselves that a friend's passing has relieved him or her from great suffering is a way to offer solace through the rationality of thought.
But in the case of the happiness-related anxiety, it has more to do with the anticipation of an event that hasn't happened yet. The discomfort and sense of insecurity that this idea can cause easily grows into anxiety from the moment you convince yourself you'll be unable to overcome the impediment, that you'll be powerless to free yourself from that threat.
Albert Ellis, the American psychologist and founder of the rational emotive behavior therapy, left us the 12 irrational ideas that poison our existence and which, vigorously maintained by our thoughts, efficiently kills the strongest of joys. Here they are:
The idea that it's absolutely necessary for adults to be loved by significant others for almost everything they do.
The idea that certain acts are awful or evil, and that the people who perform such acts must be severely condemned.
The idea that it is horrible when things don't go the way we long for them to.
The idea that human misery is invariably caused by external factors.
The idea that if something is or may be dangerous or fearsome, we should be upset by and endlessly obsessed about it.
The idea that it is easier to avoid than to face life difficulties and self-responsibilities.
The idea that we absolutely need something (or someone) stronger or greater than ourselves to rely on.
The idea that we should be extremely competent, intelligent, and achieving in all possible respects.
The idea that because something once strongly affected our life, it should affect it indefinitely.
The idea that we must have total and perfect control over things.
The idea that human happiness can be achieved by inertia and inaction.
The idea that we have virtually no control over our emotions and that we cannot help feeling disturbed about things.
This transformation from one type of thinking to another, simply admitting the real and genuinely reasonable source of our suffering that these ideas represent is, as far as I'm concern, a daily struggle, despite all my efforts to keep these 12 ideas away from my mind.
Still, it helps to be reminded of them. And it relieves me to admit that they're the backdrop of the emotional misery I create for myself and that I should just let go of them. It shows me there's a solution. I hope that you can find it too.
*Martin Comeau is a Québec-based programmer. This essay was originally published in French on Medium.
This is Worldcrunch"s international collection of essays, which includes pieces written in English and others translated from the world's best writers in any other language. The name for this collection, Rue Amelot, is a nod to the humble address in eastern Paris that we call home. Send ideas and suggestions to email@example.com.
Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.
It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.
More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.
But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:
Cleaner aviation fuel
The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.
While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.
Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.
In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.
Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.
High-flying ambitions for the sector
Hydrogen and electrification
Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.
One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.
Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.
New aircraft designs
Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.
International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.
The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.
Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airportcommons.wikimedia.org
Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.
The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.
Data privacy issues
However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.
Auckland Airport, New Zealand
The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?
At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.
Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.
40% of Swedes intend to travel less
According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.
But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.
At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.
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