Living a Joy-Filled Life

Why think about choices?

I’ve been soul-searching recently. Delving into my attitudes towards myself, my career, my relationships with friends and dating. I’ve reflected a lot on the nature of choice and motivation. Two questions continually resurface themselves.

  1. What are my values and beliefs?
  2. What does my ideal future look like?
  3. Is that ideal vision reasonably achievable and aligned with my values?

Where do our beliefs originate?

I’m slowly training myself to see the advice I’ve gotten from parents, teachers, friends, colleagues, and books is not what defines me. This advice is important to me, but it isn’t 1) my belief system or 2) the belief system I need to rebel against. It is a set of beliefs I’ve gathered that help inform my personal beliefs and practices.

I’ve found I am often motivated to figure out ways to 1) satisfy others’ expectations or 2) rebel against others’ expectations. Neither of these is a healthy decision-making method. This realization is not a slight on the people I love and surround myself with. It is an acknowledgement that I am responsible for the choices I make and the lifestyle I live. I alone can be assertive, express personal integrity, make conscious choices, live purposefully, accept myself, and be responsible to my family, friends, community, country, and religious institution.

With this personal responsibility comes tremendous power. It requires tremendous vigilance against my inclination to satisfy others or to rebel against others.

Over the past few years I’ve leaned towards challenging the status quo of the communities I am a part of. I felt these communities (family, friends, church, political system) assumed that I would: wait patiently for an acceptable wife (because good things come to those who wait), give up everything for my eventual kids (because it’s my duty and I’m a selfish millennial if I don’t), buy a house in a boring neighborhood, severely restrict my ability to travel, deal with crippling anxiety over the fact that I don’t control anything in my life anymore, and live a life that was somewhat happy but lacked adventure and spontaneity. These are gross generalizations. Reality is never so simple. I don’t mean to discount these things. I do believe they are valuable. But they are valuable because I find them valuable, not because I either desire to express obedience or rebellion against the powers and people who preach these values. My association of my own life choices with a reaction to others’ is the source of the judgements I’ve made about those choices. Thus I hear others’ say things like “marriage is all about sacrifice” and “it’s not as easy to travel when you have kids” and my immediate reaction is to fight against these things because they sound terrible. A healthier option would be to evaluate the pro’s and con’s of each lifestyle choice from the way their ultimate impact on my life as a whole. The way people I see as authority figures and influencers communicate their “life advice” feeds into my reaction to them. However, it is my duty to take what they say in this context: people are naturally inclined to present themselves as heroes and martyrs and leave out the positive aspects of decisions. The positive aspects of marriage, children, and sacrifice are difficult to communicate because these are lived experiences, whereas the loss of one’s freedom is nebulous and easy fodder to fearmonger single persons.

Looking back at past choices

I can admit that I’ve certainly erred on the side of adventure and spontaneity. I’ve sought out travel, company, and activities that feed this desire. This desire was and is primarily based as a reaction to the beliefs I feel it is assumed I am supposed to have by those around me. Don’t misread this that I’ve destroyed my life or made destructive and dangerous decisions. I haven’t. But, I’ve lived and made choices with the fear that, if I don’t, my ultimate fate rests in a boring, pointlessly sacrificial life. I often allow fear, guilt, and respect be the benchmark for my choices, whether a benchmark to follow or eschew.

Short-term thinking

I was living for pleasure. Pleasure in rebellion. Pleasure in doing my own thing. Pleasure in feeling free from the belief systems which I felt had predetermined my life in ways that made me extremely uncomfortable. By pleasure I mean short-term reactionary behavior.

Reactionary Thinking

At the heart of these choices was reaction. I wasn’t doing what made me joyful and satisfied. I was was reacting. I am reacting. Reaction is not self-definition. It is not true freedom. It doesn’t represent respect towards oneself or towards anyone else. Reaction is not an act of personal integrity. It is a poor motivation to do something out of pure spite or pure obedience, without other reasons.

Joy and Pleasure

The contrasting, yet similar words, joy and pleasure come to mind. Pleasure is reactionary. It is a response we get from reacting to our senses. It can be a reaction to the way our bodies feel, the way we feel about a person, a belief system, or a reaction we want to have to any situation. Pleasure is not bad in itself.

Joy is a deeper sense of satisfaction that something we see or do aligns with the way we believe or wish the world would be. Joy lasts. Joy has a sense of personal ownership. If you feel joyful about something it is because you felt you a personal stake in  what happened. Joy can lead to pleasure. Joy is usefully pleasureable. But joy is deeper than pleasure. Joy can withstand periods of heartache and trials. Joy has no baggage. There is a fullness of meaning to it that you know when you feel it.

I don’t believe that pleasure is bad. Pleasure in a cold glass of beer on a hot day. Pleasure in seeing a pretty girl walk by. Pleasure in completing a paper or complex work task.

Identifying joyful things 

But all our lives need joy. Joy is an indicator that we’re living a life…

  1. Conscious of itself
  2. Accepting of itself
  3. Responsible for the impacts of our actions.
  4. Assertive
  5. Purposeful
  6. Wholly integrated between our thoughts, words, and actions.

Identifying the things in our lives that are purely reactionary (or purely obedient) to a set of rules or expectations others have of us will increase our sense of meaning and purposefulness and bring a sense of joy to our lives. This applies to people of any belief, religion, or lack thereof.

What brings you joy? What brings you pleasure but not joy? What in life are you doing to satisfy or react to others’ expectations?

In visioning one’s life. I believe we need to evaluate those things that bring us joy and double down on them. Then we should find the things that we’re doing for pleasure (i.e. reactionary or obedient). And these things should be evaluated. This exercise will help us live a happier, more sustainable, and more fulfilled life. It will help us find our own voice and desires within the context of a noisy society, community, and friend group, and family.

Owning your life

This isn’t to say you’ll end up with beliefs different from those around you. The point is that you’ll end up owning your beliefs. You will stand by them. They will bring you joy. Almost all of us have the ability to seek out what we believe to be true and just and valuable in this world and to strive to double down on those things. We also have a need to eliminate short-term, reactionary thinking.


Taking the journey to define one’s own values is important. It helps clarify where we can be fulfilled and where we are wasting your time. It will be evident in the things that bring lasting joy vs. things that are reactionary or obedient for a quick sense of pleasure.  Every person, despite having differing beliefs, can live a life that is integrated in thoughts, words, and actions. This life can provide deep fulfillment and joy that comes from within, not as a reaction to anyone or anything else.






Why you need to visit Austin, Texas

I recently returned from a week in Austin, Tx for the sole purpose of leisure and enjoyment with my brother and good friend. My brother made the suggestion to us and we all hopped onboard. We had a great place to stay with a friend. It was super helpful to have someone who could help point us to the top spots in the city.

I was impressed with Austin. The city is packed with amazing food, bars, and teeming with life. The people were friendly. The swimming holes were packed, yet chill. I recommend Austin for a travel destination. I will detail below the foods and activities we enjoyed. This is not exhaustive, but we did get around town. 35 restaurants & 4 swimming holes.

I brought a minimalist pack on this trip: 10L. I carried essentials. Two Uniqlo Airism shirts, two pairs of Uniqlo Airism boxers, one raw denim pair of jeans (ACNE), one sweatshirt, one shoes (Onitsuka Tigers), toiletries, two pairs of Darn Tough socks, sunglasses, and one dress shirt. I packed everything in travel organizers to reduce the loose clutter in my backpack to which I’m accustomed.

This arrangement worked nearly perfectly. I wore every piece I brought. I didn’t end up with anything smelling gross. I had clothes for swimming, casual restaurants/bars, and church.

Landing Logistics
We flew into Dallas to save some cash. Austin is a more expensive airport. The round trip with Spirit airlines from PHL to DFW was only $108. I had a delay on the return which scored me a $50 voucher. We rented a car via Hotwire for a taxes-adjusted $25/day. We spent the first evening free at a Marriott I booked with recently-earned points using the Starwood Preferred Guest credit card. This card has earned me 4 free hotel stays for signing up. The Four Points Sheraton in Dallas/Fort Worth North was spacious, contemporary, and clean.

Dallas’ downtown seemed uninteresting. I was intrigued by the Deep Ellum and Uptown districts. These areas house Dallas’ hip and wealthy. I was impressed by the selection of bars, restaurants, and the vivacity of the residents. Dallas, to my surprise, felt updated, sleek, and refined. Young professionals in impeccable dress sipped cocktails and dined on sushi. Not what I expected, being the ignorant Yankee I am.

Texas is all about comfort foods. Briskets, tacos, steak they did well. The top Italian and Japanese were lackluster. I’ve detailed the highlights below.

Empa Mundo: Delicious & Cheap Empanadas filled with brisket. A blend of Tex and Latino.

Empa Mundo

Brown’s BBQ: Some of the best brisket we tried in Austin. The beef was tender, juicy, and fell apart. This brisket had the smokiest fat.

Browns BBQ Austin, TX

Torchy’s: My favorite taco place. Torchy’s has perfect meat execution, strong flavors, and unique varieties. A stop in Austin without Torchy’s would be unfathomable.

Tacodeli: Another great choice for a more premium beef cut. The tenderloin in the Cowboy taco was soft, charred, salty, and savoury. The fresh grilled flavor was masked by the fresh vegetables.

Micklethwait Craft Meats: Another well-executed brisket. We got there early to skip the line. This brisket is juicy, fatty, and smoky. There is a fat marbling that brings flavor to the whole brisket cut.

Halal Gurus: This was not on the list but stood out. Crispy lamb over rice. The lamb was juicy, savoury, and seasoned in a middle eastern tradition. The yellow rice tasted of a deeply complex stock and executed to optimal softness. Lettuce strips, diced tomato, and Caesar dressing brought cool flavors to balance the flavor profile.

Halal Gurus, Austin, Tx

Don Japanese: This recommendation came from Reddit. I had left it off the list and they called me out. I’m glad they did. Don is cheap. Don makes super fresh rice boxed dishes with the delicateness and intrigue of an authentic Osaka street food stand. There’s no surprise the restaurant was packed with young Asian college students. Their dishes are rice covered in a well-executed, subtly flavored protein.

Juan in a Million: A massive filling breakfast burrito for cheap. The flavors are balanced.

Stony’s Pizza: The perfect cap to a boozy evening. Stony’s crust is soft, a bit wet, with savoury cheese and a touch of grease. This was a pleasant surprise. Did not expect well-executed pizza in Austin.

Also, it’s not an Austin spot per se, but the area has plenty of In N Out burgers. If you haven’t tried these, you need to . This is certainly not a secret. But In N Out has awesome fast food.  Order a Double Double Animal Style.

Disappointed with..
Uchi: A highly rated Sushi joint. The happy hour was loud and obnoxiously crowded. The service was slow. Their plates were mediocre by Japanese standards.

Salt Lick: A very popular BBQ refuge way outside town. The location is cool. It’s nestled next to a vineyard. However, the brisket and ribs lacks smokiness and were poorly executed. The connective tissue remained unbroken.

Dylan’s BBQ in Dallas: Surprisingly poor brisket for Texas. Connective tissue was unrendered and bite had significant stick and chew.

Fricano’s: Austin’s take on an Italian deli is a miss. The diagonally cut sandwiches were warm, meat was of mediocre quality, and the flavors weren’t well-balanced or even Italian.

For more details view my extended reviews on

Swimming Hole Standouts
Sculpture Falls- Deep in the Austin Greenbelt there’s a large hole. 150-200 people gathered with a makeshift boombox and small granite jumping rocks 6 feet high.

Pace Bend State Park- A bit farther from town. This peninsula on Lake Travis has a dope variety of cliff heights, views of the Lake, and a youthful crowd.

Pace Bend Cliffs

Rio Vista Park- A crowded wide stream with man-made rapid chutes. There were a ton of people at this one on Memorial Day. 300 people.

Rainey street is a row of twenty bars that were recently houses. The area has a residential feel. Yet, it was consistently LIT (i.e. crowded.) The crowds were calm & friendly.

Sixth Street is a party zone. The police block off the street for foot traffic only. There are 50-75 bars all with lines out the door. The streets are packed with young party-goers from all other the world.

Austin is super fun. There are tons of food trucks with exceptional food. People are polite. The town is not obnoxiously hip or weird. It’s big enough to support a full week of adventure yet small enough to feel manageable. It’s clean and contemporary. Austin is a great place for a vacation.



Austin, Texas Top Cheap Eats June 2017


I’m going on vacation to Austin in a couple weeks so, as is customary, I’ve built a spreadsheet of the first 950 Yelp one-dollar sign ($) search results. I then filtered and sorted based on my experience to generate the 49 cheap eats restaurants in Austin that I want to try. This list is not meant to be exhaustive or definitive. It is almost certainly a good place to start in discovering the best of Austin’ top cheap eats.

The Top 49 List

Yelp Rank Name # of Reviews Type of Food Yelp Rating Yelp Link
1 Abo Youssef 218 Mediterranean 5
2 Ceviche7 153 Peruvian 5
3 Sweet-n-Cheezy 118 Food Trucks 5
4 Bistro Vonish 93 Food Trucks 5
5 Tacos Guerrero 93 Mexican 5
6 The Pita Shop 78 Mediterranean 5
7 Torchys Tacos 1449 Tex-Mex 4.5
8 Koriente 1171 Asian Fusion 4.5
9 Little Deli & Pizzeria 924 Delis 4.5
10 Tacodeli 822 Mexican 4.5
11 Hey!… You Gonna Eat or What? 635 Southern 4.5
12 Cabo Bobs Burritos 600 Mexican 4.5
13 Valentinas Tex Mex BBQ 592 Food Trucks 4.5
14 Tacodeli 563 Mexican 4.5
15 Tan My Restaurant 485 Vietnamese 4.5
16 Fricanos Deli 476 Delis 4.5
17 Veracruz All Natural 441 Food Trucks 4.5
18 Slab BBQ & Beer 429 American (Traditional) 4.5
19 Inka Chicken 391 Peruvian 4.5
20 More Home Slice Pizza 389 Pizza 4.5
21 Pho Please 363 Vietnamese 4.5
22 Thanh Nhi 321 Vietnamese 4.5
23 Capital City Bakery 321 Bakeries 4.5
24 Troy 316 Turkish 4.5
25 Kebabalicious 307 Turkish 4.5
26 Pueblo Viejo 307 Mexican 4.5
27 Noble Sandwich 304 Sandwiches 4.5
28 The Big Kahuna 290 Food Trucks 4.5
29 Pita Fusion 287 Sandwiches 4.5
30 Taco Joint 284 Mexican 4.5
31 Tea Haus 283 Desserts 4.5
32 T-Locs Sonora Hot Dogs 279 Hot Dogs 4.5
33 The Halal Corner 272 Halal 4.5
34 The Best Wurst 267 Food Stands 4.5
35 Bombay Express 263 Indian 4.5
36 Peace Bakery and Deli 261 Mediterranean 4.5
37 Taco More 253 Tacos 4.5
38 Hoodys Sub Shop 252 Sandwiches 4.5
39 Way South Philly 252 Cheesesteaks 4.5
40 Paperboy 234 Food Trucks 4.5
41 Browns Bar-B-Que 233 Barbeque 4.5
42 Mi Tradicion 230 Bakeries 4.5
43 Crepe Crazy 226 Creperies 4.5
44 Cow Bells 222 Burgers 4.5
45 The Flying Carpet 218 Moroccan 4.5
46 Cabo Bobs Burritos 207 Mexican 4.5
47 Sa-Ten 206 Japanese 4.5
48 Bombay Dhaba 197 Food Trucks 4.5
49 Lebowskis Grill 194 Burgers 4.5


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