Wednesday, December 19, 2007

On fatness? (honesty)

A recent Savage Love column advised that people need to tell their mates about weight problems. For someone who has always said "no man ever wants to talk about weight with a woman", this was eye opening, the letters that poured in from readers were certainly eye opening. Just another case where people avoid the extreme short term pain only to commit themselves to a constant pain lasting for years, or decades.

Read them here.

And no, this doesn't apply to my personal life. All of these letters describe people 30-50+ pounds overweight. Not that I haven't known many women who were 10 pounds above "skinny", but thought of themselves as fat...

Friday, December 14, 2007

Yes, I'm still alive (On Perspective and Liberation)

I recently went to Thailand for two weeks, and seem to have used it as an excuse to fall of the wagon in terms of work, blogging, keeping in touch, etc. Not sure why that's not that I needed a break.

Traveling in a cheap country is a crazy experience. You live this kind of lifestyle well above what you have at home. You are always eating out, taking taxis, paying for entertainment (don't use your imagination...I just mean that almost everything you do costs money). You are treated like an outsider. You are treated like you have dollar signs on your forehead. People notice when you walk by. You feel like an outsider. And then you get used to it.

There is something a little liberating about living like that, at least for me anyway. I also experienced this a little bit in Australia when I was there for a semester in 1999. What it boils down to is that because you don't know anyone, you realize that it doesn't really matter what you do.

Who cares what you look like? No one. Who cares if you make a fool out of yourself? Nobody you know will see you. There are no appearances to maintain. No reputation to live up to.

I probably don't even act differently because of it, but I feel a little different inside. More liberated.

In your home country, you CAN change your behavior to "fit in". But abroad, especially when you are a different skin color entirely, you can't fake it. You'll stick out no matter what you do. For some screwed up reason, it feels so much better to let go...society be damned!

PS - Beautiful pics of my trip can be found here, courtesy of Kip Gerenda

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Oh how I long for Average Happiness

Whether or not you enjoy Dilbert comics, you have to admit that Scott Adams, it's creator, somehow manages to always have a unique viewpoint. His latest post talks about how people are hardwired to guide each other back to the "average" amount of happiness.

If you're too sad, people try to bring you up to normal levels of happiness.
If you're too happy, people try to bring you down to normal levels of happiness.

I've never thought about it that way, but on life thus far, it seems to make sense. Although I'd never realized I was doing it consciously, I have vastly different responses to "how is life?" questions, depending on who asked. Actually, on consecutive days I might even respond differently to the same person, but tip my expressed happiness in one direction or the other depending on their current mood.

Perhaps we do this so as not to "bring down" the moods of others. Wouldn't it be better if we tipped the other way and erred on the side of making people happier?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

That tiny moment

I had to kill some time the other day, so I sat down by myself at IHOP. Of course, there are two things wrong with that sentence.
  1. I hardly ever eat out by myself
  2. I hardly ever eat at IHOP (although pancakes are fanTAStic)
For a moment, I stared out the window at an ugly stretch of road, looking at run down parking lots and storefronts, and wondered what it would be like if this was my life. On the road. Alone. In unfamiliar places.

Not that I would want that kind of life. But, for a split second it seemed as though I could be happy living a completely different life. It's like having that feeling where you just want to veer your car into the barrier or jump through a window, just to prove that you could survive.

Then the moment passes...and you wonder if you aren't a little bit crazy. My gaze drifted upwards as I came back to reality where this sign hung above my head:
Share the Gift of Happiness

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

On Religion

One thing that's interesting about religion is the two sides seem so far apart that you need to be willing to take this "leap of faith" to see things from the other side. For someone who isn't religious, it's unlikely that they will ever listen to their friend who is because it's just too easy to say "I'm not the religious type". We all believe there is a fundamental difference between believers and non-believers.

Check out this article. I believe this is the same guy who wrote about "Radical Honesty" that I talked about in this post. An "agnostic Jew", he spent an entire year living his life by the strict rules of the Bible. Some of it predictably improved his life (no gossiping for example), others un-predictably improved his life (he said he felt happier wearing all white clothing), and still others seemed to have a negligible impact (stoning adulterers).

If ever there was someone who could finally give you the religious equivalent of "I've used PC's for the last 15 years, and now I've switched to a Mac...and love it!", it's this guy.

I haven't read his book: The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible but it's getting great reviews on Amazon.

Monday, October 15, 2007

I don't have time for new friends

Have you ever said this to yourself? I have. Many times actually. Someone from my past will attempt to resurface and I don't take the bait, because I already have a full plate socially (or, so I tell myself).

It's totally lame. Can I really not spare an hour to go have drinks (well, water anyway) with someone I liked but haven't seen in years?

Unless you dislike someone, there is no reason not to stay in touch. You never know where it might lead. If nothing else, you'll feel better than sitting at home and "relaxing" in front of the TV, right?

Thursday, October 04, 2007

One man's trash

This morning, I met a guy who goes around rummaging through curbside garbage picking out the choicest items and selling them at a flea market. He said he makes between $150 and $250 per day, and he does it twice a week. It was enough for him to live on.

What really got me thinking though was that he said: "You know, I finally realized that holding out for the best price doesn't matter. Most things go for one dollar, two dollars. But you don't want to keep them. You just want to get rid of as much stuff as possible."

Then, he found a really nice purse, which he said was comparable to Louis Vuitton. I couldn't help but imagine someone walking up to him at the flea market, buying the purse, and then selling it on Ebay for significantly more that the $4 they paid him for it.

But basically, it comes down to your resources and what your time is worth. Then I imagined the whole path of this purse and just how much money was spent and earned on it (not to mention how much was kept inside!).

And even though he was rummaging through the trash looking for things he could sell for $1, you couldn't help but admire him and wonder where all that stuff would end up.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

It's possible

Is it possible that almost everyone of us actually knows what we need to do to be better at life, but we just don't have the determination to make it happen?

Undoubtedly, the answer is yes.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Oh, the things I've learned

Someday I'll start writing them all down. Lately, I've been learning things that I hope I'll never have to put to use again. For example: tips for evicting a tenant who isn't paying. Or: how to propose.

But it's actually REALLY hard to remember everything we learn. That's why I'm trying to learn to go with what my gut tells me, rather than whatever I can figure out through conscious thought.

I'm sure I've missed out on countless opportunities where someone told me: "oh, I have a friend who works in that business", or "I know someone who can get tickets for that if you ever need them". I say: "Oh yeah? Cool."

Then I promptly forget.

I read a ton of really interesting books. But ask me to summarize them, and I'll stammer and stutter. Ask me what I've learned and I could probably tell you one or two things.

There is too much information floating around out there. Even if I write it down, when the time comes to recall that information I probably won't even remember that I wrote it down somewhere.

Guess what? I have no solution for this. I suppose trusting your instincts is a start. There's usually a reason.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The cost of procrastination

I should really re-read what I am about as often as I possibly can.

There is almost never a downside to doing things ahead of schedule. You only miss the boat when you procrastinate.

Why ever wait till the last day to accomplish a task with a deadline? I routinely ignore this bit of common sense because I work well under pressure. To be honest though, I don't even know if my work under pressure is better because I never get it done ahead of schedule anyway, so I have no basis for comparison.

That's one way to stay organized isn't it? Just do everything the first chance you get. Your to-do list will be almost non-existent.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Anonymity: Easier to lie. Easier to tell the truth.

Apparently it's Truth Week on On Happiness, as I stumbled across this article.

It's a short article, but I'll summarize it anyway. After chatting online anonymously about their separate marriage troubles, a man and a woman met for a secret date, only to discover that the person they had been chatting with all along was their current spouse. "new">Jimmy Buffet would be proud.

Except these two are getting divorced.

The saddest part of the story to me is not that they're getting divorced, it's that it sounds like the marriage could have been better all along:
I still find it hard to believe that Sweetie (her screen name), who wrote such wonderful things, is actually the same woman I married and who has not said a nice word to me for years

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Radical Honesty

Last September, I wrote this post about what it would be like if people could be honest all the time. This morning, I just stumbled across this Esquire article about Radical Honesty. It is truly a fascinating and thought provoking article that everyone should read.

After meeting Brad Blanton, the founder of the movement, the writer takes us on a wild ride ranging from: cutting off his wife in the middle of boring stories, to telling one of his good friends that he fantasizes about his wife, and other moments of shocking honesty.

It all sounds crazy at first, and then somehow, it doesn't.

Let's put it this way, I thought I was a pretty honest guy, but this takes things to a whole new level.

In the spirit of the article, I'll give you this disclosure: Sometimes my job as a real estate agent feels like nothing more than a 'cover'. I can sit around all day doing nothing, but at least I can tell my friends and family that I have a job.

Oh yeah, and there are other jobs that fit into that category as well. Try: professional poker player. Try: student.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The wisdom of Jerry Seinfeld

Sorry I have been absent for a while (I was on a technology free vacation, yay!). Have no fear, back on track now.

I just read an interesting article that describes a motivation/momentum technique used by a man more often revered for his mastery of nothing, Jerry Seinfeld. I've wrote about momentum before, but I like this simple approach (you get a big yearly calendar, and put a big red X on each day that you accomplish one of your tasks. The goal is to keep it going as a chain...don't miss a day!).

Like everything else in life, there's no time like the present to start, and by god, the list of important things I've been putting off is getting pretty long. It's very subtle, but I'm pretty sure it's always there, in the back of my mind, endlessly nagging me.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Getting what you want

If you've been "wronged" by someone in a business deal (or a non-business deal I suppose), can you start from scratch the next time you need to deal with them? It's becoming clear to me just how difficult this is, even if the wronging was relatively small.

Actually, this is something that you see a lot in relationships (of any kind). To the outside observer, it seems trivial, even silly. It's easy to be detached and "objective" from the outside. The person on the inside can't just give in...again.

That advice from the outside never seems to transfer. And how can it, they see it from a completely different context.

I have no idea how to solve this problem. If nothing else, we all need to realize that most people interpret your actions through a filter of your past interactions with them. Well, calling it a filter implies that it can be easily removed. It's more like one of those old timey deep sea helmets.

Be careful how you treat people, even if you think it's just a one time interaction. It takes so much longer to undo bad will...

Friday, August 17, 2007

On Trust

My laptop was stolen yesterday. It was on a table at the library, and I stepped around the corner (to ask how to get onto the wireless network). When I stepped back in 15 seconds later, it was gone.

So for the rest of the day, I looked distrustfully at every stranger I saw, wondering if they were the one. I stared down every laptop and laptop bag that I saw...hoping to find the person, kick them in the crotch, and run to safety with my computer.

Today I'm back to normal. However, even if it was just one day, I feel like I learned a lesson in trust. Sometimes I'm baffled by the lack of trust that certain people have, especially with those who are supposed to be loved ones in their lives. You just want to shake them and say "SNAP OUT OF IT. Don't you see that your behavior is sabotaging all the important relationships in your life?".

But it makes sense right? If they were raised in a world of mistrust by their parents, siblings, family members, and friends...then they've learned to spend every day as if someone just stole their laptop. I can't imagine having to unlearn years and years of that.

BTW, please wear your steel toed boots for me this week, in case you happen to see someone sketchy carrying a black Toshiba Satellite...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

On Closure

Another thing the main character in The Active Side of Infinity had to do was bring closure to some past events of his life. He'd had these two women friends years ago, and was basically in love with both of them, and they were in love with him. Because of the awkward triangle, nothing ever materialized, and although they hadn't seen each other in years, the situation had been basically left in limbo.

The other issue was one in which he was faced with a very large decision that would test his morals. He ended up being sent out of town forever, and never had to make the choice.

I'm sure we all have unresolved situations like this in our lives. Common wisdom seems to tell us that there are certain things we should just let go of because they are in the past. It's true you shouldn't hold on to unresolved issues, but ignoring them will only draw things out further.

It's like slowly removing a band-aid over the course of 20 years. Why not just rip it off and be done with it?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Everyone you know

Right now I'm reading a book called The Active Side of Infinity by Carlos Casteneda. (If you want to know more about the book, read the reviews in the link). In it, the main character is urged to go through recapitulation, where you recount the events of your life. To start, you write down a list of everyone you've ever met, starting with the present and working backwards. Then you go back to the top of the list and remember everything you can about each person...every little detail. Not only should you start to remember things you had forgotten, but your memory should improve on the whole.

Has anyone out there ever tried something like this? It almost seems too daunting to me at first, but yet strangely intriguing. If done properly, it would seem that you would cover most of the memorable events of your life (and many "unmemorable" ones as well).

But what about things that have happened to you while you were alone? My guess is that most people will find that the majority of the important and interesting moments in their lives happened in the company of others. This brings us back to talking about "it's not what you do that defines the quality of your life, it's who you do it with".

When I was stuck on the couch for weeks after having surgery on my ACL, I was bored out of my mind. It wasn't until my last few days that I had a revelation. I simply closed my eyes, and daydreamed through all my most favorite memories (of course, most involved me walking!).
Maybe that's something we all need practice doing in those moments of boredom or unhappiness.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

On Death

This has been a bad year for mortality in my world.

My grandfather died from complications of lung cancer.

A friend of mine made a mental mistake while climbing and fell 110 feet. Amazingly, he lived.

My grandmother fell down the stairs and broke her neck. Paralyzed from the neck down, she asked to be taken off life support a week later, and died within 30 minutes.

A friend of a friend, one of the worlds best free soloers (climbs without ropes), was swept out to sea by a rogue wave and never seen again. He was merely standing on a ledge below an unroped climb he had just where a fall could have killed him.

Another friend of a friend was murdered by someone she didn't know while working in a national forest.


Until this year, I had never much thought about the difference between dying and "being killed", but obviously there is a huge difference. Each one of those deaths has felt completely different....almost as though the way in which they died somehow supersedes my actual relationship to the person.

If we live in the present, then it doesn't matter how someone died. All that we know and can feel is that they are gone forever. Why should it make a difference whether or not their death could have been prevented?

If you are blessed having time to say goodbye, it makes a big difference. You come away with a better sense of closure and fairness. But sadly, life isn't fair and good people can have their lives taken away just as easily as everyone else.

When someone is gone, all you are left with is your own thoughts and the shared memories you have of that person. Don't ask why too many times. Don't endlessly ponder all the what-ifs.

Usually, the only thing you can truly learn from death is to value your own life, and the lives of the people who are important to you.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Someone else: On Stuff

Penelope Trunk gives us this amazing article on materialism:

An inspiring article even if you have only a few useless things lying around...

The fine line

There is a fine line between perceived competence and incompetence. I'm working on two separate deals right now. In one of them, it looks like I don't know what I'm doing. In the other, I'm doing so well that the other side actually recruited me to come work for them.

How can this be?

Well, one side came in assuming I don't know what I'm doing. The other side assumed I did. The resulting results are immeasurable.

The attitude and respect you show someone can have a huge impact on their performance. They will be willing to do more for you.

Although really it's just a subtle shift in your attitude, there is a HUGE difference between asking for someone's help, and telling them what to do.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Possibility

Possibility can be what drives you. You might not be so happy in your job right now, but when you dwell on the fact that you have to be there for the next year, it becomes almost unbearable. When there is no possibility of anything else, you feel trapped.

Remind yourself that you have choices, even when you think you don't. It's worth repeating. YOU ALWAYS HAVE A CHOICE. Most people believe they don't. Or rather, they convince themselves they don't.

Do you know why? It's easier to assign responsibility to the universe.

Plus, it's easy to explain things that way to other people. They use the same trick.

Losing momentum

Often, this is a sign of something not being right for you anymore. Or it's just evidence that you tend to be a starter, and not a finisher.

I'm not sure which one of those categories this blog falls into, but I intend to find out.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

On Rules

Why do some people get so upset when other people "break" the rules, even when it doesn't affect them?

Like let's just say that you're riding your bike home, and instead of following the maze of one way streets through a busy commercial district, you take a 50 foot shortcut the wrong way down a one way street. You ride past a line of cars waiting at a stoplight, the light turns green and one car stops, rolls down their window, and the woman yells out "HEY BIKER, this is a ONE WAY STREET!".

Then let's say, that she theoretically sits there, stopped in the middle of the street, glaring out her window at you as you ride past.

What do you do?

My vote: you flip her the bird. Theoretically. Then nearby witnesses to the incident applaud you. Theoretically.

Not sure where I'm going with this one, but don't you just sometimes want to scream: "Why the $#&@ do you care?"

Trust me, you'll be so much happier when you don't care about stuff like that...

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Lobotomy Time!

I'm only 40 or so pages into "Stumbling on Happiness" by Daniel Gilbert, but so far the message is clear. Destroy your frontal lobe. It's the part of your brain responsible for planning and imagining the future. They used to prescribe this (with great success) for people with anxiety and unhappiness. Of course objectively, it sounds pretty barbaric doesn't it?

Apparently this is the newest part of our brains, evolving, so it would seem, so that we can revel in unhappiness. It's what separates us from the animals. Well, except monkeys.

I've talked about this "living in the present" before (minus the frontal lobe and the monkeys part). And clearly, I'm no expert. But that doesn't mean I can't still tell everyone else what to do! :-) Actually, in truth I'm doing pretty well with this at the moment, even though I'm not trying to do it. Perhaps it's just a defense mechanism that kicks in when you're getting paid based on commission?!?

Want to see what other people have to say about living in the present?

Friday, July 06, 2007

Happines is...

"Happiness, at best, is an illusory goal. It is not a destination; it is a manner of travelling. Happiness is not an end in itself. It is a by-product of working, playing, loving, living." - Haim Ginott

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Having Time

When you start a new job, you generally have the time to help people out and volunteer for just about anything. You aren't overworked, and you're eager to get going. It's easy enough for your coworkers to think you're a rockstar.

Then, over time, your inbox keeps filling up, higher and higher. It isn't long before you can't really do much in the way of helping others, because it's hard enough keeping up with your own stuff. It's not that you've changed at all, but it might look that way to new hires and people who remember the old you.

I'll need to savor this empty inbox as long as possible. And somehow save a little bit of time down the road to still be able to help people out...

Friday, June 22, 2007

On Discipline

You know the old saying:
Give someone an inch...
If nothing else, it's one reason to stick to your guns. Make a decision. Set a date. Stick to it. It's the only way to avoid being taken advantage...or taking advantage of someone else.

It's probably just like parenting. The only way your kids will end up well behaved is if you're consistent with them. And you don't make exceptions by giving in an extra inch or two once in a while.

I play this game with myself and guess where it gets me? I've had something on my to-do list for several months now.

I already put my foot down...let's see if I can keep it there.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Things I don't talk about

It was brought to my attention last night, that I have never talked about weight and body-image. There is a reason for this of course, and that's because it's not something that I ever think about personally. Another reason is that no man ever wants to get into a conversation about weight and body-image with women. Or men for that matter. (Although guys never sit around talking with each other about how fat they look).

It's the most helpless position to be in. Someone tells you that they're fat. You only have two possible responses:
  1. Assure them they aren't fat.
  2. Lie and tell them they aren't fat.
Either way, the person who thinks they're fat knows this, and since they have body-image issues to begin with, they assume number two. Even though they're asking for a reassuring number one response.

You'll remember this catch 22 as the same one that ensues when your significant other asks:
Honey, do you think I'm attractive?

Yes, this may be one of the first posts ever that doesn't even begin to draw some sort of conclusion or offer a final thought.

It's very hard to have a conversation about insecurities. What makes it so bizarre is that although insecurity is when people dislike the way they appear to others, no amount of reassurance from those "others" will make them feel better. The feeling better part needs to come from within, which of course, takes more than conversation.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Too Much of a Good Thing

It's no surprise that when you have too much of something, you no longer appreciate it as much. And depending on what we're talking about, it might only be a few days before it kicks in.

Before you ask what I'm referring to, just look at the time I posted this.

PS - Where I live the houses are so packed together that there's almost no grass, but yet somewhere there is space for hundreds of birds to begin their 'disruptive loitering' well before the sun starts to rise? They must get far too much sleep in the winter months...

Thursday, June 14, 2007

On Role Models

I went to a wedding recently, and it was truly amazing what people were saying about the couple. Pretty much every person that took the mic left the audience in tears. It wasn't just their relationship that was talked about, but what they did to include, inspire, and love others.

Kinda makes you want to have people say that about you, right?

It definitely made me think about what I could do differently. It's not that I want to compete, or two look good on my wedding day. But who wouldn't want to leave that kind of impact in their wake?

Whatever you're involved in, you need people who both better than you, and people who are worse than you. You get motivation, knowledge, and perspective all at once.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

I still exist

Sorry for the brief absence, I was out of town for a few days.

So twice now, people have mentioned "The Secret" which is a "life changing" book/DVD about how if you put out positive thoughts and energy into the world, that's what you'll get back from it.

Over 1300 people have reviewed it on amazon, and it seems to be one of those books that either gets 5 stars or 1 star. Half of the people love it, and the other half think it's a load of infomercial crap.

Has anyone out there read this or heard of it? I'm curious. If nothing else, I could justify reading it as research for this blog!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

On Underperforming

Why is it that it's so easy to get pissed off at yourself or your sports team when it under performs, but it doesn't bother you to do under perform in other areas of your life?

A sporting event has a defined ending point, a clear victory condition, and a whole lotta rules. Life has none of these, so it's easy to trick yourself into pushing things back, potting things off, and changing the "rules" in your head to accommodate slacking off, changing your mind, and failure.

This is why it's so important to set concrete goals with timelines that you'll stick to. Sure, I'm not great at it yet either, but it been slowly sinking in for a while now. I know myself well enough to know that I trick myself into odd rationalizations that allow me to put things off almost indefinitely.

I'm excited that my new job will pretty much force me to keep track of everything, and I'll be held accountable when things get done. Hopefully, the habits I'm forced into will become second nature long after I've left them.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Doing stuff you don't want to do

I cleaned my desk the other day. The funny thing is that I don't think I need a clean desk. It never bothers me that it's messy. I clear some stuff aside, and do what needs to be done.

But oddly, when I cleaned it all out yesterday, I sat down and actually felt like being productive. It made me happy that the desk was clean. And, in the following days, I've sat at it much more than I normally do.

Maybe keeping those areas that are normally messy, like my car and my desk, can be that "One thing" I change that ends up subtly affecting everything else?

Friday, June 01, 2007

On Sleep and Timeframes

Maybe this is totally off subject, but I can't seem to figure out a sleeping schedule. Basically, how much sleep I get doesn't seem to effect how tired I feel the next day, provided I get a certain amount (around 6 hours). If I have 10 hours to sleep, I'll sleep 10, and won't feel that much more refreshed. If I have 6 hours, I'll sleep 6, and be fine.

Sometimes it seems like I'm more tired when I get more sleep, but I can't prove that for certain. Are there any hard a fast rules that work for everyone? I always hear about 8 hours of sleep is the right amount. When I had the time, I used to get 10, then I realized that I was "wasting" 4 hours every day, so I started getting 6 and seemed to function exactly the same.

Maybe this is just a big metaphor for getting things done. If you are given a deadline, you'll set yourself up so that the task fills that allotted space, even if you could have done it in a much shorter time frame. If you watch Flip This House, they always set this ridiculously short deadlines that never seem like they are going to be met. But somehow, they always pull it off by really cranking in those last two days.

So try challenging yourself with an aggressive schedule and see how it works out.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Optimism vs. Pessimism

This great article "Train Yourself to be Happier" (which is a more fun read than it sounds) is all about thinking positive. Although it probably isn't news to you, it's something to keep in mind.

I still believe that pretty much the same kind of stuff happens to everyone, so all that really matters is how you deal with it. For the most part it just boils down to whether you are an optimist or a pessimist.

I realize that it is probably extremely hard to switch from being a pessimist to being an optimist. Pessimism is good for only one thing: protecting yourself from being let down. If you expect to always be let down, then when it happens, it's what you expected. Of course, the cost is that you live in a world of negativity, where you expect bad things to happen to you. Seems like it'd be pretty hard to ever really reach for something, doesn't it?

Ego protection aside, there's no cost to being an optimist. Better stuff does happen to you. And guess what? Even if it doesn't, at least you'll live in a life that expects, remembers, and promotes happiness.

Why would you want it any other way?

Monday, May 28, 2007

I've got everything I need, now what?

Brink Lindsey, author of The Age of Abundance (How Prosperity Transformed America's Politics and Culture) was on the Daily Show the other night and had this to say:
For most people throughout human history, they're worried about filling their belly, they're worried about basic food and shelter and clothing and so they don't have time to think about personal fulfillment, meaning of life, quality of life, self realization and all of those things. You know the baby boomers are the first generation ever raised to take basic material needs for granted.
So basically, this is both good news and bad news. The good news is that if you're having a personal fulfillment crisis, it's probably means that all of the necessities have been taken care of and you're wondering "now what?" The bad news is that no one is going to sympathize with someone who has everything they need!

Of course that would imply that the solution is to intentionally deprive yourself of life's basic necessities. That'll teach you to be unhappy!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Out of left field

In an unusual article for the Somerville News, James Norton gives us some random life encouragement. My favorite part is this:
It’s being stuck in the middle that brings out the irony in life. That’s where we learn to push things down inside and not deal with problems.
I'm sure many can relate. I like to think that I don't push things down inside, but you know, in a few years I fully expect to be able to look back and realize that I was.

The first comment is great too,
thing #3 if your really upset with someone and they dont know it, you are suffering and they are going on as usual, let them know or let it go.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

On Momentum

This blog is a good metaphor for how momentum works in our personal lives. If I write well every day, my readership continues to grow. As soon as I miss posting even one day, the number of readers drops off, and takes a few days to get back to where it used to be.

If I don't write for several days, it takes even longer to get back into the swing of things.

I realized that I'm almost an expert at killing my own momentum in my personal life. I put stuff off for so long that when I actually do something, it feels like such an accomplishment that I use it as an excuse to reward myself. This "reward" usually comes in the form of some time killer that is designed to last 30 minutes to an hour, but inevitably seems to kill my momentum for the rest of the day.

I don't feel too bad because I checked off that nasty item that had been hounding me for weeks. I'd be so much better off if I just immediately moved onto the next item. The weight of all these little things can easily add up to a subtle unhappiness that is hard to pinpoint.

The time is now for me to start learning how to make friends with momentum...

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Everything is related

So recently, the other day, I hurt my back. There wasn't an incident, it just started hurting (well, I had been doing some flooring). The next day, my hamstring started getting sore...then my other hamstring was sore.

As I learned last year after going to a few physical therapy sessions, everything is related. You wouldn't think that your back problems might be related to your hamstring, or that your neck might be related to your back...but it only takes a few minutes of someone who knows what they're doing to prove it to you.

I wouldn't be surprised if this extends past physical issues, and into your other problems. I'm sure you could imagine how changing just one thing (for example, arriving on time), could snowball into other changes in your life. You show up on time -> The person you meet with has more respect and patience than they otherwise would have -> They are happier and more friendly to you than usual -> That makes you respond and act with more confidence than you otherwise might have.

Not only did you change the other person's impression of you, but your behavior even changed for the better.

What's that one little thing that would be easy to change?

Monday, May 21, 2007

Off the Wagon

Sorry I disappeared there for a few days. I've been feeling like I have run out of things to say! Already a man of few words, this "write something interesting every single day" was getting to me, and it felt like I was forcing entries just to get something out. I've been considering going from 5 posts a week down to 3, so maybe I'll give that a shot.

I can be a really excellent procrastinator, which of course is especially worrisome when you're about to quit your job for something far less structured and mostly absent "deadlines from above". Perhaps this will have to be where I finally learn to be organized about information and paperwork, and disciplined about my time and effort.

I really, really don't want to be sent back to a 9-5 office job because that's the only structure that doesn't allow me to procrastinate! Then again, being a real estate agent is based on helping individuals, which ratchets up the accountability. It's much easier to slack off when you answer to a company.

Maybe it will be a good fit afterall...

Monday, May 14, 2007

Giant leap

Why is something that should be so simple, so hard? Maybe it's when taking that first step means you're crossing some sort of invisible barrier. One that somehow signifies the beginning of a whole new era for you. It's a small step for mankind, but a giant leap for you.

I don't feel any different now. But I wonder why I was afraid in the first place.

I guess it's good I've got conviction somewhere deep down. Hopefully I've learned from this, and won't have to be such a wuss about the next giant leap.

Like I've said, you can pretty much do anything if you really want to.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Other people know best

Pay attention to what people say when you're going through change. It's hard for you to have an objective perspective about it, so sometimes you need that outsider point of view.

If they go one step beyond just polite support, and are generally happy and excited for you, then you are on the right track. It's really interesting when you end a relationship, and all of the sudden people are happy for you. You can't help but think: "how long ago should I have gotten out?" But, it's not like you can blame one can tell you what to do with your need to figure it out for yourself.

Well...I suppose they could tell you, but it's hard, if not impossible, to listen.

On Comfort

When major change makes you really uncomfortable, it's either a really good sign, or a really bad one.

I just haven't figured out which yet.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The grass is always greener

I've been noticing lately that I always want more spare time, but as soon as I get it, it promptly goes to waste. Why is that?

Is it a sign of laziness? Procrastination? Or just sort of human nature?

Perhaps we're just so conditioned with work, time and responsibility, that we fall into a routine that will only ever get a certain amount of work done, no matter how much time we are given.

Actually, that sounds exactly like me.

So maybe more time isn't what I need after all. It's better conditioning.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The giant 26 letter skeleton in the closet

From this article comes a story of illiteracy turned happiness:

Jacques Demers coached the Montreal Canadiens to the Stanley Cup in 1993 and later became a general manager in the National Hockey League. During the entire time he was unable to read or write, according to his 2005 biography "En Toutes Lettres."

Demers' father was an abusive alcoholic who beat his son for poor grades, so he left school at 16 functionally illiterate. If someone asked Demers to read something, he would say his English was poor; if the document was in French, he would say he'd been in the U.S. for too long. If all else failed, he would say he forgot his glasses.

Demers talked his way into a license, a job, a green card, and an executive position in his nation's most popular sport. He surrounded himself with a team that compensated for his weaknesses. When he became a general manager, for instance, he hired two associates to handle contracts and give him verbal summaries.

Finally, in his 50s, Demers came clean; he worked through his childhood issues with a psychologist and overcame his illiteracy. "I wanted my head to be free," Demers told one sports columnist. "Now I'm free. I'm happy."

Can you imagine keeping anything a secret for that long...must less something so big that you would be required to lie about it pretty much every day of your life? My god that has to be exhausting.

People everywhere do this with things small and large. It's done in the name of happiness (to keep other people happy), but at the expense of our own happiness. This isn't to say that we should be 100% selfish in life, but in the end, you aren't really doing anyone any favors by being dishonest or disingenuous.

I know I've touched on this before but some things are worth repeating. The truth is painful in the short term, but think of the alternative...

Happiness is excitement

I'm currently reading The 4-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss, which has been a truly eye-opening read thus far (I'm halfway through). His brief analysis of the word happiness (on page 51 if you must know) includes this passage:
Bear with me. What is the opposite of happiness? Sadness? No. Just as love and hate are two sides of the same coin, so are happiness and sadness. Crying out of happiness is a perfect illustration of this. The opposite of love is indifference, and the opposite of happiness is -- here's the clincher -- boredom.

Excitement is the more practical synonym for happiness, and it is precisely what you should strive to chase. It is the cure-all. When people suggest that you follow your "passion" or your "bliss", I propose that they are, in fact, referring to the same singular concept: excitement.

This makes perfect sense. I never feel unhappy when I'm doing something exciting (shocking, right?). The only time it ever hits me is those moments when I'm at a loss for what to do with my time, and I feel like I should be using it more valuably.

Lately in my life, I've had so few moments of boredom, that I confuse them with sadness.

This would certainly help define why some people are generally happy...because they are doing something that excites them! It could even be a "job". They could be "working" 80 hours a week. But if it truly excites them, they'll be happy.

So let's not mislabel boredom as sadness. Although, not everyone realizes what truly excites them...

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Love what you do

I missed my chance to post on wednesday by 54 minutes. Drat. Hopefully my non-east coast readers will forgive me.

The author of this post subtitled "Paychecks are Boring" posits:

The way I see it my life will turn out one of two ways.

1. I will get lucky somewhere along the way and strike it rich. I will pay for my kids’ education, I will buy a moderate house and moderate cars and I will make smart investments for the future. I will use the money to make a difference in one way or another. I will be happy.

2. I will find meaningful, fulfilling jobs with decent salaries or start a mildly successful business. My kids will take out loans for their education, I will buy a moderate house and moderate cars and I will continue to work and invest a reasonable amount. I will donate my time rather than my money to make a difference in one way or another. I will be happy.

This of course, is within the context of an article related to money and paychecks. I can't help but wonder, is money and happiness forever linked?

I believe it's safe to say that most people cannot (or do not believe it's possible to) live cheaply enough that they won't easily fall victim to "working for a paycheck". This of course, is a bad trap to be caught in, because it becomes seemingly more inescapable over time.

If you know how to live cheaply enough, you don't have to just work for a paycheck, and can make sure that you're doing something you love, regardless of how little you get paid. But it's hard to know that the option is available when most people don't see examples of this in their everyday lives.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

One step beauty

I think happiness is what makes you pretty. Period. Happy people are beautiful.
Guess which happiness pundit said this? Drew Barrymore. (That's what I get for thumbing through the latest People Magazine right?)

I'd never thought of it that way, but it's true. I'm attracted to happy people. Think of someone you're attracted to....don't you imagine them smiling or laughing?

See, not only does On Happiness teach you how to be happy, but you also get free beauty advice!

Monday, April 30, 2007

Why perfect <> happy

There was an interesting article on Yahoo Finance the other day about how trying to be perfect will actually leave you less satisfied and happy. (This idea is also discussed in length in Barry Schwartz's book The Paradox of Choice).

The most memorable part of the article was this:

A ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of the work they produced. All those on the right would be graded solely on their works' quality.

His procedure was simple: On the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the quantity group; 50 pound of pots rated an A, 40 pounds a B, and so on. Those being graded on quality, however, needed to produce only one pot -- albeit a perfect one -- to get an A.

At grading time, the works with the highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity.
This is something that all of us (most notably myself!) should take to heart. Stop trying to get things right, and just do things. That's how you get them right, by trying...and learning along the way. I'd be pretty surprised if a series of small failures leading up to a success didn't make you happier than not even getting to the success at all...

Friday, April 27, 2007

The last thing you want is the first thing you need

When we're sad, we want to crawl into a hole and not communicate with anyone. For whatever reason, we withdraw and crave "alone time". Is it because we don't want people to see us this way? Is it because wallowing in misery is for some reason more appealing than trying to be happy?

Next time you're feeling unhappy, do yourself a favor and get in touch with your friends. Call them, visit them, or simply email. You don't even have to tell them that you're down (although certainly do if you think it will help!).

Don't waste your time bitching about what's going on in your life. Explain the problem, but don't ask for a just want company.

So why does this work? It helps you forget about your other problems. Know why your other problems are so easily forgotten? Because they aren't important. It's the people in your life that are.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Daily Unwind

For years I've always been hearing about how people need to "unwind" when they get home from work. I didn't get it. I never felt that way. I couldn't relate.

The last few days I actually have started to feel like I need to unwind. I don't want to do anything (except 'escape' activities like TV or video games) and I don't want to be cheered up. Instead of being excited the workday is over, I'm already thinking about all the shit I'll have to do the next day.

I can't imagine a life where I came home feeling like this every day. How do people go on for years like this? I guess you'd just get used to it, but why bother? Clearly something needs fixing.

Any readers out there consistently feel this way? Why keep working in a job that makes you unhappy? I realize that money is usually the issue, but honestly, what good is money if you aren't happy? What is the point of life if you aren't enjoying it?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

One minute happiness

Truthteller gives us 7 Steps to Happy. The most interesting?
In a recent study the test subjects were asked to think of 3 positive things that had happened in their day before they went to sleep at night. Every single person tested, moved their set point upwards. And almost everyone found it so effective and pleasureable that they continued the process long after the study was over.
I'm going to give this a whirl starting tonight. Who can't spare an extra minute per day to make themselves happier? Some days, you'd have big things to be happy about, other days, you'll be forced to appreciate the small stuff.

Tonight, I'm going to need to think of some really small stuff...

Monday, April 23, 2007

Falling, losing, and tearing

This comes to us from Janet:
Humans can adjust to almost any amount of bad news, according to Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert. In his book "Stumbling on Happiness," he shows that we think losing a limb will be terrible, but in fact we adjust to it pretty well. In fact, in the long run it generally doesn't affect our level of happiness.
Thankfully, I haven't lost any major limbs (or minor limbs for that matter), so I can't personally attest to this, but it is an interesting idea. I've always said that it isn't what happens to you, but how you react to it that determines your happiness.

Think about those people who are always miserable and bad things seem to happen to them. Now think about your life and the worst things that have happened to you. You've got some pretty comparable stories from your past, don't you?

I tore my ACL a few years ago. After surgery, I remember thinking: "Wow, this really puts things in perspective. There's no WAY I am going to take walking for granted". Perhaps predictably, it didn't take long for me to lose that mindset altogether.

My friend who fell 110 feet already seems to have that perspective. Take a look at the article and slideshow.

If neither losing a limb nor cheating death doesn't affect our overall level of happiness, what on earth does?

Passing the figurative buck

Sorry about the late post. Sometimes you close your eyes for that extra few seconds in the morning and then they shoot open 20 minutes later and you wonder if you already missed work.

Today, the landscaping crew came and did some work around my office building. Well okay, the building isn't mine, but my company lives there. Well okay, it's not my company...but you get the picture.

They blew off all the sand, dirt, and debris from the grass, edges, and planter areas. Awesome right?

The sand, dirt, and debris now lays on the asphalt of the parking lot, two feet inward from where it used to be. But hot damn, those edges are clean as I've ever seen them!

There are so many things wrong with this, where do I start...
  • Is this just their way of passing the buck?
  • If it still is their responsibility, why didn't they just clean it up instead of leaving it for another day (it will be blown around and driven on between now and then)?
  • It looks worse now. If someone else is coming to clean it up, why not coordinate that?
  • Why not just suck up all the debris instead of blowing it somewhere else (this technology must exist, mustn't it?)
Anyway you slice it, it boils down to this: doing things the right way, and doing them thoroughly the first time will make for less work in the end.

Even if you have to spend a few extra minutes doing "someone else's job", it's still a better way to operate. You can have them do a smaller task for you...something they can do from start to finish.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Being ready

I'll talk more about this in the future, but I'm starting to believe that all these tips, self-help, change-your-life type strategies out there, primarily only work for people who are on the verge of change anyway. Someone who is unhappy is not going to read a "7 Steps to Happy" article and have everything click. It may be able to nudge them slightly in the right direction, but even that is a longshot.

Probably what happens with people who need change is that they may read about how to do it, but it doesn't mean that they're ready. And don't kid yourself, you can't change if you aren't ready. It probably won't be until they've done some deep thinking about their own life and potentially have some major triggering event that proves the need for change.

So, do these "get happy now", "change your life", "become a millionaire" schemes really work? They certainly appeal to everyone, which makes them an easy sell. I believe that most of the people doing the selling realize that it isn't going to work for most (because they aren't ready), but they can justify it to themselves because they can give that final nudge to those people who were on the verge.

I thought about this while reading over a few "steps to happiness" lists on other blogs, and wondered why I never try anything like that here at On Happiness. Perhaps I think it's a bit pretentious? Or maybe it's because I know most people will read the ideas, think they sound good, but then never act upon them? That's pretty much what I did after reading those blogs anyway.

But then again, I want people to be happy and maybe the point of that information is to create awareness for those who aren't exactly ready. The key to happiness clearly isn't learning a bunch of tricks, but you have to at least be aware that it's truly is an option for everyone.

Instead of tricks, think of them as habits. Actually, I'll invent a term right now. You've heard of work ethic? How about "happiness ethic"? No one goes from being lazy to being a hardworker overnight (though it certainly seems that some people are just born hard workers!). It's a gradual process.

Treat yourself right, and make decisions and choices that promote happiness. You owe it to yourself.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The "not-now"

The last two weeks hasn't been that great. While talking to a friend, I had to remind him (and myself) that my life is pretty good in general...but the day-to-day specifics have just been bogging me down lately. So what better way to remind myself of my happiness than taking a quiz on Oprah's website!

The "quiz" (not necessarily worth doing yourself) is just 5 quick questions. I missed "extremely happy" by 1 point, and was offered this automated advice:
If you scored somewhere in the middle, happiness expert Dr. Robert Holden has some advice on how to live a more satisfying life. Dr. Holden says the key to being happy is overcoming "destination addiction," which he defines as "living in the not-now."

"It's always about tomorrow, so you're chasing 'more,' 'next' and 'there,'" he says. "You promise yourself that when you get there, you'll be happy. And I promise you, you won't, because you'll always set another destination to go for."

Instead, Dr. Holden says if you are unhappy with your life or looking to improve your score, there are two things you can do. "We have to learn to let go of our past, we have to give up all hopes for a perfect past. Let the past go, it's gone." After that, he says, "Take a vow of kindness. Be kinder to yourself and to others.
Sounds good to me, but much easier said than done. My 'destination addiction' isn't fueled by making my life better necessarily...just the feeling that I want to contribute more and be using my skills to their fullest. Until that happens, I'll still be a little restless, thinking about how tomorrow can be a step forward instead of just shifting my weight.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Lip Service

There's more than one answer to these questions
Pointing me in a crooked line
And the less I seek my source for something definitive
The closer I am to fine
Either the Indigo Girls read "The Tao of Pooh" or the whole "don't overthink things" idea is catching on.

For the first time in a week I have time to think. And things somehow seem confusing again. I don't want to eliminate these moments all together, but I'm glad that I have a fairly busy schedule, so that I'm not regularly stuck in this mental no-man's land.

For the moment, I've snapped out of my regular life. I can barely remember it anymore.

When someone dies, it amplifies what is important in your life. People. Maybe my family is more important to me than I realized? Nothing else seems real or important at the moment.

For a while now, I've been saying that people are the most important thing to me, but looking back, it feels like lip service. It's something I'd like to change...

Friday, April 13, 2007

When you love what you do

"Look at me, I should be retired but I'm working harder than I ever have before" - Mickey
"But it doesn't seem like work" - Me
"Exactly!" - Mickey
Those are the kind of conversations you have when you love what you do for a living...

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Life is Precious

There's a reason to be happy. If something goes wrong, you can be proud of yourself and your life. When you lose it all, you'll be left with your memories and the impact you make 'em good. A friend of mine recently feel 110 feet in a climbing accident:
a trained EMT, held me in a c-spine stabilization while another climber at the cliff ran to his car to call for help and led search and rescue to us. I was helicoptered to the UMC in Vegas and their trauma team took great care of me. By that night we had a comprehensive list of my injuries: fractured right calcaneus (heel bone), shattered left calcaneus, shattered left olecranon (elbow), five stable fractures in four of my lower vertebrae (L1 - L4), one fractured rib (#8, right side), and a "pulmonary contusion" ... or bruised lung, under that rib. I had reconstructive surgery on my left elbow on Tuesday the 13th, and surgery on my left heel that Friday, the 16th.
Happiness means you don't regret anything.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

And we don't get happier

From the article The Pursuit of Happiness in Perspective on Cato Unbound:
Richard Layard, for example, one of the most influential proponents of using the new science of happiness to guide public policy, concedes that “In the West we have a society that is probably as happy as any there has ever been.”[13] And yet he and others point to survey data collected since the 1950s that asks citizens whether they are "very happy," "pretty happy," or "not too happy." Essentially, those numbers have not changed, despite massive increases during the same period of Gross National Product (GNP). Layard and his colleagues regard this data as indicative of what the journalist Gregg Easterbrook calls the “progress paradox”: as people get richer, they don’t appear to get happier, or at least not very much after a certain minimum threshold has been crossed.

For some reason, I always have this feeling that there is more unhappiness and discontent than there used to be just a few decades ago, but perhaps it isn't true? Does anyone else feel this way?

The baby boomer generation today certainly seems to think that today's youth is unhappier than they were at that age. Is it possible that people are just more open now? If in the 50's you were supposed to suck it up, internalize your unhappiness, and make everyone think you were doing alright, then it would make sense that kids today seem different...even though the only difference is that it's "okay" to be unhappy?

There are more "gateway" outlets for expressing your unhappiness (primarily through blogs, email, IM, and sites like MySpace). It's often much easier to divulge your innermost feelings in a medium like email or blogs, because you have more time to think, and you don't have to worry about the reaction from whoever happens to be reading in the same way you would if you were having a face to face conversation.

The fact that wealth doesn't increase happiness shouldn't surprise us too much. Although many people confuse things, believing that wealth will make them happier (or give them more opportunities for happiness), only to realize later that it doesn't matter much. An unhappy poor person who becomes rich will probably still be unhappy.

It's hard to believe that happiness levels have not changed much over the years. You'd think it would have to be going one way or the other. Does the fact that it hasn't changed make you more or less hopeful?

Of course, I'm an optimist, so I interpret that as "it doesn't matter what your situation is, happiness is internal, and it's up to you".

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


I just read the autobiography of Kevin Liles President/CEO of Def Jam records called "Made It Happen". Within the first few pages he writes:
Real success is happiness. It's the joy of focusing on a project or cause you truly believe in and the very act of making it happen that is its own reward.
If real success is happiness, does it follow that happiness is success? Either way, the suggestion that happiness is linked to success is a good one, because success is certainly in the eye of the beholder.

What does that mean? Managing your definition of success is important to your happiness. It doesn't mean that you need to make a lot of money or launch a successful singing career, but it means that you need to be in a place in your life where you feel that your contributions are succeeding.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

No. No. Are you sure? Thank you.

I helped a guy move his washing machine the other day because I happened to be nearby and I had a dolly (hand truck). As he was thanking me, he shook my hand and tried to slip me $10. I tried to refuse. Several times. Grudgingly I accepted (and thought about running back to his place and sticking it in the doorway).

This is a guy who (aside from the new washing machine) looked like he really needed every $10 bill that came his way.

He was genuinely appreciative and thankful, but I felt bad because the money meant more to him than it did to me. I had to remind myself that sometimes you just have to let people thank you in the way they feel is most appropriate, whether you like it or not.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Wild swings of emotion

Some people just have more built in emotion. You know just the type I'm talking about. Those bubbly, excitable people. The littlest things make them so happy.

But if they use up all their excitement on the little things, won't they run out when big things come along? The answer is: no.

Excitement breeds excitement. It's contagious. You can't help but smile a little bit more around them. I often wish I could be more externally excited, but it never seems to work. I can tell that I'm faking it.

Could I become a more excitable person? Sometimes I just don't think it's in my nature. It's like I sacrifice the highs for not having the lows.

But, then again, those bubbly people don't always seem to have lows...or maybe they just keep to themselves during them?

Cut back on obligations

I recently posted about the highs and lows of watching professional sports, and a friend of mine called me out for eliminating both the highs and the lows, wondering why I would just want to be neutral. Although I hadn't realized at the time of the post, I later realized that much of my devotion to watch the Packers was more ritual and obligation than anything else. I was watching the games because I had to...that's what made me the fan I was, and it further cemented my Wisconsin heritage.

I realize that we all have obligations. But once in a while, it's good to take stock of those, and see if there are any we can eliminate in favor of something else...something we actively, and happily, choose to do. I know I could have done a lot of amazing things over the course of 160 or so Sunday afternoons.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

How relevant are your dreams?

I usually don't dream about things directly related to what has been going on in my life. But the two previous nights have been different. In general, I would say that most of what happens to me doesn't affect me too much, good or bad. I don't get worked up about bad things. I enjoy the good things, but I'm usually not ecstatic.

I'm glad to know that things till affect me, that I'm not some emotionless robot...but to be thinking about it and dreaming about it so much means that it is an extraordinary situation. Not the good kind of extraordinary.

It's hard to analyze thoughts and dreams, but I wonder about people who have extremely relevant dreams all the time. Do they think about things more than I do? Is it because they worry more? Is there more drama in their life?


I dreamt that my grandma's house burned down and she escaped. She wouldn't be able to fall down those stairs. Realizing in the morning that it was just a dream was one of the most depressing thoughts that I can ever remember having.

I'm usually such an optimist that it's hard to know what to focus on when you can barely see even the slightest hint of good that could come from something...

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

On Fairness

We often use the concept of fairness to justify when something bad happens to someone. "Well, that's what you get for drinking and smoking your entire life" or "That's where greed will get you". This works all well and good for when bad things happen to bad people, or good things happen to good people, but how do we explain when bad things happen to people who "don't deserve it"?

As I see it, there are two possibilities in life
  1. The universe is fair and people get what they deserve
  2. The universe doesn't give a shit because everything that happens is just random and we try desperately to come up with feel-good explanations for it whenever we can because no one wants to believe that they have no control over what happens to them
Thanks to the events of yesterday, put me down for number two.

So then if we can't affect what happens to us, all we can to is change the way we react to it. Sadly, that isn't going to do much for the person you love that will probably never walk again.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Turning 100, a mini-history

This is On Happiness' 100th post. I'd like to thank everyone (all 168 of you!) for your interest and support thus far. I particularly love getting feedback (both online and offline), whether it be comments on my writing or the content. I've gone through my posts thus far and picked out a few highlights for you to enjoy.

Most Comments: The Difference Between Virtual and Reality
Longest Post: Road Rage
Shortest Post: Proof that we live for tomorrow
Most Controversial: Blanket Honesty
Reader Favorite: Don't do what you want
Proof that several of my readers don't take kindly to 'cat bashing': Find your inner ferret

Remember, if you've missed some posts over the last few months, you can look back at old ones under "my recent posts" along the right (which actually shows all posts...they're just divvied up by month and year). You can also use the search box in the upper left if you are looking for a post you remember, or want to see if there has been a discussion of a certain topic.

When looking back through my old posts, I realized that the post with by far the most attention so far was one that I linked to within my comments left on another blog. I'm going to be doing more of that in an effort to bring in even more readers. Spread the happiness, right?

Also, if anyone out there has favorite blogs or blogs of their own, let me know and I'll include them in a future post.

Again, thank you for all your love and support.

Friday, March 30, 2007


You can sit there forever waiting and planning, or you can just do it. Today's entry is the perfect example. I've had the computer open for 35 minutes, trying to think about what I should write (and procrastinating along the way). Now that I have to leave for work in 5 minutes, I just have to put something down.

Planning and thinking is good, but not at the expense of momentum.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Just how happy are we

Is it possible that as people, we're happier than we think we are? Unhappiness makes for a much better headline on the news. People in general are more likely to talk about problems they are having, rather than talk about their happiness.

This comes into my head often when I'm listening to music. The despair and negativity of the lyrics often seem to belie the attitude of the actual musicians, who generally seem happy. It's easy to look out and see sadness all around, and to believe you're somehow above it all. You're happier. You have things all figured out. But most other people don't.

It's easier to see what's wrong than what's right. Next time you're out in public, don't look around at sadness. Assume everyone you see is generally happy, and how that changes your perception of things.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Having things to do

A lot of older people have always told me that it's good to like golf, because you'll need something active to do when you get old. I'm starting to think that's more true than ever. Our generation is going to retire in our 50's and 60's, and then have 30 to 40 years left to live. That's as much (if not more) time in retirement, than actually working.

What this means:
  1. Have things in your life that you love to do
  2. Plan ahead moneywise, either:
    • Make a lot of money
    • Live cheaply
    • Have some form(s) of passive income
    • Have kids that like you (free room and board when you retire!)
    • Or, any combination of the above
I have had many people tell me they wouldn't know what to do with their time if they didn't work. Just wait till they're sick of working, then what?

No time like the present to go hit a bucket of balls...

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Approaching 100

This is the 96th post of On Happiness. There's nothing special about the number 96 of course, it's just that I'd like to do something special for 100. Perhaps I'll spend a bit more time than usual on number 100. Also, if anyone would like to suggest a topic or ask for my thoughts on a subject, I'll gladly turn it into a special "reader's edition". And if all goes well, we'll do it again in the future. (Sadly, you missed your chance to have me write the first few pages of my as-of-yet non existent autobiography).

I started this blog on October 14th, 2006. It's been a little bit over 5 months and I've got about a book's worth of writing. Kinda makes me wish I had started this out as a book writing project. I guess it's just another example of something that ends up being easy once you start chipping away at it. You get into a rhythm and before you know it, you've carved a tunnel halfway out of prison.

Not to imply that I was in prison...

Also, when I get to 100 posts, I'm going to take a more active role in promoting my site by spreading the word and engaging with other blogs. I may occasionally ask you to share a meaningful post with a friend. It helps to have people out there listening...

Monday, March 26, 2007

Dilbert's happiness formula

Scott Adams, the guy who writes Dilbert, gives us a happiness formula.
Happiness = health + money + social life + meaning
Of course, it's hard to know if he's right. He says that the most important is on the left side, and the least important is on the right. I'm actually surprised that health is first, but maybe this is why people are always saying "at least you have your health". I suppose it depends on how you think about health. If health to you is "not being bedridden" then I can see it as more likely to be the most important. However, if health is "not getting sick frequently", then it's harder to argue that.

I'm also surprised that money is number two. Granted, a great deal of issues and problems in our lives revolve around money, but again, I believe it depends just how exactly you're defining money. If you don't have enough money to feed and shelter yourself, I could see that as being a huge obstacle to happiness. (I know some homeless people "enjoy" their lifestyle, but I'd be hard pressed to believe any strong claims of happiness). However, once you have enough money to live, I'm not convinced that money is proportional to happiness.

Are the wealthier people you know happier in general?

Meaning is the least important, which surprises me, because certainly many people seem to treat this as the most important. Is it because they are happy with the other 3 parts of the equation? Perhaps this explains why it seems like more often it's the successful people who are searching for meaning.

Also, social life seems the most objective to me, because there are some people that are truly happy with very little social life. I would say that the important component of social life, is whether or not their social life is what they want it to be, which for some people is much more active than others. (Compare this to money, where it seems more straightforward that you want more money, rather than less). Unless we consider that your desired social life is a function of other emotional issues you have, and that objectively, everyone wants an 'active' social life.

Then I started reading the comments, and this one saddened me:
My only problem with this is that the first three priorities in your happiness formula are uncontrollable. It's very difficult to control health to any extent, as well as wealth and even social life. Meaning is the only thing that can be controlled. The first three have to do with luck and success, not with a formula for happiness.
I couldn't imagine what it would feel like to believe that you had no control over your health, money, or social life. Of course, now it's occurring to me that there must be many other people out there who think like he does.

In case anyone else believes him, let me remind you: EVERYONE HAS CONTROL OF THEIR LIVES. You choose what to be. You choose what to do. You choose how to react to things. Your choices determine who you are. You can make healthier choices. You can make more financially smart choices. And you certainly can choose what kind of social life you have.

If pessimism can make you think like that guy, it'd be a bigger obstacle to happiness than any of the pieces of the formula.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Happiness and your team

I think I watched every Green Bay Packers game between 1994 and 2005...even if it meant not finding out the score and having the tape mailed to me. Then I finally realized, it wasn't making me happy anymore.

Professional sports is an interesting thing. It creates happiness, but just as much, if not more sadness. Since only 1 team wins ultimately, the vast majority of fans end up unhappy, even heartbroken at the end.

That's how I started to feel. Heartbroken. After yet another emotional rollercoaster of a season, I'd decided I'd had enough. It didn't make me happy walking home from the bar, saddened that they had let it slip away once again. Not only was I in a bad mood, but I often spent most of a beautiful sunday afternoon inside a dark room with greasy food.

Then I cut myself off completely. And it all seems a little crazy, that the hopes and moods of hundreds of thousands of people can be decided by a missed extra point. So much of it is hinged on randomness and circumstance. Is the team really any less good because an errant pass bounced off someone's helmet and was returned for a freak touchdown?

I have to say, I do miss the occasional, fleeting highs. But I'm so much happier without the lows. Although, I do have less to talk about with sports fans.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Nothing to do with Happiness

The World is Flat has really made me think the last few days. All along we've been told that education is important. Most of us believed them. Sure, it's important, but I can probably get a good job without it.

I wouldn't be so sure.

Before you know it, the US will be outsourcing most of the jobs that can be outsourced. Don't think your work can be outsourced? Think again. High paying computer programming jobs are going overseas. Media reporting can be done faster and cheaper in distant lands. McDonalds has even begun to outsource order taking at the drive through window!

I guess this means we will all need good: ideas, analysis, design, and people skills. There honestly might not be that much else left in 20 years.

Start planning now for your obsolescence. Don't think of it as a problem, that's too pessimistic. The glass half-full terminology is: challenge.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Your autobiography

In our theme of looking back (not to dwell, but to understand), I invite you to come up with the title of your own autobiography if it were written today. And give it a subtitle as well. Here's mine:

Stability Deficit Disorder: Why my feet and mind won't stand still

What's yours? (If 5 or more people post theirs in the comments, I promise to write and then post the first three pages of said autobiography)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Happiness is easy when you're busy

Why? Because you don't think about it. You don't have time to ponder whether or not you're where you want to be. As seen in the song lyric:
"Spend all your spare time, trying to escape, with crosswords and sudoku"
Some people intentionally distract themselves with things they know will stop them from thinking. It's a good trick. I do it myself all the time by listening to music while trying to be productive. It stops my mind from wandering.

But what I never seem to do is to kill the distractions when I have nothing else to do. Give myself time to think when I don't have do be doing something else. Perhaps then I'd be able to reflect upon, as I mentioned yesterday, what has happened so far in my life and why I've dealt with it the way I have.

The scientists say that will make me more likely to change than if I were to dream of how I want things to be. But then again, artists see the world differently, so perhaps I'll have to decide whose side I'm on.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Ignore all previous suggestions to ignore the past

Made to Stick describes a study which concluded that people who analyzed a negative personal situation by thinking through "how the events unfolded" were happier one week later than people who focused on "the desired future outcome".


Those findings really surprise me. It seems intuitive that to get past a negative situation you should think forward to how you'd like things to be, rather than look back and dwell on the past. But the study showed the opposite. And after another week had passed, the people who were looking back were even happier!

This is not to suggest that you should dwell on the past, but rather look to the past to help discover why you felt or reacted a certain way.

So perhaps we should conclude that while it's important to set goals, you'll reach them more easily by looking back to dissect what has been keeping you from them so far?

Hmmmm. I may have to dwell on that for a while...

Friday, March 16, 2007

Seeing the world differently

This interesting article describes how artists and non-artists look differently at the same picture (the artists scan the entire picture, while the non-artists focus on just the key objects). I suppose that shouldn't necessarily surprise us, but nonetheless, it's a reminder that everyone sees the world differently.

We each have our own lens that's been shaped over time by our experiences. It helps to keep this in mind when dealing with other people. You'll be more understanding, compassionate, and respectful.

Just as your lens has subtly changed shape over the years, you can change it back. It just can't happen overnight.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Wisdom of Yoda

By now, we all know his most famous saying:
Do or do not, there is no try.
I used to think it was cute, but impractical. If you don't try, how are you ever going to succeed. What about the really hard stuff?

Well, as it turns out, I think I was wrong. Saying that you're going to try something is setting yourself up for not succeeding. It mentally gives you a way out. You don't have to be disappointed and you won't have "failed" because you were never really that set on it in the first place.

Don't try to do it. Just do it.

If what you need to accomplish is too large a task to "just do", then break it down into smaller tasks. Do each one. Yoda would be proud.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Living with unhappiness

I had a long talk with a friend today who said matter of factly, "I've come to accept the fact that I'll always be somewhat unhappy". Now I must many more people out there are telling themselves the same thing day in and day out?

Of course I realize that we can't all be happy all the time, but she was talking about a general unhappiness. She was talking about "settling" for the fact that there would always be unhappiness in her life that she would have to deal with.

But, why?

The word "settling" implies unhappiness. It means you really want something else, but you aren't going to try for it. Don't kid yourself, you decide whether or not to have things that make you unhappy in your life.

(I realize you may think that I am oversimplifying things here, but I challenge you to come up with examples unhappiness in your life that you cannot stake steps towards eliminating)

Monday, March 12, 2007

Inspiration vs. Time

Sometimes it takes me 20 minutes of sitting and thinking before I can start writing a post. I don't plan it out, I just wait for an idea and then I run with it. I could write out ideas, create an outline and work on a thrilling intro and conclusion, but how much better would they actually be?

If I don't act on the idea, I'll often lose it forever. Even if it gets written down, I often never get back around to it. If I plan too much, I run out of time. The best posts were not written because I stared at a blank screen and waited for something to come to me. An idea come to me, I dropped what I was doing, and I wrote it.

Then I'll go back to whatever I was doing beforehand. Although honestly, a lot of times I don't because it really wasn't as important as it seemed at the time.

This is a fantastic metaphor for life. Act when inspiration hits. Don't try to schedule it.

Clocks. Who needs 'em anyway?

Post Offices nationwide recently removed all clocks from their waiting areas as part of a "retail standardization program". Without getting carried away with mockery and jokes, they may be on to something.

Clocks suck. So do watches. Do we really need to know what time it is at every possible moment of the day? Watching the clock is stressful. If you are late for something, the clock in the dashboard of your car only makes things worse. It's not like you can use it to help you get there faster.

Clocks make you impatient. How important are exact minutes anyway? Since they can just decide to move our clocks ahead early this year, apparently hours are relative.

If you didn't have strict hours for your job, wouldn't the clock seem less important? If you tivo everything, doesn't that make the clock less important? If you can contact people by cellphone wherever you both happen to be, doesn't that make the clock less important?

I used to have a digital clock staring me in the face next to my bed. I swear to you, I am much happier without it.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Be a ferret

When my ferrets are in the cage, they pretty much eat and sleep. They're not that curious about what's going on outside the cage, because they've already explored that room (the kitchen) a hundred times over.

Last night I put their cage in the bedroom, the one place they're not allowed to go in the house. The dynamic inside the cage has totally changed. They're moving around, peering out and any sign of movement in the room, and occasionally trying to bust out of the cage. (Don't worry, they do get out enough.)

Change is exciting and invigorating. Although they want to get out more than they did before, you can tell that life just became a whole lot more interesting.

If you put a cat in a new environment, it will go hide under the bed.

In life, don't be a cat. Find your inner ferret.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Are you committed to the cause?

This guy is committed to his cause. All his friends probably think he's a wacko and are constantly annoyed by all of the inconveniences that must come up trying to squeeze 59 MPG out of a non-hybrid Honda Accord.

But I bet nothing would make him happier than learning a new trick that bumps him up to 60. As one of the articles I linked to yesterday mentioned, happiness is having ideas and goals.

I've never been that fanatical about something, but honestly, it kinda sounds like fun.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

"If we hope, we cope. If we don't we mope."

According to some new research (discussed here), "happier" people live longer. Test subjects were roughly one third less likely to develop a cold when exposed to the virus. They were classifying happiness in the long term, but it is probably true for short term happiness as well. In my experience, people who are stuck in short term unhappiness definitely seem more susceptible to illness. Keep an eye out for this in your own life, I'll bet you might start seeing a correlation.

This related article says that there is somewhat of a genetic component to being happy. I'm less enthused about news like this. The article doesn't really say anything else useful, but I always get a little nervous when research like this is published. It gives people an excuse for their condition. For example, because alcoholism has a genetic component, people can use it as an excuse for their own problems with alcohol.

Let's hope this doesn't help people to justify their own unhappiness.

Happiness is a tricky thing to measure and explain. People spend a lot of time and effort looking for it, and asking a lot of "why" questions. Sometimes, it may seem as though happiness is some sort of tangible object, and the goal is to find it.

In reality, happiness is about being honest with yourself, and using that to guide your life to a place where can be happy. "Guide" of course, is just a less scary word for "change".

On Other People

There are three types of people in this world:
  1. People who care what other people think of them
  2. People who don't care what other people think of them
  3. People who don't think about what other people think of them

Which ones do you think are the happiest and most well adjusted?

Monday, March 05, 2007

What is it you really want?

This guy left his six figure job to become an actor. It was scary. It made him uncomfortable. It made him happy.

Many of us trade happiness for money each day. We think it's the safe thing to do. Sure, your material lifestyle might be safe. In the long run, unhappiness is risky.

We don't always realize right away when something that used to make us happy doesn't anymore. In fact, it often takes years. Or longer.

Why do we let that happen?
It's better to be at the bottom of a ladder you want to climb than halfway up one you don't. -- Tim, The Office (BBC)

Friday, March 02, 2007

Say three things, and you've said nothing

I've been reading "Made To Stick", a recent book I won for free by leaving a comment on where they give away 10 free books each friday to readers. The book, which is great so far, talks about breaking down your ideas to the core, and pushing those to the forefront.

Newspaper articles are written in descending order of importance. The lead should say it all. The details become less important as the article goes on, and as you all know the final sentence of a sports recap usually ends with "Longwell also kicked a 37 yard field goal in the 2nd quarter."

In business, you often hear about the 30 second pitch. You have 30 seconds to explain your company to someone in an elevator. No time for going through every important point, you need to lead in with the essence of your business, condensed enough that it can sound unique and distinctive in just one or two sentences.

It's only after you've got someone's attention that you should go into all the other details and features.

So the next time you need to explain something, don't start out by going into each and every detail. Start with "it's like [something they already know] but with this twist [something else they already know]". "Oh, my concept for the movie Speed: it's Die Hard on a bus".

Be short, sweet, and to the core. Then go into detail.

Want to watch me put my money where my mouth is. I'll re-write that post with half as many words.

Be short, sweet, and to the point.

Messages often get lost in translation. Instead of listing of every concept, step, advantage, it's better to reduce something down to a one or two line description. First tell someone how it's "like" something they already know (so they'll easily form the concept in their mind), and then give the twist, explain how it's different.

Even if you think something is "unlike anything else out there", you're probably better off comparing it to something that already exists. Then give the twist.

This concept is thoroughly covered in the book "Made To Stick" which I am currently reading (thanks winning it for free over at where they give away free books every Friday).

Get them hooked first. Then go into detail.

Now I'll cut it in half again.

Keep it simple sweetheart.

People often mistakenly believe that getting their message across means giving as many details as possible. Instead, start simply. Focus on the core idea. Relate it to something they know, then give the twist. Get them onboard within the first two sentences.

Simple makes people happy, and spreads easily.

Want to know more? Read "Made To Stick".

Thursday, March 01, 2007

How much are you driven by convenience?

Yesterday I discovered SwitchPlanet, a site for swapping CD's, DVD's and video games. The service is free, but with each swap, you are encouraged to donate money which will ultimately end up going to the four charities they currently support. Their mission statement revolves around reducing waste and lessening our impact on the environment.

This is just another example of the "reduce our impact" driven anti-consumer sentiment that has been slowly building. How soon (if ever) will the retail world feel the impact of this trend?

For example, just the other day, I was thinking about going to the store and buying a CD, and realized that it would be much more "efficient" to buy the mp3s even though they were the same price. Knowing that I would just make the CD into mp3s anyway, and probably never use it again, I thought of what is involved in bringing the CD to the shelf versus buying a digital file.

Think about it. The music already exists on a hard drive somewhere. But to make a CD, they have to create the actual CD, the case, the liner notes, and cellophane wrap. Then it's put in a bigger box with other CDs, put on a truck or plane, shipped to a store, and stocked. Then I have to drive to the store (more gas), and buy it. Then I'll get a receipt (if it's circuit city, it will be about a foot an a half long). Then I'll drive home, spend 10 minutes making it into mp3s and probably never use the CD again.

Compare that to the alternative.

Has eBay changed retailing? Do companies feel the hit of all the used items being sold? What if millions of people stopped buying things and traded instead? I've got tons of CD's, DVD's, video games, and books. I'm fairly sure I could stop buying them all-together and just trade with other people for the rest of time.

Provided I can wait. You wouldn't be able to get the "latest and greatest" this way, because instead of 1 million people buying the DVD set, maybe only 100,000 bought it, and then through trading, it slowly cycled through the rest of the people who want it.

What if the Zipcar model becomes more prevalent and people start using goods more efficiently. Why do we all need to own a car if each person only uses it 5% of the time?

It mostly boils down to convenience. People don't want to share cars, because it means extra planning, and times when you might want to go somewhere, but the car is gone. People don't want to wait for the paperback version, so they'll spend extra money (and use more resources) for the hardcover version.

For many people, reducing their impact on the environment is more important than convenience. It's showing up everywhere, but as These Come From Trees points out, even the most seemingly insignificant things can add up over time.

Our consumer culture is what creates such a strong American economy. Could this be changing? Even if 10% of the people started truly living the "reuse, reduce, recycle" model, it would be a huge hit to the economy. But think about it, money isn't real. It's just a piece of paper that represents something. Technically you can trade for anything you need. That's how they did it in the old days after all. Paper money exists for convenience.

Won't introducing all these little inconveniences into your life make you less happy? Only if reducing your impact doesn't.