Wednesday, February 28, 2007

I'm all talk

I say a lot of stuff in this blog that's meant to motivate both my readers, and myself. It sounds great when I write it, and often I'm really excited to put things into practice. But then I realize that it's bedtime, and by morning I've either forgotten about it entirely, or I'm too distracted by all the daily tasks ahead of me.

That's why it's important to keep re-reading the things that motivate and inspire. A few books I've read recommend that you re-read them every year or so, to keep you on track. I'm willing to bet though that most of the time they are never re-read. In fact, I'm staring at two huge bookshelves full of books I will probably never touch again.

If you can get in the routine of reading, and re-reading a few short thoughts or passages each day, or each week, I'm willing to bet it will start to make a difference. To back up this idea, I'm going to go back and re-read some old things that I wrote a few months back about changes I needed to make. Then I'm going to do it again in the morning. Then again on Friday.

I feel oddly happy having just said that...

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Save money, become homeless

The LA Times gives us this story of a guy who set out to live in his truck for a year to help reduce/eliminate his debt. You can also read his blog at:

Actually, now that I think about it, when I lived in LA I knew a guy who lived out of a truck for almost a year. He said you really just needed a cell phone and a gym membership. He also had a dog, which I'm sure complicated things a bit more.

He'd "move" all the time...park by the beach for a few up to the mountains for a few days. It actually sounded pretty cool.

Neither of these guys are extraordinary. They both had a plan, and executed. That's something that anyone can do. I keep hearing it, again and again: the key to success is really just setting goals and then achieving them. Make them as outrageous as you want, just commit to making them happen.

The gotruckyourself guy is still in his truck, 19 months later. You have to admire people who set goals like that and achieve them. I wonder what he'll you'll do next.

Monday, February 26, 2007

On Nothing

I'm supposed to be writing something about happiness, about the grand meaning of it all. But nothing comes.

Perhaps this is a good sign.

Some monks, for example, teach clearing your mind of all thought as the path to true enlightenment. Happiness is not thinking. It just is.

I haven't thought much about anything for the last few days. I'm not anxious. I'm not confused about the future. I don't need anything to be different.

Not thinking is much easier said than done. The easiest way is through continuous distractions from the outside world. Vacation usually seems to do the trick. Since you're in unfamiliar territory, everything is fresh and distracting, even a normally mundane trip to the grocery store.

Arrange a day of distractions. At the end, spend a few minutes reflecting on how you felt throughout the day. It might be the best way to determine your true level of happiness.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Change is Happiness

There are two kinds of people in this world, those who love change, and those who don't.

Me, I love it. How could you ever possibly be bored if things are always changing? I'm in California right now, moving to a different household each night. Each place has people that I know and care about, and time seems to fly. Those "what am I supposed to be doing with my life" questions never come up.

I can understand why some people don't like change. Even though they might not realize it consciously, many of them actually fear change. They resist it at every opportunity. Rather than face change, they'll retreat to a past comfort.

The reliance on stability and consistency builds towards future unhappiness. There will be times in life when you will go through major, unavoidable change. What then? You've run from change at every opportunity, but this time you can't. You are forced into unhappiness.

We all are capable of adapting and thriving in new situations, the only thing that ever stops us is our fear of change. It's something you've set up to "protect" yourself, but will only end up hurting you in the end.

Nothing is ever as difficult as we think it will be.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Baby Steps

This blog and it's story are really amazing to me, and inspiring. If you tell the story in one sentence it's not inspirational, and sounds like luck. If you watch every step along the way, it doesn't seem so outlandish anymore. Like the guy who started with a red paperclip and traded all the way up to a house!

The great thing about the internet is that it can walk you through each step of a journey (because time and space are essentially unlimited). In the old world media, this story might be a 15 second spot on the local news, and it would have had a completely different impact.

We read about guys like Donald Trump or see him on TV. We assume there was a lot of luck and connections involved. We might want to be him, but if you look at the end result, it seems nearly impossible. BUT, if you read a blog entry of his each day from the time he started, I'll bet it would seem completely possible.

Just about anything is possible, you just have to take steps towards it, not keep wondering how to get there, or why you aren't closer.

Start (spoiler) doing

While thinking and reflecting are truly important, they are nothing compared to the ultimate -ing word. I'll give you a hint, it starts with "do-".

So here are four tips to get started on the doing:
  • Write things down
  • Make yourself accountable to someone else: just telling yourself you'll do something doesn't cut it
  • Give it a name or a slogan: don't keep using two whole sentences to describe your crusade or idea, give it a name. It will start to take on a life of it's own before you know it
  • Set aggressive deadlines: since you know that most things can be put off indefinitely
I'll give you a quick example. When I started this blog, I told myself "I'm going to write a post every day." When that didn't work, I changed it to "I'm going to average one post per day." Then quickly that faded.

Then I made The Promise, making myself accountable to my readers that I would post every week day. Finally, I gave my email signature a new slogan: "A new post every weekday @". Maybe I'm just a big dork, but even though I'm only in my third week since the promise, it always makes me smile, and I am proud to have that as a part of my signature.

I'm sure I can come up with a few more suggestions, but I don't want to overwhelm anyone. No matter what you're trying to do, it's easy to get caught up in and then subsequently overwhelmed by the details. And while this may be calling the kettle black, don't get caught in the education loop. You'll never start because you spend all your time learning about how to do it right.

Ready. Fire. Aim.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Dave Cheong gives us 15 Tips to Cope with a Demanding Life. After reading it I swear, it's like a summary of what I've been rambling on about for the last few weeks including:
  • Reflect on what's important
  • Simplify where possible
  • Adopt a positive outlook and approach to life

Things he mentions that I've never talked about? Talk to yourself and Learn to Say No. The only time I generally ever talk to myself is if I am trying to figure out a solution to a complicated short term problem. Kind of like adding by mumbling aloud, but with concepts beyond addition (yes, I'm onto other things now...have you heard of this crazy thing called "division"?). (If we have any habitual self talkers, please feel free to share with us below in the comments).

Learning to say No sounds like a good idea as well. In my mind, I'd like to count it as an extension to my musings on telling the truth (examples here and here). There are lots of reasons people say "Yes" when they'd actually like to say "No" including:
  • They don't want to hurt someone's feelings
  • They are being too nice
  • They are a pushover
  • They think of the immediate potentially negative reaction form the person asking, and seek to avoid it

Being nice to others is a great thing to do, but you don't always have to be nice...and certainly not at your own expense. Saying "Yes" that will cause you unhappiness is not a good habit to get into. Save your time and effort for a "Yes" that you will make you happy.

Trust me, you'll have plenty of opportunities.

On Balance

We've all heard that it's important to have a work/life balance. What this usually means, is that you aren't supposed to become so emotionally wrapped up in work that your mood is entirely reflective of how work is going at that particular point in time.

Are there other ways that a "life" imbalance rears it's ugly head? When you have one part of your life that is going particularly well (let's say your social life), it will often make the other parts of your life seem less important and/or stimulating. This can easily lead to the dreaded U word: unhappiness.

So what's a person to do when suddenly aspects of your life that were once fulfilling seem to have become a chore? The answer might be to find the balance within that imbalanced part of your life. Confused?

The part of your life that is going really well is doing so because it is balanced. Relationships, for example, are at their finest when both people feel the same way about each other, and have the same amount of "need" for one another.

You can imagine that work might not be going so well if you were pouring your heart and soul into it, but you felt under utilized and under appreciated. By the same token, it would be just as imbalanced if your company was counting on you but you had lost your motivation to perform well.

You can see that there would be lots of different ways to go about correcting the problem. It might be that you need to change your attitude, or change your work ethic, or work on making sure that other people change to see your value and potential. This isn't to say that it will be easy, but the first step of course is to recognize what's actually going on.

So instead of thinking about "how" are certain aspect of your life might not be so great, think about "why". Balancing it out against another part of your life might be unrealistic (at least in the short term), but balancing it out within itself is a much more manageable task. After you've thought about "why" it's unbalanced, think about "what" you need to do to get rid of the unbalance. (For those of you holding your breath for the "who" and "where" in my explanation, prepare to be disappointed).

Remember, you need to compare apples to apples here. Balance your work life within itself. Balance your social life within itself. But don't forget where this post started either, you can't become so wrapped up in the unhappiness of one that it automatically carries over into everything else.

(I think I just motivated myself into working on balancing out the blogging component of my life. Unfortunately for you, that means I'm going to start asking you to leave more comments and to share relevant posts with your friends! Remember, comments can be anonymous.)

Friday, February 16, 2007

Easy = Happy

I just got off the phone with tech support. The guy was friendly. He helped me help myself in about two minutes. I hung up and thought: "that was easy". I smiled.

Easy is the new black. Long ago, things used to be easy. Microwaves had one dial, and nothing else. Not even a start button. Not even a button to open the door. And certainly not any of the other 35 buttons that my microwave has. (Don't think I made up that number. I went to the kitchen and counted. Funny thing is, I would have only guessed somewhere around 15, probably only 4 of which I've used so far. My god, it even has a "Help" button?!?)

Then, stuff started to get more complicated. Instead of leaving frozen meat out on the counter before you leave for work, someone decided to let the microwave take care of it so we wouldn't have to remember. Then someone decided that there should be a special popcorn function. (Popcorn came out just as well, if not better, in my old one dial microwave. Back then, I'd stand around waiting to listen to the kernels to decide when it was done. It never failed.)

So things started getting more complicated. Now, we live in the age of the 80/20 rule. 80% of the people will only use 20% of the features. I'd actually be surprised if it's not a higher ratio than that.

Now everything must come with a 100 page manual.

This is why the iPod is so successful. It's basically just one button (the clickwheel). It only works with iTunes. No confusion. No compatibility issues. No nonsense.

Ikea gives you step by step pictures (without words) for each piece of furniture you buy from them. (Plus, then they don't need to do translations for other languages). And somehow, picking up your own stuff in the warehouse seems easier than being at a store where someone has to go find it for you, doesn't it?

The tax code just keeps getting bigger and more complicated. The uber-simple Southwest Airlines is almost an instant success.

Web Portals like Yahoo fell out of favor. They could do a lot of things fairly well. Google stormed to the top. It did one thing better than anyone.

New services on the web barely even have instructions. They are supposed to be easy enough to figure out without them.

When things don't work, it's frustrating. It stresses you out. It makes you unhappy. Life is supposed to be easy. Who do you think is happier? You, or some farmer out in the great plains? I think we all know which one has more peace, less stress, and more ease in their lives.

Certainly the farmer isn't farming just to support his lifestyle. But what about you? Are you doing what you do because you love it, or because it supports your lifestyle?

Now think about what your lifestyle entails. Does it make you happy?

How many extra buttons and settings does your life have?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Work on it

Think of something in life that makes you really happy. Got it? Now imagine everything changes, and it's gone forever. Sad, right? How hard would you work to get it back?

Now think of something in your life that is a consistent cause of unhappiness. Got it? Shouldn't you be willing to work just as hard to get rid of it?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Lying to yourself

From the Bloc Party song "Uniform" comes the lyric:
I've gotten so good at lying to myself
And it's true, we all have. The easiest person to fool is yourself. Have you ever been in a fantastic relationship where, as soon as you broke up, there was a general sigh of relief from friends and family? Even though everyone else could see the truth, you bought into your own lies.

That's some messed up mental survival tactic we've created for ourselves. Rather than figure out the way we really feel, we subconsciously (or even consciously) convince ourselves that the lie is what's real. It makes things easier and less painful.

Until it all collapses in the end anyway. (I apologize for this starting to sound like my recent post about trading long term happiness for short term happiness).

When our mind objects to something, we ask ourselves "what do I need to do to stop thinking and feeling this way?" The easiest answer is to feed it a lie. The lie is quick, dirty, and placating. Then it gets drilled in by repetition.

Avoid the lie by asking the right question: "why do I feel this way?" Figuring that out will give you your answer. The lie only gives you an excuse.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Happiness on an index card

From the clever blog Indexed that I've recently discovered:

So, our ingredients for happiness:
Little Ego
Not much pride
A lot of friends
And a lot of luck

How should we assess the luck part? You don't need luck to be happy. You can change and become a happy person, even if you didn't start out that way. It will be hard work. And it will be hard to see people who seem to have been born with the "luck" of being able to be happy easily. Yes, luck helps, but it's not a requirement.

At least, you're not allowed to use bad luck as an excuse not to be happy.

Watch your ego though. It's a fine line between happiness and being a porn star.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Don't do what you want

I've hinted at this before, but we're not always good at knowing what makes us happy. Like most people, you get home from work and want to unwind. You turn on the TV or play some video games. You realize you don't have much to eat, so you have food delivered. It tastes good, but clearly it's not the healthiest choice.

There are some chores you could be doing, but it's easy to put those off for another night. Before you know it, it's just about bedtime. Are you happy?

I've played that game many, many times, and objectively, it didn't really make me happy. It's what I wanted, what I chose to do, at each step of the way, but in the end, I just ended up feeling tired, a bit lazy, and thinking about work the next day.

Imagine this:
  • You stop at the gym on the way home from work for an hour.
  • You pick up some groceries for two or three dinners.
  • You make dinner and eat it while listening to music.
  • You call your mom who you haven't talked to in a week.
  • You pay a few bills, send a few overdue emails to friends, and put away that box of things that's been sitting in the kitchen for the last week.
  • You sit in a nice comfy chair, read a book for an hour, and then head to bed.
I can pretty much guarantee that you'll be happier at the end of the night. Even though everything you did fell into the category of "things you didn't want to do", you:
Ate Healthier
Crossed a few things off your to-do list
Made connections with friends and family
Worked that brain of yours (even if all you read was a trashy romance novel)

The "easier" "happier" ways to spend your time won't always make you feel the way you think they will. Plus, then when the weekend rolls around, you won't have so many chores to do and since you didn't go to work, you won't need to unwind as much.

That's when you get to do the really fun stuff, the stuff that makes you happy while you're doing it.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Finding happiness through water?

My dad recently told me about a guy named Masaru Emoto. Aside from having a cool name, he claims that water has a conscience. He takes clean water, freezes it, then photographs it. Beautiful crystals. Then he does the same thing with dirty water. Ugly, unsymmetrical crystals. But if the water is blessed, the crystals become beautiful and symmetric again.

Yes, I realize this is hard to believe. Think that's crazy? Just wait.

Beethoven's Pastorale. Beautiful.
Rock Music. Ugly.

This should be seeming more outlandish. It gets better. Start writing things on the side of the glass.

Thank You. Beautiful.
You make me sick, I will kill you. Ugly.

Pardon my language for a minute.
No. F*cking. Way.

Of course, since the majority of our body is water, you can imagine the implications. Could we change the physical properties of our body by thinking about love and listening to classical music? Seems crazy right? Well, this research has opened a lot of eyes around the world...

For more info, and pictures, check this out.
Wikipedia seems to have a different opinion. Still, why not be positive and optimistic? It could only help.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Trading Happiness

How many people out there are unhappy because they are taking the "easy" way out? There are fundamental problems with their relationship or their job, but instead of facing the problem head on, they put off the "life changing" discussion because it's "easier".

Is it really easier?

Today it might be. Tomorrow it might be. But before you know it, those days add up to weeks, months, and, before you know it, years of unhappiness. And for what? In the name of easy.

No one wants life to be complicated or stressful, so they stomp out those "little" thoughts by ignoring them. And let me tell you, there are very few problems in life that aren't just the sum of a series of little problems that weren't dealt with along the way.

Sometimes you have to trade in short term happiness for the greater overall good.

Boredom comes not from what you do

This study suggests that:
"boredom has little to do with lack of external stimulation and everything to do with being out of touch with our emotions".
The authors claim that this:
"shows our natural tendency to seek outside stimulations and distractions when we’re bored is the wrong solution."
How very interesting. We seem to have a hard time correlating feeling crappy with poor exercise and eating habits. Could boredom be just another problem where we seek the wrong solutions?

I can see how outside "stimulations" (which spellcheck tells me is not even really a word) would be less satisfying if you were "out of touch with" your emotions, because presumably your internal distractions would overshadow whatever joy you might experience. But I find it hard to believe that if I'm bored it's because I'm not in touch with my emotions. So, when I have nothing else to do, would I be best served to sit around and think about my emotions?

That might be at odds with my theory that sometimes we think TOO much about ourselves.

I guess the trouble with knowing how exactly to examine these results through your own personal experience is that "getting in touch with your emotions" is presumably not something you go in and out of. Either you are in touch, or you aren't. So it might be impossible to "show" yourself how to be less bored. "Getting in touch with your emotions" I imagine, is one of those longer processes with lots of little steps along the way.

I don't even necessarily know if I'm in touch with my emotions or not. How does one quantify that?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

This I promise

I feel guilty. That's what happens when I let a few days slip by without putting in my time with On Happiness. So, I pledge to you, my most loyal of readers, to post at least once per workday for the next month. If I fail, feel free to call me names in the comments.

Apparently I'm good at keeping my word. In 13 minutes I'm wrapping up my month of only eating groceries. It was much easier than you'd think. Due to poor estimating on my part, I did end up eating out one day while I was moving to my new apartment because I hadn't eaten all day and was still mid-move. That kind of stuff always seems to take so much longer than you think it will.

Maybe this blog should be called On Change. I'm taking small steps. Next month, I'll probably eat out a bit, but not nearly as much as I had been. I've laid the foundation for change. In fact, 3 people mentioned to me separately that they'd taken up the no eating out cause. (Apparently this is a common New Year's Resolution, but I still think it works better as a pact!). I will check up on them and report back any findings.

Making sure to have a blog entry every weekday (very few people are reading on the weekends...I take that to mean that everyone is away from their computers, enjoying the physical world) will help me set a foundation for planning and budgeting my time.

It's not going to be convenient or easy because there are some nights that I just won't have the time, and others where I'll be out of town completely. It'll force me to think ahead, and even pre-write some of the entries.

Keep an eye on me. Accountability is a good thing.