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.