The Happiness Project

The Happiness Project describes Gretchen Rubin’s one year journey of resolutions that she kept each month to make herself happier. It’s a very personal memoir documenting her journey, mixed with research findings about happiness. Here are some parts that I resonated with me:

  • Chicken & egg nature of happiness
    • Happy people find it easier to get and stay married than unhappy people do, because happy people make better dates and easier spouses. But marriage itself also brings happiness, because it provides the support and companionship that everyone needs.
    • Being happy energizes you, and at the same time, having more energy makes it easier for you to engage in activities – like socializing and exercise – that boost happiness.
    • Happy outperform the less happy. They work more hours each week, they tend to be more cooperative, less self-centered and more willing to help other people. They work better with others, because people prefer to be around happier people.
    • One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy. One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.
  • Marriage
    • Happiness has a particularly strong influence in marriage because spouses pick up each other’s moods so easily.
    • we hugged for at least six seconds, which, I happened to know from my research, is the minimum time necessary to promote the flow of oxytocin and serotonin
    • in marriage, it’s less important to have many pleasant experiences than it is to have fewer unpleasant experiences, because people have a “negativity bias”. It takes at least five good acts to repair the damage of one destructive act.
    • marital satisfaction drops substantially after the first child arrives.
  • Friendship
    • Having strong social bonds is the most meaningful contributor to happiness.
    • Help people think big, words of enthusiasm and confidence from a friend goes a long way
    • You tend to like people who you think like you
    • It’s easier to befriend someone who is already a friend of a friend.
    • Show a vulnerable side and laugh at yourself
    • People are more apt to feel close to a family member who often expresses affection than to one who rarely does
  • Work
    • Enthusiasm is more important to mastery than innate ability, it turns out, because the single most important element in developing an expertise is your willingness to practice.

Overall, it was a quick and interesting read about happiness.

December 5, 2018

12 Rules for Life

Rule 1 in Jordan Peterson’s “12 Rules for Life” is to stand up straight with your shoulders back in life, both literally and figuratively. He first explains how birds and lobsters establish a dominance hierarchy among themselves over shared resources:

“The wiliest, strongest, healthiest and most fortunate birds occupy prime territory, and defend it. Because of this, they are more likely to attract high-quality mates, and to hatch chicks who survive and thrive. Protection from wind, rain and predators, as well as easy access to superior food, makes for a much less stressed existence. The poor and stressed always die first, and in greater numbers.”

He also talks about how defeat and victory affect their neurochemistry:

“ A vanquished competitor loses confidence, sometimes for days. Low-ranking lobsters produce comparatively low levels of serotonin. The ancient part of your brain specialized for assessing dominance watches how you are treated by other people. When we are defeated, we act very much like lobsters who have lost a fight. Our posture droops. We face the ground. We feel threatened, hurt, anxious and weak. If things do not improve, we become chronically depressed. ”

“Low serotonin means decreased confidence. Low serotonin means more response to stress and costlier physical preparedness for emergency … Low serotonin means less happiness, more pain and anxiety, more illness, and a shorter lifespan—among humans, just as among crustaceans”

“Higher spots in the dominance hierarchy, and the higher serotonin levels typical of those who inhabit them, are characterized by less illness, misery and death, even when factors such as absolute income—or number of decaying food scraps—are held constant.”

He suggests that you stand up straight, because of the positive feedback loops instantiated by your body language:

“If your posture is poor, for example—if you slump, shoulders forward and rounded, chest tucked in, head down, looking small, defeated and ineffectual—then you will feel small, defeated and ineffectual.  The reactions of others will amplify that. People, like lobsters, size each other up, partly in consequence of stance. If you present yourself as defeated, then people will react to you as if you are losing. If you start to straighten up, then people will look at and treat you differently.”

This really resonated with me, because I observed a similar phenomenon in the meritocratic workplace without fancy titles. I noticed that people try to establish their dominance through trying to appear smart or dressing up very stylish, or through writing notes to share their wisdom, continuously trying to assert that they’re better than you.

The dominance hierarchy also holds true in the workplace. People who are good at what they do and have skills in demand will work at better companies, that have better management, and more resources. These companies will pay employees better, offer better perks, and the work environment will be more fun. Others, they will have to work at boring companies where overtime is the norm, bureaucracy prevails and pay is low.

There’s also a dominance hiearchy within the team. The more successful you are, the better your manager treats you, the better projects you’re given, the more flexibility they will offer you – working from home or taking long vacations, more bonuses you’ll be paid. If you’re not performing well, your manager will be cold and harsh, will criticize you, give you projects no one wants, and eventually increase your stress.

Striving for excellence, being good at your job and having skills in demand will make your life easier. If you slack off, the rest of your life will be harder. Easy choices, hard life; hard choices, easy life …

December 4, 2018

Discovery through sampling

Sampling is a powerful tool for discovering what you like. New York has an abundance of gyms, so I got trial memberships from a few of them and was surprised by how many new things I discovered about myself.

I went to a hot yoga class at Equinox, just because I wanted to try a class, and I had done yoga a few times before. I found out that I really enjoyed the hot aspect of the practice, and started searching for other studios that offer hot yoga.

Similarly at another gym, I discovered that I really enjoy sitting in the sauna for 30 minutes. It lets me disconnect, think in the dark, and makes me feel better afterwards due to sweating. It wasn’t something I was looking for, but I ended up incorporating it into my routine and signed up to that gym because of their sauna.

All these discoveries happened because of sampling, even though I didn’t have a concrete goal in mind.

December 3, 2018


sarp centel

Sarp is a software developer. He writes about technology, books and software.
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