Grant Wood/Wikimedia Commons
As a leading psychologist, Shawn Achor has spent two decades studying happiness. His bona fides include award-winning researcher and teacher at Harvard, best-selling author on positivity, and popular TED lecturer.
So when he speaks you should listen. For instance, Achor asserts our circumstances — including age, race, gender, social status, and wealth — only account for 10% of our happiness. The rest is determined by our genetic baseline for happiness (i.e. optimist vs pessimist) and our individual intentions, including the way we spend our time and the things we ponder.
Obviously, happiness means different things to different people. But there are plenty of standardized things we can do to boost our chances of finding it. Somethings such as knowing oneself, learning how to forgive, and balancing the personal, professional, and social demands on our time can be life-long pursuits.
But other happiness-building attributes are quite easy, Achor argues. In order from least difficult to most difficult, they are as follows: Continue reading…
I recently finished A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. From a single book I’ve never learned so much and so little at the same time. I’ve also never read a more absorbing science book. Whereas I usually highlight a few passages from each book, I highlighted more than two dozen parts of this book upon completion — it covers that much ground. Continue reading…
Cold showers went viral this year. I jumped on the bandwagon this summer and haven’t gone back, not even in winter. Here’s why:
- Indisputable health benefits. Cold showers and winter swimming aren’t fun. Neither is exercise. Humans do all three primarily for the health benefits, which include more vigor, less stress, higher immunity, improved complexion and skin, better circulation, and elevated alertness. Since switching to cold showers, I feel more alive not only in the act, but after the fact. Continue reading…
I don’t always study philosophy, but when I do, I make it count.
Case in point: A friend and I were recently discussing the human condition over email. Exhilarating stuff, I know. I’ll skip to the best part.
Basically, we decided that humans struggle to internalize both complex and simple realizations. Complex ones because they’re harder to grasp, and simple takeaways because we’re usually too distracted by temptations, desires, and pleasures to see them through, even if we believe in them (or so argues Aristotle; more on him later).
At this point, I asked my buddy, “So if humans struggle to comprehend both complex and simple ideas, what in the HELL are we good at?”
His reply, “Entertainment. And nothing else.” Full stop. The gravity and strategic double periods of his remark made me do this:
At which point I enrolled in a 36-course undergraduate class from Smith College. Not exactly. But I did download the audible version of the class, The Meaning of Life: Perspectives from the World’s Greatest Thinkers, from Amazon!
Having already graduated (go, fight, win!), I did this solely for my own enlightenment. Little did I know how much impact professor Jay Garfield’s masterful curriculum would have on my worldview, existential outlook, and shared beliefs with others.
Here’s what I learned: Continue reading…
After deciding to attempt centenarian status, I’ve become hyper-aware of my health.
I won’t touch fad diets with a 10 foot pole. But I exercise regularly, I’m cognizant about the things I put into my body, and I think about how I consume food.
So health.com caught my eye last month after crunching the numbers on foods that may shorten life, specifically those that harm our DNA’s ability to protect itself from disease. The four that made their list: Continue reading…
“What do you do?” is a question humans often hear. It’s a new acquaintance’s favorite ice breaker because it’s socially acceptable, easy to answer, and easy to process. Doctor. Carpenter. Businessman. Homemaker. Forget and move on.
Problem is, we are so much more than our occupation, even workaholics (although they might not realize it if wholly absorbed by their trade). The better question to ask when meeting new people is this: “What do you like to do?” Asking that will give you a truer glimpse of who someone is, because what we think about and do under no obligation is a better indicator of who we really are.
credit: last week tonight
I believe final, condemning, or otherwise hasty judgment of others is like hatred. It is learned, immoral, and vile behavior that worsens with age and leads to unhappiness.
Obviously, we’re required to make mortal judgments on the accused if on jury duty. And we need to judge the fruits and motives of others to make important decisions in life, such as choosing friends, voting for government leaders, engaging in business transactions, shielding our children from danger, or marrying someone.
(Similarly, hatred of conditions—never people—can inspire action, but that’s another story).
While many of us struggle in making the above judgments, all of us suck when it comes to judging others out of misguided fear, selfishness, or an attempt to validate our lifestyle over another’s. It is this type of misjudgment that is so difficult to avoid.
Earlier this year, I learned a useful trick for combating this. Continue reading…
Frankenstein back with 28 staples (credit: Lindsey Snow)
Life isn’t fair.
I was born with an 80 year-old back. Not exactly 80, but old. It first broke when I was 29. After surgery, it worked again, but only for another six years. It teetered and failed again late this summer in the same spot — a re-ruptured L4/5 disc. The thing was so decrepit, my surgeon had to remove the remains and fuse my spine.
Now I’m resigned to a life of low impact and light lifting. I can’t even hold my youngest brown-eyed boy in his final months of baby-dom, let alone lift a gallon of milk for a month. I can’t return to full activity for six months until the vertebrae fully fuse. And after that, I’m advised to give up running, basketball, soccer, and maybe wake boarding or else.
But it’s not all bad. In fact, I’ve got a heck of a lot to look forward to—a lot more to live for. While having my body deteriorate ahead of schedule and the long recovery are both humbling, I also feel inspired by the experience. Here are 10 things I learned post surgery: Continue reading…
A year after the Great Recession reared its ugly head, my biggest account of nearly three years terminated our contract. At the time, I was the head of news, principal feature writer and editor-at-large for IDG’s second-largest media property.
During my tenure, I managed a small team of remote reporters, oversaw the production of thousands of stories and grew web traffic by 15% in a saturated market. But it wasn’t enough to save my job. When the going got tough (i.e. when the print business failed to transition to digital in time), I was an easy person to let go, despite my page view gains.
One reason: I only visited headquarters twice during my term. I knew management liked me, but they didn’t know me well enough to realize that I, too, had mouths to feed; that I was a peer, their equal. To them I was an impersonal guy that did good work from afar — an easy name to let go that didn’t evoke much emotion.
“Sorry, Blake. We’re cutting back.” That was it. Continue reading…
E.T. (Universal Pictures)
Several years ago, I read a true Halloween story with a sad ending. Sadder still, I forgot to bookmark it and my Google skills have since failed me. I’ll do my best to recount it.
An English family of four had just relocated to America. Although Halloween is observed in other countries — Great Britain included — it’s no where near as big or as festive as in the United States. In anticipation of this, our immigrant friends decided to go “all out” for the occasion.
With two games remaining, my daughter’s soccer team is in second place. They’ve won nine games and lost one to the third place side which—while not as talented—understands that successful passing leads to more goals than successful dribbling or individuality. In other words, they play as a team more than my daughter’s side.
That same team has likely dropped more games than the three and a half players that impressively carry my daughter’s club because playing as a team for every game is difficult to achieve. It’s easier for great players to show up to every game than a reliable team.
In any case, my daughter’s “club” will square off against the first place team this weekend, and I suspect they’ll lose unless they listen to Michael Jordan: ”Talent wins games, teamwork wins championships.”
To inspire more passing, teamwork, and selflessness, I hope they’ll consider my favorite quotes on teamwork as much as you might. They are as follows: Continue reading…
With exception to the food, my brother, brother-in-law, and consummate friend can’t stand New Orleans. I suspect it has nothing to do with the Big Easy or its people and everything to do with an insolvent business they endured there together.
Whatever the case, I hope the new album by New Orleans duo Generationals might somehow change their mind. It’s as distinct, influential, and catchy as the city they hail from. Certainly not as old and in no way related to jazz, the genre invented there. But the synth-driven, upbeat music will make you want to dance and put a smile on your face, which is good enough for me.
After five listens, I don’t think it’s as moving as their last album, but it’s one of the freshest works I’ve listened to all year, especially “Black Lemon,” “Gold Silver Diamond,” “Now Look at Me,” “Welcome to the Fire,” and “Would you Want Me.” If you’re in the mood for something new, I highly recommend at least a stream.
Four stars out of five.
PS – This is the best $10 album I’ve bought all year
Earlier this month, Seth Stevenson masterfully wrote about the greatest feat in modern chess history: Brooklyn-born Fabiano Caruana (pictured) winning seven straight games and tying three more against top 10 opponents, including world champion Magnus Carlsen.
If you have even a passing interest in chess, game theory, some of the world’s brightest minds, cat fights, and historic performances, I implore you to read it.
Writes Stevenson: “At one point during the Sinquefield Cup, I was watching from a quiet viewing lounge on the first floor of the chess club. I glanced over to my left and saw a man sitting alone. It was Rex Sinquefield. I tried to make conversation, but he politely brushed me off. He was utterly focused on watching Caruana play. An orphan turned plutocrat, now transformed back into a little boy watching his favorite game.
“I suddenly realized that he’d created this institution, funded this tournament, flown these grandmasters here and housed them, out of the purest, simplest love imaginable. He may not have lured droves of spectators to the event, and may not have reignited the world’s love affair with chess. But for two weeks at least, he helped the world’s most storied game flourish as it once had, with dedicated fans witnessing an incandescent burst of greatness that seemed to come from nowhere.”
Photo: Lindsey Snow
I tried work-life blending for six years. It sucks. Nothing more than a new term coined by self-absorbed workaholics to justify their personal regrets, negligence, and imbalances in life. Now let me tell you how I really feel.
The phrase “work-life balance” entered our lexicon when faxes reigned supreme, the 1980s. Knowledge workers, globalization, and computer networking went mainstream that decade, and with it, the temptation to work ‘round the clock on the Hedonic Treadmill (i.e. the misguided belief that the more money one makes, the happier they’ll be).
In response, first-world countries had a real first-world problem on their hands. The more connected their workers felt to the office, the more pressure they felt to “get ahead” by staying on the clock for extended periods of time. With only 24 hours in a day, something had to give. Continue reading…
My defective lower lumbar
Thanks to genetics, I inherited two bad discs in my back, the neurologist told me. (Sorry kids, you’re next.)
For no particular reason, the first one broke six years ago. It laid me up for six straight weeks, forcing me to work lying down for a month and a half. After surgery, I could thankfully sit, run, and walk again with a normal gait.
I was also given a clean bill of health. ”Blake, I’ve had patients scale Mount Everest and play two hours of basketball every morning for the rest of their lives after similar surgery,” the doctor told me. “Except for moving refrigerators and pianos, you have my blessing to do whatever physically adventurous things you want.”
I took his counsel to heart, got fit, ate more plants, and experienced a renaissance of outdoor exploits and saw a lot of wonderful things since then. In a way, breaking my back was the best thing to happen to me since marrying Lindsey, fathering children, and being awesome.
Now I get to do it all over. Last week, I broke my back again. Continue reading…
Exposing my kids to great music is a goal of mine. To accomplish this, I incessantly listen to back catalogs, one-hit wonders, greatest hits, new music, and low profile artists in search of the most timeless, dance-able, moving, and energetic songs. Then I test what I find among my household audience.
So far I’ve done an admirable job, with exception to sharing said music on a proper hi-fi. That all changed this year after acquiring the wireless Cambridge Air 200. It looks like an all-in-one Bose system, but sounds significantly richer, cleaner, and fuller without muddy sounds or the inflated Bose price. Continue reading…
Football began in earnest last week. Not that kind. The oblong American kind. The “hoorah!” kind.
For now, I couldn’t be happier. BYU‘s undefeated and ranked 25th in the country. Seahawks look dominant enough to repeat as Superbowl champions. And even the most jaded fans are full of hope, smiles, and optimism right now. That always makes the world a more enjoyable place to live.
Of course, that’ll change as the season wears on. For most of us, frowns are just around the corner. But there’s a simple trick I’ve learned over the years to avoid letting an uncompetitive or unlucky sportsball team ruin your night, day, week, month, autumn, or even year. It is this: Embrace fair weather fan status. Be proud of it. Bandwagons are fun.
I want all my children to work fast food someday. Why would I subject the little darlings to low pay, hectic dinner rushes, rude customers, demeaning work, ignorant coworkers, monotonous tasks, slippery shoes, and stinky clothes?
The short answer: Life is filled with the above, so you might as well expose ‘em while they’re young. The long answer: Much of what I learned in business I learned from fast food. Not the creative stuff. Not sustained rejection. Certainly not cerebral problem solving.
But working fast food taught me the essence of hard work—livelihood’s version of basic training. After two years as a low-level cooking, toilet cleaning, truck unloading, chicken suit wearing, stench absorbing, fry serving, drive-thru calling, and overly perspiring wage-worker at Chick-Fil-A, here’s what I learned about business, customer service, teamwork, and life: Continue reading…
I’ve been working my way through some of history’s best-rated science fiction novels. And “no,” I don’t distinguish sci-fi from fantasy.
Overall, I find the technical language of books such as Hyperion, Shockwave Rider, and others with ridiculous covers—the kind Gentlemen Broncos makes fun of—too distracting to enjoy. Reading them feels like work. It’s almost as if the author wants me to decipher or decode the language before understanding it. It’s why I abandon many of these books, including The Hobbit. After all, I read to enjoy or educate myself—not learn a fictional language.
When they’re not using overly technical and distracting language, sci-fi novels often finish in confusing or unpoetic form, as is the case with Ender’s Game, an otherwise clever book. Now, I haven’t completely given up on the genre. I still have Dune, Starship Troopers, 10,000 Leagues Under the Sea, A Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy, and others on my list.
My faith in the genre skyrocketed today, however, after reading the first chapter of Planet of the Apes. It’s one of the best opening chapters I’ve read of any genre. It’s so captivating, I dare any imaginative mind over the age of 10 to read the first chapter and desist. It’s humanly impossible. Try it yourself if you don’t believe me, for free even.
That’s how you pull someone into a novel. Bravo, Pierre Boulle.
UPDATE: After finishing the book, I now regard Planet of the Apes as masterpiece literature—from beginning, middle, to the very ironic ending. Five stars out of five.
I’ve done some light reading on time use this summer — invigorating stuff, I know — and came across some insightful observations from John Robinson. He’s spent the last four decades reviewing thousands of “time journals” from people around the world. Continue reading…