What Happens When You Quantify Happiness?

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Paul Dolan’s “Happiness by Design” became so important to me in the past month that I now own multiple copies for reference purposes. The audiobook is for commutes. The paper copy helps me gather quotes for articles, like on this blog. Though this is probably excessive, I think anyone looking to improve their life should read this book. As someone who was quite happy already, I didn’t think I could game my way into being even happier. Somehow, this book did it. Pick it up from your local library!

Here’s an all-too-quick summary you can take a look at right now. If you’re pressed for time, simply click here and save the image. This is a DRM worksheet – it means ‘Day Reconstruction Method’ – and we’ll be referring back to this later. This will allow you to quantify and prioritize your happiness as easily as you do your budget. Here’s why I use it daily.

*****

Two weeks ago, I was on vacation. For five days, I was in Seattle with friends and I was destroying my budget. It turns out $300 USD, unmonitored, just kind of goes up in smoke if I focus only on “having a good time”. Sometime around Day 3, I started questioning what I was doing. Why was I somehow miserable on vacation? I’d worked seven days straight to have five days off in a row, so I should be enjoying myself, right? Why was focusing on pleasure for once giving me so much anxiety? Without a clear answer, I spent the rest of my trip in a listless limbo, and found myself excited to go back to work. On my first day back, I was energized to be productive again, but not because I was relaxed. I was relieved. The vacation was actually a bad experience for me. What gives?

In his book, Dolan says, “To be truly happy, then, you need to feel both pleasure and purpose.” You need both, and ideally, a balance. He talks about a “pleasure-purpose principle­”. If you focus too much on either side and neglect the other, you end up unfulfilled. For me, two days of pursuing only pleasure and neglecting purpose was enough to make me go wonky, but now I know. If I’d only had the DRM worksheet, I could’ve saved myself a lot of grief.

Summing up the trip as a whole gives me some clues as to why I wasn’t happy. My main activities included “drinking with friends”, “attending panels at a convention”, “eating at restaurants”, “hiking”, etc.

Drinking with friends – [Pleasure: 6, Purpose: 5]
Attending panels – [Pleasure: 4, Purpose: 3]
Eating at restaurants – [Pleasure: 7, Purpose: 4]
Hiking – [Pleasure: 5, Purpose: 4]
THE WHOLE VACATION – [Pleasure: 5, Purpose: 4]

In this case, though my activities were mostly midrange in pleasure, they were entirely lacking in purpose, especially because I was spending significant amounts of money doing things I could’ve done with a staycation. Now, let’s look at a typical workday for me.

Commuting – [Pleasure: 5, Purpose: 4]
Working at the liquor store – [Pleasure: 5, Purpose: 9]
Having good food and drink at home – [Pleasure: 6, Purpose: 5]
Watching some TV – [Pleasure: 6, Purpose: 4]
Going for a walk – [Pleasure: 7, Purpose: 6]
THE WHOLE WORKDAY – [Pleasure: 6, Purpose: 7]

This isn’t an exact science, but if you’re evaluating your own pleasure and purpose honestly, your DRM will allow you to design your own happiness. Notice your daily visits with Mom are a bit like [Pleasure: 4, Purpose: 3], but playing with your kid is like [Pleasure: 7, Purpose: 10]? Well, you have data now, so make a choice. Do you find TV-watching to be like [Pleasure: 5, Purpose: 2], but reading a great novel to be [Pleasure: 6, Purpose: 8]? Make a choice!

The point is to think objectively about what makes you happy. Broken down into just pleasure and purpose, this is as simple as it gets.

I somehow learned I love and enjoy my day-to-day life more than vacations. I can’t imagine anything happier than that! Can the DRM help you hack happiness? I challenge you to find out.

Think of it as [Pleasure: 3, Purpose: 10]?

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Your Entertainment Budget Should Be Less Than $1/Day

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The average American household spends $2,482/year on Entertainment and consists of 2.5 people. We can then reasonably estimate the average North American spends about $1,000/year on Entertainment by themselves. This is less than optimal. I’m about to show you how to get by on $1/day and be more entertained than ever. If you’re 30, your savings from this could amount to $93,925.05 extra in your retirement account by the time you’re 65. (Ask me for the math on our Facebook and I’ll happily show you.) Ready? Let’s kill your Entertainment bill.

First up, no more cable TV. TV subscribers are dwindling, and that seems to be driving prices up: “The average TV subscriber’s monthly bill ticked up from $65.25 in 2014 to $66.08 in 2015.” It’s just getting worse. Meanwhile, Netflix humbly asks for only $8-$12/month depending on your package and offers you immediate commercial-free access to “3 years, 202 days, 12 hours and 14 minutes” of Entertainment. Now, I get that you’re never gonna marathon Paw Patrol, but that’s fucking unreal. If you sleep for 8 hours and work for 8 hours on weekdays AND watch every waking minute you’re free including weekends, you’re looking at 8.3 YEARS of Entertainment for, like, $8/month. Meanwhile, I’ve spent hundreds building my paid iTunes library, but Spotify memberships range from full-of-ads “Free” to $10/month, and they both offer 30 MILLION SONGS. If each of those songs is just three minutes long, that’s 171 YEARS OF MUSIC! IF YOU STARTED LISTENING IN 1846, YOU’D BE DONE NOW. I really don’t understand how paying for individual songs is still a thing. Streaming services are obviously the future. (I like to think most of you know this already.)

Netflix and Spotify together? Even if you paid the individual maximum, that’s $22/month, or $264/year. Wanna get even spendier? Burn your money with a PlayStation Now membership for $100/year and stream 500+ PS3 and PS4 games. That adds up to $364/year, or just under $1/day. It’s almost like I planned it.

If reading’s more your jam, use your local library. You’re already paying for it in taxes, so use it. It warms my little nerd heart to know millennials are using their local libraries more than any other generation. Keep it up.

What I don’t advocate though is piracy. If you’re stealing something, you don’t deserve it. I place a lot of value on art – especially movies – so don’t do it.

Finally, MAKE your own entertainment! Some of you roll things like dining out into your Entertainment budgets, but cooking at home is better. While you’re at it, learn to draw, or play the guitar, or pick up a camera and take pictures of every stray cat in the neighbourhood. I know too many people who can tell me every plot point of Breaking Bad, but when I ask them for the last time they went swimming in the ocean or hiking up a mountain, they draw a blank!

The point is $1/day on Entertainment is already first-world luxury at its finest. Your ancestors didn’t have screens and they did a lot more than just stare into a fire. Realistically, with libraries and nature, your Entertainment budget could actually be ZERO, but $1/day for everything I described above seems like a fair trade. Just don’t spend an ABSOLUTELY INSANE $1,000/year on Entertainment like everyone else. This family can buy one person’s groceries for half a year on that.

Read a Book* in 10 Minutes

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If you found your way here, I assume you have a thirst for knowledge. I also assume you have a desire for efficiency, seeing as how most of this blog’s posts clock in at around 700 words and offer quick, simple solutions to problems. Well, this one’s a quickie, but the links contained here will keep you busy for hours as you read entire books* in 10 minutes flat. This isn’t about speed reading (though here’s how to do that), and it really only applies to nonfiction, but it’s time you explored the world of book summaries. It’s already saved me 15 hours this week.

The beauty of most self-development books is you can distil their information down to a few actionable points. The rest is anecdotal or fluff. This makes self-development books perfect fodder for summarization. In listening to “The 48 Laws of Power” on audiobook – an appallingly Machiavellian tome I don’t recommend anyone actually read – I realized each point of advice was easily summed up in a single sentence, or “law”. The rest of the book was just cherry-picked examples from history meant to illustrate the principle in question. After suffering through numerous hours of Robert Greene praising demagogues and conmen, I decided to opt out of finishing the full-length, 23-hour audiobook… buuuuut I was still curious about the remaining laws. I eventually found this, confirming what I already knew. I didn’t need to finish the book. I wouldn’t have taken the advice anyway.

Yet, this was a learning experience. Impressed with how quickly I breezed through the main points of a 496-page book, I started looking for book summaries online. I found Deconstructing Excellence and its summaries of books like “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. I found Actionable Books and its summaries of business nonfiction like “The Art of Authenticity”. I found Derek Sivers and his notes on titles like “The E Myth” and “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck”. Suddenly, I had a free online library at my disposal, and I could digest any piece of it in just 10 minutes! I hope you enjoy these as much as I do.

Obviously, you wouldn’t be getting the full experience of reading the real book. My advice is to actually take some time to think about each book summary. If something really captivates you, consider taking it out of the library and reading it long-form. Hell, it might save you the cost of a movie ticket! I know the links here have already saved me countless hours and dollars.

What can book summaries do for you?