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.

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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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I Don’t Want To Win Your Contest

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“Tune into Jonny, Holly & Nira from June 19th- 23rd for your chance win $200 from Bacardi plus qualify for A Bacardi Way Home Music Festival VIP Flyaway for you and 3 friends to see artists like Flume, Frank Ocean, Solange, Vance Joy, Marshmellow and more!!! Your trip includes roundtrip airfare, VIP accommodations, car rental and VIP wristbands plus we’re hooking you up with $1,000 spending cash!”

Oh my God, shut up. I don’t care.

The only reason I still listen to the radio is because it’s my only source of music in the old Corolla. If I could use Spotify in my car, I would. It’d spare me the inane ads.

I’ve become a huge homebody since I started my frugality journey, but before that, I used to go to every event I could for the sake of Fun. I even started a music blog so I could go to concerts and events for free and somehow, over the years, I’ve come to realize big events kinda suck. After going to more concerts than I can remember, I realized I hated most concerts. When that contest ad came on on the radio, my initial reaction wasn’t “HOLY SHIT, I HOPE I WIN THAT!” It was “Jesus Christ, that sounds like an ordeal.” Let’s break it down.

The $200 cash is the only thing I’d want from this promo, but even then, I’m not jumping through hoops for it. The show that promo is a part of airs from 5:30-9:00 AM. Nope! I’m not getting up for that shit! I’m not suffering through hours of Bieber for the chance at $200. And even if I get through and win $200, there’s a chance I might have to accept that concert prize? No! I’ve been to enough concerts and festivals, and I always feel like I’m being held hostage at them. Between acts I might actually want to see (which tend to be ruined by the fact I’m fighting a massive crowd of sweaty hipsters and can’t hear shit half the time) are numerous acts I don’t care about, but I feel obligated to stick around. I don’t really have the freedom to do what I want! Also, this is in Barrie, Ontario so winning this would ALSO mean being on a plane for four hours just to get there. And really? VIP wristbands? I assume that means we’d be able to get near the front where the performers are… and where the sound quality is most appalling. I guarantee you no sound mixer is adjusting their levels for the front row. Enjoy your hearing loss!

The more I thought about this, the luckier I felt. By doing nothing and NOT calling in, I’d spared myself a multiday ordeal. Instead, I could stay at home, a space I’d optimized to be my most comfortable place in the world. I had complete freedom here. Why would I change that? Why would I go out of my way for DAYS for someone else’s interpretation of Fun?

Maybe it’s just me getting older, but most of what I once thought of as Fun actually isn’t. I don’t want to line up to get into a club. I don’t want to be a “VIP” when the only reason I am is because I paid through the nose for a wristband. I don’t want to be a part of the concert ritual, where a band leaves the stage before playing their #1 single and everyone chants “ONE MORE SONG!” like an idiot to get them to return, even though we all know they will. That’s not for me anymore, and knowing that was actually insanely liberating. I DON’T WANT THIS, EVEN IF IT’S FREE. And that also means I DEFINITELY WOULDN’T PAY FOR IT.

Some people chase Fun all the time because it’s an escape. I don’t want to escape. I’ve made my day-to-day life as enjoyable as I can. If you haven’t already, figure out what’s actually Fun for you. There’s a very good chance it’s something free or close to it, like reading a book or going on a hike. If you need Money to have Fun, you’re in for a difficult life. Winning a contest won’t save you.

I hope you find what you’re looking for.

How Your Ideal Day Can Make You Happy… Forever

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Remember my obsession with book summaries? I breeze through multiple books a week now. That’s how I found this summary of Joe Sweeney’s “Moving the Needle”. The book itself seems to be typical self-development fare, but one piece of actionable advice stuck. I’ve been thinking about it all week. Soon, you will too.

Early in the book, Sweeney calls on us to embrace personal clarity. I know that’s classic self-help bullshit, but hear me out. First, get quiet. Turn your music off, put the phone away, and picture your ideal day. This isn’t my idea. This is in the book. Think about what activities you’d include in your day. Is your family in there? Is work involved, or is your ideal day work-free? What about your leisure activities? Does your ideal day involve reading? Netflix? Eating at a nice restaurant? Write that shit down NOW. No excuses. This is literally an exercise that will improve the rest of your life. Write down every detail; morning, noon, night. When you’re ready, meet me back here. These words aren’t going anywhere. Don’t scroll ahead. Go and write. See ya in five.

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What you wrote down is what you live for. It’s why you work so hard. It’s what you strive for, and it’s what you should do with your free time for the rest of your life.

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Fuck, I struggled with that realization. My list was surprisingly close to A Normal Life. I actually included work in my ideal day. I believed my ideal day should involve making a little money. I also included cooking. In my ideal day, I saw myself shopping for ingredients and whipping up a shared meal with friends. I saw myself drinking a few bottles of craft beer, and surprisingly, NOT some hoity-toity $400 wine. Oh, and here’s the good part: Wait until you see what WASN’T included.

I did NOT include any PlayStation or TV time. I did NOT include anything with a romantic partner. I did NOT include spending money on new gadgets or toys. I did NOT include expensive travel to exotic locations. What the fuck, right? Aren’t those the kinds of experiences we work and strive for? Am I just thinking small?

Or did I just finally figure out what I actually need to be happy?

*****

Obviously, needs change and so do the things that bring us joy. I recommend this clarity exercise at least once every few months.

For now, I’m making direct changes in my life based on my results. I’ve realized my video game habit is just a way to kill time and the Time:Happiness ratio isn’t worth the investment. I’ve also stopped pursuing Romance for now. I may also continue donating my Travel opportunities to people who need them. I’ve given away two flights in the past year, and I don’t feel like I’m missing out yet. And somehow, knowing all this makes me feel… lighter.

Heck, it’s almost like figuring out what you truly want in life makes it all easier.

Imagine that.

It Was Made For You

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“The making and authorized distribution of this film supported over 15,000 jobs and involved hundreds of thousands of work hours.”

That’s the message at the end of X-Men: Apocalypse. The fact it’s anti-piracy is clear, but that’s not why I snapped to attention. What got me was I’d essentially seen this movie for free on Netflix, even though I should’ve paid hundreds more! Gimme a sec. I’ll explain.

Now, you obviously know a blockbuster movie takes millions of dollars to make. Not just that, but the combined experience of 15,000 creative men and women is nothing to shake a stick at. Many of them have been in the film industry for decades. Let’s average it out to 10 years of experience per person. (I think that’s fair because even -I- have 10 years of film experience.) Well, we’re already looking at 150,000 combined YEARS of experience to produce this movie I basically saw for free! X-Men: Apocalypse is 144 minutes long, so each minute I spent checking out the blue chick or cheering on the disabled psychic took 1,000+ YEARS OF WORK AND COMBINED LEARNING to make it as awesome as it was! It gets better. X-Men: Apocalypse had a budget of $178M USD. That’s $238,039,400 in Canadian dollars, so EVERY MINUTE of that movie cost $1,653,051! WHAT?!? Even if I’d seen it in theatres for $15, I think reaping the benefits of 150,000 years of work and $238M was a fair trade. So what if other people are watching it too? Other eyeballs on the screen don’t diminish YOUR experience with the movie. With your $15, you’re effectively hiring a stellar cast and crew, plus a production company, to personally show you people in funny suits punching each other! That’s goddamn hilarious! They did all that – FOR YOU.

Now, obviously, they didn’t do it for you exclusively. We know that. In order to appreciate life more fully though, pretend they did. Not to get into solipsist philosophy, but what difference does it make? You’re lucky enough to appreciate a $238M product for $15 in a theatre, or BASICALLY FREE at home, and it was all for your enjoyment! Now, apply this same line of thinking to every product you use. Your toothpaste took years of research. Your clothes went through a series of skilled workers. The food you eat in a month potentially came from hundreds of plants and animals. And yet, IT’S ALL AFFORDABLE ON ONE PERSON’S WAGES?!? If this doesn’t blow your mind, I can’t help you. You’re indirectly hiring thousands of people every day for only about $100. That’s bonkers.

Obviously, don’t spend more. Instead, recognize how lucky you are and SPEND EVEN LESS. If you just hired 15,000 people to tell you the story of a human magnet, you can proooooobably put the new Mass Effect game back on the shelf. While you’re at it, recognize the environmental impact you have on the world and eat one less animal maybe. You’re already hoovering up plants for pennies, and you didn’t even grow them. The iPhone you’re reading this on? 40 years of constant engineering from a staff of thousands. You don’t need to upgrade as soon as a new one comes out. You already have a personal oracle in your pocket that borders on sorcery.

Be fucking happy with what you’ve got. You’re already getting way more than you pay for. Pretend everything you use was made FOR YOU and appreciate where it all came from. Someone else may have the same product, but that doesn’t diminish your experience with what YOU own. In fact, it even adds value! This way, you get to talk about the same TV show with your friends!

From now on, look at each new purchase with this perspective. I hope it’ll give you a feeling of constant abundance. While you’re at it, maybe stop pirating movies. I used to work in film and TV too, y’know.

On Millennials and Maslow

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Let’s just get this out of the way – I’m a lazy, entitled #millennial, and I’m everything wrong with this generation. Here’s why that’s not so bad. For this story, we’re going back a month to when I stumbled across this article on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I hadn’t thought about Maslow since Psychology 11, but remembering what I learned had me thinking for weeks: What do we millennials value, and why do we seem so entitled? WHY DO PEOPLE HATE US?!?

Well, I figured it out. Hold on to your butts.

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We, as millennials, need to work either smarter or harder than the previous generation, and the reason why comes from how we look at Maslow’s hierarchy. In his iconic pyramid, he illustrates five basic categories of human needs – physiological needs, like food and rest; safety, as in security of employment or property; love, as in human relationships; esteem, like feeling respected; and finally, self-actualization, like doing whatever the fuck you feel like because it makes you happy. It’s important to understand the visual because each category supports the next one. You can’t get self-actualization if you don’t have security, for instance. Actually, you know what? That last sentence was just plain fucking wrong, and it hurt me to type that. Millennials HACKED Maslow, and here’s how.

If you’re in your 20s, when was the actual last time you felt “secure”? You’ve known for years that everything teetered on the brink of disaster, ready to all crash down the moment your workplace decides to restructure or your landlord decides to renovict. Security is a thing of the past, and we all know it. What once were basic securities, like owning a house, is literally impossible now for most of us. We do not have Security.

You know what we DO have though? Adaptability. Our parents were mostly content to dedicate their entire lives to a steady paycheck and pension, but we know WE CAN DO ANYTHING. It’s not like Burger King is paying us a living wage anyway, so we go out there and do what makes us happy for peanuts. WE’RE ACHIEVING SELF-ACTUALIZATION TO EARN THE SAME AMOUNT OF MONEY. That’s what most people don’t get! AND we’re increasing our potential to earn instead of locking ourselves down as a wage slave! This is literally the smartest thing we can do!

Look at the pyramid again. Under Love, we have things like family and relationships. Most of us are delaying starting a family for a variety of reasons. Pessimists say it’s because we have no money, but I, as an optimist, would like to point out most of us just have different goals. I don’t want kids because my life is awesome already! Right at this moment, it’s within my means to just fly to Mexico for a week and not hurt my employment or relationships! Why would I change that AND THROW ANOTHER HUMAN BEING INTO THE MIX so I can feel fulfilled?

Our parents started building the pyramid the way it was supposed to be built in 1943: security first, happiness later. At the time, Maslow’s hierarchy resonated with millions. I’m here to tell you it’s fucking 2016 and Maslow is out of date. Pursue self-actualization now, and figure out a way to make it pay. C’mon, you’re resourceful and have Internet access! You can do it! Just start with a 10-to-2, work your fucking ass off, and you’ll experience something previous generations couldn’t: Creating Your Own Security with Something You Built On Your Own. It’s the best feeling ever.

My first job was as a video store clerk. I think it was less than $10/hour. My mom makes $15/hour, and she figures she’s doing okay. You know what the most I’ve ever made in one day was? $4,484.03, and it was doing something I loved. If $15/hour is okay, I’m banging angels. And what about Ben? I can’t release official numbers, but he learned programming on his own and will see FI by 33. Ben and I saw Maslow’s pyramid, catapulted ourselves to the peak with middle fingers in the air, and we’re building from the top down for a complete pyramid we can be proud of. I encourage you to do the same.

You WILL have to work smarter or harder though. It’s not easy to make a living as an artist, writer, craftsman, or entrepreneur. I’m hoping you’ll pick a job for yourself you’re so passionate about, you’ll ALWAYS itch to be working on it. You’ll probably also need a Day Job. Pretend the hours you grind out in the office are part of your Real Job, giving you enough money to get by until you can get back to your Passion. Ignore the naysayers. They don’t believe in what you’re doing BECAUSE THEY COULDN’T DO IT. Why would you listen to someone who ignored their potential? They’re still at the bottom of the pyramid wondering where the fuck we got our catapult.

As long as you have a roof over your head: self-actualization first, everything else later. The more you know who you are and what you want, the more you’ll come to define yourself instead of letting your job do it for you. Remember to work from the top down. See you in Mexico.