the problem with happiness research: it's all relative

Happiness is a Greased Pig Chase

Despite having grown up in the country and attended my fair share of the agricultural shows and carnivals that pass for entertainment, I have never known the joy of chasing a pig—greased, or otherwise.

I no longer feel a desperate need to address this glaring gap in my childhood experience, because the last couple of years have given me a pretty good sense of what it must feel like.

Happiness is a greased pig chase. I don’t mean this in the ‘happiness is a warm blanket’ Peanuts sense, although clearly rural folks get a big kick out of it. I mean it in the sense that the concept itself is extremely difficult to pin down…

Roam Research for Getting Things Done (GTD) Cover Image

Roam Research for Getting Things Done (GTD)

This is a GTD guide I wrote for the Roam Research team. I’ve since developed a much smoother workflow, so I’ll update this guide soon. In the meantime, this should give you a decent intro to both GTD and Roam.

The central idea of GDT is to capture and close ‘open loops’—to get stray thoughts, to-dos, and concerns out of your head, and pin them to the page for future processing.

This frees up mental bandwidth so you’re not feeling guilty or overwhelmed, and means you don’t have to rely on the memory of your leaky meat-computer. As David Allen says: “Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.”

There are dozens of approaches to implementing GTD, each tailored to a different set of tools and preferences. Here’s how you can set up a simple GTD-style system in Roam…

the art and science of mental time-travel: cover image

Time Travel for Pleasure and Profit

Our meatsack bodies slavishly plod along at the precise rate of one second per second. But our minds are unbounded by the constraints of time or space, free to wander the past at will, and poke into the distant corners of the future.

The ability to create vast, hyper-detailed simulations of the past and future is the closest thing we have to a superpower, because it lets us do the following…

good enough cover running up stairs

Getting to ‘Good Enough’

It’s always jarring and mildly insulting to hear that extremely famous and successful people are unhappy with their position in life. You ingrate! How dare you be miserable! Stop appropriating my culture!

The reason I feel betrayed by superstars like Tim Ferriss who talk openly about struggling with feelings of inadequacy is not so much actual class resentment, but the assault upon my own convictions that once I achieve [$NEXTBIGTHING] I will be content with my own position in life…

An Interview with Alain de Botton

Alain de Botton thinks you’re a hellish proposition.

It’s nothing personal, mind. Basic sanity is simply beyond our reach. Everyone has an appalling amount wrong with them. The only people we can think of as profoundly admirable are those we don’t yet know very well.

I’m eager to establish my muttonhead bona fides as soon as possible, so I botch six separate attempts to secure the Skype connection to London. De Botton waits patiently, gently offering suggestions as if to a rather dim child.

That ought to do the trick. Now we have a clear line, from one hellish human to another…

eating the same food every day

Same Salad, Different Day

Probably you’ve read articles about how Obama wears the same suit every day, or Mark Zuckerberg has seventeen identical grey t-shirts in his wardrobe. The idea is to deliberately eliminate inconsequential daily choices and free up mental bandwidth for more important decisions; like ordering extrajudicial killings or strip-mining billions of people’s private information to sell to advertisers.

I say this lifehack is is much more useful and wide-reaching than streamlining your wardrobe: you can automate the important things, too.

If you wear the same outfit over and over, nothing bad happens. Maybe you don’t get invited to Fashion Week. But what if you eat the same food every day?

Goals Gone Wild

Every month, the blogging mafia convene: if you know what’s good for you, the first post of the year better have something to do with goals and resolutions, and at least one mention of the phrase ‘new year, new me’. I’m sorry! They’ll break my kneecaps if I don’t do what they say! My compromise is to write a post […]

Is the law of attraction real? cover image

Is The Law of Attraction Real?

Napoleon Hill was a pretty shitty human being, but you have to give him props for being perhaps the the greatest conman in history. It’s not just the sheer brazenness of the con, but that he got away with it scot-free, and continues to be revered long after his death. Think and Grow Rich, published in 1937, is still a bestseller today. It has 4.5 stars on Amazon.

None of the glowing reviewers seem to be aware that rather than soaking up the principles of the greats, curated and distilled over 20 years, they’re reading fiction cut from whole cloth by a conman whose only expertise lay in parting fools from their money.

As incredible as this is, it’s not the topic of this post. Ideas must be judged on their merits, and Think and Grow Rich is the perfect jumping-off point for exploring the positive thinking phenomenon.

Hill didn’t come up with the ‘Law of Attraction’ himself, but he perfected the archetypal self-help format: if you trace back the explosion in gurus waxing lyrical about the the power of belief, Think and Grow Rich is ground zero. Every purveyor of inspiration porn for the last 80 years—Tony Robbins, Oprah, Deepak Chopra, The Secret—has a direct lineage to this book.

It all starts with this idea: If you believe in yourself, the universe will provide. Conquer your thoughts, and you conquer the world…

Madness of crowds: Mona Lisa scrum at the Louvre

The Madness Of Crowds

I propose this general principle of travel:

If you skip the top-tier or ‘must-do’ attraction, you will usually have a way better time at a fraction of the price.

I’ve noticed this more times than I can count, but was too scared to say anything out loud in case I looked like an uncultured idiot. Privately, I think of most of these brand-name experiences as expensive box-checking exercises: been there, done that, bought the T-shirt. I wonder if we’re trapped in an Emperor’s New Clothes situation, where everyone is secretly underwhelmed, but no-one wants to defect from the agreed-upon narrative. Instead, we post up our happy snaps and loudly reassure each other how great it was…

Self authoring review: Sorting myself out with Dr Jordan Peterson

Self Authoring Review: Sorting Myself Out With Dr Jordan Peterson

Imagine your dad giving you a stern talking-to about the facts of life, except your dad is Canadian, has an IQ of ~150, and is voiced by Kermit the Frog. That’s Jordan Peterson, the University of Toronto psychology professor whose lectures I’ve been binge-watching recently. When I heard he used a research-backed ‘self authoring’ program with his students to great success, I had to give it a try. Here’s the verdict…