Hi, here is the new topic that I’ll be covering in depth: What can make you happiest? What is happiness for you in practice? How can you be happiest, most productive, most successful?

In this series,

  • I’ll tell you about research that works.
  • I’ll tell you about books you can read for more info.
  • I’ll tell you a general order that generally works, and then you can fit it best to yourself.


Here’s the syllabus:

At the end, we can discuss whatever else we decide by the time we get here.
You can read all the Happiness 101 posts by going to this hidden Happiness 101 category.

The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.
All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have
occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in
one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material
assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

Begin it now.

This is a quote that is often attributed to Goethe. This website attributes this quote to Lord “Johnnie” Fisher – British Admiral. The Goethe Society of North America explains here the controversy and mistaken attribution to Goethe.

In any case, I love this quote. Great quote for entrepreneurship.

I have a suggestion.
Make this year the year that you say “Yes” to everything that you want.

Choose the “Yes” important items first (like we talked about here). Choose the items that energize and excite you.

Once you do that – once you decide that you are going to say “Yes” to the most important items – then providence moves too. Once you are in the market for a red Beetle, you start to see more red Beetles on the road. Alvin frequently writes that once a person focuses on his goals, then everything else falls into place (see here and here). David Pollay writes on the newly launched Positive Psychology News Daily about starting the New Year off right: he suggests writing down your goals and focusing on them two minutes a day. Simple and effective.

There’s this concept of Intuition that I strongly believe in – “You Turn to Face the Unknown Corner.” That’s just true – that happens to all of us. That happens to everyone. When people walk into an unfamiliar room, they turn to face the unknown corner. People want to get their bearings and get a sense of the space around them. People intuitively turn to face the unknown corner.

Similarly, people turn to face that which is familiar and desirable. You can make your most important “Yes”s desirable – by thinking about them, by seeing them in your head before you go to bed, by writing emails to your friends about them. So when a choice comes up…

Should you go see a movie or go home and work on your business plan?

…you’ll know what’s right for you to do at that point. Which of those two choices you should say “Yes” to. You know because you are the person who knows yourself best. Even when it may sometimes seem that you don’t know what’s best for you, usually if you talk it out or write it down, you can see that you do know, that the words you use to describe both options are different, and that one option clearly is better. (Both can be the best option – whether you choose the movie or the business plan.)

As my friend D says, “It’s all good in the end, and if it’s not good, then it’s not the end.”

Plus you DO already know as Alvin describes here because you are a great judge of your senses and your inner self-talk. You know best the nuances you feel and think when faced with a choice. Lean in the New Year toward those things you most want for yourself.

Say “Yes” in the New Year to those things that matter to you.

There’s a great 1995 article by David Myers and Ed Diener: “Who Is Happy?

“In study after study, four inner traits mark happy people: self-esteem, a sense of personal control, optimism, and extraversion.”

How are you doing on:

  • personal control (do you generally feel in control of your life?)
  • optimism (do you generally believe the future will be even better than today?)
  • self-esteem (do you generally respect your actions? [or this question])
  • extraversion (do you generally make a point to meet with friends?)

Each of these traits is actually acquirable and increasable, which is the most interesting part to me.

I was reading Dave Seah‘s story about Ulrick the Bee, and I like this second part of the story where Tiffany appears and she ask a lot of questions!

Once of the best lessons I ever received was, “Ask Early.” When I was working on Wall St., my mentor was a woman who was very accomplished in her department, and a wonderful, kind, great person. I met with her early in my career at the company, and she gave me a great piece of advice. She said:

Ask early. Ask about anything that you don’t know. Because if six months have gone by and then you ask about something that should be simple and clear and easy, then you will seem to be slow and lagging behind. Then the quesiton will be, “Oh, you don’t know that yet?” Ask early. There is great simplicity to that. If you don’t know, ask.

My father also told me many times, three of the most beautiful words in English are “I don’t know.” And then finding out is fascinating.

Posted on 12-15-06 for Wed, 12-13-06.

One should see the world, and see himself as a scale with an equal balance of good and evil. When he does one good deed the scale is tipped to the good – he and the world is saved. When he does one evil deed the scale is tipped to the bad – he and the world is destroyed.
~ Maimonides

People have different axes along which they find balance. Most people feel when they are in balance about many axes in their lives. The above quote is about feeling the moral balance, and leaning in the good direction. People can also feel balance, for example, in these parts of their lives:

  • Physical
  • Mental
  • Emotional
  • Adventure
  • Alone-time
  • Fun vs. Work

And in each case, people can lean towards the good direction of balance. For example, if you wanted to feel YOUR OWN VERSION OF BALANCE (and I think balance is very personal) in “Fun vs. Work,” then you might resonate well with these words:

Be aware of wonder. Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
~ Robert Fulghum

If you wanted to keep your balance in the physical part of you, you might aim to get to the gym more, to eat more healthy foods. Different people have different needs for balance.

Today’s Question:
In which part of your life do you feel it is most important for you to have balance – and then after that, other things fall into place?

Specifically, your answer might be “stress balance” – when you have enough stress to keep you challenges but not too much so that you go nuts, that may be the optimal stress balance. It might be “alone-time balance,” a good balance between doing things on your won and with friends. Your answer might be “mental balance,” a good balance of being challenged mentally and being calm mentally. It might be “moral balance,” a good balance of making the correct and right decisions in your life.

For me, as long as I do good things physically, and as Maimonides said, “with the scale tipped to the good,” then the other parts of my life fall in line. Which balance is most important for you?!

And let’s end with some very important thoughts on balance! Especially as the temperature is going to be in the 30’s in the Northeast, in the U.S..

The balance of nature is reached when heating the house costs as much as going south for the winter.
~ James H. McGavran

An interesting lesson-story gets passed down from generation to generation in some families. I’ve heard this story from my friends with some variation, but for some reason in the accounts, it’s consistently the father who is the main hero who demonstrates this phenomenon. Here are the two main versions I know:

Pebbles Rocks & Pebbles. The father with his little daughter is on the beach with some pail, and the father shows his little girl that she can pour a lot of pebbles into the small pail, and then when she tries to add large rocks, they don’t fit…. BUT if you take those same pebbles and set them aside and if you add large rocks to the pail first, and then pour the pebbles in between the large rocks, then both the rocks and the pebbles will fit.

And then the father says to his little girl, “See, it’s just like this – if you put in the important things in life first (laughing with mom and me, doing your homework, visiting grandma and grandpa), then the little things will all fit, and if you put in the little things in your life first, then the lrage rocks just won’t have any space.”

Walnuts & Rice. I always imagine this version of the story happening in the fall (around Thanksgiving or the winter school break). And I always imagine the father wandering into the kitchen while the child is playing with cooking ingredients on the kitchen table. And I always imagine a measuring cup, some unshelled walnuts on the table, and some rice in a pile. I imagine the father filling the rice to almost-full in the measuring cup, and then attemping to pour the walnuts in as well. Walnuts
And then I imagine the child saying, “Oh, no, dad, that’s silly. Try it the other way!” And then the walnuts go in first, and after that the rice. And then the father says to the child, “the walnuts are like the people you love
your mom, your brother and me
and the rice is all the things in life
that we all think we need

The above are lyrics from Kevin Briody. The words are from his song “Walnuts and Rice,” which I heard him perform once live, and it was great. Kevin Briody (rhymes with “sobriety”) is a singer-songwriter, and if you like it, you should catch him performing sometime. Another excerpt from Walnuts and Rice:

He took one handful of walnuts
and one handful of rice
you see my dad he had a funny way
of handing out advice
first he poured the rice in
this empty candy jar
but when he poured the walnuts in
they spilled down to the floor

He said, “the walnuts are like the people you love
your mom, your brother and me
and the rice is all the things in life
that we all think we need
how we fill this empty jar
is how we live our lives
first things first, there’s room for both
walnuts and rice”

Well i looked at him all confused
and he looked at me all content
as the smile grew across his face
i asked him what he meant
then he emptied out that jar
but before he put it back
this time he poured the nuts in first
and the rice filled in the cracks

Note: Written on 11-16 and posted for 11-15 to precede quote Thursday.

You’re buying lunch for a group of people, and the man at the counter says, $22.11. But you know the total is $42.11. You say, “Um, excuse me, it’s $20 more.” He says, “Oh, let me see – oh, thank you, that’s great! That’s great. Thank you.”

And you stand at the counter among the chips and the chewing gum while he rings your credit card through again. And you mumble to yourself, “It’s hard to be good.”

…”What?” he actually heard you. “You mean it’s hard to not eat the chocolate bars we have here? Oh, come on, get it anyway, don’t worry, you’re not being bad!”

I says, “Thanks, bye,” and I leave. I wasn’t talking about any chocolate bar. I was talking about how it’s hard to put yourself in a position of rightness when being unright is easy. And there are many situations where being unright is easy and being right is not easy. Returning the shopping cart to the shopping cart drop-off. Not being bad to your body, and instead eating healthily. Not taking your temper out on people you know well, but curbing it, or announcing, I have a temper, and I’m not going to speak loudly right now, or it’ll run away. Doing exercise. Taking time for yourself instead of overburdening. Finishing all the most important priorities first. Not giving in to excesses, like drinking, eating, smoking, etc.

All of us know that those things are GOOD. But are they necessary?

Maybe they are.

Why might they be necessary? The good things. The this-can-be-helpful and this-is-a-strong-should things. They could be necessary for two reasons:

1) The Universe Knows. The universe knows when things are right and things are good. The universe knows when you are clean and right and good. The universe knows when you have justice, truth, peace, beauty, and accountability on your side. The universe knows.

2) Aristotle says, “Do good.” Aristotle makes a multi-part argument about the goal of people, how people desire to reach the highest good, how people can achieve that highest good for themselves, and what the highest good must be for mankind.

Here is the summary of Aristotle’s thoughts:
* The highest human good – the underlying reason why people do anything (if you peel back enough layers) – is happiness, the desire for happiness.
* There are many definitions of happiness (pleasure, virtue, study), but most people agree even within happiness there is a highest possible type of good that would would be universal and single and would subsume the other goods.
* What is that highest possible type of good?
* (This part added by me: if you look at a knife, the best it can do is to be the best kind of knife – sharp, precise, the best qualities of the knife). If you look at a flutist, says Aristotle, then his highest good is to be the best possible flutist. For a craftsperson, to be the best possible craftsperson. And what about for a human?
* Aristotle says, it is to be the best possible human! And to be the best possible human, a person needs to seek goodness – to do good things, to do virtuous things – because those are the highest, best possible ways of being for a human.

Finally, similar to the idea of “the universe knows,” Aristotle says, “Happiness is acquired by virtue, and hence by our own actions, not by fortune.”

Aristotle starts his second chapter by instructing how to achieve virtue, and then from that, happiness: “Virtues … we acquire, just as we acquire crafts, by having previous activated them.” Thus Aristotle instructs us on having good habits. “So also, then, we become just by doing just actions, temperate by doing temperate actions, brave by doing brave actions.”

Therefore, doing good makes us good which is the highest thing a human being can do, and thus this will in the long run make us happiest.

Recommended Reading: Nichomachean Ethics and Leadership and Self-Deception.
Note: More to come on this topic.

This site, that I think of as “zen stories,” has been a wonderful site that I come back to again and again. I also like the comments of people below the stories. Look around, see which stories here you like. Here’s one of them:

The Gift of Insults

There once lived a great warrior. Though quite old, he still was able to defeat any challenger. His reputation extended far and wide throughout the land and many students gathered to study under him.

One day an infamous young warrior arrived at the village. He was determined to be the first man to defeat the great master. Along with his strength, he had an uncanny ability to spot and exploit any weakness in an opponent. He would wait for his opponent to make the first move, thus revealing a weakness, and then would strike with merciless force and lightning speed. No one had ever lasted with him in a match beyond the first move.

Much against the advice of his concerned students, the old master gladly accepted the young warrior’s challenge. As the two squared off for battle, the young warrior began to hurl insults at the old master. He threw dirt and spit in his face. For hours he verbally assaulted him with every curse and insult known to mankind. But the old warrior merely stood there motionless and calm. Finally, the young warrior exhausted himself. Knowing he was defeated, he left feeling shamed.

Somewhat disappointed that he did not fight the insolent youth, the students gathered around the old master and questioned him. “How could you endure such an indignity? How did you drive him away?”

“If someone comes to give you a gift and you do not receive it,” the master replied, “to whom does the gift belong?”

Question: What have you done today to make someone else happy?

This question comes from Lila. It was really good to see Lila a few days ago.
Ok, the first things I can think of are the ways that people have made me happy this week:

    * A really good friend is coming to visit in October, and we haven’t seen each other in a long time; that’ll be so great! This made me super happy!
    * Two great friends just moved really close to me – one hours away and one much closer! This made me very, very happy!
    * Cherry pie!
    * One friend agreeing to do something that we’d talked about before – and it’s something I think is really useful – that made me super happy.

So what are the things I did that probably made someone happy this week:

    * Saw two super friends… what they did was that they were available on short notice (so great!)… what I did was get all three of us together.. that was so mellow and casual and great. My friends made me so happy by being around then!
    * Took my younger brother to dinner. He liked that.
    * I made a friend of mine happy by discussing her business ideas with her… it was a role somewhat like being on the imaginary baord of a company and looking at the company’s future. I did it because it was interesting and fun, and I think it probably made her quite happier that I did! That’s cool to think about.
    * I took good steps towards connecting two friends to possible future jobs… I made introductory emails between them and people closer on their trail of getting jobs at the places where they want to get jobs.

That was – all in all – a really good week.

On Fridays, I post questions. If you feel like answering them, that would be wonderful! Have a great weekend.