Feynman's Rainbow This is a great book about Richard Feynman. It’s writted by Leonard Mlodinow, who was a young faculty member at Caltech while Feynman was a Nobel-prize-winning professor there. Mlodinow audio recorded several conversations with Feynman about life and about how and why Feynman did science. Mlodinow describes how years later he pulled the Radio Shack audio cassettes out of his basement and realized that he wanted to uncover Feynman’s thoughts and write them up.

Feynman’s Rainbow is written as a series of stories of Mlodinow himself figuring out how and why physics works and academia works interspersed with pages of direct quotes from Feynman.

Best parts of the book: Feynman talking about why he does science, Feynman describing his first love Arlene, Feynman scolding Mlodinow about Mlodinow’s reasons for choosing one research area over any other. It’s an active book. You hear the two characters Mlodinow and Feynman talking. It’s nice.

Surprising parts of the book: The string theory explanantion was surprisingly interesting. Also, just how much of a kid Feynman was – was surprisingly interesting. Just that he had to take everything apart and put it back together himself before believing it.

One of the best messages: Do what you love, man. Because otherwise, there could come a time when you’re looking at the ceiling and you have no reason for doing what you do. Avoid that, love it in the first place.
(Messages are personal, what a person gets out of a book is usually quite personal, so this is just one of the best messages).

Reading this book also made me go back to the library and immediately check out the two great books of stories that Feynman wrote about his own life: Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman and What Do You Care What Other People Think?: Further Adventures of a Curious Character.

Here is a NY Times article, looking at whether coloring your rooms and your home in brighter colors can make you happier.

It describes how there is a larger interested in positive psychology, as seen in Harvard’s most popular course being on positive psychology. And it describes the forthcoming book “The Architecture of Happiness,” which talks about how buildings and environment affect our moods. The article also describes the strong new counter-point to the past view of elegance, which used to be white or beige walls.

Reading the article, it sounds like the interior decorators in this article are called in to make everything appear in their style of bright colors. It seems that the interior decorators don’t look particularly at each person, and what bright colors may work for that person, but that they look at their style, and apply it to the house. For example, that bright candystriped bedroom in the photo looks like it could belong in anyone’s home, and is not necessarily personal to that family. Caveat: I could be way wrong, and it could be that each such room is very, very personal to the people that live there.

What would seem wrong to me is having one-size-fits-all approach to bright colors. Maybe I’m reading into the article too much.

Colors are so personal. For example, I know a woman who has a yellow kitchen, and her place is WONDERFUL in yellow! It is just right for her and her family. It feels like her when you stand there: it feels energetic, young, and alive. I know a woman whose kitchen cupboards are eggplant purple – it’s wonderful (and dark as opposed to the bright colors advocated in this article), but it’s wonderful for her and her family! It feels deep and warm and homey. And that’s what make both these homes great: the personal touch, the personal liking of individual color choices and their fit to the homes.

I agree that what you look at every day matters. I agree that your environment has a big influence on you. I don’t believe that 1) other people can tell you that they know what’s best for you (yes, they can suggest, but not top-down tell you), and that 2) what is best for one person’s environment is best for another person’s environment (as long as there is significant variety in recommendations for different people).

One of the biggest points about happiness is that people have more happiness when they feel personal control. So if a decorator were to come in, and tell you that you should like bright colors (and this particular combination of bright colors) better, then that’s the opposite of personal control. Most decorators do personalize everything – just the way I read the article, I got the impression that bright colors were more important to these decorators than making the place fit the personality of the people hiring them. And that couldn’t be so; it wouldn’t make sense; they wouldn’t be in business. Since if not q then not p, then I must have been wrong that the decorators aren’t personalizing their bright color recommendations.

I recently needed help with something just about in the middle of the night, and I called a friend. This made me think of these quotes. It is beautiful.

“I do not wish to treat friendships daintily, but with the roughest courage. When they are real, they are not glass threads or frost-work, but the solidest thing we know.”
“A friend is a person with whom I may be sincere. Before him I may think aloud.”
“A Friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of Nature.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The best mirror is an old friend.”
~ George Herbert

“When we seek to discover the best in others, we somehow bring out the best in ourselves.”
~ William Arthur Ward

“Grief can take care of itself, but to get the full value of joy you must have somebody to divide it with.”
~ Mark Twain

“It is more shameful to distrust one’s friends than to be deceived by them.”
~ Duc de la Rochefoucauld

“Never injure a friend, even in jest.”
~ Cicero

” ‘Stay’ is a charming word in a friend’s vocabulary.”
~ Louisa Mary Alcott

“What is a friend? A single soul in two bodies.”
~ Aristotle

Two Ways
There are two ways to live life:
1) like a fast lottery ticket – by having one-time-payoff goals and going after them, and
2) like a squirrel gathering for the winter – by surely and consistently going after your plans.

Here are some arguments for the benefits of consistency. Sure, the lottery ticket is a draw – it is exciting, it is potential, and it can be huge! The squirrel, however, will always make her nest for the winter.

The Lottery Ticket. A friend of mine is a film reviewer. (I love dance movies: you name me a dance movie, and I’ve probably seen it!) My film-reviewer friend and I were talking about dance movies recently, and he said, “Senia, doesn’t it seem that most dance movies give the performer one chance or one performance or one try-out, and that that is the one that counts? And that things better be right for that one dance because it’s the one big chance?” And I thought about it, and he’s right – typically, dance movies are structured towards one dance or one night or one show or one try-out. It’s the lottery ticket – it’s the one chance to get things right. It’s what everything in your past training as a dancer has been moving you towards.
So you give it your all. And that’s the right thing to do. But it’s so hard to live life that way, anticipating one big hit every several years, and other than that, barely eeking by. It’s possible, but so hard. As Hugh MacLeod says (via Dave Seah’s post), “If your biz plan depends on you suddenly being “discovered” by some big shot, your plan will probably fail.” Living the lottery ticket is looking for big breaks all the time – looking for the job in which in a couple of years you can make enough money to retire, looking for the business contact that will bring in the company’s annual revenue for the entire year in January, looking for the book publisher who’ll love your idea for a novel and want to make it into a major motion picture.

The Squirrel. On the other hand, “slightly, lightly, and politely,” as I once heard a guy say at a dance club, the squirrel gets things done. She knows that she doesn’t have all summer to play, and so she builds and gathers for the winter. And the squirrel may be able to get even more things done while she rushes with the winter preparations. Yes, the lottery ticket is exciting. At the same time, a lottery ticket may not pay the bills. And if it does take 10 years to become successful at something, or if it takes 10,000 hours, then YES, start now, and consistently work at it. Just like after college, in your first job, some folks show you the benefits of investing early into a retirement account – that it is the amounts you put in earlier that reap the greatest gains later – just like that, the consistent attention to your chosen activity reaps the greatest gain from consistency. Just ask anyone who plays an instrument. Putting it down for a year definitely moves you back a bit.

There are two brief stories that illustrate the squirrel’s deliberate life of consistency:

The Fisherman
The story goes that a business school student was on his spring break in a small fishing village, and saw one fisherman who seemed to be more efficient than all the other fishermen. He watched him day after day, and just before returning to school, he approached the fisherman and said, “I’ve been watching you, and your catch is larger than all the other fishermen. I think if I help you out, we could get a few more boats out here, and you could train me and my friends, and we could make a lot of money very fast, and then, just think, you could retire very soon.” The fisherman just looked at him. And the business school student continued, “Just think, if you could retire, what would you do?” And the fisherman replied, “I would fish.”

“Sew a Little at Night”
There was a man who was the main tailor to the king, but one day a genie came to him and told the man that he would now be rich beyond all his beliefs, and the king would let him go as his servant because the king would have a tailor who could do things magically for the king, and that the man was free to go and enjoy his life. The man thought that was fine. Then the genie asked him, “What will you do all the day long now that you don’t have any cares and now that you have all the money that you want?” The man answered that he would live a relaxed life during the day, including walking, reading, eating, and then, he added, “I would sew a little at night.”

It’s what he does well – he would “sew a little.” Plus, even at that point, a little more money wouldn’t hurt. Of course, both these tales are exaggerated tales that show two things: the benefit of doing what you like to do and the benefit of consistency. I bet you would argue with me, “Well, Senia, why wouldn’t I want to do both? Shoot for the lottery and keep consistently improving at what I’m doing?” Actually, YOU WOULD! That would be the ideal!

DO BOTH – Shoot for the Moon and Keep the Day Job

Dana Gioia One of my heroes in this sense is Dana Gioia (pronounced “JOY-a”). Dana Gioia has a Stanford MBA and worked for General Foods for 15 years, becoming a Vice President. Currently, he heads the National Endowment for the Arts, and here is his bio on the NEA site.

For years, Dana Gioia did both – published poetry books and worked a corporate job. I find that wonderful and incredible and inspiring. That’s the whole point. That’s what Hugh MacLeod means by “Keep your day job” and “Put the hours in.”

Dana Gioia has been masterful on two levels – at work with a corporate managerial role and in his spare time with poetry. That’s incredible! That’s like a story I heard from my friend that you are what you do in your spare time. If you consistently work at a hobby (or work more at your job like most entrepreneurs) in your spare time, you will be good at it. You will be good – whether it’s guitar-playing or rock-climbing or golf or running or writing. Whatever you consistently do, you will be good at. There are other ways to push yourself to improve at your chosen activity (through incremental challenges, asking raw questions, etc.), but you are already good at it if you do it consistently.

I heard once that John Grisham wrote his first few legal thrillers by getting to his law firm at 5am and writing from 5 to 8am. That is consistency. That is perseverance.

“Perseverance is a great element of success. If you only knock long enough and loud enough at the gate, you are sure to wake up somebody.”
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

You are sure to wake up somebody. Like the little squirrel who finishes all her preparations for the winter, and then goes to the store to buy a lottery ticket … just in case. Although her affairs are in order, she thinks, “Why not?”

First month of blogging! Thanks, guys! This has been very, very fun! So great to read your thoughts – in the questions section, and all over!!! Merci! The parts of the blog from this month that I’ve liked the most have been the topics about the brain, the answers that you guys put down to the questions, and the stories. Highlights from July:

The Brain
Write Like a Map!super interesting comments to this post!
You Are What You Say
Thinking Styles: “You Talkin’ to Me?!”
This is the section I’m most psyched about this month. I started off writing about Positive Psychology, and went toward the brain and expertise.

Positive Psychology
James and James: SNAP Habit Training (habits)
In a Bad Mood? Pretend You’re Giving Advice to Your Friend
Introducing … ASSESSMENTS!

Intuition & Fun
Three Components of Intuition
Tanabata – Make a Wish Today! see the stupendous streamers Dave made for Tanabata!

Stories (Tuesdays)
Wasn’t Your ‘Maybe’ a ‘Yes’? by Senia
The Girl Who Became a Flower by Senia
Vito’s Treasure by Vito (a guest author for this blog’s stories!)
Warm Fuzzies by Claude Steiner

Quotes (Thursdays)
The past just-over-a-month includes quotes on courage, action, details, self-knowledge, the universe, and freedom.

Questions (Fridays+)
What actions have you spend the most TIME developing?
How do you become an expert?super interesting comments!
Why?beautiful answers
Which is your favorite room in your house?
Who are you happiest around?
What’s the best thing in the world?gorgeous answers

Picture of the Month

growing up

More to come especially about the Brain, Expertise, and Intuition. Mucho thank you!

:) S.

Sometimes you think that because you have a thought, that it is the truth. But, often your own thoughts can fool you. How many times have you thought, “Everything is going wrong, and there’s nothing I can do,” and then you come out from that into new great things (and sometimes new bad things). Life changes. Things change. You can’t believe every thought you have – you wouldn’t believe every word that someone else says to you, so why believe every subconscious half-thought of your own head? You can use those thoughts that are productive and useful to move you forward, but if you have negative thoughts that spin in a downward spiral, then it may be that at that point, the ticker tape in your head is on automatic, and that it may be useful to switch it around.

It’s funny that people respond to themselves differently than they would to their friends. I just had a unusual time where I wasn’t sure this was going right, or that was going right, etc. And it just made me so upset at myself to I know that if I were to step aside and if my friend were saying the same things… I know what I would tell her! Isn’t that so often the case – when a friend asks for advice on work, on romance, on school, on organization, on home buying, on exercise, etc., you know exactly what to suggest and recommend, but when it’s your life… so often you don’t know! Why is that? Why doesn’t your “intuition” or other advice-giving center kick in when it’s for you as much as it should when it’s for someone else?

Is it because:
* You don’t want to make a mistake (a mistake in your life is more costly than advice for your friend’s life – because after all that was only advice; in the end, the friend makes the decision herself)?
* You don’t believe the counterarguments when it’s about you?
* You want to feel down and dark for a while?

Those are all valid. But let’s break them down. You don’t want to make a mistake – so what?! So you make a mistake. “Do not fear mistakes, there are none,” says Miles Davis. Everything you go through can make you not go through that same thing later. Everything somehow shapes you.

You don’t believe in counterarguments when it’s about you? Yes, this is an ego thing – not in a bad way! This is just a matter of – like the ticker tape beliefs – thinking that if a thought comes from you, then it maybe doesn’t need to be counterargued. That’s just not true! A million times, I will tell you that this is just not true! Your mood, your latest food, the rain, smells around you, the news that day – everything can affect you, and when you have a thought, it may just be a reaction, and something to say, “Thanks for coming, but you’re not really real.” You can have two thoughts, “this food is good for me” or “this food is bad for me.” And the funny thing is that both viewpoints may be valid. Ice cream can be bad for you, or good for you – simply because deprivation in the long run may not work for your personal body system. Broccoli can be good for you for the vitamins, or can be bad for you if farmed in some certain strange way. Everything is arguable. Including your thoughts.

You may want to feel dark and down for a while? The strange, strange, strange thing is that people who go out and FORCE themselves to have a good time anyway usually make themselves feel better. This is especially true of people that have a good time, or better yet, do something FOR someone. Doing something for another person often immediately makes the first person feel better – Sonja Lyubomirsky and colleagues did a study with a control group, a group that chose one day in a week in which to do act kinds for people, and a group that did something kind everyday. The researchers asked the participants to continue this for six weeks and at the end of the six weeks, the control group had slightly decreased happiness from the start of the study, participants that had done kind things every day were much unchanged (and the researchers postulate that this is because the kind acts were not anything unusual and became habitual for that group), and participants that had done kind things on one day of each week reported significantly increased levels of happiness (i.e. well-being).

performing acts of kindness increased peoples' happiness

And about going out and having a good time, there is a great study about bowling alone: participants that were introverts and did not want to go out bowling were taken out to go bowling with strangers, and they showed markedly increased levels of satisfaction after bowling with strangers than before.

So your own advice-giving center may not kick in naturally for you. Still, it would if you were talking to a friend. From an article on relationship advice:
“For example, take a young couple who goes out for a romantic dinner for the first time after the birth of their first child, but spend the entire evening arguing over silly things, and return home deflated. The woman, whose read plenty of articles on “marriages that deteriorated after the first child’s birth”, is panic-stricken and flooded with difficult thoughts of divorce. These thoughts can get so out of hand that she begins planning her visitation arrangements and tries to imagine how she’ll manage raising the child on her own. If a friend would have told her the same thoughts, she would have undoubtedly dismissed them. She would have likely pointed out that it is difficult to be romantic when you don’t sleep more than three hours a night, and when you worry during the meal that the baby might wake up crying and the babysitter won’t be able to calm him down. It is easier for us to encourage others, but when it is happening to us, we have a hard time dealing with the false thoughts. Therefore, it is helpful to treat them as if they were voiced by another person whose principal goal is to make us miserable. At the next stage we must conduct an internal argument with those thoughts, resist them with all our persuasive willpower, and prove to ourselves that they are not grounded in reality.”

So, in short, be a good friend to yourself! Pretend you are your best friend and play! Make up other ideas and explanations for yourself that will let you see the big picture, and that will make you act more productively than stewing in those not-helpful thoughts.

Take-away: Pretend you’re your best friend, and talk to yourself kindly, productively, encouragingly – the way you might to your really good friend!

Source for acts of kindness study: Lyubomirsky, S., Tkach, C., & Sheldon, K. M. (2004). [Pursuing sustained happiness through random acts of kindness and counting one’s blessings: Tests of two six-week interventions]. Unpublished raw data.

John: “Hi, how goes?” rhododendrons
Mary: “Good. The weather seems to be nice today.”
John: “Yes, it sure is a good day. Did you see the rhododendrons blooming along Salem Road?”
Mary: “Yes, they looked really nice, really fresh. … I think it might rain tomorrow.”
John: “Really, you think so?”
Mary: “I think I heard that on the radio.”

When I was a teenager, I distinctly remember thinking, “How boring. How boring! How BORING! How could people talk so much about the obvious!? Hello! I mean, yes, ok, the weather is nice, the flowers are blooming, yes, it may rain. Let’s get on with it. Let’s debate something. Let’s agree, let’s disagree, let’s find out why things are happening!” (Yes, I actually probably did think in terms of “Let’s debate something.”)

And now, I have COMPLETELY CHANGED MY MIND. Not even a little bit, not even a tiny bit, but a huge large, definitely, very large, very very large bit.

It has to do with living in the moment. What I once had thought was boring, I now think is so nice. So nice. Some of my favorite times are with friends – after we’ve caught up on this and that and this and that, and we’re just lying on the beach, in all our clothes, on the little washed-up shells, with the sun against our faces (probably commenting about how clear the sky is and how warm the sun feels). Or sitting on the couch in the evening with the music on and just saying how mellow the flutes sound. So simple. So good.


Can you recognize yourself in any of these … ?
* “I’ve never been lucky in (choose one: money, career, love).”
* “Sure, I could have done better if only my parents had….”
* “Well, how am I going to have a healthy outlook after what I’ve been through?”

These things are the blame game. These are examples of blaming as a way of remembering past hurts. And they do hurt. And they are hurts.

And your mind grows addicted to that hurt the more you repeat it and retell that hurt. Your mind starts to look for that hurt in new situations as a way of reinforcing it. It starts to rely on it. And as with anything that becomes uniquely yours, your mind actually redeciphers it to be a good thing. It’s part of a small cognitive dissonance that mind thinks, “Well, I’m a good person, I like myself, so this bad thing has got to just be part of me – what can I do?, it’s just part of me, and I’m a good person.” And then, somehow, without you even being aware, the mind massages the message just a little to be simply, “That pain is part of me.”

The two books mentioned in the previous post overlap on this interesting concept of the person’s ego identifying with the person’s pain.

The Power of Now says that if there is a negative feeling, such as anger, guilt, self-pity, or depression, then that feeling is tied to the body as long as the mind continues to dwell on it and to play out scenarios. In this sense, the author Eckhart Tolle says that the body is connected with the pain in a “pain-body.” Furthermore, Eckhart Tolle describes “ego identification with the pain-body” as that sense that there is something of “my story” or “my life” in that cycle and that there is a pleasure that the body retains from identifying with that pain and that history.

In Get Over Yourself, Tonya Pinkins talks about letting go of the ego, dropping the drama, and getting over the victim and saint self-stories. Both the victim story (“Oh, I can’t do anything right because of all these terrible things that happened to me”, “I have a million perfect reasons to be depressed, and you would be too if you’d been through what I’ve been through”) and the saint story (“I am not going to follow my dream because it might hurt some of my close ones,” “I will switch to my dream job once the kids are in college”) are crutches for not acting now. Both stories tie negative feelings, such as guilt or self-pity to the ego, to the core identity of a person.

Breaking that ego and pain-body identification is, in short, “getting over yourself.”

Every once in a while, “happiness” hits the news. A few months back, it was the research that laughing makes for a happier life (including the journalists’ recommendations to watch more Jay Leno). Now, the latest is that researchers at Harvard and at Penn State say that the largest predictors of happiness are:
* physical health,
* relative income,
* education, and
* marital status.

The researchers Tach and Firebaugh used data of 20,000 people aged 20 to 64 from the 1972-2002 U.S. General Social Survey, a national survey taken every one-two years (more articles: here and here). I think the most interesting part is the first point – physical health is the primary contributor to happiness. The press, in a fascinating way, focused on the second point: “relative” income over “absolute” income. Specifically, the research states that for people making $20,000 more than the average in their peer group, their happiness increased by 10%. (It’s not clear from the press yet whether it’s relative health, realtive education, and relative marital status that contribute. Is everything “catching up with the Joneses”?)

I like the analysis by James Joyner that this result about “relative” income is very similar to the research of Robert K. Merton on “relative deprivation.” Merton found in his study of the American soldier that the military police and the air corp had different attitudes toward promotion. In the ranks of the military police, there was little promotion and everyone was generally happy whereas in the air corp, there was significant promotion for many people, and yet people saw their co-workers getting promoted and felt “relative deprivation.”