If You Want to Be Happy, Learn to Love the Little Things Cover

If You Want to Be Happy, Learn to Love the Little Things

I’ll never forget the day I got to drive my friend’s Ferrari. I had been staring at Ferrari posters in my bedroom since I was five, so it was a dream come true.

I’ll also never forget what he told me a few years later: “The car now means absolutely nothing to me. I’ve grown 100% used to it. It’s sad, isn’t it?” He sold it soon after that.

The only car I’ve ever owned was a first-generation BMW 1 Series. Here’s a picture from the day I picked it up:

For many people in Germany, even people my age — and even back then — a car like this was nothing special. But to me it was.

I still remember the unique government program that made it affordable, the sound of the handles when opening the doors, and the feel of the materials inside. I remember the whirring of the engine, the vibration of the tires rolling around a corner, and the click of the locks opening as I pressed the button on my remote control key.

It was always a good moment, approaching the car. I saw it standing there, always in the same corner of the square in front of our house, always ready for another adventure. I knew we were about to embark on a new journey together, and that made me happy. Would it be a short trip to the gas station? A long drive back to college? Whichever it was, I knew I had my Bavarian companion to rely on. Music on, sunroof open, gears falling into place.

I only owned that car for two years, but I never got tired of it. I always enjoyed climbing into the driver’s seat once again. How can one person grow completely indifferent to a Ferrari, while another cherishes every second with their tiny BMW? “Well, you’re a car nut, Nik! It’s easy for you to enjoy any car,” you might say, and to that I can only respond, “You’re probably right.”

Then again, I’ve had that same, joyously-approaching-the-car-feeling many times since selling my BMW — and that was ten years ago. Therefore, I have a theory: I think I’ve learned to love the little things.


Every morning, I step inside the small, Middle Eastern café across the street. Beneath cannolis in a glass display, the counter bends and stretches towards the far end of the restaurant. Wooden chairs and tables rest amidst a sea of green. Plants on the wall, plants on the ceiling, plants on the floor. The king of this urban jungle casually leans against the counter. “Good morning! What can I do for you?” the manager asks. “One cappuccino to go, please!”

Then, the magic begins. Their device is no mere coffee maker. It’s a whole apparatus of alchemistic instruments; an Italian portafilter — the Ferrari of coffee machines. Dynamic displays show temperature and pressure. The coffee is ground on the spot, the milk freshly steamed. After a complex series of physical and chemical micro-processes, the prized brown liquid drips into a biodegradable cup. It may as well be gold. Without having to ask, the manager puts chocolate powder on top. “Here you go!”

£3.20 is an insane amount for a tiny cup of coffee. That’s $4.37. Or 3.83€. A few months ago, it was £3.00. That’s a near-7% increase. Then again, coffee beans now cost twice as much as they did a year ago. I guess 7% is not so bad.

There’s so much fortune in this interaction: My girlfriend living in a nice area with a nice restaurant across the street, the manager of which happens to know how to make the perfect blend of milk and coffee. Me being able to afford £3.00 a day for such a treat and not even needing to worry about a 7% price increase. Of course, we worked hard to get here, but just because you deserve something does not mean it’s not worth pointing out.

In fact, the longer you can appreciate something long after you’ve earned it, the happier you’ll be. Thankfully, the smell of great coffee never gets old.


Ding! “9th floor,” the robotic, female voice announces. Fresh, warm cappuccino in hand, I make my way to the rooftop garden.

Behind a glass door lies a beautiful maze of stone, wood, grass, earth, and plants. It’s not a huge space. A few shaded benches, a small patch of green, and a rectangular walkway that goes all around — but dropped into the middle of what feels like a roundtable discussion among a dozen high-rise buildings, it’s nothing short of a sanctuary.

London isn’t exactly known as the world’s tanning bed, so whenever the weather doesn’t look too much like Game of Thrones, I go to the rooftop for all of five minutes before starting my day. When the sun is out, I just stand there, shamelessly absorbing my dose of rays. When it’s a bit foggy, I test how far I can see. In the distance, Canary Wharf, London’s finance hub, presents me with its best LA impression. Seagulls are scanning the rooftops for scraps.

Inside their glass boxes, people type, stitch, and talk. They fold, pace, and file away. Around me are hundreds of apartments, home to thousands of people. The garden connects two 20-story buildings — yet none of their inhabitants are here. Nine out of ten times, I’m alone on the rooftop.

“Where is everybody?” I wonder. Are they too busy for five minutes of beauty? Do they even know this garden exists? “I can always go there” is the death of every local. After all, how local will you truly have been if you were always physically present but never truly there?

It’s a fascinating thing, this temple in such a secular place — self-evident to those who can access it but rarely do, yet almost certainly a miracle to those who’ve never known the splendor of modern metropolitan compounds.

I sip on my cappuccino. Three more deep breaths. Ahh! Okay, time to go back inside.


If you want to be happy, learn to love the little things. If you want to love the little things, understand the following:

Gratitude is not a creativity exercise. It’s a gratitude exercise. You don’t need a new thing to be grateful for each day. In fact, the more you realize it’s the same things, over and over again, that make you feel warm, sheltered, and loved, the easier it’ll be to savor those things — and find true, lasting contentment in them.

Hedonic adaptation is the treadmill that adjusts its speed to keep us running after happiness without ever catching it. Making a habit of loving the little things is how you step off, step outside, and marvel at everything life has to offer, allowing you to come to just one conclusion:

You don’t need anything more than what you already have — because the little things are, actually, the biggest things of all.

The Current of Life Cover

Are You Swimming With or Against the Current of Life?

In his book The Cafe on the Edge of the World, John Strelecky tells the story of a man in a hurry.

The man, a busy professional also named John, is stuck in a massive traffic jam en route to his much needed vacation. When he tries to circumvent the roadblock, he gets lost and, running out of fuel, energy, and growing ever hungrier, turns in to a cafe in the middle of nowhere — The Cafe of Questions.

Inside the cafe, John gets a delicious breakfast, but he is also confronted with a series of uncomfortable, oddly well-timed questions, such as “Why are you here?” “Do you fear death?” and “Are you fulfilled?” The waitress, cook, and fellow guests seem to be able to read his mind, and they all make him reflect deeply on the path in life he has chosen thus far.

At one point in the book, the waitress, Casey, sits down in John’s booth and tells him the story of the green sea turtle. She too was once on vacation, she says. Snorkeling off the coast of Hawaii, she spotted a green sea turtle right next to her in the water. This being the first time she ever saw one, she was excited and decided to follow the little guy for a while.

“To my surprise, although he appeared to be moving pretty slowly, sometimes paddling his flippers and other times just floating, I couldn’t keep up with him. I was wearing fins, which gave me propulsion power through the water, and didn’t have on a buoyancy vest or anything that would slow me down. Yet he kept moving farther from me, even though I was trying to keep up. After about ten minutes, he lost me. Tired, disappointed, and a little embarrassed I couldn’t keep up with a turtle, I turned back and snorkeled to shore.”

The next day, Casey returned to the same spot, and again, she found and tried to keep up with another green sea turtle. As she realized that turtle too was about to lose her, she stopped paddling and just floated in the water.

“As I was floating on the surface, I realized something: When the turtle was swimming, it linked its movements to the movements of the water. When a wave was coming at him, he would float, and paddle just enough to hold his position. When the pull of the wave was from behind him though, he’d paddle faster, so that he was using the movement of the water to his advantage. The turtle never fought the waves. Instead, he used them.”

Casey, on the other hand, had been paddling the whole time. This was easy enough when the tide was in her favor, but the more she fought the incoming waves, the less energy she had to capitalize on the outgoing ones later.

“As wave after wave came in and went out, I became more and more fatigued and less effective. Not the turtle though. He kept optimizing his movements with the movements of the water. That’s why he was able to swim faster than I could.”

If you’re like me — and John — at this point in the story, you’ll wonder: That’s great — but what does it have to do with me and my life? Actually, a whole lot, as Casey will explain in a second.


Have you ever felt like you’re fighting an uphill battle? As if for every two steps forward, life somehow pushes you one step back?

It happens to all of us. We do our best to fulfill our duties as responsible adults, and yet, it seems we must fight tooth and nail to make room for the few people and activities that are truly important to us. Why is that?

Well, as the green sea turtle might tell us: “You’re swimming against the current of life. Why don’t you try swimming with it?

After Casey gives him some time to think about the story, John interprets it as follows:

“I think the turtle — the green sea turtle — taught you that if you aren’t in tune with what you want to do, you can waste your energy on lots of other things. Then, when opportunities come your way for what you do want, you might not have the time or strength to spend on them.”

Casey smiles, for she knows the power of grasping an important lesson out of one’s own thinking, and then she adds some more context to John’s insight:

“Each day, there are so many people trying to persuade you to spend your time and energy on them. Think about just your mail and email. If you were to participate in every activity, sale, and service offering you get notified of — you’d have no free time. And that’s just mail and email. Add on all the people who want to capture your attention for television time, online activities, places to eat, travel destinations…You can quickly find yourself living a life that’s just a compilation of what everyone else is doing, or what people want you to be doing.”

Casey then explains that since she observed the turtle moving effortlessly through the water, she has taken a new perspective on life: The incoming waves represent all the people, activities, and things that clamor for a share of her attention, time, or energy but don’t contribute to what she really wants to do in life. In essence, they block her from fulfilling her purpose. Meanwhile, the things and people that support Casey living in sync with her calling are like outgoing waves — they carry her towards her destiny.

That’s the lesson of the green sea turtle, and even though it’s a big one to swallow with his pancakes, John decides to chew on it for a while. I hope you will too.


When Casey leaves John to ponder her story, he asks her for pen and paper. On the back of his napkin, he calculates that if he spends 20 minutes a day flicking through unimportant mail for 60 years, that’s over 300 days of his life — almost an entire year, wasted on one incoming wave.

What about all the others? What about TV commercials, mindless radio listening, and people trying to network with him for their advancement? And those are just the distractions John didn’t choose. He too is human. He’ll distract himself as well along the way.

John is shocked. He tells Casey about his discovery. While she reminds him that not all mail is junk — and not all distractions are wasted time — she does admit:

“It can get you thinking. That’s why my time with the green sea turtle made such a big impact on me.”

When you feel like all you do is struggle, ask yourself: “Am I swimming with the current of life? Or am I desperately paddling against it?”

Do you focus too much on distractions? Are you allowing the wrong activities and people to take up your time? If so, it is no wonder every hour you spend on hobbies and friends you love feels like an hour you must mine from the hardest rock with your bare hands.

At the same time, for every distraction you ignore, one ally will look your way. Wait for the right wave, the right circumstances to arrive, and then ride it with everything you’ve got. If the knitted beanie trend is fading, maybe wait a year to start your knitting business. If a friend offers you a small book deal to tell a story you’ve always wanted to tell, go for it!

After years of high-paying but also highly stressful jobs, John Strelecky decided to finally fulfill his childhood dream of traveling the world. When he came back, he wrote the book he needed to read; he gave himself the message he needed to hear.

Since then, that message has been shared millions of times around the world: Don’t swim against the current of life. Focus on the right people, the right activities, and the right things. Only then will it carry you to your dreams.

It’s just one of many metaphors in his book, but I have no doubt that, somewhere on the edge of the world, a green sea turtle once taught Strelecky that lesson — and from that very same turtle, we can still learn to navigate the seas of life today.

If You Drove Half as Fast, You'd Still Get There on Time Cover

If You Drove Half as Fast, You’d Still Get There on Time

When he lived in Santa Monica, Derek Sivers found the perfect bike path: A 15-mile round trip along the ocean with almost zero traffic. In his afternoons, he’d get on his bike and race full speed ahead. On average, the trip took him 43 minutes to complete.

After several months of arriving with a red face, a sweaty head, and feeling completely exhausted, Derek decided to take it easy for once. He looked at the scenery. He saw some dolphins. He casually pedaled along. It took him 45 minutes.

At first, Derek couldn’t believe it, but he double-checked his numbers, and, sure enough, he achieved 96% of the result with 50% of the effort. Reflecting on the experience, he writes:

When I notice that I’m all stressed out about something or driving myself to exhaustion, I remember that bike ride and try dialing back my effort by 50%. It’s been amazing how often everything gets done just as well and just as fast, with what feels like half the effort.

A few years ago, my Dad and I used to do something similar: We raced home in our cars. It’s about five miles from the city to the suburbs, and we too used to speed, catch yellow traffic lights, and overtake anyone in our way.

One day, we did the math: If you go 50% over the limit on such a short trip, you’ll save about one minute. We’ve been cruising ever since.

Life is like that a lot. You go all out to be 50% faster, better, stronger, only to arrive one day early at the finish line.

It’s easy to get caught up the everyday hustle. “Let me queue in the other line.” “I can cut a corner here.” “Maybe, I can get them to approve my application faster.” Switching lanes often feels efficient in the moment but won’t make a big difference in the end.

This applies to our daily to-do lists as much as it applies to our biggest goals. If you get the report one day sooner, the company can go public one day earlier — but all that means is that its shares will trade one day extra. On a 10-year-timeline, who cares about that day? No one.

You can stay up till 2 AM and post one extra article. But in your five-year-plan of becoming a writer, does it really matter? Sometimes, it will. Most of the time, however, it won’t. But if you don’t get enough sleep, you can’t see through your five-year-plan. That part always matters.

You can race to your friend’s BBQ and honk and yell at every other driver along the way. Or, you can drive half as fast and still get there on time.

You’d arrive relaxed, happy, and in a positive state of mind. You wouldn’t be exhausted from all the stress that took so much from your mind but added so little to your outcome. This is what Derek learned from his frantic bike rides:

Half of my effort wasn’t effort at all, but just unnecessary stress that made me feel like I was doing my best.

Sometimes, doing your best means having nothing left to give. Usually, it doesn’t. More often than not, feeling completely spent is a sign that you wasted most of your energy.

Energy is precious. Conserve it. Direct it efficiently. Take pride in doing your best in a way that lets you do your best again tomorrow. Life is short. Enjoy it. Don’t burn through it too quickly. Be content with the 96%.

After all, what good are two extra minutes if you can’t use them to gaze at the sea?

6 Paradoxical Truths of Life

The first paradox I ever saw was Waterfall by M. C. Escher.

Examples of Paradoxes Cover
Image via Facebook

How does a four-year-old come across a perpetual motion illusion by an artist who died 20 years before he was born? Well, it hung in our hallway. Not the original, of course. The copy provided enough staring material for hours.

How does that work? Why does the water flow up and down at the same time? How fast must the wheel spin to make it all go round? Most importantly, why aren’t they staring? The people in this painting have no care in the world. To them, this magnificent delusion barely exists.

When you first encounter a paradox, your brain goes on the fritz. Which version is true? Why don’t they add up? And why do they feel like, somehow, they still kind of do? It’s easy to get stuck on this part. To obsess and try to cram the contradiction into a box labeled ‘consistent’ in your mind.

If you don’t however, eventually, something wonderful happens: Your brain turns off. It stops trying. Suddenly, you can, somehow, accept the idea at face value and, instead of dissecting it, appreciate its beauty.

If you’ve ever felt this way, if you’ve ever been mesmerized by something you could not understand, then you’ve witnessed not just the beauty of paradox but, actually, the essence of life: It’s a mystery, but it’s marvelous.

Just because we can’t understand something doesn’t mean it’s not there by design. This applies to the mechanical parts of your coffee machine as much as it applies to a breakup, a car accident, or, well, this painting. All of it was designed just for you, just for this moment. You might not “get it” at the time, but, later, you most likely will. “You can only connect the dots looking backwards,” Steve Jobs once said.

Deep in our subconscious, we know this, and that’s why our brains allow us to eventually gloss over the details and focus on learning, enjoying, and finding the positives. Yes. This is the paradox we need right now. If we accept it, it’ll give us peace of mind, a sense of ease, and freedom from worry.

If we appreciate it even, it’ll open a door to a new perspective: Maybe, both versions are true. What if the paradox combines two ends of the same spectrum? And what if we can stand on that spectrum and re-balance as needed? Might what looks like a flaw actually be an advantage?

Open your mind. Let the paradox in. Appreciate its beauty and accept its truth. It’ll prove useful time and again. It’ll prove to be part of the design.

Here are six of my favorite examples of paradoxes that can make your life a lot easier.


1. You didn’t come this far to only come this far

Dean Karnazes ran 50 marathons in 50 states on 50 consecutive days. Imagine being on day 49 of such a feat. “I can’t run another marathon. I just can’t.” Yes. But then, he did.

I’m sure there was more than one mile Dean hated. On the 30th marathon. On the 10th. Even on the first. But each time, whether it was mile two in race one or mile 17 in race 43, he remembered: You didn’t come this far to only come this far.

When you have trouble starting, remember how you got to the starting line. When you have trouble finishing, remember how you got close to the goal.

No matter how far you’ve come, no matter how daunting the obstacle ahead, there’s always a little more to go. This isn’t sad. It’s life — and simply a reminder of all the great things that lie behind you already — even if, sometimes, these great things consist of small steps.

2. Wherever you go, there you are

While life is a never-ending journey and we should always move on and strive forward, it pays well to stop sometimes and look around. “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Heeding Ferriss Bueller’s advice lets us take a breath, enjoy the scenery, and celebrate our accomplishments. It also affords us a chance to look at the path that brought us here. We didn’t take all turns deliberately, and not all deliberate turns take us where we want to go. Yet here we are. This is it.

Why did you send that careless email? How come you stayed in this city? Why did you tell her your embarrassing story? Maybe you know, maybe you don’t. But it led you right here. To joblessness. To friendship. Into love. And that’s all that matters.

3. The easiest way to getting what you want is learning to want less

Once you’ve arrived, the best way to be present is to not look too far ahead. You’ll hit your next obstacle soon enough. That’s a time for forward-thinking.

For now, again, look around you. Look at what you have. Isn’t that enough? Slowing down today makes tomorrow feel like we lived more yesterday. Like we had it yesterday. Enough. And if we start from enough, today is a gift.

“Desire is a contract you make with yourself to be unhappy until you get what you want,” Naval says. Wanting is powerful. It makes you do things. Doing without wanting is joyful. It makes you love things. You choose.

4. You can’t *change* the people around you, but you can change the *people* around you

How many of the people you’ve met made you think, “I wish they’d never change?” That’s rare. Wishing for others to be different is the norm.

Of course, most people don’t change quickly, easily, or at all, let alone according to your wishes or because of anything you did, and so, eventually, you’ll leave most of them behind. That’s okay. It’s necessary. But when you find someone who makes it easy to stay, think long and hard before you leave.

How many true friends do you need to be happy? Five? Three? One? It’s easy to wander through life, hopping from circle to circle, always meeting people, always hoping for better but never quite connecting.

What if we stuck with those to whom we feel connected already? Let’s leave behind who we must leave behind but cherish the people we never want to change.

5. Don’t try to find people you’re willing to be with — be willing to try with the people you find

As little as you can do to change others, as much there is to be done inside yourself. Meeting the people who fit into your life like perfect puzzle pieces takes inner work — especially in love.

Bring out the best in yourself, then let those parts act like feelers, just waiting to register a signal from someone else. In the meantime, the strongest signal you can send is showing up.

Don’t wait for someone to open your eyes, mind, and heart. Choose to go through life this way. Hand out trust advances. Be willing to try, and you’ll be surprised how many people will extend you the same courtesy.

6. Take care of yourself so you can take care of others

If our lives didn’t end, they’d be meaningless. That’s another example of a paradox. Maybe the biggest. Most of us want to spend this limited time in the most meaningful way, and that usually means taking care of others.

Whether it’s being a mom, a great husband, a kindergarten teacher, a writer educating readers, a coach helping entrepreneurs, at the end of the day, life revolves around people. One of the hardest commitments to make is to hit pause on that carousel, step back, and take care of yourself. It’s also one of the most important.

The only way to bring the most and best of your time and energy to the grand human table is to ensure you have time and energy to spare. It’s not egoistic to put yourself first. It’s generous.


The guy gazing at the sky. The lady hanging her laundry. The reason the people in Escher’s painting don’t care about the waterfall is that they’ve accepted it. They rest easy. They don’t mind the inconsistency.

Paradoxes can seem like they’re here to make our lives harder. Little puzzles to keep our heads banging against the wall. They’re not. Paradoxes give us more options for truth because the truth always has more than one version.

Pulling from opposite ends of different spectrums lets us navigate even the most challenging situations with relative ease. Ironically, we can’t see this when we try to explain everything away.

To live life is to live inconsistently. To love life is to love inconsistency.

So smile at contradictions. Grin wide as you take on their challenge. Appreciate the beauty in life’s many little discrepancies.

It may take you a while to see it, but once you do, you might even think life’s better when the water flows both ways.

12 Lasting Personal Values for an Uncertain World Cover

12 Lasting Values For an Uncertain World

On May 1st, 2019, an event took place in Japan that hadn’t happened for over 200 years: The Emperor abdicated in favor of his son.

When a new emperor is crowned in Japan, he is presented with the Imperial Regalia as part of the ceremony. The regalia are three sacred treasures, meant to both legitimize and empower the ruler of Japan. They consist of the Sword of Courage, the Jewel of Benevolence, and The Mirror of Wisdom.

The ceremony isn’t public, and only priests and the emperor see the regalia, so no one knows what they look like, and no known photographs exist. However, when Emperor Naruhito succeeded his father this May, the press was allowed to document a brief, silent, public-facing variant of the handover process.

Emperor Naruhito takes possession of the jewel, sword, and two state seals — Image via NBC

If you look closely at the image, you’ll see one of the three holy items is missing: The Mirror of Wisdom, Yata no Kagami. As with their appearance, no one knows the exact location of the regalia, but the mirror is guessed to be hidden in a shrine some 300 miles away from Tokyo.

There are over 150,000 shrines in Japan. According to the 22 ranking system, the Ise Grand Shrine in the Mie Prefecture is the highest, holiest of them all. Supposedly, this is where the Mirror of Wisdom resides.

As if all this wasn’t fascinating enough, the shrine itself is also shrouded in mystery — and a singular tradition: Every 20 years, the people of Ise tear down the shrine’s two main buildings and rebuild them. The underlying idea is that “rebuilding renders sanctuaries eternal,” and that the impermanence of everything is nothing to be feared.

Of course, such a monumental undertaking comes with a plethora of problems. For one, there are only 500 miyadaiku — the kind of carpenter who can build such ancient structures — left in all of Japan. Then, there’s the issue of getting not just enough wood, but the right wood and having it available in time. In times of economic crisis, financial aid is a problem, as are criticisms of the whole thing being a waste of time and money.

Most of all, with 20 years between each reconstruction, a whole new set of problems will have arisen by the time the shrine is next rebuilt — and a whole new group of people will have to deal with them. It all begs the question: When will it end? When will the people of Ise reach a point where holding on to their tradition just isn’t possible anymore?

The answer — and this is where you and I can learn something — is never. As long as the people choose tradition, they will find a way. They have done so for the past 1,300 years. Until today, the Grand Shrine of Ise has been rebuilt 63 times. Every rebuild was different, and each came with its own set of problems, but the process is not about rebuilding some wooden hut — it’s about the values the people of Ise uphold and how there’s always a way to do so if they’re flexible in how to live them.

This is why having values is so important. Why you and I must choose our values. Values provide us with a sense of continuity in a world where none exists. They allow us to make sense of, form, and tell a story bigger than ourselves, and that story fends off the chaos of a world that attacks us with unfairness, irrationality, and lack of meaning.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about my values. I’ve come up with 12 that are dear to my heart, that provide me with a sense of stability in both the best and the worst of times.

I can spot many of them in the good people of Ise and their tradition, and, while each of them stands on its own, stacking them together creates a foundation that makes it easier to embrace all of them at once.

Courtesy of Japan’s most fascinating tradition, here are 12 lasting values for an uncertain world.

1. Calmness

Earth has always spun around its own axis at the same speed. Time doesn’t accelerate, but we do. Life feels much faster than it did 10, 20, 30 years ago. This is a function of both our own age and civilization. As the two progress, more and more unknowns pile up in our lives, and it feels less and less possible to keep up.

The answer, I think, is to not try to keep up at all. It’s to celebrate slowness. Revel in it. Cultivate it as an antidote to the modern cult of busy. Sure, there will always be situations demanding you act quickly and decisively. But those are far and few between.

What’s more, even fast moves are best prepared in a moment of calm. Calmness is where it all starts. Always. In Ise, the wooden logs used to rebuild the shrine rest at the bottom of a pond for two years in a process called “underwater drying.”

Likewise, focusing your energy, breath, vision, and thinking on a daily basis will set you up for better decisions. It’ll also provide an aura of peace — and that’s invaluable in a restless world.

2. Rationality

Rebuilding the Ise Grand Shrine is a $500 million undertaking. With much at stake and a long time horizon, whoever calls the shots better think straight.

Being calm alone won’t always lead to rational decisions, but I rarely manage to do what’s reasonable if I’m not calm to begin with. Note that being rational is not the same as being consistent.

Most people are risk-averse. They confuse habit for common sense. Seeing the world clearly, however, is different from seeing it as it used to be. “Be reasonable,” they might say when, actually, they mean, “Don’t change.”

Many forces work against our rationality around the clock, but continuing to fight them is one of most noble, rewarding, and meaningful pursuits you’ll ever engage in.

3. Commitment

It takes a commitment to rationality to see what else is worth committing to. Study where the world is headed and figure out your place in it. Once you do, you’ll feel confident, happy even, to let everything that doesn’t match your narrative fall by the wayside.

The only guaranteed path to misery is committing to nothing at all. We fear missing out so much that we let optionality toss us about like a small sailboat at sea. If we don’t snap out of this meandering rhythm, we’ll one day find the river of life has carried us to a destination we never wanted to visit — but by then it’ll be too late.

In a world of endless possibilities where whatever we master will provide us with passion and meaning, committing to the wrong quest is near-impossible. Often, it’s that we give up too soon, that we fail to bring purpose to our task, not that we weren’t compatible with our aspirations.

A commitment is empowering. It resolves many of our fears and doubts and gives us the confidence to stand our ground, even in the face of criticism.

Many have called out the Ise tradition as a waste of time, money, and precious resources, but for centuries, the large bill has been footed by a combination of private donations and tax money. As long as the Japanese government and its people believe in the tradition, it’s a price they’re happy to pay — and they don’t care what you and I think.

4. Restraint

Commitment feels liberating, but it’s not always easy. Time and again, you’ll have to choose what’s right over what’s convenient. As long as you believe in your commitment, however, deciding to do the right thing will come easy even when the act of following through is hard.

In the rebuilding of the Ise shrine and its treasures, the same methods have been applied for 1,200 years. Power tools are forbidden on holy sites in Japan, it’s all manual labor and ancient craftsmanship. The artisanal skills required are passed down from generation to generation, so each next group must acquire them anew. The young must practice discipline and restraint in learning from their older, more experienced peers to keep the tradition alive.

I’m sure many a Sunday was, is, and will be spent studying woodwork that might have been spent otherwise. But, at the end of the day, the people of Ise take comfort in knowing their sacrifice allows them to be part of something bigger than themselves. It’s the right thing to do — and that’s why it’s worth it.

5. Humility

When I set out to write 365 pieces for Four Minute Books in one year, I didn’t know whether I’d succeed nor if my efforts would bear fruit. Despite my commitment, restraint, and conviction that I was on the right path, stuff went wrong all the time. I put in 3–4 hrs of work each day, but momentum took months to kick in. I tried many promotion techniques that failed. Everyone told me I was wrong.

Success looks good in hindsight, but building it is a humbling experience. We control much less than we’d like, sometimes too little, and often nothing at all. Realizing this while doing your very best can be frustrating, but it’s the foundation of both: True success and true humility.

The Ise rebuild is one big humble-cycle. No one can really achieve anything on their own in such a big construction project. Everyone must work together. No individual stands above the mission; it’s all in service of the shrine. Even the sanctuary itself is only a vessel. A symbol with a 20-year-expiration date. Soon, it’ll be cleared away and have to make room for the new.

6. Vulnerability

With the world looming so much larger than you even when you’re at your best, all you can do is show up and be yourself. That’s scary. Every day, you’re exposing some part of yourself that you’re worried someone else might see.

What will they say? Will they laugh at you? Judge you? Detach? Sometimes. Most often, however, people will be too busy worrying about their own flaws to even notice. Better yet, a select few will take your courage as an invitation to be vulnerable themselves. They’ll see you for who you really are and offer you the same chance in return.

Tradition is always vulnerable, never perfect, and constantly under attack by younger generations. But it spans a bridge across the ages, all to connect humans with one another. That bridge is worth crossing, even if we have to tread lightly.

7. Patience

On a 20-year journey, nothing happens fast. As one lucky guest in the Ise traditional events recounts:

I saw one elderly person who probably has experienced these events three or four times, saying to young people who perhaps participated in the event as children last time, “I will leave these duties to you next time.” I believe that this is how traditions, culture and skills are preserved over time.

Imagine an 80-year-old’s smile when her daughter leads the parade that transports the timber to the renovation site. Or the pride of a father whose son will be on the on-site team of carpenters. Think of the disappointment if their children hated the festivities. Every time the elders put themselves out there, they have to wait for the youth’s reaction. Handing over tradition is a slow endeavor — and might not always work.

Being vulnerable and living to tell the tale is what enables patience. Whether you hit rock bottom or the highest highs after revealing your true colors, each time you do, you’re reaffirming your ability to survive, learning to wait what tomorrow will bring in the process.

8. Empathy

Once you’ve accepted that life is long, and that, in spite of our smallness, we’ll live to see a good future if we show up honestly, dutifully, and with reason, you’ll find you even have time to contemplate the fortunes of others. With all of us riding in the same boat, why not get to know your fellow travelers?

Without ever talking to them, you can imagine what people feel. You can think their thoughts, visualize their experiences, and see the world through their eyes. None of this has to match reality to be valuable. Sometimes, it is even more so if it doesn’t.

Beyond getting to know their neighbors, elders, and youths, with each iteration of the Ise tradition, every participant gets to ponder the lives of their ancestors, some dating back over 1,200 years. What did they do? How did they feel? What were their struggles?

We’re all humans facing the same demons. Empathy is how we remember.

9. Compassion

The procession moving the logs to the rebuilding site takes several hours despite covering only a short distance. The carrier carts are connected with ropes, and children and participants walk in between them. Every few meters, a good-natured tug of war erupts.

People push the ropes from either side, trying to force the other party to move away from them, the younglings scurrying about in the middle. People sing, laugh, and compete. It’s a resilience exercise.

Of course, sometimes, people get hurt. A child might fall over, a cup of tea might spill. These are chances to practice compassion. To help keep the parade going, to lend a helping hand.

Like the ropes tying the carts together, empathy and compassion are deeply connected. Once you make an effort to know someone, you’ll see they’re not so different from you — and that makes it easier to be kind and forgiving.

10. Acceptance

Rebuilding the Ise Grand Shrine takes about 17 years. Preparations start 6–7 years before the ceremonies, renovations take another 8–10 years after. That means there’s only a brief period of time with no preparation or construction before the next renewal begins. Along the way, countless things go wrong.

After WWII, the rebuilding had to be delayed for four years due to bad economics and uncertain politics. 90 years ago, shrine officials had to craft a 200-year forestation plan to combat the declining supply of wood. Finally, each member participating for the third or fourth time must face the fact that this might be their last rebuilding.

The only way to deal with all this is acceptance. Empathy and compassion are two great enablers of this value. Understanding that everyone else is similar to us in one way or another is how we forgive. And only if we learn to forgive others can we start forgiving ourselves. Our values form in cycles. Similarly, outward compassion makes it easier to turn that same virtue inward.

At the end of the day, we’re all human. We all make mistakes, and we can’t fix everything. Remembering that we share this vulnerability is comforting.

11. Hope

The symbol on Superman’s chest means ‘hope.’ As his father once told him:

“Embodied within that hope is the fundamental belief in the potential of every person to be a force for good.”

Acceptance breeds hope. Once we acknowledge the status quo, no matter if it’s good, bad, or we can’t put our finger on its meaning quite yet, we can imagine something different.

Hope is another word for ‘faith.’ When you value hope, you trust that you’re not alone, and that whatever you’re going through is part of something much larger than yourself, even if you can’t see it.

Hope is the highest value of religion. Different religions have different ways of getting there, but, ultimately, they all aim to provide hope.

In case of the Ise rebuilding, roughly 30 Shinto rituals span an arc of hope across a 20-year-period. It’s not about rules or beliefs or even tradition. It’s about embracing the circle of life, the impermanence of everything, and trusting in a beautiful tomorrow, even if you might not be there to witness it.

12. Love

Calmness, rationality, commitment, restraint, humility, vulnerability, patience, empathy, compassion, acceptance, hope.

Love is an amalgamation of all the above. It’s a single word, noun, verb, that contains all of the best concepts a human can embody. Why does love rest on top of hope? Love allows you to see future versions of yourself and others and cherish them even though they’re not here yet.

Love is not loud, yet it is our greatest strength. Love is invisible, but everyone can feel it. Love transcends time. Love is when we take our memories and our imagination and use them to reach out. Forward. Backward. And then, as a species, we chain it all together to create a forever forward-stretching motion.

Love extends the circle of life. Love is the best thing we do.


Soon, the 2013 rebuild of the Ise shrine will be completed. Not too long after that, preparations for the 2033 rebuild will begin.

We don’t choose lasting values to stay rigid. We choose them to instill a sense of continuity in a world that demands constant change.

Change happens with or without our consent, but if we want to thrive — not just survive — in a dynamic, often even chaotic environment, we must embrace that environment. Welcome it. We must learn to love change.

Values are the foundation of managing this transition well. They’re a tapestry on which you can pin your many transformations.

Choosing your values is picking your own story. Once you do, you can weave everything that happens in your life into one, coherent, infinitely extending thread — even the parts that don’t make sense, defy logic, or feel unfair.

Whether you choose a really old story, like the people of Ise, or a brand new one, like the list of 12 values I just gave you, does not matter. All that matters is that you choose.

Like you, your list of values will keep changing. The point is that you uphold them to your best knowledge and ability at all times.

As long as you do that, like the people of Ise do with their shrine, you’ll gladly rebuild yourself again and again. You won’t even want to wait 20 years each time you do it.

How to Get Rich the Humble Way Cover

How to Get Rich the Humble Way

One in 185 people is a millionaire. Credit Suisse counted 42.2 million of them in the 2018 Global Wealth Report. Divide that by the 7.7 billion people currently inhabiting this planet, and you get to that number — about 0.5%.

And just like you “get” to that number, we think “getting rich” is an activity. That it’s about movement, action, struggle. It’s implied. Think about how we use the word “get.” We get coffee. A job. To the top of a mountain.

It’s true, of course, that getting rich requires years of hard work. You’ll have to learn a lot, build skills, make the right decisions at the right time, and have a whole bunch of luck in the process. But if that’s all we focus on, we miss the most important aspect of how wealth is built: through compound growth.

This compounding happens in your choices, judgment calls, and financial decisions — but it also happens in the assets you own and, often, without you being fully aware of it, let alone doing anything to contribute.

After spending 5.5 years on the rollercoaster of building her own startup, Danielle Morrill ultimately sold the company with no big payday. Before that, however, she’d been the first employee at Twilio, a company that went public in 2016, and the growth of her share of that single stock was enough to retire.

Reflecting on the experience, Danielle writes:

After making my detailed spreadsheet it was undeniable: at a relatively conservative compounding growth rate, I could stop working and cover my expenses with my investment income and I would have more money than I’d ever need to spend in my life. It was very disorienting to have my net worth climb from something I hadn’t worked on since 2012, while my current efforts were amounting to nothing in economic terms.

Understanding that you’re most likely to build wealth on the back of something that grows exponentially is a huge perspective shift, but an important one to make. Otherwise, you might always be working on something, but be so busy hustling that you forget to build and hold stakes in ventures that can still work out after you leave them alone.

As you can see, getting rich is equally as much, if not more, about what you don’t do as it is about what you say yes to. The stock you didn’t sell, the side project you held on to, the old buddy you stayed in touch with.

In the same vein, it’s much harder to point to a set of wealth-building patterns than it is to spot what keeps people from getting rich and rid yourself of these behaviors. Once you’ve unlearned whatever wealth-rejecting habits you might have, all that’s left is to take action and wait for exponential growth to kick in.

Here are five of those habits I’ve spotted in myself and others over the years.

1. Stop Telling Yourself Money Is Evil

Have you ever noticed that people who claim money is dirty never seem to have any? It’s as if by rejecting it, they could keep their hands clean. That’s nonsense, of course.

Money doesn’t come in different ethical flavors. It has no flavor at all. It’s like a shovel, or a computer, or a typewriter — a tool with no inherent intentions. A purpose, maybe, but no intentions. In order for us to judge something as ethical or unethical, humans have to be involved. Only their intentions matter.

In that sense, money is just a consequence and an amplifier. It can be a consequence of ethical behavior or of unethical behavior. And it can enhance a person’s already ethical or unethical intentions. Nothing more, nothing less.

When you think “this person doesn’t deserve their money” or “they must be doing something fishy,” that’s jealousy in clever disguise. In that moment, you’re the one with questionable ethics. Instead, you should be happy for them and get back to what you can do, who you can do it for, and how to do it the right way.

Speaking of focusing on yourself…

2. Stop Playing Status Games

Think of the most popular person in your high school. Where are they now? Chances are, they peaked early. They got stuck playing status games.

The problem with status games is that they’re zero-sum games: The only way you win is if someone else loses. Politics, fame, prestige, these are all ranked hierarchies. For you to move up a slot, another person must move one down.

Naval Ravikant explains:

“The problem is that to win at a status game, you have to put somebody else down. That’s why you should avoid status games in your life because they make you into an angry combative person. You’re always fighting to put other people down, to put yourself and the people you like up.”

Building wealth by making things people want, however, is a positive-sum game: the more people do it, the better. If you and I both build cars, chances are, we’ll figure out a better way to do it together.

Getting the life you want depends on you playing wealth games, not status games. If you’re always busy trying to look good, you’ll have no time and energy left to actually do good. Sometimes, doing good is a thankless job, but you’ll have to keep doing it anyway to succeed.

3. Stop Rejecting Responsibility

Exponential financial rewards are the result of taking on asymmetric risk. Asymmetric risk is when there’s a disproportional difference between how much you stand to gain vs. how much you stand to lose.

For Danielle, if Twilio had failed along the way, her stock options would have been worth zero. That would’ve sucked, but she could’ve just gotten another job. The upside, however, was only limited by how big of a company Twilio could become. Right now, it’s worth $17 billion dollars at $124 a share. The reason she received enough of them to retire is that she took responsibility for important work inside the company early on. It was risky, but not dangerous.

In contrast, many employees at big corporations only play games of shift-the-blame. Everyone wants to point to their boss when things go wrong, but this comes at the expense of their asymmetric risk. No responsibility, no rewards.

Most of the time when responsibility comes your way, it’s not dangerous to take it. It’s just uncomfortable. It takes effort. You must stand for something, and there’s a chance you might end up standing for the wrong thing. But it’s rarely something you can’t recover from.

Better yet, don’t wait for responsibility to show up on your doorstep. Just take some. Speak up. Say, “I’ll write two articles for you each week,” or, “I’ll make your shoes look brand new,” or, “this tool will save you 10 minutes a day.”

All of this is taking responsibility, and all of it has the power to come with asymmetric risk. Choose the right responsibilities and then live up to them.

4. Stop Wasting Your Leverage

Working hard is a requirement of getting rich, but it’s not going to be the deciding factor. In the end, your judgment matters more. Wealthy people are thinkers armed with leverage. I also learned this from Naval.

Leverage multiplies the results of your decisions. It comes in different forms.

Money is one of them. If I can invest $1,000 into a stock that doubles in value, I’ll make more money in return than someone who can only invest $100.

Labor is another form of leverage. If I can teach you how to sell two pairs of sneakers a day, you and I can sell more sneakers together.

The third and most powerful form of leverage is code. Next to software, this includes digital media, like podcasts, articles, and videos. Thanks to the internet, you can spread these around the world at no cost, and if people use them, you get paid in money or attention. This kind of leverage also compounds like wealth itself.

In the beginning, we all play without leverage, but if you continue playing without it, that’s on you. Most people can struggle to start accumulating leverage, but they also waste the little they have, which is however much money they make. Instead of investing it into podcast gear, books, or a writing course, they just spend it. If you want to be rich, that can’t be you.

You have to use your time to build leverage. Start compounding.

5. Stop Working on What’s Not Working

When someone else spends their time working for you, that’s leverage. When you spend your time working, that’s not. There’s no multiplier there. But it’s our most limited resource, and, therefore, you have to spend it well. Getting to a point where you spend the majority of your time building and acquiring leverage will greatly increase your chances of becoming wealthy.

Of course, working a lot to begin with helps, but you should do so at your own pace. What’s much more important — and much harder — is to let go of things that don’t work and to do so as soon as you realize it. Whatever is financially unfeasible or won’t lead to a meaningful jump in leverage in a decent time frame has to go.

This takes self-awareness and guts. You’ll regularly have to check in with yourself and ask: What’s actually working, and what am I telling myself is working because I wish it would? Harder still, you’ll have answer honestly.

Quitting enough of the wrong projects to work on a sufficient number of right ones is the only way to build up the array of assets and leverage you need.

All You Need to Know

It’s far easier to be patient and let a few good choices compound than to rush and be forced to compensate for a lot of bad ones. Clearing up your muddled thinking around money is one way to do just that.

Once your vision is sharp, you’ll feel comfortable working towards focused, specific goals, because you know they’ll serve the long game you play.

Stop vilifying money. Quit the status games. Take responsibility. Build leverage. Work as hard as you can and drop failures early.

Getting rich is a game but not a hectic one. Playing it the humble way is no guarantee you’ll win, but if you do, it’ll likely be from a move you long forgot.

The Best Things in Life Are Self-Paced Cover

The Best Things in Life Are Self-Paced

The 7th most popular TED talk of all time covers an issue that affects us all:

Procrastination.

In a funny, all too relatable analysis of the human brain, Tim Urban breaks down the interplay of three driving forces in your mind.

  • First, there’s the rational decision-maker, who’s long-term oriented and gets things done, but can rarely grab the steering wheel, because of…
  • The instant-gratification monkey, who’s entirely engrossed in doing fun and easy things, especially when it’s no time to do them, except when…
  • The panic-monster wakes up, who sends the monkey packing for brief periods of time so we can barely get our work done to meet the deadline.

Recapping this ménage à trois, Tim says:

“And this entire situation, with the three characters — this is the procrastinator’s system. It’s not pretty, but in the end, it works.”

To his surprise, readers of his blog, where he shared this theory, did agree, but weren’t nearly as comfortable nor even remotely satisfied with this system.

“These people were writing with intense frustration about what procrastination had done to their lives, about what this Monkey had done to them.”

Reflecting on the discrepancy between his and readers’ perceptions, he found:

“Well, it turns out that there’s two kinds of procrastination. Everything I’ve talked about today, the examples I’ve given, they all have deadlines. And when there’s deadlines, the effects of procrastination are contained to the short term because the Panic Monster gets involved. But there’s a second kind of procrastination that happens in situations when there is no deadline.”

As examples of this second variant of the “let me do this later” game, Tim mentions launching a creative career, founding a startup, seeing your family, working out, managing your health, and getting in or out of a relationship.

“Now if the procrastinator’s only mechanism of doing these hard things is the Panic Monster, that’s a problem, because in all of these non-deadline situations, the Panic Monster doesn’t show up. He has nothing to wake up for, so the effects of procrastination, they’re not contained; they just extend outward forever.”

It is this second, long-term kind of procrastination that’s the source of true unhappiness and regret, and thus, by extension, also our more superficial frustration with the first. Tim made people realize they were wasting years.

“It’s not that they’re cramming for some project. It’s that long-term procrastination has made them feel like a spectator, at times, in their own lives. The frustration is not that they couldn’t achieve their dreams; it’s that they weren’t even able to start chasing them.”

Now if this second kind of more expensive procrastination affected only a small number of extreme, extraordinary goals, all of this wouldn’t be too much of a problem. But that’s not the case. The set of desirable things that aren’t naturally deadline-based is much, much larger than its counterpart.

All of the best things in life are self-paced.

Finding a partner, starting a family, creating your dream career, excelling at a sport, specialized skill, or art, even just learning to be more mindful or open-minded or content with what you have, there are no deadlines and no urgency around any of those things. And so most people never begin to work on them.

I think the first step is realizing that we’re everything. We’re the rational decision-maker, the instant-gratification monkey, and the panic-monster.

No one does anything to us. We’re doing everything to ourselves. The teasing with pleasure. The surrender to the impulse. The dreaded last-minute course corrections. It’s all us, all in our heads. If we let that go, we could just start.

But what I find most fascinating is that it’s the exact same force that brings down the heroes that defy the odds — the Tim Urbans and Sara Blakelys and Usain Bolts of the world: a lack of compassion for ourselves.

There are millions of blogs out there, floating around the web like a bale of hay in a ghost town; lifeless, outdated, dead. All of these people had done the hard part. They got started. They built some momentum. They overcame their lack of deadlines. And then they stopped. Not good enough. Not fast enough.

Think about it for a second. Think about how many people have stopped chasing their dreams, the things they most want in life, for the sole reason that they weren’t getting them fast enough. That’s crazy to me. Because if that’s the alternative, why not keep going and learn to be okay with being slow?

Learn to like your pace and you’ll learn to love your place.

If you’re okay with having started, if you can settle for slow, you’ll always feel like you have enough time. If you can take solace in the fact that you’re working towards getting what you want, you’ll enjoy where you are on the journey. You won’t need to have it all tomorrow. Most importantly, you’ll find something no procrastinator ever can because of the hectic, bouncing triangle in their brain: true peace of mind.

You’ll still lose much of your precious time. Rome wasn’t built in a day. But at least you’ll fully exercise the power that separates us from monkeys: a sense of self-awareness for where we are in life and the choice that that’s always worth being kind to ourselves.

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Why You *Really* Should Say “No” More Often

We all know we should say “no” more often. But we’re nice people and so it’s hard to turn down requests. Ultimately, that’s what most of our yeses go to. Requests. Life is full of them.

Your to-do list is a set of requests. So is your inbox. Your Facebook messages, Instagram DMs, Twitter notifications. Requests, requests, requests. And we haven’t even gotten to friends asking favors. Let alone business opportunities.

When you’re starting out in your career, contacts and customers expect your free assistance while every phone call is a welcome distraction from your underdog status. As soon as you’re seeing some level of productivity and success, you’ll be inundated with opportunities. Let’s partner up, be on my podcast, here’s a paid gig. I call it ‘opportunity suffocation.’

But, at the end of the day, they’re all just requests. No matter how well they’re disguised. And don’t we really know what we have to do? Write more. Pitch more. Practice more. Most of the time, it’s more of the same. Answering requests won’t help with that.

Of course, there are other good reasons to say “no” besides focus at work.

Like time. The big one. The first one they throw at our head. “If you agree to every little thing, you’ll have no time left for the big and important ones.” True. But isn’t that more of a long-term problem? Sure, regret sucks, but I rarely feel like small detours here and there really hurt. Of course, you can’t allow them to pile up, but the time argument feels rather weak to me.

Now, energy, that’s a different thing. A much better reason, I think. Every time I say “yes” when I actually want to say “no,” a little piece of me dies. “Yes” is what drags you out the house on a Friday night when you want to stay in. “Yes” is what sneaks you into a room full of the wrong people. “Yes” is what makes your gut twist in the morning when you drive to a toxic job.

Often, it’s not so much time I’m looking for with my nos, it’s relief. Get that burden off of me! I don’t want to sell my soul, to fake another smile, to pretend I don’t know you’re benefitting more from my “yes” than me. Give me peace of mind. Give me the “ahhh, dodged that bullet” moment. That’s what I want. I care a lot more about that than losing an hour, a day, a week.

Saying “no” isn’t as much about happiness as it’s about not being miserable.

Then again, of course, it’s important for contentment too. But not the way we think. Yes, it’s true that we need space to build our own little forts of happiness. But — and I never hear anyone talk about this — we also need room for randomness. Because, actually, happiness is a very random thing.

The best things in life are side effects. The ice cream parlor you found when you were lost. The old friend you bumped into on the train. The new kind of tea they offered at the cafeteria. But without margin, both in time and energy, there’s no room for any of this. If your schedule, your friends list, your life is too packed with obligations, there’s no space for serendipity to even occur.

Because you’re never breathing. Wandering. Allowing yourself an open mind.

I think that’s the real reason saying “no” is so important. Getting ahead at work, choosing your life’s projects, not being drained by toxic suckers, all of that matters. But if after all of that, there’s still nowhere to go for the moments in your life that truly make it worth living, why do it anyway?

That’s counterintuitive. We all know we should say “no” more often. But we think we should do it because we already have so many good things to fill life with. And while that’s true, the best moments of all are the tiny dots that will cover the gaps along the way. And they’re impossible to visualize beforehand.

“No” feels harder to say. More empowering when we do. But it’s really just a singular defense. A lone disaster averted. It needs time to compound. Our yeses, however, are where the real danger lies. “Yes” doesn’t feel special, but it is. Because it’s a thousand nos combined. A thousand times more powerful.

Every “yes” is a “no” to a million other things, some of which you can’t even imagine. But they might still be the best things that’ll ever happen to you.

Make sure you allow them to exist.

If You Want to Be Happy, Make the World Small Cover

If You Want to Be Happy, Make the World Small

One of my favorite scenes in Man of Steel is when young Clark first discovers his powers at elementary school. His senses are hypersensitive and, by activating all at once, trigger a seizure.

Suddenly, he can see not just people’s appearance, but their insides, bones, organs. He can hear not just loud noise, but every noise, even tiny ones far away. Overwhelmed with all the impressions, he runs away and hides.

The whole class gathers outside the closet he’s locked himself in, but, ultimately, his mom must come to his rescue. At first, he won’t let her in.

“The world’s too big, Mom.”

But then, Martha Kent shares a piece of advice that could only ever make sense coming from a loving, compassionate mother:

“Then make it small.”

The Good Thing About Fame

A few days ago, I was looking for gameplay clips from Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey because, you know, procrastination. I found theRadBrad. After watching a few videos, I realized he has 9.8 million subscribers. That’s more than the entire population of Austria, Honduras, or Hungary.

I’m a gamer at heart. I’ve used Youtube for as long as it exists. And yet, I had never heard of theRadBrad, one of the biggest channels in this sector.

I guess it’s true. The world has become a big place. Or, maybe it always was.

Christianity has remained the world’s largest religion for the past 200 years. But it still covers just a third of our planet’s population. That means one of, maybe the most famous person in history — Jesus Christ — is someone most people have never heard of.

I think that’s a good thing. It’s soothing. The problem is I keep forgetting it.

All It Takes Is Pancakes

In an early How I Met Your Mother episode, Barney shares one of his most memorable quotes:

“You know what Marshall needs to do? He needs to stop being sad. When I get sad, I stop being sad and be awesome instead. True story.”

But, unless you can seamlessly switch from one irrational, emotional state to another, like Barney, that’s not so easy, is it? It sure wasn’t for Marshall. For 67 days after his breakup, he was a miserable, weeping puddle of his former self.

Every day, some new trigger would launch him into another nightmare about his ex. Where’s Lily? What is she doing? And with whom? Why that? Why now? Why there? Of course, none of his obsessive behavior gave any answers.

Eventually, after over two months, his roommates woke up to the smell of fresh pancakes. Marshall was over the hump. Why now? What changed?

The world was too big. And, finally, Marshall had made it small.

Pretend It’s an Island

I think most of my sadness is overwhelm in disguise. The world’s too big. I postpone all kinds of decisions until I do something stupid or extreme. As a result, I lose even more time, which only reinforces the cycle.

But it all starts with the fact that there’s too much of everything. Too many projects to tackle. Too many notifications to answer. Too many people to meet. Too many places to go. Too many shows to watch. Too many books to read.

I know I’ll never get to it all. So there’s always someone to disappoint. Even if it’s just myself. But it never fails to sting.

The only way I can ever move past this is by doing what Martha told Clark:

“Just focus on my voice. Pretend it’s an island, out in the ocean. Can you see it?”

“I see it.”

“Then swim towards it, honey.”

When the world’s too big, I have to forget it for a while. I have to start swimming.

The Only Thing We Can Do

On Nov 27th, 2006, Brad Colburn created a Youtube account. It had zero subscribers. Now, every time he launches another playthrough, he says:

“So guys it’s, uh, it’s kind of hard to start off these big games. ‘Cause I know that this series is gonna have a lot of people watching.”

No single human is meant to have an entire country follow them around. We’re tribal creatures. Not global citizens. No matter how much we wish we were. The sheer mental presence of more than a few dozen people is enough to cause serious anxiety. It’s a huge responsibility to shoulder.

So the best thing, the only thing, really, that RadBrad can do is to make another video. Just one. Pretend it’s an island. Start swimming. I don’t know Brad personally. But I can tell you, every time he forgets this, he feels sad and overwhelmed.

And when he remembers? He finds his way back to happy.

We’re All Clark Kent

The internet has made all of us hypersensitive. We’re all Clark Kent. We can see not just people’s appearance, but their insides, thoughts, emotions. We can hear not just loud noise, but every noise, even tiny ones far away.

And sometimes, it makes us want to run away and hide. When Marshall sifted through his ex-lover’s credit card transactions, his world was too big. Too many terrible fantasies. Too many alternatives to imagine. Only when he said “stop,” when he refused to engage with the noise, could he focus on what was right in front of him: two hungry friends.

If Superman existed, how long would it take until the whole world knows him? A month? A year? In any case, he better master his senses. Unlike him, however, we can turn off the noise. Disconnect. Get quiet.

What’s more, we’ll never carry quite as much responsibility. If we’re really lucky, how many people will follow us? A couple thousand? A few million? Still, most of the world will never know who we are. We’ll always stay small.

Remembering this smallness is where happiness lies. Forget the vastness that’s out there. It does nothing for you. Just focus on one voice. One friend. Make one video. And then do it again.

The world’s too big. Even for the best of us. Let’s carve out our own space. Make it small. Find your island. And then swim towards it.

Peace of Mind Analogy Cover

Use This Analogy to Cultivate Peace of Mind

China’s first north-to-south express highway is the G4. It is over 2,200 km long and you can use it to drive from Beijing all the way to Hong Kong or Macau. On a busy day, it looks like this:

Source

Your mind has more than a mere 50 lanes, but on a busy day, the level of traffic is just the same. Each car in each lane represents a different version of you. A version that would make an alternative choice, behave differently, or think another way. But there’s a catch:

Only one lane is called ‘the present’ and only one version of you can drive on it at any given time.

As a result, there’s a constant, massive traffic jam from all these alter egos fighting over who gets to lead the convoy. Each one is trying to squeeze into the present lane, shove itself ahead and cut off everyone else. When 50 cars clash, who ends up in front is anyone’s guess. It’s impossible to hand any one version the reigns with all these options, desires, and arguments pulling you in opposite directions. But that’s not the worst part.

Imagine how present-you feels with this huge, pent up mob in its back. Everyone trailing slightly behind is honking, shouting, tailgating, just waiting for their chance to overtake. How could present-you possibly focus on driving, let alone drive calmly or look ahead?

Too Much of a Good Thing

Søren Kierkegaard, a Danish 19th century philosopher and one of the founders of existentialism, developed a rather dark view of the world at a young age. Born into a wealthy family, he lived in constant fear of death and regret, both of which he saw waiting around every corner.

Eventually, he decided that humor was the only adequate response to life’s madness. He claimed that once he saw reality, he started laughing and hadn’t stopped since. In one of his most famous works, he also gave us a new word to capture the struggle with our own insignificance, a word that’s survived verbatim in both English and German to this day: angst.

“Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom,” he would remark. It perfectly fits the image of the mental traffic jam we’re faced with in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Not just because the car is the pinnacle of personal freedom, but because the sheer availability of all these lanes to drive on can literally make us dizzy. All these choices about who to be and what to do, we’re actually free to make them, unlike Kierkegaard and his contemporaries, who were much more limited, yet plagued by the same issue still. It seems it’s gotten worse.

So how can we stop being dizzy?

The Road Ahead

When I was younger, I would race my Dad on the 15-minute drive from the city to our home in the suburbs. Eventually, we realized that even if you go 50% over the speed limit on the highway stretch, you only save one minute. Imagine how much you save going through the toll booth two cars ahead in line.

Most choices in life are like that. You raise all kinds of hell to go 50% faster, only to end up one day earlier at the same finish line. Often, switching lanes feels much more efficient in the moment, but, ultimately, doesn’t make a big difference. Gauging the impact of your decisions beforehand like that is one way to dissolve the mind’s massive traffic jam. Another is realizing that part of each alternative version lives on in you, even if that car gets left behind.

But the best one, by far, is having faith in present-you. Don’t look left and right so much. Life is full of chances to look back and say: “Oh, I should’ve taken that exit.” But if you take them all, you can never focus on the road ahead.

In rallying, one of, if not the biggest determinator of success is how much the driver can trust the co-driver. The person in the passenger seat announces directions and the driver acts. That’s why, when talking about their greatest wins, rally legends like Walter Röhrl don’t mention times, but the state of flow, of effortless performance, they were in. Because if you trust present-you completely, the road ahead always looks like this:

Source

You might take a few detours, but eventually, that trooper will always take you home. For most of us, life is a long drive on a free highway. The anxiety is something we, like Kierkegaard, create in our heads. There’s no real need to rush. Cultivating this view takes time. But it helps to practice. Maybe that’s why later in his life, the angsty philosopher changed his mind:

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” 

— Søren Kierkegaard