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7 december 2015

Happiness - making that BIG word smaller


Have you laughed today (yet)?

Are you happy now?

Do you have a strategy for improving your level of happiness (today)?

Do you want to hear about mine?

Is that a "yes" or are you just happy to see me?


This is a multi-part article on happiness, rest, sleep and stress

It ties in with previous posts on loss and meditation, as well as posts on health, such as this one about omega-3, and these about weight lifting and mobilityage anxiety and how to never be bored.

I'll start with a few short thoughts on happiness.

Actually, all you'll find below is a list of what makes me happy on a daily basis, what makes me content, feel good and laugh. I can only hope you too laugh out loud (IRL) on at least a daily basis.

Perhaps you should try dancing two minutes for every hour of sitting still (not only is it fun, it turns on your creativity as well and mitigates the effect of a sedentary life style)



"Global" happiness

I often get the question what makes me happy, as if it had any bearing on your happiness.

Perhaps it's a test - to see if the "happiness guru" is happy himself...

On the one hand, there is the overarching globe-sized happiness, that stems from just being; being me, being alive and free, with an unshakable self-esteem (not to confuse with self-confidence (cf Juul) -though I've got an adequate amount of confidence as well).


The everyday kind of happiness

On the other hand, there are the small islands of happiness in everyday life, the short bursts of intense feelings of joy that pop up in all shapes and forms. Those are the focus of today:

  • Certain childhood smells like tar, seaweed, oil paint, wet dog fur, petrol, cinnamon buns or spring rain (wet asphalt - in fact it's bacteria that cause that particular spring rain smell, but I associate it with rain on dusty asphalt in the spring).
    • By the way, did you know olfactory cells have been successfully used in curing paralysis due to a spinal cord injury, thanks to their capacity for regeneration?
    • Actually you could spend weeks googling, reading, listening and watching findings about smell - and still have loads of interesting articles, podcasts and videos left.
  • Sudden insights, aha experiences and eureka moments, or more slowly burning insights; when I understand a context, when the pieces of the puzzle fall into place, when I'm reading or listening (to science) and tangibly feeling learning something new, interesting and useful. That's why I listen to around 15 different scientific podcasts every week (see below).
  • Belonging, love: coming back home to my dog, Ronja, petting her or synch-breathing together (my ear to her side or back).
  • Changing my state of consciousness: waking up, falling asleep, turning up the volume, turning the music off, getting drunk, sobering up, leaving home for an adventure, coming home, meditating and stopping.
    • I don't play computer games anymore (I was more or less an addict though, around 1982-1989) but that, cable channel surfing, internet porn (an hour+ run-through of your brain on porn) and betting would fall into the same (dangerous) category where immediate wants drown out longer term aspirations.
  • Food and rest after a workout - that first liter of milk straight out of the box in the dressing room!
  • Making plans, making progress (according to the plan), seeing a projct to its end, the experience of changing, improving and growing.
  • Being surprised, scared and laughing or screaming - at least once a day. It's best if not planned, but second best is making it happen (climb high up if afraid of heights, or try something physical you're not good at, like juggling, dancing, skateboarding). Bungy jumping is a reliable kick for me but pretty expensive and not very practical or easily accessible
  • Finishing an article, a project, a construction or similar limited endeavors.

Most of my small buckets of daily happiness apples are about movement, development and growth, but sometimes also about completion (however, remember to keep a growth mindset rather than aiming for absolute targets - albeit there is nothing wrong with celebrating intermediary wins).

Most reliably I feel good, happy, when listening to podcasts such as Brain Science, Gastropod, Nature, Science, TED Radio hour, TED Talks, Babbage, Freakonomics, Discovery and BrainStuff. I often laugh too, when listening to these, like, e.g., when Dr Campbell exclaimed "That's so wild" about an esoteric brain research result (where non-blind people got their brains scanned while reading braille blindfolded).

What about plausible evolutionary grounds for happiness? Oh, I don't know. I'll leave that to other people. It's probably something like "stuff that increase the likelihood of staying alive and desire to procreate".


To be continued

In the coming parts I'll go through why resting may not be quite as easy as many think. E.g., you can't just sit down in front of the TV or take a nap and mistake that for actually relaxing. It's often more effective to walk, read, meditate, lift weights, practice a complex sport or play than to "just relax".

Next I'll talk about sleep more exhaustively than before - including turning your screens to orange before bedtime, never using the same pillows two nights in a row and the benefits of emulating nursing with warm milk (including tryptophan). 

Finally (I think), there is the catch-22 of stress, sleep and happiness that can turn into a vicious circle if not managed correctly.


Summary - make yourself laugh now

Now, this will be easy, I hope.

Think of something you think is fun, silly, difficult or scary.

Do that activity now, or at least later today, and make sure you scream or laugh today.


If you can't come up with anything, I'm sorry to say, you are down at the "list level". Thus, you need to start making a list of things that make you feel (mostly positive feelings) - and use that list.

How to make such a list? Pay attention for a few days on when you smile, laugh or generally feel good. Write down what put you in that state; the context as well as the particulars, especially if you think it's replicable.

If nothing else, just take a walk without stressing, without thinking about your job or other problems. Just watch roof tops, trees, animals and people without thinking much at all. Walk around just one block, instead of heading straight home or wherever you are going.

Better yet; turn on a favorite song and dance for a couple of minutes (master level? Film yourself dancing). 46 minutes more on the dangers of sitting for hours on end here.


Subscribe to my newsletter, if you want to make sure not to miss the rest of this series of articles on happiness, stress, sleep and rest. PS: you'll get my retarded investment advice as well in "The Retarded Hedge Fund Manager" eBook. The eBook and newsletters are free, spam-free, easy to read, useful, and quite fun as well, I hear.

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