Entertainment on the cheap

I hung out with my daughter for about an hour today while she happily ran up and down carpeted stairs. We conversed a bit, sang a bit, and mostly just went up and down those stairs. Times like this are a great reminder that there’s so much entertainment available on the cheap.

As we journey through life, we get exposed to many forms of expensive entertainment – fancy gadgets, expensive sports, and so on. And, while many of these are great, it is easy to forget how little it actually takes for us to have a good time.

As I was taught this morning, a combination of some physical activity, outdoors or a bit of novelty in the location (in this case, carpeted stairs), and folks you like hanging out with is all it takes for a good time.

I wish you plenty of that over the weekend. :-)

Mmm Yummy

Our daughter is going through a phase when she says “Mmm Yummy” every time she eats something she loves. It is an expression of pure, untainted, happiness at getting to eat what she enjoys. It also helps that the bar for what she loves isn’t all that high. :-)

When I saw her do it this morning, I asked myself why I don’t do it more often. Just like her, I’m clearly fortunate enough to eat good food very often. By extension, how often do I find myself saying the equivalent of “Mmm Yummy” when I enjoy the many other gifts – good health, wonderful relationships, this awesome internet, and dedicated colleagues and teams?

I’m vividly reminded of a conversation when a few of us were walking toward a football game a few years back. We saw an extremely fit woman on what looked like a long run and someone remarked – “Wonder why someone that fit needs to run?” Someone else immediately quipped – “It is thanks to these runs that she is extremely fit.”

Similarly, it is tempting for me to draw the conclusion that she says “Mmm Yummy” because she’s happy. In reality, though, it is not happy people who are thankful. It is thankful people who are happy.

Good weekends

I’ve asked myself what makes a good weekend for many years.

A few weeks back, I finally had an epiphany. I realized that my definition of a good weekend involves four actions in order or priority – rest, connect, learn something and building something.

Rest means getting to sleep in for one of the two days and watching a game of football/soccer whenever possible. Connect involves spending quality time with the framily – ideally with some time outdoors.  But, a good weekend doesn’t feel complete until I feel I’ve learnt something and attempted to build something.

The best part about these four priorities is that I recognize they are a luxury. There are many on the planet who don’t get to take the weekend off.

So, these two days are a wonderful weekly reminder of the enormous amount of privilege in my life and, as a result, of how much I owe.

Maybe acknowledging our privilege with gratitude is what weekends are all about. We get to define what “good” is. And, in the process of doing so, we are reminded that there is so much to be grateful for.

Dealing with type II uncertainty

There are, broadly, 2 kinds of uncertainty. While type I uncertainty is the kind you choose, type II is what you face for reasons beyond your control.

So, choosing to quit your job and start a new business is type I. On the other hand, facing an uphill task trying to get a job because of nationality, religion, race, sexual orientation, or gender is a classic type II uncertainty. Now, some might say that logic is flawed. After all, you choose to apply to that job and face that uphill battle. And, while it is an interesting argument, it tends to fall on the wrong side of history.

The biggest challenge with dealing with type II uncertainty is that it feels unfair. But, dealing with unfairness is a rite of passage if you are a minority, a woman, gay or an immigrant.

It is only once we embrace the inherent unfairness can we get to the two things that help – focusing ruthlessly on things we can influence and being grateful for what you have. This is so much easier said than done. Try telling a Muslim in America that she shouldn’t worry about what the President is doing or saying. Or, try telling the many hard working international students who took on huge amounts of debt that they shouldn’t worry about trying to get a job.

But, it is the only way.

Focus ruthlessly on what you can influence. And, while you are it, develop an attitude that refuses to settle on anything but gratitude. There will always be things to complain about. And, there will be less in your control than you’d like.

But, on the bright side, developing the ability to focus and to maintain a positive attitude despite uncertainty and strife is entirely within our control.

It is how we get made.

Products and services I’m thankful for

Products and services I’m thankful for this year.

Blog
1. InMotion hostingAmazing hosting provider. Period. 
2. Readability for WordPress – part of the Yoast SEO plugin. Readability reminds me to use more active voice, connect my sentences better and keep them shorter. Thank you for being my English coach.
3. BulletProof Security plugin for WordPress. For keeping this blog safe from multiple spam attacks – thank you.
4. Feedburner: For delivering these notes to you, for free.
5. WordPress: Solid, again.

General tech
1. The Audible app. For making me smarter and better over our 8 year friendship.
2. My iPhone: For surviving being soaked in water, again.
3. Microsoft OneNote: I’m not sure what I’d do without you.
4. Dropbox Pro: Mr.Dependable.
5. Amazon Prime: A textbook example of how to keep adding value to customers. I’ve recently fallen in love with Prime video.
6. Sling TV: For making it possible to watch Manchester United without cable.
7. Lastpass on Chrome: A dream come true.
8. Google Drive: As above.
9. Windows: 18 years and going strong.
10. PowerLogic GLX-20 Mouse: They don’t seem to make these anymore. The two I bought have been reliable companions since 2013. I don’t go anywhere without them.
11. Gmail: Continues to be a game changer.

Information
1. The Quartz newsletter: For making me smarter.
2. The Economist: As above.
3. Feedly: Simple and reliable.
4. Stratechery: My favorite source of tech analysis

Baby
1. Earth Baby diaper services: Disposable diapers are the third largest contributor to landfills in the US. The Earth Baby team set out to fix it by composting bio degradable diapers. Inspiring environment friendly mission aside, they offer best-in-class customer service as an add on.
2. Lucie’s List: Awesome.
3. The Happiest Baby on the Block video: I was told this was a must watch for all parents-to-be. Rightly so.

Physical world 
1. Costco: Awesome.
2. World’s softest sock: Lives up to its name.
3. American Express: They keep raising the bar.
4. Ikea: Much love.
5. Oliver & Kline Ceramic Knives. Say goodbye to steel knives.

This list turned out to be much longer than I thought. But, I guess that’s a good sign. There’s a lot to be thankful for. :-)

Unglamorous moments

I was thinking of a whole host of unglamorous moments today.

Listening to the radio while stuck in traffic.
Attempting to calm your hysterical kid in the middle of the night.
Having to make an emergency run to the grocery store because your partner forgot to get something.
Going through an ordinary day of work.
Eating your staple food for dinner.
Recovering from the flu.
Working through a thousand cell spreadsheet one cell at a time.

You’ve been through most or all of this. So, you know exactly what I’m talking about. And, yet, when we think of our lives, the movies tell us that the list of moments should probably look something like the following.

Winning a prestigious award in front of family.
Getting promoted to <insert fancy title> in <insert famous company>
A happy, all smiles, re-union with friends in a beautiful island somewhere.
Watching your kid/partner/family member do something awesome.
Etc.

You may be lucky to have a few of those glamorous moments come by a couple of times in your life. But, for the most part, you are going to live a life full of unglamorous moments. And, here’s the amazing part, if you have the privilege to go through these unglamorous moments without having to worry about your health, safety or shelter, you have everything in place to earn your happiness.

How do you that? By developing a perspective that helps you constantly experience gratitude. And, I mean constantly. If you are stuck in traffic, it means looking around and being thankful for everything in your life that enables you to be stuck in that traffic. Your car, your home, your people, your job, this planet, etc., etc. There’s always plenty to be thankful for. But, it requires perspective and an appreciation for those unglamorous moments.

That matters because of two truths. First, the occasional glamorous moment that gets consigned to the highlight reel is a result of millions of these unglamorous moments well done. And, second, the ratio of unglamorous moments to glamorous moments is probably in the range of a billion to one. So, if you’re wasting these moments in the search for glamour, that’s a real pity.

We earn our happiness, one unglamorous moment at a time.

First world situations

In a conversation with a good friend recently, I stumbled when attempting to describe how things are. I usually use “first world problems” to describe some of the minor niggles. But, it just didn’t feel right. He said – “I think you mean first world situations.”

He finally got to what I had been attempting to describe for months.

There’s lesser strife and war on the planet than ever before. Of course, these stats mean absolutely nothing if you are in Syria right about now. But, in aggregate, things are better, safer and more peaceful. There are more of us who don’t have to worry about basic security and sustenance. And, yet, it is easy to walk around stressed.

I’ve tried various attempts at keeping perspective. One method that has worked well is to gloss over the relatively minor issues and focus on what I’m learning and how I’m processing my experience. Sure, there are problems and sure, there is uncertainty. But, worrying about things outside of my control is a fool’s errand anyway. And, while I might be facing the occasional challenge, it is just a challenge. It isn’t difficult – I don’t have to engage in a daily fight for food, hunger or safety or deal with abuse of any sort. Calling these challenges “problems” give them too much weight. Language matters…

So, I’ve found it better to just describe them as first world situations. Naming the beast often helps with dealing with it. And, dealing with first world situations generally means keeping them in perspective and learning to focus on the many good things going on.

And, there’s more of the good stuff to be thankful for than we regularly realize.