Reflections on The Algebra of Happiness

I listened to “The Algebra of Happiness” by Scott Galloway recently. There wasn’t much that was new as it was a compilation of posts from his weekly blog – “No Mercy, No Malice” that I’ve enjoyed reading over the past months.

I’ve shared a few of his posts from time to time as I find his writing a nice mix of interesting, provocative, and heart warming. Amidst notes with strong points of view and occasional humble bragging, there is plenty about the struggles he’s faced and continues to face. The struggle to be a better son, father, friend, teacher, and citizen.

It is that struggle that makes life interesting and challenging all at once. And, I’m glad he shares that. Those are the sorts of notes that help put things in perspective.

My notes from the book are sparse. But, as I look back on what I’ve taken away, there are three notes that resonated.

First, Prof Galloway observes that hard work and a lack of balance early in a career has a disproportionate impact later. In the early years, speed helps. There’s no right way to do this – only we can decide what trade offs make sense for us.

Second, the ratio of how much we sweat to watching others sweat is a leading indicator of success.

And, third, the most important decision we make is who we marry – if we decide to do so.

The relationship between have and be

“If I have more love/money/friendship/fame, will I be happier?”

Whenever we see “have” preceding “be” in such questions, we can be sure unhappiness is lurking around the corner.

Flipping the order, however, changes everything.

The question we’d ask now is – “What kind of person do I have to be to have more love/money/friendship/fame?”

By being trustworthy and caring, it is likely we’ll attract love and friendship into our lives.

By being skilled at something valuable and disciplined in our practice and execution of the skill, it is likely we’ll attract the financial security we seek.

And so on.

There is a chance we’ll win the lottery and have what we desire before being the person who deserves it.

Waiting to win the lottery, however, isn’t good strategy.

Better to flip the question and be the kind of person who deserves what we want to have.

The Law of Minor Annoyances

The Law of Minor Annoyances: Minor annoyances expand to fill any and all available mental bandwidth you make available to them.

We encounter minor annoyances everyday in the form of small frustrations, little spats, doses of bad luck, and irksome exchanges. If left unchecked, they fester, become major annoyances, and cloud all perspective.

Much of our daily happiness at work and at home, then, depends on our ability to understand and apply the law of minor annoyances. The more we learn to let go, the more happier and more productive we will be.

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. :-)

Looking outward

There’s a lot written these days about millennial employees looking to find purpose at work. These discussions are interesting and speak to the challenges executives and HR professionals face as they seek to combine monetization with collaborative and inspiring workplace.

That said, I do find myself wondering how much of this is actually about the desire to find purpose at work versus seeking those powerful and elusive intangibles like happiness, equanimity, and peace of mind.

If it is the latter – and, in many cases, there’s reason to believe it is – seeking fulfillment at the office is just a distraction. Regardless of how wonderful the values might be, workplace cultures are built around incentives like pay, promotions, and performance reviews that encourage us to look outward. The powerful intangibles that we tend to seek, on the other hand, only exist when we look inward.

No amount of effort will help us find them if we spend it looking in the wrong places.

Find them within ourselves, we must.

Get more vs. appreciate more

A delicious custard cake – the kind that melts in your mouth – is wasted on someone who doesn’t take the time to appreciate it. So are beautiful beaches, good teammates, the smell of flowers, supportive partners, good health, and thoughtful managers.

Lacking appreciation, it turns out, makes getting more a leaky bucket problem. It doesn’t matter how much effort you put into getting more – it won’t count for much.

We spend large swathes of our day working on skills (productivity, skills that make us better at our jobs) that are directed at helping us get more.

What if we siphoned off a portion of that effort to develop our appreciation skills instead?

Throwing money at problems

In the past 2 seasons, Jose Mourinho, the manager of Manchester United Football Club, has spent upwards of $400M in recruiting new players. And, his predecessors had spent an additional $400M over 3 seasons (take a moment to let those numbers sink in). But, he wanted to set things right.

While there has undoubtedly been some progress in the past two seasons, watching the team play has often been a joyless affair of late. A recent article described this well – If a team reflects the personality of its manager, then United need help because Mourinho’s demeanor and personality since arriving at Old Trafford has been anything but the bold, courageous and charismatic that the club demands. It has been downright miserable and tetchy.

After a relatively mediocre season, he has reportedly asked for an additional $250M to spend over the summer. His response is simply to throw more money at the problem to make it go away.

However, money doesn’t make all problems go away. Having a certain amount can help with a few problems, sure. But, throwing money at your marriage doesn’t a happy marriage make. And, good luck trying to spend your way into happiness.

And, more importantly, money can never be a substitute for good leadership and a great attitude. Some of the best funded teams fail because they approach problems with poor intent and attitude.

Improving our attitude remains one of the best ways to improve our performances.