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Things I do to be consistently happy (joel.is)
335 points by Katelyn on Aug 19, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 109 comments

I have a theory. I think that self-help books and articles actually make people miserable. I'm quite happy, and I manage to be happy without having a list of the 6 essential things I must do every day to stay happy.

In my personal life, the people most into self-help books and the like are the least happy. Correlation doesn't prove causation, so I can't blame the books and blogs -- but they certainly don't seem to be helpful either.

edit: I meant this as a light-hearted observation, not as a put-down to anyone who finds self-help helpful. :) I do think however that it's possible to become less happy by trying to over-optimize every moment of your life.

Have you ever helped someone figure out how to do something with their computer by just asking them questions? "What program did you use to do this last time? Good, start that program. What do you mean what do I.... [sigh] Okay, where do you go to start programs? Great. Yes, go there." They know everything but sometimes they seem incapable of putting it together. Life's like that for some people. You make a pot of coffee at 8pm, you skip a workout, you work when you should relax and relax when you should work. You avoid activities that make you happy and spend your time on things that just make you tired. You procrastinate paying a parking ticket (non-negotiable, takes five minutes) because reloading the national news seems more urgent. In some sense you know everything you need to know. You're like a befuddled computer user who seems completely helpless but who only needs a couple of simple reminders to get back on the right track.

There are many ways to characterize or explain why people who can describe a clear path to a better life have trouble following it. One way is to label it a deficit in executive function. To me it doesn't feel right to call it a deficit. I think of it as chronic interference with or co-option of the executive function by other factors. But either way, whether you think of it as weak executive function or a normal executive function overpowered by interference, the inmates are running the asylum, and your executive function is the asylum director cowering in his office mumbling, "I am in control. I told them to set the mattresses on fire; that was my idea."

The purpose of self-help writing is to put the executive function back in charge. For a lot of people, all they need is a brief reminder and a little injection of optimism, and a five-minute read like this blog post is useful for that. It's also important to grapple with the psychological factors that hijack your executive function in the first place, but if a few minutes of fluffy reading can do the trick for right now, there's no reason to say no to it.

There are many ways to characterize or explain why people who can describe a clear path to a better life have trouble following it.


Even beyond correlation not proving causation, it doesn't sound surprising to me that unhappy people are looking for ways to become happy, but happy people aren't. You might equally conclude that restaurants make people hungry.

"...but they certainly don't seem to be helpful either."

If people left restaurants hungry, wouldn't you suspect they're not living up to their mission?

I do notice that people invariably get hungry within hours of leaving a restaurant. Clearly restaurants cause hunger.

More seriously, it's not surprising that self-help doesn't produce instant results. People have widely varied and complex problems. It'll probably take a while to find the right advice, put into practice and see the desired results. Sure, there's a lot self-help gurus out there exploiting desperate people. But there's also a lot of genuinely helpful advice out there and people who benefit from it.

"There is a real correlation between a society that tells people that you can do anything and the existence of low self esteem."

5:20 @ http://www.ted.com/talks/alain_de_botton_a_kinder_gentler_ph...

Thanks, that was a very interesting talk.

"Correlation doesn't prove causation"


In the case of these unhappy people you know, perhaps the very fact that they're unhappy leads them to seek knowledge and solace in these self-help books and articles.

"I'm quite happy, and I manage to be happy without having a list of the 6 essential things I must do every day to stay happy."

I don't think the OP is doing what you imply he is doing. He is merely listing things he does that work for him.

And some of the things listed I agree with and do (sleep, exercise) but getting up early and going to bed early is not.

"the people most into self-help books"

From my personal experience I would agree with this. There is something wrong and it appears they are searching for answers. People who are already happy don't need these answers, and if not a subject which you want to find out about because of curiosity there isn't much of a reason to read those books.

Related, on things that I am really good at I tend not to want to read any books, lest what I read alters my thinking as far as what already works for me (might put doubt into my head).

I think you missed your parent's point. I don't think his comment was a knock against the OP at all or even that he implied that Joel's list was some kind of self help advice along the lines of those "6 essential things to make you happy" type books. It seems that Joel's post only reminded him of such nonsense and he commented about that and not the actual post.

I know where he's coming from too. I really liked this post and enjoy all of Joel's writing but every now and then I see enough happiness advice on the front page that I get burnout from it and am reminded of all the crappy, empty advice there is.

I think the first thing that should be done is to look at the person's physical health.

I've had down times, but the ones that have persisted have had (strong) underlying physical components.

This is pure anecdote, of course. But I've seldom heard of a psychologist or psychiatrist prescribing and discussing a thorough physical. (I am familiar with the "you should get some exercise" mantra; however, if there is a physical component including one that gets in the way of this, it seems this can all too readily turn into a guilt trip for the patient.)

Maybe it's different in other countries. I hope so.

Life is about living.

And everything else is ways to optimize that. Sure, self-help that distracts from living could make people miserable. Good self-help OTOH is meant to be heuristics for this optimization.

Personally, I've found wake-up-early and multiple-ways-to-win to be fulfilling: and even if I know the physiological reasons behind the second one, it still remains helpful. I feel the way to win is to actually self-help: find heuristics that work for you and make them a habit.

We have a habit of looking for magic pills. Many self-help books advertise themselves as magic pills because they know that it sells. I've read my share of self-help books and articles - specifically on exercise, nutrition and startups. I can say that they have good advice.

Making changes in your life can be difficult. One can also talk at length about the mental state of someone that is only looking for magic pills and how to break out of it.

I'm not sure why the focus has to be on whether or not self-help books are helpful?

After reading what he wrote, my takeaway was that he's sharing things he's discovered about himself. What's being cited may have come from self-help books, but he's doing it to show evidence of what it is that has helped him come to each realization about himself. He is by no means marketing these self-help books, or pushing us to believe in the potential of self-help books. He's just stating what works for him, and asking people to share what works for them. Parents who love their kids can say things like, "I drop my kids off at school every morning." It's the same thing.

Take away all mentions of being "happy", replace it with "productive," and remove the citations he makes. What you're left with is something I believe a lot of people do as well regardless of it's conscious correlation to happiness.

As long as what he does helps him achieve his goals (without causing harm to himself or those around him), then all the power to him. I don't think we have any right to attack him for it.

What you do is as bad as standing next to a doctor's office and telling the people coming in, that you personally don't need to see the doctor to be healthy, so they must be doing something wrong, especially since they seem to come in more than once.

You're being a jerk, whether you meant to or not.

People who are into self-help books are the ones most likely to be miserable to begin with ---- since happy people are not interested in reading them!

I find it somewhat interesting how often people profess that their key to happiness essentially boils down to living the sort of "good life" that in many ways is the Christian ideal, regardless of whether or not they are personally religious.

Although there are habits and rituals that can lead to a more positive outlook, such as exercising regularly, there are deeper aspects to this way of life. This includes helping others, which is featured in this article, but also includes dealing with others fairly and honestly (aka the Golden Rule), being willing to put others above yourself (at least part of the time), optimizing for long-term gain (the religious may be looking beyond death but there's also value in a somewhat shorter view), and so on.

Add in hard work and self-betterment ("Learn new skills") and it's not just a Christian outlook, it's downright Protestant.

But given the complexity of human nature, surely there are other ways to be happy. One option, generally only successfully exercised by the very rich, is to engage in constant luxurious pleasure. In spite of the fact that a majority of the planet's humans likely would be happy to adopt this way of life, we're told that the individuals who do are not actually happy and would be better off living like hard-working American Protestants.

At the other extreme is asceticism, which supposedly can lead to a life of satisfaction and contentment, if not happiness, but it generally seems to be a case of extreme long-term optimization, with little if anything in the way of short-term rewards. In any case, it's not a realistic life choice for me, since I have a family and no desire to leave them behind to live in a desert monastery.

So besides living the life of a monk, living the Protestant work ethic, and living the life of a dissolute jetsetter, what else is there that seems to offer a convincing chance at happiness?

> essentially boils down to [...] the Christian ideal

Why is this unexpected? From my nonreligious standpoint, I see Christianity (and indeed, most religions) as a device created specifically for this reason -- to allow people to be content with themselves. To me, it makes perfect sense that any given life philosophy will align with the general tenets of most religions; they wouldn't have stuck around if they made people feel less satisfied!

> Why is this unexpected? From my nonreligious standpoint, I see Christianity (and indeed, most religions) as a device created specifically for this reason -- to allow people to be content with themselves.

I'd like to clarify that I see a difference between the so-called Christian "way of life" and the Christian "way of thinking". The activities and behaviours (e.g. hard work, fair dealing, etc.) of the Christian way of life may lead to happiness, but the thoughts and mindset of the Christian way of thinking may not (e.g. guilt over over normal sexual desires).

In fact, I think that many religions, and this especially goes for more severe, "by the book" versions of Christianity, actually make people much less content with themselves, but they carry on spreading themselves in spite of (or because of) this anyway.

What I think is interesting, though, is the effectiveness of certain behaviours as a means of achieving happiness, and what that means for the course of human civilization. Perhaps it is the case that (most) humans need to work in order to be happy. What does this mean when we arrive at a level of technological sophistication that makes work unnecessary?

In fact, it is possible in Western societies not to work and to still enjoy a level of comfort that is higher than that achievable by someone who was working 12 hour days 150 years ago. However, doing this is frowned upon. Why? Is it because not working is fundamentally incompatible with the "good life" and by extension, happiness?

And is it the case that treating others fairly and honestly is genuinely an integral part of achieving happiness, quite aside from the fact that not doing so might lead to negative consequences for oneself? Or is that just something learned?

Is it actually impossible to live a happy, contented life that is characterized by indolence and a total disregard for the feelings and property of others, or is that just something we must all believe or civilization will just fall apart?

>>> I'd like to clarify that I see a difference between the so-called Christian "way of life" and the Christian "way of thinking". The activities and behaviours (e.g. hard work, fair dealing, etc.) of the Christian way of life may lead to happiness, but the thoughts and mindset of the Christian way of thinking may not (e.g. guilt over over normal sexual desires).

>>> In fact, I think that many religions, and this especially goes for more severe, "by the book" versions of Christianity, actually make people much less content with themselves, but they carry on spreading themselves in spite of (or because of) this anyway.

Just curious what your exposure to Christianity is?

Reason being is that I've gone from a secular background to belonging to a very devout church and in my experience Christians are much happier. Sexual self-denial isn't a problem and it seems that if anything it leads to happiness, considering the amount of personal problems indulging every sexual desire causes.

>>> Perhaps it is the case that (most) humans need to work in order to be happy. What does this mean when we arrive at a level of technological sophistication that makes work unnecessary?

If we do ;-)

People of all religions tend to think that members of their religions are happier than non-members. It's a major part of the self delusion. There is nothing special about Christianity in this regard.

> in my experience Christians are much happier

Maybe because when they do something wrong, they believe an imaginary being will forgive and still love them; or if they encounter difficulty, they can beg this imaginary being to help and think they're doing something meaningful.

> believe an imaginary being

Needlessly condescending. I am sure the parent is well aware of the "imaginary being" criticism of his belief.

I felt the parent and grandparents were being condescending. I have no regrets.

Sexual self-denial isn't a problem and it seems that if anything it leads to happiness, considering the amount of personal problems indulging every sexual desire causes.

I'm glad this is working for you, but please don't think for a moment that more than a few individuals that can't handle adult relationships that involve sex think this way. Cognitive dissonance likely has a large psychological component in your reasoning.

> Just curious what your exposure to Christianity is? Reason being is that I've gone from a secular background to belonging to a very devout church and in my experience Christians are much happier.

My experience is exactly the same as yours, except in the reverse order. ;)

> In fact, I think that many religions, and this especially goes for more severe, "by the book" versions of Christianity, actually make people much less content with themselves, but they carry on spreading themselves in spite of (or because of) this anyway.

I think this takes a very special type of person, though. Perhaps these peoples' "happiness" is self-sacrifice. Beyond that, I have no explanation.

> Perhaps it is the case that (most) humans need to work in order to be happy. What does this mean when we arrive at a level of technological sophistication that makes work unnecessary?

I believe this is true, and I truly fear what will happen when this becomes a concern (assuming it isn't already!) However, I suspect we'll simply create ever more layers of bureaucracy to envelope ourselves in, avoiding the problem indefinitely.

I don't know, catholicism and scientology make a point of making you feel unsatisfied...

Forgive me if I've said it here before, but I believe that there are "spiritual" geniuses in the same way there are literary, musical, and mathematical geniuses. I believe these folks (like Jesus and the Buddha) are exquisitely tuned in to what makes humans happy. I don't believe in God (or god, or the FSM), but I do believe that there are certain 'truths' that resonate with mentally healthy humans, and these folks have a keen insight into them.

On that note, the Dalai Lama made a very interesting point that pertains to your 'jet-setter' observations: many people confuse happiness and pleasure. There are things that will give you pleasure but that can lead to unhappiness (like sex) and things that are unpleasant but can make you very happy (like charity work under miserable conditions).

but happiness and pleasure is intimately intertwined - they have to be, because stimulating the pleasure centre was one of the methods that the primitive part of the brain controls behaviour (e.g., you find eating fatty, high energy food pleasurable, because thats the kind of food that's valuable to eat back when this mechanic was evolved).

Happiness is indeed simply a state of mind, but some people can't reach that state on a permanent basis, and require constant injections of pleasure as stimuli. I think drug addicts suffer a severe case of this, but normal functioning people do as well (only milder). Why do people binge eat, binge shop, etc, but to make themselves happier thru pleasure (despite the consequeinces)?

I think you answered your own question: these things, although pleasurable, don't lead to happiness. The confusion of which you write is the cause of much unhappiness.

Am I happy that I ate too much fatty, high energy food? No. Did I find them pleasurable? Yes. Are drunks happy? Usually not, as their lives become messes. Do they find getting drunk pleasurable? Yes. But it's the fact that they can't tell the difference between pleasure and happiness that ultimately leads to their pain (assuming they aren't genetically doomed to develop the disease). Those who forego responsibility to engage in sensual pleasures too often end up very unhappy.

EDIT: Type to -> too in last sentence

First, this kind of lifestyle in no way guarantees happiness: http://www.americancatholic.org/Newsletters/CU/preview.aspx?... - I'd argue that, despite any faults she had (and I think it's wrong to cover those up), she would be an example of this lifestyle, yet she with through many periods that would not be considered "happy." -- It just turns out that many others for whom this prescription doesn't work often drift away from the protestant prescription.

I would further argue that this derives from the Enlightenment -- see the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Learn new things is not embedded in the Protestant lifestyle but rather was bolted on because of the tension between it and the enlightenment. The Protestants adapted to what I would consider a local maxima.

That said, I'd argue that Shawn Achor's accumulation of research would be a better path to happiness for most of us. Meditation, gratefulness, regular exercise, keeping a strong social community, and performing conscious acts of kindness doesn't necessarily tie to the protestant work ethic but it seems to work pretty well.

Well, its quite obvious isn't it? A holodeck.


Honestly, I think Aristotle said it before religion did; I'm sure someone did before him too...

On the happiness bit - regardless of lifestyle I've noticed it's my mental disposition. Clear heads prevail...in everything (including programming).

You will find this kind of ethic also in old Greek philosophy:


Consider that all the wonderful Christian ethics that you mention are a distillation of the ancient world's wisdom (all of theese guidelines had been stated by earlier philosophers). Where i see disagreement is in the notion that it all there has to be a reward (afterlife) and that there needs a deity to communicate them. I think it kind of turned the whole movement to utilitarianism.

Another likely explanation is that wether we like it or not, wether we are believer or not, christian values and expectations still permeate society to the point that it still influences our behaviour and reasonning.

There has been research done on happiness as a subject of science. The How of Happiness is a nice book for a popular audience on the subject.

I just finished The Geography of Bliss, another wonderful book combining the science of happiness along with a fun travel story of a miserable reporter trying to find it.

I'm curious how many programmers find themselves most productive at specific times of the day. Personally, I'm by far the most productive late at night, in 1am - 4am territory.

The primary reason is that there are fewer distractions. The news cycle has slowed, my FB news feed is all but dead, I'm not receiving any emails/calls/chats, my roommates are asleep, and it's too late to accomplish chores like shopping or doing laundry. I'm also less likely to desire switching to another task, having accomplished them all earlier in the day. In other words, when I get into the zone late at night, I'm more likely to stay in the zone.

Another reason has to do with the pressure of a deadline. The later it gets, the stronger that nagging feeling is in the back of my mind telling me, "It's late. Go to bed." Nothing gets me working more efficiently than a rapidly approaching deadline. And, unlike most deadlines, I can continually push this one back: "1AM? Okay one more hour. 2AM? Shit, just one more hour." I can spend an almost indefinite amount of time in "deadline mode".

Of course this only works if you don't have anything important to wake up for in the morning.

It's funny you call that late at night, I call it early in the morning. But I totally agree with you. I wake up daily at 3:10 and can get about 3 or 4 hours of good uninterrupted work done. It's also a great time to go to the gym because few else are there.

There's a huge difference in the context between 3am "late at night" because you've stayed awake or 3am "early in the morning" because you just woke up. Some will hate one but not the other - personally I find them equally useful times for different reasons.

How do you find this kind of routine meshes with the sleeping patterns of your social circle? I've always been interested in trying something like this, just to see what it's like.

What time do you usually go to sleep?

I always find that I'm most productive at work after 11am or so. At home, most productive after 9pm (about when my kid goes to sleep)

In the sense that you are bringing up productive time, or when you are at your best, I vote for the morning because of something that is probably personal to me. I see the mornings as a time of hope and possibility ('imagine all that you can get done today'). No one says to themselves, 'oh, I hope today is crappy'. Not a surprise then that I actually get more 'depressed' as the day goes on (ie, afternoon and onward) and it's not necessarily dependent on how much I've accomplished or not, but rather that the realm of what is possible has dwindled.

Coffee is also my friend. I have between 1 and 1.5 cups per day but just getting up and feeling like Success Kid, per a mix of caffeine and hope, gets me going in the right direction.

I've found that the time of day doesn't matter as much as the current state of the problem I'm trying to solve.

If I've hit a groove and a path forward is in my head, productivity is through the roof. Otherwise I'm in thinking/experimental mode, and productivity (seems) like it has reached 0. True, I'm still learning and iterating, but...you know the feeling.

Also, once you have a family and/or a "normal" job, it gets much harder to pick what times you are productive. 1am - 4am would be a touch choice in most jobs - have to be in at ~8am or so, right?

I'm the same, for exactly the reasons you say - it's the calm that helps, there's no temptation to be distracted because there's kinda nothing to do.

My most productive hours are between midnight and 6am, then I usually nap 'til 10am or so and then grab another 2hrs from 9-11pm. I've tried more normal schedules, but this is what works best for me and where I sort of naturally end up if I don't try and force the issue of sleeping at night.

At the risk of going completely off topic and being all philosophical:

Can someone explain to me what 'being happy' means?

I have consistently failed to answer anyone who asked me if I was happy or not. All I can say is that I am content or not. Which, for me, means that I am satisfied with the situation I am in. I can do what I want to do, when I want to do it and do not have to be bothered by things that do not interest me.

Happiness, on the other hand, is not something I understand. It feels like an utterly inappropriate term to use to describe this particular sensation. I have always regarded it as this magical state of being that would be used by people who also talk of 'achieving ultimate enlightenment'.

"The ultimate goal in life is to be happy" is what I hear regularly. And I have to keep wondering what could possibly be so wonderful about it that makes this worth being the sole focus of a person's life?

edit: Fixed some grammar.

Happiness is a fairly broad category of mental states, which encompasses contentment. Happiness is linked to both a set of internal subjective feelings (impossible to describe, as there's no reference point. See also: the color red), and to a particular set of external behaviours which are consistent across the majority of humans (smiling, laughing, etc). If I wanted to communicate the internal subjective experience of happiness, I'd do it the same way I would the subjective experience of a color- I'd wait until I saw you experiencing it, and then I'd say "That feeling, right there. That's happiness." This is easier with colors, because I could just point to one, but it works with emotions too.

Much like yourself, I tend to think of happiness as a barometer of sorts. If I'm unhappy, it means that something's wrong which needs fixing. It's not hard to see how this perspective can be reversed, though. To say that I seek to be happy and I do so by finding/building a satisfactory environment, or to say that I seek a satisfactory environment and I gauge this via happiness- in practical terms these perspectives are indistinguishable.

kala ta pes dike mou.

Content, to me, is a neutral term. A lack of wants or needs plaguing me.

Happiness occurs when I am moved beyond that, by something which touches me positively. Playing a computer game, talking with friends, chasing my nephew around the garden, laughing at some silly thing with my wife. All of these are actively positive, beyond simple contentedness.

To me, 'being happy' is a vague, categorical, unfocused term like 'good', 'positive', 'introvert', or 'extrovert'. You can go into specific behaviors and feelings and then it makes a lot more sense.

For example, the author could be 'happy' in most areas of his life, but the choices he made in his life could make his dating life harder (if he's single) and he finds he's less 'happy' in that area.

In psychology, the terms hedonia and eudaimonia are somewhat broadly used to characterize two common modes of well-being. That might lead you to useful reading.

It's like being in love: you can't describe it, but you'll know it when you feel it.

According to the hedonistic view: "Happiness, understood as enjoyment is indeed a good candidate for an intrinsic value. ... It's worth pursuing for its own sake, it's valuable in its own right."

But happiness doesn't equal good life, there'are many different approaches to achieving it. I think "The fundamentals of Ethics" by R. Shafer Landau summarizes best the most important ethical theories.

You might be like me and not be particularly good at introspection: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_multiple_intelligence...

It took me a long time to be able to recognize things like happiness and love.

Happiness is when your cheeks hurt from smiling too much. Happiness is riding a jet ski. Happiness is enjoying a beer with your friends. Happiness is accomplishing something difficult. Happiness is looking forward to whatever you're doing today.

To me, that's happiness.

Happiness is some state of brain chemistry that humans find desirable and, having experienced it once, attempt to achieve that state again.

Contrast this to pain, which most people attempt to avoid experiencing again.

i get happy when things "connect" in my head. It's a rush.

I have two issues with this advice. One is, it's incredibly robotic. The same routine every day, the same times doing the same things, the same route every evening. Basically he is creating boredom. I have no trouble believing that it makes the st of his life more interesting. Would I want to follow that? Hardly. Responding to my environment, doing unexpected things, improvisation, these are things that make me happy. I get bored doing the same thing twice, there is no way on earth I joule be able to robotically do the same freaking routine every day.

Second: this life advice clearly comes from someone without a family. I read some comments stating that his routine is conductive to a family friendly life style, and in theory it is. But young children do not care about theory. They have dreams, don't want to sleep yet, throw up, get sick and a million more things. Every one of which would ruin this guy's schedule. Also, he never goes out, a movie or dinner? There's never a concert in town? Friends and family to visit?

Seriously, it's advice from a person with no social contacts (IRL) who has discovered bliss by living like a monk. Thanks, but no thanks.

I had the exact same thought - made me want to do a parody where I talk about getting up at 6am to contemplate the day, but all I end up doing is getting Apple Jacks for my three kids and snarf down coffee attempting to jack into the day.

I've never felt that great during those times I've had to regularly be up early school or work. Back when I was on the swim team and regularly got up by 5am, I was not a happy camper.

The happiest time I've had, my schedule was this: I slept from 5am to noon. I generally drank 1.5L of water and did about a 90 minute run right after getting up, showered, put on my suit and hit the office by 2:30pm. I stayed until about 11pm, then went out with my friends for seafood, veggies and beer at a 熱炒 (stir fry?) restaurant. Then, I'd come home at about 1:30 and do some work on my computer until 4am. After that I'd watch a video online, write a couple of note to myself for the next day and go to bed.

I completely agree with the blogger on the impact of exercising, continual learning, and helping others. It's not the most important stuff, though. I've found that having really good friends matters at least as much as any of his keys to happiness. Being in love doesn't hurt, either.

I've never felt that great during those times I've had to regularly be up early school or work.

Perhaps it's because you didn't voluntarily choose to wake up at those times. You had to wake up early for tasks that you had to do, even if unwilling that day. With little time to get ready, you'd also feel rushed.

With your happiest schedule, you have more control over when you can start working, and you also have a decent amount of time to get ready, so you feel more relaxed. Your happiest schedule also includes daily exercise, socializing, and entertainment.

I wish it was that easy. The reality is that there are early birds and night owls (see, e.g., http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/01/080126-sleep...). There is no question in my mind that I am a night owl. My "nap time" is around 4-5pm, which, if I succumb to, will keep me awake until 2-3pm. I am also completely useless before 10am, regardless of whether I get up at 5am or 9:55am.

It sucks to be a night owl in an early bird world.

> It sucks to be a night owl in an early bird world.

this is actually quite interesting - you'd think that humans who are less functional during the day time may be at an evolutionary disadvantage during pre-historic times. However, a lot of animals actually tend to be active at night, and so in theory, easier to catch prey at night!

From what I understand from the limited reading I've done, it is more like "night guard" versus "morning guard". Somebody needed to be up at night when the ("insert night feeding predator of choice") came to town.

My guess is that it wasn't until after we built a world of walls that most people could sleep comfortably at night.

I've read somewhere that the natural sleep regime for human is to sleep for a few hours after the night come, wake up and be active for 1-2 hours around midnight, and then go back to sleep and only weak up in the morning.

There: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Segmented_sleep

There is no such thing as "consistently happy." If you're interested in the subject, I recommend paying attention to Daniel Kahneman's work instead of vapid self-helpy blog posts.



One thing that I am impressed with is that Joel (OP) is good at following advice.

About 7 days ago I commented that I thought his post was inappropriately named (I took issue with Joel using "How to name your startup" rather than "my experience with how I named my startup" (because of what I felt was his limited experience in this area).


On this post he titles correctly "6 Things I do to be consistently happy".

I think you're overestimating your involvement in the naming of this blogpost.

Hey, whatever keeps this guy happy.

A few things.

My comment doesn't exclude what happened having other causes.

But more importantly you've hit upon an important point which is it's not what people think of you but what you think people think of you.

The guy driving down the street who thinks he's hot shit in the fancy car, well, assuming it makes him happy the important thing is more what he thinks of himself driving that car than what anonymous people on the street really think.

I know a person who would revel and think they were sooo great for doing the smallest things (say getting an extra discount at the store or finding a good seat at a concert). It pumped them up and made them feel good. They had no self doubt and high self esteem. They just thought they were so smart.

What's wrong with that? As you say "hey whatever keeps this guy happy".

Of course there are always those (the parent you responded to) that will rain on a parade.

I'm at my happiest when I've 3-6 months of living expenses in my bank account. This is freedom.

However, getting there without going through a gruelling 9-5 existence can be demotivating. You have to do it. People will probably be happiest getting advice on how to be content in an unhappy (/less than ideal) work environment, as this is what most people have to do.

Unless you're lucky enough to find the right collaborators, and funding, or stumble into an idea that makes money from the start, or start trying to do your own thing early on in your 20s when time doesn't matter so much, you're going to have to do the 9-5, and save up, and instead of buying a house take some time off for your own ideas.

Cycle to work. Live closer to work. Take your lunch break & have a stroll. Don't eat too many pizzas or chips. See some friends at least twice a week. Cook a nice meal for a mate. See an amazing film. Don't watch live tv. Find projects to work on with people you like, and that they're also motivated by. Ask someone you like out on a date, at least once a month. Be ambitious, but don't beat yourself up for not achieving. Learn from mistakes - actually recognise improvements, but don't beat yourself up for not doing them..they'll be another time. Ignore fluffy people - there's nothing going on below their superficial surfice. Live within your means; don't buy a new shiney device if you can't afford it when something else will do the same job. Save money for a rainy day.

[Edit:updated a spelling mistake, and added below] Practicalities like finding a good house mate, that allows you to have a good 8 hour sleep, whilst maintaining a degree of interesting human contact allude me.

I think the only thing I would add to this very sensible list is to have multiple, different classes of tasks that engage different skills. This way you can often work very long but not feel tired or bored.

One thing which I noticed (and I'm sad because that seems to be trend for a new generation) that none of 6 things is related to family and friends. Something like having sex (directly correlated with happiness), drinking with friends, small rituals like morning coffee with your spouse, hanging out with kids, etc.

In other words, I doubt that these 6 things will make anybody happy if there is no family and partner next to you. These 6 points are very important to ensure that you are not stressed out - but not really happy.

This article resonates with me on so many levels. When I started working on Semantics3 early this year, I spent many a day frustrated that I was barely achieving 50% of the productivity that I was capable of and I felt quite miserable about it. Here are a few things I did to get things back on track:

1) Moved Closer to Work: Daily long journeys are massive downers. When I awake in the morning, I often feel the urge to hit my laptop right away and channel all the early morning enthusiasm towards work. College years were ideal on this front because there was never anywhere to be (I wasn't too inclined towards attending classes ;)). Anyway, now, I live 20 mins away from work.

2) Stopped Listening to Music (especially during the few hours after I awake): I'm a music buff and perennially have music in my ears. But I find that music often blocks useful thoughts; letting the mind wander leads me down interesting channels, be it more ideas for my startup or even bugs in my code that I discover by merely thinking about the previous day's work (Rob Pike's "Best Programming Advice" comes to mind). Few things are more satisfying than stumbling on these nuggets! These days, I restrict music to certain times of day, such as my ride home or during certain phases during the work day.

3) Found Time at Work Alone: I like getting to work a couple of hours before everyone else, before any distractions kick in. For some of you, staying at work an hour after everyone leaves, lunchtime, or even spending an hour at home to finish things up might do the trick. Those power-charged hours make me feel like I've given that extra bit to my day. On a related note, check out PGs "Maker's Schedule, Manager's Schedule" (www.paulgraham.com/makersschedule.html)

Why is being in love not mentioned? Or sex?

Are you just happier being alone?

Well, sure. Being love might make people happy, but it's not great advice to give. Someone who reads the article might easily decide to take a walk every night at 9:30. He might have to rearrange my schedule or miss his favorite TV show, but it's not hard to figure out how to take a walk. But if the article recommended having a significant other—or even just getting laid more often, it just opens another can of worms. Most people can't just decide to have more sex, or to fall in love. So including it alongside habits like waking up earlier isn't very useful.

Honestly, good luck to him but it's just self-help "look at me I live an ascetic life of discipline" blah blah. In my mind, it is a little hard to take. "Here's my algorithm: by waking up early, I have two spare hours at lunch to help 2 people, at a rate of 1 per hour then I go to bed and early promptly but not before my nightly stroll about town." Follow this routine strictly for 20 years and let me know how that works for you.

I don't know anything about the author, but sounds to me like he's a person who's not in a relationship and almost certainly doesn't have young children. Many of the things in his routine would be nearly impossible to do for a person who's in a "family"

I disagree with you. He basically recommends a sleeping pattern, having fun, exercising, learning, helping others, finding ways to win. Which of these is impossible for people in a family? If many of these 6 things...lets say 4 of them... are nearly impossible for people in families then you'd think people in families would all be quite unhealthy.

Well, he recommends to stick to a specific schedule (having a walk at 21:30, going to sleep at 22:00, waking up at 06:00, etc) The exact times do not really matter, but sticking to a specific time schedule is problematic IMHO when you have a family because of the non-determinism introduced (especially by the kids).. Unless everyone in your family agrees to follow (and stick to) a similar schedule..

I wonder about this. I'd like to see more posts about love and how to deal with it in the face of software engineering/startup stuff.

Actually, nevermind.

I guess those are not necessarily things everyone has control of. It would be nice if we can all find a warm body to cuddle with.. I know sex is the ultimate stress reliever for me. But for some people, it doesn't come as easy.

Surely happiness is relative? I'm sure that many people who we think of as having shitty lives often feel "happy". If you're "consistently happy", then doesn't that just become the norm? To me, happiness is the peaks from the "norm" - if I was consistently happy, then I'd have to re-define what happy meant to me.

> To me, happiness is the peaks from the "norm"

What you consider the "norm" doesn't have to be the real norm of your own life. What you consider the peak doesn't actually have to be actual peak, either. It's partly your ability to perceive it so.

People who suffer depression don't necessarily have more shitty life than others. The similar question can be asked: "why would they feel sad, doesn't sadness becomes the 'norm' for them?".

> To me, happiness is ...

If you are happy with your definition of happiness, then it's cool. But if you are not happy that you don't satisfy "your own" definition of happiness, then you should consider re-define it. Happiness exists to make you happy, not to make you suffer.

Honestly I believe going to the gym every morning M-F is the single biggest improvement to my life. There's something about forcing your muscles into "adapt or you'll fail" mode that has amazing downstream effects on energy levels, eating and digestion, sleeping, etc...

The first two points (waking up early, exercising daily) make me happy, too. Compared to not doing those things, the difference is enormous. I would have thrown 'eating clean' in there as well.

The other points I agree with, too. But in my experience the first two points organically lead to the later ones.

On a side note: I'm an atheist and raised as such. I don't think guilt, dogmatic thinking, and the fear(!) of an afterlife would be conducive to my happiness. The intersection between The Christian Way Of Life and the OP's original points is so random and incomplete, you could just as well draw a connection to Scientology and be more spot-on (and still–for all practical purposes–not be spot-on at all).

Sound advice, especially the part about having multiple ways to win. I'm happier when I'm more gentle to myself for things I have little to no control over such as winning the startup lottery, ranking high in Google, or physical shortcomings.

Aren't those all examples of things that you do have a great amount of control over? I personally feel like I've already won the lottery for all of the things I have no control over: living in a wealthy country, not having to worry about food or water, being reasonably healthy and having access to healthcare, etc.

"I personally feel like I've already won the lottery for all of the things I have no control over: living in a wealthy country, not having to worry about food or water, being reasonably healthy and having access to healthcare, etc."

Do you actually feel like you've "won the lottery" or do you just try to remind yourself how lucky you are? I've read a number of studies that suggest we internally compare our status relative to those around us. So while I don't have to worry about access to clean water (which much world doesn't have), I don't personally know anyone without access to clean water, so I don't really feel all that lucky about it.

Conversely, I don't personally know anyone with $100 million, so if I won $100 million in the lottery, I would feel quite lucky.

I guess I ask because I'm curious if you can actually "force" or reason yourself into feeling lucky, or if that feeling is dependent on your environment.

I think this also has to do with your own experiences in life so far.

I can identify with il's point in that regard. My life so far has had its share of downs. So now that everything is going well, I keep being reminded of the importance of having the simple things in life and how I am very lucky to have a roof over my head, a decent meal every day and close friends I care about and who care about me. As far as that goes, I do actually feel I have won the lottery. What else could I possibly want or need?

All this has completely done away with any sense of ambition I had years ago. back then, I had to have a high paying job, fancy gadgets and everything that came with 'being successful' (or so I thought). I have now realized that none of this matters even a tiny bit. To me at least it is all completely irrelevant. I learned to take nothing for granted and its the simple things I mentioned which make it all worth it for me.

For me it's more about perspective and locus of control. Everyone always says that success is a mix of effort and luck. I agree, and I think I've already gotten more than my fair share of luck. So I can't complain about bad luck, bad economy, etc. If I succeed or fail, it's 100% because of my decisions and actions.

I strive for consistent happiness, yet it remains elusive despite my best efforts. I do a number of the things mentioned in the article but they only get me halfway there because I live in an area of the USA that doesn't get enough light most of the year - the Pacific Northwest. Low level clouds completely sap the energy from me and a number of people here, and it is not something that one has much control over.

I'm no stranger to light boxes, vitamin D, fish-oil,and anti-depressants, but there is nothing like a bright, sunny day to get my mood up. Unfortunately I can't summon those types of days by sheer force of will.

I would love a view into the self-talk /automatic thoughts that (self-professed consistently) happy people have.

What goes through your mind when you are stressed or anxious? What is the immediate, automatic, unblockable thought(s) that come up?

What is the first visceral response when you have setback?

What is the script that plays when you are exhausted?

I think the author's habits are admirable, but also think that they might be symptoms (rather than the cause) of a another form of health - a mind that is filled with patterns of thought that lead to happiness, and I would enjoy seeing into those minds a whole lot. Anyone?

I think there exists a terrible confusion about emotions in general fueled by pop culture. People should understand that emotions are just a form of motivation and not something magical. Unpleasant emotions don't have purpose to make you feel bad, they are here to help you to better adapt to your environment. Pleasant ones mean that you are well adapted. Simple as that. Also I would like to add that on the topic of happiness and other stuff related to positive psychology there is an excellent course from prof. Tal Ben-Shahar.

He mentions regularly helping people and then doesn't mention it in the context of how Buffer makes people happy. It's probably assumed, but worth saying: if you're working at a startup, one of the best (maybe the best) feeling is your users telling you how your work is helping them.

It's easy to get caught up in other stuff or forget, but talking to your users/customers and asking them how you're making their lives better is often very revealing and rewarding. It might feel scary/weird to ask, but the answers are awesome.

I can relate to this article. I've found that waking up at 6am and going for a jog was a great way to start the day. Also, as a programmer you can lose all sense of time whilst pounding away at a project. My way of disengaging from that is going to the gym, the cinema or just hanging out with friends. You must be sure to not get lost in the start-up race and do things that have nothing to do with your start-up every now and then at least. Great article!

I think its solid advice on a bunch of things you can do to feel energetic and alert every day. I'm not sure I would have used the word "happy" but the advice is good. I follow similar routines and I found myself feeling fantastic.

Occasionally I'll pig out with food, stop going to the gym etc and I notice a huge difference in my energy levels and my motivation towards work and life in general.

I've read many books on happiness. My favorite was the one by Desmond Morris: http://www.amazon.com/The-Nature-Happiness-Desmond-Morris/dp...

While I might not necessarily follow these (I'm a firm believer that its your personal duty to find what works for you, and someone else's advice won't help) but it was very refreshing to read this, especially how you laid it all out.

I particulary found Shawn Achor's ted talk on happiness to be the best http://goodthinkinc.com/speakers/shawn-achor/

If you have problems disengaging from your work, I strongly recommend having a go at archery. Focusing on nothing but a spot of gold way down the field does wonders for clearing your head :)

i don't know about having to do all these things every day, but getting closer to your goals, feeling spiritually and physically healthy, and helping others WILL make you happier. regardless of the source that lead you to do it (self help, religion, up-bringing,..). i'd also add meditation to the list.

Kind of reads like blogspam. I'm always suspicious any time someone writes one of these 'n things to x' posts.

I've been pouring in the 16 hour days for a year now and executing well, but neglecting any sort of balance in my life. All the added stress has made me neglect my family and definitely eliminated any personal time.

I decided to do something about it in June.

Exercise has made a big impact. I started running almost every morning and logging 20M+ weekend mountain bike rides. I've realized that you need to keep your cardio strong and your physique honed or the lifestyle will simply make you pudgy and listless. Great Founders know how to eat right, work out right, and feel right. This is like running a marathon, so you must live your life like a marathon runner. I've also heard that its good to do some sport where you can hit something. Tennis, boxing, hockey, or martial arts, let you hit something hard and get the negative energy out.

I used to stay up working until 3 or 4am quite regularly but now walk away from my computer by 1AM so that I can get at least 6 hours of sleep. I think sleep deprivation is a reality for most startup entrepreneurs.

If you really want to mess your life up, forget to put your family in the balance. This is your most important asset and precious responsibility. Make sure you focus here and not only give them dedicated time, but meaningful time. I reinstated date night with my wife and I'm trying to make an effort to balance things out in general.

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