I know objectively that I did not have a great Tuesday. I woke up well rested, had my tea, got some unexpected work done, and had lunch. I felt prepared. I was entered into a tournament at the World Series of Poker, one where I got 12th last year, and I was hoping to do even better. I hadn't previously aspired to win, but had come within statistical variance of doing so the prior year, so my sights were higher this year.
I played my first hand poorly and lost two more big bets than I should have. A pittance in the grand scheme of things, but I could only win if I was playing my best. I reviewed my error, resolved to double down on focus, and played my next hand perfectly.
For a while I was up, but then I lost a series of unlucky hands in a row. I felt as though I played them perfectly, but sometimes the cards are against you. Four hours after I started, I went all in with pocket queens and lost to someone with pocket aces. It's the same hand that I lost with on my first try at the tournament.
So much for winning, or for continuing my streak of improving every year.
Even though this should technically give me a bad Tuesday, I felt like a had a great Tuesday. I went home in a good mood and got back to work as if nothing had happened.
One of the things I'm most proud of is always being in a positive mood. Whenever I write that I'm always happy people argue that I must not always be happy, but they are wrong. I am happy 100% of the time. A couple friends asked me about this last week and I gave both of them partial answers. I thought it might be interesting to attack the problem from different angles and talk about why I'm always happy and how you can use these same principles to increase your happiness.
1. I Know I Shouldn't Even Be Here
Just about every day I think about how unlikely it was that I would even be born. Think about that one sperm and one egg, and then think about the same for all of my ancestors. It is almost impossible that I would ever get the chance to be alive in the first place. I really feel the gravity of that every time I think about it. I shouldn't be here. Everything I have is a massive bonus over my expectation, which is that I would have never been born.
So I didn't win the World Series. How can I possibly even care about that when I get to be alive? The two things just aren't even on the same scale.
2. Everything Has a Silver Lining
Nothing is ever as bad as it seems to be, because you can always find something positive in it. Maybe that doesn't make a -10 event into a +10, but it could turn it into a -5 or 0.
My first thought when I lost is that I had just gained two days of work time that I hadn't expected. That was exciting to me because I love work and feel great when I make progress. So although I still would have preferred to win, losing had some benefits too.
3. It's a Challenge!
We all live life on autopilot sometimes. But when something bad happens to me, I use that as a prompt to wake myself up. See, I know that how I deal with bad situations is going to be one of the biggest levers on my overall satisfaction with my life.
It's very easy to perform well under optimal conditions-- anyone can do that. But some people crumble when something bad happens while others rise to the occasion. That's where the difference in performance is. So I remember that and accept the challenge, knowing that however I perform will also become part of my habit of dealing with negative situations in the future.
4. I See Negatives as Small Costs for Big Benefits
I always think about negative things as a part of a whole. When my grandmother died I thought about how amazing it was that I got to have her in my life, and how much better I was for it. I may be sad that she's dead, but when I think about her existence as a whole, it's a huge positive. I always knew she would die someday, and that was the cost of all of the great things about her being alive. It feels foolish to focus only on the negative aspect, just because it came most recently.
Same with poker. I did really well last year and get to compete at the top level in Limit Hold'Em. The cost to that is that sometimes, probably most of the time, I am going to lose in tournaments. Every single pro in the world loses most of his tournaments. For me to get upset about losing would be totally ridiculous.
5. I Want to Be Happy
I take no pleasure in being unhappy, which I don't think is necessarily true for everyone. Some people enjoy playing the victim because it frees them of the burden of responsibility and allows them to commiserate. I'm no better than anyone else and would probably also enjoy doing this, but I don't allow myself to.
It's similar to eating sweets. Usually when I eat something with sugar in it, I silently insult myself for doing so. I think, "You are an idiot for eating this. You won't even remember it two days from now. Usually you have good discipline, but this is embarrassing". I do this not because I believe it to be true, but because I want to counteract the positive "reward center" pleasure of eating something like that.
On the very rare occasion I find myself being a victim, I insult myself similarly by thinking, "Oh, poor you! You have an awesome life with great friends and all sorts of amazing experiences, but you want to act like a victim because this minor thing happened to you?"
It's comforting to feel like you've been wronged and don't have to be accountable, so I want to make myself less comfortable in those situations. In other words, I train myself to want to be happy all the time.
I'm worried people will take this as me advocating negative self-talk. That's not what it is. I am positive in my head about 99.9% of the time. I use negative self-talk as a tool to recalibrate unhealthy things that feel good.
6. I Create a Very Happy Environment
I also make lifestyle choices that keep me happy. I eat healthy food, spend tons of face time with my amazing friends, exercise, drink tea every day, take pleasure in my work, constantly think about all the things I am grateful for, get out into nature, don't drink or do drugs or eat much sugar, and do nice things for other people. In other words, my life by default makes me happy. So even if something could somehow put a dent in my happiness, I would naturally float back up because of the structure of my life.
So that's why I'm happy all the time. There are probably other habits that I've forgotten about as well. People think I'm crazy when I say I'm always happy, but I sort of think it's crazy not to be happy all the time. I'm sure some really horrific things could happen that would make me less happy, but those things haven't happened to me, or to most of my readers.
And all of this is said with a bit of naiveté. I understand that some people have different chemical makeups and for some it is much harder or maybe even impossible to be happy without medication. I write this with the assumption that I have average brain chemistry, and that most of my readers do as well. I'm not trying to judge anyone for their happiness, just trying to offer some strategies to improve it no matter where it is.
Photo is a sweet double rainbow we saw on the island.
Tomorrow I enter another WSOP tournament!
"It feels foolish to focus only on the negative aspect, just because it came most recently." Such a powerful realization. I don't think any of us could ever be reminded of this too often.
Item 1 reminds me of the song : The Streets - The Edge of a Cliff
For billions of years
Since the outset of time
Every single one of your ancestors survived
Every single person on your mums and dad's side
Successfully looked after and passed onto you life
What are the chances of that like
It comes to me once in a while
And everywhere i tell folk
It gets the best smile
Also, this recent WSJ post may be of interest/help to anyone looking to achieve similar positive thinking habits:
Each thought is made up of a complex pattern of activity between proteins and other chemicals, gene expressions and neural connections in our brain. The more we have a thought, the stronger this circuit grows. A well-developed thought “is like a ski track in the snow. The more you ski down a path, the easier it is to go down that path and not another,”
Hey! Glad your life happens to fit with how you would like it to be at this moment, thereby allowing you to feel happy.. Question is can you be just as happy if you become paralyzed or get cancer? Check out "Loving What Is" by Byron Katie if you want to truly understand what makes you happy and what is really true for you. Cheers!
A bunch of people e-mailed me about the Drop Out and Grow Rich article I posted yesterday. A friend of mine pointed out a few things, most importantly that I failed to give the college grad interest on his money. Fixing that (and making him pay interest if he was negative, but only after the first 4 years of college) put him very close to the high school grad with private school money. Never charging him interest for being negative got him slightly above that same person.
Then it was pointed out that the difference in earnings wasn't 900k as the college-mongers claimed. It was more like 1.3mil. I had no good data on salary increases, so I assumed the inflation rate. I guess it stands to reason that after a while job experience means more than the degree, so the gap gets smaller.
If I fudged the grad's income to equal a 900k lifetime earnings difference, the Dropout with Private School money is again the winner, but is still followed closely by the grad. If I fudge the dropout's starting income (to $29,692) to get the 900k difference, the grad still beats the dropout with public level money, but only by 300k. Also, the dropout would be beating him until age 58.
This is probably obvious for most of you, but it wasn't for me. Maybe there's some other poor, like-minded person like me out there who hasn't figured it out yet.
Some people are very good at seeing 'the big picture'. Not me. I've always been a very detail oriented person. Every concept I process and every idea I visualize is almost automatically, unthinkingly organized in my brain. One idea suddenly becomes a bulletined list of each individual variable, the traits of each variable and the pros and cons of each variable trait. I think it's for this reason that I have a very controlling aspect to my personality.
To me, self control always meant forcefully suppressing negative or irrational emotions and willing positive ones to the surface. It's always been all about what I should/shouldn't feel. Or what I want/don't want to feel. What I actually currently felt seemed irrelevant. I always expected this complete emotional control of myself, as well as others around me.
Not only is this an extremely stressful and emotionally damaging way to live, but it's downright impossible. Every time I tried to forcefully control an emotion, only to end up exacerbating it instead, It felt like a personal failure. I thought this was how everyone did it. The fact that I couldn't do it must have meant that I'm an irrational person who can't control themselves. Or that I don't have a strong enough willpower. Thoughts like these only helped to further this counter-productive cycle.