Check out my bestselling book on habits, Superhuman by Habit. .
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!
I've been traveling consistently now for over eight years. In that time I've visited around seventy countries, many of them several times. But how I travel has changed considerably over those years.
While I might think that there are some "wrong" ways to travel, I don't think that there is one correct way to do it. Goals and circumstances change, and different travel styles accommodate those changes.
Maybe more than anything, I'm using talking about travel to illustrate something that I like to harp on: the idea that you should constantly reevaluate your habits and patterns to make sure that they suit you. Sometimes we build identities around things we do rather than things we are, and that's unhealthy.
My first serious international trip was nine months long. Todd and I sold everything, packed small bags, and circled the world. Some of our stops were short, but several lasted for a month or two.
Back then my goal was to just see and understand the world. I had a vague idea that my outlook on life was limited by my surroundings, and I wanted to see what life was like in different places. Staying for long times and removing myself from the United States accomplished that.
I can't say now that I've seen and understand the whole world, but that's no longer a weak point. I understand a lot more and have seen a lot. So while I still move closer to those goals when I travel, they're no longer the primary reasons I do it.
Now I travel in much shorter bursts. I'm in San Francisco for three days, was just in Las Vegas for four, Austin for two, and San Francisco for a few before that. I don't think I've been in any one place for more than three weeks consecutively in the past three years.
At the same time, I return to the same places over and over again. It's impossible for me to count how many times I've been to Tokyo, Vegas, San Francisco, the island, or New York in the past few years. Budapest is new on my radar, but I've been four times in the past year or so.
A big principle in my life is flexibility. I try to build myself into a flexible person. I don't need to be a master of too many skills, but I strive to be proficient at a basic level across as many disciplines as possible. At some level I can program, dance ballet, speak ten languages, rap, lead groups, entertain people, write, do construction, appreciate art, cook, and do many other things. I'm a beginner in many of those areas, but having any proficiency gives me a lot of flexibility in what I can achieve and where I can be useful.
This principle also extends to travel. My goal is to be able to be anywhere at any time if the situation calls for it. If there was a good reason to be in Shanghai tomorrow, it wouldn't be a big deal to get there. I've got frequent flyer miles banked, can counteract jetlag, can work on the plane as well as at my destination, and can get by in Chinese. In the same way that someone's day might be altered but not totally disrupted by a change in weather, my life is altered but not disrupted by changing my location.
While before I used to go to places for the sake of the place itself, now I move around more because of the people. I always come back to San Francisco because it has the highest concentration of good friends. My friend Nick and his family invited me to go on a cruise with them in the Baltic Sea this summer, and my friend Jimmy was planning on being in Europe afterwards, so I'll spend the late summer and fall in Europe.
The hassle of switching locations used to be a big deal, so I would try to minimize it by staying in one place for long periods of time. As I've grown accustomed to it, moving around a lot impacts my productivity and schedule far less than it used to, so I do it more.
I've also found that certain types of travel aren't as valuable to me as they used to be. I used to find solo travel exciting, but now I'm most likely to hole up in my airbnb and work if I'm by myself. So if I'm going to be by myself, I just go back to Vegas where cost of living is low and productivity is high. Traveling to new countries just for the sake of seeing a new place is also less exciting to me. I still enjoy it, but it's less revelatory, so I only do it if there's some other reason to go.
This is how I travel now, but I expect it will change in the upcoming years. If I was traveling this same way ten years from now I'd be concerned that I had stopped evolving as a person. After all, our habits and routines should reflect who we are.
Maybe I'll even stop traveling. It's hard to imagine that now, but you never know. Part of being flexible is having the flexibility to stay in one place if there's some reason to.
Travel is a big part of my life, so it's worthwhile to examine it and make sure that it still reflects my priorities and goals, and isn't just a vestige of an old identity. It may not be travel for you, but it's worth examining those things that take up a lot of your time to make sure that your time is being spent in a way that aligns with your goals.
Photo is a bamboo forest in Noumea, New Caledonia. Probably the most "off the beaten path" place I've visited recently.
My new book sales have been really bad! I still enjoyed writing the book, but you readers have spoken... I will only write self-help books in the future. I'll probably write the next one I have planned in the fall.
Guess what? I've got a new book out. I hate all the launching and promotion sort of stuff, and I'm not sure it actually helped my last book, so I'm going to do things the old-fashioned way and just quietly announce it here.
A little over a year ago I wrote a story about visiting a tea shop in Amsterdam. There was no moral to the story and no lesson, it was just an attempt to capture a really nice day that I had and an interesting person that I met. People loved the story, which made me think that maybe I should write a book full of travel stories.
So I did. The Amsterdam story is the only one I copied from the blog. The rest I wrote from scratch, and most of them have never even been mentioned on the blog, so they'll be new to you. Leo proofread the book for me and thought that the Amanda story was one of the least interesting, so if you like that one, you'll probably love the book.
I had a lot of fun writing the book and felt good making a tribute to all of the people who have contributed to my travels over the past eight or so years. All of my favorite memories while traveling are because of the amazing people I've met, and most of those memories are captured in these stories.
A couple people asked me recently to make a post about tea. I'm delighted to hear that people are interested, because I sometimes feel like readers must be getting sick of how much I post about and share pictures of tea.
I drink tea just about every day. The only days I don't drink it are when it's too inconvenient, or when I start getting paranoid that I might become dependent on it because I drink it so much. But then I take a few days off and nothing seems to change, so I start again.
The first step to good tea is having good quality water. The best thing to do is to get a reverse osmosis filter like this one. I have one like this in Las Vegas and I really like the water that comes out of it. You can also get something like this, which I have in my RV, or just go the cheap route and get a brita filter.
If you're drinking anything in the range of white tea to medium oolong, you really want filtered water. Once you get dark oolongs, blacks, and puerhs, it matters a lot less unless your water is really bad.
Summer is just beginning, which means that in my family as well as many others, people are graduating college and preparing to enter the workforce. I just heard that one of my cousins got a job. My first reaction was to be excited for her, and then the second was to be a little bit nervous: the habits she builds in her first few months of receiving a paycheck are very likely to affect her entire life an an enormous way.
While the amount of money you earn is important, what you do with that money is far more important. There is no shortage of people who make hundreds of thousands or millions who end up bankrupt or severely in debt. It happens all the time. But at the same time there are plenty of people who earn very little money but spend it wisely and never have a financial worry in their lives.
Money trouble is a leading cause of divorce. It's can be a huge source of stress. Not having enough money restricts your freedom, making it impossible to change jobs or to move to a different city.
Most Americans don't have enough money to handle an unexpected $1000 expense. This is MOST Americans, not just those who don't make a lot of money. And almost everyone will eventually have a $1000 expense they aren't expecting. A car breaks, they miss a flight, they get injured, their water heater floods, they get into a car accident, or they lose their job.
I'm not sure how I've made it my entire life without knowing that my grandmother was an only child. I'm sitting in a pizza place in Vermont with my grandmother, surrounded by my father and aunts, my cousins, and my cousins' children. We have so many people that we don't know how many to tell the hostess, and we can't even count. We just keep flowing in and taking all of the tables.
I had just told her how much I appreciated what she did for us kids. Every summer all of us kids would go up and stay with our grandparents for a week or two. It didn't seem like a huge deal back in the day, but now I understand that it was essentially a full time job. Laundry, food, and corralling us.
"I'm on only child," she says, "but I had lots of cousins I grew up with, so I wanted to make sure that you all had the same thing."
I look around at the visible evidence of her success. We're all really close. Some of us haven't seen each other for years, but it feels like we were just hanging out yesterday. Such a lovely group of people.
A entrepreneur friend of mine, who happens to be female, and I were talking. Another female entrepreneur had said that she couldn't get funding for her company because she was female, and that she would have easily gotten it if she was male.
Now, I have no idea if this is true or not. As a straight white male, basically no one has any biases against me. And I have enough female friends to know that women are, in some ways, treated worse than men. That's an unfortunate fact of modern life that seems to be changing in a positive direction. Venture capitalists seems like a smart enough bunch that they would see an opportunity if female entrepreneurs weren't getting the same amount of funding as their male peers, but again I have no firsthand experience so I don't really know.
My friend and I were talking about this and she said something that I thought was really smart. She said, "There are disadvantages to being female, but their are advantages to it, too. And either way, I'm going to do the best I can with what I've got."
What a perfect attitude. It's so obviously true, and it's both a diagnosis of the situation and a solution to it as well. She will be discriminated against in some cases because she's female. But she will also get some opportunities as a result. And either way, she's going to play the cards she's dealt to the best of her ability.
Making decisions is fascinating to me. Once you build a base level of competence, where you can trust that you will follow through with whatever you decide to do, you could say that your life is largely an exercise in decision making.
There's a concept we've all probably heard of, called paralysis of choice, where when given too many options, it becomes difficult to choose one specific one. There's a gelato place in Las Vegas called Gelatology that has twenty or so new flavors every day. It's nearly impossible to choose just one or two.
On the other end of the spectrum, I think when our choices are artificially narrowed, we have a tendency to forget that other choices exist.
I get asked a lot if I'm ever going to settle down. Right now I visit maybe twenty or thirty countries per year, plus another five or ten cities within the US. It's a pace that I find pretty comfortable, but there are downsides to it.
One of two things is true: either you will experience chaos in life, or you are setting your sights drastically too low. With even medium-sized goals, you're going to occasionally run into a time where you've underestimated a project, or someone has slacked and pushed work onto your plate, or a great opportunity arose and you had to scramble to try to take advantage. If this happens to you constantly you're probably doing something wrong, but the same is true if it never happens.
What you'd really want in these cases is to be able to bank time. You save up money partially so that if your car breaks down you don't have to pay for it all out of your next paycheck. If only you could do the same with time, storing up spare minutes here and there for when things really get chaotic.
You actually can do that, though, it just doesn't happen at Wells Fargo. In fact, I'm doing it now.
I'm on a flight from Tokyo to Melbourne right now. Nine hours, and most people are using the time watching movies or playing games on their phone. And most of them are probably on vacation from work anyway, so it makes sense.
I did the math again. Fifteen minutes to get to the car rental place, five minutes to check out, five minutes to wait for the shuttle, fifteen minutes to get to the airport, five minutes to get through security, two minutes to run to my gate. That was forty-seven minutes to get to a plane that was leaving in forty-five. I'd already given up on the idea of filling up the gas at a reasonable price; I was about to miss my flight to Japan.
It was the first time I saw my friend Neil in five years or so, so I pushed the timeline a little bit. And then I wanted to test out his Tesla, so I pushed it even further. What I hadn't counted on was that there was much more traffic on the way back than the way there.
I'm the last person in the world to admit defeat and become helpless. I'm tenacious (or stubborn, depending on who you ask), so I am always hustling and trying to make something work up until the buzzer. When there's anything left to do before giving up, I'll do it.
But sometimes you just get stuck. There was nothing I could do to get to the airport faster. If the shuttle took ten minutes instead of five, I couldn't change that. I could talk my way to the front of the line in security, but if I get flagged by the TSA, it's out of my control.