I first learned about Positive Psychology when a class on this subject became the most popular course among undergraduate students at Harvard University seven years ago. Since then, this subject gained popularity in the media and there have been many books written about it due to its appeal to a wide audience. I’ve been reading and learning more on this subject through the years because my goal in life is to be happy. I found it interesting that this field in psychology only started 15 years ago, before then psychology focused on mental illnesses instead of finding ways to make normal life more fulfilling.
I came across a great journal article recently that summarizes research findings and gives actionable advice we can follow. I highly recommend reading the full article titled “If money doesn’t make you happy, then you probably aren’t spending it right“. These were the highlights for me:
Buy experiences instead of things
“Experiences are good; but why are they better than things? One reason is that we adapt to things so quickly … Another reason why people seem to get more happiness from experiences than things is that they anticipate and remember the former more often than the latter.”
Buy many small pleasures instead of few big ones
“If we inevitably adapt to the greatest delights that money can buy, then it may be better to indulge in a variety of frequent, small pleasures — double lattes, uptown pedicures, high thread-count socks — rather than pouring money into large purchases such as sports cars, dream vacations and front-row concert tickets. One reason why small frequent pleasures beat infrequent large ones is that we are less likely to adapt to the former. Happiness is more frequently associated with frequency than the intensity of people’s positive affective experiences. Eating two 6 oz cookies on different days may be better than eating a 12 oz cookie at a single sitting.”
Buy less insurance
“If the bad news is that we adapt to good things, the good news is that we adapt to bad things as well. Buying expensive extended warranties to guard against the loss of consumer goods may be unnecessary emotional protection.”
Pay now and consume later
“The shift toward immediate enjoyment and delayed payment eliminates anticipation and anticipation is a source of “free” happiness … Compared to those in the certainty condition, participants who were uncertain about which gifts they would receive spent more time looking at pictures of the gifts and experienced a more lasting boost in mood during the experiment session … Research shows that thinking about future events triggers stronger emotions than thinking about the same events in the past.”
Beware of comparison shopping
“When asked directly, first-year students in our study reported that the physical features of the houses would be less important for their happiness than the social features (sense of community, relationships with roommates etc.) But when students were asked to predict how happy they would be living in each of the houses, their attention gravitated to the features that differed most between the houses: their predictions were driven largely by the physical characteristics of each house. Comparison shopping may focus consumers’ attention on differences between available options, leading them to overestimate the hedonic impact of selecting a more versus less desirable option.”
Follow the heard instead of your head
“Research suggests that the best way to predict how much we will enjoy an experience is to see how much someone else enjoyed it.”
Humans of New York is a project by Brandon Stanton to capture New Yorkers and tell their stories, apparently this book is the result of 3 years of work for that project.
In the beginning of the book, Brandon briefly tells his story. When he was fired from his job as a bond trader, he decided to try being a photographer. “I had enjoyed my time as a trader, but the end goal was always money. Two years of my life were spent obsessing over money, in the end I had nothing to show for it. I wanted to spend the next phase of my life doing work that I valued as much as the reward.” So he starts visiting different cities, taking photos and sharing them on Facebook.
When he finds out that his most compelling pictures were of people, he pivots like a startup and focuses only on those. He starts stopping strangers on the street and taking photos of them. When he arrives to New York, he says “The buildings were impressive, but what struck me most were the people”. It was interesting to learn that his photos initially didn’t include captions or stories, since that seems to be the most compelling part of the book. He’s able to capture something deep about each person with his captions.
It’s a fun book that shows the diversity of people living in New York. There’s too much content on the website to digest all at once, so buying the book is an easy way to surface and enjoy the best content.
I like 37signals’s opinionated and provocative style, they like to preach the way they work and try to influence others. Remote is their new book on advocating working remotely. The book approaches working remotely both from an employee’s perspective and from a business owner’s perspective. It starts off by advocating the advantages of working remotely, tries to rebut arguments against it, gives tips on working remotely, and explains how to hire and manage remote employees.
Here are some parts of the book that I found interesting:
- Offices have become interruption factories.
- Say you spend 1.5 hours a day commuting, 7.5 hours per week, between 300 and 400 hours per year. Four hundred hours is exactly the amount of programmer time we spent building Basecamp, our most popular product.
- From May to October, we give everyone an additional weekday off — more time to spend outside while the weather is nice and a good way to decompress from a hard-work winter.
- At 37signals, we let employees who’ve worked with the company three years or more take a month long sabbatical if they feel like it.
- The luxury privilege of the next twenty years will be to leave the city… The new luxury is the luxury of freedom and time.
- Remote might mean down the street at a coffee shop. Or at home. Or at the library. Or in a coworking space downtown.
- Forcing everyone into the office every day is an organizational single point of failure.
- Freedom is slavery… In reality, it’s overwork, not underwork, that’s the real enemy in a successful remote-working environment.
- Routine has a tendency to numb your creativity.
Population density of a city has benefits such as having libraries, stadiums, theaters, restaurants that can serve more people. However, it comes at the cost of smaller living spaces, higher rent, traffic etc. As our jobs, shopping, entertainment and communication transition to online, it will be interesting to see how the dynamics of cities will change in the future.
It might be less of an issue for people with families, but I see isolation as the biggest risk for working remotely.
As to whether you should read this book or not: It’s useful if you’ll be in a remote working situation or are considering it. Otherwise, there are not too many useful insights for you …