Blog

Short blog posts, journal entries, and random thoughts. Topics include a mix of personal and the world at large. 

Want happy? Be less stressed

There’s lots of people out there chasing the ever elusive goal of happiness. Bookstores (okay; Amazon) and the Internet is filled with books and articles on how to be happy; that somehow once we attain it, all would be okay and we can live peacefully onwards thereafter.

I’ve certainly tried to find my happiness, and I have to say it’s as fleeting as it is difficult. The moments of joy in realizing a goal - like buying a Porsche - is a momentary dopamine hit that doesn’t last. Worse, once it wears off I am back to base one, back to before I started on the goal. I’d immediately need of another aim to deliver me that same joy once more. It seems that for me, happiness is indeed like the hedonistic treadmill, rather than something constant, which is I think is what we’re all after.

Is it possible to be happy all the time - as the default state of mind? I’d imagine the answer is quite idiosyncratic. If it were so easy then there wouldn’t be a vast cottage industry to provide answers for those seeking it. Personally, instead of adding things to my life and hoping those things will fill up the happiness meter permanently, to achieve somewhat constant happiness, it’s about paring it down: to do less, to want less, and really focus on only the truly important.

Via negativa.

These days I’ve realize that instead of chasing happiness, it’s far more constructive to eliminate stress. The side-effects of stress are readily apparent: my resting heart rate is elevated, I grind my teeth at night during sleep, and pimples sprout out on my face, even though you’d think at age 31 I’d be forevermore done with those marks of puberty. Nevertheless, it’s been a bit of an aim lately for me to be conscious of when I am feeling stressed, and to address the underlying cause.

For example, when I am wake up every day, my mind tends to wander to the work day ahead, even though I’ve yet to even leave the bed! Pondering about those various tasks fills me with anxiety and stress, needlessly so because I can’t do anything about those things until I actually get to work. It’s not something I should be thinking about while I go through my morning routine; if anything, I ought to be calm and relaxed so that I can perform my best later in the day.

There’s procedural examples, too: I gave up driving a car for the commute precisely because it got too stressful to deal with the massive amount of traffic every day. Taking the bus have been one of the best changes I’ve done last year, because riding the bus allows me to zone out and listen to my podcasts, rather than worry about other drivers on the road.

Obviously, not all stress are bad; some are crucial in kicking me in the ass to do better, like my daily checklists of tasks, and a self-promise to keep this website updated regularly. The stress from those pseudo deadlines are super helpful; what I am looking to eliminate are the frivolous and unnecessarily stresses.

As with anything in life, it’s a constant work in progress.

Messing around with symmetry and light.

450 words per day

It’s been said that the Ernest Hemingway only wrote about the 450 words a day. I’m far too lazy to research whether he actually did do that or not (excellent journalism being done here), so I’m just going to take that at face value.

450 words a day isn’t all that much, isn’t it? My daily blog posts are about 400 words on average (shout-out to the built-in word counter in Microsoft Word), and they take about half an hour to write. Obviously I’m not penning a great American novel, only merely writing down what I’m currently musing on, so the amount of imagination and creativity required is significantly less than Mr. Hemingway.

Nevertheless, it’s still only about a page a day, and for the rest of the time Ernest gets to chill and hangout at his leisure. It’s no wonder he chose a tropical paradise like Cuba to live in. It’s hashtag goals, as the kids say these days: write for a few hours at most, then the rest of time drink coffee and smoke cigars to the heart’s content. What a super low-stress way to make a living; I bet he would’ve lived quite a bit longer, had Hemingway not committed suicide.  

My ideal locale wouldn’t be a third-world country near the equator, but rather a cottage nestled in the hills and forests, somewhere in our northwest region. As I grow older I’ve really come to appreciate ultimate peace and silence. To attain that, being away from the cities is a must. As long as that cottage has a solid Internet connection, I can make a living doing creative freelance, or like Hemingway, write 450 words a day to someday form a novel.

The lesson here is that life is about consistency and solid habits over a long period. It’s rare and difficult to be a sudden viral sensation or hit something big overnight: good things take time to create, and it’s contingent on the creator to keep at it and coming back to it day after day, month after month. For sure on some days the progress will be excruciatingly slow, but even tiny bits of forward momentum, if done consistently, can compound into something great.

The other lesson is that this thing of ours is indeed marathon, not a sprint; don’t overwork yourself: be sure to take some time to enjoy being alive.

A road to joy.

My first ever CD have expired

A few days ago I received a surprise cheque in the mail (we like those!). Sadly, it wasn’t some rich benefactor wanting to support me in my creative endeavors (please support my Patreon - just kidding); rather it was from TIAA bank. My first ever CD account - a 5-year CD - has come due, and the final cheque signifies the account closing. Five years have indeed gone by already.

And what a difference five years make: my expired CD carried an interest rate of 1.90%, which was the absolute best one can do in risk-free account, at a time when savings accounts were only giving out 0.70%. Fast forward to today, I’m comfortably getting 2.2% from Ally, and long-term CDs are into the 3s. Shout-out to the Federal Reserve for finally raising the base borrowing rate these past few years.

You’d half expect me to go on some cliché tangent about how five years have gone by in a blink of an eye, and that it seems like only yesterday that I’ve just opened the CD account, but that is the completely opposite of what I’m feeling right now. What an absolute slog the five years have been; I went through an intense period of transformation, from my mid-twenties of still finding my place in this world, to now in my thirties, wiser yet still massively unlearned, and seeking to improve every single day. When you start to look at every single day as its own challenge and reward, your reference of time slows down significantly.

I think time goes by quickly when you’re directionless and bored. It contradicts somewhat the popular saying of “time flies when you’re having fun”, but I can only speak from my experience. When days are filled with salient tasks and good habits, the time well spent acts as a defense against pangs of emptiness and waste. You think time have gone by fast precisely because you regret not having done more during that particular timeframe. I actively fight against that.

Anyways, with interest rates at somewhat healthy levels, I’ve no plans to roll the money from the closed CD to another 5-year term. I prefer as much liquidity as possible (outside of retirement accounts), and not having to chase better rates frees up extra money to be funneled into my other investment vehicles.

Cheers to the next five years. May that end date also creep up on me unsuspectingly, but in the best possible way.

The rolling hills of Sonoma.

People don't want the daily grind

Few days ago this piece of advice popped onto my twitter feed:

This reads super familiar because it is precisely what I do. Everyday I've got a checklist of things to accomplish and it's the process of doing them for a prolonged period of time that personal progress materializes. It's hard to believe it's been two years since I've started studying Korean. The daily grind of hitting the books really escapes me from the macro view. 

Read the last (only) sentence of that tweet. For most people doing an hour of each of those three items isn't a problem; it's the need to continuously get after it for three years that proves to be an impenetrable barrier. In our modern times of instant gratification and constantly chasing dopamine hits (hello, Instagram), where promises of fast weight-loss diets still get bought, and short cuts and life-hack articles get tons of clicks, three years might as well be an eternity. 

They want the baby but not the labor pains. 

I can empathize with such sentiment. Indeed some days are difficult when the pay-off (so to speak) is years away. There are days I'd really rather not write on this blog, and I have to fight against all counter momentum just to put down some words - any words. Because not doing so stunts the progress, however micro it may be. 

I'm currently saving up for my next car. I'd be lying if I say the process isn't at moments excruciating. 

Success takes a bloody long time. The public only see the veneers of victory and not the hard battle fought for it. Jeff Bezos is in the news for being the richest man on the face of the planet, but lost in the commotion is the fact he spent multiple decades toiling at Amazon to achieve that status. 

So get after it. Every day. It'll be tough, and the rewards won't be for many years, but it's the only way. 

Perks of being a wallflower. 

Perks of being a wallflower.