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Slow Down on Your Quest for Happiness

Published 4/11/2018

Do you know what makes you happy? In today's episode we're talking about what it means to be happy and how to connect to our happiness when it changes from moment to moment

Today's episode is sponsored by Linode.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Do you know what makes you happy? You may have an immediate reaction. You may immediately say that, of course, of course I know what makes me happy. But this topic is not as simple as it sounds. And in fact, if you think about it, most of the things that we do in our lives are ways of trying to find how to be happier. Oh, it's a loaded term, of course, what exactly does it mean to be happy? And there are a lot of scientists who are kind of on the case, they're trying to figure out what it means to be happy. Because as it turns out, being happy is kind of an evolving term, right? It means different things for different people. And sometimes it means different things from moment to moment for the same person. And so this can become a huge trap for developers. We're going to talk about why in just a moment, my name is Jonathan Cutrell and you're listening to Developer Tea. My goal on this show is to help driven developers become better at what they do by connecting to their career purpose, their underlying career purpose, and using that to fuel them so they can have a positive influence on the people around them. That's the goal of the show. Today, we're talking about a principle that applies to everyone. This principle is very simple. That happiness is an extremely complicated and multi-dimensional concept. And unfortunately, we allow only one dimension of happiness to drive us most of the time. I'll give you two very simple examples that apply to literally everyone. Everyone eats and everyone sleeps. Now what makes you happy to eat? What food makes you happy to eat? Some people may immediately think, well, of course, candy makes me happy. Other people may think that eating healthy food makes them happy. Another person might think that eating nostalgic food, like a recipe that reminds them of one of their grandparents, for example, that that makes them happy when they're eating. Other people say that whatever is the fastest thing, the thing that is cheapest, and there's so many different variables, but here's another reality to consider. What food would make you happy when you are full? Things have changed, right? Things have changed because now you probably don't even want any food. In fact, any food, when you're substantially full, is going to be repulsive. It's going to make you less happy. So it's not really a food that makes you happy then, is it? Here's another example. How much sleep will make you happy? This really depends on a lot of different factors, right? Let's say that the sleep that you need for today is nine hours long, and unfortunately, that makes you late for work. So what we start getting into is these combined factors that even though nine hours of sleep may make you physically feel better, you're going to experience significantly higher amounts of stress because you were late for work. These interactions become really important. Why does this matter? What is so important about recognizing these dynamic pieces of happiness? Because happiness at its core doesn't really have a definition. So very often, what it means is which decision do I want to make in a given moment? So really what we're trying to do is make a good decision, make a decision that releases those positive neurotransmitters that give us that little bit of reward, that feeling of something good happened. And so the things that are good happening for whatever reasons that those things are happening, those things make us feel happy. So what this can lead us to do, unfortunately, is become impulsive with our decisions and allow our biases to show through because our happiness is really coming down to momentary decision making. What things will make us happy? The things that we think will make us happy very often they don't, at least in the long run. The things that we think will make us happy, we're usually right, but only for a limited window of time. So we're going to talk about what that really means and we're going to talk about ways that we can kind of move around this so we can engineer for more sustainable happiness right after we get back from talking about today's awesome sponsor, Linode. Something of things that will make you happy, something that makes quite a few developers happy is having less clicks to launch a server. With Linode, you can get an SSD server running in the Linode cloud. In just a few clicks, you basically pick your distribution, your Linux distribution, you pick your node location, and then you pick your resources. And there's tons of resources that Linode provides. All different types of plans starting at $5 a month for a gigabyte of RAM and by the way, that $5 plan that is still on an SSD. That everything about the hardware is still that top quality hardware. So $5 all the way up to their massive high memory plans. Of course, if you need that, then you probably already know what you need. But let's say that you're a brand new startup and you haven't done a lot of DevOps work. And suddenly your product needs to scale. Well, you can do that with Linode. And in fact, Linode will even provide DevOps, professional DevOps services to use so that you can focus on the things that you need to focus on the most, which is your product. And building out your code base, for example, rather than managing the server, making sure it doesn't fall down. That's what Linode can provide for you. On top of all these other services like LongView for long-term statistics on your server performance, tools like Node Balancer that allow you to put more than one Linux server into a balanced load. So in other words, multiple requests coming in. It can be routed to these servers automatically by Node Balancer. There's just tons of services that Linode provides. And it's built by developers so they know the types of problems that you're going to face. They are trying to solve those with you. Go and check it out, spec.fm slash Linode. You can get that $20 worth of credit, by the way. That's four months on that first starter plan, by the way. You can get that $20 worth of credit by using the Code Developer Tea2018 at checkout. And that code is automatically applied if you go to spec.fm slash Linode. Thank you again to Linode for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. So what is this problem with happiness? We've kind of discussed that happiness is extremely hard to define. And it's going to be different for every person. And it's different for the same person given new scenarios, given new situations. It's going to be different for you based on your age, based on your location, based on your day-to-day experience, even. So how can we ever get any control over our happiness? Well, the first thing to recognize is that typically, the things that you achieve that become normal are not the things that are going to make you substantially happier. In other words, you may think right now that getting a particular job or earning a particular amount of money that those things are going to, on their own, make you happy. Certainly, there is a threshold with pretty much every parameter you ever try to manage in your life. But for the most part, as long as you're making enough to pay the bills and not have to be cutting coupons every single day, as long as you're not struggling financially, as long as you're not going deeply into debt, typically larger salaries don't necessarily directly equate to higher levels of happiness. So this constant drive and wrapping all of our attention and all of our efforts around earning more money may be really not the best strategy for optimizing, at least as it comes to happiness. So what are the other things that kind of become standard? Well, a house, a car, even the electronics that you use, an iPhone, you know, you've probably or an Android for that matter, you probably owned multiple of these devices and before you got them, very likely you had some kind of idea in mind of how much happier you would be once you got it. This is very normal. But once that newness wears off, once the change, kind of the acceleration phase of that new thing, once that has died down, it becomes a part of your normal routine, well now you're kind of looking for the next thing to make you happy. And if you want to understand some of these things that we do mistakenly or perhaps foolishly to try to be happier, then you can study all of the biases that we've talked about in the past. For example, we've talked about delayed gratification, how we want to, you know, have a reward earlier rather than later and their entire businesses built on that bias because it's a human factor. It's something that we're kind of wired to want. Another great one that I'm learning more about actually today is called the distinction bias. When you look at two objects that are being sold and you're trying to compare them to decide which one you want, you're much more likely to compare the lower of the two, the obviously lesser of the two more harshly than if you were to evaluate it on its own. In other words, let's say you had, and the classic example is televisions. Let's say you had a 40-inch television and a 50-inch television next to each other in the store and you're trying to judge, you know, which one is going to make you happier. By having the knowledge that the 50-inch television is, you know, easily comparable to the 40-inch, you are naturally going to judge the 40-inch much more harshly relative to how happy you would be if you were to have it. In other words, you're more likely to be happier than you think you would be just getting the 40-inch. And perhaps just as importantly, the difference in happiness between the 40-inch and the 50-inch is relatively negligible. Your brain might parse it as feeling a sense of regret. It may parse it as feeling like you made the wrong decision, like you made a bad decision, and that you may actually have pain rather than happiness as a result of buying the 40-inch television. And that's two very simple biases that directly apply. There's probably hundreds of others, some with names and others that are still being discovered and described through research. And the reason we bring up bias again in this episode is because as a developer, you have to make choices all the time in your career. You have to make choices all of the time, and very often you're going to wrongly optimize for what you think is going to make you happy, but in the long run, it won't. In the long run, it's not going to have any positive effect, or it'll have a very limited positive effect. So here's a very simple exercise. I went you, as you go throughout your day, I want you to, in the very beginning of your day, and I do this in my journaling processes, in the very beginning of your day, I want you to define what will make you happy that day. What will make today a great day? Now I usually list one to three things. You don't want to make this list too long because you want it to be accomplishable. When you put these three things on the list, these are actually going to be your priority items for the day. Now, hopefully you figured out a way to align things that are going to make today a great day with your work, at least in large part. Hopefully most of the time, those two things are going to coincide. If you go too long of a period where those two things are not coinciding, perhaps it's time to evaluate why. Now, that doesn't necessarily mean that you need to change jobs. It may mean that you need to change your perspective on your job. I'll give you a hint. This is a very hard thing to do. It's very hard to take these three things, and number one, maintain focus on them. But number two, wrap all of your decisions throughout the day on them. Defining something that's going to make you happy today, does that really help out in determining what you should eat for lunch? Not necessarily. What you have to do to supplement this is to define your underlying values and purpose. This is very hard to do as well. But for example, for me, I know that one of my underlying values is to prioritize my own physical health above anything else that I do during the day. In other words, I make time for physical health first. Now, where I make that time depends on the day, but I make time for that physical health. Now that has an effect on my other decisions. So in that number one slot of what will make me happy today or what is the most important thing today, what will make today great, there's kind of an implicit call it a zero indexed item in that list, and that is to follow my values. Follow my values. If I'm not following my values, if I don't have values in order to judge the various decisions that I need to make throughout the day, then it's going to be very difficult to make good decisions. Those values can inform the decisions that don't already have an explicit answer. So if I follow my values, then I will decide that that has made me happy. This is a strange way to approach it for people who have never done it before, but instead of deciding in the moment if something's going to make you happy, which is going to be an impulsive thing, instead of doing that, you can decide ahead of time based on things that you know for a longer term you actually want in life, rather than wanting it right now because I'm craving it, I can make decisions more based on my intentional exploration of what I want, rather than my off the cuff answer of what I want. This is a more methodical way of going about it. So as you're defining these things, I want you to do two things. The first thing is look back and try to retrospect on things that have made you happy in the past. This may lead you down a bad road. I want to caution you not to look back and fall prey to your hindsight bias, which is going to look back and shape things kind of the way that you want them to be or shape them in a way that your opinions line up with how they were. Want you to look back and try to remember maybe through pictures or even going through notes if you've been a journalist that will really help a lot. If you have some way of tracking that, then certainly go back and use that rather than your hindsight. But try to remember times where you actually felt fulfilled, where you felt happy, where you felt positive. The second thing I want you to do, I want you to engineer more dynamic events into your day. These can be as simple as walking down a street that you've never walked down or trying out a new restaurant that you've never tried, or they can be as crazy as every vacation. You never visit the same place twice, right? You don't have the same vacation spot. You always go somewhere new. And the reason for this is because our brains adapt. We talked about this a lot on the show before, but our brains adapt to things that are familiar and so they're not going to stick out as much and to prove this to you, you can look back throughout your life and notice the high points that you remember. You may have some faint memories of specific instances in very normal circumstances, but by and large, people tend to remember things like vacations, holidays, and tragedies much more than they're going to remember an arbitrary third Monday in May of 2004. We don't keep track of things this way. So in order to understand how we can create positive memories, how we can create a sense of happiness, we need to recognize that some of those intermittent and difficult to adapt to events are going to be a key factor in organizing our day and creating our normal habits. So another thing that you can do is have new conversations with friends. Find ways of making your conversations dynamic. There's a tons of ways to do this. Very simple things like finding topics to talk about that you've never talked about before. You can use there's some online tools for this. There are games like Chuck Klosterman's car game. It's called hypritheticals. It asks you crazy questions and requires you to talk about things you would never come up with in your normal everyday discussion. So there's a lot of ways to do this and every person is going to be different, but find ways of adding dynamic and kind of high bandwidth things into your day. Think about your brain as kind of a caching machine. We think about performance optimization, ways of lowering the load on our users machines or over a network connection. Our brain does the same kind of optimization. So one of the ways that we do that in a given project is to take advantage of caching. Our brain does a very similar thing. We cache everything that we're used to and we kind of compress. We no longer have a need to reevaluate that thing because it's already been evaluated. We already have a model for it. We already have a way of kind of identifying what that thing means to us, how we relate to that particular thing. And your happiness is highly dependent on new experiences. It's dependent on things that you haven't really had before, new ways of experiencing new things or new ways of experiencing the same old things. This goes for your solid relationships. We are talking about trashing all of your relationships, for example, overnight. That's not the type of dynamic event engineering that I want to encourage. And hopefully we're going to have someone on the show very soon to talk about this specific subject and really excited about it. I don't want to announce that just yet. But the idea of creating this dynamic environment to live in, this is much more likely to generate memory than if you go through the same motions and you strive after something that you think is going to make you happy without really considering does this line up? Is this really my long term? Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. This is such a big discussion and it's very difficult to cover in a single episode. Certainly, we haven't covered it in a single episode. This is something that is an ongoing discussion, not just on the show, but in the scientific community, in the psychology research community and neuroscience communities. And it's important that you don't overanalyze this in order to figure out what exactly is going to make you happy. That's a very difficult thing to do. Follow some really basic heuristics for yourself. Start by making your happiness less easily jerked around. Start by establishing a more intentional version of what you believe will make you happy and then strive for that. Thanks again for listening and thank you to today's sponsor, Linode. Linode's giving you a $20 bill to use on any other services and plans, however, to spec.fm slash Linode to get started today. Thank you so much for listening. If you are enjoying Developer Tea and if this is providing any value at all to your life, then economically speaking, doesn't it make sense to subscribe? Even if you're getting 1% better per year by listening to the show, it's totally free. So doesn't it make the most sense to subscribe in whatever podcasting app you're using? And then if you stop getting value out of it, you won't hurt my feelings if you unsubscribe. The whole goal of this show is to provide value. So I hope I'm doing just that. And if you believe that I am, then subscribe so you don't miss out on future episodes and future value that we deliver on the show. 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