What Are You Grateful For?

Photo Credit: SuperDewa

People who spend time counting their blessings are happier than people who thinking about their troubles. That makes intuitive sense, but it’s also been demonstrated by real academic research.

Researchers at UC Davis and University of Miami split a group of roughly 200 people into 3 groups – each was asked to fill out a weekly report about events that had happened that they were grateful for or found to be a hassle. A third group, the control, was simply asked to note “life events”. The report also asked participants to describe their mood, attitude toward life and other measures of well-being.

The results: gratefulness leads to happiness, health and more exercise!

There was a significant main effect for the ratings of one’s life as a whole and expectations concerning the upcoming week: Participants in the gratitude group rated their life more favorablyon these two items than did participants in the hassles group or events group. The gratitude-group participants experienced fewer symptoms of physical illness than those in either of the other two groups. … People in the gratitude condition spent significantly more time exercising (nearly 1.5 hr more per week) than those in the hassles condition.

Emmons, McCollough 2003 (full-text link)

Living the Research

The thing is, most people have things they are grateful for, but they don’t take the time to express them (unlike their hassles, which they are happy to express as complaints =D) You almost need to build a habit of expressing gratitude to really have this gratitude effect work for your happiness.

I keep a four-line, ten-year journal and every night, I use one of the four lines to write down something I’m grateful for every day. Usually it’s something mundane like “Had a nice conversation with mom today.” or “Completed my mail-in ballot early – proud to be an voter.” It’s a great way to count my blessings on a regular basis.

One thing I know I can do better is communicating my gratitude to the people I care about. I think we worry it might seem cheesy or fake, but those small appreciations can mean a lot.

So I ask you:

What are you grateful for? And how do you express it?

Great Career Paths are Messy Creatures

Most people seem to dislike their jobs or at best, find it tolerable. So when we encounter someone who seems to have a great job – work that is interesting, enjoyable, fulfilling and  impactful – it’s natural to get curious. How did they get there? What steps did they take to arrive at their current position. And of course:

How can I do the same?

I’d like to suggest two resources for everyone in their quest to reach their own great career:

Resource 1: So Good They Can’t Ignore You

The first is a book by Cal Newport of Study Hacks called So Good They Can’t Ignore You. This book, (based of a quote by Steve Martin), offers a framework for finding great work.

Great work, according to Newport, is work that offers things like autonomy/control over your work, the feeling that you’re good at what you do and a sense that you are having an impact on the world. He argues that getting a fulfilling career has far less to do with the type of work you do (the first chapter is devoted to bunking the myth that the way to a fulfilling career is “following your passions”) but more has to do with building career capital and leveraging it to gain a position that offers these things.

Career capital depends on the type of role you seek (for TV writers, it’s simply the ability to write really good scripts, while for entrepreneurs it might be a mix of technical skill, unique insight into a market, and a network that can reach great investors). The book is relatively short, quite insightful and full of profiles of people who have found great work. Go check it out.

Resource 2: CareerHoot Interviews

The second resource is a website called CareerHoot by my friend Andrew Chen which an online resource of interviews of people who have made career transitions – so people looking to switch jobs can see how others have done it. Continue reading…

Twelve Life Lessons Learned from Burning Man

12 Life Lessons Learned at Burning Man

I recently went to Burning Man for the second time this August – it was a great experience, though very different from the first time I went in 2011. I’ve heard from veteran Burners that your first time at Black Rock City will always be your best.

I’m not sure that’s true yet. It’s definitely less mind-blowing when you know what to expect, but on the other hand, this second experienced allowed me to think more about what we all can take from the values, culture and experience of Burning Man.

1) Listen to your body

One of the 10 principles of Burning Man is “radical self-reliance” and it’s a critical one when you’re trying to survive out in the middle of nowhere. The 100+ degree heat, chalky alkaline dust, reduced sleep schedule and new diet of dried fruit, beef jerky and water forces you to really be mindful of your body. If you’re not careful, you can be hit with heat exhaustion, super chapped hands and feet, or a GI issue.

But why leave that mindfulness out in the playa? Back in the “default world” there are plenty of opportunities to be more aware of what you’re eating, how well you’re sleeping and how stress is affecting your body.

2) Be more open to new opportunities

There are so many things to do out at Burning Man – send post cards, connect with camp mates, volunteer to light lamps, dance on art cars or run 5k’s. I heard someone call it “Disneyland for adults” at one point this year.

But in most cities and of course with the internet, opportunities are everywhere. You can volunteer at a local homeless shelter or take up a new yoga class or study to become a bartender or just say hi to your neighbors. If you feel like you’re stuck in a rut, just look around and find something that catches your eye. Opportunities to do interesting things are all around us.

3) Focus on the now

There’s a joke at Burning Man that everything runs on “playa time”. Meaning scheduled events often start late or perhaps not at all and coordinating anything is tricky (in part because of all those shiny opportunities we talked about).

In some ways that’s a hassle, but in other ways, it’s very freeing. People aren’t operating on schedules and tight timelines – instead they live in the moment. They’re not thinking about what they have to do next but focus on what they’re experiencing right now.

Obviously, we can’t all be like Arnold Schwarzenegger and work without a schedule, but if we can remember to catch our breath in a busy work day and realize that we’ll do our best work when we focus on the now, we’ll all be better off.

Continue reading…

A Request (and Giveaway!) for My Twenty-Sixth Birthday

Best. Cake. Ever. | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

Photo credit by Solo

People fall into two camps about birthdays – either a socially-acceptable time to feel entitled to special things because you were born a certain number of earth rotations ago, or it’s just another arbitrary day and nothing to get worked up about.

I generally side more with the latter – but this year I’m giving my birthday a little more ballyhoo. I think its a good time to reflect on things because similar to New Years, our birthdays remind us that death is coming)

My birthday wish comes in the form of a question:

What’s the one thing you wish you knew when you were 26?

(or, if you are not yet 26, what’s the one thing you hope to know, be or do by the time you turn 26?)

Leave your thought in the comments below.

The sweet, sweet prize

I’ll be selecting one lucky winner to get a free Impossible T-shirt from Joel Ruyon’s Blog of Impossible Things – you can see me rocking one out here.

So wish me a happy birthday by sharing your wisdom (or aspirations) with me. Thanks!

How to Overcome the Naysayers and Get People to Buy-In [art of buy-in 2/3]

This is a 3 part series on the art of buy-in. In my last post, I talked about how smart people often get great ideas shot down. In this post I share a story of how I overcame the naysayers and got buy-in for team dues.

I would venture there are few groups harder to organize than a bunch of cocky college athletes. Gymnasts especially, since we all spend the first 10+ years of training by ourselves, without much of  ”team” mentality. That’s why I want to share this story of how I won over my gymnastics team and got everyone to pay team dues.

Our team’s money problem

Photo credit: JMR Photography

September 2008: fall training for the Stanford Men’s Gymnastics team was about to start.

I was meeting with the other team captains to plan for the upcoming year. We had discussed attitude in the gym, our focus during training competitions, etc. While most of the conversation was on how we were going to win the national championship, there was one logistical item on the table: team dues.

As a team, we had become close over the years – organizing annual gifts for coaches and graduating seniors, printed handbooks for freshmen, a camping retreat in the fall and a team banquet in the spring. Usually the captains or other seniors would front the money (around $1,000 total for the year) for these sorts of activities and then try to collect afterward.

Collecting money, a few dollars at a time, from 15+ guys who are usually close to broke, sucks. No one has the exact amount on them, you forget to ask, it’s hard to keep track of who paid and who hasn’t and generally speaking, this is a big hassle. Inevitably the person who fronted the money gets screwed.

The dismal history behind team dues

Now the previous year we had a captain named Dylan. This guy was brilliant – earning above a 4.0 GPA as a Stanford premed – but his ideas for the team often didn’t go anywhere, much to his frustration.

He had tried to push through the idea of team dues – where people would pay an advance to the captains which would be spent on the various team sponsored-activities. It’s a win for everyone – team members would stop getting hassled all the time, and captains would have the necessary funds to do their job.

It died. People said it wasn’t necessary, too much work, and that the current system was just fine and the conversation just fizzled. [1]

Despite this failure, I felt that team dues was still a really good idea – and I knew that once implemented, it’d become institutionalized as a part of the culture and thus worth giving another shot. My co-captains agreed hesitantly – as long as I did all the work, they would support the idea. Continue reading…