A few months back Oliver and I created a non-fiction book club with some of our friends who, like us, are of an entrepreneurial persuasion.
Last month we read ‘Happy’ by Derren Brown – a book I would never have considered reading, had it not been strongly recommended to me, and I wanted to pass on the recommendation because it contains so many interesting ideas and philosophies.
It ultimately covers the teachings of the ancient Greek philosophy of Stoicism, and most importantly how this can be applied in our daily lives, to help us live a more considered life. To be clear, this is not about living an apathetic life, instead to aim high and seek to change the world but always be satisfied with the outcome.
Here are just a few of the interesting ideas covered in the book:
- Confirmation Bias – “the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories”. We form opinions on things very quickly. Once we form an opinion we then look at all new evidence in a light that supports our original viewpoint.
- The Hedonic Treadmill – “the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes”. We live in a consumerist society with everyone seeking more money to fund more things. However, with the short-lived feeling of new purchases and pay rises, it is this constant desire for more that can prevent us from enjoying what we already have.
- It is not the problem itself, but our perception of it, that causes the issue – we each react in our own way to the same situation (e.g. someone ignoring us or being overlooked for a promotion) because of the stories we tell ourselves. The harshness of the story is dependent on the current mood we’re in, with things such as lack of sleep or food accentuating this.
- Take a third person perspective for past or future events – it’s often much easier to take a more rational view on something when the problem is not our own. We can offer good advice to a friend or colleague because we are not emotionally involved. Therefore, if we are able to take this third person perspective in situations where we are emotionally involved, this can help us to be much more rational in our decision making.
- Do I have a problem now? Keep reminding ourselves a future event might not happen – we constantly create stories about what we think is going to happen and this causes huge levels of anxiety. A great quote from Mark Twain which encapsulates this perfectly is “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened”.
- Commit to playing as well as you can, but not to ‘winning,’ as that is out of your control – we should focus on doing everything we possibly can to improve our own performance. However, we should not tie our feelings of satisfaction and contentment to the actual result, which is so often out of our control due to external factors.
- Before judging someone else’s actions, we must first ask how we would act in their position – we can often get pissed off with other people’s decisions, particularly if it affects us. However, if we frame it differently and imagine how we would have acted in their exact position, it’s often much simpler to understand why they have acted in the way they have (and that we would most likely have done the same).
It’s a great book and I strongly recommend reading it. We now have several copies, so give me a shout if you want to borrow one.