The secret of my happiness

Ok that’s an exaggerated title, but over the last few days I’ve figured how I like to “manage life” so as to increase my happiness – basically overdeliver on the things I like or am very good at, so that I can slack on other stuff.

In fact, this has been a formula I’ve followed through my life, and my periods of frustration have coincided with times when I haven’t been able to use this formula.

Let me take a few examples from recent life to illustrate how I’ve used this.

  1. Health: I like to eat lots of sweets and fatty foods (well, that’s a tautology – we’ve all evolved to like eating such foods), and in the past have been massively overweight and had issues with blood sugar and cholesterol. However I find diet control massively taxing mentally (though I did pull off 50 days of intermittent fasting earlier this year, though I think that contributed to a worsening of my ADHD).

    A few years back, however, I discovered weightlifting – more specifically, a combination of squats, bench press, shoulder press and deadlift. I only need to do this for about 45 minutes on 2 or 3 days a week, and I’ve found that it keeps me fit enough – irrespective of whatever junk I eat.

    So, having deadlifted 130 kg earlier this evening, I’ve felt “entitled” to eat whatever the hell I want, knowing it won’t harm me. And I will feel this way for another 2 days, when it is time to hit the gym again.

  2. Family responsibility: On weekday evenings, our parental responsibilities include preparing dinner, feeding the daughter, playing with her and putting her to sleep (I’m possibly oversimplifying). Of these activities, I’m not particularly fond of the second one, since it depends on a major factor outside of my control, which can tend to stress me. So I like to leave it to the wife to feed her.

    So on most days I grab the activities that I love doing – cooking and playing with the daughter (though maybe her mother’s games are more fun. I either play football or play songs on the keyboard for her to recognise). Doing these allows me to remain free of guilt when the wife undertakes the other responsibilities.

Going back several years, the secret of my happiness in school years was being insanely good at maths and science, which allowed me to slack off in the languages and social science. Being a topper also meant that I could talk my mind (including occasionally talking back to teachers), and people wouldn’t mind so much.

And then when I went to IIT, I was neither a topper nor was I good in a majority of the subjects, so these privileges were taken away and I was miserable. Towards the end, though, when I started preparing for CAT, which was something I was insanely good at, and that allowed me to make peace with not being particularly good with my academics at IIT. Later on, in my first job, things I’m good at such as lateral thinking or certain kinds of maths weren’t highly valued, and that didn’t allow me to slack on things I hated, and I quit in 3 months.

I don’t think this phenomenon is anything specific to me – I suspect that is how the human race operates (and hence we have lots of specialisation and trade). We maximise the benefits from stuff we’re good at, and hope that this allows to slack on other stuff. And in situations where we aren’t allowed to play to our strengths, we remain miserable.

One thought on “The secret of my happiness”

  1. This reminds me of Nassim Taleb’s “barbell” strategy from Antifragile. When allocating resources, club together the safe, boring and/or under-delivering kind of thing with limited downside with the risky, high reward, exciting kind with unlimited upside, and don’t bother with anything in between.

    Barbell training is of course this kind of split in itself, Short bursts of intense activity coupled with long periods of relaxation! I’m always surprised by how effective the combination is.

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