So I took the advice of this book last week and made a To-Stop-Doing list.
The idea is to notice what activities are sucking your energy, wasting your time, and making you feel horrible– the opposite of a to-do list. Anyway, social media activities, in their various forms, made the top 5. Interesting right?
Blogging I felt was awesome, and lifted my spirits almost every time I did it. Reddit tended to waste more than 2 hours of my day if I let it, and checking Twitter while waiting for a subway generally didn’t do my mood any good, either. Pretty remarkable.
I did a talk at Jeff Pulver‘s 140 Conference the other week that discussed this– how fundamentally human social activities such as play and work get our spirits up by their very nature, but social networks themselves don’t really leave us with any lasting happiness. I relate this to a general thesis that makes a lot of sense to me. Here it is:
If we trust for the same reasons we always have, and we are made healthy by the same food we have always been, then we should also be made happy by the same stuff we always have. The puzzle then becomes to assess what those things are, and do more of them instead of the stuff people are telling us.
On a similar note, I was in a funk all last week until I started exercising. Miraculously, when that began, I suddenly felt better. Know what else works? Going to bed early. Amazing huh.
My point is that this happiness that we want so badly, the basic purpose of our existence is often unrelated to grand things like career, money, etc. and often far more related to basic human needs such as sleep, food, and exercise. In fact some of the best advice I ever got was just that: If you’re ever in a bad mood, try doing one of those things before lashing out at someone. More often than not, the mood passes.
So I’ve been reading the Happiness Project with this in mind– the idea that basic things that make other people happy will probably also do the same for me, and that the fundamental building blocks of a good life are often the things we see in commercials for mutual funds– you know, walks on the beach, sunsets, that kind of thing.
We visited my friend Dan (also my tattoo artist) a few weeks ago in Belgium and I noticed how much waking up to his gorgeous backyard, with trees, a well, etc and how much it impacted my mood to have that kind of space as a backdrop instead of concrete. We don’t want to believe in how easy it is, and we’d like things to be different, but they aren’t. Very fundamental things work– complicated plans do not.
The photo above is one I took yesterday of some graffiti I saw on Notre-Dame here in Montreal. It says, in French, “Perdre sa vie à la gagner,” which roughly translates as “Wasting your life trying to make a living.”
It’s a good thing to think about. What do you actually need? What do you want? And finally, what are the (often free) alternatives that no one is telling you about?