Here’s how (and why) to meditate

Orthodox Jews meditating before a wedding

The first of the Twelve Paths to Happiness is Meditation. Meditation can mean a lot of different things, and there are lots of ways to meditate. In general, the practice of meditation usually involves sitting still and focusing on breathing, a positive message, or whatever comes to mind, with the aim of being non-judgemental, patient, and open.

There’s some stigma in our busy society about the benefits of “sitting around and thinking about nothing”, but evidence of the benefits of meditation is solid, and based on years of empirical research.*

Meditation has been shown to improve physical health, cognitive abilities, and of course to increase happiness and other positive emotions (or we wouldn’t even be discussing it). The cynic in me thinks that the only reason we’re not all meditating daily is that nobody has figured out how to get rich peddling meditation.

Or have they? While researching easy ways to get a mediation habit to stick, I found this great website/app called Headspace. It’s an on-demand meditation guide, starting with a 10-minute daily session, and increasing from there. Like many online services, it’s free to start, and you pay to access the more advanced lessons.

I started using it a few days before New Years, and I’ve been really happy with the results. I feel calmer, and more in touch with the small details of what’s going on around me. My goal is to continue 5 days a week, either with Headspace or on my own. (I’m not getting a kickback from Headspace for promoting them, I just think it’s an awesome idea: “the gym membership for your mind”)

* Here are some Google Scholar search results for the skeptic. You’ll find scores of controlled investigations into the effects of meditation. Here are some factoids that are presented in an easy-on-the eye format, with references available when you click “find out more”

Twelve paths to happiness, pick one

2014-12-12 11.32.52
Your author, deviating for a day

If you’ve been playing along at home, you’ve found that it’s possible (and even fun) to make big changes in your life. And you’ve taken a little quiz that will help you figure out your unique view of time.

Now we’re going to get down to business. The creators of that quiz worked together with a colleague (author of The How Of Happiness) to group specific happiness-inducing activities into the different time-perspectives.

So all you need to do is look at the following chart, find the time-perspectives you want to work on, and do the corresponding activities. I’ll write a post highlighting each, though I recommend you only pick two or three to work on, and no more than one at a time. (See below for more tips).

Time Perspective
Past Present Future Transcendental Future
Activity Express gratitude Practice acts of kindness Cultivate optimism Practice religion or cultivate spirituality
Avoid overthinking & rumination Nurture relationships Develop coping strategies
Learn to forgive Increase “flow” experiences Set and pursue life goals
Savor live’s joys Take care of your body (exercise/diet)

Those are the twelve (+1, if you include the Transcendental Future) paths to happiness.

I’m going to begin with Meditation in my next post. Why mediate? How to get started?

A note on starting a new habit.

frog and toad willpower

Why is starting a new habit so easy when it’s a bad habit, but hard when it’s a good one? I’m not sure, but I do know a few things about getting good habits to stick.

After training for–and completing–a half-marathon, I realized that running the race was the easy part. It was just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other, for a couple hours. The hard part was the months of training: turning down late-night social events so I could get up in the morning to run, etc.

I did some research on how to set myself up for success (including reading this great book about habits) and found that making changes requires willpower. Willpower is like a muscle, you can make it stronger by exercising it. Also, you use your willpower muscle throughout the day (e.g. by going to work instead of the park, avoiding a second dessert after dinner). By the end of the day it’s worn out! It’s strongest in the morning, so that’s the best time to put a new activity into your routine. (Also, a habit needs a trigger, and “I just got out of bed” is a pretty solid one)

I set up a “motivation station” right next to my bed. It had…

  1. a monthly calendar of each run I was going to do. I could see the previous days’ runs crossed off. (Read up on dopamine to learn why this is such a powerful motivator)
  2. everything I needed to start my run (so I could roll out of bed and not scramble for stuff in the dark)

You can use this pattern “trigger + motivation + preparation” for pretty much any new habit. Also, most habits take about 2 months to stick, so don’t give up!

Catch you on the flipside in 2015, when we’ll start getting happier!

2015 Happiness Project: Step 2


Welcome back to the 2015 Happiness Project. How was your Deviate for a Day? Let me know in the comments. Today is Step 2, and hopefully it’ll be fun and very enlightening. All you need to do for this step is take an online survey that’s going to change your life.

In my last post, I mentioned The Time Paradox. The thrust of the book is that there are 5* major dimensions of looking at time. 3 are healthy and 2 are unhealthy:

  1. Past Negative: dwelling on how things in the past went wrong, and how you could have done things differently.
  2. Past Positive: fondly recalling wonderful memories of the past, and keeping family traditions alive.
  3. Present Fatalism: the feeling that nothing you do matters because your life is determined by fate, not by your personal choices.
  4. Present Hedonism: stopping to smell the roses, getting together with friends, being impulsive. Despite the name, this one’s actually healthy to have in the right dosage.
  5. Future: planning, goal-setting, delaying gratification, health/fitness. Typical Type-A stuff.

The following survey (created by the authors) will help you figure out how dominant each time perspective is for you personally. Here’s the survey:

Here are my results:

  1. Past Negative: 2.9 (slightly high)
  2. Past Positive: 4.1 (ideal)
  3. Present Fatalism: 1.7 (ideal)
  4. Present Hedonism: 3.1 (too low)
  5. Future: 3.8 (ideal)
  6. Transcendental Future: 2.2 (too low)

Here are the ideal results (according to the authors), along with percentile distributions:

As you can see, I have to work on living in the present, and also on reinterpreting past life events in a more positive way.

Next post we’ll look at some concrete steps you can take to improve your happiness, no matter what your scores are.

* There’s also a 6th, but it’s uncommon among Westerners: Transcendental Future, or a future beyond the lifespan of our current physical body. You can take a separate quiz to determine your score on this dimension.

Join the 2015 Happiness Project (a fun, effective alternative to New Year’s Resolutions)


I’m doing something different instead of traditional New Year’s Resolutions this year. I just read two amazing books about Happiness: “Stumbling on Happiness” and “The Time Paradox.”

The former has more to say about the crazy quirks of our brains that make happiness so elusive, but it was really the latter book that got me thinking about a concrete plan to improve my happiness. I guess you could say that my New Year’s Resolution is “be happier”, and the following is a plan to make it happen. I call it

The 2015 Happiness Project

From now until the end of December, there’s a bit of prep and homework (it’s fun!), and then in 2015, we’ll spend the year focusing on activities that are proven to make us happier (these are backed by science, and they might surprise you!)

Step 1: Deviate for a Day

(This comes from The Time Paradox)

What makes you happy will change, and you’ll need to change with it. This is a fun and effective exercise that encourages you to embrace change.

Here’s how it works: first make a list of the important aspects of your self-image. Consider your abilities, appearance, and personality. Your task, for one day, is to violate one important aspect of your self-image. If you take pride in your appearance, jump out of bed and go straight to work. If you never swear, throw a few fucking four-letter words into your vernacular. If you’re an atheist, carry around a Bible. Etc.

Once you’ve done this for one day, you can go back to your old ways, but the liberating feeling might stay with you and who knows, maybe you’ll like the new weird You better. Either way, you’ll realize that change is possible, even extreme changes.

My Deviate for a Day:

I take pride in my no-nonsense wardrobe and style, so on Friday, I’m going to take meticulous care in grooming and go to work in my nicest suit and tie. Maybe I’ll post a photo.

Let me know in the comments how you plan to “deviate for a day.” Have fun, and be happy!

Are there only three different kinds of leaders?

rosh pina

I’m gonna be posting more about leadership, because it’s what’s on my mind.

From The Three Types of Leaders The World Needs Most:

  1. Artistic leaders inspire by influencing perceptions. They help us see, hear, taste, smell and touch new things or the same things in new ways. You can find these leaders creating new designs, new art, and the like. These people generally have no interest in ruling or guiding. They are all about inspiration.
  2. Scientific leaders guide and inspire by influencing knowledge with their thinking and ideas. You can find them creating new technologies, doing research and writing, teaching and the like. Their ideas tend to be well thought-through, supported by data and analysis, and logical. These people develop structure and frameworks that guide others.
  3. Interpersonal leaders can be found ruling, guiding and inspiring at the head of their interpersonal cohort whether it’s a team, organization, or political entity. They come in all shapes and sizes, and influence behaviors in different ways. The common dimension across interpersonal leaders is that they are leading other people.

Leaders influence the perceptions, knowledge, and behaviors of those around them. And they’re not mutually exclusive. Think of these three not as positions on a basketball team, but more as stats for a Dungeons & Dragons player. How much of each do you have? What type(s) are needed for the current situation? More importantly, what type(s) are needed for the future situation, as you see it playing out?

Camp Mustache was a huge success! Here’s some feedback from attendees

Got Mustache?

Camp Mustache went swimmingly. It was exactly how I envisioned it: interesting people sharing wisdom and generally having fun while getting into a small amount of mischief.

Here’s a blog post from one of the attendees:

And here’s an amazing poem written by another attendee:

T’was two days before the first day of June
Spendthrifts powered through traffic on this afternoon
In anticipation for a weekend of fun
Just south of Seattle… there were rumors of sun

The group was diverse in geography:
Alaska, Florida, and Washington DC
Arizona, Canada, and Las Vegas
Oh, and a few from the Pacific Northwest

Some single, some couples, and some families
From recent blog readers to Mustachian groupies
We all convened for this camping trip
To meet Mr. Money and glean a free tip

After dinner in circles we played a few games
Yelling non-existent sports and guessing last names.
For dessert we roasted marshmallows for smores
As the night grew chilly in the outdoors

Conversations varied as we were warmed by the fire
Financial calculations and countdown to retire.
Women discussed tiny houses and riches forlorn
As men listened in pleasure to this frugality porn

The next day began with a group hike
Followed by breakout sessions to choose if you like:
Homebrew, bikes, and urban homesteading
Creative suggestions to reduce your spending
Budget, save, finance a plan
Concerning real estate notes–RebelSpy’s your man

New credit cards, Brett began to unravel
with these funny points the world you can travel.
We learned Carla derived great satisfaction
From minimum spend with faux cash transactions

Nighttime fell and entertainment resumed
Wine in a box by some was consumed
As were small squares of chocolate infused
With fun legal herbs as some were amused

The final morning, before we would go
Gathered a last time for a group photo.
These fancy people as it so happens
Were okay sharing bunks in the same cabins

Though we started off the weekend as strangers
In common we’re all time vs. money exchangers
Likeminded souls in quest to be free
On the financial path via Badassity

A special shout out to [the other organizers] and Joe
And to Pete who’s attendance was so apropos
To the understated volunteers who helped run this bash –
Thanks for great memories at 2014 Camp Mustache

I changed the poem a bit since it mentioned people by their real names…

We’re already thinking about next year’s event. Some folks jokingly said we should have it in Leavenworth and call it Das Mustachen-Kampen


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