February 2009


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This books falls under a specific category of books which includes titles like ” In Praise of Slow”, Zen books which focus on simplicity, Productivity books etc. As the title hints, there is one simple theme running through out the book – “Declutter your life, in all aspects of your life.” Cutting down variables and living with fewer and lesser variables in life is a far richer experience than dealing with a lot of variables and trying to do justice to all the variables.

This book is a classic productivity book but is completely in odds with the “Getting things done” – David Allen talk. The author Leo Babautta says that simplifying things relating to various aspects like, information intake, email reading habits, internet browsing time, goals in life, people whom you deal with, working on the daily tasks, etc. makes a lot of sense. The book gives some practical tips to simplify things in life.

The book can be read in less than hour’s time and at the end of it will make you feel that Life is a objective function where the lesser number variables makes it easier to find the maximum value of the function. In fact, it makes me feel that the local maxima could also be the global maxima!, if you choose the right kind of variables!

For those who feel overwhelmed by stuff in life, this book is going to be a welcome breather. However one can get the best out of this book only if one implements and experiments with at least a few of the stuff mentioned in the book.

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Stumbling on Happiness, is one of those books which I decided to read, mainly to take a break from the usual type of books that I read.

Last weekend I went to Boston to meet my friend Anoop as I was leaving US for good. As always, the 4.5 hr journey from NY to Boston gives any one a wonderful time to read. Generally, I tend to always remember distinctly some specific facts about books. About this book, I came across this book for the first time in 2006 while working at Fidelity. I remember it browsing through at South Station, Boston. My first impression was that it was some sort of a self-help book. After glancing through the contents a few pages, it did not smell of a self-help book. However I was too busy with my project and work at Fidelity that I did not find time to read this book. Anways , One fine day, I found myself strolling at Borders (near Penn Station, NY)when this book was screaming “Pick me up” from one of the aisles. So, made an impulse purchase knowing that the same book from amazon would cost me 40% cheaper.

After I purchased this book, somehow I did not find time for reading the book , probably thanks to my arb research. Boston visit provided me with one such opportunity to read the book.
Not to be over dramatic, but this book has made a definite impact in the way I think/ thought I think Image

Indeed, if you have even the slightest curiosity about human condition, you ought to read this book. Would it benefit you in your professional life? I don’t know.
Would it give you “Ten tips to become happy”, No.
Would it give you a recipe to live a happy life? No.
Would it tell you about the reasons you are unhappy? No
……. Well, I can go on and on. However this book does not belong to such category of books. The reason one should read this book is to not let your mind fool you in to believing something , especially believing stuff which you think might make you happy ?

Let me summarize this beautiful book in terms of broad themes it talks about.

This book is a scientific take on the errors we make when we try to imagine our futures. Book strongly argues that our errors are lawful, regular and systematic. A cognizance of nature of errors is very valuable and in that sense this book is an awesome read.

Subjectivity

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In the initial part on “Happiness”, the author delves on a scientific take on the subject and explores interesting aspects. There are 2 main arguments which the author makes on happiness. Happiness experienced by one person is dependent on specific context, life events, circumstances and can never be compared. Much to the chagrin of the scientific minds who want to compare happiness based on some scales, author says that such scales are meaningless. The second argument that the author makes is that , law of large numbers is the saving grace to deal scientifically with a subject like happiness, in spite of its extreme personal stampish trait attributed to happiness.

The author then goes to talk about three shortcomings of Imagination,which is used to think about future

Realism:
Imagination works so quickly, quietly and effectively that we are insufficiently skeptical of its products

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Mind remembers only parts of information of events. It tries to recreate the tapestry of events by filling in details and leaving out details. This process creates a strange narration of past by the mind, a narration which needs to be looked at with some skepticism. We expect the future to unfold with the details we have imagined and we fail to be critically aware of this mind trick.
It is very important to recognize that mind creates this synthetic past and future. Take away – Be aware of Synthetic happiness.

Presentism: Imagined futures often look so much like the actual present

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This part says ” Our imagination is heavily biased with the current state of thinking ” . We find it difficult to disassociate our present feelings with our imagination of the future. This creates problems when we make decisions etc that we think bring happiness in our future lives.

Rationalization: We have hard time telling how we will think about the future when we actually get there

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Context, Recency and Frequency play a big role in our future imagination. In most of the cases, we cook up facts and theories to make us believe things about future. But we have no clue whether those theories hold good, whether those theories make sense and ultimately whether our concept of happiness based on rationalization makes sense in the long run.

Corrigibility

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  • We remember endings and hence this effects the way in which we recollect the feelings
  • We have theories about how we must have felt and that decides our ability to remember our feelings
  • We remember specific things/ unusual events and base out experiences on it, rather than the complete event.

Takeaway is that the ability to recollect exact feelings is error prone and it is very very important to keep this in mind.

Is there a remedy to these shortcomings of our imagination ? Yes, there is one . However it is little difficult to put in to practice as we increasingly think we are unique, different from others, etc etc. We fail to comprehend or fail to choose to comprehend that it is easy to find surrogators who are facing our simulated situation currently. Since our imagination of the future is limited, we can at least find a surrogate who is currently facing a situation that we are imagining and look at how happy he/she is. This , according to the author, can cut down the bias we create when we imagine about the future.

This book makes one think about one’s own imagination, biases that we carry on, reevaluate the way in which we have/are taking decisions. One takeaway for me is that I will keep in mind these bias while trading/speculating. I intend to keep a detailed log of trading results and my thinking behind those decisions. In that way, at least I can go back and retrace some of the thinking , with out these bias creeping in.

This book has so many important insights that it will delight any kind of reader!

For those who are time strapped / attention strapped, here are a few video links. ( These links might in turn motivate you to read the book)
Video Links
Dan Gilbert at Ted -1
Dan Gilbert at Ted -2
Dan Gilbert at Poptech – 1
Dan Gilbert at Poptech – 2