Zen And the Art of Happiness – Chris Prentiss

Zen And the Art of Happiness – Chris Prentiss

After reading Delivering Happiness and wanting to further explore Hsieh’s views on happiness, I stumbled upon this book.

Prentiss teaching is based on the response to two questions:
(1) Would I want this to be true: Every event that befalls me is absolutely the best possible event that could occur?
(2) Would I give that a chance to be true?

If the answer to both of these is “Yes,” Prentiss advises us to view every event in life such that: “Everything that happens to me is the best possible thing that can happen to me.”

Most of positive psychology is fluff. I don’t know what truly makes me happy and don’t think I ever will. That’s not a bad thing though – because I agree with Prentiss – every event in my life is of benefit to me, and happiness will ultimately circumvent the response. My life motto has always been: “You live and you learn.”

Your life today is the result of a series of decisions you made that have caused you to arrive where you are.

  • We are authors of our every moment. We are the mechanism by which our life is controlled, and we control the events in our life by our personal philosophy, which determines how we respond to those events.

When you believe something is one way, you will react that way because the emotion leads back to the original belief.

  • Emotion has a trickledown effect. If you believe something that happens to you is bad, you will react to the events in a way that will cause more unpleasantness, and that unpleasantness you experience will then appear to confirm what happened is unpleasant.

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

  • William Shakespeare . . . was Zen

“Happiness comes from within. It is a state that is produced by our minds. Although there are external objects and circumstances that can cause us to feel happy, the objects or circumstances themselves are not the cause of our happiness.”

Stress comes from the way you relate to events or situations.

  • Neither stress nor happiness is contained in things, events, or situations. It’s up to you to supply your reactions to them.

“If you’re not now happy most of the time, it’s because you are relying on something that you learned should make you happy and isn’t, or there is a condition in your life that is causing you to feel unhappy. That condition could simply be the habit of being unhappy.”

  • Change the way you are thinking about what happened and the results will change as well.
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Delivering Happiness – Tony Hsieh

Delivering Happiness – Tony Hsieh

Tony Hsieh’s story is fascinating. On paper he’s built, scaled and sold two very successful companies. In reality, he built a culture and implemented it into his businesses. His business insights are often contrarian and his management strategy is quite peculiar. Hsieh has been covered extensively in the past, but hearing it straight from the source has been most informative (albeit this was written in 2010). In his book, Hsieh shares personal stories about merging passion, business and opportunity to create the ultimate life fulfilling experience.

Building a business should be about building a lifestyle that delivers happiness to customers, employees, founders, investors, and yourself

  • To achieve astronomical success, take risks by going all-in, which will result in skewed success/failure. Tony risked the majority of his $40M savings to bet on an unprofitable business, Zappos.

Simply telling the truth isn’t enough; presentation of the truth is as important.

  • Tony was given detention for ‘stealing’ a lunch card when he never did. Even when you are innocent, ‘I didn’t do it’ is not a persuasive attempt to present the truth.

A passion will deteriorate in the happiness it brings as it becomes more like ‘work’.

  • When Tony and his friend quit Oracle to run a web design business – which at the time they were building on the side – they found they were not as passionate about the ‘work’ when it became their full time jobs. This is why culture is so important to a business, the more the work becomes ‘work’, the less passionate employees become – of course, the opposite is also true, and this is how Tony has built Zappos.

You are in the best negotiating position if you don’t care what the outcome is.

  • Tony was offered $1M to sell LinkExchange. He countered with $2M, thinking that $1M for each partner would satisfy, but growing and scaling a successful business would also be preferable. The offer was ultimately rejected, and they sold LinkExchange to Microsoft for $265M.

Knowing when to quit.

  • When you snooze the alarm clock for the tenth time, for the hundredth day in a row, and still feel like you’ve only slept two hours. Typically, quitting is not something an individual should do on impulse, but if you wake up every day thinking this is not what you would do if this was your last day, you should begin to think about alternatives.

Experiences are more valuable than material possessions.

  • This is Tony’s mantra. Enjoying friends, family and co-workers, exploring the world, building things. All of these are more valuable to Tony than sitting in a cubicle. Realizing he should not be valuing money, Microsoft, and other internal possessions, Tony set out to fully experience and enjoy his passions, which led him to Zappos.

In the beginning growth stages, throw ideas against the wall and see if they stick, then begin to improvise and take action.

  • We often get consumed by analysis paralysis and what-if loops. In the beginning stages of Zappos, every idea was explored and none were outright rejected. In the beginning, there is no clear path to scaling, ideas are vulnerable and time is sensitive. Agility and improvising are key to short-term success, while persistence and direction are key to long-term stability.

The most important decision you can make: Deciding what table to sit at.

  • Now days everyone is afraid of competing against Amazon. With Zappos, Tony knew the only way to succeed was to differentiate. He knew he couldn’t compete with traditional brick-and-mortar stores, so he decided to sit at a different table: first scale a business based on a drop shipping model, then stock a warehouse all while focusing on customer service.

Proximity is essential for maintaining the culture in a tribe.

  • In each of his companies, Tony built a culture that succeeded and failed together. But as his companies grew, his tribe – and culture – deteriorated. Individuals pitted themselves up against each other and decisions became political. He found small teams work best and for individuals to succeed they needed to be close to each other physically and emotionally.

As companies grow, it becomes more important to filter out bad opportunities than to look for new ones.

  • Packard’s Law: a great company is more likely to die of indigestion from too much opportunity than starvation from too little.

Do not outsource your core competency.

  • In Zappos early days they used a third party to maintain their warehouse and explored outsourcing their call centers. When both of those didn’t work, Tony made the decision to run their own warehouse and have every employee participate in customer service, from the CFO to warehouse workers.

Have a little fun, but always be serious.

  • Tony notes, “As it turned out, many of [our] best ideas came about while having drinks at a local bar.”

Build on a company on a competitive advantage. Understand everything else can – and will – be copied.

  • Brand, culture, and the pipeline of talent are Zappos only competitive advantages. In the long-run, everything else can – and will – be copied.

Most changes in a company are driven from the bottom up.

  • While corporate CEOs and Harvard Business School graduates will proclaim change and direction are driven from senior leadership, most change comes from the bottom up. Most modern management has no idea what is happening on the front lines. Corporate America has gone far away from Sam Zemurray-type leadership. While there are always outliers – Steve Jobs and the iPhone, Jeff Bezos and online retail – employees and customers ultimately dictate the direction of a company.

Companies that get in trouble are historically the ones that aren’t able to adapt to change and respond quickly enough.

  • Never accept or be too comfortable with the status quo. The most dangerous words in business and investing are: “Because it’s always been this way.”

Ask yourself: What is your goal in life? Then ask Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?

  • It’s not surprising that mostly everyone’s goal in life is to be happy. What is surprising is that mostly everyone does exactly what doesn’t make them happy.

If you can’t admit what truly makes you happy, tell yourself whatever you’re doing makes you happy; you’ll be sure to have plenty of friends traveling down the same river.

  • We rationalize our unhappiness by telling ourselves, “When I get [blank], I will be happy,” and, “When I achieve [blank], I will feel accomplished.” They believe whatever they are pursuing in life will ultimately make them happier.

Happiness is about four things: perceived control, perceived progress, connectedness (number and depth of your relationships), and vision/meaning (being part of something higher than yourself).

  • Once a person’s basic needs are met, money is farther down the list of importance than intangibles such as the quality of the relationship with one’s manager and professional growth opportunities.

The question to ask yourself is, “Will what you think you want to pursue actually get you the happiness you think it will get you?”

Who Moved My Cheese? – Spencer Johnson

Who Moved My Cheese? – Spencer Johnson

Someone at work recommended I read this, as the project I am on is nearing completion, so I’m interviewing and applying for new roles. She said, “Your Cheese has moved, hopefully you’ve prepared for a change and are ready to adapt to a new environment.” I was a bit confused, and thought it was a silly comment, so I picked up the book and investigated further.

Each of us has our own idea of Cheese, and we pursue our Cheese because we believe it will make use happy and successful. When we get it, we become attached and can feel entitled. And when we lose it, it becomes traumatic and is often a surprise. When our Cheese moves, we have two options: adapt and change, or complain and question. If we don’t adapt, we won’t succeed.

Events happen without warning or explanation. Being prepared to adapt at times of distress puts us in a situation to always succeed. If we don’t change, we become extinct.

The majority driver in not changing is fear. If we let fear suppress our drive to compete, we become paralyzed by the unknown. Fear can be good, so we should often ask, “What would I do if I weren’t afraid?” When we are afraid things are going to get worse if we don’t do something, it can prompt us into action. But it is not good when we are so afraid that it keeps us from doing anything at all. What we are afraid of is never as bad as it is imagined. The fear built up in the mind is worse than the situation that exists. When we change what we believe, we change what we do.

By preparing to adapt to change, unfortunate situations will become speedbumps rather than road blocks.

Choose Yourself – James Altucher

Choose Yourself – James Altucher

I try not to get too engulfed in the self-help/coaching realm, and while James Altucher doesn’t label himself as one, his work typically falls in the category. That said, this book is full of practical insights, not BS and fluff. It is primarily directed towards individuals wanting to pursue a career that’s “non-traditional”, but still has plenty of great insights on the dichotomy of corporatism vs. capitalism.

Choosing yourself is about having confidence in your own work, building a platform and not being defined by the jury-rigged system of tradition. Haters are going to hate whatever you do. “In life, you will always have 30 percent of people who love you, 30 percent who hate you and 30 percent who couldn’t care less.”

Choosing yourself is not about rejecting working at a large company, it’s about ensuring you do what you want to do, and a lot of times that means pursuing a non-traditional path.

Human beings are born pioneers. While capitalism has produced wonders, corporatism has forced us into cubes instead of outside in the world. To harness the freedom and succeed in the Choose Yourself era, James recommends: (1) Only doing things you want, and (2) The Daily Practice. The daily practice is a series of habits aimed at cultivating positive results. Some habits in my daily practice are: reading, running, meditating, learning about business models, and trying new food.  A true daily practice has four pillars: (1) physical, (2) emotional, (3) mental, and (4) spiritual.

If you find yourself stuck doing a job only to make sure you are happy in other parts of your life – so the grind doesn’t get you down – a daily practice can help. The daily practice helps open up opportunities so one day you won’t have to rely on the work you don’t want to do. To Choose Yourself is to choose yourself, not letting anyone else decide your career path for you.

Most ultra-successful people were once labeled eccentric, weird or non-traditional. Steve Jobs got fired from the company he founded, then went on to start a new one, and now we have Apple and Pixar. Don’t be an idiot, but if the consequences are minimal, don’t ask for permission, set out and strive for what you want – ask for forgiveness later. The world doesn’t provide autonomy, you have to create it.

The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist follows Santiago as he searches for a hidden treasure. Through many of Odysseus-like adventures, Santiago learns the importance of aligning desire and passion; “wherever your heart is, that is where you’ll find your treasure.” When one finds their internal treasure, seldom few will believe – it is then that we must proceed forward towards what we want.

When we fail to recognize the importance of each day, everyday becomes the same as the next. Santiago learns from this that one must not live in either the past or future. One must be interested in only the present. For if you can concentrate on the present, you will be happy.

It is then that he realized he was living the greatest lie, “that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate.” Santiago takes control of his situation, ending his pursuit of the hidden treasure to go back and find the inner treasure his heart had always desired, the woman he left behind.

“There is only one way to learn. It’s through action.” You can study, read, and listen until you turn blue in the face, but the full experience is when you take action, take ownership, and align what you truly desire with what you will pursue. Pursuing money and material will not provide happiness. Happiness comes from the heart and soul.

Sapiens – Yuval Noah Harari

Sapiens [LINK] – Yuval Noah Harari

Going back 100,000 years, there were six species that roamed the Earth. Now? There is one, Homo sapiens (Latin for wise man). How and why did this come to be? In Sapiens, Yuval Harari explains how the ability to cooperate in large groups was the tipping point for our rapid advancement to earth’s alpha-animal.

The ability to cooperate and colaborate is driven by storytelling. The difference between a monkey andHomo sapiens is our belief in myths. The most common myth is money. Printer paper and dollar bills share much of the same traits, yet one of them is what controls our world. Almost everything humans have achieved relative to their animal ancestors has been based on collective myths. Humans, just as any other animal, have one biological purpose: survival. Yuval is not advocating we seperate from the herd and reject these myths — and whether we know we are part of the game or not is besides the point — collaboration through the belief in myths is what progressed humans to their most advanced stage.

I most enjoyed the first hundred or so pages on human history and the final chapter: The End of Homo Sapiens. What does our future hold? Will birth defects and degenerative diseases cease to exist? How would the world be if no autopsy report read ‘died of natural causes’?  Humans are at the cusp of manipulating what we assign to God’s plan or biology. “For close to 4 billion years, every single organism on the planet evolved subject to natural selection. Not even one was designed by an intelligent creator.”We may theorize that iRobot is inevitable, or speculate to why we shouldn’t alter natures path and natural selection, but the reality is we will not stop progressing; it is impossible to stop Frankenstein.

“The only thing we can try to do is to influence the direction scientists are taking. But since we might soon be able to engineer our desires too, the real question facing us is not ‘What do we want to become?’, but ‘What do we want to want?'”

It took me over a month to tackle this because of the vast amout of information on each page. I have highlights and notes in every other paragraph. This has been the deepest information-to-page book I’ve read.

Ishmael – Daniel Quinn

Ishmael [LINK] – Daniel Quinn

I picked this up out of recommendation (thanks, Mo!) and, coincidentally, it read as a fictional counterpart to Sapiens.

At times I wasn’t sure if I was reading a real-life account of our demise or participating in one of those end-of-the-universe films. The book follows along a nameless protagonist who answers a newspaper ad: “Teacher seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.” Our protaganist soon finds himself in a room with a Gorilla, Ishmael, who begins to question his desire to “save the world.”

Ishmael explains the rise of humans and how they became the dominant force in the world: by caring only for themselves. These Takers, as Ishmael explains, believe they are the pinnacle of evolution, the world was created solely for them, for their taking, for their consumption.

This was very fun to read right alongside Sapiens. In Ishmael, we are warned that our consumption-driven society will cause the ultimate demise of the planet. In Sapiens, we learn how Homo sapiensreliance on myths has influenced everything from societal norms to the consumer-centric society marketers’ control. Even though one of these is fictional, they both share a similar warning: over consumption and myths can lead to human’s demise – if we are told the wrong story and follow along like sheep, the herd will consume more than they can replace.

While our protagonist still wants to save the world, Ishmael counters his intentions with an explanation that doing so world would mean changing our culture, which is to change the story in which humans are participating. As learned in Sapiens, we have progressed because of our storytelling. To be an individual of change, you still must engage within the confines of society. Man has no free-will, as “those who refuse to take a place do not get fed.” It doesn’t make a difference if we are being lied to or not, we must continue to get up, go to work, and pay the bills like everyone else. Ishmael explains that this does not mean being passive. If you want to change the world, you must change the culture. And to change the culture, means telling a different story. Every generation has a way that works best for people, change comes as each generation’s story develops.

”It isn’t the tale you tell that counts, it’s the way you actually live.”

When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air [LINK] – Paul Kalanithi

This is one of my all-time favorite books and consider it a must read for anyone. This is not one you will forget about after finishing. Each page reads as if you are sitting with Paul – he grabs your attention from the first page onward and it’s excepyionally difficult to put down.

“I flipped through the CT scan images, the diagnosis obvious: the lungs were matted with innumerable tumors, the spine deformed, a full lobe of the liver obliterated. Cancer, widely disseminated. I was a neurosurgical resident entering my final year of training. Over the last six years, I’d examined scores of such scans, on the off chance that some procedure might benefit the patient. But this scan was different: it was my own.”

Paul emphasizes the goal is not to make us feel sorry for him, he wants to share his attempt at philosophizing on what makes a virtuous and meaningful life. “At those critical junctures, the question is not simply whether to live or die but what kind of life is worth living.”

We do not need to fear death, for all organisms do eventually die. We should strive to understand it, how our morals change as we grow closer to it, becoming more aware and mindful. Being in the present moment, and “knowing that even if I’m dying, until I actually die, I am still living.” We humans too, are subject to the law that entropy always increases. Death comes for all of us.

“Even if you are perfect, the world isn’t. The secret is to know that the deck is stacked, that you will lose… You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving”

As the memoir concludes, the question comes of, how to live a meaningful life? While Paul is sadly no longer with us, he believed the key, through any circumstance, is to live with integrity.

This is one of the most beautiful books I’ve read. It explores the cross section of life and philosophy. It is tragic yet inspiring, thought provoking while direct. I can assure you if you read this, you will be more appreciative of life, and hopefully strive to make yours more meaningful.

Anything You Want – Derek Sivers

Anything You Want [LINK] – Derek Sivers

An eccentric founder shares his story of starting a business and the unconventional lessons he learned along the way. Derek Sivers founded CD Baby, grew it to $4 million in monthly sales, and then abruptly sold it. He implemented his own business strategy: no consultants, never took outside money, allowed employees to decide their salary and time off, encouraged customers to vote on new features, and everything else you’d never find in a Business Strategy 101 textbook.

Sivers has come to be known as somewhat of an obscure individual. Trained as a musician, he never set out to be running his own company. “’Revolution’ is a term that people use only when you’re successful. Before that, you’re just a quirky person who does things differently.” He was interested in alternative music and struggled to find musicians who couldn’t benefit from economies of scale and mass marketing. So he started CD Baby, a marketplace and promotional site for independent artists.

When you create your own business, you are creating a small universe where you control all the laws. If you don’t enjoy performing a specific task, hire someone else that does. For Sivers, his focus was on customers, but to treat customers well, employees must be given autonomy, flexibility and rewards.

The best section of this book is about Sivers decision making process. When encountering a decision, you have two options: It’s either a “HELL YEAH!” or “no.” There is no middle. I’ve used this decision tree to answer questions about career aspirations, large purchases, and anything that requires vast amounts of cognition. If you aren’t committed to the “HELL YEAH!” then it’s a “no.”

We all want different things, but Sivers is most interested in our motivations: “How do you grade yourself?” For some people, it’s how much money they make. For others, it’s how much money they give. For some, it’s how many people’s lives they can influence for the better. And for others, it’s how deeply they can influence just a few people’s lives. For Derek, it’s how many useful things he can create.

No matter what goal you set for yourself, there will be people telling you you’re wrong and won’t succeed. Contrary to what most would think, this is a result of a healthy, high-functioning society. If you set goals like you don’t need money, people will be happier for you. When a business is solely aligned to money, people sense the desperation and trickery.

“You can’t just live someone else’s expectation of traditional business. You have to do whatever you love the most, or you’ll lose interest in the whole thing.” Even if it’s unconventional, pay attention to what excites you, do what you enjoy most, and you’ll be on your way to anything you want.

The Dip – Seth Godin

The Dip [LINK] – Seth Godin

Advice is relative. Ironically, that’s the best piece of advice I’ve been given.

Quitters never win and winners never quit. This may be true for your favorite sports comeback story, but real winners quit all the time; that’s how they win. You find out what you’re good at, where you should invest your time, and where you should never go again. I love reading, but it wasn’t always that way. I once took a reading comprehension test. It said I read at the equivalent of a fifth grader. Having never read much in high school or college, I decided from 2015 onward I would read 50+ books a year. You don’t do that by staying in the fifth grade. You go through The Dip.

It’s a metaphorical trough that trips people up. When the times are tough, the tough get going. Now that’s a proverb relevant to The Dip. Quit the bad, or stick with the good, and develop the willingness to do either. As Godin notes, “The problem is that only a tiny portion of the audience is looking for the brand-new thing. Most people are waiting for the tested, the authenticated, and the proven.” They are stuck in The Dip.

Being well rounded is not the key to success. The marketplace rewards those at the top. #1 often benefits 10x that of #10, and 100x that of #100. This is explained by Zipf’s law: Given a large sample of [words] used, the frequency of any [word] is inversely proportional to its rank in the frequency table. Winner’s win big because society rewards them most. The difference between #1 and #3 is not 2.

We’re often myopic about others accomplishments. They come from either giving up or nevergiving up. We think the new artist is a one hit wonder even though it’s their third album. We forget that Michael Burry, famous for shorting the housing industry, first quit his medical practice to later make millions investing. Strategic quitting is the key to many large organizations. Take Amazon for example, where Jeff Bezos preaches about his failures. He fails early and often, focusing on what Amazon can optimize and control. For most, it’s easier to be mediocre than confront the reality that you’re not that good at something, or that what you’ve done is a failure.

The point of The Dip is not that you should quit, it’s that The Dip is a long, hard, frustrating and difficult place to be, so one must have the stamina, passion and willpower to persevere. “The next time you catch yourself being average when you feel like quitting, realize that you have only two good choices: quit or be exceptional. Average is for losers.”

This book reminded me of another great pocket book on mediocracy/expertise, It’s Now How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be, by Paul Arden.