Why We Should All Be More Appreciative

Everyone wants to be happy.

Well, not necessarily, but I've never met anyone who wants to be unhappy so I'll assume that everyone does want to be happy. (I think there's a logical fallacy in there somewhere.)

Appreciation is the feeling of happiness. I think happiness and appreciation is the same thing, but described in a way that makes their similarity difficult to spot.

When we feel content, it's because we are appreciative of what we have. We feel happy because we understand that we have everything we need in life.

Appreciation is described as an act. Therefore it is understood as something that can be induced by choice. e.g. "Be Appreciative."

Happiness, on the other hand, is described as something we feel and an effect of our outside circumstances. It's not that this framing around happiness is exactly incorrect, but it is a little misleading, and this framing makes it so elusive to achieve.

"What makes you happy?" What a difficult question to answer. It is so difficult to answer because happiness is a result of what we do, not a result of what we receive.

To put it more precisely, happiness is a result of our feelings towards our outside circumstances. But what happens to us (something we receive) is not the same thing as how we interpret what happens to us (something we do).

How we feel about something is largely controlled by the narrative we decide to use to describe the events that occur to us.

"I have to take out the trash. It's so much extra work to tie up the heavy trash bag and haul it across the yard."

"I get to take out the trash and feel the sense of accomplishment of tidying up my house."

"I have to walk the dog. There goes another 15 minutes of my time."

"I get to walk the dog. Not everyone has this privilege of being able to walk, or own a dog."

"I have to go home and give my baby a bath. I'm tired from work and all I really want to do is relax."

"I get to go home and give my baby a bath. I am fortunate to have a job that allows me to go home early enough to spend quality time with family and give my baby a bath. I have the time and space to spend time with people I love."

Both interpretations are accurate but one will make you happier than the other. Why pick the negative one? We have a choice.

The reality is that being appreciative is a practice we can always employ, and happiness is the feeling that results from the practice.

The alternative would be to practice ignoring all the things we could be appreciative for, focus only on things that make us unhappy, and get stuck in a loop wondering why nothing good comes our way.

Of course nothing good comes our way if we don't practice appreciation. We'll miss out on everything good that happens to us.

Everything good is already around us if we just practice appreciation. We don't even have to wait for good things to happen. We can begin experiencing happiness right now.

Letting Go of the Kinesis Keyboard

I used to be a customer support agent, working on the livechat team for a company called Dreamhost.

Because the chat agents were, rather simply, evaluated mostly on the quantity of our customer chat sessions, I equipped myself with the Kinesis Advantage Contoured Ergonomic Keyboard. It kinda looks wonky because of its shape, but it works extremely well at preventing repetitive stress injuries in the wrist.

The keyboard itself and the fact that I'm selling it is not that interesting. But what this keyboard means to me now was interesting enough to write about.

As a support agent, the amount I typed was directly and heavily correlated with the quality of the work that I did. After all, the volume of help I provided was a key component to my evaluation as an employee. I don't personally agree that the volume is a good measure of how much actual human help I was providing and agents generally shouldn't be graded on volume beyond a certain point, but that opinion is really for a different post.

I've since shifted my line of work to software engineering. Despite still sitting at the keyboard all day – sometimes for even longer durations without any sort of mandated break – I don't have the problem of wrist pain that my customer support job caused.

That's because a software engineer is paid to comprehend, analyze, design, and implement software systems, and we are evaluated often times on the effectiveness of how we solve an ambiguous set of problems with software, rather than the literal keystrokes we record with code.

The source code that we write is just an implementation artifact. How that implementation comes to being is what takes up most of our time. Not the literal creation of the implementation itself.

It's not like carving a stone where an artifact comes into being as the artist works on the piece; It's more like a hunter analyzing the situation, stringing together the appropriate tools for the job, and communicating their vision with other hunters to successfully execute a large hunting expedition. Much of the work is in the planning and cooperation.

This Kinesis keyboard is much more than just an ergonomic keyboard to me. It is symbolic of the growth I've experienced over the years to move into a line of work that requires more abstract thinking and navigation of ambiguous problems. It's ultimately more challenging work but also more intellectually stimulating and rewarding.

It's time to let the keyboard go as it no longer serves my needs. But reminiscing over how I used to swear by this keyboard and how it saved my hands prompted me to write this as a thank you note to this tool that was so good to me.

What to do when you can't fall asleep

Dealing with sleep issues is a heavily personalized issue; Each of us have issues with falling asleep for a variety of reasons.

But I figured I might as well share the various ways that I use to fall asleep. Maybe it can help if you're having problems like me.

For me, falling asleep is much more about the comforting environment that enables me to fall asleep, much more so than a specific technique to employ while in the act of drifting off to sleep, although I do have such techniques.

Fostering the right environment takes some effort, but I have discovered that I am at my best when I'm setting myself up for sleep success. Here are areas that I deliberately watch out for:

Am I Exercising?

Exercise is the quickest and easiest "trick" I know to set myself up for sleep success. Expending calories and doing high intensity workouts means that I'll be at a caloric deficit and my body will naturally want to eat more to recover from the deficit, and sleep more to help with muscle building in response to the stresses I've introduced.

It's the healthiest natural habit.

Am I Introducing Stimulus at the Wrong Time?

I've noticed that whenever I watch an episode of a TV show I like before going to bed, I have trouble sleeping. Good stories are a form of stimulus for me that does not aid me in going to sleep. It gets my mind going. I think about the many different open ends of the story. I think about the character development and the relationships that are being developed. I think about how I relate to the characters. And the endless stream of consciousness about the story ends up consuming me and is too jarring to cultivate a calm state of mind.

Are My Relationships In Check?

Whenever I have had an argument with my spouse, or more generally, done something I regret, then I will typically be consumed by thoughts on how that could have gone better, what I can learn, and what to do next.

While these situations are something we all deal with, it's worth working on relationships for the sole reason that it is healthier not to have to constantly think about needing to amend relationships and mull over regrets.

Are My Actions Aligned with my Long-Term Goals?

There is typically no short-term solution for this root cause, but I find that if I feel incongruence between who I want to be and who I am being, I find it difficult to comfortably sleep at night. The only way this can get back in shape is to consistently work on strengthening good habits and cut bad habits.

Caffeine at the Wrong Time?

This one is a simple one, but caffeine late in the afternoon can potentially mess with my biological sleep clock. Caffeine, at least for me, feels like it can definitely suppress the natural production of melatonin, and I try to avoid it from the late afternoon on.

Now that I list my "pointers" for how to fall asleep, I am realizing that it's basically in alignment with living a meaningful life. Perhaps quality of sleep is just a symptom that correlates with being happy and purpose-driven.

Cut the Table Legs Instead

In the US, the standard dining table height is 29.5" off the ground. For most people that are under the average height in the US (5'6" in my case), this is way too high to serve as an ergonomic position to use a computer.

It's fine for eating, for the most part, since we don't eat at length. But when using a computer, the desk needs to be a little bit lower.

My wife and I talked about getting a new dining table that would cost us several hundred dollars.

But then we'd have to figure out what to do with the old table. Then, I just figured, if I had a table saw, I could easily cut the legs by a bit, chamfer the edges, sand it down, apply some finish, and call it a day.

The table saw would cost me several hundred dollars. But it's a lot more useful than a dining table when we already have one. Sometimes the most optimal path is to simply take something that exists and iterate on it.

It's always worth considering the question: What can I do with what I have?

Ask the Important Questions

I try to ask myself important questions. It is in the act of asking, and exploring through inquiry, that I can identify and self-correct in areas that need improvement.

What I mean by important are:

  • Relating to pressing, repeated themes in my life that continue to be the source of anxiety, stress, or disorder.
  • Value-centric inquiries, like: Is this important to me? What is the cost to spending my time this way? What else could I be doing instead, to live up to my values?

If I don't ask myself important questions, then I often find that the direction I am headed is not intentional nor deliberate. It's a sure way to get lost.