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.

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?

A Lesson in Traveling While Traveling

While I live in sunny southern California, most of my relatives live in varying parts of Japan. This leads me to station myself at a specific relative for several weeks, and within that time frame, travel to other parts of Japan to see other relatives.

I typically only need to carry 4 or 5 days worth of clothes because the laundry machine is spun every couple of days, or even every day, in most households in Japan. I was packing to travel from my in-laws' home to my parents' home this morning. The trip was going to be 4 days, and I brought about 5 days worth of clothes for the entire trip.

The problem in front of me was this: I could take the time to pick out the 4-days worth of clothes... or I could simply pack everything that I had and just take it with me without thinking.

I picked the latter option without hesitation. Because I wasn't going to do a lot of walking, the time investment required and the cognitive overload of thinking about, and picking 4 days worth of clothes from a 5 day wardrobe simply made no sense.

There are too many of these small decisions on a day-to-day that wear down our decision making ability, cognitive bandwidth, and take away from time doing things we actually care about doing.

Don't get me wrong — if you like packing and picking clothes and optimizing a travel wardrobe, then you probably don't share this opinion and that's totally okay.

This was a good reminder that we all only have 24 hours in a day, and that time is spent by accumulating small tasks to do throughout the day. Being cognizant of each of these decisions and quickly being able to decipher what is actually worth doing and not worth doing is a key skill in optimizing our output towards a life that we want to build.

For me, that means more time spent learning new things, making things, talking to family, and playing with my 6-month old.

Stop Looking for "The One" and Start Being "The One"

If there is someone out there for you — "the one" — rest assured you won't find them.

Everybody is a little bit crazy. There isn't a single person in the world who will drive you a little bit crazy, and there isn't a single person in the world who won't be driven a little bit crazy by you if you decide to live together and try to make it work.

We can spend our time looking for this person, only to be repeatedly disappointed by the fact that being in relationship means evolving together, needing to sacrifice and compromise parts of your crazy to meet the needs of the other, needing to inform the other of such things, and needing to graciously accept that you exhibit questionable behavior too.

We can continue to be disappointed by trying to find a new partner only to realize that problems of relationships are fundamental to humans sharing a life together.

The issue is not the partners. The issue is our expectation of what building a lifelong relationship with a cohabiting partner entails.

One day, I finally internalized that relationship is the act of contributing to the partnership. Moreover, the relationship requires no questioning of its validity for growth. So now the questions I ask myself have shifted from

Is my partner the right person? Are we compatible? Will I be able to live the rest of my life with this person?

to inquiries like

How am I being a contribution to our partnership today? How can I be a contribution tomorrow? What have I done in the past that has driven my partner a little crazy, and what lead me to do those things? How can I better my attitude about moments of growth in our relationship? How can I inform my partner of their craziness more graciously? What do we both want out of the relationship? How can I help enable those things?

Don't get me wrong, I think inquiries assessing the validity of a relationship are important if you are looking for that validation, and there are many situations where this is appropriate.

But no one needs that validation to decide that you want to contribute to a relationship. The act can be selflessly given away at no cost. What kind of partner are you being if your operating premise is that you will only contribute if you believe that the partnership qualifies as a worthwhile venture?

Relationships become worthwhile ventures because you contribute to them. Not the other way around.

This realization has taken a very long time to mold into shape, but it has slowly become the rock foundation of my decision making process in my marriage.

Adopting this framework of thought has lifted the pressures of needing to feel that the relationship is whole, and has instead actually helped me feel whole, knowing that I am doing something to better the relationship.

Maybe You Only Need One Pitch

Imagine you are a professional pitcher and you only have the ability to throw one pitch. It's a fastball with good movement that's decently fast. Definitely not the fastest. Perhaps maybe a little above average speed, but nothing special.

How could you be a great pitcher? It can't be about focusing on the lack of pitch repertoire – that choice is gone in this hypothetical scenario.

It would have to be about perfecting everything else. The accuracy of the pitches. The slight variances in speed to keep batters on their toes. The timing of the wind up. The pressure you put on runners with your pick-off move.

Having accuracy does seem to do wonders for a baseball pitcher. Take for example Koji Uehara. He was a 38-year old pitcher in 2013 when he earned the MVP title in the ALCS (American League Championship Series.) He didn't have the fastest pitches (in fact, pretty slow fast ball at sub 90) or the most diverse pitching repertoire. What he had was accuracy. He threw an unbelievable amount of strikes relative to balls. And the outcomes show the effectiveness of such skills (They won the world series that year.)

There's something to be said about being a one-pitch type of person. Being really good at delivering on that one thing. You end up becoming known for being good at that one thing. And because you're good at it, you earn the trust and respect of others.

With minimized distractions and clarity on what to focus on, the one-pitch becomes the perfect backdrop to be able to let the other stuff that matters shine through.

Are you focusing on too many things?

Maybe it's time to reduce the pitching repertoire and focus on the effectiveness of the pitches instead.