Flow and the Optimal Experience of Life

Not long ago I was writing about La Joie de Vivre, the Joy of Living, and about the book Zorba the Greek. In a few words, Zorba’s philosophy of life can be described as: work hard, play hard but this would be too reductionist to describe  a complex character like Zorba. It’s worth reading the book in order to discover a way of living that the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi would define as “Flow”. In helping us to live an optimal life, Nikos Kazantzakis provided the literary character and Mihaly provided the scientific reasons that justify the behavior and actions of such a character.

One of the modern problems is the continual pushing of the “search for happiness, be happy” narrative. You see it everywhere, in movies, in the media, in the words of “gurus” and celebrities. So of course, given this availability effect, where it seems that everyone is looking to become happy, you start believing that you should also join this search. When you ask people what they want they usually respond that they want to be happy, yet when you ask them what exactly this happiness is they don’t have an answer.  It’s the modern day search of El Dorado. When you already have a high standard of life, you live longer, have better life conditions, you are healthier, you have access to better water and food, you are less likely to experience violence and have a violent death, have better tools and you can travel anywhere in the world in a relatively short period of time, when, in other words, your life is so much better than the life of many monarchs and people of the past, what’s stopping you to already be happy?

Modern culture puts emphasis on personality, appearances and success. You have to be successful and to look happy, that’s the ideal. Just look at all the celebrities, all smiles, looking at their best, and the people on Instagram and Facebook that are trying to emulate them and to keep up with the Joneses. They seem successful and happy isn’t it? They must be.

I shall argue that the primary reason it is so difficult to achieve happiness centers on the fact that, contrary to the myths mankind has developed to reassure itself, the universe was not created to answer our needs. Flow (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)

This chronic dissatisfaction is the second obstacle that stands in the way of contentment. Flow (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)

Nothing in the world can provide you with happiness and peace
Source: Flickr

Human nature is characterized by a  continual looking for meaning and purpose and a “chronic dissatisfaction”. “Happiness” is the way man tries to fight back against his own nature. It’s a losing battle. “Happiness” can only be momentary and not permanent. There must be pain and suffering first in order to achieve fleeting “happiness”, that’s how the brain works. The brain works on a effort/reward system, you do the effort, your brain rewards you with happiness, feel-good neurotransmitters. You run, you feel the pain of running and then you are rewarded with feel-good endorphins. You eat, the brain rewards you for your successful “hunt” with feel-good dopamines. Given the fact that we don’t have to hunt and to run after animals like in the past, and that high-caloric food is now readily available and close-by this “effort”/reward system is abused by those seeking immediate “happiness”. They go straight to the reward, get the dopamines, feel good about themselves for a little while and don’t think about the effort. Zorba would disagree with this kind of behavior.

Yet we cannot reach happiness by consciously searching for it. “Ask yourself whether you are happy,” said J. S. Mill, “and you cease to be so.” It is by being fully involved with every detail of our lives, whether good or bad, that we find happiness, not by trying to look for it directly. Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychologist, summarized it beautifully in the preface to his book Man’s Search for Meaning:“Don’t aim at success—the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue…as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a course greater than oneself.” Flow (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)

Don’t make happiness your goal, pursue worthwhile goals instead, live in the present, even if it’s good or bad, if it’s bad it’s OK, pain, suffering, restlessness drives you to improve, to change things, to put effort and when you take action and make things happen you get rewarded. Don’t make outward validation your goal, seek feel-good neurotransmitters that come from your effort not from the effort of others in giving you validation and attention.

The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen. Flow (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)

My Top Self-Improvement Books Reading List

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie

Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Spartan Up!: A Take-No-Prisoners Guide to Overcoming Obstacles and Achieving Peak Performance in Life by Joe de Sena

The War Of Art by Steven Pressfield

The Obstacle Is the Way by Ryan Holiday

Unbeatable Mind – Forge Resiliency and Mental Toughness to Succeed at an Elite Level by Mark Divine

Gorilla Mindset by Mike Cernovich

Self-Improve Today

What Would Rembrandt Do?

What would Rembrandt do if he would suddenly appear in our time and age, in 2018? What would Rembrandt, Vermeer, Frans Hals and Jan Steen, painters from the Dutch Golden Age think about our times? Would they continue painting or take new occupations in areas like photography, they would certainly be mesmerized by it but maybe no strangers to some old form of it, camera obscura, Leonardo da Vinci is known to have experimented with it long before the painters from the Dutch Golden Age were born. Their paintings can be described as the photographs of their time because much of their work was concentrated in illustrating people and their ordinary lives. For some people, looking at paintings gives them the impression of the time stopping and atemporal space, for me looking at old paintings is a travel in time.

GIRL INTERRUPTED AT HER MUSIC, OIL ON CANVAS, 1660-61
GIRL INTERRUPTED AT HER MUSIC, OIL ON CANVAS, 1660-61. Source: www.theparisreview.org

Their paintings tell a story, the people in them permeate character through the canvas. That’s what I see in their paintings, people of great character and even some with great personalities. What’s the difference between character and personality? Well, I mentioned something about it in my review of the book Quiet by Susan Cain, CHARACTER refers to mental and moral qualities and beliefs and PERSONALITY is the outer appearance and behavior of a person. We are living in a world of personality nowadays not character, just take a look on social media. Our modern day paintings, exposed on a canvas called Instagram show a culture of me me me, ego, vanity, cheap dopamine kicks, shallowness, the people’s values and worth is expressed by showing body parts, what they have eaten/drank, what places they have traveled to, meaningless activities and cheap entertainment. People feel like they have to maintain that snobbish “Instagram life” to keep up with others at all costs, their value is derived from their outward appearance and how others perceive them. There are recorded cases in which people entered in financial troubles and debt to maintain the veneer of the “good life”. Wandering how the glamorous Insta-models can afford their lifestyle? There are agencies that take care of this and when I’m saying agencies I’m not referring to modelling agencies, there are agencies that put the models in contact with rich people, think Dubai, remember all those pictures in Dubai that the model put on her Instagram? well that’s when she went there working, “what kind of work?” you might ask, well, it’s not hard to fill in the gaps, it’s the oldest type of work. There is a rich and successful Russian entrepreneur, Serge Faguet, he talks openly about this and his contacts with models. They are all Personality and no Character.

Because it takes time to build character. Character doesn’t come as easily as taking pictures of yourself and posting them. Character building takes patience and dedication. Character building takes suffering and pain. It’s easy to forgo it and to chase cheap entertainment instead, to watch silly videos on Youtube, look at Dubai sponsored models, to watch how other people live their lives, to watch TV and to constantly check your phone for some meaningless stuff. Forget about learning a new skill or a new language, you can play a video game instead and get a quick dopamine kick.

When you don’t have a TV, computers, Internet and mobile phones and no culture of Personality, you get to dedicate your time and attention to character building activities. We can see this in Vermeer’s paintings, his paintings usually depict somebody who is “surprised” while doing something: learning to play an instrument, painting, singing, watching over a map or globe, embroidering, reading, writing. When you don’t have immediate access to entertainment, you have to learn to deliver it yourself, otherwise how will you pass the long winter nights? You learn storytelling, poems, you learn to sing and to play an instrument, you read and spend time writing letters several pages long, you learn a foreign language, you expand your horizons. You dedicate long, concentrated, undivided chunks of time to an activity and this is the essence of “deep work”. You build your character. Nowadays, there is a real problem with distraction and shortening attention spans, in regards to finding out more about this issue I recommend the book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr. And it’s not only the Internet, since this book appeared in 2010, smartphone using-head-bending-down-while-walking-and-texting become a good contender for the title of top attention thief.

What would Vermeer think about all these people that walk on the streets with their heads down? How would he paint a scene like this? “Scene with tall buildings and ostriches with their heads in the sand”.  The young ladies in his paintings that are depicted writing and learning to play an instrument would be replaced by modern ones that are texting on their phones or watching Youtube videos. Jan Steen’s paintings of families sitting together, being jovial, playing music, each member of the family singing at a different instrument would be replaced with a scene showing a family sitting on a couch and starring blankly at the TV. Vermeer’s paintings showing young men studying geography and astronomy would be replaced by young men playing video games.

 

Big Business from Common Things

The more I learn about the world the more fascinating it gets, human creativity and ingenuity is boundless. Maybe Einstein was right when he said that the true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination. If you can imagine it, you can create it, you are limited only by your imagination.

The world of business is no stranger to creative ways of money making. Here too, the limit is the limit of your imagination. I’ve read about people making money from selling rocks. Check out the story of Gary Dahl who sold pet rocks as ‘pets’ and became a millionaire. Pet rocks. People actually bought rocks. You can’t get a more simpler business model than this, rocks are virtually everywhere and the costs with raw material are very low. But wait a minute, can you get even more basic than rocks? How about Sand? Sand is yet another abundant material and has a lot of uses and applications, being used in glass making, mortar&concrete making, sandbags, the creation of artificial islands, the creation of beautiful sand mandalas. Speaking of imagination and sand, human ingenuity and imagination doesn’t stops in the realm of creating and building things from scratch, humans are quite able in imagining ways of getting resources as well: there are recorded cases of beach theft in Jamaica and Hungary where entire sand beaches were stolen. Some people buy rocks, others are stealing whole beaches by the truckload.

Pet Rock Box

Rocks, sand, can we get even more basic? Can you make money out of thin air? Of course you can. There are people selling clean air to wealthy people in China. China is heavily polluted so a few enterprising people saw this as an opportunity to sell canned air to the Chinese. There are plenty of stories in the news of people selling ‘fresh New Zeeland air’ for $44 a bottle, ‘British fresh air’ for £80, there is even a Canadian start-up that sells fresh Alberta air. Lookup on a search engine this and you will find a lot of examples. Crazy. Air contains Nitrogen and Oxygen two gases with important applications in chemistry and not only. Nitrogen is essential for plants to grow through the process of nitrogen fixation in which bacteria living on the roots of plants transform atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia. When not enough fertilizing ammonia is produced naturally, humans have to step in and use artificial fertilizers that are usually based on nitrates.

Speaking of unusual businesses and fertilizers there are people who made money from bird shit. A lot of money. There were wars fought over bird shit. Guano, because this is the name of immense accumulations of seabirds and bat shit over the millennia, has a high content of nitrogen, phosphate and potassium and like I mentioned earlier these are essential elements for plants and agriculture. There is no surprise that wars were fought over this stuff. I know that you are curious now to find more about these wars so here they are: Chincha Islands War (1864-1866) fought between Spain and its former colonies of Chile and Peru and the War of the Pacific (1879-1884) fought between Chile on one side and Peru and Bolivia on the either side. Those were some long wars, and all of that for some islands rich in guano. Nowadays, guano is not that utilized any more, being largely replaced by artificial industrially-made fertilizers.

Water. Water is essential and we are 50-75% water and you can’t survive three days without water. So there is no surprise here that water can be big business given its scarcity. Water varies in its mineral content and pH level and can be tapped from sources within locations of various degrees of pollution. Water coming from less polluted areas is considered more pure hence it can fetch a better price. One example of someone starting and making big money in the water business can be found in the novel How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid. It’s quite a good book, I gave it 5/5 stars on Goodreads, you can check it out if you want to read more. In real life, there are numerous examples of successful companies that are selling water: Perrier, Fiji Water, Evian, Borsec & Bucovina (here in RO). The water business has a high profit margins since water is…free once you manage to get hold of a water source.  Unscrupulous companies can make even a higher profit by pretending to sell high quality spring water when in fact they are selling tap water: it’s worth mentioning Nestle here, the Swiss company that is being sued for selling tap water at a premium price.  I don’t know of any immediate example that comes to my mind of wars fought for this precious resource like we’ve seen in the case of guano but it’s possible that in the future we might see such conflicts. For example, there is a big dispute going on right now between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over the river Nile. Ethiopia wants to build a huge dam on the Nile and to control its course. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project it’s worth $6.4 billion and Egypt fears that this will have the affect of reducing its access to water.

Never Go Full Retard


Everybody knows you never go full retard.

I’m quite transparent on sharing what I’m doing and I’ve written posts before about what I like to call my experiments in the world of business and startups (links here, here and here).

I don’t mind sharing this kind of data, I hope that it’s useful and informative and somebody can learn something from it. I’m doing the same thing, searching for information, learning from others, trying to put it to good use and spreading it around. I’m not afraid that my ideas might be stolen, my experience taught me so far that however original you think your idea might be, it’s most probably not, there are several billions people out there, each with their own cognitive capabilities generating out ideas, you might find out that your idea is already out there in one form or another and one level of implementation or another. Also, millions of people watched movies with Bruce Lee, that doesn’t mean that they are Bruce Lee.

Well, I’ve been up to no good again. I recently launched a highly experimental project involving writing and high tech, it has nothing to do with this blog and that’s about all I can say for now. I will promote it, gather data, get feedback and when I will have enough conclusive data I will write a blog post in one month, two, three months, I don’t know for sure, it depends on how things will go.

What does the title of the blog post has to do with with it? Well, to be frank, I’m not sure if my project is a smart idea or a dumb idea, I will have to see how it goes, either way, I made sure that I will go only retard, not full retard if things go the wrong way. After my post related to the Daily Concept App I decided to target another market segment, go for a wider audience and to make things less intellectual.

Bell curve

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Dear WP SEO plugin that I’m using, never go full…rat. Seems to be a weird problem with the Yoast plugin, no matter what I do I can’t change that ‘rat’.

WP Yoast SEO plugin going full retard