Tag Archives: Happiness

Moving from past perfect to simple future

“What would have been” is easy to imagine.  It’s everything that we don’t have but we want, glazed with the syrup of optimism and a flare of fiction.

“What will be” is also easy to imagine.  It’s everything that hasn’t happened yet but will inevitably become pending our next actionable step, permeated with the grating texture of reality and a hint of truth.

The past perfect tense is exactly what it is – it’s perfect.  But “what would have been” is not quite past perfect.  It’s actually past conditional perfect tense. Conditional because we should have made that perfect decision in the past, but now it exists only in the imagination.

“What will be” is a simple future tense.  It looks ahead with a prediction of the near future.  It’s not quite “what will have been.”  The future perfect is a little far ahead, a little scant on realism.

Simple future isn’t necessarily better or worse than the past perfect conditional or the future perfect.  However, it is different, and we sometimes think too little about it.   So next time you found yourself looking back and thinking down a bifurcation towards a fictional future, it might be worth asking yourself “what’s the next actionable step, and am I willing to take it?”  It brings out the real you.

The Quest for Working Happily Ever After

Heart rate mildly elevated, the sweat glands open, eyes fixated on the task at hand.   Time feels slow – or even frozen – but also at once flies by between each glance of the watch.  It’s an experience termed flow, which has been famously described by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi in a book by its namesake.

Flow has many components, but the most easily understood set include challenge and feedback – engaging in a task just sufficiently difficult to the level of ability and knowing immediately whether you did the right thing.

Like Fight Club, the experience was in everyone’s face; Csikszentmihalyi just made it visible.  The experience was on everyone’s tongue, and he just gave it a name.  In fact, it’s an experience so addictive (yes, flow experience and cocaine both use the dopamine pathway) that we sometimes spend the entire first half of our lives seeking that experience which we call a career. Continue reading

What happened to ‘happily ever after’?

I finished reading novel, I’m not happy with the ending, and that might be a good thing.

With the success of G. R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (better known by the name of its first book, also the television namesake, A Game of Thrones), in today’s young adult fiction genre, gritty – or “realistic” – fantasy is all the rage.  And gritty fantasies do. not. end. happily.

Gritty fantasies are about being unpredictable in a way that real life might be – killing epic heroes in mundane ways. If Homer’s Odyssey were a gritty fantasy, Odysseus, after winning countless impossible battles and won against all odds may step on a rusted nail on his way disembarking his ship and die of a tetanus infection.  Lord of the Rings may end with Frodo getting forever lost, having never travelled outside the Shire.  And Ron in the Harry Potter series, being prone to magical misfires and misfortunes, may have ended up losing a few limbs in a gritty fantasy.

It is almost as if the author is trying to create a world that simply lives on parallel to our own – a world with different physical and magical laws, but somehow operates in the same ruthless and moral-neutral manner as our own.  A world where good guys don’t necessarily win, trying hard doesn’t necessarily lead to success, and being lawful doesn’t protect against a guilty verdict.

What makes a character live successfully in the world of gritty fantasy reflects that in the real world: power, money, exploitation.  No one likes to read the endings of dark, gritty novels, but there is something about the deeply unsatisfying ending that makes us ruminate about the journey itself, the little flakes of joyfulness that are scattered variously in fiction and in real life.

It’s a lesson about appreciating life in spite of the possibility for an unhappy ending.

A simple interaction

Gazing through a pair of thick black frames, salt-and-pepper hair curling across his wizened forehead, Jim the clerk stands behind the US postoffice counter and elaborates on the minute differences between certified mail and delivery confirmation. Continue reading

Why “pursuing your dream” is wrong (2/2)

In Part 1 I argued that career satisfaction is built, not found.  The implicit problem is that if expertise tends to precede true passion, and world-class experts spend at least 10,000 hours honing their crafts, where along the trajectory of career development can we say, “I have given it a fair chance, and it is time to move on”? Continue reading

Why “pursuing your dream” is wrong (1/2)

In 2005, the late Steve Jobs delivered a memorable speech to graduates of Stanford University partly on the theme of career dreams.  “If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle,” said him, adding that “Money will come.”  After the housing bubble burst and lots of dream-chasers their lost jobs in 2007, I stumbled upon a 2008 Business Week article titled “Personality and the Perfect Job.”  Books titled along the same themes, such as Do What You Are follow a similar paradigm as well.  For those who needed a faster fix, the internet offered solutions too.  Stuck in life?  Oprah has a 28-question quiz to find who you really want to be!

The implication is clear: if you failed, it’s because that was not your real passion; pick another dream.

Over the past year, I began to wonder whether the endless pursuit for pre-existing passions is missing the mark altogether.

Photo Credit: Urbanesia.com

Continue reading

On Choices, Decisions, and Happiness

The fable of Buridan’s donkey tells of a donkey who is profoundly hungry.  When put in the exact midpoint between a two identical piles of hay, the donkey was unable to choose which one it wanted and eventually dies of hunger.  Ironically, if the donkey had only one and not two piles of hay to choose from, its life would have been easier (and longer).  Obviously, people are smarter than Buridan’s donkey – are we?   Continue reading


On Brainstorming and Group Work

[I]t was the curious power of electronic collaboration that contributed to the New Groupthink in the first place. What created Linux, or Wikipedia, if not a gigantic electronic brainstorming session? But we’re so impressed by the power of online collaboration that we’ve come to overvalue all group work at the expense of solo thought. We fail to realize that participating in an online working group is a form of solitude all its own.

Susan Cain, Author, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking


Why Everyone Should Chill Out

Any as­pect of life to which at­ten­tion is di­rected will loom large in a global eval­u­a­tion. This is the essence of the fo­cus­ing il­lu­sion, which can be de­scribed in a sin­gle sen­tence:

Noth­ing in life is as im­por­tant as you think it is when you are think­ing about it.

Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize-winning Economist, in Thinking, Fast and Slow


Three Things Making Work Fulfilling

Those three things—au­ton­omy, com­plex­ity, and a con­nec­tion be­tween ef­fort and re­ward—are, most peo­ple agree, the three qual­i­ties that work has to have if it is to be sat­is­fy­ing. It is not how much money we make that ul­ti­mately makes us happy be­tween nine and five. It’s whether our work ful­fills us. If I of­fered you a choice be­tween being an ar­chi­tect for $75,000 a year and work­ing in a toll­booth every day for the rest of your life for $100,000 a year, which would you take?

Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success