All posts by Donn

My name is Donn, and you’ll find me working at the intersection of business and information technology, constantly looking for ways to apply IT to business and life to make things better. I’m a big fan of data analysis and its subsequent communication. It always gives me a thrill extracting meaning out of data through analysis, and figuring out the best way to present the findings for maximum impact!

How to Stop Being Happy

I do not claim to be an expert at being unhappy, there are others more adept at that than me. However, you cannot say that I haven’t tried, for I have done a better job than most. The following is written as a celebration for those who have, like me, aimed to make life as unbearable as possible.

Quote:

The best is the enemy of the good.

— Voltaire

“If you are satisfied with mediocrity, that is what you’ll get. If you are not content with mediocrity, then that is good — you will move on and look for better things.”

Have you ever come across writings or sayings presenting ideas similar to these? That mediocrity is something to be avoided, and that the best often come from a dissatisfaction of mediocrity?

I haven’t really come across articles saying otherwise, so I’m writing one now — and I say, “Be Proud to be Mediocre

Allow me to present another quote, common in theme though often differing in exact content:

One day, a fisherman was lying on a beautiful beach, with his favorite fishing pole propped up in the sand and his solitary line cast out into the sparkling blue surf. He was enjoying the warmth of the afternoon sun and the prospect of catching a fish.

About that time, a businessman comes walking down the beach, trying to relieve some of the stress of his workday. He noticed the fisherman sitting on the beach and decided to find out why this fisherman was fishing instead of working harder to make a living for himself and his family.

“You aren’t going to catch many fish that way,” said the businessman to the fisherman, “you should be working rather than lying on the beach!”

The fisherman looked up at the businessman, smiled and replied, “And what will my reward be?”

“Well, you can get bigger nets and catch more fish!” was the businessman’s answer.

“And then what will my reward be?” asked the fisherman, still smiling.

The businessman replied, “You will make more money and you’ll be able to buy a boat, which will then result in larger catches of fish!”

“And then what will my reward be?” asked the fisherman again.

The businessman was beginning to get a little irritated with the fisherman’s questions. “You can buy a bigger boat, and hire some people to work for you!” he said.

“And then what will my reward be?” repeated the fisherman.

The businessman was getting angry. “Don’t you understand? You can build up a fleet of fishing boats, sail all over the world, and let all your employees catch the fish for you!”

Once again the fisherman asked “And then what will my reward be?”

The businessman was red with rage and shouted at the fisherman, “Don’t you understand that you can become so rich that you will never have to work for your living again! You can spend all the rest of your days sitting on this beach, looking at the sunset. You won’t have a care in the world!”

The fisherman, still smiling, looked up and said…
“And what do you think I’m doing right now?”

So how is this for mediocrity? Is the fisherman enjoying the best? Obviously not if we ask the businessman!

In mediocrity we can find fulfilment and happiness. Why should we settle only for the best, when the best is relative? One man’s meat is another man’s poison.

Open-market: Capitalism
Mac VS PC — the open-market system swears by PCs — otherwise, how can they have such a commanding lead? Is the Mac (less than 5% of users worldwide) truly an inferior product to the IBM PC? Or could it be marketing genius?

Dvorak vs QWERTY keyboards — again, marketing genuis or quality? In this case, there wasn’t much marketing, just failed market-forces.

Netscape or Internet Explorer? Both are free, so one would expect the higher quality one to triumph. But clever marketing (embedding Internet Explorer into Windows) made it such that Internet Explorer leads by an overwhelming margin, and which has effectively killed Netscape.

A capitalistic economy promises higher quality goods for cheaper prices. Though in some cases they do manage that, most of the time it’s marketing that does the job, not quality or price — and marketing costs money, which goes into the price. Think of any other brand or product that has managed this? Products that are not exactly the best, definetely not the cheapest, but marketed to be worth your money?

Com’on, Just Do It — think Nike — think marketing genius.

Happiness has been decided on the capitalistic economy — it’s who’s richest wins. And if you don’t think like that, I applaud you — either you have a very strong sense of individuality, or the people around you don’t believe in it either…

When you have friends and colleagues around you who think like the businessman in the above parable, you’ll realise it’s almost impossible to think like the fisherman — impossible to like the simple life, even when it’s been your greatest desire to do so.

The Capitalistic Businessman
In having a capitalistic economy, we have to promote competitiveness — it’s how prices are driven down. If companies collaborated, it won’t be capitalistic anymore. So we learn and are conditioned from young to learn that competition is good. Then someone came along, and realising that competition is not what it’s been hyped up to be, coined the term “healthy competition”.

But what’s “healthy competition” anyway? Healthy competition is impossible to define — you won’t find many definitions about it around. Those that you do find, will probably define it as competition that is not really competition. What do I mean by this? Well, that “healthy competition” is competition where winning isn’t everything. Where one grows by it, and does not go down by it.

Try healthy competition in the “business world”. You snooze, you lose. One day you’re a promising corner bookstore down at Promiseville Street, the next you’re out of business because a certain Amazon.com came along with a superior business plan. You learn from this, but by now you’re down and out — your capital is gone, and no one’s around you to say “come on, try again, you can do it!” and even if they do, they probably won’t fund you anyway — they need the money to keep up with the Jones’ next door.

Okay, what has capitalism got to do with being happy anyway? Well, do you notice that often in the “business world”, nothing is human? Well, in user-interface design (for websites), one learns that even when designing for businesses, it isn’t going to be the business itself sitting at a computer. It’s going to be the bespectacled 40-year-old Inventory Manager sitting at the computer, using the interface you designed. Like-wise, on the surface the capitalistic system influences businesses, but this influence is really on the people affected by the business.

Often we associate the “business world” impersonally, as if it weren’t human at all. Well, humans created the “business world” — it doesn’t exist by itself. We tend to forget that businesses are simply humans putting on a fascade. For a business to be competitive, the humans running the business have to be competitive.

If we’re not competitive, the business is not competitive. If it’s not competitive, it dies. If it dies, we’re out of a job. And when that happens, we won’t be able to buy that fancy car, or that fancy house. By Jove! We might have to actually have to live for life’s sake itself!

Then there are the lone-rangers who think, “This is enough! I’m out of the rat-race, even though everyone around me refuses to go out. I’ll just do things my way! I won’t try to keep up with the Jones’ next door. I won’t bother working my way through life for a fancy car or big house. I’ll live my life, my way.”

Suzy comes along one day, tells you about the wonderful new house and car she bought. And all over again, you’re wishing you had those. Suddenly, you feel inspired to get back into the rat-race… just when you thought you were out. Remember, it isn’t all about you. The environment you’re in has a big say in your life, and it’s probably bigger than yours.

William Wordsworth’s Philosophy
I quote from the book, “The Art of Travel” by Alain de Botton:

To accept even in part Wordsworth’s argument may require that we accept a prior principle; that our identities are malleable; that we change according to whom — and sometimes what — we are with. The company of certain people excites our generosity and sensitivity, and others, our competitiveness and envy. A’s obession with status and heirarchy may — almost imperceptibly — lead B to worry about his significance.

If I read this passage without once having experienced it, I’d declare it as rubbish. But this has happened, and more often than I would expect it to. With A, I want to achive quick timings in my running. With B, I wouldn’t care about running, and instead think about what’s new in computer circles. With C, it’d be exploitable markets in the business world. With D, it’d be “God, she’s hot”.

So imagine for a while, the businessman in the afore quoted fisherman parable. Imagine that this businessman decided to live on that beautiful beach for a year. He brings nothing there execpt a few essentials, and decides to rough it out and live from hand to mouth. He makes many new friends of the fisherman mentality.

These fishermen friends (no, not the sweets!) show him how life is lived there. His new found friends care nothing that he owns two houses, four cars, and has the (then) fastest computer. He tries telling them that, but they show no reaction, and he realises that these people don’t care for that. He finds that he’s really enjoying himself — he realises he never had this much fun, this much joy and self-satisfaction than he ever had. He didn’t need to show-off, he could just be himself instead of wondering how to impress these people. He needn’t care about formalities, he needn’t care whether or not he presents himself professionally or not. He can actually be himself.

Then halfway through his vacation, his friend comes over, and tells him that he just struck a “sweet business deal”, which got him over a million dollars. He bought himself a new house, and a couple of cars. How do you think the businessman felt?

The businessman decides to cut short his vacation, and goes back into the “business world”. He works hard and puts in long hours, to catch up with the money lost in those months he spent on the beach. Suddenly, he’s more depressed than ever — he realises those three months gave him nothing material to have!

He was all right on the beach even with his few possessions; more than all right in fact, till his “friend” came along and spoilt everything. His friend still had that very competitive mentality. He came over to tell the businessman so that he could get back some self-worth. He couldn’t stand that he had to stress himself out in his job while the businessman enjoyed himself at the beach for so long. He was envious, but didn’t have the courage to get out of the rat-race.

In a capitalistic economy, what matters is money. Money is happiness. Money buys you time. Money buys you comfort. Money buys you happiness and self-satisfaction. But money… is not enough… it’s never enough. No matter how much you have, there’s always going to be someone having more than you. If you live your life by money, it’s going to be an ultimately unsatisfying life — an everyday unsatisfaction.

To stop being happy, just think of how much more these other people have as compared to you. It’s fun, try it. Ooh, I have to save up my whole life to buy a house. Wow, look! Bill Gates can afford to buy a few houses every day! Groovy! Okay, I admit, his house being $100 million takes him about a hundred days to save up for.

$100 million isn’t enough. Don’t get comfortable with enough! You need more! More! More!

I guess it’s the thing about having that bothers me. Seems everyone wants to have more. You can go far without once encountering the horrible feeling of envy. It’s as if everyone around me is trying to do more than me, trying to get more than me. And when I feel like that, I feel like I got to out-do them. And so it goes on in circles, like there’s no end. Competition. Healthy competition? Bah, it’s a sham.

I would go fishing… unfortunately, I don’t eat fish.

Conclusion

Q: How to make life unbearable?
A: By Living.