Planning to Have Fun and Stumbling on Happiness

Cover of "Stumbling on Happiness"

Stumbling on Happiness

Let me first say the heatmap above was brought to you courtesy of Sacha Chua at, my choice for life logging my activities.

Sacha added this to the tool recently and it is da bomb. For any category, you just click on it and it shows your activity by day for that category in a heatmap…..which I just like saying……heatmap. Gives you a summary of the minutes and the more time you spent on any given day, the darker the square. I picked this one because I thought it was funny that today, after not doing anything to work on my German for nearly three months, out of the blue I stumble on a flash card Android app and poof, thirty minutes later I have covered 52 vocabulary words including some new ones like die fett, translates to “the fat”.

I was not planning on working on my German today. It has occurred to me lately that I should for some reason I don’t fully understand, something related to work and some potential impact on my career, but none of those thoughts make any sense since I work in the US and have no contact with German’s or German speaking people. But as it happens I was looking for some new podcasts and I did come across a free German language instruction podcast at which led me to look up their website and blam, there’s the app and seeing as I apparently have no self control, I immediately installed it and started working through German flash cards.

Perhaps I should plan my learning more carefully instead of just going with whatever peaks my interest at the time. Perhaps studying my heatmaps will provide the mental feedback I need to stay focused on a subject and make some serious progress.  That reminds me, my heatmap on Discretionary – Learn – Code is probably looking pretty pathetic.

After a good run….nothin!

Yup, I thought so. I put together several solid days and then my desire to work on that subject just evaporates. I get hooked on an app or a website, but then apparently the novelty wears off and it’s gone. So I’m wondering what are the common characteristics of the things that I start-stop-start-stop. Started to make a list but found there were no real patterns. I’m just going to go with it. I remember reading in Daniel Gilbert’s book Stumbling on Happiness that there is some thing about the human brain that is always trying to predict what will make our future self more happy or prosperous or safer or just better off. If I recall correctly, we sometimes sacrifice living in the joy of the present moment while trying to plan for a future condition that never arrives. Most famously this is the story of the person who works hard their whole life, lives frugally to save for a future retirement, showing great self control to forego many desires and then on day one of retirement dies of a heart attack.

At the beginning of the year, I declared to my family that this was the year of happiness. Not really sure exactly what led me to that and it wasn’t really an altruistic making other people happy sort of happiness I was talking about. This was actually a declarative statement about my personal happiness and that I was going to make choices, some that may appear selfish, to make my own self happier.  And I have. And it has been in many ways a very happy year for me personally.

My Dad passed away last Christmas Eve. My dad was an epicurean sort who liked to live, learn and pursue the novelty found in the dusty corners of life. The dusty corners and tattered pages were where he found joy in the moment. It’s entirely likely reaching the age of forty seven and having lost both of my parents, the prospect of seeing all of my remaining days are happy ones is one of the only goals I am truly seeking to fulfill.