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The secret to happiness? Stop trying to be happy.

A few minutes after Neil Pasricha learned his wife Leslie was expecting their first child, he got an idea for a book. They were sitting on a plane returning to Canada from a trip to Asia when a flight attendant handed them a plastic-wrapped muffin with a scrap of paper that read, “Congratulations!” Leslie had been sick toward the end of their vacation, and on a hunch she had picked up a pregnancy test during a layover—and taken it mid-flight. Pasricha’s first thought upon hearing the news: Tell someone! Hence the muffin.

His second thought would require more time and effort to materialize. Pasricha decided to write down everything he knew and was learning about how to be happy: “I couldn’t think of anything I wanted more for my child.” Almost two years later, Pasricha has finished a 275-page book called The Happiness Equation: Want Nothing + Do Anything = Have Everything. Whatever edits the copy has been through, the dedication has remained the same: “To my baby, I wanted you to have this in case I didn’t get a chance to tell you, love Dad.”

Just about every parent can relate to Pasricha’s wish for his child. His mother and father no doubt wanted the same for him. But Pasricha’s struggle to articulate what happiness is and how to achieve it has a particular resonance. This is, after all, coming from the guy who during the past decade, while working as a corporate leadership executive at Wal-Mart, started a blog,, which turned into the bestselling The Book of Awesome, an ode to everyday pleasures, which was spun off into three more Awesome books (plus a journal and five calendars), a popular TED talk and hundreds of other speaking engagements around the world.

Stratospheric professional success aside, Pasricha, 36, has much to be happy about: he owns a home in Toronto, has a loving wife, a young son and now a second baby on the way. Despite all of these accomplishments, and even the wisdom Pasricha imparts in his books, finding happiness has turned out to be as much a maze as a marathon for him. “I don’t feel like I’ve achieved any next-level enlightenment or nirvana,” he says. “I have intense daily, weekly and monthly net struggles.” Especially around how to juggle work and family time. “Dropping my son off [at daycare] and picking him up is really important to me,” says Pasricha, as an example of one thing that’s come under threat. “Seventy-hour weeks in an office [mean] no more breakfasts with my son.” So he recently did what many people who are similarly stretched often fantasize about. Pasricha quit his job at Wal-Mart with one plan in mind: “I’m actually right now in the throes of dedicating myself more fully to happiness.”

More here – Macleans

Playing Versus Doing

A mate of mine sent me the clip below. I am an unabashed fan of combat sports. I accept that they are violent in tone and to the outsider appear brutal with potentially devastating long term consequences for the participants. Anyone who has ever been hit in the head can attest to how awful it is.

The reason I like such sports is that you do not play them – you may practice them but you can never play at them. The consequences for doing so are serious. Unfortunately, too many people take the attitude that you can play at trading and in fact this is the motivation of most. The lives of the majority of traders are spent playing at the fringes of trading, they become experts in various bits of software and spend countless hours on various forums talking up their game without actually doing anything.  I accept that perceived as being in the action is important to most and the research around this topic confirms this. Being seen as a player is more important than actually making money.

I understand that people approach various endevours with differing motivations and desires. However, some arenas dont really allow for these differences simply on the basis of the consequences that follow. To my way of thinking the market assumes that everyone is serious in what they are doing because it takes money equally from everybody – it just takes more than money from those who are not serious.

Are market bubbles caused by traders’ testosterone levels?

Research conducted at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) has determined that psychological momentum significantly affects performance among men but not among women, which may account for exaggerated risk-taking in financial and business endeavors among males.

Psychological momentum is defined as a state-of-mind where an individual or a team feels things are going unstoppably their way and is known to be caused, among other factors, by shifts in testosterone levels. The study, “Psychological Momentum and Gender,” is published in the March volume of the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization.

According to Dr. Danny Cohen-Zada, a lecturer in the BGU Department of Economics, “The purpose of our study was twofold: to estimate the causal effect of psychological momentum on performance in real tournament settings, and to examine whether there are any gender differences in the corresponding response.”

More here – Eureka Alert


A long read but worth it. In the past I have written about the danger of combining hubris with concentration bets.

One day in the summer of 2011, Christine Richard arrived at the forty-second floor of a high-rise on Fifty-seventh Street in Manhattan to visit a hedge fund called Pershing Square Capital Management. Richard worked for a boutique research firm that identified “short” opportunities—companies that investors could profitably bet against—and she was there to present an idea to Pershing Square’s founder, William Ackman. On the way over, though, she was caught in a rainstorm, and by the time a receptionist directed her to a conference room she realized that she was dripping wet.

A few minutes past the appointed time, Ackman rushed into the conference room, trailed by an assistant who was listing a series of meetings for that day. Ackman couldn’t stay, so he summoned one of his most trusted analysts, a twenty-eight-year-old red-headed Texan named Shane Dinneen, to sit down with Richard. She placed the rain-spattered report she had prepared on the conference-room table. On the cover was a three-leaf corporate logo. Underneath it was the word “Herbalife.”

Pershing Square is what’s called an “activist” hedge fund. Ackman uses its considerable resources—around eleven billion dollars, raised from wealthy investors, institutions, and employees—to amass major stakes in publicly traded companies. The intention is then to push the companies to improve their businesses, or at least their stock price, which is how an activist investor generally makes money. There are debates over whether activist funds strengthen the companies they invest in or simply force them into taking short-term measures—laying off employees, selling off divisions—to drive up profits and the share price. Ackman, who is sensitive to stereotypes about profiteering, says that Pershing Square has fewer than a dozen investments in its portfolio at a time, and sees them as long-term commitments. He maintains that his firm puts tremendous resources into each one, gives strategic advice over a period of years, and often recruits C.E.O.s and board members.

More here – The New Yorker

Life After Sumo


You’re a completely different person at 14 and 77….No Shit Sherlock

Look at a photo of yourself as a teenager and, mistaken fashion choices aside, it’s likely you see traces of the same person with the same personality quirks as you are today. But whether or not you truly are the same person over a lifetime—and what that notion of personhood even means—is the subject of ongoing philosophical and psychology debate.

The longest personality study of all time, published in Psychology and Aging and recently highlighted by the British Psychological Society, suggests that over the course of a lifetime, just as your physical appearance changes and your cells are constantly replaced, your personality is also transformed beyond recognition.

The study begins with data from a 1950 survey of 1,208 14-year-olds in Scotland. Teachers were asked to use six questionnaires to rate the teenagers on six personality traits: self-confidence, perseverance, stability of moods, conscientiousness, originality, and desire to learn. Together, the results from these questionnaires were amalgamated into a rating for one trait, which was defined as “dependability.” More than six decades later, researchers tracked down 635 of the participants, and 174 agreed to repeat testing.

This time, aged 77 years old, the participants rated themselves on the six personality traits, and also nominated a close friend or relative to do the same. Overall, there was not much overlap from the questionnaires taken 63 years earlier. “Correlations suggested no significant stability of any of the 6 characteristics or their underlying factor, dependability, over the 63-year interval,” wrote the researchers. “We hypothesized that we would find evidence of personality stability over an even longer period of 63 years, but our correlations did not support this hypothesis,” they later added.

More here – Quartz

Closing the gap between behavioral science and business

It is a strange time to be a behavioral scientist in business.  When I left my PhD program almost ten years ago to focus on real-world applications, I spent the majority of my first few years explaining over and over what behavioral scientists actually did.  Now, I regularly get inbound requests to speak at large companies and books by Adam Grant, Dan Ariely, Jonah Berger, Angela Duckworth, Amy Cuddy, Barry Schwartz, and others sell millions of copies.  Executive confidence that behavioral science is both valid and interesting has seemingly never been higher.

And yet hiring behavioral scientists to explicitly apply what they know has remained somewhat rare.  When I left Microsoft, I got far more recruiter inbound based on my background in startups and venture than I did in behavioral science, despite being considerably better at the latter.  And while there are a few corporate behavioral science groups, like Om Marwah’s burgeoning team over at Walmart, Steve Wendel’s at Morningstar, Charlotte Blank’s at Maritz, Prasad Setty’s at Google, and Jeff Helzner’s at AIG, by and large the Fortune 1000 seems to love behavioral science without actually applying it.

There is a fundamental gap here.  How can executives believe in behavioral science, espouse its virtues and recommend its writings, and yet not be investing in its application to their own companies?  Surely it can’t be all TED talks and no desire to see it work?

More here – Matt Wallaert

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