Feeling anxious, upset, or sad? Natural.

Feeling reflective? Productive.

  • Going over a failure or conflict again and again to see how it could have gone better.
  • Ranting and raving about the wrongs that have been done to you.
  • Trying to figure out why life isn’t living up to your expectations.
  • Constantly reflecting on your sadness.

That’s overthinking.

Overthinking is so common that many consider it natural, sometimes even productive.

No.

Overthinking is a modern phenomenon that’s unnatural and counterproductive.

Overthinking? Don’t you mean correctthinking? It’s better to confront a problem than to ignore it.

Spend more time thinking about it and you’ll discover an insight you missed.

That’s why your attention keeps coming back to it. The underlying concerns and emotions haven’t been addressed.

No.

Overthinking is poison.

Ruminating and venting isn’t processing. It’s pouring fuel on the fire. (1, 2)

Most problems have causes which no amount of reflection will uncover. (3)

And what you’ll learn in this post – overthinking was designed by evolution to trigger depression and abandonment, not effective problem solving. (4)

[click to continue…]

42 comments

If you want more happiness, get a pet.

In the 80s and 90s, research came out suggesting many benefits from pet ownership. From reduced risk of asthma, allergies, and cardiovascular disease to increased mood and wellbeing.

Some doctors started recommending pet ownership to their patients.

I thought the decision was a no-brainer. It seems fun and the companionship will be great. Once I have enough money, let’s get a pet!

But as scientists became more rigorous with their research, many of the benefits started to disappear.

The average person sees no change to their mood and life satisfaction from having a pet, although there are outliers.

The benefits were overstated while the costs were swept under the rug.

That doesn’t mean I won’t be getting a pet, only that I have to think harder before I make a decision.

Let’s start with something objective.

[click to continue…]

7 comments

When I was 16, I had the craziest summer of my life.

I woke up in the middle of the night, my heart pounding and my palms sweating.

Why oh why? Why had she broken up with me? I want her back!

Walking, talking, working, studying – whatever I was doing, she would pop back into my head. I called, texted, and banged on her door. She told me she never wanted to see me again.

I was a man boy with love spurned. Woe was me. Not.

[click to continue…]

12 comments

Meditation is HARD.

Keeping still and staying focused is so unnatural that most who give meditation a try don’t keep it up.

So it’s important to know:

  • Does it work?
  • Better than other techniques?
  • How quickly?
  • Is one type better than another?

If we meditate for 50 hours but see only small benefits, well… we would be better off spending our time on other happiness hacks.

To answer those questions I looked at three meta-analyses, which integrated the results of almost 20,000 meditation studies.

What I found surprised the bonkers out of me.

[click to continue…]

28 comments

Over a person’s lifetime, how much do you expect that their happiness will increase?

Most people I’ve asked seem to think that the answer is ‘A LOT’.

Sure, there’ll be tough times and the occasional sadness, but as they accomplish and accumulate, their happiness will go up and up and up.

FALSE.

Most people die a few percentage points happier than they were as children. Marriage, employment, friendship, growth… all it results in is a few percentage points of change.

No surprise. Happiness is counter-intuitive.

One study tracked the same individuals over the span of 20 years. At the end, most were just a small bit happier than they were at the start.

But there were exceptions! Their baseline level of happiness increase by 20, 30, even 50% over the course of those 20 years.

Those exceptions were few, with less than 5% of the people studied showing changes of that magnitude. But they existed.

You can choose to follow the whims of your desire. You can choose to follow the idealizations of your culture. You’ll end up like the 95% who ended up just a bit happier than they started.

Or you can follow the exceptions. Act with intention, informed by science. End up 50% happier.

Here are 54 things you can do to be more like them:
[click to continue…]

65 comments

An assumption underlying the science of positive psychology is that happiness can be measured.

Gratitude journals increase well-being…
Money does little for happiness…
Positivity can prevent divorce…
Yelp is more trustworthy than your brain…
Buying many small items is better than buying a few large things…

Prove that assumption false, and hundreds of research findings fall apart into meaningless garble.

Problems in happiness measurement

[click to continue…]

25 comments