Sunday, December 22, 2019

Babymoon in NYC Winter 2019

I've been thinking about where to go for babymoon during this holiday season. Orlando was on my list, as I wanted to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. However, I have a few work trips coming up in January that requires flying so decided to stay location during the holiday season. Plus, I've been to Orlando during Christmas time, and it was very crowded.

My college roommate is studying at Columbia University, so I decided to spend two days in NYC.

We headed into the city Saturday noon to meet up with my friend for lunch. We met in Koreantown and dined at BCD Tofu. It was my go-to place for Korean tofu soup in NYC, and it was perfect for chilly weather like this. We caught up about her study, my new baby news. It was also the first time she met my husband!

After lunch, we walked to our hotel to drop off luggage. The Crown Plaza HY36 is awesome. The location is super convenient - a few mins walk to to Penn Station. The hotel must have been newly renovated so the room is beautifully decorated. Everything is clean. Staff at front desk is very friendly. I used my IHG points for the night which is of course icing on the cake!

In the afternoon, we went to American Museum of Natural History. It was a quick 2-hour tour but we were able to see most of the fourth floor dinosaur exhibition. 

After the museum, we were exhausted from walking over 12,000 steps so we headed back to the hotel. Needless to say, we slept so well at night since we were both exhausted.

Sunday was more a leisure day. We checked out at 11am and headed towards Bryant Park. The winter market is going on so we checked that out. There are so many people ice skating in the rink. I couldn't help laughing watching little kids holding onto the little Penguin post to steady themselves and learn to skate. So adorable.

Our lunch was Mala Project, an authentic Chinese dry pot place. You pick meat, veggies from the menu and they sauteed them into a big pot using special spices and seasoning. It's like a dry version of hotpot, except you don't cook the food yourself. This was delicious. I haven't yet found a good dry pot place in Philly so happy to experience it in NYC.

Walking back to the hotel, we stopped briefly at the New York Library. It was closed during lunch time. We didn't want to wait so I just took a quick photo in front of it. Next time I would love to go in and visit. 

That concluded our quick babymoon in New York. I was quite tired after walking 12,000 steps a day but feel very satisfied. Meeting with friends and spending time with loved ones is just the perfect vacation!

Saturday, August 17, 2019

How to Improve Productivity When You Work from Home

Thanks to my company's flexible work policy, I get to work from home about once a week. For me, working from home gives me back two hours of a day that would have been spent on commute. In addition, through some test and learn, I figured out several tips to use these days to further increase productivity and overall well-being.

1. Schedule Focused Work on Your Work-from-home Day
One advantage of working from home is the lack of constant interruptions and distractions, especially if you work in an open office like I do. As a result, I've learned to really cherish these focused time, and use them for work that need absolute focus. Therefore, I try to schedule in-person meetings while I'm in the office, and use work-from-home time to tackle challenging strategic work. What time of the day should you schedule this focused work? As my other post suggests, I do it first thing in the morning.

2. Keep a short list of 10-mins "take-a-break" items 
When I first started working from home, I would sit in front of my laptops for hours without a break. Compared to when you're in the office, you have zero interruptions at home and thus no natural breaks you would normally get in the office (walking to the next meeting, refilling your water bottle, walking to use the bathroom, for instance). To increase productivity, it is important to schedule breaks. What I do is keeping a short list of chores, each of which take about 10-15 mins and would require me to get up and walk around the house. Chores like a load of laundry, clean kitchen sink, chop vegetables for lunch, are good options. This small tweak has made wonders. I've felt more energized after the short break and refreshed to tackle the next tasks.

3. Set a Start and Finish Time
It's important to keep a regular start and finish time even when you're at home. Like my normal work days, I wake up around 5:45am, exercise quickly first thing in the morning, eat breakfast, then start my work day. Because I don't have that one hour commute, I'm able to start early around 7am. Then I try to sign off (shut down laptop) around 5-5:30pm.

Any work from home productivity tips you would like to share?

Saturday, August 10, 2019

How to Eat More Fruit & Vegetables for a Healthy Diet - 3 Tips to Add Healthy Food to Your Diet Everyday

A major change that's taking place this year is eating more fruit and vegetables for a healthier diet. Through months of trial and errors, I summarized a few tips that have helped me achieve that.

1. Eat more fruit and vegetables early in the day - in the morning
Similar to the productivity philosophy I shared in this post, a key strategy for a healthy diet is to start the day right. If you could eat 2 servings of vegetables \in your breakfast, it's easier to hit your daily goal of veggies. Some ideas for including vegetables for your breakfast are:
  • Use more vegetables in your smoothies
  • Vegetable omelette
  • Quick 4-minute steamed vegetables: I learned this from a Taiwanese cooking show. Simply fill up a sauce pan with bite-size vegetables (i.e. carrots, squash, egg plant, topped with lettuce), sprinkle some water in, put it on the stove, medium heat, for 4 minutes and it's ready. You could add some salt/pepper for flavor, or enjoy the original taste.
  • If you're on the go, grab an apple or banana
2. Sign up for a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)
We received a direct mail advertising of our local Tinicum CSA a few months back. After checking it out, we signed up for its little share (good for a small family or a couple). The concept is simple: every week, you pick up your fresh vegetables and fruits (plus seasonal pick-your-own cherry tomatoes, cut-your-own flowers and unlimited herbs). They are locally and organically grown. What and how much you get varies by season. Every week our pickup are different and of variety. So far I've been loving it. We never visit our local groceries stores anymore. I love how fresh the vegetables are and we get to try things we don't normally get ourselves.

3. Not sure how to make it? Blend Them! Smoothies is our best friend.
Because we get some unfamiliar vegetables from the CSA, I have to learn how to cook them. If I don't have time to look up recipes, I simply use them as a base in a smoothie! So far I've tried purple cabbage, turnip leaves, radish leaves, and some other green leaves vegetables I don't even know the name of.

I hope the 3 tips could help you get started. Like everything else, start small, experiment, and find a way that works for you!

Saturday, August 3, 2019

How to Achieve Results through Others - 4 Steps to Delegate Like a Pro for New Managers

With the promotion to Brand Manager last year, I became a true manager for the first time, with managerial responsibility. I'm really excited about it and take it very seriously. It's no easy task to grow from an individual contributor to a manager who has to get work done through others. The last 12 months have seen trials and errors. Combining book learning and my hands-on experience, below is a 4-step approach to delegate like a pro.

1. Set clear goal and objectives
It all starts with defining what success looks like. What is the task and what do the end results like? What is your expectation in terms of the quality of the work?

One key is, before you delegate, really make sure you as a manager fully understand the entire scope of the project. Preparation is the key - setting aside dedicated time to brief your direct report about the task. And before the meeting, you should take at least a few minutes to thoroughly prepare for it.

Another important point is focus on the results, not the method. It means there's no need to describe exactly how this task should be performed with painstaking details. A variety of approaches could be employed to achieve the same good result. To a degree, the individual approach is the beauty of having diverse talents. Being too prescriptive could run the risk of micro-managing and demotivating.

2. Provide background details on the project 
After setting the objective (what), give your direct report the why - equip him with context and details about the project. The objectives here are two fold. Firstly, helping him understand the rationale will motivate him to perform. Secondly, giving him details around the project, such as what has been done, what has/hasn't worked, could help him accomplish the task more effectively.

3. Align on a Timeline and Regular Check-In Points
It's important to set a realistic deadline for the completion of the task. Meanwhile, if it's a big project with long lead time, set up some regular check-in points to see progress. Outside of those check-in points, try to leave them alone and trust them to progress the project, unless you see things aren't progressing as planned, which led to our last point: follow up.

This last step is the biggest lesson I've learned as a new manager. Truth be told, I wasn't doing it right at the beginning. And it's a big mistake. A few things contribute to it.

First, I myself normally don't need a lot of follow-up from managers. I do a fairly good job of staying on track and keeping them updated. Therefore, I'm projecting my work style on my direct report and assume the same. Well, we've all learned situational leadership and know you have to adapt your style to how others perform. If you don't see the results as anticipated, it is your responsibility as a manager to follow up and ask the right questions.

Second of all, it comes down to that strong ownership and accountability: shifting the mindset from "I'm responsible for what I'm personally delivering", to "I'm responsible to what I'm personally delivering, plus what my team is going to deliver." Having that level of accountability is everything. Once you truly take that extreme ownership, it only makes perfect sense that you should feel obligated and empowered to follow up, in the right way.

So these are the four-step approach I've summarized as a new manager. I'm sure as years go by, it will evolve and continue to refine.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

On Active Leisure

"What? You say that full energy given to those sixteen hours will lessen the value of the business eight? Not so. On the contrary, it will assuredly increase the value of the business eight. One of the chief things which my typical man has to learn is that the mental faculties are capable of a continuous hard activity; they do not tire like an arm or a leg. All they want is change - not rest, except in sleep.

- "How to Live on 24 hours a Day" by Arnold Bennett

This week I finished Cal Newport's Digital Minimalism. I've been a fan of Cal Newport after reading his previous books such as Deep WorkHow to Win at College, and So Good They Can't Ignore You. When he published his new book about adopting a minimalist approach to digital life, I wasn't first in line to pick it up though. He's been sharing his point-of-view on his blog for the last few years and I'm a total subscriber to his proposal. I've deleted my Facebook app from my phone since 2013 and don't spend a lot of time on social media in general. My husband and I make it a rule not to use our phones at all while eating out.

So when I picked up a copy from the local library, I didn't expect to get any major new ideas. However, the book ends up shedding light on a new topic - Leisure.

To be exact, how active leisure (demanding activities) is preferred than passive consumption.

Have you experienced this: it's the weekend and all you want to do is relaxing. So you decide you'll deliberately be "unproductive" - not doing anything demanding like work, serious reading, or doing anything hard. Instead, you spend hours watching Netflix, wander around the house, screen tapping.

I've certainly done all these - in the spirit of "relaxing". But almost always end up feeling more tired than when I began.

In Digital Minimalism, Cal advocates replacing these low-quality, passive leisure activities (i.e. watching Netflix, browsing social media, etc) with high-quality leisure. Examples of high-quality leisure includes building something for your house, exercise at home or go a class, take up a craft, join a social group, cooking a recipe - in other words, something demanding

It's counter-intuitive, isn't it? In his influential book "How to Live 24 Hours a Day", Arnold Bennett argues that expending more energy in your leisure can end up energizing you more. Cal gave a few good examples to further confirm this point. Pete Adeney, aka Mr. Money Mustache, prefers to spend his free time working on various construction projects. He gets satisfaction from "making stuff". Liz Thames, the blogger of the popular Frugalwoods blog, meet the demand of rural life by spending leisure time clearing trails, harvesting wood, and plowing snow. Both Pete and Liz are part of the FIRE (financial independence retire early) community. They are not driven financially to take up these demanding activities (both are financially independent), but by reaping multiple levels of benefits from these seemingly demanding activities: physical exercise, better mental health, something tangible to show for (like a new guest house, or a cleared driveway).

This "bias towards action" attitude definitely agrees with me. A good weekend for me is always those that are more structured and full of actions. Exercising, writing blog, visiting friends, trying out a new recipe are a few popular activities.

Cal offered a list of example activities you could do on a single weekend - things like changing your car oil and installing light fixture. Inspired by his list, I develop a list of my own:

  • Practice Chinese calligraphy (a childhood of mine)
  • Start a garden plot (from Cal's list)
  • Learn how to hem pants (essential skill for a person standing at 5 feet...)
  • Vacuum and clean my car 
  • Cook new Vietnamese recipes 
  • Exercise outdoors in our community park
  • Learn new skills via websites such as Coursera
  • Join something (groups, organizations, volunteer work, etc)
  • Reach out to more friends and make plans to meet up
What's your take on leisure and what activities do you like to take up?

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Fitness Check-In Mid 2019

This year I've made some progress on the fitness front, both in terms of a healthier diet and more effective exercise routine. 

Regular exercise has become a habit since 2015, when I lost 20lbs in about 6 months (5 feet, I got down to around 100lbs from 120lbs). At the time, I live 7 minutes to work so was able to work out almost every day for one hour. Fast forward to the beginning of 2019, I've been at the new job where I have a 50-mile, more-than-an-hour one way commute. For the past two years, I couldn't seem to find a good routine that fits my schedule while juggling a demanding job. I've tried mornings, tried after work, even dabbled in lunch workout, nothing ever quite stuck. 

The last few months, however, witnessed a substantial progress towards a healthier lifestyle. Specifically two big changes took place:

1. I got into the habit of exercising first thing in the morning.

For the longest time, I've resisted morning workout. I just don't run as fast. But due to work schedule, long commute, morning is the only time I can make myself work out CONSISTENTLY. Too many variables stood in the way of later-day workout: the meeting ran over, too much traffic, just ate a snack so still full, etc. 

No such excuses exist for the morning. Splash some cold water on my face to wake up and I'm ready!

Depending on how early my meeting starts, I can usually squeeze in 30-50mins exercises.

2. I built in much more strength training (resistance exercise) into my workout.

I used to be the cardio queen - running as much as 6 miles a time on a regular day. Spending an hour on the elliptical. Little did I pay any attention to lifting weights. Growing up in China, it's a culture of admiring skinny beauty. Not so much emphasis toning. 

Meanwhile, I didn't understand the science either. In addition to increasing your muscle mass, which you lose as you age, strength training offers a plethora of benefits. CDC recommends strength training at least two times a day for healthy adults. 

For me, a couple useful resources I've found to incorporate into my routine:
  • Jeremy Ethier's Youtube Channel - a science-based youtube channel, where Jeremy offers great content on strength training-related topics: best way to lose fat, science-based workouts for various body parts, how much rest time you need, etc. What I love most is every recommendation is based on research literature, not just personal experience. I used this recommendation to build out two routines for upper body and lower body respectively.
  • BodyFit by Amy workout videos - I stumbled upon this YouTube channel and absolutely loved it. Amy is a certified personal training. She recorded lots of 20-30 mins interval cross training videos. She possessed a really positive, pleasant energy that makes each workout a treat. She also offered modifications so you could adjust based on your fitness level or how you feel that day.
  • Free FitOn App. A truly FREE fitness app offering a variety of workouts. You could filter by intensity level, targeted body part, or trainer. I mostly used it to tone/sculpt a specific body part if I happen to have 5-10mins break. The app is well designed and user-friendly. Most importantly of course, it is really free!
So this is the mid-year check-in. I hope these habits stick as the colder days come. Will do another check-in in the end of the year!

Saturday, July 13, 2019

The #1 Rule to Increase Productivity - Eat the Frog

Since January last year, I was put on a very exciting new project at work. It's a highly demanding, yet exciting project involves lots of cross functional partnership internally, as well as managing lots of external agency partners. It's also very fast-paced - it's not uncommon for me to progress 4-5 different sub-workstreams simultaneously within one week, and have multiple deadlines to meet.

It's challenging sometimes for sure. Yet the last 18 months taught me some great lessons about increase productivity and improve time management that I'd like to share with everyone. Today I'm sharing the most important one:

Eat the Frog Early in the Day

It is so simple, almost cliche, yet extremely powerful. By "eating the frog" I'm really talking about prioritization, and being very disciplined about it. Let me explain why it's powerful and how I approach it.

I had an epiphany moment on this subject while listening to an episode from the WSJ Secrets of Wealthy Women podcast. It was an interview with Angie Hicks - the co-founder of Angie's List. When Angie's List started off, Angie had to make sales calls everyday to reach out to and get new customers. As somewhat an introvert, it's the least favorite part of her job. But she gave herself a quota everyday and made herself do these calls "first thing in the morning". "

She said:"I usually like to do things I don’t like to do early in the day...I treat (selling) like math because I’m a math geek. I have to make 20 calls, and out of the 20 calls, one or two will be successful.”

That - do things one doesn't like to do early in the day - makes a total difference, especially mentally. Have you had this experience: you keep putting off that thing you don't feel like doing (or most accurately - afraid of doing). But as you go through your day, it's always on your mind. It's a constant reminder that eventually, you'll have to come back and deal with it. It's mentally exhausting.

What I also find true is that "the task that you don't like to do" could very well be the most important task (MIT). In Angie's case, it's selling and acquiring new customers. For me, it's usually thinking through some very tough strategic questions that guides the project on the right path. We have to do it, and prioritize it first thing.

By getting it done early, the rest of day feels like a breeze. By 9 or 10am, you already have a most productive day because you get the most important task out of the way. What can't you do next? :)

How I Do It:
  • Every night, I look at my to-do lists, and ask myself, what is the task that's strategically important, yet I have an inkling of wanting to put it off. That will be my "frog". I bump that on top of my list.
  • At the beginning of practicing this, I literally add it to my Outlook calendar. So when I check my schedule for the day in the morning, it's right there to remind me.
  • I usually prioritize doing it for first thing in the morning. Usually it gets done before 9:30 or 10am, depending on when I start the day. This is when my mind is the freshest.
The last thing I'll say is be really disciplined about it. Research suggests it takes 66 days to form a habit, not 21 days. So being deliberate and disciplined about this is very critical, especially at the beginning. Then it will feel almost automatic.

Give it a try, and let me know how you like it!

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Book Recommendation June 2019

It's official - we're more than half way through 2019. Thanks for Goodreads, I was able to track my reading progress. As of the end of June, I read 24 books, a combination of books and audiobooks. Not bad, considering 2018 whole year only witnesses 21 books in total.

Here is the round-up of books worth recommending:

1. The War that Saved my Life and The War that I finally Won. By Bradley Kimberly Brubaker.

Ah how I love, love, love Ada's story. This children's story is set during World War II. Ada and her brother Jamie live in London with her mother. The mother never let Ada out of their apartment because she's ashamed of her club foot. The war came, and children were evacuated to the suburb. Ada and Jaime were put up with Susan, a seemingly ill-tempered woman who grieves her loss of best friend. But under that cold surface, it's a warm heart. She becomes the mom Ada never had. That's where the beautiful story all begins.

This book is written by Dr. Edith Eger, a Holocaust survivor from Hungary. She shared the heartbreaking story during World War II, including losing both parents in one day as they were marched into the concentration camp. A second section of the book focuses on her life after the war and her life as a first-generation immigrant in America. As the title indicates, the book is about making "the choice". One can't choose what happened to her and her family. What one could choose, is how she reacts to it.

3. Murder on the Orient Express. By Agatha Christie 

As a detective story fan, I wonder why it takes me so long to start reading Hercule Poirot series! This story is so captivating I couldn't put the book down. The ending is absolutely surprising. Look forward to reading other books in this series!

So these are the top ones for first half of 2019. Hoping for more good reads for remainder of the year!

Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Best Way to Save An Article to Read Later

Today, I want to share a little tip I recently discovered: using iPhone reminder to save articles you came across on your phone but didn't have time to read it right then.

I find myself constantly in a situation where I opened a tab of an news/article, but didn't have time to finish it. If I don't take some measures to remind myself, I will end up not remembering reading it at all. The result is 10 open tabs in Google Chrome on my phone, all of them only half-read.

There are apps like "Pocket" that solves problems like this. While it does a good job saving unread articles for later, it doesn't have a reminder for you to return to saved items. Pocket also doesn't plan to add that feature"We’re the first to admit that it’s difficult to remember to return to all the great content that you’ve saved! However, we don’t want Pocket to feel like another To-Do list to get through." 

I found an easy way to solve it, without even downloading a new App! (for IOS only).

  1. On the page you want to save, click on the little anchor icon next to the link. 
  2. It will pull up a menu at the bottom of the screen. You have options to: message, reminder, add to notes, etc. 
  3. Click on the Reminders icon. This will add this article to your reminder.
  4. In the popup window, you could click on "options", click on "remind me on a day", and set reminder for yourself to return to that article! 
  5. Then you're done! 
Normally, I will set the reminder for around 8PM weekday nights, when I will be winding down for the day and have some free time to read.

Hope you could try it out some time!

Saturday, June 22, 2019

The Most Life-Changing Lecture in 2019: "The Science of Well-Being" - Part 2

Today, I will continue to share what I've learned from the most life-changing lecture in 2019 - "The Science of Well Being", available FREE on Coursera.

In my Part 1 blog post, I shared thoughts on two topics: 1) we're wrong about what will make us happy; and 2) why we are so wrong about what make us happy. Check it out first before you read this post.

The second portion of this class focuses on what actually makes us happy, and how we motivate ourselves to do more of those. Here're the stuff that actually makes us happy:
  • Exercise
    • It's so simple, yet it's true. Exercise keeps you healthy - physically and mentally. Learn about the basics of exercise and fitness from a credible source such as Harvard Health.
    • To get started, YouTube has some great FREE workout videos. I recently found the BodyFit by Amy channel and absolutely love it. She's a certified personal trainer in LA. her videos are energetic, easy to follow, and most importantly focuses on form - which is very important for beginners to avoid injury. All you need is a mat, two dumbells, and some space at home!
  • Awesome experience, not awesome stuff
    • This is the most interesting point to me. Because of the annoying feature of hedonic adaptation, our mind adjusts itself to material goods or any luxury good pretty quick. We'll end up always going after the better, more expensive, more luxurious stuff. However, it's different for experiences. Due to the fact we can't own an experience the way we own a car, a bag, a house, we actually come to cherish good experience more. The key is to be in the moment and learn how to savor the experience. So if you have $500 and not sure if you want to buy a fancy watch, or book a quick weekend vacation with your loved one, it's almost always a better idea to go for that vacation. 
  • Kindness
    • Professor Elizabeth Dunn from British Columbia University conducted a series of research, where she gives people $5 and they could either buy themselves something, or buy someone else something. Then she tracks their happiness afterwards. The result is very interesting - people who bought something for others have a higher increase in happiness, compared to those used the $5 on themselves. She repeated the similar experiment in different settings, in developed countries like Canada as well as third world countries where $5 is a lot more money. The finding remains consistent.
    • So, doing something nice for other people, no matter how small it might be, could make you happier.
  • Social Connection
    • We don't talk to each other anymore. On the train, we put AirPods on. We read. We look down on our phone. However, research shows just being surrounded by someone make an experience better. Talking to someone while eating a piece of chocolate seems to make it better! 
So there you go. Scientifically proven ways to make you happier. It's nothing earth shattering really. Things that we inherently have known for years probably. How do we achieve them though?

Professor Laura Santos shared a method - WOOP

WOOP stands for: wish, outcome, obstacles, plan. Again, it's scientifically developed. Over 20 years of research has proven WOOP works. Generally it works like this:
  • Wish: envision something you really really want, something if you could do, can make your life much better.
  • Outcome: if you are successful, what outcomes will you achieve?
  • Obstacles: what might be in your way to achieve your outcomes? Focus on the inner barriers. List them out.
  • Plan: what can you do to overcome the barriers. If (obstacle)..., I will...(action/thoughts).
Check out the WOOP website to learn more.

Hope you get to check out the "Science of Well Being" course after reading this post!

Saturday, June 15, 2019

The Most Life-Changing Lecture in 2019: "The Science of Well-Being" - Part 1

Taught by Professor Laurie Santos, "The Science of Well-Being" is a course explaining what makes you happy, based on robust scientific research. The course is available for free on Coursera with almost 2000 ratings and 4.9 stars. It's easily the best life-changing idea I've been exposed to in 2019.

1. We're Wrong about What Makes Us Happy.
What makes us happy? Easy question. We thought we knew. Money, a good job, awesome/expensive stuff, a good body, good grades, etc. After all, we spend the majority of our waking hours in pursuit of them. We study hard, to get a good, high paying job. We work hard at our jobs to get promoted, to get a raise, so we could make more money and buy good stuffs: a fancy car, a bigger house, an expensive purse. So many others are thinking and doing the same. How could we be wrong?

Using empirical scientific research findings, Professor Santos debunks the myth: none of these things listed above make us happy. She used evidence to rebuff them one by one. The only caveat here is you meet your basic needs as a human being - a roof over your head, fed three meals a day, clothes to keep your warm, etc.

Take money as an example. Study shows that once you pass $75,000 annual income threshold, any more money will not make you happier. This research was a few years old, and more recently some argues the number should be updated to $83,000 after adjusting for inflation and cost of living nowadays. 

The actual number is beside the point. The point is more money don't buy happiness. We always say that millionaires have their worries and might not be as happy as we think they are. Now there's evidence for that. 

Reflecting on this myself, I have to agree with it. Nine years ago when I came to the U.S. for my Master's degree at Villanova, I was making $12,000 a year on a Graduate Assistant stipend. Nine years later, my regular salary has significantly surpassed that. But am I much more happy than when I was at Villanova? Not really. Don't get me wrong - the first few years in American was hard. But most of the hardship aren't really financially related. 

Professor Santos went in details about why each one of the items won't make us happy - a good job, good stuffs, good grades. I encourage you to watch those videos if you want an in-depth understanding.

Okay. Now it's established we were just wrong about what makes us happy. The question now is, why? Why are we wrong? 

2. Why Are We Wrong about What Makes Us Happy?
Week 3 of this lecture "Why Our Expectations are so Bad" tell us exactly that. Professor Santos calls them the "annoying features of the mind".

Two of them make a lot of sense to me:
  • Our mind doesn't think of absolute so we constantly compare ourselves to others.
  • Our brain gets used to stuff quickly. 
First off, lots of debate going on around social media and its impact. I've been following Cal Newport who wrote a book called "Digital Minimalism" which I highly recommend. He talks about how we stay focused in a world with lots of social media distractions.

Here I have another story of mine that quite impact my thoughts on social media. Back in 2013, my first year out of school and start working. It's easily the worst year of my life. Things went wrong on every front - some within my control, most weren't. For example, I visited Chicago and got mugged on the subway, 11 in the morning. Terrifying experience.

At that time, I still shared somewhat regular updates on Facebook. I'm never one to whine in public so I didn't share many updates like the one above. Most posts are just about my weekend mini explorations. One day in 2013, I got a Facebook message. It's from an acquaintance from my undergrad in China. She was studying in Italy and was having a hard time adjusting to the life there herself. In her message, she said "I've been following your Facebook posts and am sure you must have a great life in the U.S. How do you manage to be so put-together?" (roughly translated from Chinese to English by me). This really struck a nerve. I wasn't "having a great life". Quite contrary, I was living the toughest year. But I can totally see how she came to that conclusion by just reading my Facebook posts. Unconsciously I "misled" her and probably added to her unhappiness to a degree.

Shortly after that, I deleted the Facebook app from my phone. I still have the account, which I logged in once in a while and see what friends are up to. I no longer post as often as I used to.

What is enlightening from the course is finally an explanation to why we compare to the "unreality" on social media. It's because we can't think in absolute. Professor Santos used vision illusion to explain this one. The famous "which circle is bigger" test. Just like it's hard for eyes to see absolute, our brains can't think absolute either.

Another important lesson I learned is "hedonic adaptation" or hedonic treadmill - it's the simple fact that our brains get used to stuff pretty quickly. This works both ways: we return to a stabilized level of happiness after experiencing either major positive or negative events in life. For example, I'll be very happy the moment I drive a new car out of the lot, and I'll be cherishing my new car weeks or months after it. But that happiness won't be sustained. My mind will be used to "having" this car. Because I'll always have this car. My level of happiness will be adjusted and stabilized. I won't wake up a year from when I bought the car and be super excited about the car anymore.

This is the key reason why good stuffs won't give us lasting happiness. Professor Santos suggests it's almost always better to spend money on experiences than things, simply because experience won't last forever. 

More to come in Part 2, where I shared the good habits I learned from the lecture, and what are the things that actually make us happy!

Friday, June 7, 2019

First Post on the New Microsoft Surface Pro 6

I came home today from a week-long business trip in Orlando. What waited for me was a pleasant surprise - a brand new Microsoft Surface Pro 6!

Two weeks ago, I came across the new Microsoft Surface Go and thought it was a nice portable tablet. However, I have a desktop, a Macbook Pro (which my husband uses for leisure primarily) and an iPad Pro at home...There is no hard need for another tablet/laptop. Therefore, even I quite like the Surface series after checking them out in store, I simply couldn't justify the purchase.

I was so happy that Steve bought it as a birthday gift. But at the same time I wasn't sure if I should keep it. It seems extravagant given it's more of a want vs. need. Recalling back in college, my mom bought me an iPod MP3. I used it to listen to English exclusively for 6 months and scored high on TOEFL exam before using the iPod for listening to music at all. justify keeping the Surface Pro, I decided to give blogging another try. It's such a coincidence that I was planning to pick it up anyway. Blogging is a great way to capture and share my thoughts on the books and podcasts I read and listen to.

Let's see how I do!

Postpartum Support Group

Today I attended the first postpartum support group zoom meeting. It's a great experience. I wish I had joined it earlier. Most particip...