The Science of Happiness

Compared to 500 years ago, before the exponential explosion of science, technology, wealth, inventions, and access to resources granted us near mastery over our environment, enabled us to meet all our survival needs, and allowed us to enjoy a level of personal comfort and safety unprecedented in human history. Are we any happier?


The Science of Happiness

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Over the last several years, a new field of research has gained popularity, the science of happiness. Legitimate researches are dabbling and have published countless studies, books and articles on the topic. My curiosity on the subject has led me to dive deep into the literature on this new state of being. Some scientists conclude that happiness comes from our environment. Some claim that it’s determined by behavior. Some believe it is an evolutionary phenomenon and others are certain that the key to understanding happiness lies in our genetic profile and our biology. No matter what they call it and regardless of their point of view, they all attempt to answer the following question. Compared to 500 years ago, before the exponential explosion of science, technology, wealth, inventions and access to resources granted us near mastery over our environment. It enabled us to meet all our survival needs and allowed us to enjoy a level of personal comfort and safety unprecedented in human history. Are we any happier? There’s no way to summarize all the disparate and contradictory threads on research in one episode.

I’ll share what I’ve discovered about happiness as it relates to the evaluation process we had been going through. All these quality studies in the world mean nothing unless you find a way to connect them to personal experience. A lot of my research into happiness felt abstract until I stumbled upon the golden nugget of insight that makes a huge difference in nearly every facet of my life. This pearl of wisdom informs how I approach wants, desires, relationships, material possessions and important decisions. Here’s the common thread that runs through all the research. Happiness depends on the correlation between your objective conditions and your subjective expectations. Happiness doesn’t depend solely on factors you might expect like wealth, health, community, environment or happiness. Happiness doesn’t depend on your bank balance or whether you live in Hawaii or India. It doesn’t matter if you had a happy childhood or you’re battling cancer. Those things are part of the picture but they’re not as critical as most of us believe. Here is my takeaway from all of that.

The pearl of wisdom and this is how I frame all of it in my mind. Expectations are like disappointments in disguise. Expectation management. You might expect a used Dodge minivan. If I get a used Dodge minivan, then I’m content. If I want a brand new Porsche and I get a Dodge minivan, I’m far from content. I’m unhappy. I feel deprived, but not because of the presence of the minivan or the absence of a sports car. I feel deprived because I miscalculated. I failed to calibrate the instrument of my happiness, my expectations from my subjective conditions, reality. You might expect my partner to provide the support I need after a crappy day and the dog gets more love than I do, I’m unhappy. You might expect my boss to respect my work but got nothing but a grunt and a new impossible deadline when I turned in a big project, I’m unhappy.

To put it simply, it’s all about calibrating our calculations and managing your expectations. Most of us aren’t aware of the scores of expectations we have swirling around in our head every day from little things to big things. Expectation management is huge, but expectation mismanagement can break our backs. When reality hits, whether we wake up to realize we’re out of coffee or we don’t get an amazing job we applied for, we wonder why we feel crappy. The reason we feel crappy is the distance and the dissonance between what we expected to get and what we thought. Hence my conclusion that expectations are merely disappointments in disguise. I discovered early in life I was an anxious person. It had to do with being autistic. My life was not about being happy. It was feeling safe and calm. When I knew what I had to do and I could predict what will happen next, it means I could relax and enjoy the moment. I found people illogical and unpredictable. A lot of my time was tied up working out with someone who would do next if it was relevant to me. If not, I did not bother.

LBD 25 | Science Of Happiness
Science Of Happiness: Being satisfied with what we have is far more important than getting more.


After a while, I realized that if I set my goals and expectations to be functional, I minimize disappointment and being frustrated, angry or disappointed. The only person who had to rise to the occasion was me because I could control and manage me and the rest were outside of my control. The clearer I became about my expectation and the tyranny of shoulds and musts and so on and the more aware I became, the more relaxed I got. I’ve covered the tyranny of shoulds and musts in previous episodes. I’m not saying that all of this happened overnight. What did happen is I got a handle on this once the world became less and less unsafe and more and more unpredictable. I started enjoying my life more. People noticed how much calmer I became. Hitting the jackpot, two things happen to lottery winners over time. They spend irresponsibility and go broke. They go back to the same level of happiness or unhappiness they had before. Life improved for the lottery winners. Their objective conditions changed significantly, but something else changes through their expectations.

Despite the dramatic improvement in their condition, the lottery winner still managed to feel miserable. This happens because of the entire frame of reference shifts. After the honeymoon period of wealth is over, they return to the default mode of mismanaging expectations even though they have more money than they had before. Similarly, when things deteriorate, they go broke and slide back to the pre-jackpot financial situation. The expectations shrivel up and they return to where they started. On the flip side, expectations are closely associated with anticipation, wanting and the desire for achieving great things. In that way, the fireworks of anticipation are one of the coolest aspects of being human. We imagine, we plan, we work, we accomplish. We set foot on the moon and we cure diseases that not long ago killed millions and that’s all because we expect more. As far as we know, we are the only species gifted with such incredible quality.

Sure, my wife’s best friends, cats and dogs expect things but the expectations are different. They are thinking about a tasty treat or anticipating the mistress’s imminent return home. The cat is not planning or expecting to cure cancer or send her kittens to Mars. We humans are crazy enough to expect and plan for both of these things. I find it amusing that we have created an entire industry dedicated to finding out what makes us happy. It’s amusing because prophets have been telling us for thousands of years that being satisfied with what we have are far more important than getting more. It’s how all this talk of happiness relates to decluttering. Mismatched expectations creep into the gap between what we want in the world in which we live. Declutter a space that should be simple and clear. Rather than accept the moment, expectations create illusions that have nothing to do with reality.

My personal solution and guiding philosophy around all this is to appreciate, love, and enjoy what I have while balancing it all with the knowledge that’s more out there. This is the skill I’ve had to develop and practice over time. Managing the balance is like an acrobatic team on the tight rope managing the walk across the wire. They maintain constant, dynamic, mindful and vigilant attention to the process. You can believe they didn’t wake up one day doing the art. They had to practice the skill just like I practiced gratitude and work by managing my expectations every day. One last thing I found in my research on the topic is money won’t buy you happiness, but it might buy you a ship to sail and rise up to it.

One lucky audience that posts a review in iTunes will win a private confidential consultation and coaching with me on discovering your soul’s purpose. I will lead you in a personal journey to discover your unique mind, body, psychosomatic map of your life. You will get a detailed report and a personal 45-minute consultation with me that is worth thousands. I’m going to help you design a life that works so you are able to say yes to the things that matter and eliminate everything else that slows you down. The more clear you can be about how to organize your daily life to support your bigger vision, the more you step into your true potential, stay on track and accomplish all that you want and deserve. Are you ready to make that happen? Feel free to reach out to me to ask questions at Your life is a gift. Design it. Do what matters and join me each episode as we get closer to designing the life of your dreams. Join me next time on Your Life By Design.

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Pursuit of Happiness – Part 2

The Pursuit of Happiness – Part 2

251A Victoria Street, Singapore 188035 

The Pursuit of Happiness
and the 10k Rule
(PART 2)

asically the deep roots of discontent occurs because the Universe is not designed to make you happy.  Its basically neutral and sometimes even hostile and you
need to make your way through it to survive, succeed and prosper.

Maslow’s hierarchy of ascending needs increasingly comes into focus. In simpler times it was enough to have food to eat, a stable job and descendants. This amounted to having control of your life.

The different stages of Growth and development in a young persons life integrate all of the above:

Imprinting (age 0-7):The process of deep programming that occurs in a child. This often lays the foundation for future challenges.

Modelling (age 8-13): The young person models behaviour consciously and unconscious based on significant authority figures.

Socialisation (age 14-21): This is when the young person often embarks upon the training required to develop his 10k hours of competence. This is when you develop the macro and micro strategies that added up together constitute the 10k hours body of competence.

I will add one additional proviso that has to date been overlooked. Is the need to develop this body of competence internally driven or externally driven?

If it is internally driven, you will be driven by the need for higher levels of self-actualisation and flow. If it is externally driven, the moment you are sufficiently rewarded, you stop learning and growing.

So you can attempt to master yourself and your environment by problem solving as a solution. If you are overweight, you lose weight. If you feel your body is inadequate, you build muscle and glory briefly in that sense of achievement. Beyond a certain point though, you begin to realize this is not enough.

Some give up and have a little hobby. They give up on the merry go round of more, bigger and better. They end up collecting stamps for example.

Unless you reclaim experiencing your life and appreciate it you will always be a slave to either societal controls of what it means to be successful or your biological/instinctual urges towards pleasure seeking.

The paths of liberation were laid out in various texts. From the Delphic oracles “Know Thyself” to Aristotle’s “Virtuous activity of the soul”. Stoic philosophers in antiquity spoke about the dispassionate life. Christian monastic orders practiced a life of disciplined enquiry.

Freud preached the freedom from your id(biological drives) and superego(societal mores). This would give rise to the mature self aware ego.

Indian yoga focussed on physical and emotional discipline. The Taoism of the Chinese focussed on the naturalistic fashion of discipline without conformity. Buddhist Zen on the discipline of being in the moment. All these were earlier fruitful attempts towards optimal experience.

They increasingly do not offer codified solutions because wisdom is not cumulative. Control over consciousness is not a cognitive skill. It requires consistent practice. Knowledge must be reformulated. It cannot be institutionalised.

Mihaly proposed that what happens in the mind to be useful for daily living is a model called, “A phenomenological model of consciousness based on information theory”

Phenomenological… Deals directly with events – phenomena
This together with the principles of information theory constitutes his model.

Intentions are the force that keeps information in consciousness ordered.

Your limits of consciousness are that you can process seven plus or minus 2 bits of information at any one time. It takes 1/8 seconds to process between one set of bits. You can process 126 bits of info per second. This adds up to 7,560 bits per minute and about half a million bits of information per hour.

In a lifetime of 70 years, 16 hours waking time you would process 185 billion bits of information. To understand another, it takes 40 bits of information per second. So in theory you could understand 3 people at a time if you never held another thought in your head.

How you focus your attention determines your results in life. Your flexibility of attentional structures determines your capacity to direct your mind. For example Eskimo hunters can identify dozens types of snow and direction and speed of wind because this is directly relevant to their livelihood and their potential lifespan.


Pursuit of Happiness – Part 1

The Pursuit of Happiness – Part 1

251A Victoria Street, Singapore 188035 

The Pursuit of Happiness
and the 10k Rule
(PART 1)

would like to bring a new slant to the 10k rule. This is based on the processes of what we now know about neurological development of a child, the mechanisms
of expertise and the concept of flow in the book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience as proposed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Professor of Psychology, University of Chicago.
This post has important implications for:
1) Parenting
2) Lifetime achievement
3) The real basis for the 10k rule

As humans we all want to maximise our pleasure and happiness and minimise our pain. My hypothesis is that the pursuit of happiness could lead to a lifetime of achievement and a plausible reason to invest 10k hours in pursuing a discipline.
The parental role in guiding this process  in their offspring is crucial and essential as in our latest Olympic champion Joseph Schooling. Aristotle more than 2300 years ago wrote that “More than anything else men and women seek happiness”.

Despite our progress and achievements, people end up feeling their lives are wasted. Instead of feeling more happiness, more people in first world countries spend their lives experiencing boredom and anxiety. People who learn to control their inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives.

JS Mill, wrote “Ask yourself if you are happy and you cease to be so” You find “happiness” by being involved in experiencing every detail of your life good or bad. You find happiness not by trying to look for it directly.

Viktor Frankl, in his seminal book “Man’s search for meaning”, wrote. “Don’t aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success like happiness cannot be pursued, it must ensue…as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a course greater then oneself”.

Optimal experience occurs at times when instead of being buffeted by anonymous forces you feel in control of your actions. You are master of your fate. That is when you feel exhilarated and experience a deep sense of enjoyment. It becomes a marker for what life should be like.

Consider the sailor when he is racing his little boat against the tide and he feels the thrill of the wind against his face and the exhilaration of his skill in controlling his destiny. Consider the enjoyment of a painter when he looks at what new art forms he has wrought on his canvas.

Optimal experience is not just reserved for pleasant things. It also occurs in concentration camps after surviving near death experiences At the epiphany of a beautiful sunset after you thought you were going to die but didn’t.

You get pleasure from passive, receptive relaxing times. However it is when you have pushed your body and mind in a voluntary effort to accomplish something worthwhile and difficult that you experience optimal experience. You can enhance your happiness through control over your life.

Everything in your life is basically information. If you control this information, you decide what your live will be like. Optimal state occurs when there is order in consciousness. When psychic energy is invested in realistic goals and skills match opportunities for action.

Flow is when consciousness is ordered and you go after whatever you want, to pursue it for its own sake. How people respond to stress determines whether they profit from misfortune or are miserable. Those who use that stressor to grow and learn will look back at that period in retrospect and enjoy those moments of triumph. Those who felt overwhelmed will experience the quality of their lives and their abilities shrink after the event.

To deal with obstacles, culture develops protective devices like religion, philosophies, arts and comforts. This has been your shield from chaos. However this shield is increasingly wearing thin in the face of rapidly changing social contexts. It is getting harder and harder for people to believe in a benign deity that orders the universe for your convenience.

Trying to achieve happiness without any sort of faith,  results in another extreme.  This is to maximise biologically programmed pleasures or those deemed attractive by society you live in. But your quality of life cannot be improved this way. Only direct control of experience, the ability to derive moment by moment experience in everything you do results in optimal experience according to the research by Professor Mihaly. Only as you successfully and purposefully overcome obstacles to fulfilment do you approach the basis for optimal experience.