I’m always looking for books that challenge the reader to look at the world differently, and I usually satisfy that urge with the latest Malcolm Gladwell or Michael Lewis book. Since I just read David & Goliath and the wait at the library for Flash Boys was significant, I picked up two excellent books that discuss the topics of meditation and positive psychology.
I want to detail what I took away from these books and have already incorporated into my own life to great positive effect, and how you may be able to do the same.
The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor was a fascinating look at the concept of positive psychology, and this is an absolute must-read!
Honestly, if corporate America wanted to save money and increase productivity by the billions, every company would get rid of their fancy HR gimmicks and make this one book mandatory reading for every employee from the CEO down to the lowest entry-level employee.
‘Positive psychology’, is one of the fastest growing fields of research and I could go on for pages about this book, but since this isn’t the forum for a book review, I’ll just say that you must read this book.
It is a look at how your brain directly impacts your happiness level and how you can take small steps to dramatically alter your outlook on life and increase your productivity and overall well-being.
While many of us think we are predisposed to certain levels of happiness, numerous studies have shown that we have a remarkable ability to increase our happiness and in turn increase productivity and life and job satisfaction. This book lays out seven easy to implement principles you can use to start making The Happiness Advantage and this cutting-edge research work for you.
(We always recommend borrowing books from your public library, but if you want to purchase the book, here’s the link to The Happiness Advantage at Amazon.com)
10% Happier by ABC News journalist Dan Harris chronicles his journey from a skeptic of meditation to someone who incorporates it into his daily life. In his estimation, meditation has made him “10% happier.” He claims that it has also contributed to his overall well-being and helped him overcome a spiral into drugs that threatened to destroy his career.
I always thought meditation sounded somewhat ridiculous, but honestly it came just from my own ignorance. Seriously, what do you picture when the word meditation comes up in conversation? I know I pictured someone on the floor in some contorted position in flowing robes, burning incense and just staring off into space. Not exactly my idea of a good time!
But after listening to a coworker describe how simple it can be to gain benefits from the practice, and reading Harris nearly echo her exactly, I’ve realized that the practice of meditation is just suffering from a serious PR issue.
As they both described, the vast majority of people who would meditate can see significant benefits from just a handful of minutes a day. And all you have to do is just sit down in a quiet room, take deep breaths and focus on nothing else but your breathing. Just pay attention to the breath going in and out, and when your mind wanders (which it will inevitably do dozens of times in those 5 minutes) just bring it back to the breathing. That’s it! That is meditation.
I finally had to try it and I was surprised to find that I actually enjoyed it. You may find you like it if you give it a chance, even if you would have previously thought ‘meditation’ to be a bunch of nonsense.
Focusing on your breathing just five minutes a day can really make a difference in how your brain functions. In my experience, it has helped me not only focus much better but also to crave that focus when I’m working on something, or talking to someone. It’s addictive!
(If you want to purchase the book, here’s the link to 10% Happier at Amazon.com)
The Question that Changed my Life: “Is This Useful?”
When Dan Harris was involved in a meditation retreat and he voiced his skepticism and doubt, his mentor asked him a question that I consider to be the most devastatingly simple one I’ve ever heard. He said when your brain starts its inevitable chatter that puts you in a bad mood, or concocts some alternate reality based on fleeting pieces of information, just ask yourself, “Is this useful?”
So ask yourself:
- Is it useful when I get in a bad mood and sulk around the house for hours?
- Is it useful when I get frustrated at my kids for being loud or making a mess?
- Is it useful to assume the worst in someone’s comments or actions?
- Is it useful to hold a grudge for months or years and not reach out to someone to talk it through?
Our reality is a simple function of the voice in our heads that shapes the world for us, and that voice has an amazing way of blowing things out of proportion, assuming the worst in situations or people, and holding onto negative feelings for hours or days.
Since I read these books and know how much our reality is influenced negatively by mere thoughts, I keep coming back to the question “Is this useful?”
I know it might sound silly, but I’ve found that my attentiveness to that one single question helps get me over negative thoughts much faster than ever before, and has unquestionably put me in a better mood these past few weeks, which I intend to carry through the rest of my life.
Is This Useful for your Financial Life?
I’d like to pivot and take the question, “Is this useful?” and apply it to a person’s financial life and the purchases they make.
While this isn’t directly related to the psychological aspects described above, I think it can be an important secondary way to look at this essential question.
Laura and I always personally termed this concept “value,” or in economic terms you’d probably refer to it as “utility,” but for this conversation we’ll call it usefulness.
As consumers, we’re so often faced with a dizzying array of choices, options and features when we go to make a purchase. We’re also bombarded with constant advertising and television stations like HGTV which make it seem like everyone needs new granite countertops, brand-new kitchen cabinets or stainless steel appliances.
My question is what value or use are you getting out of those purchases? The last time I checked, kitchen cabinets literally held my plates and cups and that was the start and finish of their value. Let me repeat that: kitchen cabinets are pieces of wood nailed together that hold your plates and cups.
And yet contractors regularly want $15,000+ to install brand-new versions of these pieces of wood that hold my plates, which seems crazy to me. So ask yourself, is this useful? What value am I getting out of this purchase other than showing my shiny new kitchen to my friends and family?
Keep in mind that most people are lucky to save any money, so that means they are financing their new kitchen cabinets, granite countertops, or stainless steel appliances. They are paying interest for years on something that has zero added usefulness!
The kitchen is one major example, but in our own lives on a smaller scale we recently purchased a new outdoor grill, and saw how consumers can get suckered into buying more expensive models than they could ever need because they have additional features that really have no level of usefulness or merely because they look more impressive (that funny ‘stainless steel’ obsession again).
We bought the only full-size grill that was under $200, because whether we spent $139 (we did) or $400, it would still cook our hot dogs and hamburgers just perfectly and we would get no extra value out of the additional $261 spent. We would just be poorer for no reason other than that we wanted to have a grill that evidently looked “nice” according to our current societal standards.
When you start looking at all the decisions of this type you’re faced with each year, you can really see how simplifying and only buying things that have value to you can save you significant amounts of money. Once you see purchases for the value they provide, it helps you become more content with what you have to the point where you aren’t constantly lusting after the next hot gadget or fad. This leads to a more balanced and richer life on every level.
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