Tag: Mahatma Gandhi

Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony

If we’re looking for silver linings around the pandemic, then one startlingly big one is the time people have had to reflect on their lives. When we’re busy, we’re forced to be pragmatic, and unfortunately that pragmatism can conflict with our core values.

This pragmatism has, certainly in my life, led to there being (small) disconnects between what I feel to be my values on the one hand, and my actions on the other. One thing I’ve been meaning to do for a while is to take the time to write down what I believe, in the style of Buster Benson’s Codex Vitae.

He divides his beliefs into the following areas:

  • Aliens
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Cognitive biases
  • Consciousness
  • Critical thinking
  • Dialogue
  • Ecosystems
  • Game theory
  • Government
  • Health
  • Internal mental space
  • Mindfulness
  • Nature of reality
  • Policy
  • Purpose
  • Rules to live by
  • Spirituality
  • Technology
  • Vulnerability

…which may seem a little bit random, and reminds me somewhat of Jorge Luis Borges’ Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge (“those that from afar look like flies”). Having said that, starting with one’s inner ontology is probably the best place to start.

Why do all this? Well, if you know what you believe then it’s easier to draw lines, ‘red’ or otherwise, and know what you will and will not stand for. It’s a guide to life, which of course can change over time, but at least serves as a guide.


The reason I’ve never managed to get around to writing down my beliefs in a way similar to Buster is, I would say, twofold. First, I’m unwilling to write down my religious beliefs, such as they are. Second, all of this looks like a rather large undertaking.

Instead, I’m going to use the rather helpful time horizon that the pandemic provides to think about what I’d like the ‘new normal’ to look like, about what I’m going to accept and what I am not. These take the form of aphorisms or reminders to myself.


  1. Life is too short to deal with adults who display little in the way of emotional intelligence.
  2. Organisations are groups of people that can have a positive or negative effect on the world. Do not work with or for the latter.
  3. Technology can free people or it can enslave them, so work to give as many people as much freedom as possible.
  4. Removing ego from the equation gets things done.
  5. Education is not the same as learning, nor are qualifications the same as real-world knowledge, skills and experience.
  6. Happiness is not something that you can find, but rather it is something that you discover once you stop looking for it.
  7. How you say or do something is as important as what you say or what you do.
  8. We all will die and don’t know when, so act today in a way whereby people will remember you well.
  9. You cannot control what other people say, do, or think.
  10. Money can only buy choices, not happiness, time, or anything else that constitutes human flourishing.

Yours may be different, and these are just want came tumbling out this time around, but these are the ten that I’ve printed out and stuck to the back of my home office door.


Quotation-as-title by Mahatma Gandhi. Photo by Ishant Mishra.

The best place to be is somewhere else?

So said Albarran Cabrera, except I added a cheeky question mark.

I have a theory. Not a grand, unifying theory of everything, but a theory nonetheless. I reckon that, despite common wisdom attributing the decline of comments on blogs to social media, it’s at least also because of something else.

Here’s an obvious point: there’s more people online now than there were ten years ago. As a result, there’s more stuff being produced and shared and, because of that, there’s more to miss out on. This is known as the Fear Of Missing Out (or FOMO).

While I don’t think anyone realistically thinks it’s possible to keep up with everything produced online every day, I think people do have an expectation that they can keep up with what their online friends are doing and thinking. As the number of people we’re following in different places grows and grows, we don’t have much time to share meaningfully. Hence the rise of the retweet button.

Back in 2006, in the mists of internet time, Kathy Sierra wrote a great post entitled The myth of “keeping up”. Remember that this was before people were really using social networks such as Twitter. She talks about what we’re experiencing as ‘information anxiety’ and has some tips to combat it, which I think are still relevant:

  • Find the best aggregators
  • Get summaries
  • Cut the redundancy!
  • Unsubscribe to as many things as possible
  • Recognise that gossip and celebrity entertainment are black holes
  • Pick the categories you want for a balanced perspective, and include some from OUTSIDE your main field of interest
  • Be a LOT more realistic about what you’re likely to get to, and throw the rest out.
  • In any thing you need to learn, find a person who can tell you what is:
    • Need to know
    • Should know
    • Nice to know
    • Edge case, only if it applies to you specifically
    • Useless

The interesting thing is that, done well, social media can actually be a massive force for good. It used to be set up for that, coming on the back of RSS. Now, it’s set up to drag you into arguments about politics and the kind of “black holes” of gossip and celebrity entertainment that Kathy mentions.

One of the problems is that we have a cult of ‘busy’ which people mis-attribute to a Protestant work ethic instead of rapacious late-stage capitalism. I’ve recently finished 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep by Jonathan Crary where he makes this startlingly obvious, but nevertheless profound point:

Because one’s bank account and one’s friendships can now be managed through identical machinic operations and gestures, there is a growing homogenization of what used to be entirely unrelated areas of experience.

Jonathan Crary

…and:

[S]ince no moment, place, or situation now exists in which one can not shop, consume, or exploit networked resources, there is a relentless incursion of the non-time of 24/7 into every aspect of social or personal life.

Jonathan Crary

In other words, you’re busy because of your smartphone, the apps you decide to install upon it, and the notifications that you then receive.

The solution to FOMO is to know who you are, what you care about, and the difference you’re trying to make in the world. As Gandhi famously said:

Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.

Mahatma Gandhi

I’ve recently fallen into the trap of replying to work emails on my days off. It’s a slippery slope, as it sets up an expectation.

via xkcd

The same goes with social media, of course, except that it’s even more insidious, as an ‘action’ can just be liking or retweeting. It leads to slacktivism instead of making actual, meaningful change in the world.

People joke about life admin but one of those life admin tasks might be to write down (yes! with a pen and paper!) the things you’re trying to achieve with the ‘free’ apps that you’ve got installed. If you were being thorough, or teaching kids how to do this, perhaps you’d:

  1. List all of the perceived benefits
  2. List all of the perceived drawbacks
  3. List all of the ways that the people making the free app can make money

Tim Ferriss recently reposted an interview he did with Seth Godin back in 2016 about how he (Seth) manages his life. It’s an object lesson in focus, and leading an intentional life without overly-quantifying it. I can’t help but think it’s all about focus. Oh, and he doesn’t use social media, other than auto-posting from his blog to Twitter.

For me, at least, because I spend so much time surrounded by technology, the decisions I make about tech are decisions I make about life. A couple of months ago I wrote a post entitled Change your launcher, change your life where I explained that even just changing how you access apps can make a material difference to your life.

So, to come full circle, the best place to be is actually where you are right now, not somewhere else. If you’re fully present in the situation (Tim Ferriss suggests taking three breaths), then ask yourself some hard questions about what success looks like for you, and perhaps whether what you say, what you think, and what you do are in harmony.

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