Category Archives: Life

Happiness vs. Contentment

The word ‘happiness’ in present times refers to an emotional state where a person is at least mildly elated. This emotion is usually visualized as a person smiling or laughing. Meanwhile, the word ‘contentment’ has two different meanings, both closely associated with each other. The first meaning (let’s called this ‘strict’ contentment) refers to a person in a state of affairs where he is satisfied. There are no demands on him or hurdles he must overcome: he has achieved whatever ends he has and does not have any others (or any significant others). The second meaning (let’s called this emotional contentment) refers to an emotional state at neutrality or somewhere in between neutrality and happiness. To clarify the difference between the two types of contentment, we can understand that feeling satisfied is not the same thing as being satisfied, although the two are often (and for good reason) correlated.

The reason I bring up these distinctions is because I am currently reading The Art of Happiness, by the Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler, in which the differences between happiness, emotional contentment, and strict contentment are muddled, possibly misleading readers. The pair argue in the first chapter that the purpose of life is happiness:

I believe that the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness. That is clear. Whether one believes in religion or not, whether one believes in this religion or that religion, we all are seeking something better in life. So, I think, the very motion of our life is towards happiness . . . [emphasis added]

It is true that we are all seeking something better in our life. All our purposeful actions are directed to change a state of affairs that would have occurred in the future into an alternative, better state of affairs. However, this doesn’t mean that in seeking a better state of affairs we are necessarily seeking an emotional state of happiness. For example, if I take the purposeful action of putting some food into my mouth, I am doing so to satisfy my hunger. This may or may not make me happy. I might in fact be annoyed and angry because I know the food will taste bad, but eat it anyway so I don’t starve. Therefore, my purpose in eating poor-tasting food isn’t to make myself elated emotionally, but to simply quell my hunger. So here, happiness and emotional contentment are not the goals, but strict contentment is.

Another example: suppose you have had huge goals for several years and you’ve finally accomplished all that you set out to accomplish. At first you may be ecstatic, but if as time goes on, you fail to add any other monumental goals to your life, you may end up being depressed. In this example, while your initial end was to accomplish your goals and satisfy yourself for strict contentment, you ended up upset as a result.

So while strict contentment, which is what really follows from D.C.’s (Dalai Lama + Cutler) argument, is occasionally associated with happiness and emotional contentment, it is not always, and is sometimes even associated with depression. Happiness is not the purpose of life, and even if it was, this argument would not be a good one for it.

The reason the criticism I have made is important is that readers of this book may come to agreement (with the flawed argument) that the purpose of life is happiness and, as a result, constantly seek out an elated emotion that is not always possible to achieve. Human beings are not perpetually jubilant creatures. With this in mind, then, having a purpose of happiness can ironically lead to its opposite. Since it is not always possible to attain, individuals who have it as their purpose will instead be sad when they realize they just don’t feel the way they want to feel.

Photo Credit: LyndaSanchez via Compfight cc

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Done with My Summer Internship at Telonium

Very fun 2-3 months doing a summer internship at Telonium, a hosted phone systems provider for businesses. Basically, they provide phone systems (e.g. single business phone #, multiple lines coming in, multiple extensions for employees, and features like transferring calls, etc.) using VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) technology rather than typical landline services that a company like AT&T would provide.

I’m just going to plug some of the things that I worked on over the summer for future reference, and…well, I’m in marketing, so for a bit of self-loving SEO as well.

  • We worked on this great whiteboard series (titled Telonium Thursdays) throughout the summer. Making videos was probably the most fun part of the internship for me. I was in charge of writing the script, so if Alice or Alex happen to say anything you think is stupid, I’m the one to blame 🙂
  • I also worked on a number of blog posts for Telonium. The first was directed toward startups, encouraging them  to consider a proper phone number when branding themselves (just like you’d want a domain for your business email rather than using something like Gmail). The second was conjured up from looking at popular searches related to business phone systems. “Forward calls” and “transfer calls” were two particularly popular searches with low competition, so I made a post about features that highlighted call transferring and call forwarding as quintessential.
  • I was most proud of my final post though. I originally wanted to write an article about the 4 benefits of Spiderman, but I suspected I wouldn’t be allowed to put that on the Telonium blog. So I just talked about SaaS and its relationship to VoIP instead. [Hehe, in case you don’t click the link and just think I’m weird for making a joke about Spiderman (“What?? It’s a joke??), I titled that blog post “The 4 Benefits of SaaS and Your Friendly Neighborhood VoIP Provider” 😀 ]
  • We also started a contest near the end of the summer. The goal was to reach 500 followers on Twitter. If we reached this goal, we’d give away free phone service for 3 months. Unfortunately, we didn’t, but we did have other benefits, including increased attention to our company and visitors on our website.
  • Finally, we started a site for startups (this was started at the beginning of summer but I’m lazy to reorganize these bullet points in chronological order so I’m just including this parenthetical description instead) called The Startup Voice. Our goal, in terms of marketing strategy, was to create a community for Telonium, basically a path for people that would benefit from Telonium’s service to find out about the company. But I believe the website is much more than that. I genuinely think it’s useful for startups and I think it has a lot of potential to become something big, the main reason being our section called “Startup Voices.” Often, people get a kind of fictional, unrealistic view of startups from reading websites such as TechCrunch (which is not useless, by the way; I am simply claiming you don’t get the whole picture from them). So this section was created to allow entrepreneurs or really, any employees of startups, to contribute articles discussing their experiences working for a startup company. Whether that be the decisions they’ve made, good or bad, advice they may have for other startups, and/or perhaps their outlook or culture as a young firm. This is great because 1) it’s real, it’s coming from startups themselves, 2) it’s free marketing for startups, who often have to struggle to get themselves out there, and 3) it provides real benefits for aspiring or current entrepreneurs.

There are so many great things about doing an internship for a startup. Many of my friends who had internships before with larger companies have told me that they were either on Facebook all the time chatting with friends, or doing nothing because their boss was gone, etc. etc. The main point of an internship, in my opinion, isn’t to make money. It’s to build skills for yourself and relationships with others. With a startup, you’re going to get both. There was so much to do at Telonium; the other interns and I basically started marketing from the ground up. We got to try plenty of things we hadn’t done before and put on many different hats. We also were constantly around and interacting with the other (awesome) team members of the company (after all, we were all in the same room). I’m not saying you can’t have a good internship at a big company, or you’re definitely going to have a good one at a small one, but in general I think smaller companies (especially startups) are favorable for such experiences.

Conclusion paragraphs are for losers.

-Bharat

P.S. It’s been like three weeks since my last “normal” post, but hopefully I’ll get off my ass and finish up a blog about morality tomorrow (well, more like on my ass, because I’m sitting at a desk with my laptop).

Photo Credit: Kalexanderson via Compfight cc

Take Some Time Off to Contemplate

I’ve gone through most of my life in auto-drive mode. I didn’t think much in terms of “is this really worth it?” or “is there something more fundamentally necessary that I should be allocating my time toward?” We all have to allocate our time, a scarce resource, to particular ends that we choose. And sure, we do this on a daily basis; e.g. do I really want to do this assignment or should I go and play pingpong instead? But up till college, I had never really considered these type of questions on a more fundamental level. “Is my time worth doing this at all? Could it be a complete waste in the end?”

I consider myself lucky. When I fell ill two years ago, I found some answers that I may have not found otherwise. Two things really pop out to me. The first is Austrian economics, a deductive method of economics that teaches us a lot about the world, even if only with its simplistic truths. For example, ex ante, two individuals that exchange different goods voluntarily both gain. This is fairly indisputable, and knowing such obvious truths allows us to build a base of knowledge with which we can expand on top of. Most people don’t spend much time scrutinizing their base. They simply take it for granted (and once again, go into autodrive mode).

The second is pai-da/la-jin. Because I was ill with a disease contemporary, mainstream doctors could not cure, I was in a sense, forced to try something I may not have tried otherwise. Now I’ve found something that can help with almost all deficiencies in human health, and once again, it is simplistic. In fact, it’s something you could teach someone in a minute.

Unfortunately (? or maybe fortunately), what I’ve realized is that the base probably extends even further below. And so I have to keep scrutinizing it. While auto-drive is useful for many activities, there are points where we have to sit back and think: examine our lives and asks ourselves questions we have been avoiding. We may not always come up with precise answers. In fact, precise answers are usually the exception.

Why do we avoid these simple questions? As mentioned before, sometimes we are constantly doing activities and the thought never reaches us. But sometimes we are also scared of the answer. “Well, I don’t want to realize the last 10 years of my life was a waste so I’m just going to avoid thinking about this.” No! Don’t fall into this trap. Experiences are rarely useless. I only say rarely because I am uncomfortable using the absolute “never.” You can almost always find ways that experiences have benefited you. The only reason you think it’s useless is because the experience is useless with your original purpose in mind. For example, if I learned to be a mainstream economist, and then found Austrian economics 20 years into my career and thought its simplistic truths actually had more explaining power than mainstream models, I might initially feel as if my investment into mainstream economics was a waste. The original purpose was to explain certain occurrences in the world, e.g. exchange, prices. etc, and basically all of my learning for that purpose is now a waste. But this set of skills and experiences can be used in other ways. You could use your knowledge of mainstream economics to argue against it for what you now believe is true. You could use your hard work and the ability you developed in writing and teaching to now spread Austrian ideas. There are many other possibilities, but this is for you to think up for your particular situations.

An Interesting Yet Obviously True Statement

We are healthier when we are born than when we die.

I think some people might make an objection such as the following: what if you are born with illness but die without illness? This objection brings us to the fundamental question: what is the meaning of health and what is the meaning of illness? If one regards health as the absence of illness or pain or rather the well-being of an individual, they might not agree with the statement I made. However, if an individual is about to die, how can we say truly say he is healthy? Shouldn’t death be the ultimate end, the cause of which is the absence of health? Since birth is the opposite of death, and health is the opposite of sickness, shouldn’t we formulate a definition of health and sickness based on this?

For clarification, I don’t think my statement means that you are necessarily less healthy after you are born than when you were born, though that is typically what we see.

I am curious about the logical status of this statement. Is it an observable fact? Or is it a reflective one? It seems like a reflective fact to me. We bring meaning to the statement by reflecting on it, not by simply observing the health of babies and that of old men and women and comparing.

Of course, maybe I am completely wrong about all of this. Let me know if you think I am.