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Little Joys, Cultural Frameworks, & Digital Analogs (Reading Notes 6.15.18)

Resource: Hermann Hesse on Little Joys, Breaking the Trance of Busyness, and the Most Important Habit for Living with Presence


A happy life is composed of a series of small joys. The person with the greatest fulfillment is the one who learns how to capitalize on the everyday opportunities to celebrate the finer things that are available and observable to us all.

The key to celebrating life’s small joys is slowing down and looking around. When people wake up to rush to work, for instance, they are typically in too big of a hurry to notice anything around them. The unique properties of houses, cars, people, neighborhoods, flowers, and so forth fly by us unnoticed and unappreciated because we’re to worried about not being late. This sense of busyness that characterizes daily life is the greatest enemy of our contentment.

Another key to celebrating small wins is moderation. According to Hesse, it takes courage to not worry over keeping up with appearances. There’s a tremendous amount of societal pressure to watch this or that show, to read this or that publication, to be aware of this or that trend, and so forth. Our quality of life depends on resisting this trend-obsessed mindset. Allow yourself the freedom to enjoy what you enjoy to the degree that you enjoy it without always needed to do more. Forget about staying up to date with the latest thing and just attend to the greatest thing in your awareness at the moment. Instead of rushing through the gallery to see every single painting, sit with one painting for a single hour.


““Of all ridiculous things the most ridiculous seems to me, to be busy — to be a man who is brisk about his food and his work,” Kierkegaard admonished in 1843 as he contemplated our greatest source of unhappiness.”

“We reflexively blame on the Internet our corrosive compulsion for doing at the cost of being, forgetting that every technology is a symptom and not, or at least not at first, a cause of our desires and pathologies. Our intentions are the basic infrastructure of our lives, out of which all of our inventions and actions arise. Any real relief from our self-inflicted maladies, therefore, must come not from combatting the symptoms but from inquiring into and rewiring the causes that have tilted the human spirit toward those pathologies.”

“Great masses of people these days live out their lives in a dull and loveless stupor. Sensitive persons find our inartistic manner of existence oppressive and painful, and they withdraw from sight… I believe what we lack is joy. The ardor that a heightened awareness imparts to life, the conception of life as a happy thing, as a festival… But the high value put upon every minute of time, the idea of hurry-hurry as the most important objective of living, is unquestionably the most dangerous enemy of joy.”

“I would simply like to reclaim an old and, alas, quite unfashionable private formula: Moderate enjoyment is double enjoyment. And: Do not overlook the little joys!”

“In certain circles [moderation] requires courage to miss a première. In wider circles it takes courage not to have read a new publication several weeks after its appearance. In the widest circles of all, one is an object of ridicule if one has not read the daily paper. But I know people who feel no regret at exercising this courage. Let not the man* who subscribes to a weekly theater series feel that he is losing something if he makes use of it only every other week. I guarantee: he will gain. Let anyone who is accustomed to looking at a great many pictures in an exhibition try just once, if he is still capable of it, spending an hour or more in front of a single masterpiece and content himself with that for the day. He will be the gainer by it. Let the omnivorous reader try the same sort of thing. Sometimes he will be annoyed at not being able to join in conversation about some publication; occasionally he will cause smiles. But soon he will know better and do the smiling himself.”

Resource: Moving for good


The brain needs novelty. This may be one of the more frequently overlooked aspects of personal development. In order to get smarter and more creative, you need think outside the parameter of daily habits. When you do routine things like take the same route to work, brush your teeth, or argue for existing beliefs, you’re staying in your comfort zones and this causes you to process life experiences in the same old way. One of the best things you can do for yourself is to switch things up. Read harder books, take new routes to work, seek out ways to surprise yourself.

Moving to a new location is a great way to surprise yourself and evolve your thinking. In a new city, all your familiar routines (ie where you buy groceries, who your neighbors are, where you take walks, etc) are new and it forces you to be conscious even at the tiniest levels of everyday decision making.

Every location has a unique worldview and culture. When you immerse yourself into this worldview/culture, it expands your way of looking at life and it helps you realize just how much of your own worldview was based on a set of cultural assumptions.

Immersion can’t be achieved by visiting. When you visit a place you still interpret things through an “us and them” paradigm. You need to move there. Mentally and physically, you need to make the move until you can experience the place from a “we” perspective.


“if you keep experiencing the same things, your mind keeps its same patterns. Same input, same response. Your brain, which was once curious and growing, gets fixed into deep habits. Your values and opinions harden and resist change. If you don’t flex, you lose your flexibility.”

“You only really learn when you’re surprised. Unless you’re surprised, everything is fitting into your existing thought patterns. So to get smarter, you need to get surprised, think in new ways, and deeply understand different perspectives.”

“With effort, you could do this from the comforts of home. But the most effective way to shake things up is to move across the world. Pick a place that’s most unlike what you know, and go.
This keeps you in a learning mindset. Previously mindless habits, like buying groceries, now keep your mind open, alert, and noticing new things. New arrivals in a culture often notice what the locals don’t. (Fish don’t know they’re in water.)”

“Every country has a shared and working philosophy. Dive in and really try to understand it. This is one of the best things you can do for your brain. Stay immersed at least until you feel yourself saying “we” instead of “they”.”

Resource: Better and different


Digital analogs can’t replace physical experiences. In order to be valuable, they have to enhance, build on, or augment our physical experiences in some way. And that means they have to be different. Watching a video on YouTube isn’t the same as watching TV from your computer. Voxing a friend isn’t the same as just having a conversation through an app. Digital analogs are valuable precisely because they don’t feel the need to be the same.


“Digital analogs only work when they’re better and different, not when they’re almost the same.”

“Chat isn’t the same as chatting. Email isn’t a replacement for mail. Video conferencing isn’t just like being in a real conference…”

“There’s still plenty of room for digital innovations to impact our world. But they won’t simply be a replacement for what we have now. They only earn widespread engagement when they’re much better than the status quo they replace.”

“And the only way they can be better is when they’re different.”

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