The Easily Amused Mind Is Simply Happy

“The simple mind is easily amused.”

About 10 years ago, that was one of my favorite phrases. I used to throw it around with snark.

If you’ve ever watched something like a Dhar Mann video on Facebook — an oversimplified life lesson with no nuance and unrealistic characters — you might say it’s the perfect thing to say. Cringe video, but somehow with tons of positive comments. 🤔

Something related is an oldish saying in Malaysian/Singaporean culture called shiok sendiri.

Loosely translated, it’s the feeling of extreme self-satisfaction. When you say someone is shiok sendiri, you’re implying they have no business being so happy with such a limited amount of success.

If you’ve ever been unimpressed while someone is celebrating wildly, you understand what I’m saying.

I get it — you’re smart and sophisticated. It takes a lot to impress you. But at what cost?

Recently, I came across a book with a great back story. Dr. Raj Raghunathan wrote it because he observed highly-successful peers who were deeply unhappy. The book’s aptly called:

“If you’re so smart, why aren’t you happy?”

For people who’re smart and successful, but are somehow finding it hard to be happy, here are some ideas which I’ve found to help.

Hacks to Getting Easily Amused

Having a Strong Bias for Positivity

The first hack I can think of is allowing yourself to be slightly delusional — with optimism.

I say delusional because you probably know the hard statistics of life. For example, most people know that divorce rates are high. Yet, people still get married believing their relationship will last forever. Yes, we all know the stats, but you have to believe “we can make it” here. A bit of positive delusion.

If you don’t believe, what chance do you have that your relationship will be successful?

When I was a teenager, I once told someone in their 30s how much I loved my friends. They said something cynical, “If something bad happens to you, see what happens to your friends.” No hate — they were probably speaking from a place of pain.

But now that I’m about to end my 30s, I know my approach was right. I loved my friends, and they loved me back. I don’t expect every one of them to be with me forever, but the times we shared — good and bad — will always be priceless.

There are no big downsides to being an optimist. Instead, you get happier, healthier, and make more money. You’ll have more friends too. Of course, you’ll get disappointed and heartbroken at times, but it’s still much better than perpetual negativity.

Even one of the greatest scientists of all time gave this advice:

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

– Albert Einstein –

Appreciate Things Without Judging

Another one is learning to appreciate things as is without passing judgment. Here, there’s conflict. Especially if you’re the well-read + well-traveled type. The more you know, the easier it is to criticize.

But it’s like learning to suspend disbelief when watching a movie. Would you rather spend a movie criticizing the unrealistic parts, or just enjoy the feels when Iron Man shows up to save the day? I imagine a noob pilot might be able to point out 10 flaws in Top Gun, but someone who loves flying would enjoy it anyway.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

Meanwhile, Mother Teresa said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”

Allow me to propose a twist: If you spend all your time judging things, you’ll have no time to enjoy them.

Eliminate, or Reduce Complexity

I’m pretty deep into crypto when it comes to trying new things. It’s part learning, part curiosity, but I’d be lying if I said the thought of making some quick money didn’t motivate me.

However, living in Asia means I sometimes have to wake up at 3 a.m. to access product launches from the USA.

Would I be happier if I just invested all my money into a passive index fund, and spent the rest of my free time watching football highlights? I can’t 100% say for sure, but during those hazy early mornings, I’ve certainly laughed at myself and the absurdity of things — an almost 40-year-old man playing with anime jpegs.

I’m convinced that most of us would be happier if we simplified our lives where possible:

  • Instead of waking up at 3 a.m. to chase speculative crypto projects, just invest in a good passive index fund + a bit of Bitcoin for the long term
  • Instead of stressing over a complex weight-loss plan, just eat lots of fruits and vegetables and exercise daily
  • Instead of bending over backwards to impress others, focus on finding self-acceptance first

We all know there’s a lot of complexity in life. Okay, you might not have a lot of say in how complex your job gets, but everything else important — health, money, relationships — is likely within your control.

Eliminate, or reduce complex stuff that doesn’t mean a lot to you. Stop caring about shit that doesn’t matter. As Mark Manson says, “You have a limited amount of f*cks to give.”

Save it for the stuff that does matter.

Managing Expectations

Recently, I had dinner with Jack, a childhood friend. Some might say both of us are doing well in our careers. Not billionaire CEOs, but valued employees with good titles. We got to talking about salaries, and he remarked that he’d never imagined reaching this level of pay. Everything is such a blessing now — monetary wise — because the target wasn’t that high to begin with.

Charlie Munger has a great quote on this: “The first rule of a happy life is low expectations.”

On the other hand, I’m often amazed by the amount of dissatisfaction and even greed among highly successful people I’ve met.

Perhaps it’s because both Jack and I grew up in a small town with simple things. Yes, we’re paid well, but at the same time I’ve seen enough well-paid people who bitch and complain, that I know it’s expectations that’s the issue.

(I feel weird saying we’re paid well, because it feels shiok sendiri. Of course, we’re paid a lot less than a hedge fund manager in New York, but by all objective measures, we are.)

The last thing I can think of is to push against increasing expectations.

A final personal example: I’m at a point in life where my home actually feels nicer than some hotels I visit. One way of feeling happy is to count my blessings. To practice gratitude for having a lovely home.

The other — harder one — is to remind myself not to complain when I’m staying in a less-nice place. I force-remind myself how I used to live in a rented room with no air-conditioning. Near a big drain, sometimes with visiting swarms of mosquitoes and creepy crawlies in the shared bathroom.

Yet, I used to be happy then. I never complained. I force myself to think even if most material luxuries I have were taken away today, I’d be okay.

– – –

Children are mostly happy because they’re filled with wonder. Childlike innocence. Then they grow up and learn the ways of the world. Of course, it’s important to get wiser, but sometimes we take it too far.

Better to be simple and happy than to be sophisticated and cynical.

Naval put it well:

“You’re not smart because you’re unhappy; you’re unhappy because you’re smart.

You can be happy and smart — it’s just going to take more work.”

– – –

Pic from Pexels: Sohel Patel

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  • Hmmm Thanks. I’m a pretty happy and satisfied person. Perhaps some might say I aimed low.

    This business of ‘shiok sendiri’, I feel like it happens when we can’t connect with another person’s happiness. We can’t imagine why another person should be happy.

    This is more like a problem of connection and empathy. People who think they are intelligent usually struggle with connection. For one, others will feel that these intelligent people are insufferable and not want to share a relationship with them. And we all know relationships are important to happiness.

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