Life hacking with wine – lessons to improve happiness drunken scientist style

… security experts will be disappointed. And the therapists, them too… They’re going to have to wait in line for it, just like everybody else. This is the right way to show the wrong effects of good wine on the human brain, the before, during and after shots. In vino veritas, you know..

               Talk about foreshadowing, aye? After a title like that, who’s going to read the gee-noo-wyne article? One thing’s certain though, we’re living in such a Murphy’s Laws universe I have no idea if washing my car will lead to rain or if that only works if I’m not aware of it and won’t try to bring rain by washing my car. Either way, it’s never a good idea to assume anything, even a random sequence of numbers like “9, 9, 9, 9” can be statistically valid. Even if we’re using a random number generator (as Scott Adams’s Dilbert’s web comic is sure to point out). Therefore my attempt at using the lessons of IT security might even be proven correct. If it does, I’ll take my money in platinum. Or book rights. Or Pizza. Whatever, as long there’s money in it for me. Why the hell not? It’s my experience (and wine) that made all this up. Wait, that came out wrong.

               There’s one thing every single man, woman or child working in IT security will all agree on – if you even hint one of your products is like the Titanic, unsinkable and unbreakable – you won’t have to stumble upon icebergs, they’ll come looking for you – everybody loves a challenge and you’ve just issued one. Nothing is safe. Trust me on this one, it ought to be written on stone tablets to replace those now obsolete “thou shalt not commit adultery” or “covet thy neighbor’s wife” commandments, either one will do, if not both of them. If you don’t want your personal, private details of your life known to everybody, keep them to yourself and share it with nobody. Not even your wife/husband, psychiatrist or your priest. I’d have started it all with this rule, then I remembered something and lost my focus. Whoa, where did this bump on my head come from and why did the clock go up one hour in just one minute? Must have been a glitch in the Matrix. You must be joking.. No.

               So why all this crap about happiness? Why not? Supersymmetry is still not proven, dark matter is still debated. And besides, I’m fond of useless patronizing self-help lists, I’ve read enough for a few years worth of toilet paper if I were willing to accept that damn paper touching me where the sun don’t shine. But I digress – this all started because I’ve read an article somewhere about how different populations interpret happiness differently, like the feeling of it. Some associate happiness with serenity and calm, others take it up a notch and associate it with restlessness, others assume it’s luck, whatever else. I can’t find the original article (I’m still searching), so this one from Cracked should be a temporary replacement. I’ll probably find what I was looking for about 4 minutes after I’ve clicked Publish. What can I say? I’m a wee bit out there, even without the booze.

               Anyway, there’s tons of research suggesting the obvious answers we’ll find in normal “self-help” books are sort of bullshit, because there’s no framework to it. You get simple answers without context, like “be grateful” or “help others” or “money won’t make you happy” or “exercise” – all of those one-liners only work by virtue of placebo. Well, if I were to put my money where my mouth is, I’d go after the definitions. What is this happiness I keep hearing about? Turns out, we don’t know. We just slapped a name on it and called it quits. We keep using that name in the wrong context. Like in the previously linked article, in the old days, people my have believed it was “luck”. Now, we add feeling satisfied, good, relieved, proud or basically “not sad” to the list. But how do we know what that feels like? Erm, is this a pop-quiz? Do we get a prize for the right answer? No. There’s no prize because I’m grumpy.

               So what gives? Well, what we think we know is one thing and the real honest answer is another. We don’t know how we’re supposed to act so we copy the behavior of others – anybody who’s seen a toddler stumble and fall will tell you the first reaction is not crying but looking for mommy and daddy to see how they react. If they overreact, the kid will act as if god’s wrath descended upon the earth, crying and yelling and demanding comfort, but if they act normal, then it’s dust-off and repeat. We learn how to behave from those around us, even if it’s on an unconscious level. Basically, feeling happy simply bypasses the logical brain. It’s all guesswork. Good news, everyone! There’s still hope. Scientists have done a few things in the right direction, in between poking little monkeys with needles and inventing vaccines as weapons of mass destruction.

               You see, Maslow was sort of right. He was also wrong, but that’s not my story. He was right about the different layers of needs – they’re all linked. We’re using a different pyramid here, so shush! I’m going to have to go with a personal theory here, one that requires a bit of creative … assembly. It’s like that old accusation women are so fond of, that men have 2 brains requiring more than 50% of the blood, when one works at capacity the other shuts down.. Obviously, that only works on men, so we can’t use it here (because women, duh), but the basic principle is sound. Oh, and there’s more than two of those brains. Lessons. Rules. Whatever, I forget.

So let’s get ready to rumble!

               Understanding software led me to understand technology – which is a bit more than software, imagine my surprise. I now know exactly how a toilet works, I’m proud to say, thank you very much. Even one of those Japanese washing things, though I’d never be caught alive in one, I’d probably break the door when the show starts. Ahem, let’s move on. You see, trying to figure out the weak points of technology, the ones that stand between “let’s fool around with this here camera” and “oh no, my nude selfies have been stolen”, is an art in itself. Of course, if they’d get my nude selfies, the hackers might even pay for my Kaspersky security suite. All that hair, ugh… Umm, that’s actually a good idea. Basically, there are many vectors one can try to break, you can’t have good security without covering all your bases. If you have an antivirus but don’t have a good firewall, or a good anything without rootkit detection capabilities, then… All your base are belong to us. Same thing for happiness – cover all your weak points.

               For anybody to consider themselves happy there are a few weak points that impact our perceived quality of life. Basic needs, like food, shelter, water, all of them are just one massive weak point. No, it’s not what you think. I did say basic, didn’t I? You don’t need Dom Perignon or Armagnac or foie gras with tangerines, it’s all in your head. Having them won’t make a difference in this area. Rule number one: full belly, protection from the elements, access to clean water and the holy grail – a functional toilet (toilet paper optional), is the easiest part of happiness. You might take yours for granted, though, but not me – I’ve grown to dislike tree leaves ever since a nasty incident with a few hidden ants. No, I don’t want to talk about it.

               Don’t forget health, I hear a whisper near my bruised side of the head. Yea, like I could… Rule number two: unless you enjoy pain, avoid it. You could be one step into your grave but unless you’re hurting, it won’t matter. The pain though, unless you’re into some sick stuff that’ll put 50 shades of whatever into PG area, is the one to look out for. Even if you exercise or not. No, the type of pain you can control isn’t it – it’s the other types you can’t control that matter. Ever hit your pinkie on a bloody piece of furniture? Ever had a tooth ache? Yea, those. I’d even throw in some of that time of the month for ladies, though I’d say it’s about on par with the one you get when a friend is using your private bits for shoe polish instead of that football ball, ball. When footballing. Just so you know. It’s just this one won’t last for a week or more, I think, or football would’ve gone extinct a long time ago.

               You’ll hear idiots claiming happiness is easy to get – it is, if you’re willing to try a lobotomy – because that’s the only way you’re going to get close to what they think happiness is. You see, everybody thinks their world view matters. Thousands upon millions of conflicting opinions, it’s the stuff that start wars. Believe them not. Rule number three: Adjust behavior, adapt, ignore – the three basic rules of “je m’en fiche” lifestyle. It’s selfish but it works. You see, you’re the only one who has to care for yourself. Adjust your behavior to help you achieve what you want to achieve, adapt your desires and goals to reality (no, I still can’t sing ergo you shouldn’t) and ignore anybody who thinks they have the right to decide your life for you (ergo, ignore me). If you can’t shake ‘em loose, adapt to the environment – run away. You can’t fight legally with religious nuts, you have to obey the law while they don’t care about that particular law, there’s always a “higher” authority. Your best revenge is a happy life, even if it’s someplace else, because you’re the one living it, not them.

               You could try meditation or yoga if you want, I’ll wait. Back yet? Good. You see, happiness will never be achieved by taking the path of religion the way it’ll never be achieved by yoga, Buddhist teachings or meditation. Take my word on this, having too much time on your hands is bad for you. Once you’ve seen your inner self, stop right there, there’s no need to empty your mind or “believe”. The world is ever changing, it’s damn right idiotic to think once you’ve achieved that happy state you’ll keep it by virtue of birth. Besides, too much time alone with one’s thoughts can have … weird results. Rule number four: Keep busy and make a habit out of trying out new things. You can’t shake off depression by staying in bed. You can’t improve the quality of life by changing nothing in yourself or your environment. You can’t outrun bad shit by sleeping in, trust me, I’ve tried, it doesn’t work. Try new things, just once. Make that a habit. Put it on your calendar, say every Monday since they’re already shitty, can’t be much worse than that. Who knows, you might even hit the jackpot…

               All kinds of “experts” market wanting the things you have as a key to nirvana – let me just pause for a second here, I just threw up in my mouth a bit. That’s bullshit, folks. In your brain, there sort of are 3 things, call them guardians if you want, that make you, well, you – there’s the id, ego and the superego, last time I opened a book. They work just like in kindergarten, they cooperate, they compete and they fight. You could say they look like a kid with no rules, a mom that’s all rules and a dad that’s keeping score and sometimes gets in between them. Or a mom. Whatever. Point is, there’s the impulsive, dark side of you with no inhibitions or restrains, there’s the lawful moral you who’d obey every rule there is to the point of stupidity and then there’s the ego that sort of mediates between the two. You can’t argue with the id, that one works on impulses, on immediate rewards. You can rationalize all you want, you’ll still crave that one last piece of cookie your wife stole from you. Even if you say you saved it for her. The moral you, your super-ego, your conscience, however, will keep you in the eyes of the angels – if you have it. If you don’t, then, you’re screwed. You see, the imbalance makes id and ego quite crazy. This is important enough to warrant some warning before we proceed to the rest of the rules – any imbalance in the mind is dangerous.

               Rule number five: Always reward yourself first. You don’t want to crave for the things you don’t have, that’s loser talk for giving up. It’s a rationalization of failure, it’s ok to feel bad because I failed – even if you’ve failed the wrong thing. It’s ok to want more – for the right reasons. There’s a fact few understand – nobody is an altruist all the time. Nobody wants to suffer if there’s no reason for it. Nobody’ll choose poverty willingly. I’m sorry to break it to you, that’s the truth and you’re overthinking it. There was always a goal to achieve, even for Gandhi or Mandela. If you do something truly great and there’s nobody to witness it, there’s one more thing to consider – if you do that and feel proud of yourself, you’ve just proved me right. So take my word for it, wanting more than you have is perfectly fine, just as long as you want it to fulfill your own desires. It’s ok to work overtime for a year to buy your kid a bicycle. He’ll feel good, you’ll feel good, everybody’s happy. It’s not ok to want a 20 bedroom house just because the neighbor has one. Let your superego talk, too. Reward yourself first, nobody else will do it for you. And your id will thank you. It’s easier to make your superego accept a rationalization than for the id to overcome that impulsive behavior. Kiss (keep it simple, stupid!). And don’t tell your wife you just made pancakes unless you’re really sure you’re willing to share.

               Rule number six: Don’t trust your brain, learn to question your own thoughts and change them if they’re not what you expect. Cognitive behavior therapy teaches you to identify destructive thoughts and rephrase them, reducing their blast radius. You see, depression, anxiety, stress, many fears we feel are the product of our own bullets. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy that makes us believe correlation implies casualization – summed up very well in Simpson’s Bear Patrol in the episode “Much Apu About Nothing”. Watch it, it’s the part with Lisa’s tiger repellent rock. Besides, half the bottle is empty. Or is it half full? Good luck with that. Information overload just as terrible on your decision making as incomplete information, your brain tries to make sense of it all but fails. Too many choices can actually lower your self esteem because your superego is telling you to pick the right choice, even if you don’t know how or what to choose. If you want a way out, remember the KISS principle – try to reduce the number of choices and go from there. Your brain constantly compares you with other people, tries to feed your ego/superego with useless ranks and imaginary correlations. It tries to manipulate you to believe your self-esteem depends on keeping up with the Joneses, in terms of wealth and possessions. Question it. Don’t let it trick you. If you can’t control it, if you can’t avoid it or manage it, try to trick it back – make it about experiences. Try to make it focus on new feelings, new experiences and new stories – use rationalization to break the cognitive dissonance. Replace money with experience and let the rich count their money, they’re screwed up anyway. Well, most of them.

               Rule number seven: What you can’t avoid or fix, embrace. You’re an arsehole? You can’t or won’t change? Stop feeling guilty. Wait, wrong movie. Look around, take a good look. Everybody looks self-absorbed, worried, you name it. Who among them looks happy? Pick one and give reasons. Now go sit in the corner, you dunce. How does that feel? Not so good, I’d say. The point here is, there are things you can’t change about your personality – you’re the one that has to know what they are. Stop worrying about things you can’t change. You can’t please everybody – but you have to please yourself, if you want a happy life. You don’t like dancing? It’s all right. You can’t sing without windows shattering and small birds exploding? It’s all right. I’m giving you permission to ignore the opinion of others.

               Rule number eight: Find your niche and make the most of it. There’s a reason most old geezers hate retirement, they think they’re useless, they think they’re not needed anymore. It’s true at all ages, from 0 to 100, happiness is directly related to the amount of value we perceive others see in us. If you’re desired, wanted, asked for advice – we feel good about ourselves, we assume our value is recognized and that increases the quality of life. You don’t know what to make of this rule? It’s easy, just find something you can do and others need and practice until you’re above average at it. You don’t have to be good at everything. Just find your niche and exploit the living crap out of it. Make yourself wanted.

               Stress is one of those things you both love and hate at the same time. You’ll know it when it hits you. Stress is exactly what the engineering term describes it, a force – it can hold your brain together or it can pull it apart. You need some stress and you’re never without it, but nobody teaches us how to deal with it. By following the above rules you’re most likely to reduce it to a more manageable size, yet there’s a catch 22 here. Stress comes from our own mind, as a result of the superego comparing our behavior to the desired results and the id and ego watching everything, if we’re underperforming then we feel guilt for not giving 100% or shame if we’re pointed out by others, if we’re over performing then we build up resentment, the id wants our rewards while the ego shows us people getting the same or better rewards for less work. How do we please all three? By achieving control over ourselves, by controlling the work and the tools we use in that work to achieve the desired result. Rule number nine: Always choose to control the consequences of your behavior, by controlling how you behave and the intensity of your behavior. This works particularly well on those with a low opinion of themselves, yet there are a few kinds of people who thrive in chaos. Well, say hello to ulcers for me, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. If you’re in sales with a low self-esteem, might as well tell your bank to wire your psychiatrist money every week, it’ll save you time.

               Rule number ten: Never give up, just keep going. It’s not over ‘till the fat lady sings. I wonder if I should change that, what do I replace the word “fat” with? You see, everything changes, all the time. Happiness is not a feeling that can’t disappear, it can and it will, eventually. You know why? Because everything changes. Circular reasoning, hello! That’s why I’m telling you to always try new things, new experiences – you can’t freeze time so you might as well go with the flow. Find happiness all over again, lose it then find it and so on. You’ll never know if you gave up inches away from it or miles away from it. It could be just around the corner. Sometimes you fix one thing, sometimes another one breaks, it’s always something to do. It keeps you busy, always moving, it keeps you alert and most important, it keeps you ahead of negative feelings. Giving up won’t make things better, it eliminates the possibility of things getting better.

               Yes, I know. Too bloody long. Well, unfortunately for the lazy, there ain’t a shorter list. I’ve reached my level of incompetence. If there were a faster/shorter guide, we’d all have achieved Nirvana a long time ago, there’s too many of “5 steps to success” type of books around. If it were possible, I’d make an even longer list, explaining every little thing in detail – but I won’t, I’m out of wine. And I’m bored. Or drunk. Whatever. I think I’ve lost it half way into it, so .. I’ll probably look it up again in a few days/weeks or more, it might be worth keeping up to date for a quick peek every year or so. By the way, did you notice I said nothing about wealth? That’s because it’s not important. I started with the lessons my work in security taught me – well, this is exactly the point – the best security suite money can buy can’t stop a confident idiot with a stick. If you’re smart, money helps you with rule number six, by paying the right people to make the less relevant decisions in your place. It can help you with the rule number five, you can reward yourself and your family with things that matter. It can help you buy the best mattress and the best shoes – after all, you’re always using either one or the other. Money won’t make you happy – unless you’ve got the other bases covered. If you don’t, it won’t do you any good anyway.

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One thought on “Life hacking with wine – lessons to improve happiness drunken scientist style

  1. Pingback: Food for random thought(s) – In Vino Veritas

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