The curious thing about giving gifts

Chances are I am a bit odd, but I’m not a huge fan of giving gifts because a societal event says you should. Don’t get me wrong, I do like getting things, but the things I tend to like are unfortunately things that I can either use (and probably replace something I have used to death), an experience or a beautiful piece of art. Sadly all these items are generally very expensive and well beyond a reasonable gift budget for anyone but my wife and I. As for friends, well their time is the biggest gift they can give me.

What sparked this train of thought is our recent house move, really the only time when we actually figure out what we have. Among the things I dug up were a trove of attractive, sometimes hand crafted and often deeply meaningful gifts. All well intentioned and all given with love. So, what is the problem?

There is no way around it, but to sound a bit harsh. They basically don’t fit in our life as it is. There is only so much space in cupboards and on surfaces, and there are only so many of one item you can use. My practical self says get rid of them… but it was hand crafted… or it was on that day… or it was …..the list goes on. So, they go in a box and when the time comes when they would be great to use…. they are forgotten, only to surface again in the next move. What is the solution? I really don’t know.

Another example is the recent baby registry. My wife is super excited to spend a day with lovely friends, colleagues and family (yes there are 3 parties). Sharing stories, sharing laughs and she is thankful for all the time and effort people are putting in behind her back to put together an event.

However, the other night she was stressed to heck putting together a registry of gifts for the baby. What was the stress? Finding enough low priced items to put on the list. After all she doesn’t want these people to have to spend a fortune, but in reality most of those items will be hand-me-downs from friends and family anyway. The things you really want help with are the big ticket items, but giving a bit of money toward a breast pump is just not sexy and then if you give money you don’t want to seem stingy…..However, when she suggested that people shouldn’t give at all, that idea went down like a lead balloon.

To my mind the answer is Diapers and food items! Diapers will certainly not go astray in the next couple of years and given sleep deprivation on our part anyone willing to give us some sustenance will be welcomed.

Perhaps I will resolve to only give experiences and perishables as my future gifts to friends and family and hopefully I can convince them to do the same.


My kind of invasion

North and South Korea are constantly at it and generally do that testosterone fueled thing of firing rockets into the sea to prove some sort of point that isn’t very clear. Nothing like a bit of saber-rattling to impress the populace and keep the fear mongers in business.

Well, in a fun change of pace the South decided to send 10’000 Choco Pies (yes edible snacks, not rockets that destroy lives and generate anger) into North Korea on balloons.

Choco Pie invasion baloons

People in Paju, South Korea, ready to release balloons, carrying Choco Pies and cookies, over to North Korea on July 30, 2014. – IMAGE: AHN YOUNG-JOON/ASSOCIATED PRESS

No doubt, the North Korean propaganda machine will tell their populace that in fact they have come from the North to reward the wonderful workers.

In the absence of a clever response the North of course threatened to bomb the people launching the balloons. It’s like that person, you argue with, that really has no basis for their argument, but in the absence of being able to accept defeat gracefully they just threaten violence.

Fortunately, the bombs never came and hopefully some malnourished North Koreans can enjoy a little treat… probably not what they really need, but more enjoyable than a bowl of rice.


Be happy, all good things must come to an end

I like this article by Melanie Pinola, that exposes a simple truth about humans. We can become accustomed to just about anything good or bad. Being able to block out bad things in our lives probably helps to make things bare able, but unfortunately we can also become desensitized to happiness.

I recall when I used to travel for long periods of time (months),  I would reach a point when I would be looking at something incredible and think …..whaaaa its OK. That was always the point when I would have to stop, take a break from the road and just do nothing. A week later my appetite for adventure and appreciation of the wonders I was lucky enough to see would return.

I guess it is no different to the way lose our spirit of wonder in the process of growing up. It was only last night that I walked away from the sun setting over the ocean, something I would never have done in the past. Why? There were no clouds so it would be less interesting and I was peckish… fussy bugger. Note to self take the few minutes to enjoy the sun set.

Anyway, according to an article in Psychological Science, students who were asked to think about their last 6 weeks of school as short period of time were significantly happier at the end of term, than those who were encouraged to perceive it as a long time.

I guess you get an additional boost if you think of a happy event as being short and then it just keeps on giving? I think I need to go back to rediscovering my childhood wonder.

What will our newborn need?

My wife, our unborn daughter and I spent an interesting hour or so at a baby store on the weekend and it dawned on me. Hardly anything there is for the baby, it is all for the parents.

Let’s face it, all our baby is going to be doing at the start is eat, poop and sleep. On the most basic level; assuming she can breast feed, she’ll require virtually nothing for eating, she’ll need a huge amount of diapers for the poop and a wee box/drawer/bed to rest her weary body. That’s it!

So, that leaves a huge store full of stuff that ranges from very helpful to downright ridiculous and it is all there to make our lives easier (it is a lot of fun poking, prodding and laughing at a lot of the stuff!). Now, given unlimited funds and a home the size of Downton Abbey thee are so many gadgets out there, I think you could go virtually without touching your child at all. However, if I had that I would probably prefer a nanny and a night nurse, so my daughter is surrounded by people rather than gadgets.

Of course, the is the time when we are also being flooded with advice from friends, family and perfect strangers. Everyone has a completely different story to tell about what was best for their child, but they all insist on being experts on what our child will need. At times I wonder if they are trying so hard to tell us that a ludicrously expensive gadget they found to be invaluable, because they  don’t want to feel like they wasted their money and convinced themselves that it was essential.

Given the huge disparity in their tales I have a funny feeling it may be best to wait and see what our daughter is like, and what aspects we can cope with and what we can’t before buying everything under the sun. I’m sure we will very rapidly capitulate when sleep deprivation corrupts our rational thought centers, but in the mean time I want to attempt to stick to the line that “less is more” and people are better than things.

I am excited for her arrival and a little scared that I will mess up her life, but if she is anything like her mother she will ignore me anyway and turn out funny, lovely, clever and brilliant!


Nice to be able to stick my head back over the parapet after a crazy, busy and stressful home move. It is easy to see how a mildly challenging move, a bunch of lugging, a lack of time can all culminate in a negative spiral of energy and outlook for people.

You find yourself tired and short of time, so you go to the nearest place to eat unhealthy food and so that makes you feel even more sluggish. You aren’t hydrating and looking after yourself… slide slide and suddenly it s all done and you are so shattered you can’t be bothered to do the things that would make you feel more energized and ready to tackle the challenges.

Ours was only a short lived event and I am already planning an energizing meal and a nice refreshing surf tomorrow morning, but it is easy to see how sustained events could snowball into something far bigger than it ought to be.

In some ways it ermined me of this fascinating TED talk that demonstrated how illness could lead to fatigue and a poor diet and a worsening of the condition. It is an anecdotal account of a condition (MS) that can go into spontaneous remission, but it is fascinating none the less. The moral of the story is that, especially when the chips are down, take the time to eat well and do things you enjoy!


Carpe Gaudium (Don’t shoot me latin scholars, my version of “seize the happiness”)

I am in charge of how I feel and I choose to be happy

I am in charge of how I feel and I’m choosing happiness

I spotted this wee quote and thought it was a nice little reminder that we are in charge of many aspects of our life. Quite often we like to blame others or circumstance for the way we feel or what has happened.

Of course, some things are beyond our control, but the way we perceive them and deal with them is entirely up to us. The victim stance is easy, but not very constructive.

“Carpe Gaudium” – me, July ’14

So, Carpe Gaudium and choose to do 3 things today that make you happy. The company that posted this image has decided to gameify happiness. It isn’t my cup of tea (though I would love to go for a hike in that awesome looking valley), but it could well suit someone else out there. Just remember not to blame them if it doesn’t work for you… it is your choice!


Let the Doers Do!

One of my friends just posted this in response to the nay sayers, over the couple trying to realize the solar roadways.

 “People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.” – George Bernard Shaw

I must admit that I have been guilty of thinking or telling people that it just won’t work. Yet, I have been proven wrong time and time again.

People are remarkable and some achieve great things, I should praise their vision rather than poo poo their idea. If they fall, I  shouldn’t say I told you so. I should help them up, because they will learn from the fall and one day, they may well be the change makers that this world needs.

So, help them or get out of their way, but we shouldn’t drag them down, because we don’t have the courage to dream big.


The American work vacation paradox

As a hybrid person living in the USA, I have always been saddened by the paltry paid vacation time offered by employers and the complete reluctance to exercise all their time off by employees. So, this article on Forbes made me crack up.

It is easy to see why employers would be reluctant to pay people to have time off. That would be a massive labour cost that is clearly visible on a P&L. Just to make sure the employees don’t forget they are lucky to get any paid leave (only 57% take it all), they bombard them with urgent emails, whilst they are on vacation. After all you want them to be able to hit the ground running when they get back from their 5 days “off”. Weekends, shmeekends that’s just a fancy word for free working days.

Sadly these easily accountable line items, fail to capture productivity, engagement, creativity, family disfunction and a  number of other soft factors that can have a huge impact on your business. With 70% of Americans disengaged with work, that leaves only 30% that actually want to be there….I hope for your sake they are all working for you! There are a number of studies that look at the damage disengaged workers do to a business and the numbers far exceed the cost of a few weeks off.

Not that I think time off is the panacea for all engagement ills, but it does demonstrate a certain amount of care and support for the employees wellbeing. If you told your average European or Australian that they would get 13 days off  a year, and that in fact they probably shouldn’t take all of those, they would no doubt tell you where to stick that job. They are more than happy to work hard when at work, but they need time to get away and unwind.

I love what VW in Germany did, when they decided to block work emails after hours for all their employees. Not only are they expecting you to unplug, they are mandating it. I’d love to see the numbers down the track. I have no doubt that a few hours a day off email will not hurt the business, but it will no doubt benefit the mental and family health of the employees. I guess we will have to wait and see.

I love what companies like Treehouse are doing. The 70 employees of this online education company only work four days a week at the same full salary as other people in the same sector. Yet, to no great surprise the company’s revenue has grown 120%, it generates more than $10 million a year in sales, and it manages more than 70,000 customers, according to a post in Quartz by CEO Ryan Carson.

It seems that after 3 days off the employees come back refreshed and eager to work. They are probably also more creative and don’t want to leave the company. Hmmmm, people v commodities, now there is a thought…..

Anyway, the article that started my musings suggests that the Americans that don’t like work, but also don’t want to take time off should expand their horizons and find out what other people do. Setting aside any preconceptions and checking out the rest of the world, talking to people finding out how/why people do what they do. Now if we could only get all people in the world to do that… perhaps we could destroy all those nasty prejudices reduce conflict and create a happier healthier world….OK OK, we’ll just start with a healthier and happier American work force and see how we go from there.

Talk about Upcycling

NY tImes Pass it On.

NY tImes Pass it On.

Ah, I just love the ingenuity of humans and how people who have little just make do and are no less happy. In fact, they need less to make them happy.

In the lead up to the World Cup, it seems only appropriate to show an ingenious Congolese man, who fashions scraps into a soccer ball for village children, so they can play the sport they love.

Long live human ingenuity and keep up the recycling!

The economics of happiness

Many many moons ago I was sitting in a lecture theatre. I was clearly deeply engrossed in the content as I have no immediate recollection of the subject nor the rest of the lecture. The only thing that is clear as day was the lecturer telling us that Married Men live longer and Married Women live less long. Why on earth should that be?

It has always been a curiosity that has remained unexplained and with all the recent research into wellbeing around the globe and Happiness as a new factor for determining government policy it rearoused my curiosity.

Looking at the economics of happiness, I think there is more and more dada out there to suggest  that money is not the panacea and merely becomes a hamster wheel after around $75K. It may add to your satisfaction, but it doesn’t make you happier. This is called the Easterlin paradox. If you are short of the mark and you aren’t happy try a series of psychotherapy sessions rather than shooting for the promotion as the sessions are 32 times more cost effective than more money. I presume that is if all your basic needs are being met…

Not surprisingly a vocation is an important element of happiness. Just getting stuff given to you by the state may not make you happier. I guess it is that control element and the little financial pat on the back you get for having done something well.

As a soon to be first time father, I was particularly surprised to hear that children reduce happiness. After all everyone always tells you about how happy their children are and how they are the best and the cleverest and the ….. apparently it is all bollocks. The little ones and teenagers suck the life blood from you and toss you in to a pit of depression. Brooohahah! Naaaa, not really seems the other ages aren’t too bad and they level the ship and by the time we get to kick them out of the house, we really quite like them. Children as source of happiness… bluechip longterm strategy.

Marriage seems to make people happier, but the causality is unclear and it might be just happier people that marry.

Ok, so no answer to my original question. Perhaps men just curb that wild party spirt and stay home more often, drink less and eat better food and that is why we live longer when married…. the poor women have to suffer through seeing us more and they loose the will to live?