What brings more work satisfaction, mastery or diversity?

Mastery or becoming a master of your own work or profession is proven to bring greater satisfaction and happiness in our lives and as a result there are many articles or books on the subject matter, including: How to Achieve Career Mastery.  On the other hand, variety or diversification can also bring fulfillment because of how it increases our experiences which enhances our perspective on work, projects, and life.  The question is: What is the best way to optimize balance between diversification and mastery?

I’ve deeply struggled with this because I have many different interests ranging from business, marketing, product management, social media, online business and marketing, real estate, franchises, financial markets, etc. and balancing effort between learning and gaining experience in each of these fields is highly difficult.  There is always a trade-off.  And placing time and energy into one area is sacrificing time and energy that could be spent elsewhere.  Coming out of my undergrad program I spent 2 years managing properties because I really wanted to understand the ins and outs of owning and growing a rental property portfolio.  I also wanted to understand the online world and so I went from there to working as a campaign manager in charge of PPC and SEO campaigns for small businesses.  Now I am back in the MBA program further developing and fine tuning my business and marketing skills.

Something that I’ve realized is that employers desire a candidate with a T structure background.  On one side of the T, they want a specific skill or technical background that has been well-developed.  The candidate has gained lots of experience around this skill and is becoming or has become a master in this one area of expertise.  On the other side of the T, companies want someone who has dissimilar backgrounds or a diverse amount of experience.  This experience can include different industries, products, or business models.  It could be an international or cultural perspective.  This experience can even be from hobbies or interests that are completely unrelated to the project at hand.  I am a strong believer in hobbies as illustrated in my post: Why are hobbies so important.  This various background provides a change of insights and brings a variance in perspective that ultimately brings additional value to any project.

Recipe for success: Achieve mastery in one area and many experiences in a number of other diverse areas.

I would say my expertise area is around the subject of business (mainly marketing) and the majority of my experience in some way enriches my business knowledge.  However, as I continue my career, this expertise will gain a narrow focus (possibly around product management or brand management.)  The struggle will always be there in choosing whether to focus my time and efforts on further developing and fine-tuning my expertise or on gaining more diverse experience elsewhere.  Even with my current hobbies or planned investment activities there is the dilemma of focusing on what I know or doing something new to increase my capabilities.  Ultimately we should focus on our passions and continue to grow our knowledge, skills, and experiences on both sides of the T.

Happiness: mastery at work and experiencing diversity.

Happiness: seeing things from a different perspective.

What is the ideal approach to service?

To what extent would I help a struggling family member?

I heard an analogy once where a teacher asked what each of us would do to help out a family member in need.  This family member could be one of our siblings, a parent, a child, or any other relation that we cherish deeply in our life.  Let’s imagine that this person is your sibling and as for the need, you could imagine that your sibling was struggling deeply with depression, drugs, alcohol, and money (each problem feeding into the other.)  Because we deeply care about and love our sibling, we are willing to do anything for them.  We will give up our hard earned money, sleep, time, energy, and emotional well-being to help out our struggling sibling.  We will forgive easy, brush off the insults, strive for understanding, withhold judgment, and make all kinds of sacrifices because of how deep our love is for our sibling.

The teacher then asked what the difference between each of us and the Savior is.  He mentioned that Jesus Christ feels this way about every person on this earth whereas each of us typically only has these feelings for those close to us.  This short comparison has stuck with me because it cuts deep and highlights my shortcomings.

Service and Happiness

Is service a focal point in my life?

Thinking about this difference I asked myself how I view those around me.  What effort would I or do I put into helping others?  Do I actively serve others in need or wait to be asked?  If service was a greater focus in my life, would I actively be looking to help out those around me?  I am confident that some of my neighbors could use the friendship, kindness, money, and time, but when was the last time I aggressively offered the help.  And clearly at this point in my life, I don’t put in the effort I would if it were my own struggling sibling.  I fully recognize that I need to do more to develop Charity, the pure love of Christ, in order to have this complete love for all people.  It’s not easy to have service be a focal point in our life; however, it is proven to be a huge driver of happiness and an area where I personally am striving to improve.

Is it better to focus on wealth or financial freedom?

As an MBA student, regularly my friends and colleagues speak about the topic of money and careers.  We are all heading different directions in a few weeks making this a very pivotal time in our lives and all we want to talk about is careers and the future.  These topics have often led me to contemplate the difference between wealth and financial freedom.  I believe they are completely different focuses and mindsets.  They can mean the same financial value in the bank or the same monetary goal, but I believe focusing on financial freedom is a far superior goal than focusing on building wealth.

What does it mean to focus on wealth?

Google’s online dictionary defines wealth as “an abundance of valuable possessions or money” or “the state of being rich; material prosperity.”  The idea of wealth is focused on the amount of money an individual has.  It is the sum total of all equity or value an individual has in various assets.  No matter how it is worded focusing on achieving wealth is a focus on gaining more and more money or material possessions.  In addition, wealth is often comparing one individual to another, i.e. Donald Trump is not as wealthy as Bill Gates.  Unless you are at the tip top there will always be someone wealthier than you are driving you to earn more.  Both focusing on money and focusing on comparing your “value” to others are dispiriting ways to think about the world.

What does it mean to focus on achieving financial freedom?

Although there are varying definitions, I define achieving financial freedom as when my passive income is greater than my wants and needs.  To a much looser extent it could even be when my income (plus savings and retirement) is greater than my wants and needs.  Focusing on financial freedom means my focus is on living within my means.  It is focusing on being free from financial obligations.  At an early stage this focus leads to removing credit card debts, personal loans, car loans, and student loans.  Later on this focus leads to paying off my home mortgage and any other expenses that come along.  Down the road this focus will lead to building enough investments or savings to where my interest or passive income from these investments is greater than my needs and wants.  The focus here is not on accumulating more and more money, but instead is on being completely financially free from debt obligations.

Financial FreedomFor me, this feeling of freedom is my goal.  I value it far more than a mass fortune of possessions.  I don’t want to imply that a comfortable home with a number of toys in my garage is not my goal; because that is part of it.  However, currently I have balances on my credit cards, a personal loan, a car loan, and student loans and more than anything else in the world, I look forward to the day that I have a $0 balance on each of these.  I have felt the pressure, anxiety, and stress that come from financial bondage.  Because of this, MORE THAN WEALTH, I AM STRIVING FOR FINANCIAL FREEDOM.

Having a Healthy Nutritional Lifestyle Increases Happiness

Personal nutrition must be a lifestyle change.

I wrote a blog post about how the best exercise to get into shape is the one that you find motivating and enjoyable.  The same applies for nutrition habits as well. For personal nutrition to be successful the goal must be more than simply to lose weight; it must be a personal nutrition lifestyle change. What does this mean? It means I am trying to dig deep, experiment with different choices, and find a way to DESIRE moderate portions of healthy foods. I understand this sounds ridiculous. People who eat healthy don’t do it because they actually like healthy food; they just like the results of healthy food; right? Why would anyone desire to eat less? Why would anyone desire healthy foods? This might sound idealistic, but I really want to have this lifestyle transformation. I’m going to share what I have learned so far in my process of changing.

My journey towards desiring moderate portions of healthy foods.

I’m losing weight. In order to do this my goal is to consume 1400 to 1800 calories each day. 1800 calories is a huge drop for me and has not been an easy task. I realize that after I reach my target weight, I will be able to increase my calories; however, I am striving for a lifestyle change in my exercise and nutrition habits. As a result I am attempting to find healthy recipes, foods, desserts, etc. that I enjoy and crave. In addition, I am trying to create habits and passions around food that are in line with good nutrition. Here are a few examples:

In search for nutritional food that is filling, I have found that I love cooking. I love trying new recipes, combining recipes, and even trying to create recipes from restaurants that I eat at. Just recently I had great experiences attempting to recreate Chicken Marsala from Olive Garden and Tomato Basil Soup from Zupas. I have a discovered that I have a passion for playing around in the kitchen attempting to fit new ingredients together.

Second, I have found that I enjoy swanky food. This is how my wife describes most of my cooking. Basically, I enjoy creating and consuming food that is not simple, not meant to be eaten quickly, and not meant to be enjoyed in large portions. If you can’t yet imagine swanky food, picture a small dish served in an expensive restaurant on a large plate, picture this food having a ton of flavor, and for my purposes picture it being both filling and nutritional.

Nutritional lifestyle

Swanky Food

The other thing I have found is that I prefer spacing out my meals. I have been splitting my meals and enjoying them more often. I have been eating half of my lunch around 11 in the morning and finishing it a few hours later around 2 or 3 in the afternoon. I have also been snacking on delicious treats throughout the day such as V8 V-Fusion drinks, Fiber One bars, and giant packages of small bell peppers or snap peas. I enjoy snacking. If I eat too large of a meal, I’ll get bored with it and I actually find it more enjoyable the second time around then if I force it the first time. I am still able to limit my calories under 1800 calories, I just do so 200-300 calories at a time throughout the day.

What healthy nutrition habits do you find motivating and enjoyable?

Obviously we are not the same. What makes me tick won’t make you tick. However, I hope I have at least given you some examples on how you can experiment with different healthy habits until you find some you truly enjoy. One that creates a healthy lifestyle for you that will last a lifetime. And in the meantime, I’ll be right alongside you working towards the same lifestyle transformation goal.

With Goals Don’t Give Attention to the Ups and Downs

I am successfully losing weight and in the process here is a key lesson I learned about achieving goals: FOCUS ON WHAT COUNTS AND DON’T GIVE ATTENTION TO THE UPS AND DOWNS ALONG THE WAY.

Weight loss perfectly illustrates this concept.  Weight fluctuates constantly for reasons including: meal consumption, drinking water, physical activity, going to the restroom, and even sleep.  It’s impossible to calculate the weight you’ve lost in 24 hours, you can estimate it, and you can average it, but short scale weight loss is pointless (even 1 month plans and especially 1 week plans are a hoax.)

Keeping a long term perspective, I weigh myself a couple of times a day around the same time, e.g. when I wake up and before going to sleep.  I am then able to average my weights out and get a general idea of how I am doing overtime.

So what do I know?  I lose on average about 2 pounds every night sleeping.  During any given day I have seen my weight go up and down as much as 5 pounds without changing anything about my food consumption, exercise, or schedule.  Sometimes this weight change makes sense; often it doesn’t.  Maybe because I didn’t realize I have been drinking water all afternoon, that I hadn’t used the restroom in hours, or that my low calorie vegetable meal weighed a ton.  The reality is: Who cares?  Who cares what you weigh at any given moment when you are trying to lose weight?  Here is a picture to illustrate what I am talking about:

My Last 30 Days

In this image on March 6th I jumped from 176.2 lbs. in the morning to 182 lbs. at night.  I played basketball for 90 minutes, road my bicycle for another 30 minutes, and only consumed 1964 calories that day.  Ironically my weight continued to bounce up and down the next few days rising slightly until March 9th and then it proceeded to drop down pretty quickly.  My point is, don’t try to understand all of the day to day metrics and don’t panic or become concerned over the short term results when you have a track record that says you are doing the right thing.  As long as overall we are heading in the right direction at the pace we want to be going than we are doing great.

From a salesperson’s perspective, if you know that every 100 calls on average turns into 5 leads and every 5 leads turns into 1 client, don’t panic when you call 100 people and only get 1 lead.  Get your butt on the phone and call another 100 people to pick up the other 9.  From a losing weight perspective this is easy because I know how many calories I burn naturally, how many calories I burn playing sports, and how many calories I consume every day.  So as long as I keep my daily consumption and exercise goals, I am guaranteed to lose the weight I want… NO MATTER WHAT MY SCALE SAYS AT ANY GIVEN TIME.  The same is true for personal or business goals, as long as you can calculate your effort to a science and you know exactly what daily metrics you need to hit, then NO MATTER WHAT YOUR DAILY REPORT SAYS, if you continue putting in the effort THE RESULTS WILL COME.

The key is figuring out what metrics to measure and without compromising your formula, meeting the goals for those metrics 100% of the time.  So for your goals, ask yourself: What metrics matter?  And what is my goal for that metric?  Then don’t pay any attention to the ups and downs guaranteed along the way.

Happiness is making children top priority

Tessa: Happy and Perfect

Tessa: Happy and Perfect

What about children makes parents happy?

Certainly not the crying infants, sleepless nights, staying home at night because the children are sleeping, terrible two’s, tantrums, teenage rebellion, back talking, and I could go on and on.  My wife and I have a PERFECT child, Tessa.  Yet, Tessa can also turn into what we call Baby Gremlin.  I want to dive into what it is about children that creates happiness.  One source of happiness is love: sincere, genuine, unlimited charity shared between individuals.  That kind of love should be found in a parent child relationship.  There are obviously degrees to this love as there are degrees to our happiness.  But in the end, the stronger our relationship is with Tessa, the greater the happiness.

Sure that love and connection can be formed with friends, family members, and others, but I believe one of the reasons the parent child relationship can be so powerful is because with children, parents are given a head start.  Immediately at birth a connection is formed that begins our relationship at a level it takes years to develop with others.  With Tessa there was an immediate bond and genuine care and love for her that will take years to develop for others at the same level.

Tessa: Funny and Perfect

Tessa: Funny and Perfect

Why is this?  I don’t know exactly.  But with God’s hand, we created Tessa.  Because we helped to bring Tessa into the world, we have an immediate connection to her and have feelings of love, compassion, and desire that are unparalleled in this world.  Through Tessa goals can be realized, dreams can be lived, ambitions can be accomplished, and desires can be fulfilled because Tessa is “ours,” our product, our creation, our making.  We want the best for her in every aspect of her life.

With this head start, we have a desire to continue to grow that relationship.  Using an apple tree as an example, it must be watered, nourished, supported, and pruned to realize its full potential.  It requires effort from both her and us to reach the greatest relationship possible between us.  What does this mean that we need effort from Tessa?

What does this mean for me?

Well, Tessa, like all children, desires to be loved.  She desires to spend time with her father, she wants to play house, she wants to cook in the kitchen with me, she even wants to help me unload the dishwasher, she wants to go play at the park, she wants me to see her having fun (climbing challenging play equipment, going down scary slides, jumping off rocks, throwing rocks in the river,) she desires my interaction and attention more than anything else in the world.

Tessa: Sophisticated and Perfect

Tessa: Sophisticated and Perfect

How long will this last?  In my mind that depends.  If I take advantage of these opportunities, grow this relationship while I can, talk with Tessa, interact with her, pay attention to her, become best friends with her, and sincerely care about all aspects of her life then that relationship will continue to grow.  Hypothetically, she’ll still want to go on daddy daughter dates even when she is a teenager.  On the other hand, if I don’t take advantage of these opportunities when they are so available then it will be drastically harder when she becomes a teenager.  It will be practically too late when she is 16, driving, with her own friends.  And when she is 18, 21, 30… it’ll be considerably difficult to catch up.  When a child wants love, attention, and interaction for years without receiving it, it makes it that much more difficult to develop that relationship at later stages.

What about the parents?  When the relationship is neglected, tampered with, and/or lost there is usually feelings of guilt and sadness.  Parents know what could have been.  Parents always have that feeling inside of them, that same connection they felt when their child was born.  This is why in my mind, some of the greatest feelings of guilt and sorrow that can be felt in this world is when parents realize they should have put more effort into growing their relationship with their children.

Tessa: Baby Gremlin and Perfect

Tessa: Baby Gremlin and Still Perfect

If these are the shoes you are in, as a parent or child, forgiveness is often the answer.  I wrote this as a reminder to me as a parent, but for children, even if you feel anger towards your parents (sometimes rightfully so,) I would encourage you to forgive and give the relationship a chance.

So what are my personal takeaways? 

First, I can’t waste opportunities I am given to develop a relationship with Tessa.  I need to overlook the messes and tantrums and focus on the fact that I have very limited time to nurture and develop a relationship with Tessa, who, along with my Heavenly Father and my wife is my source to the greatest happiness possible.

Second, there is no excuse, reach out, make amends, do everything possible, be quick to forgive and hold your anger.  Brandon you need to make the move, be the mature one, whatever it is.  Always make the choice that will best improve your relationship with God, Calista, and Tessa.  Always.

Tessa: Angelic and Perfect

Tessa: Angelic and Perfect

Working towards not “working”

The average American will work around 90,000 hours in their lifetime.  I’ve thought a lot about how my work will drastically affect my happiness.  I’m a fan of Tommy Lasorda’s comment, “If you love your job, you haven’t worked a day in your life.”  Because of this, I’ve thought through 5 different ways that someday I hope to describe my employment.  In addition to each of these ways I’ve thought of different questions to direct me towards achieving such employment.

My work feels more like a hobby, interest, or play than it does work.  In fact, I enjoy my work so much that it is hard to differentiate between my work and play.  I realize that I have many different hobbies and interests and not all of them are or will ever be income generating.  However, I do hope that one day I will have a “job” that I will be able to categorize as a hobby and not be able to tell the difference between whether I am working or playing.  The questions below illustrate this point, but I hope one day I view work without money as a motivator or even as a necessity.

1)      If I were financially retired and didn’t need money what would I do?

2)      Or similarly, if I won $5M what would I do with it?

3)    If I found out that I had 6 months to live, what would I do during those 6 months?

During the day, I daydream about work.  At night, I sometimes can’t fall asleep because I am deep in thought about work.  And when I do fall asleep, I often dream about work.  Obviously this isn’t an all the time thing as there are other interests and especially other aspects of my life such as my wife, child, religion, sports, etc.  However, ideally I will be so passionate about my work that it is something I voluntarily think about because it interests me.  It is also important here to make it clear that this thinking isn’t stressful or worrisome thinking, but instead it is enjoyable, strategic thinking.  (I don’t want to be near a job where I am stressed or worried all day and night.)

4)      What kind of subjects, industries, or opportunities do I often think about?

5)      Do I have any hobbies that I am so passionate about that I look forward to working and making progress on them?

6)      What jobs have I had in the past that I positively dreamed or thought about outside of work?

7)      What aspect of different jobs in the past have stressed me out or created unnecessary worrying? (Let’s avoid these jobs)

I am so interested in what I do that I research and follow trends in the industry.  There are many subjects or industries that I currently research online for fun such as the housing market, social media practices, business ideas, technology advances, investing advice, or personal finance information.  I want to make sure that I am doing work that is interesting enough to me and that I am passionate about that I will actively pursue more information about the subject on my own free time.

8)      What do you like to read about?

9)      What subjects do I enjoy discussing with friends?

10)   Am I active in any clubs, social groups, or online forums related to certain topics or industries?

I enjoy work so much that hours will pass without even realizing it.  I want my work to be so engaging, enjoyable, and equally matched in difficulty to my skill level that I am both challenged by the work and enthralled in it.  Although sometimes it can be a problem for me to get caught up in a hobby or interest that distracts me from other more important things, when I have the same engagement with my job that will bring great satisfaction and happiness.

11)   What challenges do I enjoy working through or struggling with for enjoyment?

12)   Currently, what hobbies or activities do I get caught up in for hours that could be turned into employment?

And lastly, I am often smiling, laughing, positive, and optimistic at work and can honestly say that I am happy while I work.  Every job will have some annoying details, some tedious work, and some downside; however I want to make sure to try to “outsource” or limit as much of this as possible.  In addition, as long as the positive side of work drastically outweighs the few negative aspects of the job then it is important just to limit those few downsides and focus on the positive.  Some people say that the 80/20 rule can be applied to positive vs. negative work tasks, but I would argue to try to push it more 90/10 and the closer it gets to 100/0 the greater the happiness.

13)   What activities can I think of right now that bring me the greatest happiness?

14)   What were my most enjoyable jobs and why?

15)   What were my least enjoyable jobs and what is it about those jobs that made them horrible?

In summary, I don’t want my work to be defined as a job.  When people ask, “what do you do?”  I want my response to be something like this: “I spend time with my family, go camping, play basketball, invest in businesses, go boating, research startup companies, coach my daughter’s soccer team, invest in rental properties, blog, go on adventures, and all kinds of other interesting things.”  This is just an example, but I want to have such love and passion for my work that I don’t think about life as work and play so much as just life.

Finding Happiness while Grieving Death

My brother at his sister's wedding in December.

My brother at his sister’s wedding in December.

My 22-year-old brother, Adam, died last June in a climbing accident while at college.  He was young, living a healthy lifestyle, serving in his community, progressing in his education, and in my mind living a worthwhile and admirable life.

Two weeks before my brother passed away I had started my internship at T-Mobile in Bellevue, WA.  That weekend my family had traveled down to Portland to visit my wife’s family and on Saturday morning while having a getaway with my wife I received a call from my older brother.  He called in tears letting me know that my brother had fallen off of a cliff, emergency crews were rushing to the sight, and they didn’t know if he was going to make it.

My insides turned to knots and I felt the worst feeling of worry and sadness that I have ever experienced in my life.  I sobbed uncontrollably for about a half an hour confused and shocked by the news and scared for my brother.  30 minutes later my parents called and told me that my brother had passed away.  At this point I was mixed up in all kinds of emotions, questions were popping into my mind, my most recent memories of my brother were flashing through my head, and sporadic thoughts were rushing every which way.  My wife and I drove down to the river to get some air and soak the news in.

There are many questions that come to mind when someone dies?  Most often: Why?  He didn’t deserve it, why him?  Why did he die so young?  One question that really didn’t make sense with my brother is that he drank acid as a 2-year-old, almost died then, had undergone hundreds of surgeries throughout his life, and so why was it so important for him to live another 20 years just to die as a 22-year-old?  Don’t get me wrong, my family feels that these 20 years were a blessing and that we were so lucky to have those years with him.  It just doesn’t always make sense if we try to think about it logically.  Why didn’t I spend more time with him?  What was the last interaction I had with him?  How would he describe our relationship?  Was he ready to die? Am I ready?  What do I need to do to make sure that I am ready to meet my maker?

Basically, when someone passes away, there are all kinds of thoughts and questions that come into your mind.  And really for me, the passing of my brother has changed my life forever because of some of these questions.  Perspective changes, what’s important changes, and what truly matters changes.

So is it possible to find happiness while grieving death?  I say yes, ABSOLUTELY.  Death will always be accompanied by grief and from a healing perspective it completely should.  However, the purpose of this life is to find joy, no matter the circumstances.

There are four different categories or subjects related to death that can increase an individual’s happiness.  These are:

  • Religion, including Faith and Hope
  • Life Meaning
  • Belief in something bigger
  • Big Truth

I want to focus on and share my experience of how my belief in religion, my belief in God, and my belief in the purpose of life has brought happiness to my life when my brother died.

When my wife and I drove to the river to get control over our emotions, I remember having a feeling of peace and calm come over me that comforted me in this time of need.  I had this feeling of reassurance that God has a plan for each one of us and that everything was going to work out according to that plan.  This feeling of joy and relief inside of me was so strong that I remember that I was angry with myself for not being tormented by my brother’s death.  Thoughts came into my mind that a true, more loving brother would never be able to get over an experience like this.  I quickly realized that this is not the case; God wants his children to be happy.  I am convinced that believing in God and believing that God has a purpose for each one of us brings greater happiness into our lives.  Personally, I know that I will see my brother again and that even though it doesn’t necessarily make sense to us now, that my brother’s purpose was complete here on this earth and that everything works out according to God’s timing.

Although not everyone who reads this blog may believe in God, in summary, having life meaning or believing that there is a greater purpose in this life than our daily activities brings greater happiness.  In addition, a belief in a Greater Being (although we may call this individual by different names) and that everything will work out according to His plan brings greater happiness.  Although this is also applicable during good times, through personal experience, I can promise you that it definitely helped me during tough times.

This doesn’t mean that life is perfect or that death is easy to cope with, not for siblings, not for children, not for friends, and especially not for parents who lose a child.  I feel deeply for my parents and the sadness they must be experiencing.  There are two quotes that sum up my feelings for my parents and the grief they must be experiencing:

“Children are not supposed to die…Parents expect to see their children grow and mature. Ultimately, parents expect to die and leave their children behind…This is the natural course of life events, the life cycle continuing as it should. The loss of a child is the loss of innocence, the death of the most vulnerable and dependent. The death of a child signifies the loss of the future, of hopes and dreams, of new strength, and of perfection.” - Arnold and Gemma 1994, iv, 9, 39

“A wife who loses a husband is called a widow. A husband who loses a wife is called a widower. A child who loses his parents is called an orphan. But…there is no word for a parent who loses a child, that’s how awful the loss is!” - Neugeboren 1976, 154

So I want you to know I still feel sadness and miss my brother; however, my belief in God and His plan for us has brought me greater happiness through this experience than I could ever imagine without that knowledge.  I invite you to ask yourself, “Do I have a belief in something bigger?” and “What is the meaning of life?”  Coming to an understanding of these two questions will lead to greater happiness.

What is my motivation for this purchase? Self-image or experience?

I believe all purchases are made with the intent to improve one’s happiness, no matter whether it is a sandwich, a Ferrari, an insurance policy, a Disneyland vacation, or a toothbrush.   Leaving out the basic needs purchases (toilet paper, milk, flour, etc.) in search of this happiness, people make two kinds of purchases: self-image purchases and experience purchases.

Although the lines sometimes blur, on opposite ends of the scale, experience purchases are bought purely for the sake of having a positive experience and self-image purchases are bought to portray a certain message about you.  Another way of explaining this is that experience purchases focus on enabling or improving an experience, whereas self-image purchases are focused on the image they portray, e.g., how elite, luxurious, and cool you are.

For example, an experience purchase may include a trip to Europe, tickets to an NBA game, or four wheelers for family excursions.  Self-image purchases could include luxury vehicles, designer clothing, extravagant home decorations, or a 12 bedroom home (what do you do with 12 bedrooms?).

The true different between these purchases is even deeper though; it is found in the motivation for the purchase.  It is very possible to buy a trip to Disneyland to seem cool to your neighbors and friends or it is also possible to purchase a sports car for appearances without the intent to use it.  Similarly, you can buy high end athletic equipment or expensive athletic clothing because of the superior performance and experience that they provide.

Why does this all matter?  The motivation for our purchases has a lot to do with how those purchases affect our happiness.  Experiences are lasting whereas self-image things are temporary.  My wife and I traveled all around Europe three years ago sharing many experiences together.  Our Europe experiences continue to provide us with great memories, laughter, and a different perspective on life.  Our trip to Europe provided us with great happiness at the time and over time the satisfaction from that trip has only increased.

This increase in happiness is opposite to most self-image purchases.  A couple years ago my wife and I purchased a new vehicle which we’ve named Milo.  When we purchased Milo, we were ecstatic.  However, almost immediately I began questioning if we had made the right decision, to the extent that I was still comparing our car with other vehicles and looking up car retail values.  Like practically all cars, the value of our car continues to decrease over time, the performance of the car decreases, the maintenance required increases, and my satisfaction decreases.  Although part of the Milo decision was based on having a car that would portray a stylish image, the satisfaction of receiving others’ approval quickly diminishes and it doesn’t take long for coolness to disappear altogether.

The greatest self-image purchases that come to mind in relation to increasing in satisfaction over time are memorabilia items.  For example, my wife and I purchased a Venetian mask from Italy and a Disney painting with our Perazzo name from Disneyland where we spent part of our honeymoon.  Both items continue to provide us with satisfaction that we purchased them, mainly because of the memories that are attached to them.  The root of this increased satisfaction still comes from the experience itself and not necessarily the memorabilia purchases.

Overall, I have transformed almost entirely into an experience purchaser.  Much more happiness comes from having diverse experiences, sharing those experiences with others, and striving to enjoy the world around me than from striving for constant approval from others because of self-image purchases.  Even when I consider gifts to others I think, “Would it be better to give them things or share an experience?”  Personally I believe my 2 year old daughter would rather have an extra 10 hours of playing with her father than a new doll.  I’ll save that idea for another post, but the next time you are making a purchase, ask yourself, “What is my motivation for this purchase, is this a self-image purchase or an experience purchase?”  I would argue the experience purchases will bring greater happiness and satisfaction in your life.

Why are hobbies so important?

I have a wide variety of passions and interests.  Yet, discovering hobbies that take place in the home has been a real struggle.  The discussion around hobbies comes up regularly in our home… mainly that I need one.

The struggle is that my favorite hobbies involve things outside of my home environment.  I absolutely love playing sports, most recently basketball and soccer, but really I enjoy most any sport with a ball.  I also really enjoy the outdoors.  I love camping, hiking, fishing, hunting, and participating in most water sports.

When my daughter was born our late night excursions decreased and the time our family spends in our home has increased.  I still make time for my outdoor hobbies and adventures; however, the time spent on these hobbies has decreased.  When I’m not at school, I love spending time with my family during the day and then most nights we try to have our daughter in bed by 8 PM, leaving plenty of available time.

I do have some indoor hobbies such as board games, card games, cooking and to a lesser extent reading, painting, and drawing; however, the group activities require mutual interest and my passion for these individual activities is not as powerful as my love for sports and the outdoors.  It is often too easy to resort to external sources of entertainment such as watching movies, television shows, or sports.

So why are hobbies so important?  Hobbies are proven to increase an individual’s happiness.  Here are a few reasons they are so powerful at doing so:

  • Hobbies bring a sense of freedom.  People are in control of their hobbies, they do not need to rely on friends or other forms of entertainment, and they are not assigned to participate in hobbies; instead they choose to do so.  This choice brings extra satisfaction and helps people to unwind from their required duties.
  • Hobbies are your time.  Because of this, people make sure to create time for their hobby and then keep those personal appointments.  Time is a scarce resource and the world is constantly trying to take away that time.  Time remains yours while participating in a hobby.
  • Developing hobbies makes people feel proud and satisfied.  This increases self-esteem and confidence.
  • Achieving goals associated with hobbies brings personal fulfillment and accomplishment.
  • Hobbies expand a person’s experiences and expertise which increasing creativity, knowledge, and performance.  This creativity, knowledge, and performance can then be applied to other aspects of people’s lives.  Multiple hobbies are actually better than just one because you can apply skills from one hobby to the other.

Hobbies are basically internal sources of entertainment and they provide greater happiness than external sources of entertainment.  Knowing this, I have attempted to make adjustments to my entertainment decisions at home.  Your adjustments will be different; however, mine include items from my Don’t Do List (I’ll discuss this in a later blog post):

  • No computer games (hearts, spades, free cell) or ESPN online (These use to be two of my default entertainment sources even though I was well aware they weren’t that satisfying.)
  • Only watch TV with my wife and daughter (We still watch our favorite shows, but this prevents me from mindlessly searching for a show to watch when my wife is reading a book or writing.)
  • No NBA or college basketball games (Except BYU games.)

Don’t get me wrong, I can get some entertainment online, watching television, and watching basketball games.  Although, as I have removed these external sources of entertainment and forced myself to engage in more creative or interesting activities, I have increased time on my hobbies, found more hobbies, and increased the overall enjoyment in my life.

How can you make hobbies more of a priority in your life?