Bhutan & The Art of Chilling - Stories from The World's Happiest Country

In March of last year, a night of drinking turned interesting when two people in Gurgaon booked flight tickets for five without their consent. I booked mine soon after. And thus, next month, six of us hired motorbikes to venture on a road trip to Bhutan. 


BAGDOGRA/SILIGURI

The first part of the journey was a flight to Bagdogra. It is the nearest airport to Siliguri where we hired the bikes from. As I waited for my friends to pick me up from the airport, I started writing in my notebook.

Sidenote 1: Here's a problem I have with travel writing - the real emotions and details of a noteworthy time can only be expressed if you capture them right then. Otherwise, the perfect words are lost, the true feeling is forgotten. But, if you do write them at that instant or soon after, it impacts your experience of the moment. Thus, I chose to just live the following days and not think about how I want to write those down.

We found our bikes at a tiny garage which was the size of a small tea-stall. As I took one out for a test ride, a massive hailstorm appeared out of nowhere. After much struggle, and in near darkness (the electricity had gone out) I found respite under a shop’s tin roof. Those few moments, I felt like a character out of a Bangla movie - rain dripping off my clothes, cigarette smoke and 20 people huddled together under one tin roof. All that was missing was someone reciting a Tagore poem. 

Eventually, after rounds of adjusting the RPM, brakes and such to our liking, we tied our luggage with the bungee cords on the bikes and proceeded to find a hotel for the night.


RIDE TO Phuentsholing

The next morning, after a heavy breakfast, we loaded our bags on the bikes. This is mention-worthy because we had to tie them carefully otherwise we ran the risk of a wobbly ride.

Ready to roll

 First Ngultrum received from an Indian Pan shop

First Ngultrum received from an Indian Pan shop

As we made a move, wide open roads lined with tea estates on either side greeted us. The traffic was sparse and it was bright and sunny. We raced along at a fairly quick speed, albeit with quite a few breaks in between and reached Jaigaon in about 4 hours. The roads were a dream, except for the last half an hour stretch. Scenery changed from tall trees to wide open fields through small villages. The geography is completely flat - no mountains yet.

Jaigaon is the border town of India and shares its boundary with Bhutan’s counterpart, Phuentsholing. We stopped there to withdraw money from the ATM. There, if you need to buy something, people return you change in Bhutanese currency. But if you want to pay in Bhutanese Ngultrum, it costs you 6% extra.

The border


Phuentsholing

 

Two guards stood at a wide gate. It didn’t look anything like a country’s border - you would expect more security at one. We entered Bhutan through this gate, riding on our bikes, making heads turn. As soon as you enter, the roads climb up and mountains appear after the plains of India. It is as if they divided the countries based on where the mountains begin.

Phuentsholing gave us a preview of what to expect in Bhutan. A quiet, slow motion of people, vehicles and life in general. From the cacophony of noises at Jaigaon, we arrived in the clean and noiseless world of Bhutan. It was like entering a cocoon, and the sounds from just across the border, a mere 100 metres behind us, seemed like coming from far away. The picture of their King stared at us from everywhere.

Sidenote 2 : Every household, shop, bar, office, event has a picture of the Royal Couple or The King or both. Today, Bhutan is a democracy which was in fact brought in large parts by an earlier Monarch. The present King is well loved among the masses.

You can enter Phuentsholing without anyone asking for an identity proof. But, if you want to travel further, you need a permit. We had been told that the permit office is closed on Sunday so we went around looking for a hotel. We jumped a signal and a traffic cop immediately came to confront us. And man what a cop he was! Chatty, friendly and apologetically nice. He informed that the permit office was open that day because of high tourist frequency. So, that's where we headed first.

The permit process is painless. You fill a couple of forms, give a proof of your identity (Passport, Voter Id, Driver's License - anything works), get your picture clicked, finger prints are taken and you are done. We noticed a pattern that was to become a constant theme in Bhutan. Everyone we met seemed to have all the time in the world. You became their complete focus of attention. The permit officer chatted with us and told us of stories of the celebrities who came to his office. We exchanged our Indian Rupee for Bhutanese Ngultrum even though most places accept INR too.

View from the hotel

We had still not found a hotel. Guess who helped? The traffic cop. He left his spot and spoke to a couple of hotel owners to find a place for us. Who does that? I mean, really, who does that?

Anyway, we ended up going to a different hotel - Hotel Druk. All this while, we had left our bikes unattended with our luggage on them. And there was never a moment when we were scared of losing our stuff. And I think that's mention-worthy too. Bhutan feels safe and welcoming.

In the evening, we roamed the streets and found a dance bar called Sonam Trophel. Dance bars are a common sight in Bhutan. And lot of them are run by women.

Sidenote 3 : This is where I should point out that Bhutan is primarily a matriarchal society. Most shops, restaurants, hotels, bars that we came across were run by women.

At the bar, we had a few beers and constantly refused to entertain the girls who solicited our money in exchange for a dance. After these shenanigans, we came out, drank and chatted with the funniest locals. 

Sidenote 4 : Let me add one thing which would make the rest of this travelogue easy. Whenever I say 'locals', always add the adjectives funny, friendly, chatty, and helpful to it. 

It was raining and we were hungry. So, we ran in the rain to find a place to eat. Unsuccessful, we returned to our hotel. And that's when something awesome happened.

Beautiful Story 1
One of us was very hungry. Very, very hungry. So, like a bad-ass, he knocked on the next door and asked for something to eat. Anything. A biscuit, even. The man named Jimmy, who was a local (did you add the adjectives?) understood the gravity of the situation. He asked us to wait for a bit. A little later, we looked outside from our windows and saw a woman on the street walking towards our hotel under the shelter of an umbrella. It looked like she was carrying something under her arm. This was past midnight.

Her name was Kay and she was Jimmy's friend. She had brought with her packets of Koka, Bhutanese version of Maggi but much better. The man had a stove and they freaking cooked for us. We spent the night hanging out together. And there we sat, eating Koka, sharing Old Monk with them (which they liked very much, who doesn't?), and appreciating the kindness of this country's beautiful people.

Next morning, we checked out of the hotel to get permits for our bikes. Meanwhile, some of us got local SIM cards and bought some stuff for the rest of the trip (Druk beer, Druk ketchup, Druk chips, Druk everything).

Bike Troubles

Once this was sorted, we headed towards our next destination - Paro. But, as luck would have it, one of the bikes broke down. It was an old Enfield model and we had been skeptical about it from the beginning. So, there we were stranded a few kilometres from Phuentsholing and wondering what to do next. Just then, we saw a mini-truck passing by. One of us made the smallest of gestures, and almost on cue, the truck stopped. The locals then helped us carry the bike down to Jaigaon (where they had no business to go to ) to get them repaired. They refused our offer of money for their troubles.

After this ordeal, we postponed our ride to Paro. We returned to Phuentsholing and found a cheaper, nicer hotel where the receptionist-cum-owner spoke in the dreamiest of voices. We called it an early night to catch up on sleep for an early start the next day.

Food to try: Emma Datshi, is a delicious spicy gravy made of chilli and yak cheese. We tried this and variations of it with Rice. Second and third servings were required.


RIDE TO PARO

 

Except for the first few kilometres, the ride to Paro is bliss. Smooth tarmac, meandering across the mountains, no noise of horns (horns are banned in Bhutan) and few truck drivers posing mortal threat to your life. 

You can click on each picture in the blog to view an enlarged version

A little traffic just after Phuentsholing

Traffic Issues

We crossed a management college high up in the mountains. The students just sat outside chilling, doing nothing, enjoying the fine weather. A local came up to us and started chatting. He told us that 'Yahan padhai nahin hota, bas bang bang hota hai!' What did I tell you about the locals?

It got foggy really soon and all we could do stay on track was follow the taillight in front.

The Management College. people are just chilling outside

Lunch at Karma Hotel. 2nd from left

The policemen like our bikes

The roads were gorgeous

 A friendly, curious old man

A friendly, curious old man

 Entering Paro Valley

Entering Paro Valley

Just before Paro, there is a small village where we took a short break. A friend of ours was flying into Paro and we enquired some taxi drivers if they had seen her around. The next moment, they thrust their cell phones in our faces to show a porny GIF. #facepalm. They laughed like maniacs. Who are these people man? Why are they so happy, so friendly (over-friendly?), so out there?

We left for the airport to check if our friend was still there waiting for us. It turned out that the Airport had closed for the day. Wow! Where does this happen? We came back to the village and after much banter between the cab drivers and us, we got news that our friend had hiked up to a monastery and would be back soon. So, we spent our time playing football with some kids. Archery is a big thing in Bhutan, so there were some people playing take-aim at a stone with some kind of arrows as well.

They were two cool kids

Our friend arrived and we spent time in the nearby Snooker Parlor. Boy, it was fun. Not in the least because of my love for the game. Beer flowed. Games ensued. Did I mention that you get liquor everywhere in Bhutan? Even the tiniest retail shop would have a table, 4 chairs and a big stock of beers.

At the parlor, we met a Dentist who looked anything but. His job was a 11 to 4 after which he was free to do anything. So, he played Snooker. They all told us of the crazy Wednesday parties in Paro. Yeah, Wednesdays. Bhutan is awesome.

Sidenote 5 : Education upto Grade 10 and Primary Healthcare is free in Bhutan. Even complex procedures are relatively cheap. Couple this with the relaxed work arrangements and you start to understand why people are happy here.

Beautiful Story 2
On the way to Paro, one of us got into a minor accident with another bike which got a little damaged in the process. The fault was completely our own. Now, if this was in India, it would have become a big scene. But, Bhutan being Bhutan, that guy took a chill pill and actually helped us in our search to find a Helmet (which were in short supply there).


PARO

 

In Paro, we went straight to Hotel Sonam Trophel. It is just across the river and has good rooms and great food. The waiter-cum-errands boy also asked us if were going to the Wednesday party, he definitely was. It seemed like the whole town goes to the same party.

 The Hotel at Paro

The Hotel at Paro

The stream across the hotel

Next day we trekked to Tiger's Nest Monastery. The monastery hangs on a steep cliff edge at 10,000 ft above the Paro Valley. The trek is about three hours of moderate climb. At the beginning of our climb, we saw a local coming down. We asked him of the route and he suggested that we should take the short-cut he was coming from. This was the gravest mistake we could have made. Seriously, don't ever take the short cut. It is steeper, and harder. At half way, there is a cafe which is exorbitantly priced, even for a bottle of water. So, I'd recommend carrying your own snacks and water.

The monastery is a picture of quiet and peace. A lot of tourists ply on the route. It was almost crowded at some points. But, inside the monastery, it doesn't feel like there are many people. It is noiseless, clean and windy. If you stay still at one spot and just breathe, profound moments emerge aplenty. You might pause and question the validity and importance of the decisions in your life, if not life itself, even if just for a few moments.

We begin the climb to The Small White Thing on top

To this big imposing structure

The route was interesting

The cafe at the midway was a good place to rest

The view was grand

And we made it

It was magnificent

As we came down, we saw locals climbing up, even in the light rain, carrying supplies up. The knick-knack sellers near the base of the trek kept requesting our attention.

This was a Wednesday -  the night of the hyped up party. As some of us got ready, a couple of us went down to the nearest Snooker parlor, played guitar, beat the owners at the game and got ourselves free beers.

More of Paro 1

More of Paro 2

The party was the bomb. It was in the basement of an ordinary building. Inside, it was one big dance floor in the center with some seats on a raised platform around it. We were a little early, arriving there at about 10.30 pm. We got chatting with a couple of girls who told us that they have studied in Bangalore and they miss the slow pace of Paro. As the night progressed, it got more crowded and we found interesting people to talk and dance with. The music, mainly EDM, was good. We came back with some locals who were kind enough to walk us to our hotel. 

Next morning, we left for Thimpu.


THIMPU


It was a brilliant day for riding. Bright sunshine, cool breeze and the road hugging the mountains. We did not rush and drove at a leisurely pace of 50km/hr. The speed limit and speed detectors along the way was a big reason. Also, by now, we had a little bit of Bhutanese chill in our soul. 

Entering Thimpu

Street lined with shops and hotels

A diligent traffic cop. But, where's the traffic?

A great view welcomed us as we entered Thimpu, an organised village, as the locals call it. The Buddha statue high up on the mountain overlooked the city. It felt like we were in a video game - no randomness, everything moved slowly and in incremental steps. All the carslooked robotic, self-driven vehicles moving at a pedestrian speed of 25 km/hr. The roads were clean, and the areas to park bikes and cars were marked clearly. The feeling of having arrived in the Capital of the happiest country in the world was wonderful.

Sidenote 6 : Most of Bhutan till this point had great weather and clean air. Being a proper city, I expected Thimpu to be a more polluted. It wasn't, at least not enough to be bothersome.

The Buddha Statue

The view from the top. That's a nice football ground

After a great lunch, we looked for place to stay. Hotels in Thimpu can be cheap or expensive without being very different from each other in terms of comfort. Being the capital, things were a little pricey. Most hotels had a curfew time of 11 p.m. which we wanted to avoid. We asked a passerby for a hotel recommendation and he stopped doing what he was doing and almost took us to the hotel himself. Finally, we found a nice, cozy place run by women, young girls, a boy and a dog. They were the sweetest people who treated us like gods. The Bhutanese hospitality is amazing.

As the evening set in, we roamed around the streets, drinking soup from the roadside vendors, shopping for Bamboo pickles, Yak cheese, prayer flags and handmade bags. I stopped to get a recharge for my phone and found the girl listening to Honey Singh. Yeah, bollywood is popular in Bhutan. We spent some time watching a SAARC cultural festival. The Indian group told the story of Goddess Kali and her nemesis.

The Indian contingent

We spent that evening in a dance bar which was run by an Indian woman. The girls there soon figured that we were not the kinds to pay for a dance. So, they employed a different tactic. They sat next to us and said they were thirsty, and can we buy them juice? How can you no to that? So we did give them money, no idea if juice was bought and the thirst was quenched. We were the only customers at that time. The matron of the bar invited us to dance on stage and we joined her reluctantly. In all honesty, it felt a little weird though and she sensed that. So as we were leaving, she was kind enough to come out and apologise. People in Bhutan are amazing. Kind and polite.

Next morning, we drove to Dochula pass just before Punakha. We couldn't go all the way to Punakha because our bike troubles ate our days. At the pass, 108 stupas are built in three concentric circles. A cafe stands opposite it where we spent our time relaxing. It was a nice drive and the weather was perfect.

Dochula Pass

As we returned in the evening, we found refuge in a bakery. The girl at the bakery told us that the King likes to meet Indians. She insisted that we must try to meet him. And the fools that we were, we began our mission of meeting the King of Bhutan. We thought he might even invite us for dinner. After all, who doesn't love to break bread with mysterious travelers from an exotic land far away, who have seen a thousand suns and crossed a hundred seas?

The King keeps traveling so we asked people if he was in town. We looked for his palace but instead found the late Royal Grandmother's palace grounds. But, we did not lose hope. We were adventurers of an indefatigable spirit. Next place we looked was a Dzong which served as the administrative centre of Thimpu. A guard threw suspicious glances at us and looked angry when we asked him how we could meet the King. So, we decided to give up on our mission. The guard sensed that, and immediately he came into his avatar of a Bhutanese local with all the adjectives. He was interested in photography and showed us his pictures clicked on a VGA phone. 

The imperious Dzong

In the evening, we visited a pub called Mojo Park. A band was playing good covers and a few originals. The vibe was brilliant. We half-joked that it would be fun if we could play on the stage. So, one of our over-enthusiastic friends, ended up asking the manager if we could play. And he said Yes!

Shruti and I, both were going to play the guitar and sing. I think we were quite poor. There was a lot of passion and little coordination. But, our passion evoked a fire in the hearts of the audience, or so I would like to believe. They all sang along with us every step of the way. After our renditions of Wish You Were Here and BC Sutta,  we heard cries of Encore! Then, Shruti did a solo of Zombie.

Drunk performers. In other words, normal humans

High on adrenaline, we went to a nightclub, danced the night away and roamed the streets drunk in spirit and happiness. It was a magical night. 

It was past 2 a.m. when we returned to the hotel and the door was closed. So we shouted and banged the doors until the boy came down to open the door. That was embarrassing and we felt sorry to have woken up the poor chap in the middle of the night.


RIDE BACK TO INDIA

 

Still in Bhutan

The next morning was our last in Bhutan. We took the bikes to the now routine task of getting them repaired. At the repair shop, we met the King's official rider. He drove a Desert Storm. Apparently the king was fond of bikes. Finally, we left around noon. On the way we met a couple of young boys - perhaps 13-14 years of age cycling their way from Thimpu to Paro, for no reason. We rode at a fairly decent speed trying to catch up on the lost time of our late start.

Yup, still there.

We stopped for food at Karma Hotel - the same place where we had lunch while coming from Paro. The girl at the hotel recognised us and enquired us of our trip. It is nice to make acquaintance with people on a trip and be able to meet them again.

Reluctantly, we bid adieu to Bhutan and entered Jaigaon. Just a week away from India, and the crowd, noise and dirt felt alienating. It was dark already and our bike troubles caught up with us soon. Some kilometres away from Jaigaon, one bike's battery died in the middle of nowhere in complete darkness. We parked our bikes in the compound of a villager's hut/farm. The two men were generous enough to offer us water and leave us in peace. The croaking frogs did not.

Stuck in the middle of nowhere

We called our bike guy, Noel, who was in Siliguri. It took him more than two hours to arrive with spares. It was past 1 am by the time the bike was repaired and we began for what would be the ride of a lifetime.

You see, Noel and his two biker friends were pro bikers. And we were not. They conveniently chose to ignore this fact and rode like the wind. It was completely dark - cloud cover in the sky and no streetlights. They drove at an insane speed and we followed the only thing we could see - their taillights.

Noel rode in front in the center with his halogen headlights switched off at times. The other two flanked him with lights switched on to show the way. The rest of us followed. It was wonderful. In the cold, dark night, 7 bikes went weaving on the roads, overtaking trucks, jumping over rail lines and logs of wood without slowing down a bit. 

Just follow the taillight and do as the guy in front does. Trust the light

We lost our way a bit and found beautiful countryside roads. By this time, the cloud cover had lifted and there was a hint of moonlight shining upon us. The reflectors on the road were hypnotic. The adrenaline was pumping and fueling our exhausted bodies and minds. 

Midway, we stopped to eat something at an all night dhaba and shared stories of our rides with each other. It was super. We got going again and went through an elephant populated area. So, we had to be careful of the ones who had strayed on the roads. Fortunately, we didn't encounter any.

We arrived in Siliguri at 5 in the morning. And after a couple of hours of sleep, we headed to the airport.


DAILY RITUALS

 

Every day, we had a few rituals that made the trip memorable.

  1. Tying/Untying the luggage on the bikes. This took upto 30 minutes daily.
  2. Switching bikes. Some bikes were great, some were not. So, it makes sense to give everyone a chance. We drove CBR 250, Enfield Electra 350, Enfield Thunderbolt 500, Enfield Classic Old model 350, and the humble CBZ 180.
  3. The new overtaking maneuver. Bhutan has smart drivers. If you want someone behind you to overtake, you switch on the left indicator. If instead you want to warn them of incoming traffic, you switch on right indicator. All of us followed it religiously and it made for a wonderful driving experience.
  4. Early morning laziness and screwed up plans. We are lazy people. We spent a lot of time at night discussing and agreeing to waking up early and making a move. It never happened.
  5. Stops for stretching the muscles and banter every hour.
  6. Hotel room chilling. We spent ample time drinking, chatting and goofing off together.

LEARNING THE ART OF CHILLING

 

A few days after returning from Bhutan, its effect had not worn off. We drove slower without honking, smiled more and had more time for everyone we met. We craved to go back often. There are some places which make you feel like you are inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Bhutan is the opposite. It helps you appreciate the beauty in life's small details and human interactions.

Bhutan taught us to:

  • chill, to slow down - in some cases, quite literally. It taught us to respect outsiders and treat them with the kindness and love you would expect in return. 
  • be simple-hearted and be without your guards-up all the time. 
  • not rush to go to some place when you are already where you need to be. 
  • leave the place and the heart you enter a little better than you found it.
  • be sincere but not serious.
  • be humble without being servile.
  • enjoy our nights.

We've forgotten most of it. But, every once in a while, whenever a Bhutan memory resurfaces, a smiles finds its way on our faces. I hope you all get a chance to go. It's a wonderful place.

Tada!


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Economics of a Self-Published Pay What You Want eBook - A Philosophical Study

Last year, I self-published an ebook on the lessons I learnt while running a startup. There were two main motives in writing that book:

  • I wanted to record the lessons I learnt for posterity
  • I hoped to help people learn from my success and failures

I chose to self-publish the book because I enjoy the idea of independence and self-sufficiency. It helped me develop skills like working on a big project under a self-imposed deadline. I also used my freshly learnt designing skills to create the book cover. Overall, it was a great personal growth experience.

The book's minimum price was set as 0, but you could choose to Pay What You Want (PWYW). Money was never my primary concern and I believed that keeping it PWYW would make it accessible to more people. 

Below you'll find some interesting data from the sales and the key insights I derive from them. Please note that my book was available on Amazon Kindle Store as well at a fixed price of INR 190. The numbers below do not take that into account.


1. Overall Sales

  • Total Downloads - 269 (INR 8413)
  • Paid - 34, Free - 235
  • Avg. Sale Value (paid only) - INR 247
  • Avg. Sale Value (all) - INR 31

Key Insights

  • 13% of the people who downloaded the book, chose to pay for it. If we are to go by The Pareto Principle (20-80 rule), this is to be expected. Although, it could be argued that in creative industries, the ratio of people who pay is much lesser.
  • The avg. sale value (paid only) is quite high. If I were to set a fixed price for the book, I would have set it much lower.

2. Downloads as a function of time

Click on the image to view an enlarged version

Key Insights

  • The two public announcements drove the most amount of paid sales
  • Free Downloads were a constant occurrence (probably driven by word of mouth and randomness)
  • Most downloads happened in a burst together. These could be attributed to the promotional activities I undertook - like publishing a sample chapter in a digital magazine
  • Pre-Orders accounted for only 18% of total downloads but 44% of the total revenue

3. Frequency of Sale Values

 

Key Insights

  • Minimum and Maximum amounts paid - INR 10 and INR 1001
  • Most common amount paid - INR 100
  • Interesting amounts - INR 101, 501, 1001 (I guess people chose this amount thinking that they are paying for a good cause)

What would be THE optimum price to MAXIMIZE revenue?

If I were to go back in the past, and instead of giving it away for PWYW, I wanted to assign a price to it, what should that number have been to maximise profit?

I'll save you the number crunching, this is what I derived from the data:

  • Best Price - INR 200
  • 2nd Best Price (if I go higher) - INR 300
  • 2nd Best Price (if I go lower) - INR 99

And of course, I'd make less money in either of these cases than what I did with PWYW. The assumption carried here is that anyone who is buying for say INR x, would also buy the book for INR x-y, where both x and y are positive numbers.


Philosophical MUSINGS ON PWYW

There used to be a hep cafe near where I lived. Although, in all honesty, it was less of a cafe and more of a place where people came to hang out, meet new people and discuss ideas. Among its regulars, it was the hub of cultural activities - poetry jam sessions, movie nights, book readings, gay pride events. It didn't serve much food - Tea and maybe some Momos.

There was no specified price to the items you bought. You could pay whatever you wanted. The cafe was surviving solely on the generosity of its patrons. Sadly, it shut down. It needed to raise a certain amount of money to pay the annual rent, but it could not.

The point of this story is that PWYW is a romantic idea which should work perfectly in an ideal world where we pay for a certain experience in proportion to the amount of value we stand to gain from it. 

An Ideal Transaction: Amount we are ready to pay for an experience/commodity ∝ Value we gain from it

Unfortunately, that is not always the case. We often pay more for a disproportionately low value experience and become miserly for high value products. But, why do we do this when clearly it's a suboptimal strategy to live a high quality life? 

The answer I believe is our unconscious biases:

1. Overvaluing a tangible commodity for its superficial nature - Think expensive clothing, eating out at that new fancy restaurant, or the shiny new gadget. I do not mean to discount the immediate value of any of those things. Nor do I mean to suggest that we buy only cheap stuff. Heck, I love a nice fancy meal once in a while myself. But, like on a hedonic treadmill, the more we engage in them, the lesser pleasure we derive each time. So having coffee in a good cafe once a fortnight gives more value than a daily visit.

Furthermore, the value given by products of this nature is often fleeting. Often, our perceived expected value of the experience is less than the actual value. (Example: The movie 'Deadpool'. I am going to go out on a limb and say that I derived more pleasure from the expectation of the awesomeness of the movie than the final product itself). 

Expected Value (EV) > Actual Value (AV) 

This is in part due to the subtle FOMO (fear of missing out) induced by peer pressure we face when everyone around is talking about it. The perceived value automatically becomes much higher than the AV.

 

2. Undervaluing an intangible benefit/experience - Think a good book, a music album which you'd play over and over again, software, a functional yet expensive piece of household accessory that is going to make your life exponentially better (an ergonomic chair, a standing desk, etc.) We forget that, in the long run, the value we get from these things is so much more than the cost we put into it. The over and over usage of their functionalities pays itself off and then some. In these cases:

EV < AV

I speculate that the reason we harbor biases against paying for such cases could be due to our latent (or in some cases, pronounced) desire to feel validated for our choices. We don't get that validation from buying an original copy of a software or a better chair for our back or buying an album. No one commends an item for its functional superiority, it is quite often the decorative qualities that attract attention. In fact, you could even be ridiculed for overspending or paying for something that could be pirated for free. But, if we recognize that this particular item is going to inspire us to be a better version of ourselves, the issue of cost would become much smaller.

Secondly, maybe the constant desire of novelty via external stimuli causes us to spend our budgets on EV>AV cases. So, we still torrent stuff which we could have acquired in an overarching package (e.g. at Netflix, Apple Music, Kindle Unlimited), costing less than one decent meal in a restaurant. But, we fail to understand that this is an insatiable desire - there will always be a new pub to try.

Coming back to PWYW, there are some positives of the concept. The freedom to choose how much you think something is worth makes your product accessible to so many more people. Think all those bands whose music we pirated and would now happily pay for one of their concerts. The question then becomes, how to make a living out of it.

With PWYW, there are always 3 categories of people:

  • Free loaders / hoarders - It is a gross generalization on my part, but most of these folks who don't pay are much less likely to actually consume your art. At my last company, Musicfellas, there were customers who downloaded only the albums which were PWYW for 0 bucks. I seriously doubt if any of them ever got played.
  • The Nice Guys - They are driven by a righteous sense of how an interaction with an artist in the modern world should look like. They pay an average amount and feel content with supporting the artists. You could expect them to listen/read/watch your work with a decent level of interest.
  • The 1000 True Fans - Below is a quote straight from the article linked here. These are the people who will be the highest payers and your most generous patrons. They will write back to you giving detailed, insightful feedback on your work.
A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can’t wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans.

So, the answer to making a living out of PWYW format could be to build and engage with this community of 1000 true fans. I would love to hear success stories around you which hold true to this rule.


Philosophical musings on Self-Publishing

The numbers for my book, as you can see, aren't great. Even though people liked the book, the number of people to whom it has reached is quite less. I could ascertain a few possible reasons:

  1. My book was crappy
  2. My marketing strategy was crappy
  3. Both of the above
  4. Both the book and marketing strategy were average
  5. This is the nature of self-publishing

I am confident enough to discount #1 and thus #3. There was praise from my friends and strangers alike. But, that is not what convinced me. There were two instances which gave me confidence in my work. Both times, after a few rounds of drinks, a friend grabbed my kindle to check out the book, and they put it down only after finishing it.

I am pretty sure #2 was the major reason. Although I don't completely discount #4. The major motivation behind writing the book was to push myself to complete a big project. Promoting it wasn't much of a priority. I did do something about it but it was executed half assedly. 

On #5, this is a reality but with a caveat. Most of the success stories of today who have made self-publishing work for themselves have one thing in common. They all ventured into independence and self-publishing with already having their 1000 true fans(think Nine Inch Nails, Amanda Palmer). This is not to say that artists with virgin fan bases do not exist. But, intuitively, I would say they are a minority among the self-publishing success stories. I would love to be proven wrong, so hit me up with examples.

This is a genuine problem with self-publishing a piece of art. I saw this happening with our artists at Musicfellas and now first hand myself. Some of those musicians had really good music but just couldn’t let many people know about them. A possible way could be to, if possible, launch yourself with a major publishing house/art gallery/music label etc. In this vast mass of new content everyday, it has become a monstrous task to get yourself known - more so because artists cringe at the thought of self promotion. The seasoned biggies can take the burden of promotion off of your shoulders. And later, if you crave for independence, you could break away after a hit under your belt and take your fans with you.


End Notes

If you ask me whether I would choose self publishing again, I would probably say that not this time but maybe the next. Where PWYW is concerned, I haven't lost faith in that. As a consumer, I support creators on Kickstarter and Patreon where they allow me to choose my contribution amount. Not only do I get a high quality product, I also feel good about myself having made a small change in a creator's life - a win-win for both parties. I would highly recommend you to try it.

When I was read the final version of this post, I felt that it could come across as self-righteous to some. If that's the case, I assure you it was not my intention. It's just that this topic excites me a lot and I sometimes overdo myself. In any case, I would love to hear what you have to say on this. Leave a comment below or drop me an email at mj {at} mayankja.in

Enjoyed the post? Please consider sharing. And if you are not on the mailing list yet, leave your email address on the right. Mails go out at most once a fortnight.

 

Further Reading

  1. A Primer on Minimalism
  2. What Makes Us a Pirate
  3. The Art of Showing Your Creativity

A Romantic's Guide to Finding Focus

A few days ago, I sat drinking coffee at a restaurant which overlooks a Golf Course. Most of our day is spent looking at near objects and screens. So, when you get a chance to focus in the distance of the greens, the mind reminisces.

Looking at the people playing, I pondered about my own sports experiences and habits. I remembered my wins and losses. The memories brought back the emotions of those moments and a useful lesson along with it. 

What differentiated my wins from my losses? Why did I win some and lose others? The simple answer is that I played good on one day and bad the other. But, let's dig deeper and ask, why did that happen? After all, there was no change in my skill during a small period of time. I was on my 'A' game on winning days and 'C' or 'D' on the losing ones. Why?

The answer I found was: Lack of Focus. It is a much deeper problem than it appears on the surface. It is a mindfulness problem. 

Every day, at least once, I catch myself in the act of auto-piloting my life. I execute each activity because it needs to be done and I have to move on to the next one. This is fine to an extent - you can't be expected to be mindful of every time you brush your teeth, or wash your hands. But, every once in a while, when life is dull, and you are carrying through the chores of your life, it helps to take a step back. 

Observe the present moment. As Thich Nhat Hanh said, 'Do the dishes to do the dishes'. Be deliberate with your actions. Be aware of the present and stay in it. I have written about it earlier in a post describing an epiphany I had while driving. The benefit of having this as a daily habit is that it then slides over to the activities that matter.

How do we find this focus?

Imagine the future, reading your biography and this moment described in all its wonder by a talented writer. 

"... was standing there in kitchen after a day of work. He stood there peeling an orange skin listening to music. This was a ritual to him. The act of peeling was like taking off a layer of burden after returning home...."

This visualization makes any ordinary moment special. You will perhaps be able to find more focus in the act at hand, knowing that it is a story in your biography. Or you could imagine yourself as part of a movie. The present moment then becomes a part of a scene which people are paying to watch. You will thus have more incentive to be focused in the present.

I love this technique. It makes me feel good about my life. It attaches romance to every moment of my existence. Living the life becomes a performance, in a good way. You become the stars of this show. It then becomes important to put up a nice act. Smile, indulge in the moment and let the audience feel they are watching a performer who is taken over by her character. You take a form larger than your life itself. 

And in specific situations?

1. Reading

Problem: You are looking at the words but not really reading them. Often you turn pages but completely forget what happened earlier. Or you are stuck on a single page for an hour. 

Solution: When I notice that this is happening to me, I immediately stop myself and take a deep breath. Then, I imagine the scene when the words were first penned down by the author. I see the creation of the scene in the author's head, as he leans back in his chair, playing with his pen, brows furrowed and suddenly his eyes widen. He leans forward and writes down the exact words you are reading. I imagine the sense of elation, movement and progress he must have felt. And because I imagine it, sometimes I also experience that same feeling. 

For example, you can imagine me writing these words. Where am I? What time of the day could it be? Perhaps it is early Saturday morning and I am sitting in my boxer shorts. You imagine that at this stage I must have paused for a few seconds to decide what to write next....and so on.

It is tough to keep up with this technique since it is intense. But, it can serve as a way to bring back your focus to the book/article at hand and improve your reading experience multi-fold.
The same method can be applied to finding focus and appreciating the art in front of us while watching a movie, listening to music etc.

2. Exercising / Playing a sport

This is a new habit of mine (as I described in this post). I try to visualize the muscles grinding against each other. I feel the muscles being used at those moment and picture them strengthening and gaining volume (I have no idea if anything that I just said is what happens when you exercise, but I visualize it nevertheless). I feel the sweat dripping off of my back. I try to be there. It is not always possible but sometimes, yes. 

3. Creating

I thought about this long and hard, drifted off for a little while and then came back typing furiously (side note: you can imagine me doing that and enjoy reading this even more). Finding focus in creation comes from creation itself. It is one of those things that snowballs into a phenomenon where you are constantly in the zone by the sheer effect of having written/painted/clicked... something.

And if you need inspiration to get started, just take note of the present moment and how you arrived here. It will tell you enough to get going. Go back and see the first sentence of this point. This is exactly what I did when I was stuck beyond #2. 

4. Having a conversation

I have a thing I do sometimes in the middle of conversations. I look around and observe the set. Then I look into the distance and wonder. I wonder how we would look to a person from far away. Or to a novelist with us being one of the characters he is describing. I have mentioned one such moment in a post on Spiti Valley ( "I wish I could have seen ourselves from a hill 500 metres away with a binocular. That would have been cool." ). Once this is done, you would find a renewed vigor and a sense of amazement in your attitude towards the friend in front of you. Ironically, this momentary zoning out will give you more focus and enthusiasm towards the conversation you are having.

Another thing I have noticed is that people who are focused command respect and awe. Or maybe they do to me. If I find someone practicing their craft as if there is nothing else, I am immediately attracted towards them. An apt example of this comes from a movie about golf - The Greatest Game Ever Played. I won't spoil it for you but if you haven't watched the movie yet, go and do it. You'll identify the scene which I am referring to. 

Try and give this technique a shot. Perhaps, like having a perfect day a week, you could have a romantic's focus day. And unlike the former, this is much less overwhelming to practice daily.

Let me know if it works for you. All the best!

Living One Perfect Day a Week

Last night, I lay awake in bed with a sickening feeling in my stomach that everything I am doing right now is going to fail. It made my head hurt and I couldn't sleep. I doubted my decisions and imagined all the worst case scenarios. 

Then morning came.

Like a bad habit, my first instinct was to look at my phone to check messages, social media, etc. For me, that's not the best way to start the day. I pondered upon the good habits I have developed (ref: Start With Art) and want to develop (Meditation). And during this reflection, I had an insight: 

What would my perfect day look like? And once that is figured out, can I live that day, today?

I don't need to do this everyday. But, just for today, I would live a perfect day of my life. The definition of perfect day for me is: Attaining maximum contentment within the practical constraints of the present situation.

So, I listed out all the things that would pass my test to become an ingredient in my perfect day. Here's my list of things I want to do:

  • Wake up and not look at the phone (Failed)
  • Exercise for 10 minutes (Success)
  • Eat a fruit (Success - Watermelon)
  • Read for 45 minutes (Success - Einstein: His Life and Universe)
  • Write something original and publish it (If you are reading this, then Success)
  • Meditate for 15 minutes
  • Work
  • Go out in the evening, get some air, run errands
  • Work
  • Learn something new - a language/skill/work related
  • Find a nice new music album
  • Chill with the friends and partner
  • Have a beer or two while listening to that nice new album
  • Indulge in dreamy conversation

Points to note: 

  1. Failing to do a certain activity is OK. This is an aspirational list, not a mandatory one. (As you can see, I failed my first activity outright, but that's alright. The critical thing is to get back in the game.)
  2. The perfect day doesn't mean doing the most things you can. Go back to the definition. If, at the moment of your life, the perfect day means sleeping in all day, then by all means. The key is to be deliberate about that decision.
  3. A tip - Add an amount to your activity (15 minutes, 3 reps, etc.). You must have heard of TAG - Time and Amount goals and how they affect the chances of your accomplishing that goal. Well, this is pretty much what that is. 
  4. The constraint of our daily life is our friend. Do whatever is possible within its scope. 
  5. 'Once a week' is an out of the blue recommendation since it makes for a good title. Find your own frequency.

The reason I am doing this is to feel more in control of my life, even if for just one day. I don't yet know the full effect of this but I imagine that if we feel like shit and want a way to get things in order again, this might serve the purpose. I am about halfway done with my day. Let's see how the rest of it goes. So far, all good.

I hope you find it useful and I would love to hear your experiences with this technique. All the best! 

Cover Image via Unsplash

Start With Art

Over the past few weeks, I have formed two new habits to kick-start my day. One of them is Exercising. I had tried it before, but I was never disciplined. Two things have helped in changing that: 

  • I have a designated trigger to exercise - brushing my teeth. Choosing a daily activity as a trigger to another one is a proven technique to form a new habit. As soon as I am done brushing, I know that the next thing I have to do is exercise. There is no struggle to find the time or the right mood, since the moment after brushing arrives every day.

Recommended reading on forming new habits: Leo Babauta's book Zen Habits.

  • I ignore my mind - What I mean by this is that I get on the exercise mat on an autopilot mode. I don't let my mind rationalise and tell me to skip a day. There are days when it tells me that I am tired or taking a break just this one day wouldn't hurt. But, I have learnt to ignore it. It sounds simple, but is powerful. I have written about it earlier in the post The One skill to stick to your resolutions.

My exercise regime isn't too fancy by any measure. It resembles the popular 7-minute workout with a fair measure of stretching exercises on top. Additionally, I do a few stretches specifically for my upper back since I spend most of my waking hours on a chair.

But, this post is not about exercising. It is about what I do next - 

I read a book.

It doesn't seem like a big deal, but it has become one of the most important activities of my day. I call this start with art - Begin your day with reading a good book for whatever amount of time you can spare. I do it for about an hour and it has improved my life considerably. Allow me to explain how.

A good book fills me with inspiration and a desire to do something great myself. There have been many times when I read a page or two and the sheer beauty of the language spurred me on to write something of my own. I would then promptly close the book and sit down to write at a furious pace. New ideas would crash against the walls of my brain racing each other to be the first ones to appear on the blank page. 

Reading a nice book lifts you up and propels you into action. I recommend reading good literature in the morning. Life stories of great men and women isn't a bad choice either.

You could have chosen 'doing' versus 'consuming' art. If you can do that, go for it. But, my morning reading is like a cup of coffee which flicks on a light inside me. This 'consumption' makes the 'doing' easier.

The end of my exercise triggers the start with art. And my sheer love for reading has come in handy to form this habit. If you need suggestions, here's my reading list.

Give it a shot. You have everything to gain. And do tell if it works for you. Do you find yourself filled with more energy and endeavor to grab the day by its balls and carpe the fucking diem? I would love to hear if you have any other method to start the day that works for you.

Cover Image via Unsplash

Related Posts

  1. The Catharsis of Creation
  2. How to Cure Boredom
  3. How to Live Life

Two Brothers and A Cat

It is a bright sunny day. The landscape is dry with little vegetation. A distant train bellows smoke. A house stands alone in the scorching heat. It is a ragged old wooden shack in dilapidated condition. An armchair lies rocking in the porch. An emaciated cat sleeps beside it.

An old man is inside the house. He has a wrinkled face, droopy shoulders and exhausted disposition. He is wearing a blue toque. Soup brews in a pot on the stove. There is a cube of cheese on a plate.

The kitchen is divided into two identical parts. Utensils, refrigerators, microwave oven - there are two of everything and are positioned in the same way. A white line divides the two sides.

Another old man enters the kitchen from the right side while the first one works on the left. He is well built and walks about with confidence. He is wearing a red toque.  And he proceeds to cook on his side of the kitchen. The two men mill about ignoring each other's presence. 

The first man looks at his plate of cheese. It is empty.

"Where is my cheese?," demands the first one.

"What?" says the second one as he turns around to face him.

"Where is my cheese, Lee?"

"What cheese, Bruce?"

"The cheese that was here on my plate on my side," says Bruce as he clenches his fist angrily. He is trying very hard not to shout.

"I don't know anything about your cheese, Bruce."

"Don't lie to me. You've always bullied me. Not this time. Give me back my cheese.", shouts Bruce and throws the plate angrily onto the floor. It shatters into pieces. Lee wonders why it broke. The salesman had said it was made from unbreakable chinaware. He shakes off his head. He has more important matters at hand.

"Listen. Calm down, brother. Here, have a tub of olives. It'll go well with your soup," says Lee and slides the tub of olives to the other side.

Bruce isn't impressed. He lets out a huge breath and storms out of the kitchen to his room. He opens his bedside drawer and pulls out a revolver. He comes back in the kitchen and points the gun at Lee.

"What the hell do you think you are doing?" Lee is clearly not amused. "You need to calm down." He steps towards the other side stepping over the broken plate hoping to grab the gun from Bruce.

"Where is my cheese?" shouts Bruce. He has lost all control over his emotions. He is really angry. His finger is on the trigger. His hands are unsteady. He is shaking.

Suddenly, the cat leaps across the kitchen stepping on Bruce's feet. This startles him and he accidentally fires a shot. The bullet goes through Lee's left eye into his head. He collapses and dies immediately. There is blood all over the floor. The white line turns red.

"Aaaaaaaarrrgh!" screams Bruce. He is crying uncontrollably and stands there shell-shocked. "You fucking cat! Where are you?"

Bruce is blaming the cat for this tragedy. He looks around the house for the cat and finds it in a corner behind the bookshelf trying to scratch at something. But, it isn't able to get through to whatever it is scratching at. The space is too narrow for its claws.

"Come here you little cunt", says Bruce even as he is crying and shivering. He grabs it by the belly. The cat screeches. It has a premonition of what is about to happen. Its tail stands on its end.

Bruce looks at it despicably. "You killed my brother. Who will tell me now where my cheese is? It definitely ain't you. What use are you then, you little cocksucker?"

He takes his gun and shoots the cat through its right eye and drops it on the floor. There is blood splattered across the books and the walls. He exits the room.

There is movement behind the shelf. A book has fallen down. It looks tattered. There is a mouse eating a cube of cheese over it. A gunshot is heard from the kitchen and it seems as if a man just dropped to the floor. The mouse is startled and runs away. And we see the name of the book - 'Who moved my cheese?'

How to Have More Fun at Fun

When was the last time you felt truly alive? That moment when your chest filled up with breaths of your soul woken afresh after a deep slumber. Your eyes lit up and cheeks swelled with overwhelming emotion. You felt an inexplicable sensation that you knew was something special. Extreme happiness comes close to what it was but that’s just one dimension of it. Excitement. Thrill. Energy. You felt like God.

I have a term for such moments - DIMs or Deep Immersion Moments.

I theorize that you find yourself in such moments when you are deeply immersed in any activity. In that instant, your mind, body and soul dance together to the same tune, focused on doing the task at hand. There is nothing else but that moment. 

Sometimes we find DIMs in our hobbies. Painting. Running. Playing a sport. Riding a bike. Meditating. Exercising. Listening to music. Reading a book. Listening to music while reading a book. Internet Surfing. Checking Facebook. Smoking weed. Or perhaps something else.

How did you decide which one to partake in? Was it a spur of the moment decision? Perhaps someone great in that field inspired you. Or you thought it would be ‘fun’ because you saw someone else having fun at it. Was it a conscious decision? Or you just went with the flow? 

This brings us to the next question. 



Why should I care what I do for fun?

Look, you have limited time on this earth. And it has a nasty habit of flying by when you are not paying attention. You have just 3500 odd weekends, half of which you’ve already spent. And as the wise saying of our generation goes - YOLO!

I am assuming that you are not a masochist and want to spend most of your life being happy and content. And if you could feel absolute exhilaration in some of these moments, it wouldn’t be so bad, right?

You want more of those sexy DIMs. 

Thus, it logically concludes that to live a better life, we need to position ourselves in situations where the density of DIMs is the highest. This means that you want to choose the fun activity which gives you the most DIMs.


How do I find these super-sexy rainbow-farting sons-of-a-unicorn DIMs?

 

Let's start with this curve.

 DIM-Frequency Curve

DIM-Frequency Curve

  • On the X-axis is the frequency of your fun activities. (More frequent as you go to the right)
  • On the Y-axis is the number of DIMs (Increasing as you go up)
  • The section marked Happy Place is the maxima of your DIMs. Or, in other words – this is the area that will light up your fire.
  • How often you should do something to find the Happy Place is the Optimal Fun Frequency or OFF.

What you want is to consistently find the Happy Place.

Happy Place = max DIM = Fully lit fire


Understanding the curve

Why do DIMs decrease if activity is done very frequently?

Fun is a way for us to relax, unwind and recharge to be able to perform at our peak at our work. Thus, fun is a secondary activity which supports our primary function of doing meaningful work (from which most of us derive contentment and purpose). Without the primary function, there is no fun. When fun takes centre-stage in your life, it stops being fun. Excess of pleasure becomes work itself.

     Example:  For me, watching too many movies means I feel guilty after a binge. So instead of enjoying the movies,&nbsp;I just go through the motions of just watching something. Overall a less happy place.

 

Example: For me, watching too many movies means I feel guilty after a binge. So instead of enjoying the movies, I just go through the motions of just watching something. Overall a less happy place.

Like drinking out every day. It gets repetitive after a time and one day you find yourself puking on the curb outside the pub, passed out and wondering how it ever came to this.

We all need a break from taking a break sometimes.

Excess pleasure comes with guilt (of not doing work), exhaustion and less complete involvement in an activity – which means lesser DIMs.

 

 

Why does it taper off if done very rarely?

To relish something, it requires for you to be good at it. Your intellect (as is its habit) desires constant improvement in your execution of it.

By doing things very sparingly, you devoid yourself a chance to progress because of a lack of momentum. Our minds and bodies have a recall of our past experiences whether good or bad. This recall comes with a due date. Once you are past this date, you can no longer recollect this knowledge and will have to start from scratch. Call it rustiness if you like.

Thus, to constantly find the Happy Place, we need to find the OFF. Here's an example of my snooker habits to illustrate this better.

     Example: For my snooker game,&nbsp; less than once per month and I am bound to forget the mistakes I made, the positions I found myself in. I would not necessarily forget the game, but the nuances of the gameplay discovered only in more frequent competitive playing.&nbsp; 1/week &lt; 1/ OFFSnooker &lt;&nbsp; 1/month

 

Example: For my snooker game, less than once per month and I am bound to forget the mistakes I made, the positions I found myself in. I would not necessarily forget the game, but the nuances of the gameplay discovered only in more frequent competitive playing. 1/week < 1/ OFFSnooker <  1/month


Choosing your fun activity

Let’s recall what we know so far.

  1. We want more DIMs 
  2. DIM maxima is the Happy Place where we want to stay most of the time.
  3. The frequency at which Happy Place appears is OFF

Given the above, how do you choose what you do for fun? To answer this question, you have to answer another one - How much free time do you have? 

This is needed for a very simple reason. OFF of some activities is low, for some it is high. If you have little free time, choosing an activity with high OFF is a bad idea. Let's take some examples.

The OFF of learning a guitar is high. You have to invest a lot of time and energy to reach a level where you can enjoy the instrument. Free time of say 2 hours a week would not suffice. You need a lot more hours to find DIMs in guitar playing.

On the other hand, with the same amount of time, choosing to watch a movie would be a good idea. It has a low OFF and could be achieved in whatever little time you have.

But, more often than not, you would have more than 2 hours a week of free time. So you could choose multiple activities with different OFFs. For example, you can learn guitar (high OFF) and watch a movie. Or, you could learn coding (high OFF) and play Pictionary with friends (low OFF).

This time is not just for execution, but, for study and research too. This is because intellectual growth cannot just be by purely practical methods. So, if you enjoy whiskey, you would be well served by reading about how it is made, what is the difference between the many blends and so on. Or for movie buffs, learning about the cast, the movie trivia, comparing the movie with the director's other works and so on. If its rolling a joint, perhaps watch a YouTube video of learning new ways to roll. This study enriches your experience of the activity the next time you do it.

 

THREE OTHER FACTORS

1. Randomness

If this calculated approach to fun seems a little stuck-up, add in a healthy dose of Randomness. It is generally good for a fun activity since it adds an element of uncertainty and spontaneity, both of which are good for our Happy Place. 

Having said this, ensure that randomness is a deliberate addition. For example, a randomly made trip with friends would be fun only if you are enthusiastic about it. And not when you have been dragged along to participate in it because of pushy friends or social obligations. So tread this line with caution. And always keep tweaking your ratio of randomness/planned based on the free time that you have.

Randomness is a factor but only if it is a deliberate choice in your idea of fun.

 

2. Passion

This post has ignored passion so far. The thing about it is that if you are extremely passionate about something, even if it is tough, you can find a lot of DIMs in the suffering and the struggle. Thus passion overpowers everything - to an extent. For example, at an age of 50, passion alone won't help you make an exceptional football player. However it might give you those DIMs.

 

3. FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)

Often, saying no to things feels like you are missing out on fun. The FOMO kicks in. Although, we know that some of those things are social obligations that we have full control to say No to. 

Avoid these social obligations like you avoid your clingy ex. The reason is simple - because of your reluctance in participating in such activities, you would never be able to find the DIMs. At the back of your mind, there will always be the thought that you could have spent this doing something else. You will not be in the moment. It will result in sub-optimal experiences. You will have to make this choice often because frankly, there just isn't enough time to do everything you want to do and still be able to find the happy place. That's just the nature of time - limited and passing.

For example, I have a friend who is exceptionally good at a certain sport. But, he doesn't play with us (his friends), because he knows it would be a less than awesome experience for him (we are donkeys at the game, present little challenge for him). Or personally, I have a huge list of things I want to do, but I know that if I pursue them all, I'll end up being mediocre in most of them.


Conclusion

You can ignore this made-up science and still have fun. But, that will not be optimized to allow you to stay in your Happy Place for long periods of time. For that, you need to go deeper into any activity to unfold layers of intensity. As you go deeper, your Happy Place may even be happier and you might discover pleasures which were unknown earlier and attain a nirvana like state.

Participate in everything, learn new stuff, do new things everyday by all means. After all novelty is the elixir of the mind. But, don’t make every one of those your regular fun activities without investing time to grow in them. The crux is to learn deeply about your hobbies. All this to avoid sub-optimal experiences and live a more meaningful life.


Hope this post helps you. If it does, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. Or email me at mj {at} mayankja.in.

To get updates about such articles, leave your email address below. Mails go out at most once a fortnight.

Notes from Elon Musk's Biography

For an extended period of time late last year, I was obsessed with Elon Musk. I consider him my modern day hero. I have mentioned him before in my essay How to Live Life

Through his story, I wanted to understand, what drives the high achievers to take incredible personal risks and have the drive and intelligence to see them through to the end. So, I picked up Musk's biography Elon Musk : How The Billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is Shaping Our Future by Ashlee Vance. It offers a unique perspective inside one of the most brilliant minds of our generation. 

The following are my highlights from the book and my notes on the basis of all that I have read and watched about Musk. His story gives me inspiration and some important lessons. I hope you find it useful too.

 

NOTES AND HIGHLIGHTS

(Lines from the book are in italics)

 

His most fundamental philosophy:

“When thinking, go down to the fundamentals of a problem, instead of deciphering it via analogy.”

This right here is to me Musk’s most endearing trait - his hyper rationality. By going down to the most basic entity of a problem, whether it is business or personal, we can find a better solution. I cannot stress this enough. Take this for example:

Acronyms Seriously Suck - Musk wrote a long email to his employees urging them not to use acronyms for common technical terms. This is to ensure that any new joinee doesn't have a problem in catching up with things. Because when people discuss things in acronyms, you don't want to be the one who looks dumb and asks to be explained the meaning. It seems trivial to mention this in a company-wide email but highlights his uncompromising rationality in even the most basic tasks.

Quotes from his employees:

You did what Musk asked or were prepared to burrow down into the properties of materials to explain why something could not be done. “He always said, ‘Take it down to the physics"
He would place this urgency that he expected the revenue in ten years to be ten million dollars a day and that every day we were slower to achieve our goals was a day of missing out on that money.
If you told him that you made a particular choice because ‘it was the standard way things had always been done,’ he’d kick you out of a meeting fast. He’d say, ‘I never want to hear that phrase again. What we have to do is fucking hard and half-assing things won’t be tolerated.’

And when he's building any component of his product, however big or small, he wants it to be the best:

“We have to decide what is the best sun visor in the world and then do better”

 

On building a culture:

Next is his quality of building a comradeship and responsibility among his people. These folks genuinely believe they are working on things that will alter the course of humanity (which they are). 

“Every person on that island was a fucking star, and they were always holding seminars on radios or the engine. It was such an invigorating place.”
Straubel was stalking the solar car crew, trying to talk them into building an electric car based on the lithium ion batteries. He would fly up to Palo Alto, spend the night sleeping in his plane, and then ride a bicycle to the Stanford campus to make his sales pitch while helping with their current projects.
An undergraduate, Berdichevsky volunteered to quit school, work for free, and sweep the floors at Tesla if that’s what it took to get a job.

At a time when Tesla was running out of money, and Musk had to lean on friends to try to make payroll from week to week, as he negotiated with investors, this is what happened: 

“A bunch of Tesla employees wrote checks to keep the company going,”
 

On his work ethic

His work ethic and ability to handle stress is second to none:

“Elon would come home at eleven and work some more. People didn’t always get the sacrifice he made in order to be where he was.” 
“He has the ability to work harder and endure more stress than anyone I’ve ever met”
"I’ve just never seen anything like his ability to take pain.”

And he wasn't immune to feeling dejected like normal humans:

Musk had come to Russia filled with optimism about putting on a great show for mankind and was now leaving exasperated and disappointed by human nature.

 

On his commitment:

‘I will spend my last dollar on these companies. If we have to move into Justine’s parents’ basement, we’ll do it.’
“God is our witness, come hell or high water, I am going to do it"

On the kind of people he wants to work with:

One thing that Musk holds in the highest regard is resolve, and he respects people who continue on after being told no.
What Musk would not tolerate were excuses or the lack of a clear plan of attack.
Spotting engineers who have exhibited type A personality traits over the course of their lives.
The object is to find individuals who ooze passion, can work well as part of a team, and have real-world experience bending metal.
Where a typical manager may set the deadline for the employee, Musk guides his engineers into taking ownership of their own delivery dates. “He doesn’t say, ‘You have to do this by Friday at two P.M.,’” Brogan said. “He says, ‘I need the impossible done by Friday at two P.M. Can you do it?’ Then, when you say yes, you are not working hard because he told you to. You’re working hard for yourself. It’s a distinction you can feel. You have signed up to do your own work.”
People who await guidance or detailed instructions languish. The same goes for workers who crave feedback.

And of course he is super intelligent:

People who have spent significant time with Musk will attest to his abilities to absorb incredible quantities of information with near-flawless recall.

Musk expresses empathy at a different level:

His brand of empathy is unique. He seems to feel for the human species as a whole without always wanting to consider the wants and needs of individuals.

 

Musk's endeavors are grand - on the scale of humanity and probably beyond. His efforts in all the companies together surmount anything seen ever before. Granted that he may not have started Tesla or Solar City but without his drive to get things done, they may not have reached the state they did.

I leave you with this quote, which to me is his most powerful one:

"It seemed like one should try to make the world a better place because the inverse makes no sense.”

I hope you get a chance to read the book. It is deeply inspiring and finds a place in my list of Best Books I read in 2015.

FURTHER READING

  1. Notes from How to live on 24 hours a day
  2. The Dharma Bums Book Review
  3. Siddhartha Book Review

Want more such book reviews? Add in your email address below to get my newsletter. Mails go out at most once a fortnight.

Best Books I Read in 2015

I read 20+ books this year. For some it is a lot, for others just a few. Personally, I am very happy with having read so many good books. I invest a lot of time and thought in picking them. Thus, most of what I read this year has been brilliant. Making a best-of list is hence difficult. But, I'll give it a shot.

You can also check out the lists from the last couple of years.

1. A Personal Matter (Audiobook) - Kenzaburo Oe

A few years ago, I visited the hill town Mussorie with my family. One evening, while roaming the streets after dinner, I found a thrift store selling books at throwaway prices. Among the many I bought, there was one called 'Living Carelessly in Tokyo and Elsewhere' by John Nash. It is a memoir of an American who had migrated to Japan, learnt Japanese and translated many Japanese books into English. One of them is by Kenzaburo Oe. And my word, what a book it is!

A personal matter is a dark, poignant piece of art. It requires patience and lingering on the words to admire their beauty. It is a semi-autobiographical work where the protagonist deals with the birth of his mentally disabled child. In real life, Oe has a son who is under developed and forms the basis of many of his works.

I consumed it as an audiobook and found myself rewinding multiple times. Reading it would have been preferable. It is one of those books which make you wish you knew the original language to truly understand the magnificence of this work. If you are still not convinced, did I mention that Oe is also a Nobel laureate?

2. The Martian (Audiobook) - Andy Weir

Another Audiobook. I discovered this via a blog I follow (Wait But Why) much before the movie. And as most books-movies go, it is so much better than the movie version. I actually slept in the movie, literally. Even if you have seen it, I would recommend reading/listening the book. There are so many details, incidents and twists and turns that have been missed or changed in the movie. The performance on my audiobook was outstanding to help the matters.

A fun fact: This book was released iteratively in a serial format with feedback from people on the internet. On completion this was released for free only for its rights to be later bought by a publishing house. 

3. Into Thin Air - Jon Krakauer

This was the book on which the movie 'Everest' was based on. It is funny that so many of the books I pick up are later made into movies. Again, this was much before the movie was released. And unlike 'The Martian', Everest and Into Thin Air are quite comparable in their execution. However, like always, reading is much more recommended. 

4. Elon Musk : How The Billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is Shaping Our Future- Ashlee Vance

This is a great insight into the life and mind of Musk who is a modern day hero for me. Musk’s most endearing trait to me is his hyper rationalism. His endeavours are grand - on the scale of humanity and probably beyond.

His efforts in all the companies together surmount anything seen ever before. Granted that he may not have started Tesla or Solar City but without his drive to get things done, they may not have reached the state they did. 

5. Boats on Land (A Collection of Short Stories)- Janice Pariat

I don't remember who recommended it. Perhaps someone in my Facebook feed. It is a collection of stories from the North East region of India. The author, Janice, has done an incredible job at weaving beautiful, dreamy stories. You know the times when you read a book and instantly want to be transported to that time and place, that is what this book did to me. 

6. Jaya - An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharats - Devdutt Patnaik

It doesn't matter if you are religious, atheist or agnostic, you have to agree that Mythology is interesting. The stories are colorful, grand and capture your imagination. Jaya did all this and more. 

7. Shatranj ke Khiladi (Hindi Edition) - Munshi Premchand
A simple short story by Munshi Premchand. I read this in Hindi and it was a delight since we don't really read much in Hindi nowadays.

8. The Art of Asking: How I learned to stop worrying and let people help - Amanda Palmer

I read this non stop on a flight with sleepy eyes but found it unputdownable. It is a brutally honest autobiographical account by Amanda Palmer. 

Other Notable mentions:

Now Reading and probably will find place in the next best-of list:

  • Atlus Shrugged
  • Man's Search for Meaning
  • Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

I hope you get around to reading some of these. Would love to hear your thoughts and opinions on them. After all, what does a good book do if not incite deeply polarized discussions. 

If you like these recommendations, check out the rest of my reading list here.

Further Reading

  1. The Dharma Bums Book Review
  2. Siddhartha Book Review