“Things” don’t make you happy

“Things don’t make you happy, experiences do”. It’s a fairly well-known saying. Let’s dispute it.

What is an ‘experience’? Few would dispute that a holiday in an exotic place would count as an experience. But if you go to the same place year after year until you’ve been there a gazillion times, does that still count as an experience? If you do something that you already know (more or less) exactly how it will play out, I don’t think that counts as a new experience, and surely it’s new experiences that we’re looking for. Say you’re good at programming, using a framework you already know to build something you can already see in your mind will still make you better at it; you’ll still improve your internal representation of the concepts that are already there. But it’s not a new experience, it’s a refinement of what’s already in your head. Whereas if you try a new language or a new concept that’s slightly beyond your current skills, that would definitely counts as a new experience. And that’s what makes you happy, says well-known saying.

If we’re scoping ourselves to the concept of ‘new experiences’, what else would count as a new experience? Reading a book you’ve never read before? I would think so. Watching a movie you’ve never seen before? Yup. Or going out for a cycle and taking a path you’ve never taken before. Or perhaps taking a path you’ve taken before but stopping off somewhere and having a chat with someone you’ve never met before. All of these are ‘new’, all of these are ‘happy’. It’s still something that needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis though. For example, if I am a person who has read 1000 mediocre sci-fi novels, then I am unlikely to gain a lot of new experience by reading yet another mediocre sci-fi novel. Technically speaking the words of the new novel will be new, but the patterns behind them are not. Similarly, there are only so many new bland, similar, suburban streets you can cycle through before your brain says ‘enough’. There tends to be a pattern behind experiences that, once comprehended, will limit the amount of new-ness you will gain from each subsequent experience in that category.

So why don’t ‘things’ make you happy? One theory is that because the brain focuses on the joy of obtaining the thing and then once you have it, it’s never as good as the sensation of wanting it. This can be easily refuted by thinking of things not as a goal in and of themselves, but as tools to achieve more or better new experiences. A new microwave oven might not make me happy intrinsically, but it may take less time for me to prepare food, allowing me to spend more time on experiencing a new book or a new movie. A better bike might be shiny and new at first and boring and meh after a few months, unless you use it to cycle further and see new things. Things are tools meant to help you experience more.

Given this, I believe that the subjective emotional value that people place on things is too high. When measuring things in terms of experiences, a $1000 bicycle will not deliver you twice as much new experiences as a $500 bicycle. But it might take you to that one place you’ve never been able to get to in the past simply because you could not go fast enough on your old bike, or even because you needed that feeling of ‘I’m driving a really nice bicycle’ to motivate you into getting out more. Either way, measuring things by their thing-ness makes way less sense than measuring them by experiences gained. A TV that’s twice as big as your old one won’t make you appreciate a new movie twice as much. But it will facilitate you in appreciating it. And when judged by that metric it can absolutely be a thing that makes you happy.

Acquiring things is not true happiness. Using things to gain new experiences, is.

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  • Hyperreality is not reality
  • Excessive use of hyperreality and multitasking makes you appreciate reality less. Shut down, sit down, do one thing.
  • During a flight, while not doing anything in particular, I started thinking about how Shazam works and suddenly understood the algorithm behind it. Felt good.
  • If two people understood each other 100% of the time then they wouldn’t need each other.
  • Seeing new places, people and things is the absolute best way of expanding your mind and understanding, really understanding, how the world works.


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How life eats you

It saddens me how much of my time these days is spent thinking about mortgages, which areas to buy a house in, how to financially support myself in the long term, what best to invest in, and so on. It would be so nice not to think about that any more. I think a reasonable compromise can be reached after finding and dealing with obtaining a property. Reasonable. Not optimal.

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Why Interstellar is bad

  • They pretend it’s actual science.
  • Gaping plotholes.
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New year, old habits

Today, for the first time this year and for the first time since almost 6 months, I cycled. I finally put on some new handlebar tape, pumped some air in the tires and tightened the brakes. This is where I went.



I’ve been coming to this road for quite a while now, ever since I moved to my current place almost 3 years ago. This road is just about the perfect distance; the same as the distance I used to cycle to the seaside back in Japan. That said, the current track is way more difficult because there’s some serious uphills and downhills.

Usually I cycle a bit further than this road to end up at the Denham airfield, but I can never find a decent place to have a break there. There’s people, planes and horses in the way. So this time I just stopped at this road, put my bike to the side and had a seat in the grass. It was an amazing view, and for once there was no one else around so I could enjoy a moment of peace. The feeling of sitting on top of a hill looking at amazing scenery after a tough workout is one of the best feelings I have ever experienced. Nothing I could experience in a car could come close. It’s just an entirely different feeling.


A brilliant feeling. My body hurts like hell. I should do this more often.


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RIP Leonard Nimoy

A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. Live Long and Prosper

Leonard Nimoy


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Yup, still searching

We haven’t found a house yet, but we are learning many things as we view more properties. Here’s some thoughts I had on the topic while searching for a new home.

  • We’re getting better and better at narrowing down properties that are worth viewing.
  • As a result, filtering properties is absolutely not an issue after you’ve started looking. There’s only 1 or 2 new properties every day that match our criteria.
  • There’s no point for me to improve on Gumbug. I could make it better, but manually looking at 2 properties per day, even if they’re mismatched, is not a time sink.

We’ll get there. It’s just a matter of time.

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Infinite loop of the head full of snot

Maybe I should play Minecraft, but my PC keeps running out of memory. I’ve been considering buying a second machine for a home server, to host media and other things like Minecraft. So I head out to Amazon and Tom’s Hardware to check reviews and prices. Then I decide that I don’t really need one just yet. Maybe I should check in with work like I said I would, but my head is full of snot and I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on problems, so there’s really no point. Maybe I should do something random like going out for a cycle. Yes, going out for a cycle sounds nice, especially because my head is full of snot and I haven’t cycled in months, making it an utterly random, irresponsible thing to do. Can’t go wrong with that. Except that it’s about to rain. Oh well, I guess I’ll stay inside then. Maybe I should play Minecraft..

Unsnot yourself faster, head..

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