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“Call no man happy until he is dead” – I think it’s okay to be happy

In a comment on my reflection on leisure, Thomas Worthington mentioned the story of Solon and Crœsus. Crœsus had asked Solon who the happiest person was, and Solon’s answers focused on people who had died admirable deaths. The idea is that you can’t say people are happy or blessed person until they die, since their luck could always go bad.

 I’d come across that idea before. Aristotle says something similar in Nichomachean Ethics:

He is happy who lives in accordance with complete virtue and is sufficiently equipped with external goods, not for some chance period but throughout a complete life. (1101a10)

It got me thinking about the differences between how I think of happiness and how I think they thought of happiness. I can see the point of those ancient philosophers, but it seems unnecessary to focus on what people would judge as happy.

2014-08-13 Call no man happy until he is dead - #philosophy

2014-08-13 Call no man happy until he is dead – #philosophy

For me, it’s much more useful and more real to be able to think of myself as happy, and to keep in mind that the ups and downs of fortune are small waves in a very deep lake. It’s like Louis CK’s rant, Everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy. I’m writing this on a computer and the text will be sent off through radio signals and electrons and photos around the world! And I have windows and indoor plumbing and all these other luxuries beyond those enjoyed by ancient kings.

But this kind of happiness comes easy to me, at least at this moment. We’ve learned a lot about how the mind works, but not enough – there are things that can take away your ability to appreciate and enjoy and hope. (Note to future Sacha: if this happens to you, remember that things will work out.) In the meantime, giving myself permission to be happy–not a tempting-fate sort of happy, just an appreciative sort of happy–makes it easier for me to enjoy life.

People have different ideas about happiness. Some people think happiness requires wealth, fame, pleasure, freedom. I doubt there’s much point in trying to change someone’s mind about happiness or get them to agree with you on your definition; and even your definition might change over time, as you learn from other people. Live your own life as well as you can. Perhaps by illuminating those possibilities, you might help other people explore their own.

Drawing update

It’s funny how I drop interests and pick them up again. Based on my sketchbook, there was a roughly two-month period when I did hardly any drawing. Then I had some planning to do that lent itself naturally to being mapped out, and then I ended up drawing a whole bunch, and now I’m reeled back in and looking forward to playing around with this more.

2014-08-13 Learning more about drawing - #drawing

2014-08-13 Learning more about drawing – #drawing

Like so! I took a picture of Leia (who has grown out most of the lion cut we subjected her to), traced an outline in pencil, and experimented with inking and shading it in on my computer. I still have a long way to go before I can do this easily, but I like the way that tracing helps me deliberately practise seeing simple shapes. Likewise, penciling on paper or on my computer (without tracing an image) lets me play with the shape of something until it feels right. As I trace and draw, I’ll get a better sense of how things really look–and the forms beneath those lines.

2014-08-15 Luke, also traced from a picture

2014-08-15 Luke, also traced from a picture

2014-08-13 Leia traced from picture

2014-08-13 Leia traced from picture

2014-08-17 Neko, from picture

2014-08-17 Neko, from picture

Weekly review: Week ending August 15, 2014

A week for working and drawing. Learned a lot, yay! Downsides: less sleep, less reading. Will experiment with balance…

Blog posts

Sketches

Woohoo! Back.

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (56.4h – 33%)
    • Earn (39.6h – 70% of Business)
      • E1: Go to work every day
      • E1: Meet up with Harold Jarche
    • Build (8.5h – 15% of Business)
      • Try new features in Dragon Naturally Speaking 13
      • Upgrade WordPress
      • Drawing (4.8h)
        • Try new features in Autodesk Sketchbook Pro 7
      • Delegation (1.2h)
        • Review proofread transcript
      • Packaging (0.0h)
      • Paperwork (2.5h)
        • File health claims
        • Investigate separation of accounts for personal delegation
    • Connect (8.3h – 14% of Business)
      • Chat with Scott Torrance regarding publishing
  • Relationships (8.3h – 4%)
    • Attend Hacklab meeting
    • Meet up with Ian Garmaise and people he knows
    • Watch Guardians of the Galaxy, yay!
    • Work on F3
  • Discretionary – Productive (8.1h – 4%)
    • Emacs (0.6h – 0% of all)
      • Chat with masteringemacs
      • Help with Emacs
    • Draw and shade in picture of Neko
    • Practise drawing faces
    • [#C] Tracking: Update the number of tasks
    • Writing (5.1h)
      • Back to drawing digitally, thanks to Wacom drivers
      • Becoming comfortable with simplicity and even discomfort
      • Get back into drawing things I’m learning about
      • Turning 31
  • Discretionary – Play (7.7h – 4%)
  • Personal routines (23.1h – 13%)
  • Unpaid work (9.9h – 5%)
  • Sleep (54.5h – 32% – average of 7.8 per day)

Becoming comfortable with simplicity and even discomfort

Here’s an excerpt from Seneca’s Epistles (Letter 18) that made me think about voluntary simplicity:

Such is the course which those men I have followed who, in their imitation of poverty, have every month come almost to want, that they might never recoil from what they had so often rehearsed.

… Even Epicurus, the teacher of pleasure, used to observe stated intervals, during which he satisfied his hunger in niggardly fashion; he wished to see whether he thereby fell short of full and complete happiness, and, if so, by what amount be fell short, and whether this amount was worth purchasing at the price of great effort.

… For though water, barley-meal, and crusts of barley-bread, are not a cheerful diet, yet it is the highest kind of Pleasure to be able to derive pleasure from this sort of food, and to have reduced one’s needs to that modicum which no unfairness of Fortune can snatch away.

I’m careful with my finances because I don’t want to end up in the kinds of situations that I see play out around me and on the Internet. I know I can’t eliminate those risks (no one is immune to bad luck!), but I can try to minimize the risks.

I’m pretty insulated from everyday troubles. I’m not often hungry or thirsty. I usually bring a bottle of water and a snack in my bag, and in the city, there are always places to go. We have what we need and want, and we don’t worry about where our next meal is coming from or how we can keep a roof over our heads.

Sometimes when I talk to people a little further ahead in life, I’m reminded that prosperity can lead to complacency. Some people tell me they wish they could do something like this experiment of mine with semi-retirement, but on the other hand, they like their current lifestyle a lot too. I like keeping my life simple and my budget almost student-ish. I check out thrift stores for clothes. I shop for groceries with a list, do the math when it comes to prices, and enjoy home-cooked meals more than restaurant steaks. It’s a way of minimizing risks and increasing safety, I guess. If I don’t get used to the good life – if I fight lifestyle inflation and hedonic adaptation – then I can more easily weather any downturns in markets or luck.

How can I get even better at this? In terms of food, it’s good to practice with simple ingredients and simple techniques. Then the main differentiator would be skill in choosing, combining, and cooking. I can still enjoy the things that I’m not very skilled at. I might even skip a meal, or eat lightly. In terms of transportation, maybe I should walk long distances once in a while, so I don’t get too accustomed to taking transit or biking. In terms of things, I can give more things away, or box things up temporarily.

It’s good to get pleasure from the small stuff. I can drink tap water here in Toronto, which still boggles me no end. I can read hundreds of books from the library. I can walk and feel the sun shining. I can breathe and feel my lungs inflate. What do I need richer pleasures for, if these simple ones can be enough?

Back to drawing digitally, thanks to Wacom drivers

I upgraded to Microsoft Windows 8 in January 2013 mainly primarily because I noticed myself resisting the change. For the most part, I adapted easily. I liked using Win-q to launch applications, and I even got the hang of the complicated procedure for shutting down.

Still, the upgrade was a step backwards in terms of drawing on my tablet PC. On Windows 7, I had disabled the touchscreen in order to make stylus use easier; on Windows 8 (and later 8.1), I couldn’t reliably disable the touchscreen. The option had disappeared from the built-in Pen & Touch configuration dialog, and disabling it through the hardware devices list sometimes didn’t work.

This meant that I either had to wear something to insulate my palm from the screen in order to avoid accidental touches (even my thinnest glove was still warm and unwieldy), or I had to occasionally erase stray dots. Both got in the way of drawing on my computer, so I didn’t do much of either.

While upgrading various pieces of software (Autodesk Sketchbook Pro, Dragon Naturally Speaking), I thought to check if Lenovo or Wacom had released new drivers yet. Wacom had! Woohoo. I insntalled the Wacom Feel driver, rebooted my computer, and found the Wacom Pen & Touch dialog had a checkbox for disabling touch.

It’s funny how these little inconveniences can add just enough friction to make something feel annoying, and how smoothening those inconveniences over can make a big difference in how you work and how you feel about it. I’m looking forward to playing around with the new features in Sketchbook Pro now. Glad I checked for updates!

Shopping for clothes

We took J- shopping for clothes on Friday afternoon, going through the stores in the Eaton Centre at a leisurely pace. Her mom takes her shopping from time to time, but neither W- nor I are into shopping aside from the occasional drop-off-and-browse at the thrift store, so J-’s wardrobe updates at our house had been mostly what she could get at the thrift store or on her shopping trips with friends. But it is good to spend time together and take more interest in her life, so here we are.

It’s not that bad – actually all right, even. I’m wearing comfortable shoes, I have my phone, and I like hanging out with W- and J-. If I had planned a little better, I would have left my laptop at home, but it’s not that heavy.

W- and I mostly stay in the background, offering the occasional comment or drawing J-’s attention to the kinds of things she’s looking for. She’s better at choosing clothes than I was at her age (or am, even at mine!) – she has some idea of what she wants, and can shop around to find things that could work. In the meantime, W- and I are happy to trail behind, helping her learn to ask for assistance and explore her options.

Hmm. This must be one of those moments that help people see the passage of time and notice the differences that are hard to notice day by day. I can see how people might reflect on that while trying to find clothes that fit changing lengths and widths. I think I understand a little bit more now. Kinda nice, just helping J- shop. I remember how my parents used to take us to the mall for the things we needed or wanted. I think I’m starting to understand them better. How wonderful!