Per My Last E-mail #33

Sober Stack, Snowflakes, Predictions, Writing, Dolemite, Founders, Education, Bliss, and Shangri-La

Hi Friends 👋,

Happy Monday!

Before I hit send on last week’s e-mail, I asked Puja and my brother Dan to sanity check it because I thought it was too corny and self-centered to share with the whole group. They gave me the green light, so I swallowed my embarrassment and clicked the send button.

My intuition was off. Last week’s e-mail was my most read, highest-engagement e-mail yet. It sparked conversations with people I haven’t talked to in months or years, pushed some of you to set your own 2020 goals, added a new member to our book club, facilitated introductions to interesting and helpful people, and was my mom’s favorite e-mail yet.

By sharing my goals, I unintentionally opened the door for people to help me achieve them. I feel lucky to have such a supportive community, and it’s made me even more committed to building communities in which people support each other’s growth, in little and big ways. Thank you.


There’s one piece of advice that leers at me from every book and article on how to sleep better, spend less, and get healthier: don’t drink. I’ve ignored that advice each and every time.

But one of my 2020 goals that I wrote about last week is to “Put the basics - finances, health, wellness - on autopilot, with sub-goals to do a Dry January and drink fewer than 75 times this year.

One weekend in, it’s easier than I’d expected, but I need reinforcements to keep it going throughout the month. This weeks co-Products of the Week make up my Sober Stack:

Less and Kin

Less is a ridiculously simple app from the team at Zero. “Ridiculous” like “it’s ridiculous that you need to use something this simple to just not drink.” And that’s completely true, but it’s helpful to me for three reasons:

  1. Seeing the app icon on my homescreen gives me a little reminder and positive feelings throughout the day.

  2. The benefits of not drinking take time to manifest, so getting a little hit of happiness from being able to record another drinkless day is a small but helpful short-term reward.

  3. Less is going to be more useful when January is over and I need a place to track the number of times I drink, and the number of drinks I drink each time.

Kin is less simple and potentially more transformative. Kin is a new beverage company that has branded a new drink category: Euphorics. I’ll let them explain:

It sounds woowoo, and I was skeptical, but the first time I tried it, I felt a little bit happier. Nothing crazy, just nice. I even checked with a doctor friend who read the ingredients list and said that it looked like they could have the effects that Kin claims.

If you’re doing Dry January, give Less and Kin a shot, and let me know your tricks!

(Note: Products of the Week aren’t sponsored, but if Kin wants to send me a couple of free bottles, holla!)

Links & Listens

In the interest of de-densifying this newsletter, I’m trying something new. Each link will just one representative quote.

❄️My Semester With the Snowflakes by James Hatch

I’d like to count this as my first brick in attempting to build a bridge between the people here at Yale and those like me before I arrived here. We need everyone who gives a damn about this American experiment to contribute and make it succeed. We humans have much more in common than we have different. Thanks Yale, for helping me to become an aspiring bridge-builder at the age of 52.

🔮 Our Predictions About the Internet Are Probably Wrong by Cullen Murphy in The Atlantic

The printing press transformed religion, science, politics; it put information, misinformation, and power in the hands of more people than ever before; it created a celebrity culture as poets and polemicists vied for fame; and it loosened the restraints of authority and hierarchy, setting groups against one another.

✍️ Writing Well by Julian Shapiro

Writing is mostly thinking, which means becoming a better writer makes you a better thinker. You learn to communicate more clearly and persuasively.

🎥 Dolemite is my Name starring Eddie Murphy on Netflix

Take a look at me. I’m a rare specimen of a man, don’t you agree? I want you to live the life that you love and love the life that you live. From the frantic Atlantic, to the terrific Pacific, be the best of whatever you are. Shoot for the moon, and if you miss it, cling on to a motherfucking star.

🦸‍♀️ What Makes a Successful Founder from Basis Set Ventures

Execution is the only aspect that is consistently correlated with startup success. Across all archetypes, day-to-day effectiveness and whether the founder learns and adapts quickly are most correlated with success.

📚 Tiago Forte: The Future of Education on The North Star Podcast with David Perell

A lot of what the accountability mechanism is is just having friends who are in the course who then help you learn, help you to motivate yourself, and then when you fall off-track, pull you back… the friendships begin on the internet and then migrate back into the world… The lifelong learning doesn’t happen without community.

What I’m Reading,c_limit,f_auto,q_auto:good/

Over Christmas break, I picked up one of the paperbacks that Polina Marinova included in her Think Week book bag: The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner. It’s the story of the grumpy author’s trip around the world to the happiest places on earth in an attempt to uncover universal lessons on happiness.

I couldn’t put it down, and took advantage of its being an actual book by underlining and annotating the hell out of it.

“Whatcha doin’ over there? Annotatin’ again?” — Puja, multiple times

Normally when I highlight in my Kindle, I leave the highlights alone until they pop up in my Readwise. But since I read this one in paperback, it’s on me to resurface and organize the relevant information. For example, each time Weiner quoted a philosopher on happiness, I underlined it and wrote a little “P” in the margin. Puja joked that I wouldn’t come back to those little P’s, but joke’s on her. Here they are (some of my favorites, at least):

  • Jeremy Bantham famously espoused the utilitarian principle, “the greatest happiness for the greatest number.”

  • “Happiness is a virtuous activity of the soul.” — Aristotle

  • “The relation between happiness and consumption of stimulants follows an inverted U-curve. Spoil sports and guzzlers are less happy than modest consumers.” — Ruut Veenhoven

  • Schopenhauer believed that happiness is the absence of misery.

  • “A certain amount of boredom is essential to a happy life.” — Bertrand Russell

  • “A generation that cannot endure boredom will be a generation of little men, of men unduly divorced from the slow process of nature, of men in whom every vital impulse slowly withers as though they were cut flowers in a vase.” - Russell again

  • “Ask yourself if you are happy and you cease to be so.” — John Stuart Mill

  • On connecting to something larger than ourselves: “It is in such a profound and instinctive union with the stream of life that the greatest joy is to be found.” — Russell, once again

  • “Better to go barefoot than without a book.” — Icelandic saying

  • “Happiness is an ideal not of reason but of imagination.” — Immanuel Kant

  • Robert Nozick’s Experience Machine: “Imagine that ‘superduper neurologists’ have figured out a way to stimulate a person’s brain to induce pleasurable experiences. It’s perfectly safe, no chance of malfunction, and not harmful to your health. You would experience constant pleasure for the rest of your life. Would you do it? Would you plug into the Experience Machine? If not, argued Novick, then you’ve just proved that there is more to life than pleasure. We want to achieve our happiness and not just experience it.”

There are a lot of quotes there, and they point in different directions. Luckily I scribbled “takeaways” in the margin on page 322, right next to the spot where Weiner summarizes his findings from his trip around the world:

Happy is wise, for only a fool or philosopher would make sweeping generalizations about the nature of happiness. I am no philosopher, so here goes: Money matters, but less than we think and not in the ways that we think. Family is important. So are friends. Envy is toxic. So is excessive thinking. Beaches are optional. Trust is not. Neither is gratitude.

Still a lot. Leading happiness researcher John Helliwell sums it up best:

It’s simple. There’s more than one path to happiness.

That was my big takeaway as well: as long as baseline conditions are there - we have enough money, we’re not lonely, we’re not sick, we trust those around us - happiness varies by culture and by person. There’s no silver bullet.

In the book, Weiner points to the 1937 novel Lost Horizon by James Hilton, which is largely set in the place that sounds like my personal happy place, Shangri-La. Weiner writes:

Who hasn’t dreamed of a place simultaneously placid and intellectually invigorating? A place made for the head and the heart, where both live in happy unison to the ripe old age of 250.

Intrigued, I downloaded Lost Horizon immediately after I finished The Geography of Bliss (because it’s so old, it’s only $0.99 on Kindle). I can’t believe I’d never heard of this book before. “Shangri-La” is now a common name for hotels, restaurants, and spas, and has always connoted “pleasure” for me. Reading the book, I realized that we’ve dumbed Shangri-La down. It’s a fictional monastery in a remote, largely inaccessible region, where inhabitants derive happiness from learning, conversation, nature, and long-term relationships, not pure pleasure.

It makes me want to read more old novels this year, particularly any origins of popular phrases or ideas that we commonly misuse today. Send recommendations my way!

Bonus: Hilton accurately predicted 2019 way back in 1937 when he wrote:

There came a time, he realized, when the strangeness of everything made it increasingly difficult to realize the strangeness of anything.

What’s Next?

2020 Debate Club is back and better than ever. I’m sending out the e-mail with potential dates tomorrow, so if you want to join us, sign up here.

I have a few more fun, nerdy things in the hopper which I’m really excited to announce in the next couple of weeks.

Until then, thanks for reading,