What is a life well lived? Goodlife series

What is a life well lived?
Here I raise the question, but end up with more questions than answers.

the person that dies with the most friends, wins

A portion of the truth must be that there are people who are good people, who had good stories, who did good in the world, had a positive impact.

There have been movements indicating too much stuff. This could be a sign that we are at a peak of production. The general feeling is that we have too much stuff.

We see this in different movements like minimalism, anti-consumerism, permaculture. Off the grid living forums, while they do talk about having a lot of new gear, there is there even an element of paring down to the essentials. Tiny house movements. Boat living. The tech nomad...which was maybe 15 years ago back in the early 2000s. I mean even recent culture traces that to the movie Fight Club. I imagine the era of Maslow's Hierachy of Needs had similar sentiments. Long distance camping and backpacking. Adventure around the world.

They all have their own kind of spin on it, but one commonality is that increasing consumption of material goods, of stuff, is not the answer to increased happiness.

We already have enough stuff.

If we have enough stuff, then why do we feel unhappy?

  • Do we not have the right stuff? -> heritage, recycled, contribute to cancer fund
  • Need better stuff? -> same, but more features
  • Or is the answer not stuff at all? -> experiences? oh okay, like purchase a vacation?

Eventually, you figure that there are things that are non-monetary.

Some people chase status, which is also incomplete.

These last three might be closer to the truth. Like any complex issue, there are multiple potential things going wrong, perhaps you are buying the wrong stuff (salad spinners, single use kitchen items, an upgraded mouse), and need to buy not stuff (save for a vacation, put money towards starting a business, a weekend cabin trip with family you like, friends).

How did we get here?

I am not writing an article about why that is stupid though. It actually does make sense. If going from no money to some money was good, going to a lot of money is better and going to even more money must be better still right? Similarly, if having no food was bad, having some food, now having better food, maybe even the best kinds of artistically created food is even better.

Buying more stuff does improve life satisfaction to a point, but when you are beyond that point, spending even more becomes both ineffective and wasteful.

You can imagine at some point, we go from manufactured fast food, to whole foods, to designer meals (blue apron?), to full artistic meal experiences (fun), but at some point the nutrition was increasing, reached a peak, and then the rest of the money was going to just branding, marketing, and emotion.

Meal experience --like happiness in life-- are available without a ton of money.

At some point, expense no longer remains the driver of quality of experience.

experiences > things

stories > expenses

active > passive

ride up grades > upgrades

Artist entrepreneurs should satisfy three factors, but most books only cover two

I need to clarify this project for myself:

There are plenty of potential ideas which I have come up with, but one breakthrough I had was that I am working with a multifactorial problem, whereas all of the material I am reading online only deals with two factors.

Three Factors

When reading about a succesful businesses, you can read a lot about finding product and market fit. How Gobble tweaked their offerings until they found a meal combination that their clients loved.

You can also read about start up investors talking about team and fit, like how ycombinator judges potential investments.

But I want to read an article that explains how to get all three right.

The three factors are :

  • founder
  • product
  • market

Steven Pressfield deals with issues of being an artist and that fits for me, maybe it is different for you. For me it is more like:

  • artist
  • product
  • market


My hypothesis is that there is a delightful overlap of these three where we are all very happy and have all our needs met.

This hypothesis is based on my first principle that the world has everything that we need, and it is possible to get everything we need. Additionally, it is even possible to get almost anything you want, if you pick only one thing.

Define Success

If you find and work this overlap, well, that is where I am hoping to find a next level for myself.

Success to me would be a sustainable, passive business that resonates with me. It creates a ton of value for people, throws off a sizeable income, and does it in a good way (legal, ethical, moral). Bonuses might include meeting cool people, gear, and access to experiences. I want to have a few fundamentals filled.


The issue is that, most online articles (and off line books) deal with only one, or at most two, factors. All three are important to balance. How do you integrate all three factors?

Issue Examples
  • missing artist - there might be a great product and market, but if the artist does not want to do it, then it will not work. for example, there is great money for full time management consultants, but most people do not want to get that long path to get there. or put in the hours once they get there. for some, it is a great fit. or like if there was a magazine that paid a ton of money and i had to write about some boring aspect of cats.

  • missing product - people love a topic, artist loves doing it, but could not figure out how to make it work financially. i do not know of anyone in particular, but there are those small town bands that people love, but cannot support a full time living. if people love them, well, maybe the band really does have something, but how sustainable is it as a business. how long can they maintain that output, to those fans? or keep it going.

  • missing market - someone loves to do something, but no one really cares about it. they are writing or building for not a market or the market does not know about them.

Integrate all Three Factors

Walk before you run -> Get two factors working.
  • Run multiple experiments to get the system going.
  • You can have multiple experiments running at the same time.
    • a music gig - fulfills artist
    • a part time job - fulfills product and market
    • a skill education (like marketing, coding, analysis) - fulfills artist or does not fulfill artist but fulfills market
  • Maybe some aspects of those could be combined. Maybe not. But once you get two factors working, then consider how you could get a third in there. Or what it would take. Maybe it does not actually work...like just because you drive for Lyft, and like teaching, and other people want to make money driving for Lyft, does not mean that you create e-courses on driving for Lyft.
    • Or maybe it does. Creating an e-course on driving for Lyft could be a start, then now you know how to create e-courses that help people a lot and sell really well.
    • Well now you have a skill, and can make e-courses on a compelling topic. Or take the skills from making the e-course and make compelling videos. Now you have a market, product, and artist fit.
  • Or maybe you realize that you just like meeting people, and that is why you like Lyft, so start exploring that aspect, meeting and interviewing people and maximize that, have fun with it, then share it.
    • Like Humans of New York. It came on. This guy was taking portraits of people in New York and putting them up online for a long time, and getting small amounts of traction. He then started interviewing people and posting content about their stories. Maybe he did not like interviewing peope at first, but man the stories really struck a nerve, and his amount of work and output, well that skyrocketed the content.

[Sidenote: I am realizing there is something like getting on with making a hit.]

Two Factor Potential Solutions

If you have two of the factors working, consider potential solutions:

1. Missing artist

Potential solution?

Artist takes the skills they have, applies self awareness on what they find fulfilling, and rebuild with a business in mind.

Leverage the contacts and experience.

One person I think of is les stroud. i loved that fucking guy\'s show called survivorman. he was and is the only person to have actually done a survivor show. what set him apart was that he was out there, with little or NO tools, and just had to stay alive for 3-5 days. and he had no support, no snacks, no CREW. he filmed himself, like he had to walk, set up a camera, walk back, then film himself walking up, then get the camera, check the footage, then set up another shot. all while trying to survive. you can look into it, but other people, well they had canned situations where they were pointed to water sources, had people build their shelters for them, and given help from the crew. still good shows, but not the authentic, brutality of survivorman. anyway, he did not want to keep doing it, so he went to playing blues music. i sincerely hope he is happy and has enough money. and if you like blues music, check it out or support him.

2. Missing product

Potential solution?

Keep it as a hobby, love it, minimize the harm. or take value out in other ways (non-monetary) like it helps build your legacy, it lets you meet cool people.

But if you want money out of it, those might all be about iterating different business models.

Tweak. Experiment. Be patient. Work.

Figure out a business structure, maybe that is learning on your own, maybe that is partnering with someone that you really love. educate yourself on business models, read small giants, blue ocean, personal MBA. experiment and tweak.

Missing market

Potential solution?

Keep it as a hobby and just make sure you have having fun with it. It serves you and does not harm.

Alternatively, improve, iterate, tweak aspects of your product (including marketing) as it finds fit.

Be patient. Be working.

Examples might be that singer who started as a country singer, then became a pop star (Taylor Swift). Or a christian singer, then a pop punk star (Avril Lavigne). Or a rapper, then a spanish american rapper (Someone else).

For me

Here is a list of my limitations and assets.

  • artist - i like writing. have analysis skills. curious. journalist approach, learn with me.
  • market -
    • not sure on scale (50-100k followers)
    • cool people that i want to be around.
    • something related to my interests...like something i am really fascinated by.
    • people willing and able to responsibly pay money.
  • product - ideally it is something passive. or that i do normally and enjoy so it is passive. that is the idea with the blog.
    i am writing all these articles normally. i have been for years. and they just live in notebooks and on my computer. so if someone else can benefit from them, then that would be great. empower other people.
    to make a product, i have so far learned how to purchase a domain, a host, compared different hosts and hosting options, installed wordpress, set up wordpress. my new stuff is tweaking the blog to be fast enough, and light enough. maybe i will learn SEO. the major focus right now is on learning the process of creating good content. content that is really helpful for people, and that resonates with me, and that fits things i am fascinated by.
    right now, business fascinates. business as a tool for lifestyle design. a big dream would be to learn AND DEPLOY enough about marketing, value creation, content, business form, web development, SEO, that i can have a subscription based blog that people pay for annually, love what they get out of it, and match what kinds of things i like to write about, investigate, and share. with that produce bigger things that deliver more value for people. monetize. and deploy money skills so that i can have a robust solution to the money problem.

in the meantime, i am already winning. i like writing, and organizing, and it is fun even if no one else is reading right now. and i feel like i am on a path, so that is cool too. and the pursuit, i can have a good life, now.

What should I avoid spending money on?

Avoid spending money on stuff you do not use.

Do an activity with indequate gear.

More than that, inadequate everything (wrong clothes, wrong food, wrong equipment) for a month before you buy special gear. You will either figure out that you do not need the gear, or you will have a better understanding of the characteristics of gear that you do want. You may also figure out that you do not want to do the damn activity anymore.

Borrow or rent things that you are only going to use once.

If you find yourself renting it 3-4 times, then consider it, but still do not make it a rule.

Avoid status items.

If you are going to buy a status item, buy one that you can, well resell. If you buy a car, for example, that is a status item, that might cost you $15k to $30k more than a non-status item car. With $7k you can buy a nice watch and sell it for $5k if you realize that you do not need it. Less money tied up and more money that can be recovered. Still a $2k lesson.

If you are going to buy, buy on sale or used. A nice $5k watch may sell for $5k plus maintenance costs later. However, you need knowledge or hire expertise to make a good purchase like this.

If you are going to buy a status item, go ahead and buy a status item. Buy the thing, not a thing that is kind of like the thing.

Go shopping in your house.

If it is stuff you want, you might want to check what you have in your house or apartment.

More tips?

Find your meditation. Lots of times I want to buy things because I am stressed out, or someone insulted me, or I am feeling lonely or sad, or I have not done work and I want to do something. Meditation of whatever sort helps you clear that out.

What should I spend money on?

1. The current dillema is abundance.

We actually do have too much time, creative potential, resources, clothes, money, and food.

Sometimes it does not feel that way, but we are living in a time of abundance.

The clarification is that it is material abundance.

Life abundance is a different thing and that is what I have been figuring out.

2. What is an abundant life?

That is what we are really thinking about, but I never was taught about. I only believe it because I have seen glimpses of it: people who are genuinely happy and have financial success.

Sure, there are people who have great careers and a social life that is in shambles-- this is different. You see it, you can kind of feel it. It is real.

3. Happiness is a skill?

I think happiness may have a skill to it. Things like a gratitude practice, looking on the bright side of things, social grace, how to deal with situations.

There are material parts to it to, but I am really convinced that it is closer to having control of your time, no money worries, a really exciting project, and a good social life more than a high-job title, accolades from a professional organization, and a nice sports car.

4. The good news?

If it is something more closely tied to actions and practice, then it is something that is more widely available. Not everyone can afford a $60,000 car, but maybe, with the right training, everyone can afford an abundant life.

5. What should I spend money on?

Stuff that adds to your central abundant life.

I spent 2 years logging every expense I had in an excel document. How I did it was I did all my spending using two credit cards. When the monthly bill came in, I would go line by line and add every expense into a category. By hand, instead of with an automated program, helped me process really what was going on.

I think it is misleading to over simplify things, so my caveat is that, well these are some guidelines I have noticed.

  • Experiences - Some things are just fun. For me, I do not get as much out of going to a concert mainly because I never really got into music. I tend to like experiences that are active like a weird bike race, or pandemonium in the park [LINK]. We went to Alaska and I spent a lot of money on a guided kayak trip and that was worth it. We saw whales up close, blowspouts, and puffins flying from the water, and sea otters. The smell of the cold ocean is nice when you are warm. Do what you like.
  • Eating out - With friends is fun. But I am moving towards eating out cheaply because it is mainly the people I am with, more than the price of the food. I want good food, but I mean, I have eaten at expensive restaurants, they are good, but so is really good dim sum. Have you had food court noodles in Chicago China Town? Or the dumplings there? Or the $40 omakase we had on Oahu recommended by a college friend / Yelp elite / food blogger? These are some of my most memorable meals because of who I was with and the delicious food. When you spend $100 or $200 a person, the service is better, the space is nice, the ingredients, but more often than not, I am finding it hard to find a really good restaurant. Especially when home cooking can go so well.
  • Tools - I would put this broadly. If you are a musician, your instrument may be a tool. But, boy oh boy, be careful. Solve problems that you have. It is easy to buy something special and delightful, but if your joy is making music, use your $50 guitar and make music. Use your point and shoot camera or cell phone and make photos. The tools do not hinder you, your skills do. The tools that are worth it would be ones to take raw materials and create (woodworking tools, cooking tools), quality ones mean that they help you achieve something, some friction in creation. Avoid status symbols.
  • Skills - A book on photographic composition more than a new lens. A private archery lesson with a coach more than a new bow. A weekend out camping and practicing setting up a tent, more than...a new spork. The idea is an emphasis on action. Participation. Creation. And frankly, there is so much information available for free and through the physical and digital library, that when you are starting out...you would save money just learning on your own.
  • Travel - this goes with all of the above. Make it part of your life, and it does not need to be a life-changing kind of trip. When you travel, focus on getting to talk to real people, meeting people, those conversations are fun. Try doing your hobby in that area: busking in London, geocaching with a local club, taking a cooking class.
  • Health - This is one where find something you like doing and do that. Emphasis on doing more than buying gear. In fact, for the first month of any sport, do it everyday and do not buy gear. By the end of the month, you will have 1) an idea if you actually like doing it and 2) a better idea of characteristics in gear you actually will use and 3) you might have made a friend that will sell you used gear. However, this is one that can be so difficult to maintain, that I would just spend the money on it and figure out how to make it cheaper.

6. Any last tips?

None of these things have to be expensive. Once you figure it out, most can be free or low cost.

Experiences are getting a group of friends together and playing frisbee in a park and grilling.

Eating out could be a beer at a brewery or tacos at a truck or a good salad at a friends house.

Tools you can buy used.

Skills you can get the basics from a course, teacher, or friend, then teach yourself progressively.

Travel you can go to the other side of town, take a roadtrip, take a bike trip, take a train trip, take a bus trip.

Health you can walk, you can run, you can do something fun, you can buy something heavy like a bag of rice and carry it around :p

Notice that there is a skill to doing things that is developed progressively may minimize or even eliminates the need for money.

How to deal with deciding whether to go to the gym.

1. Here is the situation:

  1. Get home.
  2. Want to sleep? Hungry? Going to pay bills and get stuff done around the house?
  3. Check your schedule. Go to the gym anyway.
  4. Keep sticking to your schedule.

2. The point is: Decide afterwards if you should have gone to the gym, not before.

If you decide before, the opportunity will have been lost. If you go, and decide later that it was not a good idea to go, then you will know for the future.

I cannot think of a time when I did not want to go to the gym, I ended up going, and then thought it was the wrong decision.

Pretty clear, but for some reason, I end up forcing myself to make that same decision everyday.

3. Having a schedule, is actually freedom.

Having a schedule means that the decisions have been made a priori. All you have to do is follow the decisions. By setting up this system, you free yourself from having to wrestle with yourself every moment to figure out what you need to do.

Figuring out what you need to do, each and every moment, would be tiring.

Having a schedule is a professional move.

4. What do you be professional about?

  • Work - even if you do not like your job, it gives you things that you want. If you really did not want those things, then you would quit. So, be grateful for the opportunities that work provides you.
  • Mental health - certain things help, certain things do not, do more of the things that help
  • Sleep, exercise, eating - these three are a golden trifecta as far as the biologic system is concerned. If you can figure these out, you have a lot going for you.
  • Social - a recent addition, but important for me. Once a week (Sunday or Monday) My goal is to plan out 1) a social event for during the week (meet up with a friend) and 2) an event for the weekend (even something like going to a park).
  • Your project - if it is something like this blog, or something like a hobby, be appreciative of it. Have fun with it. Just by doing it, you are succeeding. That is the goal. It is serving its purpose.

what is leveling up

Something where you achieve something and it is robust, such that, you could rebuild if necessary. People often think of it as increasing the current state, which is incomplete. Also incomplete is increasing the potential top state. Part that is left out is increasing the bottom state. I think that you introduce a new (higher) floor that is fairly robust.

Once you learn to walk, for example, now you can open up to do a lot of other things, but you also are unlikely to go back to not knowing how to walk. There is incremental improving, standing, scooting, crawling, but walking is a substantial level up from those.

Read more

core drivers

what am I here for? learning primarily and problem solving

how to live a good life

well how about i'm here to live a good life.

the way to turn something into a money making endeavor is to solve a problem for people.

if not products, then what?

Okay let's say you have a society and you're trying to improve. I'm thinking there's different buckets you can put money in and there's going to be different needs as a society progresses. There's what has been described as 'absolute vs relative' poverty. In absolute poverty, people cannot get enough calories and clean water to survive. As that need is addressed, we might be also able to address things like safe shelter from rain and sun. Eventually, as we juggle priorities and society improves, we could even argue that the limiter is that everyone needs not just food, but quality, healthy food. But at some point, you might be inefficiently allocating capital (money, time, effort, work) to this hypothetical 'food improvement' bucket. For example, let's make sure that people have not just quality food, but gastronomically challenging, gourmet, catered dinners.

Let's shift from society to an individual person.

When I see people going from financially insecure, to financially stable, to financially wealthy...I think there's a tendency to go...well...material and financial things have made a big difference, let's quadruple down on finances again. Replace "finances" with "achievement" or "popularity" or "experiences" and I saw that pattern poorly play out. It can decrease overall quality of life. So for high-achieving people, what do you replace the "it" goal with?

I said "made a big difference" and I think that begs the question, in what? A good life. I think a goal is living well and having a good life. The specifics of that do not have to be confusing. Be a good person, contribute to society, lift people up, take care of yourself.

One of my friends made a good point in reponse to another post. In terms of living well, top things were emotional connections, meaningful work, and mental health. How do you increase emotional connection and meaningful work?

Here is where I am still learning, initial thoughts:
*There's a place for moderation that's necessary, call it Tao, or just enough, or whatever it is. Some is good, too much can be harmful.

*Perceiving these things gets down to mental wiring (how you were raised and experiences) and self-awareness.

*After having some nice things, you (hopefully, eventually) realize that even nicer things aren't going to add much to life, unless they contribute to some other aspect of life.

People bring up Plato's Republic when talking about designing a good society. The part I thought was intriguing was about using the 'quality' of elected officials as a barometer for society and collapse. The part I thought was weird was the jump from 1) elect educated groups should lead to 2) everyone else should be kept down through various methods. One interpretation I read said instead we should have everyone receive education and then everyone can be involved.