Diced Relevant-Complexity

Having codified it three years ago, I amply proved the central premise of relevantcomplexity.com:

“But then, subtly and imperceptibly, sometimes even the things we once enjoyed the most, tail off into familiarity, boredom and ennui.”

I got bored of it.

Thanks goodness for Sonja Lyubomorsky… in the How of Happiness (which is also a website here) she sets out compelling evidence for two things which have really helped me this winter:

1) Hedonic Adaptation: pretty much anything which happens in your life – house move, significant gain or loss, any purchase from car to Concorde – you will have adapted to within three months; and then very importantly…

2) Happiness Set Point: you always return, inexorably, to your genetically determined default happiness setting; as proven by identical and non-identical twin studies. If you’re a miserable so and so, you likely always will be; if you’re a ray of sunlight, the same. Identical twins separated – with completely different life circumstances – have almost identical happiness levels. Non-identical twins living near identical lives, have widely divergent default happiness levels.

This sounds like a recipe for Stoicism (of which more anon). But the good news is you can better your Happiness Set Point – not by getting a better job, car or house… but by tricking yourself. The only way to beat your Happiness Set Point is to catch yourself out!

This explains (and links) my experience with Relevant Complexity and Csikszentmihalyi’s “Flow”. My Happiness Set Point is a comparatively gloomy one. I was (initially) enjoying Relevant Complexity because of the variety and novelty. Then Hedonic Adaptation kicked in, “flow” went away – and inexorably and inevitably like a Newton’s Cradle I returned to my default ‘same old same old’ Happiness Set Point and lost enthusiasm for Relevant Complexity.

But now I’m back! The secret? Dice…

As Sonja Lyubomirsky sets out, the key is to trick yourself. So now I have dice and lists. When I’m pottering in the kitchen: the dice decide whether I’ll listen to a podcast, an audio book, the news in Italian, classical music, 80s hits, footie or talk radio. And each time I get bored; simple – roll again.

Similarly in a morning instead of fighting the randomness of which bus arrives first (and it’s never the one I want) I’m just hopping on. Make some progress, watch the world go by and change where there are more options. Embracing – even imposing – randomness seems to brighten up both me and my day. And it has certainly got me back doing the Relevant Complexity thing again.

But I’m not kidding myself… I’ve got three months before I have to come up with something new; you can’t cheat Hedonic Adaptation and your Happiness Set Point for long!

Fear factored

A book I’m currently reading urges us to think of ‘fear’ as the mental equivalent of physical ‘pain’.

On one level they’re the things we want to most avoid; but looked at another way they are just simple signalling mechanisms. Pain is the body’s only way to draw our attention to a problem. Fear is the mind’s.

This opens up the possibility of a different approach to fear. Not do everything to avoid it; but objectively acknowledge it, accept it and maybe sometimes push through it…

The idea is that fear is just the psyche’s way of signalling boundaries to us – which is very much the same role pain plays in the body. They are both acutely and finely tuned signalling mechanisms.

Just like a burnt finger keeps us off hot kettles; so fear keeps us away from scary situations. But as a very experienced sports coach told me at work – strength is built by how you recover.

So the idea is to recognise when fear is signalling a boundary and just feel it – don’t fear it. And if it still seems like a good thing to do, push through that fear a bit.

I can’t say I’m quite there on this one yet. Stuff you don’t know how to do, can’t control or which could go very wrong still seems pretty scary to me. But if you accept it’s always going to feel scary, that calms the troubled waters a good deal.

And then what?

Well if you accept fear is often just a signal of the new and the unknown – and that variety is the spice of life – then trying new things and meeting new people are indeed things one might fear; but they’re not things to avoid…

To test my thesis I’m going paddle boarding this week on holidays: a thing I don’t know how to do, with the risk of humiliation and getting wet, for the first time, all on my own, with a lesson from someone I’ve never met.

Exactly what I’d generally avoid – so here’s to giving it go!

Bouldering

I've had 'bouldering' on my to do list for a while.

Not even sure what it was, I thought it was some kind of paddling through streams, clambering on boulders thingy. And that seemed like a good 'Dad and Daughter' activity – following clambering about in trees last Christmas holidays.

So I googled it – and it turns out it's not quite that. It's low level free climbing without ropes; and what great fun it has turned out to be…

Climbing shoes tightly on, we've been three times now; and have tackled 'slabs', overhangs, bulges and 'volumes'… with a bit of traversing yesterday to boot.

The indoor walls we've found are generally full of cheerful, lean, taughtly-muscled young folk – but they're all very encouraging and just seem happy that you share their interest.

It certainly tests the muscles though! And even though you don't get that high, it's high enough to test the nerves a bit too.

What a lovely little world we've discovered – in an old disused biscuit factory (of all things) which has found a new life.

Bouldering is a keeper. There's no better place to hang out for an hour at the weekend.

Slimes of Passion

Some weeks ago I started to notice blobs of candy-pink sludge in the bottom of cups… The outbreak spread to larger food containers, before regularly plaguing all three sinks in the house…

Then my shaving foam started moving about. Tackling my eldest, she was concocting slimes. With a bit of huff and puff on the messes she was leaving, I left it and moved on.

Some weeks later there was a regular psst and a pervasive whiff of artificial fragrance seeping from her room… 

It transpires cans of Airwick 6-in-1 are the last source of ‘Borax’ left in the European Union. It was banned in cleaning products a few years back; and borax is the indispensable companion to PVA glue in the slime makers art.


She and I had a rewarding if ultimately costly and unsuccessful weekend down the seaside Pound Shops – trying to find an alternative to Airwick. But we did find some handy pots – and the following week two types of slime hit the underground school slime market at 50p and £1.


So I googled borax again – not least since all of us had developed a splitting headache from the fragranced fug in the kitchen and found… Kershaw’s Traditional Laundry Starch! 


No fug, no headaches and the slime maker is back at work – now the only psst is my shaving foam being expertly worked into a particular variant. We have styrofoam balls and glitter on the way for ‘crunchy’ and ‘sparkly’ to add to the range.

I said last weekend watching her at work: “It’s great you’ve found a passion, Honey.” She said “It’s not a passion Dad, its just fun.” And indeed it is… I took a particularly excellent slime in to work this week, which delighted two of my colleagues; reminding them of ‘potions’ and ‘flubber’ from their childhoods.

Simple pleasures, and sharing an interest with your kids and colleagues; is there any better combination?