FF Insights #558: It takes time to build happiness

January 3, 2021: Opportunity in a crisis; Why Tim Urban changed his mind on religion; Making sense of 2022

Founding Fuel

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Good morning,

The wisdom Gordon Livingstone shares in the pages of Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: Thirty True Things You Need to Know Now got us to reflect over the year-end. He served briefly in the US Army, but earned his reputation as a psychiatrist and author. 

“Sometimes, of course, we do choose to develop healthy practices. Regular exercise can be a life-enhancing routine. Our bad habits, however, tend to insinuate themselves over time and become extremely resistant to change, even when they threaten to destroy our lives… 

“It is obvious that any process directed at changing, even a little, our well-established patterns of thinking and behaving is going to be an extended one and will involve efforts at gaining insight, reevaluating behaviours, and trying new approaches. Under the best of circumstances, such change takes time.

“The same is true for all the other personal characteristics and habitual patterns that don’t work for us but that we keep repeating: impulsivity, hedonism, narcissism, irritability, and the need to control those around us. To imagine that such traits can be changed overnight or as soon as we become aware of them is to discount the well-established strength of habit and the slowness with which we translate new knowledge into behaviour.

“When we think about the things that alter our lives in a moment, nearly all of them are bad: phone calls in the night, accidents, loss of jobs or loved ones, conversations with doctors bearing awful news. In fact, apart from a last-second touchdown, unexpected inheritance, winning the lottery, or a visitation from God, it is hard to imagine sudden good news. Virtually all the happiness-producing processes in our lives take time, usually a long time: learning new things, changing old behaviours, building satisfying relationships, raising children. This is why patience and determination are among life’s primary virtues…

“The process of building has always been slower and more complicated than that of destruction. Once I was a soldier. What turned me away from the profession of arms was not that I didn’t enjoy blowing things up. In fact, I was afraid I enjoyed it too much. What I came to realize and to be offended by is that killing is such a simple-minded undertaking compared with preserving life. Our common future will be determined by the struggle between the killers and the peacemakers. One can always find justifications, frequently religious, for killing. As with anything else in life, however, it is the act that defines us, not the cause we use as a rationale.”

Have a good year!

FF Daily is now FF Insights—with a simpler, sharper design 

There’s a story behind this rename and redesign: When we started the FF newsletter in 2016, it was a weekly edition, anchored by our team, and sometimes by our contributors. It had a short essay by one of us on the team, pointed to stories we published, and offered some curated reads on what we thought interesting.

Then in late March 2020, as the coronavirus started to rear its head in India—and just a week before the national lockdown was imposed—we decided to change to a daily so we could stay connected with all of you. Because so much was changing so rapidly. In that avatar, this newsletter was called the Work From Home Daily

By mid-2020, it was clear that remote work was the new normal. With such an upheaval in our lives, we needed new lenses and multiple perspectives to comprehend the world around us. So, we renamed it as FF Daily. It has now been renamed FF Insights.

Then there was the weekend edition that was called FF Recommends. This was where we invited experts to recommend products, services or tools they have used and which can make a difference to our lives in the new environment. It will now be called FF Life.

Our promise with this redesign stays the same—deliver insights that help make sense of the chaos.   

But this story wouldn’t be complete without Vivek Singh and Lisbeth Lutnes.

Vivek is a friend of FF and a long-time subscriber. He works with leaders of State, families, enterprise owners and CXOs, amongst others, in the realm of Self-Mastery and Distinctive Leadership. In an earlier avatar, he delivered 100 stores to Barista Coffee between 1999 and 2001. He pushed us to turn the lens on ourselves and refine our daily connect with you. And we were lucky to have been able to work with Lisbeth, a well-known Norwegian designer, on this project—someone whose work is subtle, yet powerful.

This redesigned FF Insights is the product of remote co-creation with Vivek and Lisbeth. 

As Vivek puts it often, what you see is really nothing of what you will as we go along. Hopefully, you won’t even notice much as we continually build the road a little ahead of the vehicle in motion; one that is essentially and intrinsically driven by you. For you, it needs to be a smooth ride, with a road built to suit.

How to spot opportunities in a crisis

In an interview with India Development Review, Prema Gopalan, founder of Pune-based Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP), which focuses on women-led entrepreneurship, shares a number of fascinating stories on how women in rural India faced the pandemic. Here’s one:

“Prior to the pandemic women would work in the villages but largely in non-farm activities—in kirana stores, beauty parlours, and stationery shops. Two decades of support for self-help groups by rural development and financial institutions had fostered the notion that growth can only come from outside of agriculture—and via non-farm enterprises. SSP had also incorporated this thinking and encouraged women to take up largely non-farm activities. Covid-19 made this work redundant and non-essential.

“Food, rations, and healthcare were considered essential, while other businesses weren’t. So we claimed this opportunity that the crisis offered us, and started large-scale businesses in the dairy, pulses, and bio-compost value chains. In 2020 alone, we were able to convince over 10,000 women to make the switch from being farmers to becoming market players. With the setting up of milk collection centres, women received updated information about milk prices and payments on their own mobiles, resulting in greater control over their income.

“And with them now venturing into agri-sales, the nature of the agricultural value chain in these villages has changed.”

Dig deeper

Tim Urban on why he changed his mind on religion

Fans of Edge will remember one of their most famous questions: “What have you changed your mind about? Why?” The answers are a treasure trove of valuable insights. It was published as a book, and you can also read them here. Bari Weiss, former op-ed editor of The New York Times, who runs a popular newsletter, asked some smart people what they changed their mind about in 2021. One interesting answer came from Tim Urban, who writes Wait But Why. He said he changed his mind on religion. 

“The world’s major religions, for all their faults, have been shaped by millennia of experience with human nature. I was one of tens of millions of 2008 Obama voters who had come to see religion as an organ of bigoted right-wing backwardness and the root of most of the world’s evil. That’s a pretty one-dimensional way to see systems of thought that have been around since antiquity.

“Over the past few years, it’s been made starkly clear that a world without the major religions is not a world without religion—it’s a world with a bunch of new religions sprouting up and quickly capturing millions of ‘atheists.’ These new religions—many political—have not been put through centuries of trial and error, and the moral structures they provide often stoke the worst parts of our nature.”

Dig deeper

Understanding 2022

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And if you missed previous editions of this newsletter, they’re all archived here.

Warm regards,

Team Founding Fuel

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About the author

Founding Fuel

Founding Fuel aims to create the new playbook of entrepreneurship. Think of us as a hub for entrepreneurs- the go-to place for ideas, insights, practices and wisdom essential to build the enterprise of tomorrow. It is co-founded by veteran journalists Indrajit Gupta and Charles Assisi, along with CS Swaminathan, the former president of Pearson's online learning venture.