Chade-Meng Tan joined Google in 2000 as employee number 107 and played an instrumental role in building Google’s mobile search function, among other things. But what he’s known for is his eventual job title of Jolly Good Fellow (Which Nobody Can Deny)
How did he get this crazy and enviable title?
By, among other things, developing the concept of thin slices of joy. It sounds like he was a pretty miserable guy when he realized one day that you can be the agent of changing your state of happiness. How did he do this?
The idea is that you take a few moments throughout the day to appreciate the sun or clouds, a tree, your handwriting, moving from the scorching sun to an air conditioned room, taking a first bite of red velvet cake, stirring cream into your coffee. It’s about habitual joy-finding.
What Tan realized and operationalized is the idea that temperament and mood are malleable. It can change over time, and you can have a hand in that change.
You can be the agent of change for your happiness – just as you can for your intellectual elasticity, which I’ve written about before.
Sheryl Sandberg (@sherylsandberg) famously recommended writing down three things you are grateful for every day. I started doing this a few weeks ago, and I learned some things about myself, and those things changed the way I choose to spend my free time. I now frolic with my dog more often and take time every day to send far-flung friends texts to let them know I’m thinking about them. These are deeply satisfying moments.
Finding thin slices of joy or writing down what you are grateful for are simply ways of achieving mindfulness, of giving yourself a few minutes each day to find your way to yourself, of staying in touch with what is vital to you.
Another way of thinking about it is values affirmation. As I’ve said before, according to important research, especially by Valerie Purdie-Vaughns (@LIRSMind), stating your values is a proven method of enhancing your success.
Why? It helps you prioritize your energy and time and build your happiness on a foundation of what gets you up in the morning. Values affirmation is simply answering the questions: What do you value? Whom do you value? What is important to you today? What do you think will be essential for you tomorrow? Next year? In ten years?
Why is this significant?
William Deresciewicz in Excellent Sheep (@WDeresiewicz) says that we are living in an age of “compulsive sociability.” I wonder if we always have been. Whether this age of compulsive sociability is new or not, no one can deny that, for most people, the external demands on our time and attention are extraordinary. We can balance those effects with a practice of solitude. It’s simply a way to spend a few moments with yourself every day. Walk, stare at the ceiling, do yoga, meditate, go for a run. Just a few moments without electronics or other people, thinking about what gets you up in the morning.
Knowing what you value can fortify what a wonderful young entrepreneur named Blair Miller (@_BlairMiller) calls psychological courage, a muscle you need to flex as frequently as possible.
Whatever time we have on this planet, we are always creating and re-creating our own unique brand. Not what someone else expects or wants. So that we can be comfortable in our skin and live ethically and in accord with our true selves. To do this requires courage. Flexing your own psychological courage muscle will help you create your unique brand. You are here for an extended period of time, so you may as well live it as true to your inner self as possible.
Spending time every day thinking about what is important to you, identifying those thin slices of joy, writing down three things you are grateful for – in other words, having some practice of solitude will help you create your unique path on the planet.
For many years, as a dean at three Ivy League colleges and now as an AVP at a university with an extraordinary mission, I have had a front row seat to the obstacles to success that college students and their parents confront every year. Even at so-called elite, highly selective colleges such as Princeton, Harvard, and Columbia, where I spent some of my career, students struggle on a daily basis to remain healthy, happy, grounded, and to stay in school. I am dedicated to helping them.