It’s all about relationships

I somewhat randomly clicked on this TED Talk by Harvard researcher Robert Waldinger this week.

He has carried on the research in one of the longest running research projects of its kind, the Harvard Study of Adult Development. For more than 75 years data has been collected that has led to some clear answers about what makes for a good life.

Younger people tend to predict that fortune and fame will lead to happiness. That prediction doesn’t hold up.

Studying older people who have lived more life shows there is one key indicator for happier and healthier lives.

It’s actually simple and ultimately rather obvious. According to Waldinger and the study’s research, this is your ticket to a good life:

“Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

It’s all about relationships.

Not only will you have a happier life if it’s built around positive relationships, you’ll live a healthier and longer life as well:

“The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80.”

Even brain health and mental function were notably better later in life for those who reported stronger connections in their relationships.

Waldinger closed his talk with this:

“The people who fared the best were the people who leaned in to relationships—with family, with friends, with community.”

“The good life is built with good relationships.”

I think most people will say they want a life filled with good relationships, but how often are we intentional about investing in our connections with family and friends and community?

What if you “leaned in” to the relationships that matter most? Imagine making family and friends your true priority in the way you spend your time and where you devote your greatest energy and creativity.

If you want a satisfying life, career success and financial well-being should be subordinate to the strength of the connections you make with the people who matter most.

If you don’t have close friends, make some. If your family life is suffering, get busy making it better. If you don’t have a community that you support and that supports you, do something about it.

Life as a human here on Earth is ultimately all about relationships.

“There isn’t time—so brief is life—for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving—and but an instant, so to speak, for that.” –Mark Twain



Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot sermon, animated


In 1990 the Voyager I spacecraft was leaving our solar system, and at Carl Sagan’s suggestion the mission team had it turn and take a photo of Earth from 4 billion miles away — the ultimate long-distance selfie.

That’s us in that photo, that tiny speck of  reflected light near the top — a pale blue dot suspended in a sunbeam.

That image inspired Sagan to write one of the most profound pieces of writing I’ve ever read, this passage from his book, Pale Blue Dot:

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

As they say here in the south, “That’ll preach.” Meaning, basically, RIght on, brother!

I can’t imagine a finer sermon to inspire wonder and appreciation and perspective.

Farnam Street shared this lovely animation accompanying Carl Sagan’s narration:


Be The Punchline: Focus on what you can give, not what you can get

ht Presentation Zen

So good.

This comedian’s career flipped when he realized he should focus on what he could give the audience, not on what he hoped to get from them.

It’s called giving a speech, right? So, if you’re called on to speak, consider this an opportunity to give something to your audience. What gift would be worthwhile and meaningful? Don’t apologize or half-heart it. Be solid and come strong with your gift.

Don’t be like so many who start a talk with “I’m sorry to be taking your time” or otherwise apologize for standing in front of them. If you’ve got a meaningful gift to share, be confident and bold.

I do like getting a great response from an audience – laughs, smiles, applause, questions. But if I focus on what I have to give, I’m more likely to get a response that matters.

Beyond public speaking and stand-up comedy, this question just works. “What can I give that would be valuable to someone?”

SLOMO: “Do what you want to!”

This short film is well worth fifteen minutes of your attention:

ht Charlie Hoehn

This former doctor has found bliss roller-blading* by the beach. He chucked his living-by-the-rules-and-society’s-defaults kind of life and just started doing what he wanted to do.

He was inspired by a chance encounter years before with a 93-year-old whose life advice was: “Do what you want to!”

That story reminded me of Joseph Campbell recounting this story in his 1980s television series with Bill Moyers:

Campbell: Remember the last line [of Babbitt]? “I have never done the thing that I wanted to in all my life.” That is a man who never followed his bliss. Well, I actually heard that line when I was teaching at Sarah Lawrence. Before I was married, I used to eat out in the restaurants of town for my lunch and dinners. Thursday night was the maid’s night off in Bronxville, so that many of the families were out in restaurants. One fine evening, I was in my favorite restaurant there, and at the next table there was a father, a mother, and a scrawny boy about twelve years old. The father said to the boy, “Drink your tomato juice.”

And the boy said, “I don’t want to.”

Then the father, with a louder voice, said, “Drink your tomato juice.”

And the mother said, “Don’t make him do what he doesn’t want to do.”

The father looked at her and said, “He can’t go through life doing what he wants to do. If he only does what he wants to do, he’ll be dead. Look at me. I’ve never done a thing I wanted to in all my life.”

And I thought, “There’s Babbitt incarnate.”

That’s the man who never followed his bliss. You may have a success in life, but then just think of it—what kind of life was it? What good was it—you’ve never done the thing you wanted to do in all your life. I always tell my students, go where your body and soul want to go. When you have the feeling, then stay with it, and don’t let anyone throw you off.

 “Follow your bliss” is not a call to a shallow, selfish life. It’s the call to listen and to act. To not just follow the expectations of others. To not just get locked into a groove that someone else made. Live your life.


*As an aside, I was intrigued by Slomo’s neurological explanation in the documentary of the science of the joy of accelerating. Because, the inner ear and gravity and the center of the earth…

Recently, I’ve been borrowing my seven-year-old daughter’s scooter at every chance.

Me, to my kids: “Hey, girls! Do you want to go ride your bikes…?!”

Me, to myself: *…so I have an excuse to ride the scooter*

I delight in zooming down our steep driveway and onto the road. And when we go around the block, I live for the smooth, even descent where I can just glide downhill back to our house, the wind in my gray hair. It puts a smile on my face and creates this simple little pleasure that most fifty-year-old men rarely experience.

Slomo, I get it. Skate on.



David Foster Wallace: “This is water”

Merlin Mann pointed out that this great video, which had been taken down for copyright issues previously, is back on YouTube.

It’s from the late, great David Foster Wallace’s memorable Kenyon College commencement speech. And it’s as brutally honest and surprisingly insightful as any commencement speech ever dares to be.

Instead of offering lofty platitudes and exhortations for success, Wallace shines a light on the reality of “day in, day out” life. And life happens just one moment at a time.

I’ve gone back to this talk regularly for its sharp reminders about real life and real freedom.




Jason Silva’s latest short video, a bittersweet meditation on transience:

Everything changes. Motion is constant. You never step into the same river twice. This moment is gone already.

How do we live with impermanence? How do we make sense of knowing that we are unique, once in a universe creatures who will be gone soon? All that we love and hold dear will escape our grasp.

I was at my aunt’s funeral last week. Our family has lost her, but the universe keeps spinning. We have memories of happy times and moments shared, and we have the sadness that we will not look her in the eyes ever again. And all of us know that one day we will be the ones that our family and friends mourn.

What a world.

We are the only animals that live in the light of our own mortality. Yet we also are the only ones who can experience the awe of just being alive.

Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. -Dylan Thomas