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Post image for How to get rich without making more money

It only took about ten Christmases before I realized how quickly the new-toy feeling wears off. I knew by the time New Year’s came around, I would lose that feeling I looked forward to all year — getting up to a dazzling world of new stuff.

Then one Christmas Day I felt that same predictable boredom, the same fading of abundance, creep in by dinnertime. I had eaten more chocolate than could actually be enjoyable, and played with everything once.

I felt like I had definitely lost something substantial since that giddy first hour of the day. Obviously I didn’t own any less by that time (not counting chocolate), but it absolutely felt like I did.

Of course, no matter how I felt about my possessions at different times of day, I was always rich and rarely realized it.

The same is true for me today, probably you too. Average income across the world is about $7000 per year. But that’s just a mathematical mean. The vast majority of people make far less than that. Only about twenty percent of the world’s population lives in countries with an average income that high.

So no matter what class you are in your society, if you’re sitting in front of a computer with some blog-reading time on your hands, you probably outclass (financially anyway) a sizeable majority of people alive today, and certainly almost all of the people who are no longer alive.

But that’s just money. Wealth includes power and privilege too, and not just because you can buy more of those things. It’s reasonable to say that someone with a thousand dollars is less wealthy than someone with a thousand dollars and access to political connections, say. Ability, knowledge, and privilege all contribute to wealth.

You’re probably not doing too poorly on that front either. You’re unlikely to be reading this if you live in North Korea. All sorts of people read this blog, but statistically you probably have the right to vote, the right to protest, the right to say what you like, the right to travel, the right to practice your spiritual tradition, the means to contact your political representatives, the means to practice your chosen art, and the means to self-publish your thoughts. Extraordinary and exclusive privileges, if you have any of them.  Read More

Post image for An unfortunate development

The world’s most famous war photojournalist, Robert Capa, swam ashore with American troops as Life magazine’s official photographer of D-Day.

From the midst of the battle itself, Capa took 106 shots of one of the most famous and important days in history. At the earliest opportunity, the four precious rolls of film were whisked back to London and sent to be developed.

To this day nobody knows what those pictures looked like, because a fifteen-year-old lab assistant set a dryer too high and melted the negatives. Only eleven blurred images were saved from the final roll.

There’s a unique flavor of heartbreak that only comes from your work being destroyed for no good reason. Now, I know it doesn’t carry the same historical magnitude, but last night I think I felt at least a hint of what Capa felt when I saved over today’s article.

While I rewrite it, enjoy an ad-hoc time-constrained installment of The Revolver.


One of the more interesting Twitter feeds out there: An Oxford history student is tweeting moment-to-moment updates on the unfolding of World War II, as if it’s happening right now. It’s so compelling because we tend to think of the war with full knowledge of how it turned out, yet the people living it had to watch it unfold day by day with no idea what was happening to the world.


An interview with me at WriterViews.com, a site about writers learning from writers. The interview is about 40 minutes and is mostly geared towards bloggers. During it I drank a beer stein full of coffee, and it shows.


A video of North Korean child guitar virtuosos that I find absolutely terrifying and perverse. Yet I can’t look away.


The great journalist Christopher Hitchens, who died Thursday, giving a powerful and timely lecture on freedom of speech, and the insane laws that threaten it. The second and third parts are easy to find in the sidebar. It’s about 20 minutes all together.


If you want something even easier than reading tweets or watching videos, take a look at my winter photos taken in Winnipeg’s exchange district.

 Photo by Robert Capa
Post image for How to stay out of Hell

As the story goes, God told Charleton Heston two things to do and eight things not to do, and he listened. Then he passed the rules along to others, and human morality was born.

The commandments weren’t always easy to work with, they found. Specifically, many of them enjoyed violating the one about not killing. Chuck had passed on the divine orders in his own personal style, and couldn’t resist including the Second Amendment in the Ten Commandments somewhere.

There was a real awkward moment when God was telling Chuck specifically not to carve likenesses of anything in the Heavens, precisely at the moment he was carving His words into stone tablets. Chuck had smashed the originals during a tantrum, and without some notes he was always in danger or forgetting what right and wrong were.

This was about 33 centuries ago, and before then there was no right and wrong because the Heavens hadn’t mentioned anything about it yet. Murder and double-parking were rampant.

Even after Chuck and his friends knew the new rules by heart, sometimes they found they did accidentally covet their neighbor’s ox, or even his ass. As they knew, equally offensive to God as coveting one’s neighbor’s livestock was to covet one’s neighbor’s wife, or her ass, or any other material possessions of his neighbor’s. They had an especially tough time with this one, because as pious as they were, it’s really hard to obey rules against thinking.

They didn’t usually steal, except from indigenous populations, until many centuries later when Napster came out and a free-for-all descended that not even God could stop.  Read More

Post image for What happened in my last 1000 days


“Your experiments are the most interesting part of the site for me, but you don’t talk about them much and you haven’t done one in a while. Are those old experiments still a part of your life?”

He wasn’t the first one to ask that. I’ve always felt like I should post updates, but I don’t like to make posts that aren’t standalone articles, or to tack on little updates at the ends of other posts.

So I’ve mostly just left the experiments alone after they’re finished. But I’ve invested a lot in them, and the point has always been to create a lasting change.

They have. Next Saturday it will have been 1000 days since I started Raptitude, and I am a pretty different person than the guy who launched the blog. The writing habit is what I credit (or blame) for a lot of that, but my experiments have also left big changes to my personality, lifestyle and values. I’m now past 10,000 total days in my life, and honestly this last thousand have been my favorite ones. Thank you for playing your part in that.

So for those who have asked, and for readers who have never ventured into the little-known back rooms behind the front page of this blog, here is (briefly) the current status of each of my Raptitude experiments. [Note: except the seventh one, which was a second attempt at the first one and was even more disastrous.]

No. 1 — Sharpening the Mind

The gist: To make sitting meditation a habit by doing it for 20 minutes every day. I had for a long time meditated intermittently, but never as a daily habit.

The initial result: I struggled. Partly because it was suddenly a duty, I became positively enraged every time I sat down. It was bizarre how reliably I became furious, but that was what mostly happened.

Where I am with it today: The rage doesn’t happen any more, and I find it interesting how prominent a feeling it was in my experiment log. The following year I christened a lengthy backpacking trip with a five-day Buddhist meditation retreat. I learned a lot more about technique, and I had to come to terms with some of my initial hindrances because I was spending up to eight hours a day meditating.  Read More

Post image for November is the new December

I was curious how bad things had gotten in the Christmas shopping world, so I conducted an anthropological experiment which ended when I was asked to leave the store by a senior dishwasher salesman.

This year, Canadians — or at least the people who sell them things — have openly embraced the dubious American phenomenon known as Black Friday, even though our Thanksgiving happens on a Monday in October.

Up here our consumer culture isn’t really that different than it is south of us, it’s just a little more self-conscious and toned down. Canadians would be embarrassed to buy, for example, a velvet-and-rhinestone painting of a waterfall at a truck stop, or a five-pound pack of Nibs. And so it’s not on offer up here. I kind of like that, and I guess that’s why the widely-welcomed invasion of Black Friday left me a little uneasy at first. I liked our Canadian consumer self-consciousness while it lasted.

Maybe it’s not so bad. It’s a symbiotic relationship that was bound to happen. Retailers are always looking for The Sale, and customers are always looking for The Deal. Black Friday is a day when both parties are guaranteed to get what they’re looking for with no shame implied on the part of either, and I guess there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a little like what happens when the fleet comes into port and the local seaside establishments turn on their red lights.

This exchange is happening all the time, but Christmas is when the retailers really want to get the turnstiles spinning. There’s nothing terribly clever about the way they market their clothes and perfumes and phones, certainly nothing more clever than the now-ancient custom of pricing an item at $9.99 instead of ten dollars.

They don’t need to be clever, because both parties come to the table willing. And maybe that’s why it’s all so absurd. We’re so used to waif-proportioned mannequins and plastic Santa Villages that their ridiculousness is almost transparent to us.

So that’s why I went to the mall with my Nikon this weekend. The plan was to take images of the decked halls and gay apparel, then go do something in real life like read a book or walk in the park, and then look at the photos later when I’ve detoxed from the mall air, and see how silly it all really is.

The whole Christmas mall menagerie is so silly that it can barely offend anymore. It doesn’t warrant a serious condemnation, and being hard-nosed about it is a little like picketing a WWE event to convince showgoers that it isn’t real wrestling. More than anything I wanted to be entertained, and I was.

What fascinates me in particular are the images and displays that retailers use to lubricate this mass-transaction and get us in the mood. Fake boughs of holly hung with no hint of irony or kitch. Sterile plastic trees with wrapped empty boxes beneath them. White, flaky fuzz sprayed on window-corners by the canload, meant to remind us of some Charles Dickens book we know about but have never read.  Read More

Post image for Why should you be “forced” to help someone else?

I’m sick. I don’t get sick much. Somehow I still don’t quite believe I will ever get really sick but the statistics say there is a 100% chance I will die of something. So that means it’s either a violent end, or one day I get really sick.

Statistics also say over 70% of my readers are American, and some other statistics say that one-seventh of them do not have health insurance.

I’m making this statistic up, but for those without health coverage, probably a good 50% of their fellow Americans believe that their lack of health insurance is deserved. If they get sick they deserve no medical attention, because they didn’t tend their own garden well enough.

In America, you’re free to seek and acquire everything you need. Somehow, many people think this means the same as: if you don’t have everything you need, then you don’t deserve everything you need. No health insurance? Didn’t work hard enough. Simple.

My sinuses are blocking some of my brain right now so maybe I’m oversimpifying it, but isn’t that the basic philosophy, for many, many people?

The population contains two hundred million self-professed followers of Christ and most of them believe that it is absurd to pay a dime for someone else to see a doctor.

Makes me think of a joke:

How many Ayn Rand objectivists does it take to screw in a light bulb?

None. The market will sort it out.

I generally don’t talk about single political issues here. And I’m not right now. This post isn’t about health care. Or Capitalism. It’s about something way bigger, as always.  Read More

Post image for Two methods for dealing with negative people

A recurring question I get from readers is, “How do you deal with negative people?” I’ve never directly written about it because I’m not always sure whether they’re asking how *I* deal with negative people, or how one ought to deal with negative people. I can only tell you how I do it.

There are actually two ways I deal with negative people.

Method 1

When someone makes a needless negative comment, I feel a spike of contempt somewhere in my lungs, and my eyes probably narrow for a second. I give a terse answer, if one is required. My mind says to the person, “Why do you have to be such a dick about it?” but I don’t actually say that.

Then once I’m out of their presence I tell stories in my head about how wrong they are, I play out imaginary confrontations, I might make a speech that nobody will hear. Or I think of what I should have said right then, George Costanza style. “Well the jerk store called, and…”

This kind of internal dialogue/monologue can go on until I’m interrupted by real life, but even then it sometimes resurfaces later. It sometimes makes the day a bad day.

With this method, the one thing I don’t do is do something. I do think a lot though. I think with great force and anger. I think up a storm, a real impressive one. I inventory my reasons for how right I am, several letters-to-the-editor’s worth. My body doesn’t do anything except maybe make involuntary faces. It’s possible my tongue moves, I don’t know.

In other words, the first of the two methods I have for dealing with negative people is to become one.

Method 2

It starts out the same: person says something negative, and I feel that contempt feeling, but for whatever reason it triggers a different thought process. I do feel the impulse to go on an internal tirade, but I don’t. Instead I find myself recognizing that the offensive party is having a bad day or a bad moment that could just as easily be happening to me. Even if they’re having a bad life, that could just as easily be happening to me too.

It’s not quite forgiveness, it’s more like, “Ah I’ve been there. Frustrated and unreasonable. Directing it at people who don’t deserve it.”

Even though my knee-jerk response is to stare daggers, I’m reminded that people get negative when they’re unconscious, in pain or trying to protect themselves from pain. All human activity can be boiled down to a combintion of seeking pleasure and avoiding suffering. Negativity tends to come from avoiding suffering, and if I’m being fair, it helps neither of us to blame them for it.

Pessimism shields people from despair because it keeps expectations low. Blame shields people from the threats of having to be responsible for a problem they don’t think should be happening. I have been caught up in both, at times today even.

When I use method two I end up feeling almost good towards the negative party. It’s a weird feeling if you’re not used to it. The pain of others suddenly becomes directly relevant to you, yet it remains theirs.  Read More

Post image for Why do you do what you don’t love?

When I arrived at the conservation office I was absurdly early, like I am for everything that’s important. At 9:30 a bus would take me and 39 others to a ferry, which would drop us at the beginning of the Milford Track. From there I’d hike four days through cavernous glacial valleys, living out of my backpack.

After a day of scrambling to get all the right supplies: quick-drying clothes, sandfly repellant, cooking gear, matches, and food that didn’t take up much space, I was ready. Just early.

I sat down on the grass next to another traveler. We had the typical backpacker exchange: names, home countries, and current destinations. He was a German, about 20, headed to the Kepler track.

Our customary exchange ran its course quickly and soon there didn’t seem to be anything else to say, so we just sat against our packs, enjoying the day. It was sunny, and especially quiet. Te Anau is a little town at the edge of the civilization, so there was no background drone of highway traffic. Nothing happening in the foreground either.

Neither of us had said anything in a minute or two, when he turned to me and asked with a straightforwardness that only a German could muster:

“So,” he said, “What are your dreams?”

Having met new people almost every single day of my trip, I had reflexive answers for almost every question a near-stranger could ask, but this one caught me off guard. Nothing came out.

It’s not that I didn’t know what I wanted in life. In fact I’ve got a life list, and I started trying to recall what was on it, but nothing was jumping out at me and I knew that after thinking about it so long, no answer I could give would be very convincing.

A few items from my bucket list were beginning to materialize: Learn my wines. Speak French fluently. Ride a Harley. These are things I want to do, but clearly none of them consume me enough that they’re right there in the foreground of my mind whenever somebody brings up the topic of dreams.

I was self-conscious about how I seemed to have to rake my brain for what should be more important than anything. I didn’t have a clear idea of my dreams, and I knew I was talking to somebody who did.

Finally I laughed and said I didn’t know.

“What are your dreams?” I asked.

“I want to have a boat and I want to go to Iceland.”

“In your boat?”

“No, my boat will not be that kind of boat. It is two different dreams.”

“Why did you come to New Zealand when you could have gone to Iceland first?”

“It is not the time. I am too young.”

I have 150 items on my bucket list. Looking at it, pretty much anyone could tease out a few values that are important to me. What I want is a life that embodies those values.

One of the items on my list was the thing I was there to do: hike the Milford Track. But I knew he was looking for a more definite, more resounding answer. Not just one of dozens of arbitrary items I want to get to, but the experience I couldn’t die without. The Milford is a truly unbelievable hike, but my interest in it didn’t exactly define me as a person. It only hinted at what did.  Read More

Post image for Ordinary things every mother has seen

Look in almost anyone’s shoebox of family photos and you’ll find mostly smiles. Some real, some given on command. Kids standing like sticks in front of the cabin or Epcot Center. Days at the pool, days at the beach, birthday parties and Halloweens.

In the mid 1980s Sally Mann set out to photograph her children growing up. But she did something unusual. She consciously decided to include the ugly and awkward parts that many people want to exclude from their image of childhood. Bleeding noses, wet beds, black eyes, bad moods. Hints of vulnerability and danger.

Her collection, called Immediate Family, didn’t obsess with the disturbing parts of childhood. There are shots of goofing off, dressing up, and playing board games. But it’s obvious she made a point of including shots that suggest that childhood isn’t squeaky clean, that it’s also riddled with moments of awkwardness, shame, fear and confusion.

I couldn’t figure exactly what it was about these images that I loved so much, until I read what filmmaker Steven Cantor had said about them:

“I was so moved by Sally’s expression of childhood the way I remembered it — as a complex and enigmatic time — and not the innocent and naive period adults often project it to be.”

Yes! Bingo. Childhood isn’t simple at all, except to adults. It’s confusing and awesome, sometimes traumatic, sometimes dark, sometimes absurd.

Those typical shoebox photos cherrypick the sanitary moments and ignore the rest, as if only the light and easy parts have value. They suggest that kids spend their days playing because they don’t have to take anything seriously yet. But in reality kids explore and play because they need to learn about the world, fast. They need those black eyes and awful moments, and they need to have curiosity and low inhibitions to get them.

So if we’re going to take the value of childhood seriously, we can’t pretend it consists only of birthdays and school plays and trips to Grandma’s. Sally Mann saw that childhood play isn’t actually frivolous, it’s a vital learning process, and the unsettling parts of it are absolutely necessary. And because they are so vital, they’re beautiful too.  Read More

Post image for 7 High-leverage life skills they should teach in grade school

They don’t need to take up too much math or science time, maybe just a single two-hour class for each, covering two a year. Plant a few seeds and leave them alone. They’ll grow, in in the minds of certain kids where the conditions are right, and their progress will be gradual but unstoppable.

These skills aren’t easy. I suck at most of them, but I know they’re all I really need to know how to do. Simply introduce them and they’ll lead a person to anything else he needs to know. In me, the seeds have germinated, no question about that. I am gradually getting better at them. They take years, so I wish I’d started in grade school.

1) Letting people misunderstand and dislike you

I used to really believe that somebody getting the wrong idea about me was some kind of problem that had to be fixed. This is the kind of fear that would prevent me from, say, renting “Heavenly Creatures” because everyone knows it has Kate Winslet’s boobs in it and the Blockbuster girl would think I’m renting it only because I’m a huge perv and not because it’s a good movie. It’s a tiny example, but that’s a genuine wall I built there. One of thousands.

It takes an enormous amount of energy to try and manipulate people’s knee-jerk impressions of you, and it makes you into a fearful, pandering creature. It’s completely impossible anyway, and there’s so little to gain even when you pull it off. Instead of someone getting a baseless negative impression of you, they get a baseless positive one.

The amount of pain suffered in vain by people trying to be liked by everyone is unimaginable. It drives people crazy. It makes people kill themselves.

Make no apologies or explanations for what you want, and let the unknown faces dislike or distrust you. Study your fear of leaving bad impressions, and practice doing what you want anyway. I bet you’ll become not just more comfortable, but more likable.

Elaine Benes: Who cares if she doesn’t like you? Does everyone have to like you?
George Costanza: Yes! Everyone has to like me!

2) Talking to strangers

School taught me strangers were at worst bad people, and at best irrelevant people. It took me a while to recognize that they were indeed people at all — that they have family members and friends to whom they are not strangers. It took even longer to realize that I am a stranger.

They had an explicit rule about it: Don’t talk to strangers! Stranger is clearly a pejorative word, and they told us to use that word to describe anyone we didn’t know. And don’t let them talk to you!

I am still getting over the idea that people I don’t know are “strange.” Some of the most rewarding moments of my life have happened while breaking this rule.

Kids can still be taught to keep themselves safe without instilling such a damaging view of the casual passer-by.

Imagine if nobody regarded anybody as a stranger, but rather a person they didn’t know. You can’t have wars without strangers. For that and other atrocities, we need a group of people so alien and blank to us that we don’t care what happens to them.  Read More

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