Saturday, 31 December 2016

Good luck!

How to get on in life... 

Futures Forum: Beyond Hope

Futures Forum: Are things actually getting better?


Oliver Burkeman writes a regular 'anti-self-help' piece - and has had a good look at the idea of how 'lucky' or not we are:

Don’t think you’re lucky? Think again

You probably think you got where you are today through willpower and elbow grease. But what about chance, asks Oliver Burkeman

Oliver Burkeman Friday 6 May 2016

‘It’s genuinely difficult to perceive the ways you’re privileged.’ Illustration: Thomas Pullin for the Guardian

Do you feel lucky? The answer, well known to psychologists, is that you probably don’t. You probably think you got where you are today through willpower and elbow grease. We chronically underestimate luck’s role, and this seems to get worse the richer we get; surveys show that the wealthiest are least likely to attribute their fortunes to, well, good fortune. They also seem to be meaner: one ingenious study found drivers of luxury cars were more likely to cut others off than those in cheaper vehicles.

It’s hardly surprising many such people oppose taxation and government spending: why should others get a handout if they didn’t need one? The ironic result is that they vote against the very policies that helped them get lucky to begin with. In a recent Atlantic essay, Robert Frank, an economist who has studied attitudes to chance, quoted EB White: “Luck is not something you can mention in the presence of self-made men.”

Yet to see this purely as a problem of the super-rich lets the rest of us off too easily. Anyone living in a highly developed economy in 2016 is already the beneficiary of stupendous luck – for example, not being born during the plague, or living in the modern-day Central African Republic (average life expectancy: about 50). Ponder that, and it’s easier to see why Buddhists speak of the incomparable luck of being born human at all. You might have been a battery hen, or a mayfly with a one-day lifespan.

Our blindness to such truths isn’t only because we’re self-absorbed jerks. As Frank explained, it’s also down to the “availability heuristic”, the bias whereby we attach more significance to things that are easier to call to mind. It’s not hard to recall countless times when you put in the effort to succeed: slogging through university finals, preparing for job interviews, tolerating a soul-killing commute. By contrast, it’s genuinely difficult to perceive the ways you’re privileged – let alone all the “negative preconditions” of your success, like not being born in a war zone, or before antibiotics, and so forth. We rarely realise it, but each of us is a walking testament to all the things that might have stopped us, yet didn’t.

Philosophers (and sometimes normal people) raise another worry: our luck always comes at the price of others’ misfortune. Like many people, I’m only here thanks to Hitler, without whom my grandmother wouldn’t have left Germany or met my grandfather. But if I deem my existence a good thing – and I do – doesn’t this slightly complicate my claim to condemn the Holocaust utterly? “We know that it would have been better if those horrors had not happened and, consequently, we had not been born,” writes the philosopher Todd May – and so “our lives are rooted in tragedies that have no reparation”. If such thoughts depress you, there’s a glimmer of hope: the finding that reminding people how lucky they are makes them kinder and more generous. The trick, then, is not to forget about your own good fortune. Good luck with that.

Don’t think you’re lucky? Think again | Oliver Burkeman | Life and style | The Guardian


Oliver Burkeman has also questioned the usefulness of 'positive thinking' [as he did in his Radio 4 piece on 'hope', as reblogged here: Futures Forum: Beyond Hope]

Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking:

…when experimental subjects are told of an unhappy event, but then instructed to try not to feel sad about it, they end up feeling worse than people who are informed of the event, but given no instructions about how to feel. In another study, when patients who were suffering from panic disorders listened to relaxation tapes, their hearts beat faster than patients who listened to audiobooks with no explicitly ‘relaxing’ content. Bereaved people who make the most effort to avoid feeling grief, research suggests, take the longest to recover from their loss.

The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking: Oliver Burkeman: 9780865479418: Amazon.com: Books


Published on Mar 13, 2013

Oliver Burkeman, winner of the Foreign Press Association Young Journalist of the Year Award, explores "happiness for people who can't stand positive thinking" in his best-selling book The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking.

Burkeman says "For a civilisation so fixated on achieving happiness, we seem remarkably incompetent at the task. Self-help books don't seem to work. Few of the many advantages of modern life seem capable of lifting our collective mood. Wealth -- even if you can get it -- doesn't necessarily lead to happiness. Romance, family life and work often seem to bring as much stress as joy. We can't even agree on what 'happiness' means".

Oliver Burkeman seeks answers from an unusual collection of people -- experimental psychologists and Buddhists, terrorism experts, spiritual teachers, business consultants, philosophers -- who share a single, surprising way of thinking about life. They argue that 'positive thinking' and relentless optimism aren't the solution, but part of the problem. And that there is an alternative, 'negative path' to happiness and success that involves embracing failure, pessimism, insecurity and uncertainty -- those things we spend our lives trying to avoid. Thought provoking, counterintuitive and ultimately uplifting, The Antidote is a celebration of the power of negative thinking.

New York based Burkeman, is a regular contributor to The Guardian. His work has also appeared in Esquire, Elle, GQ, the Observer and the New Republic. He holds a degree in Social and Political Sciences from Cambridge University.

Happiness for people who can't stand positive thinking - YouTube


Published on Jun 20, 2012
An illustrated introduction to The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking. 

The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman - YouTube

Others have also questioned the fetish around 'positive thinking':
RSA Animate - Smile or Die - RSA

Plus all the other promise-laden self-help notions:
Mindfulness is stopping the world from thinking - Telegraph
Jay Doubleyou: fish philosophy and the motivational mafia


Should people be rewarded according to their 'merit'? Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel posed this question on Radio 4 recently with people from over 40 countries:

Do Those on Top Deserve Their Success?

Many people who find themselves on the wrong side of growing inequality feel the system is stacked against them. 
But who deserves to succeed? 
Should we reward talent and hard work? 
If so, what do we do about those left behind? 
Do they deserve their fate, too? 
And is talent, in fact, little more than luck? 
Using a pioneering digital facility at Harvard Business School, Professor Michael Sandel is joined by 60 people from nearly 40 different countries. Together they look for answers to these tough questions; questions which lie behind some of the biggest political stories of the moment.

BBC Radio 4 - The Global Philosopher, Do Those on Top Deserve Their Success?

The FT has just put together an impressive series:
Architects of Meritocracy - Financial Times

Including this piece:

Workplace index will help track progress:
A new initiative will make it easier to see which employers are breaking the ‘class ceiling’

DECEMBER 1, 2016 by: Emma Boyde

An intense debate is under way on the underlying causes of rising populism. In simple terms, do its roots lie in the fears of the “left-behinds” for their economic future or in xenophobia?

Alan Milburn, chairman of the UK’s government-sponsored Social Mobility Commission, leans towards the first explanation. He says that policymakers everywhere have been slow to respond to the worries of voters who feel they are losing out to a privileged elite.

The commission has just published its latest State of the Nation assessment. “In our previous annual reports, we warned that without a dramatic change in approach to how we tackle issues of poverty and mobility, Britain would become a permanently divided nation,” he says. The commission’s Social Mobility Index, published earlier this year, separates England into 65 areas, with the lowest 20 — which have the poorest education and employment prospects — ranked as social mobility “coldspots”. Of these, only three areas voted to remain in the EU.

Workplace index will help track progress

The FT also looks across the North Sea as part of this series:
Nordic model myths beloved by left and right

Is this 'social democracy' - or the work of the 'free market'?
Futures Forum: Hygge >>> "It's part of the paradigm shift away from measuring profits in terms of GDP, but more measuring success in society through quality of life, or happiness and wellbeing."
Futures Forum: Economic freedom and political equality at the local level >>> or, the triumph of corporatism
Jay Doubleyou: the fall and rise of social democracy?


The notion of the 'self-made man/woman' has been explored extensively by Malcolm Gladwell:

Outliers: The Story of Success is the third non-fiction book written by Malcolm Gladwell and published by Little, Brown and Company on November 18, 2008. In Outliers, Gladwell examines the factors that contribute to high levels of success. To support his thesis, he examines the causes of why the majority of Canadian ice hockey players are born in the first few months of the calendar year, how Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates achieved his extreme wealth, how The Beatles became one of the most successful musical acts in human history, how Joseph Flom built Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom into one of the most successful law firms in the world, how cultural differences play a large part in perceived intelligence and rational decision making, and how two people with exceptional intelligence,Christopher Langan and J. Robert Oppenheimer, end up with such vastly different fortunes.

While writing the book, Gladwell noted that "the biggest misconception about success is that we do it solely on our smarts, ambition, hustle and hard work."[3] In Outliers, he hopes to show that there are a lot more variables involved in an individual's success than society cares to admit,[3] and he wants people to "move away from the notion that everything that happens to a person is up to that person".[1]

Through case studies ranging from Canadian junior hockey champions to the robber barons of the Gilded Age, from Asian math whizzes to software entrepreneurs to the rise of his own family in Jamaica, Gladwell tears down the myth of individual merit to explore how culture, circumstance, timing, birth and luck account for success—and how historical legacies can hold others back despite ample individual gifts. Even as we know how many of these stories end, Gladwell restores the suspense and serendipity to these narratives that make them fresh and surprising.


Malcolm Gladwell Outliers - YouTube

Why do we cling to the myth of the "self-made man?"
The myths of the self-made man and meritocracy perpetuate income inequality

A "self-made man" or "self-made woman" is a person who was born poor or otherwise disadvantaged, but who achieved great economic or other success thanks to their own hard work and ingenuity rather than because of any inherited fortune, family connections, or other privilege.
In the cultural history of the United States, the idea of the self-made man, an "essential American figure," looms large. It has been described as an archetype, a cultural ideal, a myth, or a cult.[1][2]

Self-made man - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 

Even the Forbes magazine would agree:

Do you view yourself as a self-made man or woman? If you do, you may want to take another look in the mirror. What’s wrong with the “self-made” theory? Everything. If your pride, ego, arrogance, insecurity, or ignorance keeps you from recognizing the contributions of others, then it’s time for a wake-up call. If your hubris is overwhelming your humility then the text that follows is written just for you.

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