What Makes Us Feel Good About Our Work?

The gist: We feel good about our work when we feel proud, recognized, and appreciated. The intrinsic motivation is much stronger than any extrinsic motivation.

“How do we create our own meaning, pride, motivation, and how do we do it in our workplace and for the employees, I think we could get people to both be more productive and happier.”

To feel good about our work, we need motivation. If money is the best incentive, then people with high-paying jobs should be the happiest. If internal joy is the best, then people should do whatever they like even if their efforts aren’t recognized. But neither appears to be the case. As it turns out, we want our efforts to be seen. We want to feel acknowledged and valued. If there were no end result, even a fun job we would otherwise enjoy would become futile and unattractive.

In the Lego experiment, the participants who had their Legos destroyed every time they finished were much less likely to continue building them. This result holds true even for people that love Legos. This shows that not having our work recognized kills the joy from it. In workplace, ignoring people’s efforts is as bad as destroying it in front of them. But as a caveat, ignoring effort seems incredibly easy, but recognizing it isn’t so difficult—don’t over do it!

The origami experiment shows that we naturally like our work better.  No wonder my IKEA swivel chair looks so great to me, maybe because I built it. It’s important to note the fact that we are biased towards our own accomplishments. It skews our judgments and inhibits us from taking criticism well.

Dan Ariely’s talks never disappoint me! He’s definitely one of my favorite TED talkers 🙂


And the Mountains Echoed

MountainsAt first glance, And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini may seem like a collection of individual short stories. From Kabul to San Francisco, Greece to Afghan, people leading completely different lives fight their own daily battles. But as the plot expands, the stories become complex and intertwined. Pari’s journey of finding her lost brother, Mr. Wahdati’s forbidden love for Nabi, Idris and Timur’s return to Afghan to reconnect with their childhood, Adel’s discovery of his father’s true nature, Markos’s friendship with Thalia…One thing leads to another, the fate of each character dates back to long before they were even born.

In reality, families not only love, protect, and honor each other, but also, in one way or the other, hurt and betray each other. And the Mountain Echoed recognizes this as it explores the many ways in which families interact and the surprising actions taken by the closed ones.

Many stories in this book do not have your typical perfect or even satisfactory ending. Abdullah never gets to enjoy the joy of reuniting with his little sister; Parwana never tells her sister the truth of her injury. But that’s just how it is. Some questions will remain forever unanswered. There will also be regrets. It’s all a part of life.

“In her smile, Idris sees how little of the world he has known, even at thirty-five years of age, its savageness, its cruelty, the boundless brutality.”

When Idris sees Roshi, the little girl who’s the only survivor of the murder of her whole family, he feels powerless. Things like this are out of his life and completely unimaginable. Idris promises to find a doctor for Roshi’s, but…life gets in the way. As he goes back to the US, he finds the distance between him and Roshi “infinite, insurmountable,” his promise to her “misguided, a reckless mistake, a terrible misreading of the measures of his own powers and will and character.” The initial indignation and ambition are soon replaced by the numbness and comfort at home. Continue reading

We’re All Hiding Something. Let’s Find the Courage to Open Up.

The gist: We all have our insecurities and hide in our closets. Let’s all have the courage to open up: be authentic, direct, and unapologetic.

“Hard is not relative. Hard is hard…We need to stop ranking our hard against everyone else’s hard to make us feel better or worse about our closets and just commiserate on the fact that we all have hard.”

Ash Beckham talks about her coming out of the closet as a lesbian. But we all have our own closets that we hide in, trying to shut the world out of our insecurities. It’s no easier or harder for anyone to come out. It’s equally hard. But we often magnify our problems in our mind. It might not be as bad as we think. Ash recounts one time when she mustered up the courage to come out to a little girl in the restaurant she worked at. But the little girl just said, “Okay! Can I get a pancake, please?” It was so easy because Ash and the Pancake Girl were both real to each other.

Ash lists her Pancake Girl principles of coming out:

  • Be authentic: Be yourself. Be real if you want others to be real with you. People will appreciate it, those who are worth it anyway.
  • Be direct: Just say it. It’s better than being ambiguous about the truth. Once you face a situation directly in the eye, it might just become easier.
  • Be unapologetic: Apologize if you hurt someone, but never apologize for who you are. You can’t satisfy everybody anyway. There’s nothing better than being yourself and being cool with that.

Many of us are such good hiders that you think you are the only one hiding. In fact, there are many people peering through the keyholes “looking for the next brave soul to bust a door open.” As the cliché goes, be the change you want to see in the world. Be brave, inspiring, and true to yourself.

The Goldfinch

the-goldfinchThe Goldfinch has been on my reading list ever since it won this year’s Pulitzer Prize. It tells an intriguing story of a young boy, Theo, whose life was turned upside down by a tragic accident and, as a result, taken a sharp turn into the criminal underworld. The storyline is elaborate and engaging. You think you know what to expect but will most certainly be surprised as the plot unfolds. I especially enjoyed the first half of the book. It paints a vivid picture of a young boy, forced to grow up with little guidance and love, squandering away his time recklessly yet taking on life fearlessly. It’s a complicated story about love and hate, challenging and bowing down to fate, reality and dreams.

All the characters have distinct personalities. Theo, his dad, Xandra, Boris, Pippa, Hobie—they are people that would never meet had fate not crossed and intertwined their paths. I think the interaction between Boris and Theo is the most brilliant bit of the book. Theo was a good but sometimes mopey boy. Boris was ridiculous yet full of possibilities. These two got along incredibly well despite disagreeing on everything. Their encounter, separation and reunion make up the backbone of the book. Maybe my expectations were too high, but the Goldfinch didn’t’ impress me greatly. Although overall it was a good read that I would recommend!

“You could study the connections for years and never work it out—it was all about things coming together, things falling apart, time warp, my mother standing out in front of the museum when time flickered and the light went funny, uncertainties hovering on the edge of a vast brightness. The stray chance that might, or might not, change everything.”

Theo’s whole life has been thrown left and right unexpectedly by chances. Looking back, Theo sees his life connected by random dots that he never would’ve thought. Had the meeting with his teachers not been scheduled on a different day, or Pippa not happened to be in the same exhibit hall with him, or his dad got the funds to pay Mr. Silver in Vegas…Theo’s life would’ve been completely different. Like everyone else, Theo tries to cope with life with his own tactics etc. But it’s the stray chances that lead his life to drastic directions.

People like to think that the future can be planned. But it’s things, often those out of our control, coming together that paint the whole picture. No one can go down a single path in life not affected by anything else. All paths are crossed and you never know where life will take you next. On the bright side, this uncertainty is also the beauty of life. Continue reading

The riddle of experience vs. memory

The gist: Our “experiencing selves” live the moment and our “remembering selves” savor on memories. The two selves perceive happiness differently.

“And even when we think about the future, we don’t think of our future normally as experiences. We think of our future as anticipated memories.”

I’ve read and written a post about Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. In this talk, Daniel talks more in depth about one of my favorite topics in the book: our two selves.

Many people are unaware of the fact that our lives are handled by two parts of ourselves. As every second passes by and becomes a part of the memories, the experience self is constantly handing the moments to the remembering self. The biggest difference between the two selves is in the handling of time.

Our remembering selves are not sensitive to time. For example, a one-week vacation seems to be just as good as a two-week one at the same place when you look back at it. If time doesn’t change the story, the remembering self will ignore it! The remembering selves tend to follow this “peak-end rule.” We only remember the best and last part of an experience. Interestingly, a procedure would be remembered as less painful as long as the end wasn’t painful, even if the whole process was longer.

We often let our remembering selves dominate. We don’t choose between experiences, we choose between memories. We look at the future thinking how it will later be remembered by us. For example, not many people would go on a vacation if they were told that they wouldn’t remember anything afterwards. But what about all the fun your experiencing selves will have? Similarly, the dominance of our remembering selves sometimes causes us to choose experiences that our experiencing selves don’t really need.

In reality, it’s our experiencing selves that are living our lives. While memoires are nice, how often do you look back and think about every moment? Not that often. Yet we still put so much weight on the remembering selves when making decisions. Why do we do what we do? I like the title of the talk. It’s a riddle. 


Will Grayson, Will Grayson

WillGraysonWill Grayson, Will Grayson tells a story of two teenagers with the same name living very different lives until their paths cross at an unlikely intersection. The alternating chapters tell the same story from two perspectives. It’s a story about young people finding love and themselves. In that sense you can say it’s a typical Young Adult fiction. The plot is unpredictable and the characters are hilarious—worth the read!

Tiny reminds of Cameron from Modern Family. Dramatic, sensitive, funny, with a huge personality, and full of love. I love the friendship of Tiny and Will from Chicago. Tiny has countless ex-boyfriends while Will can’t wrap his head around interacting with one girl. Yet they both love each other simply because they are best friends.

Will from Ohio reminds me of Holden from The Catcher in the Rye. They both sound like brats that complain about every little detail in their life. They are insecure yet somewhat self-righteous, pretending to be nonchalant to hide their depression. But when he meets someone like Tiny, Will discovers more of his inner softness than he’d probably like to admit.

“But with tiny it isn’t fake at all. it’s like he’s being tickled by life.”

Tickled by life. What an adorable expression! It sums up Tiny in a nutshell. An overweight gay teenager who wouldn’t stop rambling about his love life, Tiny doesn’t have the easiest life in high school. Yet he’s always beaming with confidence, invigorating his surroundings with his cheerfulness, and trying to change the world at least a little bit by putting on a musical about love. Continue reading

The 3 A’s of Awesome


The gist: Follow the 3 A’s of awesome to live awesomely: Attitude, Awareness, and Authenticity.

“You will never be as young as you are right now. And that’s why I believe that if you live your life with a great attitude, choosing to move forward and move on whenever life deals you a blow, living with a sense of awareness of the world around you, embracing your inner three year-old and seeing the tiny joys that make life so sweet and being authentic to yourself, being you and being cool with that, letting your heart lead you and putting yourself in experiences that satisfy you, then I think you’ll live a life that is rich and is satisfying, and I think you’ll live a life that is truly awesome.”

Hands-down one of my favorite TED talks. Neil doesn’t use any flashy language or fancy set up, yet you’ll get the feeling you get from getting touched and inspired by a talk.

Attitude: We are not sure about anything in the future except that it’s unpredictable. But wouldn’t life be boring if it always went according to the plan? All we can change is ourselves. Remain level-headed in good times, and more importantly, remain hopeful when things aren’t so good. Take baby steps and believe that it’ll all get better.

Awareness: Embrace you inner three-year-old and see everything as if you are seeing it for the first time. There is so much simple beauty in life that we just don’t notice anymore. Have a sense of awareness, and really notice the wonderful things around you.

Authenticity: In short, be yourself and be cool with that. We hear this all the time but it’s easier said than done. Even a confident person has  insecurities of looking weird or not good enough just being himself. But what’s weird? There’s no baseline for being normal! Being your authentic self, there’s nothing cooler than that! When you are authentic, “you put yourself in places and situations and in conversations that you love and that you enjoy; you meet people that you like talking to; you go to places you’ve dreamed about; and you end up following your heart and feeling very fulfilled.” Life is so great because of all the sweet moments, but those moments are “always, always, always fleeting.” There’s no time to be someone you are not.

I would also add Appreciation to the 3 A’s. It’s so crucial. If you take nothing for granted, then you will see everything you have as an amazing gift.

I’m following Neil’s blog:1000wesomethings.com. I myself have a habit of writing down 3 awesome things daily. It reminds me of the small pleasures in life and be grateful. Sometimes it’s hard to think of awesome things when I’ve had a really bad day. But I try hard to think of some. Then I realize that there are many bright sides of life.

Man’s Search for Meaning

Man's search for trainingMan’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl, a survivor of the Holocaust,consists of two parts. The first half is the memoir of Viktor’s experience in the concentration camps,. He talked about emotions, suffering, love, human existence, and the meaning of life. The second half explains his theories of logotherapy. This is an emotionally and intellectually challenging classic. A must-read in my opinion!

Unlike the overall historic picture of the Holocaust that I learned from textbooks, Viktor’s memoire describes the daily life inside of the camp from an average prisoner’s view. He defined the three psychological stages of a prisoner: shock, apathy, and what he called “depersonalization” after liberation. Apathy is the scariest stage. After a while, the prisoners got so used to death and crime that they simply stopped reacting to them. In an incident that Viktor accounted, the corpse of a prisoner was being dragged by in front of his eyes, his reaction? “Two hours before I had spoken to that man. Now I continued sipping my soup.” This quote sent chills down my spine. After years of trekking from camp to camp, only those prisoners who “lost all scruples” and used every mean to survive, honest or dishonest, were able to save themselves. Viktor lamented the brutality of the reality, “we know: the best of us did not return.”

According to Viktor, logotherapy “considers man a being whose main concern consists in fulfilling a meaning, rather than in the mere gratification and satisfaction of drives and instincts…or in the mere adaptation and adjustment to society and environment.” In other words, men must have the will to meaning. We have to actively look for a purpose for our lives because the “meaning of life” is different for everyone.

Another interesting point in logotherapy is what Viktor called “hyper-intention.” When people try too hard to avoid a condition, they might make it worse because they focus on it too much thus become over-anxious. On the contrary, giving less attention to or even learning to ridicule certain problem might make it better. For example, someone with a stuttering problem will actually stutter less when they care less about it. While happiness is a choice, there’s a lot of unhappiness-shaming nowadays. People are so carefully avoiding it that they are not only unhappy, but unhappy about being unhappy. We all feel down at times and it’s totally natural. There’s fine line between optimism and denial. Continue reading

I got 99 problems… palsy is just one


The gist: Maysoon Zayid, and Arab-American comedian with palsy, gives an absolutely HILARIOUS and inspirational talk of her journey of becoming a comedian and philanthropist.

“My name is Maysoon Zayid, and if I can can, you can can.”

First off, Maysoon is an amazing comedian. I laughed through the whole talk. Although she started off by warning the audience that she’s not inspirational, this turned out to be one of the most inspirational TED talks I’ve seen.

Despite her condition, her parents reinforced the notion that she “could do anything, that no dream was impossible.” Not only did she achieve her dream of performing on stage by becoming a comedian, Maysoon also became a philanthropist and advocate for the disabled. She says, “People with disabilities are the largest minority in the world, and we are the most underrepresented in entertainment.” The power of belief and dream is manifested at its finest on this strong woman.

There’s no doubt that Maysoon has to battle her disability daily, but she is still able to make jokes about it.  Her attitude towards life is so positive and authentic. It’s simply admirable.

I’m going to skip the “More of my favorite quotes” section because I don’t want to give out any spoilers. Please go see this talk!

Tuesdays with Morrie–Part II


 “Aging is not just decay…it’s growth. It’s more than the negative that you’re going to die, it’s also the positive that you understand you’re going to die, and that you live a better life because of it.”

People don’t like talking about death. It’s like a taboo. But Morrie had a positive view on it. Understanding death dissipates the fear and enables people to realize how they really want their lives to be. Sometimes people live like they will never die—relentlessly chasing after materialistic values. “We put our values in the wrong things. And it leads to very disillusioned lives.”

Morrie said that the wish to be young again signifies “unfulfilled lives” and “lives that haven’t found meaning.” The meaning of life is different for everyone, but there’s no such thing as “too late” when it comes to finding yours. Morrie was changing until the day he said good-bye.

“As you grow, you learn more. If you stayed at twenty-two, you’d always be as ignorant as you were at twenty-two.”

As my friends and I start to transition from early-twenties to mid-twenties, I can say that quarter-life crisis is definitely valid. Besides realizing that you are an actual adult, I think what freaks young folks out more is the realization that we can’t stay young forever. Since my late teenage years, I always looked back at myself from two years ago and saw so many immature thoughts and actions. The intensity has flattened out a bit; unlike looking at my 18-year-old self when I was 20, I don’t see a complete idiot when I think about my 20-year-old self now. Seeing aging as growth can help us accept getting older, since it will happen anyhow.

“It’s impossible for the old not to envy the young. But the issue is to accept who you are and revel in that.” Everyone gets their turn to be young; and every age has its beauty. But it’s up to you to find what’s “good and true and beautiful in your life as it is now.”

“This is how you start to get respect, by offering something that you have.”

This is one of my favorite quotes from Morrie. Existential crisis occurs when people start questioning the meaning of their lives. Offering what you have. What a beautiful and simple idea. I have a lot to offer! It could be tutoring young kids, volunteering, helping a friend in need, or simply being generous with my compliments. Offering makes you happy! 🙂 Continue reading