Pearls of Wisdom from Dwight Schrute?

Why Rainn Wilson Shuns Happiness…and So Do I

Dwight SchruteI never thought I’d learn life lessons from the likes of Dwight Schrute.

But alas, that relentlessly annoying character from NBC’s The Office is played by a rather thoughtful and likable fellow named Rainn Wilson. And RELEVANT magazine recently featured him in a surprisingly touching cover story.

What struck me most from the interview were Wilson’s comments on happiness, a state we humans seem to be constantly chasing. Heck, it’s even written into the Declaration of Independence. Yet the whole concept of happiness seems so shallow, so fleeting. I’ve always thought we should be striving for something a bit more substantive, like fulfillment or satisfaction.

JOY, anyone?

Here is an excerpt from the piece on Wilson:

“I truly believe that happiness is not an if/then statement,” he says. “I think through most of our culture it’s, ‘If I get this, then I will be happy. If I get this job, I will be happy. If I make this much money, I will be happy. If I find my mate, I will be happy. If I have success in my career, I will be happy.’

Whatever it is, there’s this series of if/then relationships. I think that’s not how happiness works.”

“I don’t like the word ‘happiness,’” he clarifies. “I think we have it in the United States—‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ What is the pursuit of happiness?

Happiness, to me, is like my son when you take him to Santa Monica pier and he goes on a roller coaster and eats cotton candy. He’s happy. And then eight minutes later, he’s not happy. He wants to do it again to get happy again. Or he wants to go on the merry-go-round so he can get happy. He wants to go swim in the ocean so he can be happy. Happiness is this thing that you’re chasing.”

“I think that the better word is ‘contentment,’” he says.

“Contentment lies in living fully in your life’s purpose. Living in God’s purpose for you breeds a contentment that’s not contingent on achieving certain things or doing certain things … The ancient Greeks believed in a concept called eudaimonia, which translates as ‘human flourishing.’ That was the highest ideal in the Greek world.”

He wonders aloud, “Can you imagine if our natural motto was, ‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of human flourishing?’ It’s not happiness; it’s human flourishing—deep, soul-enriching stuff. It’s connection. It’s service. It’s work. It’s creativity. It’s beauty.”

Then he settles into that thought, declaring, “I believe in life, liberty and the pursuit of human flourishing.”

Can someone please give Dwight an “Amen”?

Gender Wars: The Battle for Thermal Dominance

‘Tis the season to be steamy.

That is, if you’re a typical red-blooded male seeking to peacefully co-exist with a typical uber-chilly woman.

Such thermal inequality was in full force during my annual Christmas pilgrimage to the motherland (Ohio, land of my mother).

Mom, of course, was perpetually frosty, in direct contrast to my absolute stuffiness.

Navigating this duality required some creative ingenuity on my part: closing the vents in my bedroom, sitting close to drafty windows, dressing in a single paper-thin layer.

This silent battle reached its breaking point during the two-hour drive to my sister’s house.

Even though I had rented a car for the visit, mom insisted we drive hers (with me at the wheel, natch). She claimed taking her car was more convenient and would relieve her from having to transfer critical items (e.g. the garage door opener) from one car to the other.

But I’m no dope. I know the real reason was so she would have complete familiarity with the temperature and blower controls.

And she certainly took advantage of her advantage. No sooner did I turn the key that she maxxed out the heater (all the way to the right on both blower and temperature dials).

That was OK for those first few warm-up minutes. In fact, I actually craved the initial warmth to counter the 40-something degree temperature.

But it wasn’t long before I was overcome by visions of fiery saunas in endless deserts.

I countered by simply closing the vents on my side of the car. Which successfully slowed the direct barrage of steamy air, but hardly solved the problem.

My next move was much bolder, gradually turning the dial from red-hot to simply hot. Mom immediately moved it back. We continued this back-and-forth until she finally relented and acknowledged that the temperature might be a bit excessive.


Living in a 20-Minute Time Warp

This year marks the 20th anniversary of my 20-minute lapse in judgment.

That’s when I first set the clock radio in my bedroom a full 20 minutes fast.

And while the clock radio has been replaced by a slick Bose Wave Radio, the 1,200-second time warp endures.

I must have read about it in some productivity article or self-help book as a way to trick my mind into thinking it was running behind schedule. To a recent college grad, inevitably juggling his love of sleep with the demands of a full-time job, that concept must have seemed appealing.

And it probably worked. For the first few days.

But my mind clearly figured out this charade and has long since compensated for it.

There’s absolutely no way I can correct the clock now, of course, or risk irreparable psychic confusion (like I need any more of that…) As previously reported, the biannual government-imposed time changes provide quite enough personal stress, thank you very much.

So here I stay, stuck in my own self-imposed 20-minute time warp

I’ve Got a Catch Phrase…How ‘Bout You?

I find it amusing whenever I observe that someone has a favorite catch phrase. You know, it’s one of those personal buzzwords/phrases that (s)he involuntarily favors and repeatedly inserts into conversations.

Sometimes it’s a simple filler word, as in “um” or “like.” Often it’s a more full-fledged anchor phrase, a la “Quite frankly.”

One of my co-workers (let’s call him Frank) loves to insert “sort of” into every verbal nook and cranny. Another (we’ll call her Betsy) has an affinity for “At the end of the day” (which, unfortunately, is an expression that has crept its way into many a current lexicon).

True to form, I have created a pseudo-game out of identifying and charting these individual catch phrases (after all, man can’t live on Snark Central alone…)

Amusing as that exercise has proven to be, trust me when I admit that it becomes much less enjoyable upon discovering that you rely on your own embarrassing catch phrase and hadn’t realized it.

Turns out mine is “You know.” Those two inane words infiltrate far too many of my statements.

When first confronted with the reality of my verbal addiction (following an intervention-like encounter something along the lines of, “Mike, you have a problem…”), I initially denied it…as most addicts do.

But upon further reflection and analysis, I realized it was painfully true. And there are few things as frustrating as knowing you cling to a throwaway phrase and are unable to halt its transmission before it passes your lips.

I believe I’m making some progress toward controlling this habit. But clearly, it’s not going to be easy to scrub these unnecessary two words from my speech.

Guess that’s just the way I roll. You know?


Some Qwikster Alternatives for Netflix to Consider

In its latest marketing / branding / PR gaffe, Netflix announced it was splitting into two entities and launching Qwikster.

No, it’s not a convenience store, quick-lube franchise or concrete alternative.

It’s the new name for Netflix’s DVD-by-mail service (its core business, but one that will likely be diminishing as video streaming becomes more prevalent).

Unfortunately, those wacky folks neglected to verify that the @qwikster twitter handle was available, and turns out it already belongs to a pot-smoking, Elmo-loving chap named Jason Castillo.

Adding to the confusion are the numerous other similar-sounding monikers in the marketplace.

In the true spirit of collaboration and collective goodwill, I have taken it upon myself to concoct a few suitable name alternatives for Netflix to consider:

– Qwakster

– Huckster

– Soon-to-be-Obsolete-ster

– Red-Enveloped Stepchild

– Crash-and-Burnster

– Not-Qwite-As-Qwik-As-Streaming(ster)

– PostalFlix

– Dupe-the-Public-ster

– Snail-Mail Ciné

– Cut Us Some Slackster

– Spinster

– Disc in Da Mailster

– Flick 2 Ur Box  

– Special DVDelivery

– U-Scratcha, U-Buya

Any others you’d like to suggest?

Step Away from the Paper Cutter!

There’s one maxim from my early school days that will probably be etched into my mind forever.

The paper cutter maims.

It’s the sole universal truth that each elementary teacher — from Mrs. Tortorello in kindergarten to Mrs. Hundertpfund in 4th grade — could rally around (yes, I had to learn some doozie name spellings in my early years).

With the fervor of religious zealots, these ladies convinced me and my fellow pupils of the boundless evil locked within that sharp-toothed demon. It’s a fear that continues to emerge each time I see that clunky contraption with the swinging arm.

Their hysteria is understandable. Even though the lawsuit era had yet to fully dawn, the threat of a severed finger must have loomed large. And no sweet young educator would want something like THAT hanging over her head.

Looking back, I’m most confounded by the lunatic logic of banning butter knives in the cafeteria while equipping each classroom with a giant dagger.

Also interesting to me is how my teachers’ stern warnings continue to exert such influence over me after so many years.

I guess it’s the mandates that carry negative (ideally, painful) consequences that are the ones that stick. Sometimes well past their useful lives.

Fear can be such a powerful motivator. It can compel us to do the right thing. It can keep us in line. Unfortunately, taken to the extreme, it can also hold us back from fully experiencing life.

Of course, my irrational discomfort in operating a paper cutter really has no bearing on my personal success and fulfillment.

But I’m not sure I’m talking about paper cutters anymore.

Nothing Compares 2 Real Words

I blame Prince. And Sinead.

A couple decades before texting ever captivated a generation, these two colluded to legitimize ridiculous abbreviations for already short words.

Instead of writing “Nothing Compares to You,” Prince penned “Nothing Compares 2 U.” And Ms. O’Connor played along with the gimmick when she recorded the song that ultimately put her on the mainstream map.

Those seeds eventually germinated into the lexicon that has crept in and degraded our language.

I’m no living language denier, but I don’t see the purpose of substituting “ur” for “your” or “l8r” for “later” or, heaven forbid, “enuf” for “enough.” These replacements are neither clever nor necessary.

If efficiency of letters were the sole goal, then we wouldn’t be saddled with stray letters inserted at the end of certain words, a la “No wayyy.”

But we are. And it’s not just those rebellious teenagers who are doing the misdeeds. Middle-aged moms and dads are adopting the texting habits of their youngsters – and it ain’t becoming.

I have slightly more patience for those common texting acronyms like “LOL,” “IDK” and “brb.” Annoying as those bad boys may be, at least they function like real acronyms, with each letter representing the first letter of the corresponding words.

But the intentional dropping of letters or substitution of numbers for letters…not cool.

A notable exception to my hard line against compressed words is my affinity for using “U2″ as a replacement for “you too.” It’s just too irresistible and reminds me of an obscure band from Dublin. Besides it’s not actually a misspelling.

In fact, spelling is one of those rare notions that I take very seriously. Like God. And Chipotle chicken burritos with black beans.

Which, incidentally, both go quite nicely with some good old-fashioned Prince:

Welcome to Snark Central

Two deflated figures huddle around a desk, eyes down, shoulders slumped.

This scenario accompanies a common ritual within the confines of my boss’ office: the marathon conference call.

It was during one such experience that the thought first came to me: What if we created a system to keep us actively engaged in these phone discussions, especially during those listen-only segments dominated by folks with a tendency to drone on and on and on?

Enter Snark Central, an ad-hoc exercise of writing down each business cliché, jargony phrase or ridiculous witticism that a colleague might utter (intentionally or otherwise).

It started as a lark to pass the time and make calls easier to endure, but quickly escalated into a full-blown game of dutifully logging these pearls of wisdom.

Before we knew it, we had completely filled out the front and back of the official Snark Central Logbook (a piece of notebook paper) and enlisted our teammates to join in on the fun.

The list soon became so unwieldy that I suggested our team vote for our 10 favorite phrases and whittle it down to the Snark de la Snark.

With so much rich, diverse content, there was no clear winner in our poll, but here were some favorites that exceeded garden-variety-cliché status:

– “Roll out the popcorn cart.”

– “The Washington Post smell test.”

– “News, not schmooze.”

– “Skillanthropist.”

– Make sure your stuff bubbles to the top.”

– “That’s capital ‘C’ communications work.”

– “Don’t give me coy and ominous quotes.”

– That’s where the fuzziness comes in.”

– “Down to the wire, but not over the wire.”

– “Jet it over to me.”

– “I have a buckedtload of questions.”

The beauty of our little experiment is that it’s an equal opportunity offender. These gems emerged from all ages, both genders, and numerous regions of the world. In that way, Snark Central actually exceeded my original intentions by illuminating the reality that we all say some mighty odd, inane, ludicrous, and sometimes illogical things.

In a strange way, I like to think that snarkiness actually helps bring us all a little closer together.

For that, I’m eternally grateful. And likely to hang onto your every word, so watch what you say.


Best, Mike


I get a kick when I see the in-vogue e-mail closer Best, (as in, “Dear So-and-So, Thanks for the info. Best, Mike.“)

Because this one-word phrase is used so readily, I’ve learned to tune it out. But I sometimes wonder what precise message it’s intended to convey to its recipient.

Here are a few possible meanings for “Best,” that are worth considering:

YOU’RE the best. [Of all my friends/family/acquaintances/colleagues, YOU lead the list. Congratulations. Well done, top-shelf e-mail buddy.]

I’M the best. [Let’s not beat around the bush, I’m pretty awesome. In fact, I believe I’m the penultimate e-pal and want to make sure we’re both clear on that point.]

EVERYONE I meet is the best.” [Because I’m feeling extra generous, I hereby bestow “best” status on all of creation.]

THIS MESSAGE is the best.” [Pay close attention to this virtual document, my fine friend, as it’s chock full of greatness.]

I’m quite hip.” [The actual meaning of this word really doesn’t matter. What’s most important is that you are connected with someone who is downright hip and trendy – and communicates accordingly.]

I wish you the best.” [OK, so this seems like the most likely meaning for the word. But is there a time period it’s intended to cover? Just the exact moment it’s read, or throughout an entire day? Or is it a wish with no expiration whatsoever? Really hard to know.]

I must admit I’m pretty impressed by the efficiency of a sign-off statement boiled down to a single word of four measly letters.

It’s even more efficient than my preferred one-word e-closer: “Thanks,” (or if I’m feeling extra cheeky, “Thx,“)

Now I’m starting to wonder what I’m thanking everyone for: Reading the message? Staying awake? Not bashing me with a snarky reply? Breathing?

Guess a little ambiguity never hurt anyone.



Confessions of a Watermelon-Hater


Who doesn’t crave a pink, juicy, sweet slice of melon goodness? It’s the ultimate in thirst-quenching summer refreshment – especially during these dog days.

Not so fast.

That’s right, I am a closet watermelon-hater.

Despite being surrounded by melon-craving fiends my whole life (my sister foremost among them), I never really liked the stuff. Way TOO sweet, TOO juicy, TOO much work avoiding those annoying seeds.

I’ve tried to like it, honestly I have. Repeatedly attempted to convince myself – and others – that I was just a normal watermelon-loving kid. To no avail.

You know the drill. I was gripped by that vulcan force known as peer pressure. It hovered over my childhood, dictating what I wore, listened to, considered cool.

It ruled.

Thankfully, I’ve evolved a bit since then. I no longer have to feel sheepish for liking spinach or listening to Lady Gaga (OK, maybe a tad on that latter point).

Wish I could proclaim that I’ve experienced a total transformation into a bold man who stands up for what he prefers, regardless of the risk or cost.

But that’s not exactly the case, even though I’m gradually chipping away at the caked-on gunk from my youth.

So until I’m able to fully shake loose those ghosts of peers past (and present), I’ll be content in admitting I’m still not wild about watermelon.

Although strangely, I rather enjoy a watermelon-flavored sucker.

Don’t try to figure me out. Stronger wills have failed.