Monday, November 24, 2008

Happiness Maximization Guide

If you're like me, no matter how much Veblen you read or how many Atget photos you eyeball, you still really like getting stuff. The new possession fills you with a feeling of accomplishment and self-worth not easily equaled in your busy work-a-day existence. The sensation--sadly--can be quite fleeting. But what is a mostly unemployed young person to do? Purchasing new items all of the time can quickly become an expensive habit.

It is for this reason that I present to you, dear reader, my newly created Happiness Maximization Guide. By following the precepts outlined in this free excerpt, you will streamline the productivity of your HQ (Happiness Quotient).

Here's a quick one to get you started.
Always shop on the Internet

Internet shopping effectively quadruples (at least) the happiness you accrue from each purchase. Normal shopping makes you happy only once, when you get home with your new HO (Happiness Object). But, through the magic of the internet, you can be happy when 1) you place your order, 2) when the delivery-person brings you your order, 3) when you don't have to go outside in the cold in order to visit an old-fashioned store, and 4) when you don't have to put on pants in order to go outside.

And, as an added bonus, nothing bad has ever happened to anyone who has entered his credit card information into the internet.

Solid advice like this makes my Happiness Maximization Guide the industry leader in happiness improvement.
Here's another, more extended excerpt to seal, as they say, the deal.
How to Read a Magazine

Magazines are almost perfect on their own, without any patented Snowman Happiness advice, because a subscriber gets a new one every week, assuming the subscriber is smart enough to order a weekly magazine. A weekly periodical constitutes the sweet spot of consumer satisfaction. A book only comes once, and then just sits on your bookshelf until the night before your midterm. Daily papers come way too frequently, causing you to leave your apartment more often to avoid elaborate old newspaper piles, thereby decreasing your overall happiness since said apartment leave-taking usually necessitates pants-wearing. Also, daily events don't feel as special as a weekly delivery. So weekly magazines are most definitely the way to go.

So magazines are pretty good. Luckily for you, the Happiness Maximization Guide doesn't settle for pretty good. Follow these steps (using the Nov. 24 issue of The New Yorker as a practical case-study) to extend the utility of your periodical for the best magazine reading experience of your life.
  1. Never read anything longer than three sentences on your first time through the magazine. These short pieces will whet your appetite for future sit-downs with the periodical, but won't bog you down with long, unwieldy articles. (Relevant The NYer examples: any cartoons; those short little space-fillers they sometimes run after articles, such as "Block That Metaphor" or "Constabulary Notes From All Over;" the table of contents; the contributor biographies [Reading this section has the added benefit of letting you know that there is a real-live person in this universe--Fuchsia Dunlop--who has written three books on Chinese food. Which seems silly.])
  2. Open the magazine at random, and see whether the opened page seems interesting. Get distracted by the surrounding advertisements. Flush the toilet, thereby ending this reading session. (Note: This is how I learned about The Moth, the host organization of the best amateur storytelling competition in New York. From the advertisements; not the toilet.)
  3. Find the full-length article that you'd most like to talk about at a party or, more likely, link to on your blog, or mention on twitter. Read that article, noticing especially interesting points or pretty pictures. (Relevant The NYer examples: "By Meat Alone," an article about Texas barbecue; "A Better Brew," about extreme beer, focusing on the Dogfish Head Brewery.)
  4. Check your regularly visited blogs, and see if they were interested in any articles. Read those articles, because they must be good if your most trusted blogger liked it. (Relevant The NYer example: none from this issue.)
  5. After reading these longer articles, you deserve a break. Go back to the medium-sized pieces for a quick, breezy, and--most of all--fun read. (Relevant The NYer examples: "Bush's midnight rules," in which the outgoing president attempts to, among other things, "make it harder for the government to limit workers' exposure to toxins, eliminate environmental review from decisions affecting fisheries, and ease restrictions on companies that blow up mountains to get at the coal underneath them;" James Surowiecki on the food crisis.)
  6. By this point, a full week should have passed, and you are most probably the proud owner of a brand-new, pristine magazine. If your mailman stole your copy, or if shrinking ad revenues have forced your magazine to close up shop and cease production, then you're stuck with your old issue. If this occurs, go back and read whatever you have left. If it didn't appeal to you the first five times around, then it's probably not all that great. But what else do you have to lose? You already paid for this magazine, and you might as well wring every last drop of happiness out of your purchase. You'll thank me for it later. (Relevant The NYer example: any poetry that has ever appeared in the magazine.)
This has been an excerpt from the Happiness Maximization Guide: Shopping Happier Since Late November 2008.

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