Three buckets

January 23, 2013 · 1 min read

I became happier when I decided that everything has to fall into these three buckets:

  1. Things that make me happy
  2. Things I can change
  3. Things I don’t care about

(Not mutually exclusive, obviously.)

If something doesn’t make me happy, I ask myself if I can change it. If I can, I do. If I can’t, I decide not to care about it. I accept it as metaphysically given and reorient my values to focus on the first two buckets.

This can be subtle. Sometimes it’s just an issue of scope. Don’t like the way hiring is done at your company? Frustrated with national politics? Choose your battles. Change the aspects that affect you most directly and personally, in small, doable ways. Accept the fact that you can’t change them completely overnight, and don’t let that frustrate you.

The advantage of this mentality is that it removes from your life completely the category of: broken things that you care about but can’t fix. Which is one of the biggest sources of misery in life.

This all may sound like psychological self-trickery, but it’s really a commitment to avoid slipping into a victim mentality. You’re forcing yourself to make a choice about anything that bothers you: Are you going to work to change it, or not? How much do you care? Either decide that you care, and work to make things better, or decide that you don’t, and let it go. But decide, and be at peace with your decision.

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Thanks to Jean Moroney for helpful conversations and workshops that influenced my thinking on this topic, and to David Crawford for commenting on a draft of this post.

These days I do most of my writing at The Roots of Progress. If you liked this essay, check out my other work there.


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