Happiness is a Filter

Author Michael Lewis (Moneyball, Liar’s Poker) sits in on an episode of This American Life and tells a wonderful story of Emir Kamenica, a refugee from the Serbian conflict, who, in his own words, caught a lucky break by meeting an “angel” who encouraged him to transfer from the greater Atlanta public school to an exclusive private school where he was awarded a scholarship that led to Harvard and University of Chicago Business School where he teaches today.

As Emir tells it, it was blind luck that got him there. As we learn later, it wasn’t luck, he was a talented hard worker already and probably would have ended up where he is regardless. Despite the probable or actual outcomes, Michael’s story is about your state of mind and how the way you face opportunity (and challenges) is such an important contributor to your overall demeanor. Here’s Michael:

There is no obvious connection between a person’s happiness and the way he tells stories about himself. But I think there’s a not-so-obvious one. When you insist, the way that Emir does, that you’re both lucky and indebted to other people, well, you’re sort of prepared to see life as a happy accident, aren’t you?

It’s just very different than if you tell yourself that you simply deserve all the good stuff that happens to you. Because you happened to be born a genius or suffered so much or worked so hard– that way of telling the story– well, it’s what you hear from every miserable bond trader at Goldman Sachs, or for that matter, every other a-hole who ever walked the earth.

When I traveled through Italy I remember thinking the Italians, with all their quirky infrastructure, never seemed too unhappy about it. They collected their trials and tribulations little mementos that they could bring out and share with friends and strangers. I met someone on a train and we had a horrible time that day as the train was continually delayed and it took us forever to get where we wanted to go. We passed the time playing cards and telling stories and I remember how cheery he was – he never let the delays get him down. After one particularly outlandish excuse for further delay (everyone suspected the relief conductor was sleeping in) my travel companion said, “at least this will make a good story!”

Listen for yourself – it’s a great story, starts at around 10 minutes in.

How I Got Into College

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