The hedonic adaptation theory suggests that humans quickly revert to a stable level of happiness after any positive or negative life changes. For example, you might be pleased with a raise for a while, but it will soon become the new norm, wiping away any gains in happiness¹. While generally comparing yourself to others is a bad idea, it’s a great way to put your financial well-being into perspective. So, how rich are you really?
Merriam-Webster defines rich as “having abundant possessions and especially material wealth.” It’s a good dictionary definition, but it’s somewhat lacking in specificity. …
The world is richer, healthier, and more educated than it has ever been. In the last 150 years, we broke out of the Malthusian trap; eradicated smallpox; invented sliced bread, the automobile, the Internet, and the smartphone; and put a man on the Moon. And yet the awe-inspiring scientific, technological, and social progress has not benefited everyone equally.
Today, 737 million people are extremely poor.
821 million are undernourished.
2.2 billion do not have access to safe drinking water.
1 billion cannot read or write.
The unprecedented inequality is a choice. Extreme poverty is a choice. We, the rich, healthy, educated citizens of high-income economies, have decided that the rest of the world should stay poor. …
I’ve been thinking about fish lately. I am not a fan of fish as food. I love cheap kaiten sushi and my Mum’s pike and carrots in foil. But that’s it, all other fish is yuck.
My Dad’s not a fan of fish as food either. But he loves fishing. A few days ago I woke up to our WhatsApp chat filled with big, dead, bloody fish he had caught that morning. He looked so happy and proud.
But my heart skipped a beat. …
6 AM. My alarm rings. It’s Tuesday morning, and I am not going to work. So I snooze. For an hour. All’s fair in wars and pandemics.
7 AM. My alarm rings again. It’s still Tuesday. I snooze for another hour, but my well-honed sense of guilt and duty finally gets the better of me. I browse my Twitter feed sleepily. Email before breakfast is taboo. There’s no telling what sort of news The New York Times broke to me overnight. “Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain…”, says the notification. Oh God, he’s dead, isn’t he? (Don’t worry, he’s fine.)
But there’s an email I dread even more. It’s an email telling me that my flight from Tokyo to Vilnius has been cancelled, again. …
I was born in Šiauliai, Lithuanian SSR. My first memory is playing kanklės (a traditional plucked string instrument) and singing my then-favourite lament about heartbreak and the brutality of the sea. My mum was clinging to the TV. It was January 13, 1991, and my civilian, unarmed dad was defending the Vilnius TV tower against Soviet tanks.
Oh mother, oh sea
How cruel you are
Uniting the hearts
Just to tear them apart
I call my dad on January 13 every year to remind him how proud I am to be his daughter. We giggle at the memory and tell stories of independent Lithuania’s first steps. Over the next decade, institutions were established, borders opened, crime rates dropped, economy skyrocketed, hot water became the norm, and my family settled comfortably in the middle-income bracket. …
February 2015, Scotland. Otherworldly, just the right setting for Ridley Scott’s aliens. For us humans, it’s too “brutal, cold and wet,’’ says Scarlett Johansson. And yet here I am, dancing in my room to the sound of the howling wind outside. A Google recruiter has just told me I’ve been accepted to the APM program. That day 5 years ago, everything changed.
I moved to Zürich, quickly learning that 1) you can reach every corner of Switzerland by train, and 2) not doing grocery shopping on Saturday means starvation on Sunday. In the Maps Transit team, I developed a life-long appreciation for public transport icons. In the Calendar team, I became an expert on all the different ways Microsoft Exchange breaks industry standards. In the Geo User Generated Content team, I realised that the entire world was now at my fingertips, longing to be queried. …
Every day, 18 Europeans and 15 Americans die while waiting for an organ transplant. And yet a single donor can save up to eight lives. Why, then, do we still have waiting lists and seemingly preventable deaths?
The biggest factor, it turns out, is the complexity of the procedure.
As a general rule, organs can be recovered from a person who has suffered a brain death in a hospital. This clearly reduces the potential donor pool tremendously, so let’s unpack the practice.
Brain death occurs when one’s brain loses all function (interestingly, in the UK the requirement is brain stem death, focusing on the loss of functions that indicate consciousness). A doctor confirms brain death by following a set of standard procedures — shining a torch into both eyes, pinching the nose, disconnecting the ventilator for a short period of time, and others — to elicit responses from the brain. …
Last year, I decided to donate 10% of my net income. My goal was to direct 60% of that amount towards saving lives and improving the health outcomes of the world’s poorest; 20% towards addressing important future problems; and the remaining 20% towards spreading happiness.
On Christmas Day, I donated €11,124 (I donated in CHF, EUR, JPY, and USD, thus the weird fractions):
Against Malaria Foundation €6,631.93
Helen Keller International €80.65
Innovations for Poverty Action €2,211.90
Maltiečiai €2,200.00Total €11,124.47
In addition to that, Google generously matched half of that sum, donating a further €5,800 to the Against Malaria Foundation.
GiveWell makes finding effective charities very simple — as long as your goal is to save lives or improve health outcomes. Donating to any of their top choices all but guarantees that your money will be used efficiently and truly do good. …
This year I read 62 books. That’s a book a week, and a tiny bit more. My reading choices are often weirdly eclectic (from Astro Boy to the Quran), but maybe that’s alright. There’s no way you can read only critically acclaimed, time-tested classics for a year and remain sane. There’s also no way life-changing wisdom is limited to these critically acclaimed, time-tested classics.
So here are my ten eclectic favourites of 2019. The ten books that opened my eyes, blew my mind and swept me off my feet. In alphabetical order, because all of them are the best.
There are three things you should know before picking up Atlas…
I think I figured it out.
Not the answer to life, the universe and everything, no. That one’s easy. I figured out how to give.
I’m a numbers person. I prefer causation to correlation. I would vote for a double-blind experiment any day. My favourite way of getting answers to important questions is a randomised controlled trial with a good dose of statistical significance sprinkled all over the results.
Knowing which charities are highly effective is a game-changer. Instead of using hunches and maybe doing good (and, in some cases, ending up doing harm), you can now definitely do good. So by all means, use hard evidence to make giving decisions. …