Happiness: we don't know what it means, how to measure it, or how to reach it, but we know extremely well how to avoid unhappiness.
- Nassim Taleb, The Bed of Procrustes
I've been so unhappy at certain times in my life that I've had to cry myself to sleep. I got out of it by cutting the harmful out of my life.
This is such a powerful principle that you can apply to a lot of different areas: avoiding consumer debt, avoiding ignorance, avoiding things like cigarettes and drugs.
Three recent news stories brought my mind back to this principle.
Firstly, Andy Coulson of the News of the World was found guilty of phone hacking.
Secondly, Luis Suarez bit an opposition player during Uruguay's latest World Cup match.
Finally, Wonga.com were found to have sent threatening letters from a fake law firm to encourage their debtors to pay up.
Here's the thing. Say what you want about the News of the World, but Andy Coulson was a powerful, well-respected guy who had previously worked for the Prime Minister. Without this scandal, he would have been fine. Luis Suarez is undoubtedly one of the finest football players in the world, but this is the third time he's bitten a player, and it looks like he could be facing a lengthy ban from the sport. And regardless of how you feel about payday loan companies, there's no denying Wonga.com is the market leader, a growing and profitable company.
But the latest news for these people may ultimately be damning. I'm sure they'll all survive -- for now -- but at what cost?
Every single one of these incidents could have been avoided with a moment's thought. It reminds me of a quote I first heard from Ryan Holiday:
[Here's] a Spartan anecdote from Plutarch about King Hippocratidas when a youth and his lover met him accidentally in a crowd. The two had turned their faces away and he said “You ought to keep the company of the sort of people who won’t cause you to change color when observed”.
Is there no-one at News of the World or Wonga.com who was sat in a meeting thinking "You know, what we're about to do is really stupid. I should stop it." Do they not have a Chief Dissent Officer? Or even a fucking conscience? The Suarez incident is slightly different, as it was a heat of the moment thing, but still, this is the THIRD time it's happened. After the first two incidents, why not take a minute and think about why you're acting the way you're acting?
There's a reason Google's motto isn't "Be good" -- rather, it's "Don't be evil." As with seeking happiness, we may not always know the right thing to do -- but avoiding the wrong things is a good place to start.