2012, a Year of Reading

In the beginning of last year, I’ve finally settled down enough to allow for some belated text to flow in. Since then, I’ve been reading a lot about human motivation, a lot of biography and books on positive psychology. I’ve done a lot in 2012. I’m glad these books have accompanied me through my journey. The following are the 11 books I read, accompanied by some of the notes I took.

The Happiness Hypothesis

Steve Jobs


The Reluctant Fundamentalist

The Happiness Advantage

Start With Why

The Tyranny of Choice

Delivering Happiness

Life of Pi




Steve Jobs

Walter Isaacson

Some call Steve Jobs a dirty hippie. He can be cruel, cynical and merciless. He’s far from a perfect man, yet no man’s perfect.

There are so many great quotes from this book. I’ve taken the liberty to copy down a few here. The most important thing I learned from this book and thus Steve Jobs, is this single fact: everything in this world, this universe, is malleable and changeable, that the world is in fact a place full of wondrous products of the human effort.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

“If you want to live your life in a creative way, as an artist, you have to not look back too much. You have to be willing to take whatever you’ve done and whoever you were and throw them away. The more the outside world tries to reinforce an image of you, the harder it is to continue to be an artist, which is why a lot of times, artists have to say, “Bye. I have to go. I’m going crazy and I’m getting out of here.” And they go and hibernate somewhere. Maybe later they re-emerge a little differently. ”


Drive, the Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us

Daniel H. Pink

Quite simply put, this book has reaffirmed my intuitions. Carrots and sticks don’t motivate creative endeavors, in fact they often detriment them. You cannot buy creativity. Manual tasks lacking in creativity, are disappearing in droves. Yet businesses are still moving people using the same old methods used to move cattle. It’s time treat people like real f*cking human beings.

Daniel H. Pink thinks that there are three ways that intrinsic motivation can be achieved for any endeavor, whether it’s a career, job or a project.

Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose


When people get to decide what to do, how and when to do and whom to work with, magic happens.


Mastery is a mindset. When people perceive that intellect can be learned, it indeed will be learned. When people don’t believe such, they never progress pass their self-imposed limitations. This goes beyond the notion of confidence and self-belief, but rather, it connects with Steve Jobs’ views about our world, that “everything we see and touch has been created someone no smarter than you.” To some extent, thinking does make it so.

Mastery is pain. No pain, no gain. The most consistent indicator of success, is a trait known as “grit”, defined by Pink as the ‘perseverance and passion for long-term goals.’ This is why ‘gritty’ hockey player are often most adored by die-hard fans. Author of Outlier, Malcolm Gladwell also echoes this point in his 10,000 hour rule, that mastery is in most, if not all cases, a result of 3 hours of dedicated practice every day, for a period of 10 years – an accumulation of 10,000 hours.

Mastery is an asymptote.

Pink put it the best, “You can approach it. You can home in on it. You can get really, really close to it… but you can never touch it.” If you want to become a master, the joy is in the journey of the practice.  The journey is the destination.


Purpose is the best when goals are clearly defined, words are used to state reality instead of BS, and policies are set to promote intrinsic motivation.

reluctant fundamentalist

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Mosin Hamid

This novel was quite fascinating. It was written in a very unique style, for only one voice is heard throughout; the dramatic happenings are inferred through his voice alone. As noted by Canadian scholar and book reviewer Robert Adams, the novel takes place in real-time, meaning that if you were to read it out loud, it would take the same amount time elapsed in the book.

On the surface, this book is about one individual’s journey to find himself. Only granular details are mentioned about the worldviews of individual characters. No aspects of religion or politics are discussed.  Yet deep down inside, this is a book about the most important and impactful issue of our time – the clash of civilizations, specifically the conflict between the Islamic / Muslim World and the Western World.

I finished this book in a few sittings. It was a fascinating story and quite a thriller right up to the end.


The Happiness Hypothesis

Jonathan Haidt

This is a real gem. I don’t recall how I heard of this book, but somehow the title was seared into my mind. I carried it with me to places I went, wondering from time to time what happiness hypothesis means.

Two extra things were brought with me to the emergency room at Surrey Memorial Hospital on one summer night in 2012. One was a cellphone charger, the other was this book. As I waited to see the doctor, I began to delve into this book that combined scientific research with great ideas from civilizations of the past.

  1. Our mind is more divided than we think. Haidt uses the metaphor of the rider and the elephant to illustrate this point.
    1. a.       “We make pronouncements, vows, and resolutions and then are surprised by our powerlessness to carry them out. We sometimes fail into the view that we are fighting with our unconscious, our id or our animal self, but really we are the whole things. We are the rider and we are the elephant. Both have their strengths and special skills.”
    2. Changing your mind really does change everything.
      1. a.       Life itself is but what deem it, and you can – through meditation, cognitive therapy and Prozac – redeem yourself.”

This point is emphasized by many before us.

  1. Marcus Aurelius – “The whole universe is change and life itself is but what deem it.”
  2. Buddha – “What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: our life is the creation of our mind.”
  3. William Shakespeare, Hamlet – “For there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”
  4. Reciprocity: “Reciprocity is an all-purpose relationship tonic. Used properly, it strengthens, lengthens and rejuvenates social ties…. Reciprocity, like love, reconnects us with others.”
  5. Life through Rose-Coloured Lenses? “By seeing the log in your own eye you can become less biased, less moralistic, and therefore less inclined toward argument and conflict. You can begin to follow the perfect way, the path to happiness that leads through acceptance.”
  6. The Pursuit of Happiness:
    1. a.       “Pleasure comes more from making progress toward goals than from achieving them. Shakespeare captured it perfectly: “Things won are done; joy’s soul lies in the doing.”
    2. The level of happiness that you actually experience (H) is determined by your biological set point (S) plus the conditions of your life (C) plus the voluntary activities (V) you do: H = S + C + V
    3. No one is an island: “We are an ultra-social species, full of emotions finely tuned for loving, befriending, helping sharing, and otherwise intertwining our lives with others.”
    4. 7.       Adversity: “For adversity to maximally beneficial, it should happen at the right time (young adulthood), to the right people (those with the social and psychological resources to rise to challenges and find benefits), and to the right degree (not so severe as to cause PTSD)… Go ahead and erase some of those early traumas, but think twice or await future research, before erasing he rest.”
    5. 8.       Happiness Comes From Between: “We were shaped by individual selection to be selfish creatures who struggle for resources, pleasure and prestige, and we were shaped by group selection to be hive creatures who long to lose ourselves in something larger. We are social creatures who need love and attachments, and we are industrious creatures with needs for effectance, able to enter a state of vital engagement with our work. We are the rider and we are the elephant, and our mental health depends on the two to work together, each drawing on the other’s strength… the final version of the happiness hypothesis is that happiness comes from between. Happiness is not something tht you can find, acquire, or achieve directly. You have to get the conditions right and then wait. Some of those conditions are within you, such as coherence among the parts and levels of your personality. Other conditions require relationships to things beyond you: Just as plants need sun, water and good soil to thrive, people need love, work and a connection to something larger. It is worth striving to get the right relationship between yourself and others, between yourself and your work and between yourself and something larger than yourself. If you get these relationships right, a sense of purpose and meaning will emerge.”


The Happiness Advantage

Shawn Anchor

This is a more business oriented take on the “Happiness Hypothesis”. It does offer several actionable tips on how to increase one’s happiness levels. More to come on this later.



Start With Why

Simon Sinek

The book is essentially an expansion of his TED Talk with more in-depth examples. If you haven’t seen the video or heard of the Golden Triangle, here it is:




The Tyranny of Choice

Renata Salecl

Are you suffering from chronic disappoint syndrome? If so, this theoretic and social commentary would not solve your problem, but it will allow you more insights into your problems. Perhaps, human satisfaction is more to do with choice. When you have no means to choose, you suffer. When there are too many options, you suffer from thinking of what could’ve been.



Delivering Happiness

Tony Hsieh

This is a very inspirational book about finding the right things to do and doing them right.


Life of Pi

Yann Martel

Initially I found this book to be dull and dense. However, it all served a purpose in the end. What I learned is that as humans, we need stories and metaphors for us to strive for the better. I also loved the the movie adaptation by Ang Lee.  Absolutely stunning. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZEZ35Fhvuc




Steven Levitt

Entertaining read. Though I didn’t quite retain much of the economics behind the hidden relationships discussed. Nevertheless, it was quite a refreshing perspective on  matters.


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