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Life Improvements

List of items and practices with descriptions and explanations that have noticeably improved my quality of life or have been said to improve quality of life. Some are complete, while others are awaiting for an appropriate amount of time to pass before giving feedback. Those awaiting feedback are marked with the tentative date I will provide feedback.

Both items and practices have a number in the title indicating the benefit on a scale of 1-10, where 1 is negligible and 10 is my life is incredibly better with it, I am much happier because of it, etc. These are entirely subjective.

Please contact me if you have a life improvement suggestion or experience with any of these. I'd like to hear your thoughts and experiences and am always looking for ways to improve my life.


Contents


Item Philosophy

My lifestyle is quite frugal: I only go out to eat on rare occasions with friends; I spend money on clothes maybe once a year, and even then it is normally second-hand; I don't own any flashy jewelry or extravagant sneakers.

When I want to purchase something, the yes/no decision and amount I'm willing to spend (price doesn't always correlate with quality) depends on the answer to a few questions:

  1. How long will I be using this? If I'll be using the item for many years, I want to make sure it is reliable and I won't have to replace it anytime soon. This is known as buying for life, which has its own subreddit, r/BuyItForLife.
  2. How often will I be using this? If I'll be using the item every day, I want to make sure it is reliable and I won't have to replace it anytime soon.
  3. Does this bring any benefit to my life? Why should I purchase something that brings no benefit to my life, lasting or fleeting?
  4. What do others say about this? The wisdom of crowds is generally reliable, especially on communities dedicated to the item's subject, i.e., mattresses or footwear. Those crowds, which likely include experts, are extremely knowledgable on the subject and will provide trustworthy suggestions. I like to search Reddit before making a major purchase.
  5. Will it pay for itself? I view this by dividing the cost by the number of hours spent using this or, in applicable cases, the breakeven point of renting vs. buying (buying a suit for $1000 is worth it if you need to wear it on 6 occasions and renting costs $200/occasion). If the answer to the first two questions are yes, then this question's answer is likely yes.
  6. Is there a cheaper option that doesn't sacrifice (much) quality? If the quality of item A is 10/10 and costs $1000, while the quality of item B is 8/10 and costs $500, item B is likely a better option.
nokia
Nokia 3310: The original buy-it-for-life product

Example items that satisfy all or most questions:

Example items that do not satisfy all questions:


Home Gym (10)

More information on home gyms here.

I have a relatively-complete home gym setup on my parents' back porch. It consists of the following (grouped by category):

Cost per item ($):

Total cost: $685

home_gym
Current home gym setup (dip/pull-up tower behind camera)

The average commercial gym costs "between $40 and $50 a month" = $480-600 per year = $540 average. The lowest price I've seen is Planet Fitness at $10/month = $120/year. The breakeven point is then:

\[\text{breakeven_avg} = \frac{$685}{$540\text{/yr}} = 1.26 \, \text{yr}\] \[\text{breakeven_cheap} = \frac{$685}{$120\text{/yr}} = 5.71 \, \text{yr}\]

I've had the first bullet point's items (squat rack, bench, etc) for 10 years, meaning I've saved:

\[\text{saving_avg} = $540/\text{yr} \times 10 \, \text{yr} - $685 = $4,715\] \[\text{saving_cheap} = $120/\text{yr} \times 10 \, \text{yr} - $685 = $515\]

A few more non-financial advantages to a home gym:

See my suggestions on creating a home gym here (will link to essay when finished).


Additional Monitor (10)

I currently use a 27" Sceptre 4K UHD monitor in addition to my 13" Macbook Pro. Its quality is much better than my two previous monitors, plus it has built-in audio output. I previously used a Sceptre 20" monitor and Asus 27" VA27EHE monitor.

This is arguably the most beneficial productivity change I have made. I now effectively have five MacBook-sized screens or two MacBook-width-2x-length screens. I can be working on something on my MacBook screen and quickly reference an article on the monitor without having to minimize or pull an application back up in front of my current application. I can have a video playing and occasionally watch. I can have both! Working on just my laptop now feels awkward and slow. I highly recommend adopting a second monitor to everyone.

desk
Current desk set up with 27" Asus monitor and 13" MacBook Pro

Ad Blocker (8)

I use uBlock Origin, Adblock Plus, and Ghostery on Chrome. I now have significantly less distractions and can focus more on the content I'm consuming.


Alfred App (7)

Alfred (Wikipedia) is a productivity app that expedites searching and other processes on macOS.

See approximate time saved using Alfred here.


Indoor Bike Trainer (6)

The Wahoo KICKR CORE is a direct-drive trainer and only second to the KICKR. It's quiet, smooth, easy to set up and operate, has a small footprint, is well-supported by all apps, and has multiple rear cassette options without needing to purchase too many adapters.

Indoor trainers help in multiple circumstances:

One thing to consider is boredom. Being on the trainer for over an hour is quite boring, regardless of what you're doing otherwise. I suggest getting some workouts ready to go because doing easy spins is not that fun and can discourage use.


Natural Light Alarm Clock (6)

Dawn simulation is a common method to help users wake up more easily and gently than using a standard alarm clock or that god-forsaken default iPhone alarm. I find it much easier to wake up with birds lightly chirping in my ear and the sun slowly filling the room. These are relatively cheap and offer significant benefits.

See the following studies/articles: Avery et al. 2001, Wirz-Justice et al. 1995, The philosophical case against sleeping in.


Slow Cooker (5)

I use a name brand Crockpot almost every week to cook chicken or beef. It takes about 20 min to prepare. I also use slow cooker liners, which speeds up cleaning immensely.


Electric Skillet (5)

The cousin of the slow cooker, the electric skillet allows significant amounts of food to be made without having to wait so long. Simply turn it on, throw some oil in there, and add the food. A top cover allows food to cook even faster. I have the black Presto 06857 16-inch Electric Foldaway Skillet. It's easy to clean (just throw the main pan in the dishwasher), easily storable, and simple to use (how can they not be?).

This has made meal prep significantly less daunting. Beforehand I had to use the same pan to cook multiple iterations of the same item, rinsing and repeating until everything was cooked. The skillet let's me do multiple at one time (e.g., all vegetables or all meat). Cleaning up after meat consists of wiping the grease out and putting the pan in the dishwasher.

Office Chair (5)

I use a Herman Miller Aeron chair, which is considered one of the, if not the, best office chairs out there due to ergonomics and durability.

virgin_chad_chair
Virgin vs. chad: office chair edition

I would argue office chairs are similar to comparing high-quality vs. high-quality vs. low-quality pizzas: it can be difficult to tell the difference between the two HQ pizzas, but there is definitely a difference between the HQ and LQ. At work, I had an atrocious office chair. My lower back got sore only a short time after sitting and it was all-around uncomfortable. At home, I was much more comfortable in my Aeron. It also satisfied the two suggestions for an ergonomic office setup:

  1. Your two feet are effortlessly touching the floor and knees bent 90 degrees.
  2. If you’re working on the computer, your forearms are at the same height and parallel to the desk, with your elbows assuming an open 90 – 110 degrees open angle.

The lumbar support on my (older) Aeron model is lacking. The current Aeron has two adjustable pads for lumbar support, rather than an awkward bar that digs into your back.

The other benefit is status. When someone knows Herman Miller, they know. It instantly bumps you up a rung on the status ladder.

Overall, I would highly recommend the Aeron provided it's the model with adjustable pads and used. A new chair just costs too much.


Flip-Flops (4)

Ah, where to begin with these godly pieces of footwear. They are easy to slip on and off, they can be used to go to the beach or restaurants or shopping, they (lazily) go with most clothes, they're somewhat comfortable. Get some Old Navy flip-flops and experience the revolution. I wish I had gotten these years earlier than I had. (I used to wear FFs when I was younger but stopped for whatever reason.)


Browser Extensions (4-8)


Xbox (7 → 4)

Update: I've changed my mind (as of 27 December 2021) about video games. Yes, they are a medium of interaction between old friends, but the corresponding conversation is often game-focused, providing for less meaningful discussion than something like a phone call or regular texting. I am also guilty of having chosen video games over real-life activities in the past, which is absolutely harmful. While providing a method of stress relief, there are other, more productive stress relievers.

Despite video games being largely considered unproductive, I've found my Xbox to be incredibly valuable in maintaining certain friendships and even creating other ones. Due to distance limitations (me living a few hours away from some friends), Xbox allows me to talk and play with friends I wouldn't otherwise interact with as much.

Playing video games is also fun and a good way to end a long and/or stressful day.


Long Phone Charger (3)

This is a huge convenience, especially when outlets are scarce. I can sit anywhere on any couch in any position in my home and still have my phone charging. I have a 6 ft Anker lightning cable, but longer is generally better.


Portable Charger (3)

This is nice to have on long excursions (drive, hike, bike, etc) if there isn't a charging port available. I use the Anker PowerCore 13000: it's portable and can charge my iPhone 7 3+ times on one charge. It also has multiple USB ports to charge two devices simultaneously.


Practice Philosophy

When adopting or abandoning a practice, I ask two questions:

  1. Will this benefit me? Will I become happier, healthier, more productive, more knowledgable, or some other positive trait?
  2. Will this damage me? Will I become less happy, ..., or some other negative trait?
  3. How much effort does this take? You are less likely to perform actions that take significant effort, meaning everything should be as close to zero-effort as possible. If it takes significant effort, its benefits must be proportional (or find another method).

Once I answer these questions, I weigh the answers against each other. All new practices are given an indeterminate testing period where I can decide if I like it and if it's beneficial for me to continue using.


Website-ing (10)

I originally got this idea from Guzey's Why You Should Start a Blog Right Now. I wholeheartedly agree with virtually every point made in that post. (Many thanks to Guzey for the post and my one-on-one partner for spurring me to actually start it.)

I view my website as my personal knowledge database (video). I can write about things that interest me all while learning more about them, all while allowing for easy reference as long as I have internet access or am at my laptop. I can keep track of the links I've read, quotes I like, and thoughts I have in one organized place and manner.

The website also serves as a beacon for like-minded people to connect with me. While I rarely link it in public forums, I have gotten a few cold emails from people saying they find my posts interesting, which is nice positive reinforcement.


One-on-Ones (8)

Main post can be found here.

I meet with my 1:1 partner every week for around an hour. We discuss the past week's goals and experiences, ask each other questions and give feedback, and plan out the upcoming week. This provides a few benefits:


Comparison (7)

Theodore Roosevelt is attributed with the quote:

Comparison is the thief of joy

I've found that comparing "up" (smarter, wealthier, more attractive, etc.) often confirms Roosevelt's quote, so I avoid that at all costs. I've come to terms that everyone is born with different circumstances: rich, poor; smart, stupid; attractive, ugly; tall, short. I only give presence of mind to things that I can control, and discard anything that is out of my control.

However, the other comparison option often negates the quote: comparing "down".

As I'm writing this article, I'm sitting in an extremely comfortable chair typing on an expensive laptop with a second monitor next to me in an air-conditioned home with a roof on it in a safe neighborhood with a beautiful park across the street from me and my own, paid-off car in the driveway. In two weeks, I will start a stable, fulfilling job that allows me to pay for a nice apartment and pursue hobbies I enjoy. I will never have to worry about paying for food or other necessities because of my family's support system. I graduated from a top-15 engineering university with debt-free.

Meanwhile, I see some drowning in student loans that will take decades to pay off, living on ramen noodles because of tight budgets, and having to take public transit because they can't afford a car. (Please note I am in no way making fun of less fortunate people, but just using them to make myself aware of how fortunate I am to be born into the family and situation I was. My situation could always and easily be worse.)

I make similar comparisons on a daily basis whenever possible, whether by trigger or voluntary thinking, thereby greatly increasing my gratitude and life satisfaction. A few examples:

Gratitude journaling is another option that allows looking back on old thoughts and to be a bit more expressive.


Year Review (7)

I review how my year went. See the full post here.


Taking Pictures (7)

Pictures help with remembering and reliving memories that would fade otherwise. I now take pictures at every opportunity I can—whether it be with friends, family, or by myself—and find myself constantly looking at them.


Ergonomic Assessment (7)

I got an ergonomic workplace assessment after experiencing a bit of back pain and overall discomfort. The woman adjusted my chair height, desk height, and raised on portion of my desk to support standing when I choose. My discomfort and pain are no longer there after long periods of sitting.


Culture War/Politics (6)

Avoiding culture war and politics (I will use culture war to include both) has relieved my mind of a huge burden. There are few positives and many negatives that result. I felt angry at the world and others and scared at the path society was headed down. Yet nothing changed after I removed it from my life. The world didn't explode nor did anything drastic happen like the news and politicians and culture soldiers seemed to predict.

I asked my one-on-one partner his opinion and he gave me an excellent heuristic for consuming this type of media (and news in general): only listen or read about it if 1) it will still be talked about in 100 years, and 2) it affects you. This is not to say I bury my head in the sand. I do attempt to stay informed about major events, but everything else the media blows out of proportion, sucking readers down the black hole of negativity and hatred. If news is big enough, I will hear it from a friend, family member, or another source.

Some concrete steps I took to remove culture war from my life:


Spaced Repetition (6)

See my post here for literature and information suggestions.

Spaced repetition is an incredibly efficient way of memorizing vast amounts of information. I can almost instantly recall periodic table information, countries and their capitals, poems, and a host of other useful and fun information.


Friends (5)

Friendship should be reciprocal and mutually beneficial: friend A invites friend B to events and takes an interest in his life, while B does the same thing to A. The effort and interest should not be completely one-sided. I found myself being the sole contributor to quite a few friendships. I was always the one to text first, video chat first, remember important things about them. I noticed this, so I tried something: I didn't contact those friends for a while to see if they would notice. And they didn't.

Now I no longer have to spend time or energy on dead-end friendships or have any stress in the back of my mind about why they never initiate first.

It's important to note that some people simply lack self-awareness and aren't cognizant that they're being poor friends. I used to be like this until a friend politely set me straight with a "we're always inviting you to stuff, but you never invite us". If you let someone know this and they don't make a better effort, they probably don't want to be your friend.

Friend Manager (7)

To organize my friends, I use friends, "a command-line program that helps you to keep track of your relationships with the people you care about". It's very useful for making sure you are maintaining all relationships that are important to you, not just your best friends. You can keep track of activities and take notes.


Social Media (5)

Social media is largely signaling. Users only post the highlights of their life, giving off the false idea that their life is filled with entirely good times and no bad times. This is important to understand and accept.

Facebook

I look at Facebook two ways. On the positive side, it's a great way to keep up with friends, family, and acquaintances who you otherwise don't talk to but are still interested in their life (provided they post updates). On the negative side, some people say that if you really cared about keeping up with those people, you wouldn't need Facebook to do so. I find this argument flawed, as it's virtually impossible to maintain a meaningful relationship with that many people.

Snapchat

Snapchat has helped me maintain friendships with a small amount of effort.

Twitter

I deleted my Twitter account in November 2020. I found myself browsing too much, and the benefits were not worth the time I spent.


Cold Showers (4)

These are touted by many (you probably have heard of the biggest proponents) to have magical effects: they supposedly boost testosterone; are healthy for skin; strengthen immunity; increase blood circulation; help in weight loss; boost confidence; make you feel good; increase alertness; and increase heart health.

In order of supposed benefits: no testosterone test ever done, so I can't compare differences; I generally don't have acne nowadays, but did when I was a teenager; I have not been sick in the past 5-8 years, besides food poisoning; no blood circulation measurement available, but reasonable benefit; I've done a few cuts, but they're generally small; I'm naturally confident; subjective, but yes; I am more awake after a cold shower; no measurement available.

Another claimed benefit is increased willpower because of how difficult a cold shower is. It takes willpower to turn the water away from the comfortable warm. This in turn decreases the difficulty of future tasks that are generally unpleasant. I haven't noticed a difference with this.

People often ask about using cold showers to improve cold water tolerance. While cold water still feels cold, the relaxation methods I've learned in ice-cold showers has helped when jumping in 40 °F = 4 °C alpine lakes.


See Also