Michael’s Story: A Cautionary Tale

Hey guys,

Today I’m going to have a big Internet overshare moment — but I’m doing it all for you.  In writing, compiling, and researching the Underground Guide, we’ve come across the three major things that can derail the otherwise bright and promising college careers of otherwise bright and promising college students: romantic issues, academic problems, and getting involved with drugs and alcohol.  I managed to mess up about 2.5 of these, in perhaps the only time at Harvard I was actually ahead of the curve.

I almost ended my college career 3 times, got myself a week-long trip to the hospital, and spent far too much time at college much unhappier than I need to be.  I don’t want you to be like Mike.  I want you to be happy, and even get some good grades.  So watch.

It’s a long video, I know, but the story is worth hearing.  And it’s in hi-def video.  And 3d, like Inception. Not really, but check it out below.  If you like it, share it with your friends on the Eff-Book or in the Twitterverse.  If you have questions or something to say, leave a comment!

Much love, and thanks for watching.

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Highlights from the HUGS party (video)

Last Saturday, Aug 7, was the big day.  We had the seventh annual HUGS for THUGS party, and good times were had by all.  About 45 rising freshmen showed up to the picnic, in line with previous years.  Besides myself, we had four other contributors: Emma Templeton ’13, Frankie Wong ’13, Christian Strong ’09 (all three of them HUGS alums, and Christian showing up for a record fourth time) and Michael Oshima ’09.  Big props to them for giving of their time, woohoo!

After a light lunch, the recent grads and current students got down to the business of imparting their wisdom to the rising freshmen.  Without getting too long-winded, here are some highlights:

Academics: Why it’s important to pick easy classes for your first year and how to do it.  Why it’s paramount to get to know your profs, and some simple ways of doing that.  Working smart vs. working hard.  Balance.  Wisdom.  Picking guts.  The curve is your friend.  Gunner, Savvy, Slacker.  Finding the superstar profs and taking their classes.  Freshman seminars.  The classes that will really matter and serve you long after you graduate.

Extracurriculars: Pick 2 or 3 and go deep; do not go bananas.  The Paradox of Choice: too much choice actually makes you miserable.  Some really awesome campus organizations.  Starting your own student group.

Logistics: Pack winter clothes as if you’re going on a 9-month ski trip. Get a bike.  With a bike lock.

Social life: Why your education outside class is sometimes more important than the one inside class.  The missing parts of a Harvard education.  Avoid drugs — all of them.  Guidelines for alcohol consumption (buzzed, okay; sloshed, not okay).  Talk to people.  Party Rules for Girls (hint: stick together).  The scoop on Final Clubs.  Sex in college.  Always use protection.

Career planning: How to think like an entrepreneur — and start making some bucks in your first 2 months at Harvard.

Since under half of the LA-area freshmen get to attend HUGS every year, that means that most of them don’t get to hear all the good stuff.  And that’s a crying shame.  The good news is, after 6 years, I finally buckled down and compiled all of the best information from HUGS into an audiobook CD, which you can see in the upper right of this here blog here. ‘Twas hard work, aye, and I’m glad you can be the beneficiaries.

So if you couldn’t attend the HUGS party, here’s what I have to say to you: This is required reading.  Get the CD immediately.  Yes, I made the damn thing myself, so it may seem shamelessly self-serving for me to promote it.  But your econ prof is going to assign his own $200 textbook to you, too, and this is far more important stuff (and a tenth the price).

And guys — I’m telling you that this is super duper important stuff.  It’s everything I wish someone had told me when I was a freshman at Harvard, and it’s information I hope every freshman in this country gets in his or her hands before they start college.  There are too many kids out there getting their lives seriously derailed over a bad grade, a failed relationship or something stupid happening at a party, and I just don’t want you to be that person.  Think of this as vaccination against large-scale failure: a small investment of foresight now to prevent catastrophe later on.

If you did attend the HUGS party, here’s what I have to say to you: To most of who got the CD, awesome.  Now listen to it — several times.  Lotsa stuff in the CD didn’t get covered at the event.  And if you didn’t get a copy, get one.  Did you take notes?  Nope, you didn’t.  Do you remember everything that we said?  Not possible, since I wrote the whole damn thing and even I don’t remember it all.  And I want this information to be burned into your psyche forever and all time.  So do yourself a favor and get the CD.

Below are some of your classmates sharing the best pieces of advice they heard at the event.  May you find it mega-useful.

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Our #1 piece of extracurricular advice (video)

HUGS is about 4.5 things: academics, extracurriculars, social life, logistics and career planning.  In our last two videos, we’ve given you our #1 tip on academics and social life.  In this video, we’re giving you the #1 tip on extracurriculars — the one thing destined to be the biggest time suck in your college career.

Don't.  Go.  Bananas.

Yes we have no bananas.

There are two very good reasons for this 3-word tip, the first of which we give in the video.  The second is that I want to make sure that you have latitude in your college life.  And by latitude I mean unscheduled time.  If you book yourself wall-to-wall with meetings, rehearsals, team practice and other stuff which is important in aggregate but not all that memorable individually, you might miss out on some really cool things that are popping up on campus all the time.  Like a chance to have dinner with Al Gore, catch a talk by Bono, go to a black-tie show opening, or see Justin Timberlake and Charlize Theron at the Hasty Pudding parade — y’know, things you’ll be telling your grandkids about when you’re a crusty old alum.

Voila the video:

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The Goods

best advice for college students at Harvard

The Goods

So we’re excited over here at HUGS World Headquarters because we took delivery of the audiobooks today — woohoo!  And the party’s in 2 days, so all the more reason to celebrate.

We also scored 9 copies of The How of Happiness for you, which we will endeavor to get signed by Prof Sonja Lyubomirsky ’89.  That’s right, baby — for you, we go the distance, baby.  If you want one, make sure you email me and reserve your copy.

Below is the chapter list for the audiobook:

01-How to screw up your freshman year
02-Wisdom, yo
03-Academics
04-It takes Guts to graduate
05-Gunners, Savvies, Slackers
06-How to pick great classes
07-The dirty truth
08-Extracurriculars
09-Logistics
10-Social Life – Intro
11-Parties, Alcohol, Drugs
12-Sex & relationships in college
13-Bonus: Career Planning
14-Bonus: Stress Management
15-Secret Bonus

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Real College “Networking”: Party Games!

Let’s just face it: we’re nerds.  Math nerds, science nerds, English nerds, but nerds all thrown together for 4 years of “learning”.  And much of that learning will, in fact, happen in the classroom.  But the majority of it will happen outside of the classroom — at parties, in dining halls, group meetings, practices, common rooms, and other non-stodgy academic areas.  If you aren’t spending the majority of your time in these places, you’re doing it wrong.

The people you meet, talk to, and bond with (some call this
“networking”) in those fun-filled places will end up being more important for your future career.  Chances are you’ll end up doing what 80%* of college students do after college: something random that has nothing to do with their major!

So, parties.  Parties can be awkward.  People will be milling around, sticking to the groups they came with, not making overlong eye contact, and waiting for the pizza to get there, after which they’ll eat two slices faster then you ever though possible and leave so fast they leave one of those little cartoon dust-clouds in the shape of their body.

So today we’ll talk about some simple party games to cut back on the awk-factor.  First, a quick list of pre-packaged games that every well-socialized room should have a copy of (or a friend with a copy of): Taboo, Cranium (or “Nerd Crack”), Set, Apples to Apples, a couple decks of cards and if you want to splurge: an N64 with Goldeneye and Mario Kart. Seriously, something about those two bring the best and worst of Crimson competitiveness.  Fun times.

But if you truly want to pull people out of their shells and have them doing some serious bonding, nothing works better than the cheesy old team-building-exercise-’99-type games.  For reals, guys, its not going to be completely easy to talk people into these things, but remember that enthusiasm is contagious and you have an unlimited supply of it.  So pep up and get people into the game, and they will have fun and thank you for it later.

The game is called Mafia.  You are the narrator.  The mafiosi (learned a new plural today? check), 1 doctor and 1 sheriff are chosen randomly and kept a secret; 10 playing cards with 2 aces, 1 king and 1 queen works well. About 2-3 mafiosi for 10 people is a good number. As the narrator, you control the flow of game.  We start at Night, when all the players (or townspeople) shut their eyes and the narrator asks for the mafiosi to (silently) wake up, open their eyes, and chose 1 townsperson to kill.  After they’ve done this (silently) they go back to sleep and the doctor wakes up and chooses someone to save (silently), and go back to sleep.  After that, the sheriff gets to wake up and choose someone who he suspects of being the mafia.  The narrator silently verifies (or falsifies) his choice.  The player killed by the mafia is then announced as dead by the narrator, UNLESS they were saved by the doctor, in which case nothing happens and it becomes the next day.  During the night phases, ambient muzak is good for drowning out sounds of people moving.

Then, it becomes Day and the interesting stuff starts to happen.  Everyone is eyes open and has, well, the information that they have.  The group must accuse and then vote to execute by majority someone they accuse of being a mafioso.  The key thing for players to do at this stage, and this is important, is to lie. Lie hard and lie often.  Lie about the information you have, the information others have, accuse other people, and generally crochet some chaos into the mix.  Or you can play logically and try to eliminate the mafioso, I guess.  But in any case, this is where the cool interaction happens.  People are being accused for no reason, and must defend themselves crazily, accuse others, or stick up for people they’ve newly met.  The doctor and sheriff have some extra information, but who’s gonna believe them, really, unless they convince everyone else they are the doctor or sheriff?   Players who are dead can give no extra information once they are dead.  You, the narrator, should give no extra information.  Actually, what the hell, mess with ‘em if you really want.

When a person has been picked for execution and a majority vote secured, that person is executed and then and only then reveals whether or not they were the mafioso.  If not, they say nothing.  That means that yes, you can kill the doctor or sheriff without realizing it.  The mafiosi win if there is an equal number of mafiosi to townspeople.  The townspeople win by eliminating the mafia.

Simple premise, pretty simple rules, makes for some awesomely fun chaos and getting to know each other.  Questions, comments, played before?  Let us know.  And if you think it sounds fun, share with your Facebook and your Twitter and your sextphones, or whatever you kids are using these days.

PS: You’ll notice this post didn’t mention alcohol.  That’s because we here at HUGS to not condone the evils of the stronger spirits.  Ha!  Just kidding, we’ll talk about drinking games later, when you’re old enough and your parents aren’t looking.

PPS: Extra rules and variants for Mafia herehere, and here.

(*I made this statistic up.)

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Sneak preview: What is wisdom? (audio)

In the last post, I revealed the dirty secret about how HUGS is really about happiness. Well, turns out it’s about at least one other thing, too: wisdom. Wisdom and authentic happiness do go hand in hand. At the same time, they are different beasts like a bear and lion, deserving separate treatment.

So I present to you below Chapter 2 of the HUGS 2010 audiobook, entitled Wisdom, yo. In its 2:41min, I give you my three-part definition of wisdom and some ideas for where it comes from, what it’s good for, and where to get it. There’s also a link to download the audio in case you feel the need to listen to my sonorous voice again and again. It’s a freebie, so feel free to share it with friends:


MP3 File

Be sure to show signs of life and leave your comments, questions and thoughts below. So far, they’ve been fantastic — keep ‘em coming!

Best
AB

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The REAL reason I created HUGS (video)

Awright everybody. I’ve got a little secret I’d like to share with you.

The whole purpose of this HUGS business is to teach you how to be happy — now, tomorrow, and for the rest of your life.

Yeah, I know, it’s real sneaky of me to couch it all in terms of ‘success!’ and ‘fun!’ and ‘kicking ass!’ and ‘academics, extracurriculars, social life and logistics!’, but there it is.

This is necessary because there were times when I (and Michael) were reaaal unhappy at college. I mean the pits. The kicker is that we knew people who were even worse off than us. Craziness. And frankly, we just don’t want that to happen to you.

And lemme tell you something: nobody bothers to teach you at school what goes into being happy (not even at Harvard, ahem).

So I’ve got a special treat for you. A little while ago, I met Prof Sonja Lyubomirsky, UC Riverside Professor of Psychology and author of The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want, at a talk she was giving here in LA.

Turns out she’s a Harvard and Cabot House grad (like yours truly), so she was kind enough to agree to a one-on-one interview on her fabulous book (see the part with all the cool foreign editions).

There have been a number a number of excellent books on happiness published in the past few years, and I have devoured nearly all of them. Not only do I use their principles to help my students and hypnotherapy clients lead happier lives, but I also enjoy applying the principles to my own life. The books are also fun to read, with accounts of quirky psych experiments (which some day you’ll be volunteering for at William James Hall for $20) and fun, touching anecdotes.

The How of Happiness is one of the best of the happiness batch. Amongst all the happiness texts I’ve read (and there have been about 8), this one I found to be the most practical in its ability to increase real happiness in your life.

This is because of Prof Lyubomirsky’s judicious use of questionnaires and the Person-Activity Fit Diagnostic, which figures out which activities end up creating the most happiness for you. The results for me were somewhat surprising and allowed me to focus more of my time and energy on the activities that, unbeknownst to myself, meant the most to me.

I recommend everyone, young and old, to get a copy of The How of Happiness for yourself and someone you love (eg mom & dad). There is no greater gift than enabling “the experience of joy, contentment or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful and worthwhile.” So go forth and be a happiness enabler.

In Part 1, we talk about how the book can help you custom-design your own happiness program. We also discuss savoring, flow, and 2 of the 3 happiness myths. As you watch the videos, do show signs of life by rating them and leaving comments. And if you find the material useful for your friends, be sure to share with them via Facebook and Twitter so everyone benefits from the good word.

In Part 2, we finish up the happiness myths, get into hedonic adaptation and the infamous story of Markus and Roland.

Get your copy of The How of Happiness on Amazon

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Video: Our #3 Piece of college advice

Aaaaaaand here is video #2, with piece of advice #3 (ooooh, what happened to #2? So mysterious.  Stay tuned to find out!).  These are the three words to insure your social success better than Geico could.  Like it?  Love it?  Great!  Let us know by commenting below, and if you find the video useful, make sure you spread the love and send it to your friends via Facebook, Twitter, email, telegram, Pony Express, and morse code:

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Video: Our #1 piece of college advice

Awright, so our first video is up!  This is our absolute #1 piece of advice, so make no delay and check it out right here, right now. Show signs of life by commenting below, and if you find the video useful, make sure you spread the love and send it to your friends via Facebook, Twitter, email, telegram, carrier pigeon and smoke signal:

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What makes a person cool?

I have a confession to make: in high school, I was totally not cool.

Not only was I not cool, I was completely oblivious to what cool was.  I had just come to LA from Tehran — a big, smoggy, sprawling metropolis just like LA, with a totalitarian fundamentalist regime, not so much like LA.  I had zero fashion sense, knew nothing about parties, swam on the swim team, minded my own biz, and did my schoolwork.  At lunch, I hung out in Mr Takagaki’s gov classroom with the small enclave of smart and occasionally nerdy kids.

See, in high school, cool was all about Where You Hung Out at Lunch.  All the cool kids hung out at the grove just above the football field or in the parking lot, around the brand-new Mustangs their parents bought them for their 16th birthday.  And after school, they hung out at Holmby Park, a stone’s throw from the Aaron Spelling and Hugh Hefner mega-mansions.

These kids were keenly attuned to the hairstyles, clothing and music that was fashionable at the day, and followed all of this stuff religiously.  They even wore strategically ripped jeans, which made absolutely no sense to me at all.  It basically made the kids look poor, even though their parents lived in Bel Air mansions. (Interesting how the paucity of imagination in the fashion industry results in the recycling of ideas which were mediocre even the first time around, but I digress.)

I’d be lying if I said I was completely unaware of their existence.  They were rich, good-looking, mostly WASPy and Jewish kids with their own little world of Westside privilege.  I even had a crush on Jen V, who was devastatingly cute if a bit dim.  But their world of football homecomings (to this day, I still don’t know what the hell a homecoming is — it’s not like they want on a campaign to conquer Carthage, geez), partying, alcohol, boyfriends and girlfriends, sex, cars, popularity and just plain inaccessible coolness was as foreign to me as a well-stocked supermarket is to a North Korean.

At the same time, I didn’t really want to hang out with them either, because they just weren’t all that interesting.  I wanted to hang out with my smart buddies in Mr Takagaki’s gov class and talk about stuff that mattered to me.  Like debating the merits of classical music over jazz with David (who ended up at Princeton, and Dave — if you’re reading, sorry, but I still don’t get jazz); get excited about the Nobel Prize for superconductivity; and discuss why Reagan was a flaming idiot.

For a lot of people, high school is hell.  All the jockeying for popularity, coolness, and fitting in; the obsession with sex as your brain gets bombarded with hormones while being incapable of doing anything about it; keeping up with the fashion in clothes and music; all while working hard to get good grades and keep up with your extracurriculars — it’s a tad much, really.

Well, congratulations my friend.  You’re out of high school.  And if you’re going to Harvard or a place like it, you’ll be on a whole planet full of people just like the kids in Mr Takagaki’s classroom — basically, a bunch of kids like you.  You are now insta-cool, if only because you’re not the only nerd in a 5-mile radius — you’re surrounded by them, baby.  It’s safe to be smart now.

But still, in college, a new transient hierarchy of cool coalesces.  This occurs no matter where you go; it’s what primates do.  So in this article, I want to talk about what really makes a person cool that has nothing to do with transience, trends, or opinions. I’m going for the timeless universal cool here, people — the thing that is immutable and results in your further growth and happiness.  In a hundred years, no one’s going to care which band you listened to, what brand jeans you wore, how pretty your girlfriend was or how fancy your handbag was.  Here are 3 things that really matter:

1. You are cool not because of what you consume, but what you create.

It’s always amusing when people are trying to get coolness points for their clothes, car, friends, neighborhood, or the merchants they frequent (restaurants, clubs, hotels, stores etc).  There is no art or skill in consumption — anyone can do it.  And if you spent $1000 bucks on a handbag that doesn’t hold your stuff any better than a $50 one does, you’re just honestly broadcasting to the world how much your ego needs propping up.  If you want to live well and indulge in luxury, fine.  Just remember that it doesn’t make you a better person, nor does it make you happier — scientists have shown time and time again that once your basic needs are met, more stuff does not make you any happier.

What does make you cool is what you put out into the world.  Sistine Chapel frescoes?  Cool.  A whole bunch of plays?  Cool.  Discovering radioactivity?  Cool.  Relativity theory?  Cool.  Mind-blowing string quartets?  Mega-cool.  Inventing the Internet?  Hyper-cool.  Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Curie, Einstein, Beethoven and Tim Berners-Lee will forever be cool.

Consumption is transient.  Creation leaves a legacy – and it feels good, too.  Psychologists will tell you that creating novel items out of sheer nothing is one of the most fulfilling activities you can engage in.

2. You are cool to the extent that you exercise compassion and perform service.

How does your work touch others?  Does it assuage a crying child’s pain?  Does it soothe a broken heart or mend a broken leg?  Does it help lift up someone beaten down by time and circumstance?  Does it create a pleasing space for an eye to rest upon?

Those are the things that make you cool, not the amount of money you make, your title, the awards you win, or the prestige of your employer’s name.  Beware of the media’s glorification of near psychopaths because they happen to be captains of industry making shit-tons of money.  It ain’t about the money, people — it’s about how many people you help.

A simple rubric is that if it’s just about you and your glory, it’s not cool.  If it’s about Us, it is.  Once again, scientists tell us that performing service is one of the activities that generates and sustains happiness in us most reliably.  So get in the habit of doing service, and aim yourself towards a career of service instead of say, becoming a soulless, rapacious investment banker.

3. You are cool to the extent that you are curious.

Being curious is the opposite of being judgmental.  When you’re curious, you’re open to new experiences and ideas.  You accept people as they are, not as the way you think they should be.  Tall, short, pretty, ugly, gay, straight, liberal, conservative, Lakers fan, Celtics fan, European, Asian, African, white, brown, black, yellow, green, purple — you meet them where they are and seek first to understand, then to be understood.  If you do just this, everyone you come in contact with will love you.  And that’s kinda cool.  Not everyone does it because it’s hard to do.  I’m working on it every day myself.

Openness goes hand-in-hand with flexibility.  The more flexible you are, the more adaptable you are.  And adaptability, more than strength or intelligence, is the prime determinant of survival and success.  Chapter 76 of the Tao Te Ching says:

Men are born soft and supple;
Dead, they are stiff and hard.
Plants are born tender and pliant;
dead, they are brittle and dry.

Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible
Is a disciple of death.
Whoever is soft and yielding
Is a disciple of life.

The hard and stiff will be broken.
The soft and supple will prevail.

So be creative.  Be compassionate.  Be curious.  If you do, I promise you’ll be the coolest kid who ever went to college.

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