I read ‘Antifragile: Things that gain from Disorder’ by Nassim Taleb

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I do not describe myself as a voracious reader and rarely have patience to read a book from start to finish. However, some books are too good to resist, even for a restless mind like mine. Antifragile: Things that gain from Disorder is one such book. The book has had a huge impact on my life, and in this blog post I will tell you how it can change your life as well. So, stick on.

Stress is beneficial (conditions applied)

According to the author, some things benefit from shocks, setbacks and stressors. Taleb calls them antifragile, a neologism he feels was necessary to coin. Ask anyone the opposite of fragile and they will probably say things like robust and resilient. However, Taleb says that such an antonym is not accurate. Robust or Resilient is the characteristic something that resists stress and stays unchanged when exposed to damage, whereas antifragile is something that gains from the damage. 

The best example of Antifragility described in the book is that of the mythological character ‘Hydra‘ – a serpent-like creature that lived in the lake of Lerna, near Argos, and had numerous tentacle-like heads. Every time it’s tentacles were cut, it would grow new ones. In a way, Hydra is antifragile because it gains from the damage inflicted upon it.

The legend of Mithridates IV 

Legend has it that King Mithridates IV of Pontus used to ingest very small doses of poison. He started with smaller doses and progressively increased the dose. Ultimately he came to develop an immunity against them. The king was able to fortify himself against the drugs of others, and that offered him protection against the risk of poisoning by his enemies. This phenomenon has been named Mithridatization.

A more scientific name for this phenomenon is Hormesis and can be described as:

 “An exposure to a small dose of a substance that, over time, makes one immune to additional, larger quantities of it.” 

It has been proven scientifically that a little bit of an otherwise harmful substance acts to benefit the organism. It makes the organisms better overall as it triggers some overreaction and creates in it the ability to withstand greater doses of the harm.

Linear vs NonLinear

A linear relationship can be expressed as a straight line on graph. In the equation Y = ax + b, if you increase the value of ‘x’, the value of y will also increase. 

Real life examples of linearity can be observed in driving. When you increase the acceleration in your car, your car moves faster, and it slows down when you decelerate. The distance covered by the car in a given time frame has a linear relationship with the speed.

However much of life is non-linear and doesn’t work the same way as a car. Spending two weekends in Thailand is not twice as pleasant as a single one. 

Hormesis is non-linear

The response of stressor (or damage) on the organism is non-linear, meaning that only within a certain limit, the stressor is beneficial. If it exceeds the limit, it ends up doing harm. 

Example of non linear dose response

#1. Physical Exercise 

Moderate regular exercise makes us stronger, but too much exercise without adequate rest creates problems in the body. Therefore, exercise can be called a ‘stressor’ which can be harmful if done beyond a particular limit. 

#2. Consumption of Alcohol

Another example is that of consuming alcohol. Some studies have proven that moderate consumption of alcohol (ethanol) increased the lifespan of earthworms, but when the dose was increased beyond the Hormetic limit, it ended up reducing the lifespan. Many studies have related moderate consumption of alcohol in humans with improved heart health and longevity.

#3. Diet

 It has been argued that the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables comes from the presence of toxic phytochemicals in them rather than the alleged vitamins and minerals. Eating them leads to mithridatization of sorts, where the body develops immunity against the harm and becomes stronger in the process. According to this view, plants protect themselves from harm and fend off predators with poisonous substances that, ingested by us in the right quantities, may lead to hormetic adaptations. In other words, low-dose poisoning triggers health benefits.

Hormesis is necessary for survival.

The difference between a non-living thing and a living thing is the ability of the living to benefit from stress. Infact, according to the author, antifragility determines the boundary between what is living, say, the human body, and what is inert, say, a chair. 

This ability of benefiting from nonlinear dose response to stressors ( like physical damage, toxins, emotional headwinds, volatility, and uncertainty) plays a crucial role in survival and evolution. 

Comfort causes atrophy

Depriving systems of stressors is not necessarily a good thing, and can be very harmful !

It’s no wonder why Cato the Censor looked at comfort  as a road to waste. He believed that having something too easy is bad because it causes ‘weakening of the will‘. You must have heard that the best horses lose when they compete with slower ones, and win against better rivals. 

Under compensation from the absence of a stressor degrades the best of the best” – Nassim Taleb

Taleb gives the example of modern-day medical intervention to illustrate how overmedication for even simple ailments leads to dependence and weakening of the body’s innate ability to deal with illnesses. 

Today a lot of people depend on mood boosting medications like Prozac to treat depression and anxiety. Opioid usage has reached epidemic proportions, affecting not just older people but also teens. But the question is:  Is easy access to opioids to silence our natural mood swings and anxiety a good thing? 

Maybe not.

Opioids are notorious for causing tolerance and addiction, and if not used judiciously can wreck our lives. Easy availability of these drugs tempts us to look for an easy way to deal with our problems, devoiding us of the ability to deal with them naturally. In the process they stifle creativity and natural problem solving, and lead to maladaptations. The authors says:

Had Prozac been available last century, Baudelaire’s “spleen,” Edgar Allan Poe’s moods, the poetry of Sylvia Plath, the lamentations of so many other poets, everything with a soul would have been silenced.

Bottomline

The book discusses the concept of antifragility in great detail, and I have barely scratched the surface. But if you ask me what the biggest take away for me was, I would say:

Our bodies, and other complex systems (like the society as a whole) have an innate ability to benefit from the right amount of stress. Having an understanding of how antifragility works can help us improve ourselves, not just at an individual level but also the society as a whole. In the words of the author:

“It is quite perplexing that those from whom we have benefited the most aren’t those who have tried to help us (say with “advice”) but rather those who have actively tried—but eventually failed—to harm us.”

If you found the content of this post interesting, I recommend that you read ‘Antifragile: Things that gain from Disorder’ by Nasim Taleb today !

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[Book Review] Hygge: The Danish way to a simpler, happier life

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In a world where everything seems to be confusing and fast paced, how often do we really get the time to reflect on the state of our mind and ask ourselves: Are we really happy?

I took some time off from my hectic life to ponder over this existential question, and thanks to Hygge: The Danish way to a simpler, happier life, I kind of have my answer now.

About the book

Hygge: The Danish way to a simpler, happier life is a book by Alexander Parker.

While there are many popular books written on Hygge, Parker approaches the subject with much simplicity and an in-depth research. His book provides a guide to help people understand the true essence of hygge without getting caught up in the esoteric philosophical gobbledygook that most of the self-improvement books are filled with. The book carefully compiles the ideas from various studies, discussions, books, and articles about hygge offering an effective solution to relieve yourself from the various stressors in your life. 

Note – Some links in this post may be affiliate links from Amazon. If you click on them and make a purchase, I will earn a small monetary reward. As per the Amazon affiliate policy, it is important for a blogger to disclose this to the readers.

Understanding Hygge

One of the key takeaways from this book is to learn to enjoy the simple pleasures found in day-to-day activities. Be it at home, work, or while spending time with our loved ones, hygge can teach us to live in the present and appreciate the experiences around us.

But what exactly is hygge?

It’s difficult to define the term precisely in English. But loosely speaking, Hygge is about improving one’s quality of life. The practitioners of Hygge do that by establishing and maintaining a good relationship with the self, with other people, and with the environment. 

Hygge has been in existence since the early 1800’s, but it was only in mid-2010’s that it became popular with the rest of the world. In 2017, Pinterest recognized hygge as one of the hottest trends among its users and up to this day, Twitter and Instagram continue to trend with hygge-related posts. 

Those who have already been practicing hygge do not find this surprising. Afterall, the pursuit of comfort and happiness is a global phenomenon. In the age of globalization, the dissemination of information is quick, and cultural exchange is swift. While some of us might find hygge as a completely alien concept, others find it resonate with their own personal idea of wellbeing.  

The book by Parker describes many cultural terms that are similar to hygge. Some of these are Friluftsliv, Gemiitlichkeit, Gezelligheid and Koselig. They all are different European concepts, however, the core ideas shared by them can be summarised as follows

  • They seek to establish a connection with nature
  • A focus on living an active lifestyle
  • Practicing mindfulness and meditation
  • Attaining higher level of consciousness
  • Spending time with your family, friends, and loved ones.

The Danish Way of Living

Danes are regarded as one of the happiest people in the world. Hygge is a very important part of Danish culture, and perhaps is the secret of happiness for the Danes. 

From what I have understood by studying their lives, most of the Danes live a simple life. They don’t hoard things or get obsessed about rapidly changing trends in fashion and technology. For them, activities like going out on a hike with close friends or enjoying a book by the fireplace is far more valuable than obsessing over things they have no control over.

Some of the activities commonly associated with Hygge by Danes as described in the book are:

  •    Sitting beside a fireplace
  •    Baking cookies, cakes, and other types of pastries
  •    Having an intimate dinner with family and friends
  •    Snuggling under a thick blanket with your loved one
  •    Wearing a cozy cardigan
  •    Going on a nature hike
  •    Taking a long hot bath
  •    Listening to relaxing music
  •    Performing meditation or mindfulness exercises
  •    Writing down the things you are thankful for in a daily journal
  •    Lighting up scented candles
  •    Cooking and savoring your favorite dish
  •    Spending the evening by the fireplace with your loved ones
  •    Taking a long, hot shower in the morning
  •    Dressing yourself up with the most comfortable pieces of clothing that you can find
  •    Reading a book while drinking a cup of hot chocolate
  •    Admiring the scenery as you breathe in and out in deliberate manner
  •    Putting down your cell phone and personally socializing with other people instead
  •    Watching your favorite movie while cozying up under a woolen duvet
  • And more…

Everyone can achieve Hygge

Hygge has become a global phenomena. It transcends not just geographical boundaries and cultures, but also the seasons and climates. There is truly no excuse to avoid inculcating the wonderful principles of hygge in our lives. 

With Hygge you can create special moments with your loved ones wherever and whenever you want. It helps you improve  the quality of your living without having to spend so much of your resources. Most importantly, it teaches you to place greater importance on your personal experiences and relationships with other people, than on material things. 

If you want to learn the ways of Hygge in greater detail, I recommend that you read Hygge: The Danish way to a simpler, happier life by Alexander Parker.  

Hygge will give you a chance to improve the overall quality of your life. At its core, this type of lifestyle promotes the idea of removing oneself from situations that could be emotionally overwhelming, and instead, focusing on the things that could make one happy. Compared to other lifestyle trends, hygge does not require much effort or money. In fact, the less you spend, the more hyggelig your life would be !

Hygge: The Danish way to a simpler, happier life (Free Preview)

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