Happiness is a matter of benchmark

Last week I discovered a new fun fact that I just have to share with you guys: -40 degrees is the temperature where Celsius and Fahrenheit meet.

Now, ain’t that something?

And you can ask me “wait, but how the hell does the equation that relates Celsius to Fahrenheit work then? – that’s crazy”. I know. But actually what you should be asking me, as I would’t have a clue about how to answer that #foreversocialsciences is: “wait, but why the hell did you lose any time searching the conversion between    -40 Fahrenheit and Celsius?” And the answer is simple: Google told me that the weather in Boston last weekend would “feel like” -40 Fahrenheit and I thought, for just a innocent second, that maybe that meant +22 in Celsius. You never know, right?

Yeap, not the case.

Resigned and with cold feet, I woke up last Saturday and went to check the weather on my cell phone app to see if it was still safe to go out and get some eggs at the supermarket from the corner. It’s that old saying: “If life gives you -40 degrees, you make yourself some eggnog”.

Now, a bit of context: December last year I travelled to Colombia and, to be updated on the weather over there I added “Cartagena” to the list of cities to follow on my phone’s weather app.

Don’t try this at home. Ever.

Cartagena is a nasty little city where the weather dares to vary from 80 to 95 degrees all year long. Spoiler: if you go to Cartagena next winter it will be 80 degrees by night and 95 degrees noon. Out of shameless laziness, I ended up leaving it on my weather app. And ever since, every time I go check the weather in Boston what I find is: Cartagena: 81 degrees, Boston, 19. Cartagena: 89, Boston: 10. And every time I think that there’s someone in Cartagena dragging some flip flops around and drinking mojitos while I’m mummifying myself in scarfs to go to the supermarket around the corner I get a little bid sad. It’s not deep sadness, it’s more that tiny second when of bumping-your-little-toe against-the-coffee-table or waxing-your-calf-with-cold-wax type of thing. But still, it happens every time.

Ok, back to last Saturday morning. I decided I had had enough of this daily dose of grumpiness – specially because I knew Boston could never beat Cartagena, not even in the summer, and I decided to adopt a new tactics: I snapped “delete” onto “Cartagena: 93 degrees” and searched for a city just about in the middle of Siberia, that was reasonably populated and had a satisfying winter weather average: Novosibirsk. 1.5 million people live in this beautiful city. 1.5 million people are, as we speak, at -8 degrees. Boston: 23. Novosibirsk -7, Boston: -25, Novosibirsk: -18, Boston: 20.


I’ve been in love with Boston ever since. What a pleasant weather! Delightful afternoon winds! In Novosibirsk the sun rises at: 11AM. Sets at: 11:17AM. And Boston with this wonderful daylight until 4PM, what a luxury!

Now, please observe my dear readers, how basic, naïve and bastard the human happiness can be. Observe that absolutely anything regarding the circumstances of my day has changed. It’s not a degree warmer in Boston, one should note. I’ve just changed the benchmark, my base of comparison, if you will. In the attempt to feel more at ease with Boston’s winter, I found a goddam shortcut to happiness.

“Ok, but why should I care, if I live in Miami, Santa Barbara or Singapore and I don’t have to compare myself to a habitant of Novosibirsk to feel happy about my life?”

That’s the thing. The benchmarking technique can be actually applied to the most various different aspects of life. And I tell you something: it IS already responsible for outlining our happiness without we even realizing it. I bet that most of us, facebook likers and instagram voyers suffer with the silent exposure to a “destructive benchmark” that little by little, post by post, gets us to think that our life is lees cool, our vacation less awesome and our friends less likely to be tequila shots partners.

All this filter of information that happens through the facebook-of-the-season makes it so that everyone else’s lives look a lot like Cartagena while we’re stuck in Boston in the winter. And that’s not fair because, by simple logic, if most of us feel this way, this can not possibly be true. But as nobody posts pictures while “On my boxers, farting and watching Seinfield re-runs” and we all post “awesome weekend at the Suisse alps with the best friends in the world” we end up with this bad “my life is mediocre” taste in our mouths.

I think the biggest issue with all of this is that we’re not entirely conscious about it. Up until I replaced Cartagena for Novosibirsk I hadn’t realized just how much that comparison was affecting my mood every day. And I think that those 15min of sliding our fingers through our timeline can seem harmless, but they’re actually rather perverse. Every backpacking trip around Europe, every friend that comments on an amazing new project at work every, “I’ve just ran 4,3 miles with Nike. Feeling blessed” adds up and builds a little sadness inside of us, and in my view, contributes to have a whole generation pressuring itself to “live life to the fullest”, “do what you love all the time”, “be happy today as if it were the last day of your life”. Because we do get deluded that there are a lot of people, or worse – a lot of our friends, our college classmates, the guy sitting next to us at work – that are just having a blast all the time.

Well, let me tell you something: a lot of people who live in Cartagena do get fed up with the heat from time to time. So, let’s stop fantasizing that everyone else’s lives are – just – wonderful in 3,2,1?

Oh yeah, sure, but how do I do that? Ok, can I start following a friend that has never travelled beyond Kansas so I can feel better about spending my summer at a cheap all-you-can-eat buffet hotel in Florida? Yep. Can I invite an unemployed friend to join LinkedIn so I feel better about my boring job? Sure, add me to your connection’s list, be my guest.

But while I believe this tactic is – highly – effective to calm down winter grumpiness, I do advise something a little more long-term to deal with important life issues: compare yourself a bit less with your high school mate, speculate a bit less about your neighbour’s life, delete facebook from your phone and… wait for it – become your own benchmark!

Wait, what, is that even a thing? Hell yeah!!

Are you feeling a bit “help, just woke up in Boston in the winter”? Think about how much you’ve learned at work ever since that crazy new boss arrived last year; celebrate how much your Spanish has improved ever since you’ve started watching Narcos; spend a little more time going over the photos of your last family trip and less time at Chrissy Teigen’s Instagram; compare yourself less to your professional snowboard friend and remember that, for someone that a year ago couldn’t even stand up in skis, going down the children’s slope is goddam amazing (by the way, if you do need benchmark to feel better about your ski skills, I can send some personal videos).

I know that this smells like those “before iphone everybody talked to each other at the subway” talks, but that’s not what this is about. I really don’t think that that Zuckerberg kid is to blame. This impulse of comparing oneself to ones peers is inherent to our nature. But I do think that with facebook, instagram and other networks it has become a lot easier to access other people’s “intimacy” and curate the image we project to the world, so we do need to make an extra effort so that our neighbours’ super exciting lives don’t occupy too much space in our imagination.

But anyhow, if none of this works, worry not: just get a ticket to Cartagena and you’ll be just fine.

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