Getting to the Bottom of Spring Fatigue

As we enter the spring season and bid adieu to winter, we us feel a certain sense of fatigue in our daily lives. Most people I talk to simply attribute it to the change in weather. When I try to dig deeper, they simply shrug their shoulders.

So, I decided to do some of my own research on the subject and share my findings here. For starters, I found that this is not a phenomenon confined to one corner of the world. I have read about people complaining about it from all corners of the world, all the way from the US to Australia.

It turns out that we, like animals, regulate our metabolism and hormone levels in response to external stimuli like temperature and light. In fact, our core body temperature is slightly lower in the winter than it is in the summer, which results in a slowdown in our metabolism. During this period, our body also produces a higher amount of the hormone melatonin, which regulates our sleep.

When spring comes around all of a sudden, the sun starts rising earlier and we get longer SFhours of sunlight accompanied by rising temperatures. The body naturally reacts to this change in external stimuli by raising the core temperature, thereby dilating blood vessels and causing a resulting drop in blood pressure. The body also reacts at the hormonal level, causing the release of more serotonin, the activity hormone. All these changes throw our body’s rhythm off-balance.

This slightly weakens the body’s defenses and also makes us more vulnerable to infections. Temperature changes back and forth, accompanied by an adjustment to the clock due to Daylight Savings Time tend to exacerbate the effects. Large day-night temperature swings put added strain on blood vessels and circulation. These are drastic changes for the body and it takes a couple of weeks to adjust and adapt. Depending on individual circumstances, the effects might also include headaches, irritability, tiredness, dizziness, and a tendency to drift towards a sad mood. (On a side note, while weather or spring fatigue is common, the severe version of this problem is referred to Seasonal Affective Disorder and often requires treatment.)

However, instead of simply riding out the fatigue, there are things you can do to fight it. For example, exercising activates the whole body. Consumption of fruits and vegetables supplies the body with vitamins and minerals that consequentially help strengthen your defenses.

Knowledge is power. And now that we know, we can do more than simply suffer through weather fatigue. Besides, every cloud has a silver lining and this is no exception. Suffering through a few weeks of fatigue will bring us the warm embrace of summer.

Here’s looking forward to an activity filled summer!

Success, Luck & Humility

The other day, I was reading a short piece in the New York Times titled Stop and Acknowledge How Much Luck Has to Do with Your Success. As the title suggests, the column talks about luck and the role it plays in the lives of the very successful, as well as in the lives of everyone else.

It’s interesting to note that some of the most successful and hardworking people we know, including the likes of Warren Buffett, acknowledge the role luck has played in their success. The writer emphasizes the importance of a sense of humility in acknowledging luck, and how it should go hand in hand with success.

While the column was generally very well written, what really struck home was the antepenultimate paragraph where the writer makes an interesting argument. He says that if people are willing to blame bad luck for something that was not their fault, they should also be willing to acknowledge and give credit to good luck when something has nothing to do with their efforts or actions.

“If bad luck exists and it is not your fault, so does good luck that has nothing to do with your efforts or actions either. And that is O.K. too.”

–Carl Richards

While the author talks about luck as an independent event that requires no real preparation (for example, buying the winning lottery ticket, or this news item from 2014 ), I think it is also important to acknowledge when luck and preparation/hard work go hand in hand (for example, acing a test, or getting a promotion at work). The following quote, often attributed to Roman philosopher Seneca, sums it up best: “Luck is where opportunity meets preparation.”

The column concludes with a related piece of wisdom that is often lost on most of us in our daily lives. I highly recommend you take a few minutes from your day to read and reflect on this wonderful piece.

Travelling with Tom Hanks

Let me preface this blog by telling you that we love Tom Hanks and his movies. He is a great actor and an even better person. We simply observed an interesting trend and decided to make some light-hearted humor of it.

We recently saw the movie Passengers, after which we came home and turned on the television. As luck would have it, another space movie was on: Apollo 13. As we watched, we got into a discussion about Tom Hanks’ movies. We talked about how the vast majority of his most memorable movies in the recent past have tended to involve a combination of him, some form of transportation and bad news.

Upon combing through his filmography, I found even more movies that fit this theme than I expected. Here is a cherry-picked list, ordered chronologically, that makes my point. It is also interesting to note that most of these movies are either based on, or adapted from real life stories.

Forrest Gump (1994): Tom Hanks is on a boat. Upon seeing an old friend and colleague, he jumps off his boat and swims to the shore, leaving the boat to crash. In another scene he is sailing with the same friend when a fierce storm hits, tossing the boat around dangerously. Later we find out that they survived, but all the other boats around them sank.

Apollo 13 (1995): Tom Hanks flies in a space shuttle on a mission to the moon. En route, it develops serious technical problems that jeopardize its return to Earth.

Cast Away (2000): Tom Hanks flies in an airplane that is going thcathrough a violent storm and experiences an explosive decompression. The plane crashes and he is stranded on a deserted island for a long time.

Catch me if you Can (2002): Tom Hanks plays a police officer who finally managers to arrest the evasive Leonardo DiCaprio in France and has him extradited to the US. On the plane ride back, he delivers bad news to DiCaprio telling him that his father passed away.

Road to Perdition (2002): Tom Hanks is travelling on a ship and poisons a co-passenger.

The Terminal (2004): Tom Hanks has flown into JFK and upon landing (safely) finds that his passport is no longer valid due to the outbreak of a civil war in his home country Krakozhia. He is therefore nationless and not allowed to leave the airport. The movie deals with how he spends 9 months living at the airport as a stateless person.

Angels & Demons (2009): This movie makes it to the list because near the very end, Tom Hanks boards a helicopter with an explosive canister. The helicopter flies straight up and explodes, saving the population below but destroying the helicopter.

Cloud Atlas (2012): Tom Hanks plays a nuclear scientist that is flying in an airplane that blows up soon after take off.

Tom Hanks stars in Columbia Pictures' "Captain Phillips."Captain Phillips (2013): Tom Hanks plays the Captain of a container transport ship that is sailing near the Somalian coast when it is attacked and hijacked by pirates. Later, he is taken hostage by the same pirates on a smaller lifeboat. Twice in the same movie!

Sully (2016): Tom Hanks plays the Captain, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, piloting an airplane taking off from New York’s LaGuardia airport. Soon after take-off, the plane suffers a series of bird hits that render the engines inoperative, forcing a crash/controlled landing on the Hudson River. So, not only does he not make a good co-passenger, but his luck rubs off when he plays the pilot too!

There you have it folks. I think this is proof enough that this is not simply a mere coincidence. Tom Hanks, and forms of transportation just don’t mix well. So the next time you find yourself on the same boat/ship/plane/helicopter/space shuttle (and maybe even at the same airport) as Tom Hanks, you might want to think twice, and get the hell outta there! 😛

TH.jpg

Keep Walking

Readers will remember last year I wrote a post about walking to work. Well, obviously as winter arrived, it got colder and I was unable to regularly walk to work. Come spring, I walked on and off, and then summer hit, making it unbearably hot and impossible to walk. To be honest, the problem was not so much the heat, but more so the resulting perspiration. I don’t think anyone would appreciate having to sit next to or work with someone stinking of dried sweat.

In any case, fall arrived a few weeks ago and things started to cool down. A colleague at work struck up a conversation about how she walks to work every day and loves it, and I should too. She sold me on the exact same benefits I blogged about last year, and I started walking to work again.

I have to say- I couldn’t be happier. The total travel time from door to door is exactly the same whether I drive, or walk. Walking to and from work every day with my music playing and not a thought on my mind is the most peaceful time of the day. It allows me to disconnect from everything and just enjoy being in the moment. The Honey Bee calls it my “me time”. Sometimes I am more pumped, and walk faster. Other times I am tired or more relaxed, and walk slower. But no matter what, I am glad to be walking.

I also find myself calmer, more patient, attentive, and generally in an overall good mood more often. When I reach work, I am now fully awake and attentive, roaring to go. When I get home I am no longer lethargic, and don’t want to just sit on the couch and watch TV (or at least not as much as before). I honestly feel better about being myself.

Apart from the additional savings on fuel and reduced car maintenance, walking is really environmentally friendly and comes with tons on health benefits. Humans have evolved over millions of years to walk- not just sit around or drive everywhere. Co-incidentally, I was reading an article on the rising expenditure on healthcare and how less active and deteriorating lifestyles are one of the main culprits. We are all eating larger portions of less healthier foods, and spending more time sitting down or driving around. All research points to the tremendous benefits that physical fitness and activity can bring, including alleviating some of those costs. A study by Harvard University concluded that walking 2.5 hours a week (21 minutes a day) helps reduce the risk of heart disease by 30%.

I have also started to wear a fitness tracker to guilt myself into being more physically active and I am happy to report it is working. If you already have one, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Seeing in numbers the fact that you’re not active enough is a surefire way to push yourself to move more. If you don’t already have one, I’d strongly recommend you look into getting one, especially if you’re in desk job that involves working at a computer.

The infographic below from the CDC on diabetes is a real eye opener and really struck home. I thought I’d share it here to spread awareness.

Happy Walking!

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100 Words on the Olympics

Recently, someone at the office drew a comparison between the number of medals won by India & Spain. Worst comparison ever!

Although talent matters, when all is said and done, wealthier countries stand a much better chance of winning (more) medals. Critical factors like a superior sports infrastructure, better nutrition, more qualified coaches, advanced training, a fairer (corruption-free) selection process and stronger incentives all significantly bias the results of the Olympics in favor of wealthier countries before the games even start.

I’m not saying winning Olympians from wealthier countries aren’t talented. I’m just saying you can’t compare apples with oranges.

 

 

 

 

 

PS: I realize that there are plenty of developing countries that win medals. But if we step back and look at the larger picture, it is undeniable that wealthier countries, individually and as a group, take home the lion’s share of medals.

To give you an idea of the numbers, of the more than 200 countries that participated in the 2016 Olympics, just the top 25 countries by GDP/Capita (all 25 had a GDP/Capita of more than US$ 25,000) took home a whopping 53% of the medals. 

A Peak into the World of Homeownership

This is a topic of great personal interest to me. It’s something I’ve discussed with family and friends on numerous occasions, and it’s something that I’ve looked into quite a bit. I’ve even touched upon it briefly on this blog in the past.

It truly amazes me how many people choose to buy a house simply because that’s what the world, or their real estate agent tells them to do. BHTraditional wisdom says that buying a house is the smart thing to do. The thinking has always been that you buy a house with a mortgage and eventually, once the mortgage is paid off, the house is all yours. It’s called building equity.

This is presumably better than renting because at the end of the mortgage, you own the house and can simply sell it to recover most of your money. In the case of renting, you are not working towards owning the house. You are simply paying on a monthly basis for the privilege of being able to live in that house.

On the face of it, it all seems to make perfect sense. Why waste money renting, when you can use that same money to build equity and eventually own a valuable house? But things are not always as they seem. There are a number of factors underneath the surface that need to be considered.

Let’s run through an example. Assume you buy a house for US$ 250,000. You make a standard down payment of 20% (=US$ 50,000). In addition, there are closing costs that need to be paid. Conservatively, let’s say these costs are around 3% (=US$ 7,500) of the home value. So, the total value of your mortgage is US$ 200,000 + US$   7,500 = US$ 207,500. Like most people, you get a 30 year mortgage with a moderate annual interest rate of 5%.

The bank gives you the money, using which you buy the house and start to live in it. Every month, you pay the bank US$ 1,142 towards your mortgage. Annually, that adds up to US$ 13,704.

Now it starts to get interesting …

You realize you have spent so much on buying a house, you should probably protect it. So, you buy homeowner’s insurance. This typically costs 0.3% of the home value and is paid annually.

A few months in you realize that the community you live in has its own dues. Typically, homeowners’ association dues go towards the upkeep of the hhccommunity. Let’s assume 0.2% of the home value annually.

A year in, you get a bill from the government telling you your property taxes are due. That’s right. You have to pay taxes annually on the value of your house. Conservatively, let’s say 1% of your home value annually.

Life starts happening: your washing machine breaks down, the drain gets clogged and parts of your home suffer small amounts of water damage. You might also have a number of small repairs that need to be carried out. In addition, routine maintenance is also required like mowing the lawn, changing the lights, cleaning the air conditioning filters, etc. These costs are typically in the range of 1.5% the annual home value annually.

So, let’s review how much we spend annually on the house:

  • Mortgage payments: US$ 13,500
  • Homeowner’s Insurance: US$ 750
  • Homeowners’ Association Dues: US$ 500
  • Property Taxes: US$ 2,500
  • Maintenance, Repairs, etc.: US$ 3,750

That’s a grand total of US$ 21,000. Now, you might say to yourself, that this is turning out slightly more expensive that you had thought, but it’s okay because you’re building equity. But have you thought about the alternative? Over a 30 year period, the total cost of buying and owning that US$ 250,000 house add up to US$ 680,000. That’s almost 2.7x the cost of the house. Renting for 30 years @ US$ 900/month would have cost you US$ 324,000 and you wouldn’t pay anything else. The landlord would take care all of the maintenance, repairs, property taxes, etc. That’s a saving of US$ 306,000. If you invested these savings at 5% annually, that’s another cool US$ 15,300 in your pocket every year.

Now, you might be wondering how you ended up paying so much for the house. Well, let me give you a breakdown.

You paid a total of US$ 404,879 on your mortgage. That’s right. Over the 30 year period, you Cost Splitpaid US$ 404,879 on your US$ 207,500* mortgage. Even though 5% interest might seem low, it adds up to almost US$ 197,000 over the 30 year period. And it doesn’t end there. Even after having paid off your mortgage in full, the ongoing expenses continue. Between insurance, property taxes, maintenance, etc., you will continue to spend a minimum of US$ 7,500 every year.

As for the equity you’ve built, let’s take a look. You want to sell the house, but before you do, remember that there are costs associated with selling your home. These so-called closing costs are about 5% on the value you sell your home for. All things considered, the only way you can make a profit on your home is if its value has increased 266%. That means your home has to be worth at least US$ 662,500 30 years after you bought it. That’s an increase of about 3% annually. I’m not saying that’s not possible. It’s possible that it might even increase more than that. But, there also exists the possibility that the value might decrease, and if market conditions are bad, you might even end up selling it for less than you paid for it. While a lot of people have made a lot of money off their homes, there are also many who have lost everything because of it. In an ideal world we would all have enough money to simply buy a house outright without a mortgage, and the economics would then make a lot more sense.

I don’t mean to discourage anyone from buying a house.  Everyone’s situation is different and everyone needs to evaluate for themselves whether they are taking the right decision. The point of this blog post is simply to help increase awareness of all the moving parts and intricacies involved in buying a house and not get swayed by popular myths.

 

 

 

*For the sake of simplicity, I have:

-rolled the initial closing costs into the total mortgage

-ignored the cost of furnishing the house

-ignored the potential tax implications of selling your house at a profit

-ignored the effect of inflation

-ignored tax deductions you might receive for interest on your mortgage because more often than not, people don’t qualify for the deduction, and if they do, the deduction is relatively minimal

 

 

The Great European Summer Shutdown

Every year as August comes around, Spain, and most of Europe, go into low gear. Things start to wind down, and people start talking about vacations. Traditionally, August is when peak summer hits across Europe and people take their annual vacations.

staIn Spain, most people are obligated to take a certain amount of their annual vacations in August. Some companies shut down entirely for the month. For those that choose to remain open, the jornada intensiva (meaning intensive working day) kicks in and the workday changes. The day starts an hour earlier, and around 3PM people head home for a siesta, or to the beach, as the case may be.  As one of the few who chooses to work in August, I can tell you it is probably the most efficient time of the year. Thanks to almost no one being present in the office to disturb you, you can get a LOT of work done. Plus, since we don’t vacation during peak tourist season, we save a whole lot of moolah on flights and hotels.

Out of curiosity, I investigated and tried to find out the reason behind this summer shut down. A lot of people say it was introduced by the left-wing populist governments starting with France in 1936. During/after World War 2, the rest of Europe followed suit. EHSome say it was a bid to keep the people happy so these governments/dictators could stay in power. Others say that the summer shut down has to do with the heat. It gets extremely hot in August and working becomes very difficult if you don’t have an air-conditioned office and even more so if you are a blue collared worker.

Whatever the reason for its origin, people have gotten so used to the status quo that the very thought of changing it would be heresy. It would cause a lot of discontent and resentment. I speculate of course, but any government that dared to change it would probably never return to power again. No wonder then that when the numerous crises have hit Europe (1993, 2007, 2011…) or its companies (e.g. Volkswagen 2015) during the summer, the politicians, bankers and CEOs have been in such a foul mood. I don’t blame them though; who wouldn’t be after having had their summer vacation canceled?

The good thing about all of this is the better quality of life. The next logical thought though, is about the obvious downside- decreased productivity. I can’t help but try to draw some kind of parallel between the way things are (going) and the fall of the Roman Empire.

But for now, I think I’ll just hit the publish button and leave you to ruminate on that, while the Honey Bee and I go relax at the beach.

Hasta luego!

Marriages in Spain

Yesterday, after a few months, we went out for drinks after work. However, it wasn’t a normal drinking session; we were drinking to celebrate the upcoming marriage of one of our colleagues. In fact, he is probably getting hitched as I write this. We visited the same bar we used to earlier, and there was quite a turnout-close to 10 people. The occasion got me thinking about the concept of marriage in Spain and how it is different from other parts of the world.

My colleague decided not to host a grand wedding. Instead, he chose to get married in a simple 10 minute civil ceremony with no more than 2 guests, although the truth is they are witnesses and are legally required to be there. There was also another “grander” 30 minute option also available. I asked him about why he chose to forgo the traditional wedding ceremonies and the answer was straightforward and simple: to save his money, and avoid the emotional stress and chaos.

Somehow, the traditional concept of marriage and weddings is fast losing momentum in Spain, even though it is a predominantly Catholic country. Increasingly, Spaniards simply co-habitate or opt for the pareja de hecho option, meaning domestic or common law partnership. It is a recognition by the state of the stable relationship between 2 individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation. It does not bestow all the same rights as marriage, but does give a certain level of legal recognition and protection to the relationship and the persons involved. The increasingly popularity of forgoing marriage is evident in the statistics. In the year 2011, the number of consensual unions stood at close to 15%, more than double the 6% of 2001.

According to Eurostat, the Official Statistical Organization of the EU, the incidence of marriage in Spain has reduced over the past 30 years, going from 5.3 marriages for every 1,000 inhabitants in 1981 to 3.3 in 2013. In fact, it goes on to point out that “the average age at first marriage has increased by 8 years from 1981 to 2013, going from 25.2 to 33.2 years.” In the same vein, the average number of children per woman has dropped down from 2.03 in 1981 to 1.27 in 2013, and the average age of motherhood in Spain has increased from 25.2 years in 1981 to 30.4 years in 2013.

Another interesting fact is that although people are not getting married, or getting married much later in life, the laws are still playing catch up. Believe it or not, until very recently Spain had the lowest marriage age in Europe. Boys and girls could get married as early as 14, with the consent of a judge. The age has now been raised to 16, and is on par with most European countries. You can read more about it here.

Back to the topic at hand, there are still those that do go the traditional route of getting married and maybe even have a wedding ceremony. Even here, something really impressed me for its forward thinking. The traditional wedding registry/gift list is going out of fashion, and it is becoming increasingly common (even expected) to gift money to help the couple start out their lives together. In fact, couples now even include their bank account number on the invitation cards so that attendees can conveniently transfer the gift amount online!

I’ll keep this post short and end here, leaving you to digest this food for thought.

Have a great weekend!

Food for thought: The Hamster Wheel & You

Yesterday, the world celebrated a relatively new phenomenon: Prime Day. Or, as I like to call it, another excuse to entice people into spending their hard-earned money on things they don’t really need day.

This leads me to a subject that the Honey Bee and I have discussed on various occasions.

Growing up as a child, you understandably want things. That new toy in the market, that cool new remote-controlled car, or that hot new video game that all your friends have. As a child, you can’t really be expected to filter your wants based on whether it is something you really need. As an adult however, you can and that’s what parents are for. That being said, not all adults are able to distinguish their own wants from their needs.

Think about it…how many times have you been to the mall, or been browsing Amazon’s website and you see something that you’ve never seen before and suddenly, you really want it. You want it more than anything, even though you’ve never really ever felt the need for it, until this very moment. What happens next? Consider two scenarios:

WMScenario 1: You give in to your impulses, and spend your hard-earned money on a whim. You receive the article in a few days (or hours) and play with it for a Couple of days. Then you forget about it. The next time you see it is when you’re decluttering your home. You probably don’t even remember buying it and it eventually ends up in the trash.

Scenario 2: You behave like a responsible adult and separate your needs from your wants. You are able to discern that this is not something you have ever wanted before. In a couple of days, or even hours, your life goes back to being the way it was before you saw the article and you probably forget about ever having wanted it.

Note that both scenarios end in the same way: with you not having the article anymore. The only difference is that the first is the more expensive route.

Throughout our lives we spend so much on accumulating useless stuff which maybe give us a few fleeting seconds of “happiness” and then eventually gets thrown away. Imagine instead:

  • spending it on trips & holidays making memories you will relish forever
  • saving it and being able to afford to quit your job and dedicate yourself entirely to doing something that you really love and that really matters to you
  • paying down your debt with it and working your way towards a financially stable and debt-free life

These are just a few examples off the top of my head, but imagine all the possibilities if you save that money, or better yet invest it.

“I make myself rich by making my wants few.”
–Henry David Thoreau

It’s funny but every day I see people complaining about how much and how long they have to work, but I just don’t get it.

People’s expenses increase because they spend on things they don’t necessarily want or need. Consequentially, they have to work harder to support that more expensive lifestyle.
Or vice-versa, lifestyle inflation occurs: People make more money, and then the expenses go up. Nonetheless, the end result is the same: you work harder and longer, make more money, and at the end of it all save less. And, all you have to show for it is a bunch of useless stuff cluttering up your life.

It’s an endless cycle that results in you running faster and faster just trying to keep up. Doesn’t it instead make more sense to simply get off the hamster wheel, or at least slow it down? If you want less, you will spend less. If you spend less, you will need less and consequently won’t waste your whole life exhausted from running after some senseless and irrational goal.

HW

Instead, you can be richer (in every sense of the word) and have more free time to spend doing the things you love and with the people who matter to you.

“The less you want, the richer you are. The more you need in order to be happy, the more miserable you’ll be.”
–Yanni

Think about it. Henry D. Thoreau and Yanni certainly did.

 

 

Coffee, anyone?

I never was a coffee person. The only time in my life I consumed coffee was when I spent late nights studying in the library as an undergrad, and that was only a couple of times a year. Apart from that I’d avoid coffee like the plague, even on the rare occasion we were socializing at a coffee shop. Apart from the horrible taste, I was disgusted by the amount of sugar that goes into these drinks to make them palatable.

It is interesting to note that my lack of affection for hot caffeinated beverages is not cultural. India, where I have spent more than half my life is a tea addicted nation, courtesy of the British occupation.  Europe and the US, where I have spent the rest of my life are heavy coffee drinkers. Spain, where I currently reside, is a coffee loving country. According to data from a study in 2013, Spain, on average, consumes 3 kilograms of coffee per capita annually, putting it in the top 25 coffee consuming countries in the world. Topping that list is Finland, with 9.6 kilograms per capita.

In any case, my point is I have never been much of a coffee drinker. Neither in my personal life, nor my professional life. I considered it a good thing, and even a matter of pride, that I was not addicted to these drinks. But recently, I came to discover a dirty little secret. After years of turning down colleagues’ invitations to join them for a morning coffee, one day I said: “Okay, why not?”

Since that day, I haven’t looked back and have made it a point to incorporate myself into the morning coffee ritual at the office. Why, you must be wondering. What is this dirty little secret I stumbled upon that has made me change something that I haven’t changed in over 30 years?

OCWhat I discovered is that drinking coffee is about much more than just drinking coffee. It is about starting off your day together with your colleagues. It is about catching up on what is going on, not just in your colleagues’ lives, but also at work. It is about finding out about the goings-on of the office. Sometimes it even results in unexpected conversations with people in the office you don’t normally see, or as in my case, with teams you formally worked with but don’t anymore. It makes you feel like a part of the office and to a certain extent even cements that feeling of camaraderie and belonging.

In conclusion, I still don’t like caffeinated drinks, but I have started to consume them in modicum, more so for everything they represent, than for the drinks themselves.

 

P.S.

I’d like to clarify that the coffee I drink is without adding sugar, and in a very small cup (that I rarely finish). It’s really more about simply being part of the ritual.