Bryan Caplan  

Make Your Own Bubble in 10 Easy Steps

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Someone on Twitter asked for advice on how to create a Beautiful Bubble.  Perhaps he was teasing me, but it's a good question.  Here's my 10 Step Program:

1. Amicably divorce your society.  Don't get angry at the strangers who surround you, just accept the fact that you're not right for each other.

2. Stop paying attention to things that aggravate you unless (a) they concretely affect your life AND (b) you can realistically do something about them.  Start by ceasing to follow national and world news.

3. Pay less frequent attention to things that aggravate you even if they do concretely affect your life and you can realistically do something about them.  For example, if you check your email twenty times a day and find the experience frustrating, try cutting back to two or three times a day.  If you need to know about world politics, read history books, not newspaper articles.

4. Emotionally distance yourself from people you personally know who aggravate you.  Don't purge anyone - that causes more trouble than it saves.  Just accept the fact that you aren't going to change them.

5. Abandon your First World Problems mentality.  Consciously compare your income to Haitian poverty, your health status to Locked-In Syndrome, your sorrow to that of parent who has lost a child.  As Tsunami Bomb tells us, "Be grateful that you have a brain for thinking/
And legs to take you places."  For guidance, repeatedly read Epicurus' Letter to Menoeceus and Julian Simon's Good Mood.

6. Now that you have emptied your life of frustration, you are ready to fill it with joy.  Start doing things that make you happy even - nay, especially - if most people in your ex-society disrespect them.  Spend $1 a day to filter out annoying advertising and intrusion.

7. Actively try to make more friends with people who share your likes.  In the Internet age, this is shockingly easy.  Don't try to make more friends who share your dislikes.  You should build friendship on common passions, not joint contempt.

8. Find a career you really enjoy.  Ask yourself, "Will I take daily pride in this work?" and "Are the kind of people I want to befriend statistically over-represented in this line of work?"  If you have to signal for years to get this job, sigh, signal, and see Step 5.

9. If you're single, stop dating outside of your sub-sub-culture.  Happy relationships are based on shared values and mutual admiration so intense that outsiders laugh.  Let them laugh.

10. Now that your own life is in order, you are emotionally ready to quixotically visit your ex-society.  Maybe you want to publicly argue for open borders, abolition of the minimum wage, or pacifism.  Go for it.  Bend over backwards to be friendly.  Take pride in your quixotic quest.  Then go home to your Beautiful Bubble and relax.

Coda: Many perpetually aggravated people tell me they "just can't" adopt my advice.  Perhaps they're right to think that they can't follow my advice 100%.  But so what?  Anyone can adopt my advice at the margin.  Why not spend one extra hour a day in your Bubble and see what happens?



COMMENTS (27 to date)
Rochelle writes:

"How I found Freedom in an Unfree World" by Harry Browne, in 10 short points :P

DJ writes:

Step 9 is absurdly difficult for libertarian (men) when you consider the high male: female ratio in the libertarian camp. Obviously, there are other concerns in creating/living in our own sub-sub-cultures, but political views are important in relationships, and personally, I doubt I've met more than five libertarian women in my entire life.

The rest of the the program seems like a pretty good idea, and I will certainly try to implement it as much as I can.

Brian writes:

I was confused, because this is already how I live my life and I was wondering, doesn't everyone live their life this way?

Oh well.

David Jinkins writes:

Great advice, thanks.

Brent writes:

I quit all local papers, television, and radio. Then I moved to China. The lack of basic logic in the Mainland is an issue, but since I can't do anything about it and I don't do Mandarin or any of the other dialects, it is pretty easy to stay in the Bubble. Certainly easier than in the U.S., where I must suffer knowing everything stupid being said around me.

Eric Falkenstein writes:

Always good to remember to be grateful, and the Serenity Prayer, which seems most of what you are suggesting. Good Mood looks like a fun read. Tx.

Ted Levy writes:

I got so frustrated reading this! I THOUGHT from the title it was going to be about how to engineer another Tulip Mania...

Himanshu Sanguri writes:

A hermit lives in peace than a society man. Anyways, you propose a social hermit life. This very much varies from person to person. All human beings are made differently. The world and society was changed by figures like Vivekanda, Gandhi, Mandela, Castro, Mao etc. who lived and died in peace. On the other hand we had many great contributions from secluded personalities also. Over all, a great reading experience, specially your step five much resembles of your's Gandhi's ideology. I also like the line "If you need to know about world politics, read history books, not newspaper articles".

Bryan, your advice is very similar to the psychological techniques proposed by the Stoics (particularly their dichotomy of control and negative visualization). Is this similarity coincidental or have you been directly influenced by them?

RPLong writes:
Happy relationships are based on shared values and mutual admiration so intense that outsiders laugh.

This is the single most important thing I have ever learned in life. Interestingly, I found my match far outside my culture, let alone my "sub-sub-culture," but to me that just underscores the point that shared values and mutual admiration are more important than any other difference two people might have.

Hazel Meade writes:

I have no doubt that much of what you say is beneficial. But I think I would find it nearly impossible to stop paying attention to national and world news.

No doubt that doing so would likely make me a happier person as well. I only fantasize about actually being able to do anything about our slow horrifying descent into socialist hell.

And then there are cases like the Hakkens story that positively make me want to start shooting people.

In my dreams I would hide these people behind a false wall in my attic.

Hazel Meade writes:

Er, I mean I'd hide the Hakkens, not the dead bodies.

Mike W writes:

I talked with three men this past week who would not fit into your bubble. One was in Burma during WWII and has traveled and worked in east and south Asia extensively; one spent his career in NASA and was involved in the Apollo program from the time Kennedy pledged the US to go to the moon; and, one was in the CIA and stationed abroad throughout the Cold War. They spent (and are spending) their lives engaged with people and situations in the real world and they experienced all the frustration and "thrill of victory and the agony of defeat" that goes along with that involvement. Those are the kinds of lives I would recommend to young people they emulate rather than a life in a bubble.

Garrett M. Petersen writes:

If you talk to people about the 1% of things you agree on, instead of the 99% of things they're wrong about, it can save you all sorts of headaches! It's called being "diplomatic".

sourcreamus writes:

Isn't the bubble idea in opposition to the unlimited immigration idea? Your bubble advice boils down to surrounding yourself as much as possible with like minded people. Immigration means being surrounded by people with different cultures and mindsets.
Those of us with incomes high enough can move to where immigrants can't afford to live but what of other people?

Richard Besserer writes:

Actually, purging people is under-rated. Cutting loose my family, ruled by my narcissist alcoholic mother, was one of the smartest things I ever did.

I'd spent most of my life trying to impress her and them, being well into my thirties before I figured out that they were not worth trying to impress. It didn't hurt that I'd already moved far away. I finally concluded that my family fell under the category of things that only concretely affected my life to the extent I let them, and that I had no realistic chance of changing, and the solution best for my sanity was to have no more to do with them.

The last straw was their opposition to my marriage and being essentially forced to choose between my future wife and them. I haven't spoken to them since the wedding (to which they were not invited), and am mostly relieved I don't have to deal with them any more. Even my wife understands not to mention them in my presence, even to make a joke at their expense. The awful mood I get in at the very thought of them isn't worth a cheap laugh.

Hadur writes:

As the last part of this blog post suggests, some items on this list are doing way more work to bring about serenity than others.

I do not live in a bubble, I do not date people who share my political views, etc., but overall I am very happy because I've stopped worrying about things I have no control over (I still pay attention to news, I just don't let it get to me) and I've started comparing myself to those who are far worse off, instead of those who are far better off.

These two steps got me so far that I haven't bothered to take any further steps: I don't see it as necessary.

NZ writes:

It sounds like living in a bubble would be infuriating for someone who enjoys debating.

Also, the most annoying people I can think of are those who are used to being in agreement with everyone around them.

My last criticism is that if you have kids, often by sheltering yourself you end up sheltering them--to their peril, if you take it far enough. To a lesser degree this is what happened with my parents, both of whom are classical artists and rejected mainstream culture completely. They did their best to insulate me from it too. (A light anecdote: when I heard the song "Heart of Rock & Roll" for the first time in the early 1990s, I thought it was heavy metal.)

Still, I really like the part about not following the news--not because the content is frustrating, but because journalism is such a joke (that, I think, is mainly what makes the news frustrating).

Mike Blume writes:

DJ, not saying I'm sure this would work universally, but my heavily male-skewed sub-sub-culture turned a corner dating-wise when we embraced polyamory. All the women got harems and many more of the men got girlfriends.

shecky writes:

Had me going until #9.

Eccentric Opinion writes:

Living in a bubble does not mean only interacting with people who agree with you. For example, Robin Hanson is part of Bryan's bubble, and they disagree. But living in a bubble does imply common values and relatively low inferential distances, which make debating less frustrating.

Mike Rulle writes:

Funny thing---I have been doing more and more of this since the election. I agree it is both effective and rational. I mentioned this to a few friends of mine and they thought I was kidding and a little bit off my rocker. The point I tried to emphasize is other people try to get us passionate about things which are really miniscule in nature and we come to believe they are not.

Example: Mike Rice the Rutgers basketball coach who was fired for anger management problems. I have been asked my opinion. My statement is I have no opinion and do not want to have an opinion. I have said that if I am going to have an opinion on bad behaviors, there are millions more worthy of my attention.

Steve Z writes:

I estimate that it is highly unlikely that a regular reader of this blog would not already be in some sort of bubble already. Allow me to recommend building (or having somebody build) a home theater PC. They are vastly superior to DVR's provided by the cable company.

PrometheeFeu writes:

I used to assiduously follow a blog which specialized in intellectual property issues. Unfortunately, the world was largely not going my way, so all their news stories made me angry. So I stopped reading the blog and became much happier.

Similarly, I paid very little attention to the last presidential election. I did hear about it of course, but I paid much less attention than in previous election. I was much happier.

(Anecdotally, I accidentally heard about 30 seconds of one of the debates and immediately had to pull over to calm down because of how annoyed I was at the stupidity of the candidates.)

That said, I enjoy both dating and befriending a variety of people with whom I disagree about many things. We even talk about things we disagree about, but we do it in a measured and friendly manner. It does lead to the occasional awkward moment, but it is much more enjoyable than conversations where both parties are 100% in agreement.

But your point about the importance of mutual respect and mutual interests is very true. I just think you can find it outside of your sub-sub-sub-culture. Or more precisely, that there are many sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-cultures of which we are members and we share at least one with many people.

drobviousso writes:

I'm a pretty happy, content person. I can't remember the last time I raised my voice in anger.

I can't imaging that doing 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, or 9 would make me happy. In fact, I would find life to be very bland. As for 4, I do a total purge, not just emotional distance.

Jason writes:

Overall I really enjoyed this posting. However I would like to offer some modifications. Specifically, I would argue step 3 has led to the mess this country is in. There are not enough Americans that truly care what our politicians are up to and, in my opinion, we have taken #3 to heart for the past couple decades and now we are reaping the "rewards" of our apathy.

I would argue that #7 should read the opposite of the way that it does. We need to band together with people who share our dislikes to exact change that we feel needs to be made.

Joe Cushing writes:

I have a bubble on Facebook. I eliminate most adds for less than $1.00 a day. I have a netflix subscription, ad blocker plus (free), and listen to internet radio--which has adds but fewer of them. I got Ad Blocker Plus to stop YouTube intravideo ads. I was fine with the banners and I was semiokay with the prevideo ads but I didn't like the ads on top of the videos or the ones inserted into the videos. It was the ones inserted in the middle of people's sentences that got me to search for a solution. YouTube lost me as an ad viewer when they did that.

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