You, the Miraculous: What Are the Chances of Being Born?

Some time ago at TEDx San Francisco, I listend to a talk by a very funny self-help author and life coach. In it, she mentioned that scientists calculated the probability of your existing as you, today, at about one in 400 trillion (4×1014).

“That’s a pretty big number,” I thought to myself. If I had 400 trillion pennies to my name, I could probably build a pretty impressive penny fortress with it.

Previously, I had heard the Buddhist version of the probability of ‘this precious incarnation.’ Imagine there was one life preserver thrown somewhere in some ocean and there is exactly one turtle in all of these oceans, swimming underwater somewhere. The probability that you came about and exist today is the same as that turtle sticking its head out of the water — in the middle of that life preserver.

On one try.

So I got curious: are either of these numbers correct? Which one’s bigger? Are they gross exaggerations? Or is it possible that they grossly underestimate the true number?

First, let us figure out the probability of one turtle sticking its head out of the single life preserver we toss out somewhere in the ocean. That’s a pretty straightforward calculation.

According to WolframAlpha, the total area of oceans in the world is 3.409×108 square kilometers, or 340,900,000 km(131.6 million square miles, for those benighted souls who still cling to user-hostile British measurements).  Let’s say a life preserver’s hole is about 80cm in diameter, which would make the area inside

3.14(0.4)2=0.5024 m2

which we will conveniently round to 0.5 square meters. If one square kilometer is a million square meters, then the probability of Mr Turtle sticking his head out of that life preserver is simply the area inside the life preserver divided by the total area of all oceans, or

0.5m2/3.409×108x106m2 = 1.47 x 10-15

or one in 6.82×1014, or about 1 in 700 trillion.

One in 400 trillion vs one in 700 trillion?  I gotta say, the two numbers are pretty darn close, for such a farfetched notion from two completely different sources: old-timey Buddhist scholars and present-day scientists. They agree to within a factor of two!

So to the second question: how accurate is this number? What would we come up with ourselves starting with first principles, making some reasonable assumptions and putting them all together? That is, instead of making one big hand-waving gesture and pronouncing, “The answer is five hundred bazillion squintillion,” we make a series of sequentially-reasoned, smaller hand-waving gestures so as to make it all seem scientific. (This is also known as consulting – especially if you show it all in a PowerPoint deck.)

Oh, this is going to be fun.

First, let’s talk about the probability of your parents meeting. If they met one new person of the opposite sex every day from age 15 to 40, that would be about 10,000 people. Let’s confine the pool of possible people they could meet to 1/10 of the world’s population twenty years go (one tenth of 4 billion = 400 million) so it considers not just the population of the US but that of the places they could have visited. Half of those people, or 200 million, will be of the opposite sex. So let’s say the probability of your parents meeting, ever, is 10,000 divided by 200 million:

104/2×108= 2×10-4, or one in 20,000.

Probability of boy meeting girl: 1 in 20,000.

So far, so unlikely.

Now let’s say the chances of them actually talking to one another is one in 10.  And the chances of that turning into another meeting is about one in 10 also.  And the chances of that turning into a long-term relationship is also one in 10.  And the chances of that lasting long enough to result in offspring is one in 2.  So the probability of your parents’ chance meeting resulting in kids is about 1 in 2000.

Probability of same boy knocking up same girl: 1 in 2000.

So the combined probability is already around 1 in 40 million — long but not insurmountable odds. Now things start getting interesting. Why? Because we’re about to deal with eggs and sperm, which come in large numbers. (Note: Puns fully intended, always.)

Each sperm and each egg is genetically unique because of the process of meiosis; you are the result of the fusion of one particular egg with one particular sperm. A fertile woman has 100,000 viable eggs on average. A man will produce about 12 trillion sperm over the course of his reproductive lifetime. Let’s say a third of those (4 trillion) are relevant to our calculation, since the sperm created after your mom hits menopause don’t count. So the probability of that one sperm with half your name on it hitting that one egg with the other half of your name on it is

1/(100,000)(4 trillion)= 1/(105)(4×1012)= 1 in 4 x 1017, or one in 400 quadrillion.

Probability of right sperm meeting right egg: 1 in 400 quadrillion.

But we’re just getting started.

Because the existence of you here now on planet earth presupposes another supremely unlikely and utterly undeniable chain of events. Namely, that every one of your ancestors lived to reproductive age – going all the way back not just to the first Homo sapiens, first Homo erectus and Homo habilis, but all the way back to the first single-celled organism. You are a representative of an unbroken lineage of life going back 4 billion years.

Let’s not get carried away here; we’ll just deal with the human lineage. Say humans or humanoids (technically, hominins) have been around for about 3 million years, and that a generation is about 20 years. That’s 150,000 generations. Say that over the course of all human existence, the likelihood of any one human offspring to survive childhood and live to reproductive age and have at least one kid is 50:50 – 1 in 2. Then what would be the chance of your particular lineage to have remained unbroken for 150,000 generations?

Well then, that would be one in 2150,000 , which is about 1 in 1045,000– a number so staggeringly large that my head hurts just writing it down. That number is not just larger than all of the particles in the universe – it’s larger than all the particles in the universe if each particle were itself a universe.

Probability of every one of your ancestors reproducing successfully: 1 in 1045,000

But let’s think about this some more. Remember the sperm-meeting-egg argument for the creation of you, since each gamete is unique? Well, the right sperm also had to meet the right egg to create your grandparents. Otherwise they’d be different people, and so would their children, who would then have had children who were similar to you but not quite you. This is also true of your grandparents’ parents, and their grandparents, and so on till the beginning of time. If even once the wrong sperm met the wrong egg, you would not be sitting here noodling online reading fascinating articles like this one. It would be your cousin Jethro, who you never really liked anyway.

That means in every step of your lineage, the probability of the right sperm meeting the right egg such that the exact right ancestor would be created that would end up creating you is one in 1200 trillion, which we’ll round down to 1000 trillion, or one quadrillion.

So now we must account for that for 150,000 generations by raising 400 quadrillion to the 150,000th power:

[4×1017]150,000 ≈ 102,640,000

That’s a ten followed by 2,640,000 zeroes, which would fill 11 volumes of a book the size of The Tao of Dating with zeroes.

To get the final answer, technically we need to multiply that by the 1045,000 , 2000 and 20,000 up there, but those numbers are so shrimpy in comparison that it almost doesn’t matter.  For the sake of completeness:

(102,640,000)(1045,000)(2000)(20,000) = 4x 102,685,007 ≈ 102,685,000

Probability of your existing at all: 1 in 102,685,000

As a comparison, the number of atoms in the body of an average male (80kg, 175 lb) is 1027.  The number of atoms making up the earth is about 1050.  The number of atoms in the known universe is estimated at 1080.

So what’s the probability of your existing?  It’s the probability of 2 million people getting together – about the population of San Diego – each to play a game of dice with trillion-sided dice. They each roll the dice, and they all roll, say, 550,343,279,001. The exact same number out of a trillion possible numbers.

A miracle is an event so unlikely as to be almost impossible.  By that definition, I’ve just shown that you are a miracle.

Now go forth and feel and act like the miracle that you are.

Thanks for reading! A question for you: how happy are you these days? If you’re interested in being even happier, I encourage you to apply to join the next cohort of the Happiness Engineering online course. We’ll learn practices for enhancing your long-term well-being that you can easily incorporate into your life. 

How the Pandemic Is Making You Happier

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the planet, Americans were already experiencing record rates of anxiety and depression. Loneliness was also at epidemic rates. Add to that income loss, the resultant economic uncertainty, chronic deprivation from meaningful social contact, and the possibility that you might die every time you step outside your house, and you’ve got yourself one seriously bummed-out species.

But even in the midst of the turmoil and contagion, there are aspects of the pandemic that have surreptitiously been adding to your storehouses of happiness — or at the very least, not subtracting from them. Here are the the three ways the pandemic has been making you ever so slightly happier and less stressed:

1) Reduced exposure to loud noises. People don’t realize that ambient noise is a huge and automatic stressor. As part of the research for my Happiness Engineering course, I measured ambient noise levels in various cities. For example, New York City subway cars are some of the loudest places in the world, averaging in the 90–105 dB(A) range while in motion. That alone stresses out the passengers plenty. And that’s even before getting jostled by other passengers, missing your stop, or getting asked for handouts for a song performance you didn’t request.

As an aside, please also keep in mind that exposure to sound levels of 100db(A) for more than 15 minutes can lead to permanent hearing loss. I always wear earplugs inside subway cars, which may be a good idea if you don’t want to go deaf. If you would like to develop a healthy obsession about how ambient sound levels may be wrecking your body and stealing your soul, I recommend downloading the NIOSH Sound Level Meter app for your smartphone.

Onward. People who live in big, loud cities think that they can filter out the noise and go about their business without penalty — “Ah, you just get used to it.”

I regret to inform you: that ain’t how it works. Noise is one of the two things your body never gets used to, because noise cannot be predicted. You just adapt to it by having chronically elevated circulating stress hormones. This can wreak all kinds of havoc on your body, giving you high blood pressure, diabetes, and shredded nerves, amongst other self-inflicted maladies.

So when you’re not exposing yourself to noise from road traffic, construction, car horns, subways and sirens, your nervous system naturally calms down a few notches. Your circulating stress hormone levels go down, you chill out a little, and you’re just a little bit happier.

2) Less commuting. Were you wondering just a minute ago what the other thing was that people never get used to? Well, wonder no more: it’s your commute. Why? Because even though you’re going the same route every day, no two commutes are the same. If it ain’t the same, you can’t get used to it.

Now here’s an interesting study. Scientists wanted to figure out: what activities make people the happiest, and what makes them the most miserable? They would text volunteers at random times of the day and ask them two simple questions: What are you doing right now? And on a scale of 1–10, how happy are you right now?

Well, in every city and every country they did the study, the world champion for misery was the same: commuting. People would rather do anything else than commute. This includes changing poopy diapers and taking out trash. Another study found that the stress levels of a driver commuting to work is equal or higher than that of a jet fighter pilot.

Okay, I’m going to let that sink in for a moment: driving around in rush-hour traffic stresses you out more than being in an aerial dogfight with a Russian MiG-27. Now imagine doing that 26min commute (the American average) twice a day, five days a week. Who’s going to be a stressed-out puppy? That would be you — also with the hoarse throat and sprained middle finger from shouting at other drivers and flipping them off.

Contrast this with a commute-free, traffic-free, road-rage free day of working from home or a cafe. Now who’s feeling more chilled out and happy? You, that’s who! You probably didn’t even notice it until I brought it to your attention. But just note the contrast in the general level of tension in your mind and body the next time you hop in your car, worrying about the cars in front, the yellow light about to turn red, the crazy parking situation downtown… and let that be a source of gratitude for when you’re not driving. Which brings us to…

3) Gratitude. This pandemic has been incredibly hard on a lot of people. Millions have contracted this supremely unpleasant disease. And hundreds of thousands have perished before their time. This is tragic, sad, and heartbreaking, in so many ways that are beyond the scope of this article.

However, I’d like to bring to your attention that if you’re reading this right now, chances are very good you’re not dead yet. And for better or for worse, part of counting our blessings is comparing ourselves to those who are less fortunate. So, if you’re not in an ICU, on a ventilator, or experiencing multi-organ failure, start counting, now. Working lungs, kidneys, liver, brain — that’s a lot of blessings there.

The research on gratitude is very robust: the more of it you practice, the happier you are. So if this time last year you were perfectly healthy and perfectly taking it for granted, this year you can do better. Take time to express gratitude every time you see a pandemic counter on TV, hear about a celebrity who contracted COVID-19 or perished from it, or hear a siren of an ambulance you’re not in. Thank your immune system, thank your genes, thank whoever or whatever runs your universe. Nobody’s tomorrow is promised, so get on your knees for having had yet another one, you lucky beast.

If you want to take it to the next level, contemplate your own death, too. The Bhutanese are famously some of the happiest people in the world because they contemplate their own death five times a day. Hey, as of the writing of this piece, there’s even an app for it called We Croak. Because this much I can guarantee: if COVID-19 doesn’t get you, something else eventually will. If you think about it right, being in a position to contemplate your own death instead of actually being dead can be a source of perpetual joy.

In all likelihood, the net effect of the pandemic is a reduction in people’s overall happiness. However, while we’re counting blessings, let’s remember that you’re commuting less, exposed to less noise, and less dead than many. So let these observations inform how you may want to change your life once the pandemic threat has subsided, lest you inadvertently restore to your life the same self-inflicted miseries of yore.

Deliberately Happy: The 5 Happiness Action Principles

I’m standing at the edge of a prehistoric forest clad in a Flintstone-style bearskin, minding my own business, when I see a mastodon approaching me. This one looks like he’s in a bad mood, and starts to charge. I pick up some stones and start pelting him, but that just makes him madder. As he runs at me faster, I have two thoughts: this is the end, and gee I really hope this is a dream. At that moment, ten copies of myself rise out of the ground, and the full soccer squad of us pelt the mastodon with major-league pitcher accuracy. The mastodon has a change of heart, turns tail and goes back into the forest. All eleven of me emit war-whoops of victory.

This particular hypervivid dream was inspired by a book of remarkable explanatory power I read called The Social Leap: The New Evolutionary Science of Who We Are, Where We Come From, and What Makes Us Happy (ebook, print and audiobook) by Prof William von Hippel of Queensland University. The book solved some puzzles I had in my head about human behavior and society. In particular, the last few chapters crystallized a lot of my own thoughts about happiness.

One of the reasons that happiness seems to elude so many people is that our brains are not designed for happiness. They are designed for survival. Happiness is just a neat little byproduct of the survival program that only now in modern times have the leisure to pay attention to.

Happiness arises because of a clever ruse of the brain: it attaches pleasurable feelings to any activity that enhances our survival and reproduction. Eating food? Feels good! Sex? Amazing! Hanging out with friends? More please!

Prof von Hippel’s big thesis is that we humans succeeded so spectacularly compared to our ape forebears because we descended from our tree dwellings to become more social and cooperative (hence the book’s title). One scrawny human against a saber-toothed cat doesn’t stand a chance. But a whole group of rock-throwing, spear-hurling humans will repel a big cat or bring a mastodon to heel.

So at a very deep level, evolution has also programmed our brain to make us feel good when we do prosocial things. Because whenever humans strengthened their bonds, they enhanced their survival.

This is where the 5 Happiness Action Principles (HAPs) come from: they are all survival-enhancing activities that make us feel good when we engage in them. They are also the kind of activities that help us build and grow — our talents, our friendships, our communities.


The first Happiness Action Principle is Learning. Three hundred thousand years ago on the savanna, when you learned how to build a fire or weapon, your ability to survive went up. We still have those same savanna brains, so even though learning Photoshop or baking sourdough may not be as useful to us in the wild, we’re still going to feel good when we do it.

I also want to make a distinction between pleasure and happiness here. Researchers have a bunch of terms around this, e.g. synchronic vs diachronic happiness, but the distinction I’d like to make is between short-term happiness, which is more like pleasure, and long-term happiness, which is more like joy.

For example, you’re going to feel pretty good while eating a piece of chocolate, and for some minutes afterwards. But you’re not going to look back on that experience two years from now, feel this flush of pleasant emotion and say, Woooow, that was amazing wasn’t it. It’s good mostly while it lasts, and that’s that.

Contrast this to the pleasure of learning a new language, or Photoshop, or scuba diving. Not only is the experience of learning intrinsically pleasurable, but for the rest of your life you can use that skill and derive pleasure from it. From accomplishing the feat, you can also experience an emotion researchers call authentic pride, which also feels good.

So learning gets you a triple dose of happy: while you’re doing it, while you’re using the new knowledge, and every time you give yourself a pat on the back for doing the work and feel pride.


We’re all born creators, and creating stuff that wasn’t there before — think tools, buildings, babies — is the prime evolutionary drive. So it’s no surprise that evolution made sure that creating feels damn good. Like learning, you get the bonus of enjoying both the process of creating as well as its fruits.

As soon as words like “creating” and “creativity” come up, some people panic and say, “Well, I’m no Leonardo da Vinci. I’m just not a very creative person.” Well, the good news is that everybody is creative all the time. You just can’t help it. That sentence you just spoke on the phone? You created that spontaneously out of sheer nothing. And chances are that it has never been uttered before — an original! Frame it and put it on the wall.

That may be one of the blocks to people’s creative instinct, especially if they happen to have a perfectionist streak (yours truly = guilty!). To derive the benefits of creativity, you don’t have to write The Great American novel. You don’t have to paint like Rembrandt or compose like Beethoven. All you have to do is doodle on a sketchpad, noodle on a keyboard, write in your journal. It’s all art, so Make More Art Now. Worry about publishing later.

The beauty of establishing a creativity habit is that when you keep at it, eventually you will create stuff worth publishing. The number one determinant of whether you create work of value is how much stuff you put out. Prolific is better than perfect.

So pick up your calendar right now and set aside one or two one-hour slots this week to just create. It could be an outing with your camera, a session drawing charcoals, a stab at a poem, an article for your blog, 3D printing something, cooking a new dish. Let the perfectionism go — you’re already a masterpiece. And if you make this creating thing a habit, greatness will come of it.


The third Happiness Action Principle is sharing. Cooperation got Homo sapiens to be the dominant species of the planet, and sharing was a big part of it. Whenever our hunter-gatherer forbears had a big kill, they shared the mastodon meat with the rest of the tribe. In the absence of extra-wide SubZero refrigerators, excess meat would spoil anyway, so it only made sense to share. And the mutuality assured that in lean times, others would share with us. Sharing helped us survive, so sharing still feels good.

So if sharing is such a natural part of our genetic makeup, why do I have to write a whole article to encourage you to do it? I mean, you don’t need articles about the virtues of breathing and pooping, right? Well, it’s probably because about 10,000 years ago, humans switched from hunter-gatherer mode to agrarian mode. With that came the notion of food surplus and private property, and sharing became less fashionable. My farm! My grain! My oxen! Keep your grubby hands off my stuff, please.

Scholars such as Edward O. Wilson and Jared Diamond have called the agrarian revolution the greatest disaster to befall the human race. Egalitarian, healthy, leisurely hunter-gatherer societies gave way to an alternative that wasn’t exactly an improvement. Average heights fell, tooth decay went up, women got subjugated, infectious disease proliferated, and war rampaged. As a species, we’ve never recovered.

Private property is ingrained as a feature of modern society, and now you can store your mastodon meat indefinitely in your SubZero, so the incentive to share is down. That’s why it’s particularly important now to seek out and design sharing opportunities into your life. That’s why it’s called Happiness Engineering — you’ve got to design these features into your life that no longer come so naturally.

Sharing your money, properties and toys is nice, but it may be even more fulfilling to share of your time and talent. The more social, the better. People tend to appreciate and remember experiences better than things anyway.

What are some ways you can bring more sharing into your life? Some ideas:

  • Share a homemade meal.
  • Write someone a poem or letter of appreciation
  • Send friends a funny joke or video
  • Make a playlist of your favorite pop songs or classical pieces
  • Make a list of favorite books and send it to your friends
  • Start a blog or podcast to share your ideas

The key is to start small, start simple, and put it on the calendar to make sure you jumpstart the sharing habit.


The better tribe members are connected to one another with bonds of friendship and trust, the more likely they are to cooperate. The more tribe members cooperate, the better they all do. As some wise man said, “People succeed in groups.” Therefore evolution made sure that connection feels really good — probably more than anything else.

This is also why being disconnected from others feels so horrible, because in our savanna days, expulsion from the tribe was tantamount to a death sentence. In ancient times, exile was considered a punishment worse than death. And in modern days, solitary confinement is the ultimate penalty.

Strangely, modern man has inflicted a lot of voluntary solitary confinement upon himself. In affluent Western society, we seem to value privacy and personal space over connection. In his masterful and prescient book Together: The Healing Power of Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, Dr Vivek Murthy, 19th Surgeon General of the United States, notes how we were already in the midst of a loneliness pandemic even before coronavirus struck.

Being lonely doesn’t just feel bad; it’s actually bad for your health. Dr Murthy cites studies by Prof Julianne Holt-Lunstad showing that the impact of lacking social connection on reducing life span is equal to the risk of smoking fifteen cigarettes a day — more than the risk associated with obesity, excess alcohol consumption, and lack of exercise.

We build real connection through deliberate effort. Prof Jeffrey Hall has found it takes 80-100 hours to turn an acquaintance into a real friend, and more than 200 hours to become a close friend (part of someone’s “sympathy group”, to put it technically).  Even the least intimate type of friendship, “casual” friendship, only forms after forty to sixty hours spent together.

Straight out of Dr Murthy’s book, here are some strategies “to help us not only to weather this crisis but also to heal our social world far into the future:

1) Spend time each day with those you love. This is not limited to the people in your immediate household. Reach out also to the other members of your lifeline via phone or, better yet, videoconference, so you can hear their voices and see their faces. Devote at least fifteen minutes each day to connecting with those you care most about.

2) Focus on each other. Try to eliminate distractions when interacting with others. Forget about multitasking and give the other person the gift of your full attention, making eye contact, if possible, and genuinely listening.

3) Embrace solitude. The first step toward building stronger connections with others is to build a stronger connection with oneself. Solitude helps us do that by allowing us to check in with our own feelings and thoughts, to explore our creativity, to connect with nature. Meditation, prayer, art, music, and time spent outdoors can all be sources of solitary comfort and joy.”


Tribes whose members supported one another in trying times such as illness, famine or war fared better, having more offspring survive to future generations. So evolution has designed us such that supporting one another feels good.

How can we support one another? Here are some ways:

1) Give a helping hand. As Dr Vivek Murthy says in Together: “Help and be helped. Service is a form of human connection that reminds us of our value and purpose in life. Giving and receiving, both, strengthen our social bonds—checking on a neighbor, seeking advice, even just offering a smile to a stranger six feet away, all can make us stronger.”

2) Check up on friends and cheer them up. One of the fastest, most effective ways to cheer yourself up is to cheer up someone else.

3) Teach. The flip side of learning is teaching, and it feels just as good, if not even better. If you have a skill to teach (and we all do), volunteer to do so. Give an online seminar. Make an instructional video. Read to kids.

4) Mentor someone. This is a longer-term commitment to a younger person’s growth, and its rewards are commensurately greater.

5) Listen. Therapists are basically people paid thousands of dollars to pretend they’re our friends (while not talking to our other friends) and listen to us without judgment. Well, as a friend, you don’t have to pretend! You can already do that for your friends for free!

You don’t have to solve anyone’s problems. You just have to listen attentively, occasionally saying something like “I really hear you” or “That sounds challenging.” Your friend experiences relief, you’ll feel useful, and your bond will strengthen.


Learn, create, share, connect, support: nature has hardwired us to feel good when we engage in these activities. As a bonus, they don’t just feel good right now; they also form the foundation of our long-term happiness.

I sincerely hope that you have the opportunity to incorporate some of the principles from this article into your daily activities so you can develop new mental and physical happiness habits. You even have some suggestions to get you started, and some great books to get you going. To start the sharing process, you can send this article to friends who would benefit from it.

I also understand that creating lasting change can be challenging. So when you feel called to make these changes stick, putting your life on a permanently higher trajectory of joy and generativity, here are two ideas:

• I invite you to apply to the first Happiness Engineering class, starting soon. This is where we support one another as a cohort for 3 months to tune up our lives in five areas so we can better fulfill our purpose in life of fully giving our gift to the world. 

• If you would prefer to consult with me one-on-one, write to me at drali at

Happiness comes to those who take action, and there is no time time better than right now to do just that. Go forth and generate some greatness!

Brain Yoga: New Sessions

You asked for more Brain Yoga, so here are the upcoming classes. The good news is that the fee is only $10 per class — 10-20x cheaper than therapy, and  probably more effective. The even better news is that the first one on Tue June 16, which is the Special Session on Joy, is free of charge. Those who attend will find out why we’re having a Special Session 😉

Format: 15-20min meditation, followed by 30min lecture and Q&A. Click on date to register.

Tuesday, June 16, 1pm PT/4pm ET/9pm London
Meditation: On Joy
Lecture: Joy on Demand: How to Bring More Pleasure and Joy Into Your Life

Wednesday, June 17, 1pm PT/4pm ET/9pm London
Meditation: Wheel of Awareness
Lecture: How to Handle Challenging People & Situations with “The Work”

Thursday, June 18, 1pm PT/4pm ET/9pm London
Meditation: Focus (Hum-Sau)
Lecture: Making Friends with Your Shadow

Friday, June 19, 1pm PT/4pm ET/9pm London
Meditation: Open Awareness
Lecture: You, the Creator: The 6 Principles of Generative Happiness

Saturday, June 20, 11am PT/2pm ET/7pm London
Meditation: Compassion (Metta)
Lecture: You, the Creator: The 6 Principles of Generative Happiness 2

Happiness Engineering presents Brain Yoga, June 3-5

Thanks for your responses to my “How can I best serve you” email last week. Here’s some of what you suggested:

  • Brain Yoga
  • “Energetic blocking techniques, e.g. you’re working from home with other family members – how do you block their energy if they are stressed out? How do you not let toxic co-workers get to you, especially if you are super empathetic?”
  • Happiness Engineering 3-month course
  • Individualized coaching
  • More book recommendations

So I’m going to start with Brain Yoga. You know how you go into a yoga class all harried and tensed up with a zillion things on your mind, and leave it feeling calm and energized? Well that’s what we’ll be doing in Brain Yoga class. Only more powerful, and dealing directly with your mind.

Each class will be a 15-20min meditation, followed by a 30min talk, in which I teach you a technique to increase resilience, equanimity and compassion. About 45min total. If you’re wondering what that’s like, check out these recordings. Optional Q&A at the end of each session.

If you thought this was a good idea during the pandemic, it’s probably an even better idea during pandemic + riots. As this is a time for us to bring our most balanced, strong and compassionate selves to the fore, we all could use some reinforcements.

No charge for the three sessions this week. There will be a fee starting next week, because eventually, I too will have to make a living. If you want a Saturday session, let yourself be known and I’ll consider it. Sign up for one, sign up for all:

If you’d like individualized coaching, my office hours are Thursday, 2-5pm PT/5-8pm ET. Write to me directly and we’ll see how we can address your challenges, short-term or long-term.

Stay healthy, stay safe, stay sane

Dr Ali

Staying Sane in Trying Times: Seminars Apr 22-25

By popular request, I’m holding another series of Staying Sane Seminars this week.

Now, attendance at the seminars has been robust, but not exactly internet-breaking. I myself just took an online seminar on marketing, and my instructor would tell me that I need to do a better job of letting you know what these seminars are and who they’re for.

To that end, I will be sharing with you today a little bit more about my background and thinking:

  • Why these seminars are necessary
  • What qualifies me to teach you this stuff
  • Why this stuff is worthwhile
  • Who it’s for
  • What’s in these seminars anyway


Here’s the deal: the universe was kind enough to drop the most complex machine in the entire cosmos into your cranium. It’s called your brain.

Unfortunately, the universe forgot to give you an owner’s manual. So most people — and by “most” I mean 99.964% — are running around feeling feelings and thinking thoughts that don’t necessarily serve them all the time. Stuff like fear, doubt, worry, self-loathing, shame, loneliness, and various flavors of self-inflicted misery.

What makes things worse is that evolution designed our magnificent brains for survival on the African savanna 300,000 years ago. This is before the era of gridlock traffic, report deadlines, “Real Housewives” and competitive kindergarten admissions. So there’s a lot of evolutionary mismatch between what our brains are optimized for and the challenges we encounter in 2020 C.E.

That means all of us have these ancient brains that aren’t adapted to modern environments. So we don’t feel so good all the time. And that’s where I come in.

2. WHAT I HAVE TO TEACH YOU (a.k.a. who the hell is this guy anyway)

Hi there! Dr Ali here. I have been studying how the mind works for over 20 years now. As an undergraduate physics and biology major at Harvard, I did lab research in neuroscience. After that, I studied medicine and workings of the body-mind at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

One day I sat in on a class on clinical hypnotherapy to heckle it. I found that hypnotherapy was effective beyond all reason for many conditions — and massively underused. Subsequently I got certified in it not once but twice, and have been practicing clinical hypnotherapy since.

I also got twice certified in another mind-healing modality called Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). Like an antibiotic, it was very effective for treating specific things. And when it worked, it was mind-bendingly effective. It could do in 20 minutes what 3 months of therapy couldn’t accomplish. Like magic.

Since 1999, I have been studying and practicing yoga. Yoga is a supremely powerful way to train the mind, and fortunately, it has become more popular in recent years. These days, people think of yoga as mostly aerobics with Sanskrit. Although doing “yoga booty ballet” is still better than not doing it, the truly transformative aspects of yoga are in meditation and breathwork.

I’ve also attended dozens of personal development workshops and lectures, from the mainstream (e.g. Tony Robbins), to the offbeat (e.g. Wim Hof ice baths), to the esoteric (inner fire Tibetan tummo tantra taught by a reincarnated lama). And I read 160 nonfiction books a year, mostly on psychology and personal development.

I’m telling you all this because you need to know that these Staying Sane Seminars aren’t just any old seminar. They’re a collection of THE best, most effective practices I’ve gathered over the past 20-some years. Stuff that works astonishingly well to transform the way you feel and think.

I call it Creative Repatterning: you’re using the creativity of your own mind to change its patterns.

You know how you feel after watching a Cirque du Soleil performance? How you say “wooow” a few times, and feel like a different person? Senses elevated. Mind expanded. Think of this as the Cirque du Soleil of personal development seminars.

Definitely not ordinary.

And for the time being, they’re free. Come on down.


Who is this for? Anyone with a mind. Especially one that experiences occasional disquietude and suffering.

Access greater equanimity. Diminish stress, anxiety & worry. Build a happier you no matter what’s happening. Join me, Dr Ali Binazir, as I share with you Creative Repatterning techniques for altering your body-mind that are quite literally life-changing.

Click on the link to register via Zoom:
Wednesday, 22 April 2020, 1pm PT/4pm ET/9pm London/6am Sydney
Thursday, 23 April 2020, 1pm PT/4pm ET/9pm London/6am Sydney
Friday, 24 April 2020, 5pm PT/8pm ET/1am London/7am Sydney
Saturday, 25 April 2020, 11am PT/2pm ET/7pm London/stay sleeping Sydney


So far some of the topics we have covered:


  • Focus and calm the mind and clear it of thoughts (hum-sau)
  • Becoming more compassionate towards others and self (metta or loving-kindness meditation)
  • Re-processing and transforming uncomfortable emotions (Tibetan tonglen)
  • Practicing integration of the full self (Dr Dan Siegel’s Wheel of Awareness)

Emotional self-regulation:

  • Byron Katie’s “The Work”: a crazy-effective process for dealing with challenging people and situations
  • Whack-the-Ball: diminish painful emotions instantly
  • The Volume Dial: diminish suffering or physical pain on demand
  • Breathing techniques
  • Re-framing with modal operators

Useful concepts and stories to shift your energy:

  • Spanda: the technique from Kashmiri Shaivic tantra to feel the vibration of the universe
  • Embodied cognition and the pen technique: the body leading the mind in feeling
  • Name it to tame it: Naming emotions as a way to make them more manageable
  • Meta-cognition: how to have thoughts about your thoughts  
  • How to generate and move energy through your body to change how you feel
  • Create your own happiness playlist on Spotify, or just use Dr Ali’s Moodlifter


If you’d like to get better at regulating your own feelings and developing an unshakable foundation of happiness, I’ve been working on a course that I’ll be starting soon for 20 people. If you’d like to be part of this first cohort, fill out the application here.

I have time slots for 3-4 one-on-one coaching sessions per week. They are $200/hr, or $100 for 30min. If you’d like to book one of those, click here.

Additionally, I have for you recordings of the first 6 seminars. Each one is different, with at least 80% new material:

Happiness Engineering in Trying Times 1

Staying Sane in Trying Times 2

Staying Sane in Trying Times 3

Staying Sane in Trying Times 4

Staying Sane in Trying Times 5

Staying Sane in Trying Times 6

Staying Sane in Trying Times 7

Staying Sane in Trying Times 8

Staying Sane in Trying Times 9

Staying Sane in Trying Times 10

Staying Sane in Trying Times: Seminars Apr 8-10

You have let me know that there is a need for the Staying Sane series. I hear you, so I’m scheduling three more this week. The format will be 15min of meditation, 30-40min lecture, followed by Q&A. Here’s the Zoom description: 

Access greater equanimity. Diminish stress, anxiety & worry. Build a happier you no matter what’s happening. Join me, Dr Ali Binazir, as I share with you techniques for altering your body-mind that are quite literally life-changing.

Click on the link to register via Zoom:
Thursday, 9 April 2020, 5pm PT/8pm ET/1am London/10am Sydney
Friday, 10 April 2020, 2pm PT/5pm ET/10pm London/7am Sydney
Saturday, 11 April 2020, 11am PT/2pm ET/7pm London/stupidly early Sydney

Additionally, I have for you recordings of the first 3 seminars. Each one is different, with at least 80% new material:

Happiness Engineering in Trying Times 1
Staying Sane in Trying Times 2
Staying Sane in Trying Times 3

What would be very useful to me:

  1. Feedback on how this material is helpful to you,
  2. How you’re putting the material to use.
  3. The specific challenges you’re experiencing, and how I could help solve them.  

Let me know your thoughts via email: ali (at)

Connect then, Dr Ali

Reading list for the end of the world: A balm for trying times

So you’re cooped up at home. Hopefully with people you like, but more likely with family members. You can’t go anywhere, including work, which means you may or may not be making money. Your gym is closed, so there goes that stress-management outlet. On top of that, stores seem to be chronically out of toilet paper.

Oh, and there’s this pandemic raging outside that has already infected people you know. And is out to get you, too.

If you’re feeling distressed, lonely, confused, bewildered, angry, or just plain exasperated, you are not alone. And I’ve got a list of books that can take you to a much better place. That place is actually remarkably similar to the spot where you are right now, just with a slightly different, more resilient perspective.

When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, by Pema Chödrön (ebook, print, & audiobook). “I used to have a sign pinned up on my wall that read: ‘Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us.’ Somehow, even before I heard the Buddhist teachings, I knew that this was the spirit of true awakening. It was all about letting go of everything.” Chödrön points out that all times are difficult times, and things are always falling apart. Groundlessness is the essential feature of existence. So to the extent that we choose to “lean into the sharp points” of life instead of running away or seeking comfort, we become resilient. Blissfully short, I hand this one out to friends like candy, and re-read it at least once a year.

Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha, by Tara Brach (ebook, print & audiobook).”Radical Acceptance reverses our habit of living at war with experiences that are unfamiliar, frightening or intense. It is the necessary antidote to years of neglecting ourselves, years of judging and treating ourselves harshly, years of rejecting this moment’s experience. Radical Acceptance is the willingness to experience ourselves and our life as it is. A moment of Radical Acceptance is a moment of genuine freedom.” What people may not know about Brach, a well-regarded Buddhist teacher and psychologist, is the chronic disease that keeps her in a state of constant bodily pain. This may be why people experiencing hardship resonate so deeply with her writing. Think of this as a well of compassion you can come back to drink from regularly.

The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, by Eckhart Tolle (ebook, print & audiobook). This is spiritual balm in book form. You may think you already know what’s in it, either because you’ve seen it everywhere (Oprah!) or you’ve read it. And you would be wrong, because this is one of those books that changes every time you read it. Not interested in being spiritually enlightened? No problem – the book is still super useful. I’ve come back to this one several times during personal crises.

Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl (ebook, print and audiobook). “We who lived in the concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms–to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” A classic worth reading and re-reading.

The Choice: Embrace the Possible, by Dr Edith Eva Eger (ebook, print and audiobook). “If you asked me for the most common diagnosis among the people I treat, I wouldn’t say depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, although these conditions are all too common among those I’ve known, loved, and guided to freedom. No, I would say hunger. We are hungry. We are hungry for approval, attention, affection. We are hungry for the freedom to embrace life and to really know and be ourselves.”

Edith Eva Eger was interned at Auschwitz (spoiler alert: she survives). She was forced to dance for Josef Mengele, which is why some foreign editions of the book are called The Ballerina of Auschwitz.

After many other harrowing incidents, Eger makes it to the US, where she ends up rebuilding her life from scratch twice. Then she goes to college at 32, finishes her PhD at 50, and becomes a world-renowned psychologist. Mentored by Dr Viktor Frankl himself, she publishes this remarkable book at 90. This is a story of many things – trauma, survival, luck, resilience, regret, guilt, triumph – that is as uplifting as it is wise. Read it to live a few extra lifetimes through Dr Eger, and check out her YouTube videos too.

Crisis in the Red Zone: The Story of the Deadliest Ebola Outbreak in History, and of the Outbreaks to Come, by Richard Preston (ebook, print and audiobook). This is an astonishing book. The reporting, the writing, the pacing, the compassion, the scientific accuracy are world-class. It reads like a thriller, except that all the characters are real and everything actually happened.

The story of the outbreak of Ebola virus is one that not enough people (i.e. less than 100% of the population) are familiar with, presumably because it happened over there, to those people. Now it’s become clearer that in an interconnected world, there is no over there and those people — the whole planet is your backyard. Preston tells the story of how a virus can jump from animals to humans, and then spread like — well, like a really contagious virus. Aided by poor sanitation, local custom and superstition, mistrust, institutional inertia, and lack of data on a new pathogen, Ebola cut a swath of death and terror through Africa. But the coordinated courage of frontline medical workers (many of whom sacrificed their lives), public health officials, and top-notch scientists eventually contained the contagion.

COVID-19 does has neither the contagion profile nor the 80% fatality rate of Ebola. But this book’s an excellent case study of what happens when a new zoonotic disease rips through an immunologically naïve population. You’ll have a better understanding of what’s going on with corona virus, and thank your lucky stars that it ain’t nearly as bad as it could be.

An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System – A Tale in Four Lives, by Matt Richtel (ebook, print and audiobook). Every day, billions of malign agents are trying to kill you, and fail only because your immune system is on guard. How to recognize and ward off the infinite pathogens that could invade and lay you low? How to tell invaders from self? And how to put the brakes on itself when it’s in full defense mode?

The inner workings the immune system should make you gasp at something so insanely intricate and effective. Now is a good time to get acquainted with the system that saves our asses every minute of every day of our lives.

Richtel compellingly interweaves the science and history of immunology into the lives of four patients, each dealing with different aspects of immune function & dysfunction: overreaction, underreaction, recognizing self as enemy, recognizing enemy as self, and much more.

It’s an ambitious premise, and he pulls it off magnificently; I read the whole thing in one sitting. What makes the book supremely compelling is the vivid story of his childhood friend Jason’s cancer treatment. The result is an unusually well-rounded psychological portrait of a patient, along with the tortuous course of his treatment that reads like a detective story. These are poignant tales; I found myself crying (and laughing) multiple times.

Vaccinated: One Man’s Quest to Defeat the World’s Deadliest Diseases, by Paul A. Offit, M.D. (ebook & print). Dr Maurice Hilleman arguably had the greatest positive influence on human health in the history of the world. By number of human lives saved, he’s the #1 scientist of the 20th century, hands down. Yet hardly anyone knows his name.

Through ingenuity, drive, and sheer chutzpah, he developed not one, not two, but NINE modern vaccines: to prevent measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, Hep A, Hep B, pneumococcus, meningococcus, and Haemophilus influenzae type B. Most remain in use to this day, and have collectively prevented billions of cases of disease and death. Crazy thing is even I had never heard of him even though I went to med school – a crime!

Dr Paul Offit, himself a prominent vaccinologist, does a fantastic job of telling the story of the poor orphan from seriously hardscrabble Montana beginnings. Read it not just for a gripping story of the triumph of 20th century medicine and one helluva mensch, but also to appreciate the gargantuan boon that vaccines are: where they come from, how they’re made, how they work, and how many lives they save. Get one copy for yourself, and another for your favorite anti-vaxxer friend. Required reading for all humans who dislike dying of preventable disease.

Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life, by Susan David (ebook, print & audiobook). Full of practical, immediately usable strategies, this gem of a book will keep you in good stead no matter what’s happening in your life, especially in time of crisis. Her TED talk based on Emotional Agility is supremely moving and uplifting, with 6.7 million views as of this writing. She also has a March 2020 45min interview with Chris Anderson, the director of TED, on specific strategies for mentally coping with the coronavirus pandemic.

The Great Courses by the Teaching Company. What happens when you go to universities, cherry-pick their top-rated professors, and make audio and video courses based on what they teach best? The Great Courses, that’s what: a candy-store of classes on everything from Astronomy and Archeology to Roman history, Physics, Psychology, Photography, Secret Societies and Zoology. At $20/month for access to their entire catalog, there are few deals in this world that make me happier. Free to join for the first month.

The breadth of knowledge and richness of choice makes it hard to find a good place to start. As a consumer of dozens of their courses over the past 20 years, I suggest you start with the music courses of Professor Robert Greenberg, quite possibly the greatest lecturer alive. The breadth of knowledge and wit of the man is breathtaking. Start with his course on opera or Bach and the High Baroque. Right now I’m really enjoying Music and the Brain, with Aniruddh Patel, and Meteorology: An Introduction to the Wonders of the Weather with Robert Fovell.

Jack Kornfield, Ph.D. is the closest thing we have to an American Buddha. In the first hour of this interview with Tim Ferriss, he shares strategies for mental resilience and reducing anxiety, drawn from his 40+ years of experience as a meditation teacher and psychologist. All his books are fabulous, too.

Happiness Engineering for Trying Times, by yours truly Dr Ali Binazir. Robust relationships. Meaningful work. Sound sleep. Mental Fitness. Physical Fitness. The Five Pillars of Human Thriving are always important, but perhaps never more so than when you’re locked down at home for weeks. Here are some principles & practices for staying sane, healthy & productive. Download my 56min seminar here.

Happiness Engineering for Trying Times, Fri 27 March 12noon PT – free online class

Robust relationships. Meaningful work. Sound sleep. Mental fitness. Physical fitness. No matter where you are and what’s happening in the world, you’re better off attending to The 5 Pillars of Human Thriving rather than leaving them to chance. Join me as I suggest how to keep yourself healthy, happy and sane as the world changes.​ Bonus: some ideas for reducing self-inflicted misery.
You will probably feel better about yourself and the world at the end of this talk. No charge and no registration required. Will have Q&A at the end to address your concerns. Please share.
Time: Mar 27, 2020 12:00 PM Pacific Time/ 3pm ET/7pm GMT
Zoom Meeting link:

What’s making New Yorkers unhappy? The top 4 culprits

“Don’t get me wrong, man. I love New York. It’s so much fun. But I just had to get out. It was just too intense.”
“Too fast-paced.”
“Sensory overload.”
“Too much going on all the time.”
“Just too much.”

“Too much” seems to be a recurring theme amongst the New York City refugees I’ve spoken to in Los Angeles and San Francisco. And I agree: every time I spend some time in NYC, I end up a little exhausted. But precisely what about it is too much? What are the specific stressors that make it more difficult to be happy in a place like NYC?

On this visit to the city, I put on my Happiness Engineer hat — similar to my usual hat, with a more skeptical tilt — and observed what was going on that could potentially contribute to the malaise. Amongst all the ways that New York City could make you unhappy, these four reasons stand out the most:

1. Loud noises

Almost everywhere I went in NYC, the ambient noise level was above 80dB. For comparison, that’s the loudness of an average alarm clock — y’know, the incredibly annoying sound that’s loud enough to jolt you out of deep slumber. Now imagine alarm-clock level noise following you around wherever you go.

But 80dB was just the average noise level outside. On a bus, average noise was around 85dB (3x louder than 80db), and on the subway, it routinely spiked to 100+ dB (100x louder than 80dB). In a crowded café in Koreatown, I recorded an ambient noise level of 90dB.

Loud noise is a primal stressor. If you think about what it must have been like for our ancestors living on the savanna 300,000 years ago, there probably weren’t a lot of loud noises. When you did hear a loud noise, though, it was probably important: the roar of a predator, the cracking of a branch about to fall on your head, a burst of thunder. Responding to that loud noise had survival value. Almost every loud noise was salient.

This is probably why we still respond to loud noises so vigorously. Our muscles tighten, our heart and breathing rates elevate, and we get a jolt of cortisol and adrenaline in our bloodstream: ready for action! Some of us even startle and literally jump in respond to noise that is loud enough.

Unfortunately, in a big city like New York, there are a lot of non-salient loud noises. Buses, trains and café conversations aren’t necessarily going to kill you (unless you get in the path of the wrong one). But our bodies still respond to loudness as if it’s threatening.

There are certain adaptations that our bodies make to manage loud noises. Two of the smallest muscles of your body, the tensor timpani and the stapedius, have the sole purpose of dampening loud noise (especially while chewing). However, these muscles fatigue after a few minutes. Also, keeping them constantly contracted is by definition a state of tension.

The problem with loud noises is this: it’s impossible to get used to them. We have mechanisms to adapt somewhat to high ambient noise levels. But there’s no defense against the piercing wail of an ambulance siren, the earth-shaking rumble of an approaching train, or the high-pitched screech of its brakes. Your body will give you a squirt of cortisol and adrenaline, which will make you a little more stressed. Do that a few dozen times a day, every day for years on end, and it adds up.

Suggested remedy: The best thing you can do to mitigate the effects of loud noises is to always carry and wear earplugs in loud urban settings. I’ve been carrying earplugs with me for years, and they are a game-changer. I buy them by the 100-pack in flesh tone that blends in with your skin when you wear them.

Exposure to high ambient noise levels also causes progressive deafness, which is another good reason to get over being too cool to wear earplugs, especially at clubs and concerts. But that’s a story for another day.

2. Commuting

Many studies show that for every minute of additional commuting, there’s a corresponding decrease in overall life satisfaction. And a famous study discovered that commuting is the daily activity that makes people the least happy. (In case you were wondering, #1 on the list was sex. This is why we need science.)

Millions of people in NYC commute daily to work. And as real-estate prices climb higher, the duration of commutes get longer. I know people who work in Manhattan but live over an hour away from their work. One of them is an artist who needs space for her studio, so she lives in deep Brooklyn where it’s more affordable. Another is a successful entrepreneur mom who likes to live in her posh Greenwich home where her kids have more room and access to better schools.

Whether by choice or necessity, a two-hour daily commute just eats into your overall happiness, and there’s almost no amount of money or niceness of house that makes up for it (although some Swiss researchers say a 40% salary increase is a good start). Especially when it’s in a city as densely populated as New York (see next item on list).

Suggested remedies:

  • Deliberately choose to live closer to work.
  • Biking and walking are better than driving. Some researchers say being able to walk to work adds about as much happiness to your life as being in love.
  • Add enjoyment or productivity to the commute. Listen to an audiobook, practice your singing, or catch up with friends on the phone. Make it your me-time.

3. Overcrowding

When scientists want to experimentally induce stress in lab animals, they put too many of them in one cage. The 59-square km island of Manhattan (22.8 sq mi) houses 3.1 million people in the daytime, 1.6 million at night. That’s a population density of 52,542 people per square kilometer in the daytime, 27,118/sq km at night — one big, overcrowded cage.

In case you’re wondering if that number’s small or large, visit the New York subway system during rush hour, or cross a street, or walk into a coffee shop in the early afternoon. There are lines, crowds and jams everywhere. I visited this new development called Hudson Yard over the weekend, where they have built a very shiny staircase to nowhere (called “The Vessel”). At 4pm, it was full of people and already sold out for the day. Moral of the story: given enough people, even a staircase to nowhere sells out.

When you have that many people around all the time, everything becomes a competition: getting a seat on the subway; scoring a reservation at a restaurant; getting a parking spot; getting a seat at a park concert. Last night I was sitting at a park table at Bryant Park to watch a free staged performance of Bizet’s Carmen by the New York City Opera. My friend who I was going to meet called me, so I stood up and took three steps away from the table to find him. I looked back, and within those 5 seconds, someone had taken my seat.

Suggested remedy: Move somewhere less crowded — like, anywhere.

It seems highly anxiety-provoking to constantly worry about getting a spot or losing one. But that’s mostly episodic. There is another form of NYC anxiety which never turns off, and that is…

4. Status anxiety

Am I rich enough? Am I good-looking enough? Is my job cool enough? Am I scoring reservations at that hot new restaurant, and if so, is my table any good? Am I hanging out at the Hamptons enough this summer, at a cool enough house with cool enough people? Was my bonus large enough, especially compared to my colleagues? Is my address prestigious enough? Am I winning yet? Am I enough?

Issues like these exist in most major metropolitan areas, but I feel as if status anxiety is particularly pronounced in a place like New York City. (Incidentally, the other cities that have maxed out my status-anxiometer were London and Hong Kong.) I recommend the always eloquent and insightful Alain de Botton’s book Status Anxiety if you’d like to explore the topic further.

Status anxiety is a holdover from our evolutionary past, where we lived in small hierarchical tribes. Our very survival depended on our rank in the tribe, because low rank meant you wouldn’t get access to food or reproductive resources. We still have the genes of those rank-sensitive primates, so even in a big city with enough food and partners to go around for everyone, people still worry about status totally out of proportion of its effect on their survival.

Potential remedies: This is one of those deeply ingrained evolutionary behaviors that’s just very difficult to snap out of once you’re embedded in a hyper-competitive milieu like New York City. So the simple (if not necessarily easy) remedy is to move somewhere more chill.

Barring that, it helps a lot to meditate. Over the long term, meditation reconfigures your brain such that you can take a step back and look at your thoughts and see that they’re just thoughts, not you. Kind of like whatever show is playing on the TV screen is just the show, but not the TV. You are the TV. And so, you’ll become able to see the survival-based status anxiety thoughts as just thoughts, which you are free to smile at and ignore, and nothing more. Pretty liberating, isn’t it?

Thanks for reading! If you found this useful, please spread the word and share it with friends via social media and email. And if you’re a New Yorker itching to prove me wrong by getting angry at me, you can write me at drali (at)