My One-Sentence Summary
We’ve been wrong for decades/centuries/millennia about the most important questions in life—such as dating, success, and happiness—and data science is just now starting to provide real answers that are often counter-intuitive.
All quotes here are from the book itself unless otherwise indicated.
The discipline of data science can be seen as “Moneyball for life.”
- An analogy he uses in the book is “Moneyball for Life”, which is the idea of using high quality data analysis to find ways to get advantages in life that others don’t know about
- This is based on something that happened in Baseball where someone figured out they could buy less expensive players and win way more than they should because the popularity of players did not correspond to their actual effectiveness
- One example is the emotional expressiveness of salespeople. It’s obvious that negative emotions probably won’t work, but many think being super emotionally positive might work best. But the data science says a more even keel is most effective
You can make better life decisions. Big Data can help you.
- Marriage might be the most important life decision a person makes
- People have been trying to figure out how to make a good match for thousands of years
- There are now massive datasets to use in answering this question
- Common attributes looked at include demographics, attractiveness, sexual tastes, interests and hobbies, mental health, values, etc.
- Analysis of all this data turned out to say that you couldn’t much from it; there weren’t any big factors that predicted romantic success
- It’s easy to predict what people will like, but not what will be a good match
- They looked a lot at dating data and found that certain things were true on dating sites
- Attractive people got more responses
- Tall men, but not tall women
- Race was unfortunately a major factor in who responded to who
- Black females responded least to Black males of all races
- Income had the biggest response effect for males
- After income the occupation mattered a lot as well
- Sexy names mattered a lot
- The biggest predictor for success with a given person was the answer to:
- Were you satisfied with your life before you met Sally?
- Were you free from depression before you met Sally?
- Did you have a positive affect before you met Sally?
- These mattered more than anything about Sally. The effect was four times stronger than all the traits of the partner combined.
- His summary of the analysis:
In the dating market, people compete ferociously for mates with qualities that do not increase one’s chances of romantic happiness.
- Most likely best mates: someone satisfied with life, secure in themselves, who constantly tries to better themselves
- After looking at all the data the best thing they could say was that if you’re happy now you’re more likely to be happy later
- TLDR: Parenting matters way less than people think
- Genetics matter most, and way more than parenting
- When you raise biological kids apart, they tend to reach the same levels of success
- When you raise adopted kids together they tend to have different levels of success based on their genes
- Breastfeeding, TV exposure, and lots of other popsci factors didn’t have much impact
- Including being bilingual
- But there is one thing that has a massive impact! NEIGHBORHOOD!
- A major study looked at siblings who moved as kids to see how much neighborhoods mattered for good outcomes
- By looking at kids that moved you could control for things outside of the neighborhood
- The best places for increases in adult income were: Seattle, Minneappolis, Salt Lake City, Reading, and Madison
- But it wasn’t just city; it was neighborhood
- They found three major predictors for neighborhoods doing well (the people raised there do well)
- Percent of residents who graduated college
- Percent of two-parent households
- The percent of people who return their census forms
- So, educated parents who are in a stable family who care about being good citizens
- Role models also mattered, e.g., seeing female inventors and Black fathers in the neighborhood
- So the adults you expose your kids to really matter
- Many sports come down to mostly genes, but some more than others
- Every inch of height nearly doubles one’s chances of being in the NBA
- So a man under 6 feet tall has a 1 in 1.2 million chance while someone over 7 feet has a 1/7 chance
- There are also body types for sports. Phelps has freakishly long arms and freakishly short legs, for example
- Twin studies help differentiate this as well, by how many twins are in a given sport
- He found that NBA ability was 75% nature
- He found that football and baseball were 25% nature
- Highest were Olympic Track and Field, Olympic Wrestlers, Olympic Rowers, and NBA
- Lowest were Baseball, Football, Shooters, Cyclists, Fencers, etc
Who’s Rich in America?
- Rich people own stuff
- Only 20% of the top .1% of earners make most of their money from wages; the rest own businesses
- The top businesses with the most millionaires:
- Lessors of real estate
- Activities related to real estate
- Other financial investments
- Independent artists, writers, and performers
- Durable goods wholesalers
- Get rich checklist:
- Do I have a business
- How do I avoid ruthless price competition?
- How do I avoid getting dominated by a behemoth?
Grinding to success
- A 60-year-old startup founder has a 3x higher chance of creating a valuable business than a 30-year-old
- Average age of successful tech startup founder is 42.3 years
- Outsiders are said to have an advantage from unique perspective, but it’s the insiders that normally win
- There’s a lot of wisdom that was considered accepted, then got turned on its head, and has again been shown to be true
- The most successful employees actually found the most successful firms
- NBA players are most likely to come from middle-class, two-parent backgrounds
- Jokes are most looked for when people are happy, not sad
- IQ advantage doesn’t level off at a certain point
- Everyone gets opportunities, and luck
- The question is how you manage and maximize that luck
- The art world is a great example, where you can be X good at art but you will basically have no chance of being seen unless you’re hustling to get your stuff in galleries and shows
- The Mona Lisa become popular due to a fluke, not because it was special
- Once the artist becomes successful, it magnifies the value of all their art
- People like Dylan and Springsteen and Picasso have something in common: they produced a massive amount of content
- More content is more chances to get lucky
- More chances to start a snowball
- You can use the Picasso dynamic for dating as well
- Unattractive men going after attractive women have low odds, but if you simply make lots of attempts you will get responses. Same as Picasso
- Pictures of people and how competent they look is a powerful predictor of who wins elections
- The more competent picture person won in 72% of elections by one analysis
- Same with military careers and faces that appeared more “dominant”
Change your life by leaving your couch
- We misjudge what makes us happy
- There’s a difference between how bad pain is during a prolonged event vs. how we remember it
- An app called Mapiness pinged users throughout the day and asked them:
- What are you doing (different activities)
- How are you with?
- HOw do you feel from 1 to 100?
- They collected this for multiple years and had over 3 million measurements from over 60,000 people for 40 activities
- Sex made people happiness
- Theater/Dance/Concert was next
- Watching sports
- Playing with kids
Playing with pets
From the bottom
- Sick in bed
- Texting/Social Media
Browsing the Internet
Notably, reading was only 26. Gaming was 22. Relaxing and sleeping was only 29.
- Top overrated activities: resting/relaxing/sleeping, gaming, watching TV, eating, browsing the internet
- Top underrated activities: museum/library, exercise, drinking, gardening, shopping/errands
Everything is amazing, and nobody is happy.”
- Working reduces happiness by 5.43 points
- Working at home gives you 3.59 points back
- Working while listening to music gives you 3.94
Working with your friends gives you 6.25
He guesses that an average person working with their friend would be as happy as relaxing alone
- The highest gain in happiness comes from hanging with your romantic partner; then friends
- Hanging with other family members is like 5 times less than friends
- The Mapiness data says social media might make us unhappy
- Sports fans don’t seem to benefit much in happiness because there are about equal wins and losses
- I wonder though about the overall social aspect of hanging with friends and watching sports, which wasn’t addressed in the book
- He says you might want to drink during transit and downtime between peak events, and then enjoy the peak events sober
- The best nature-based happiness comes from spending time marine and costal areas (6), then mountains (3), then woodland and others are around 2
- Other factors typically impact happiness more than weather, e.g., people are happier hanging with friends in bad weather than alone in good weather
- They’d rather be on a lake in cold weather than in a city with nice weather
- Most people don’t know the data around the most important decisions in our life
- We’ve often been told so-called wisdom that’s very wrong about these decisions
- Sometimes the real answers are counterintuitive, and other times they’re counter-counterintuitive
- Happiness perhaps isn’t as complicated as it seems: hanging with friends and walking by lakes do wonders
I value practical books by how they change my actual behavior.
Here are the tangible behavior updates I’d consider updating routines around:
- If you’re a high-strung parent, relax. It’s mostly genetics.
- If you’re about to raise a kid, find a place with lots of educated, two-parent households with high census response numbers.
- Try to exposure your kids to lots of high-quality adults that they might want to model after
- If you’re looking for a mate, know that the biggest predictor of happiness with them is how happy and stable they are before they met you
- Also know that there’s no magical combination of traits and attributes that will lead to a good or bad match
- Your best bet is to do like Picasso and meet lots of paintings
- Spending time with your romantic partner, or friends, in nature, is some of the best time you can spend
- Maybe try to avoid lots of the activities that the data show don’t give much happiness
- If you’re going to be doing something fun, maybe drink before and/or after rather than during (and obviously do so responsibly while watching for addiction)
- Read the whole book.
The book’s final summary on happiness:
Be with your wife, on an 80-degree sunny day, overlooking water, having sex.
Alright, that’s it for this book capture, analysis, and summary. You can find my other summaries here.
- You should also read his first book, Everybody Lies, on search engine queries that reveal hidden truths.