The Long Game 70: Free Time & Happiness, Health Optimization, Dopamine, Optionality

📈 Inevitable Trends that Will Shape the Future, Eating disorders, Zen, Supplement Reviews, China, Anxiety and Much More!

Hi there, it’s Mehdi Yacoubi, co-founder at Vital, and this is The Long Game Newsletter. To receive it in your inbox each week, subscribe here:


📣 We are hiring at Vital, help us build the “Strava for Health.” We are currently looking for:

  • Senior Backend Engineer

  • Junior Frontend Engineer (Flutter)

  • Senior Designer

  • Growth Associate

Find all our openings here.

We are offering $1,000 in Bitcoin if you refer to us a candidate we end up hiring.


In this episode, we explore:

  • Health optimization

  • Free time and happiness

  • The Molecule of More

  • The Inevitable

  • Optionality

  • The Unthinkable

Let’s dive in!


🥑 Health

Health Optimization⚕️

I just wrote a small piece about health optimization in the newsletter of my friend Ivan. Check it out, and subscribe to his newsletter!

Read it!


🌱 Wellness

⏱ Having Too Little or Too Much Time Is Linked to Lower Subjective Well-Being

I came across this research paper recently, and I found it very interesting and worth sharing. Here’s the abstract:

Many people living in modern society feel like they do not have enough time and are constantly searching for more. But is having limited discretionary time actually detrimental? And can there be downsides of having too much discretionary time? In two large-scale data sets spanning 35,375 Americans and two experiments, we explore the relationship between the amount of discretionary time individuals have and their subjective well-being. We find and internally replicate a negative quadratic relationship between discretionary time and subjective well-being. These results show that whereas having too little time is indeed linked to lower subjective well-being caused by stress, having more time does not continually translate to greater subjective well-being. Having an abundance of discretionary time is sometimes even linked to lower subjective well-being because of a lacking sense of productivity. In such cases, the negative effect of having too much discretionary time can be attenuated when people spend this time on productive activities.

The data seems to indicate that life satisfaction in the U.S. peaks at ~2-5hrs of free time per day. Although interesting, it’s also worth mentioning this:

Together these results suggest that when people spend their discretionary time socially, more is better. We only observed the too much time effect when that discretionary time did not offer the value of social connection.

While we’re talking about happiness, this is another thought-provoking paper explaining that an increase in income doesn’t lead to a lasting increase in happiness:

An increase in income, and thus in the goods at one’s disposal, does not bring with it a lasting increase in happiness because of the negative effect on utility of hedonic adaptation and social comparison. A better theory of happiness builds on the evidence that adaptation and social comparison affect utility less in the nonpecuniary than pecuniary domains. Because individuals fail to anticipate the extent to which adaptation and social comparison undermine expected utility in the pecuniary domain, they allocate an excessive amount of time to pecuniary goals, and shortchange nonpecuniary ends such as family life and health, reducing their happiness. There is need to devise policies that will yield better-informed individual preferences, and thereby increase individual and societal well-being.

Finally, here’s the monetary value of some things you might already have:


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🧠 Better Thinking

➕ The Molecule of More

I started listening to The Molecule of More: How a Single Chemical in Your Brain Drives Love, Sex, and Creativity―and Will Determine the Fate of the Human Race by Daniel Z. Lieberman. The number of things that are controlled and impacted by dopamine is astounding.

Next week, I will cover the book more, but the important first point is that dopamine is the molecule of possibilities.

Dopamine doesn’t really care about tasty food; it doesn’t really care about anything predictable. Instead, dopamine gets released when we encounter things that are new, unexpected, and exciting.

The bigger and better the surprise, the more dopamine our brain releases — and the more pleasure we feel. The high is the greatest when we make a reward prediction error — in other words, when we encounter a better outcome than what we expected.

I’ll detail more ideas and key concepts from the book in next week’s episode.


⚡️ Startup Stuff

📈 Inevitable Trends that Will Shape the Future

I read The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future by Kevin Kelly over the weekend. It outlines some important ideas to keep in mind while choosing an idea or building your company.

Here are a few notes on the book:

  • Technology is constantly improving and always in flux. We are living in a protopia. Things are always a bit better today than yesterday. This also means that nothing is fixed. Technology accelerates progress, and everything is in a state of becoming — which means you and everyone else will always be “newbies” in this ever-evolving technological world.

  • Your permanent newbie status is also a result of the decreasing longevity of devices and software — it means you likely won’t get enough time with any technology to master it truly. Go with the flow!

  • AI and robust online filters will shape how we work and what we learn. Online content has been expanding at an exponential rate. To make sense of all this data, we need to be able to filter out what’s important to us.

  • “Hard” goods were yesterday; flowing content and shareable resources are the future of commerce. A flowing good is a good you can purchase as a service or real-time update.

  • When you watch a movie, listen to a song or share a tweet, you’re adding your content to the general stream of online information. Sharing is another key force that will affect how we engage in commerce in the future.

  • Why buy goods when you can rent them instead? Possession will give way to access in the future. Examples of this include Airbnb & Uber.

  • Personal privacy and certainty will disappear. More information about you and about everyone else will be available. People will question everything, and universal truths will be harder and harder to find.

  • VR and screens will transform human interaction, bringing the world into our living rooms. In the future, screens will appear everywhere, and this will be a significant development. Check out the latest news from Facebook and Ray-Ban 👇


📚 What I Read

Against Optionality

Modern society is addicted to optionality. It’s a big problem:

Commitment need not be for life or even particularly long term, but the refusal to commit to something at all can defeat the purpose of doing it in the first place. It’s a Faustian bargain: trading away impact for optionality.

Make no choices, keep all options open, pay the price.

In other words, burn the boats.

💬 Zhang Yiming’s Last Speech

A philosophical last speech from former ByteDance CEO Zhang Yiming:

It’s really true. As our business has grown, I have gotten to know more and more people, including many very special and capable people. One of my own feelings is: maybe there are some differences in knowledge and experience, but from a “human” point of view, we are still very similar to one another -- we are all ordinary people. But there is one thing that is different. For people who achieve great things, they often maintain a very ordinary mentality. In other words, if you keep an ordinary mind, accept yourself as you are, and do well for yourself, you can often do things well.

Ordinary people can do extraordinary things.

To pair with his video: How China Lost Patience with Its Loudest Billionaire.

🌋 The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why

The crisis we're currently going through made me obsessed with the normalcy bias. It's a cognitive bias that leads people to disbelieve or minimize threat warnings. Individuals underestimate the likelihood of a disaster and its potential adverse effects when it might affect them. There are multiple examples in world history:

  • When the volcano Vesuvius erupted, the residents of Pompeii watched for hours before evacuating.

  • Thousands of people refused to leave New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina approached.

  • Hundreds of people working at the World Trade Center stayed in the tower after the first plane hit the Tower, gathered their things, and made some phone calls.

The danger of this bias can't be overstated. On this 9/11 week, I re-read parts of The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why by Amanda Ripley.

“The human brain works by identifying patterns. It uses information from the past to understand what is happening in the present and to anticipate the future. This strategy works elegantly in most situations. But we inevitably see patterns where they don’t exist. In other words, we are slow to recognize exceptions. There is also the peer-pressure factor. All of us have been in situations that looked ominous, and they almost always turn out to be innocuous. If we behave otherwise, we risk social embarrassment by overreacting. So we err on the side of underreacting.”


🎙 Podcast Episodes of the Week

A lot of great episodes this week:

  • Healthy Eating & Eating Disorders - Anorexia, Bulimia, Binging

    • This is an important episode to understand everything related to eating disorders. What strikes me is that it’s never as simple as you’d think. The anorexic or obese person can’t easily get out of it and needs the appropriate support to get back to healthy eating habits. To pair with this video on the obesity crisis.

  • Zen, Tools for Awakening, Ayahuasca vs. Meditation

    • There’s a lot of discussion around psychedelics lately — and this is great — but not so much about other ways to reach advanced stages of consciousness and awareness. This is a great introduction to the Zen practice.


🍭 Brain Food

🧬 Can Progressives be Convinced that Genetics Matters?

If you’re interested in the ‘nature vs. nurture’ eternal debate, you’ll find this long-form piece very interesting.

The behavior geneticist Kathryn Paige Harden is waging a two-front campaign: on her left are those who assume that genes are irrelevant, on her right those who insist that they’re everything.

To caricature things, the debate has become highly politicized, and on the left, genes have no impact, while on the far right, genes explain everything and can easily fall into eugenics.

Of course, the truth is more complicated and most likely falls in the middle.

“As a parent, I try to keep in mind that differences between people are examples of runaway feedback loops of gene-by-environment interaction. People have some initial genetic predisposition to something, and that leads them to choose certain friends over other friends, and these initial exposures have a certain effect, and you like that effect and you choose it again, and then these feedback loops become self-reinforcing.”

For more, watch Three Identical Strangers on Netflix.


🎥 What I’m Watching

🇨🇳 How China Became the World’s Factory

An excellent video version of How Asia Works focused on China. To pair with this conversation on Chinese growth miracles.

❓ How I Overcame Anxiety and Guilt

Justin Kan has a great Youtube channel. Check it out!


🔧 The Tool of the Week

💊 Labdoor — Supplement Ratings & Reviews

If you are interested in health and longevity, you will most likely experiment with supplements at some point. However, finding the right brands with the right ingredients is not an easy task. Labdoor makes this easier with ratings and reviews of commonly consumed supplements to help you make better choices.


🪐 Quote I'm Pondering

When you fight something, you’re tied to it forever. As long as you’re fighting it, you are giving it power. You’re giving it as much power as you are using to fight it.

A. de Mello


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👋 EndNote

Thanks for reading!

If you like The Long Game, please share it on social media or forward this email to someone who might enjoy it. Podcast reviews are also gratefully received. You can also “like” this newsletter by clicking the heart just below this, which helps me get visibility on Substack.

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Feel free to email me or find me on Twitter if you have any feedback or questions.

Until next week,

Mehdi Yacoubi

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