Gretchen Rubin is an author mainly focusing on the human psychology, with multiple bestsellers such as The Four Tendencies, Better Than Before, and The Happiness Project. On this occassion, I just finished reading The Happiness Project. I dare say this is the book that propelled Gretchen to fame as an author. First released in 2009, it has been reprinted multiple times, and spent 2 years on the bestseller list.

The book started off sharing who Gretchen is, The Happiness Project started when Gretchen was still working in the field of law, for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, “What do you want out of life?”. These questions are often posed to us, even as a kid. “What do you want to be when you grow up?”. And often times, we answer in terms of what job we want to have, what kind of social status we want to be, but rarely a simple “I want to be happy”. It’s a paradox that when you tie your happiness to something else entirely, you lose your sense of self and you rely on others to make you feel happy. In this book, Gretchen spent 1 year of her life thinking about happiness and taking action to maintain it.

A great friend of mine gave me this book and said “Chris, I saw your instagram stories are full of serious stuff like the HBR. Unwind a bit and read this book”. And I agree. This book is not a revelation. The content is not mindblowing. A lot of it gives you the sense of “Duh, an idiot knows that”. But it serves as a good reminder on the little things, on finding what’s important for you.

Gretchen shared her 12 commandments:
1. Be Gretchen.
2. Let it go.
3. Act the way I want to feel.
4. Do it now.
5. Be polite and be fair.
6. Enjoy the process.
7. Spend out. (This is probably the most enigmatic of my commandments.)
8. Identify the problem.
9. Lighten up.
10. Do what ought to be done.
11. No calculation.
12. There is only love.

Those are her guideline for the year, that she implements step by step in the book. Every month she picks up one of them and focuses on it, while still maintaining her previous months habit. Each chapter represents a month of the year, and it represents a commandment. While doing this, she also did a blog on The Happiness Project, and it sparked a lot of reactions from people around the world. It’s one of the things that I like about the book, she shared some of the comments from the blog, and you can see how her project can be implemented in different ways for different people.

What resonated with me really well is her first commandment to “Be Gretchen”. The idea that it’s okay for you to like what you like, and to not like what you not like, instead of what society deems good resonates with me so much, that I decided to make it one of my 5 resolutions of the year, seen on my previous post, which is to be honest with myself.

Read this book for a light read and slice of life kind of material. Don’t expect something revolutionary, and keep an open mind. Maybe in the course of reading this book, you’ll find stuff that resonates with you and can be applied to your own daily life to make yourself happy/ier.

In spite of that, I have to caution that this book is not for everyone, as proven by the lukewarm rating of 3.58 at Goodreads at the time of this writing. With 109,378 ratings, 44% rated it 3 and below, while 55% rated it 4 or 5. This book likely won’t resonate well with people that is still struggling with day to day expenses and people without leeway in their spending. It needs to be reiterated that Gretchen is from a well-off background, and this is not a research book that can be applied to everyone. This is a book that shares her experience in particular.

I just finished reading Presence, by Amy Cuddy, 2012 TED Talk Speaker. In this book, she plays with the concept of presence, bringing your whole self into the room, how your body language influences your own mind, and the social experiment around it.

“Presence emerges when we feel personally powerful, which allows us to be acutely attuned to our most sincere selves. … When we feel present, our speech, facial expressions, postures, and movements align. They synchronize and focus. .. It’s what makes us compelling.”

It’s a concept that we have definitely feel in our lives. The time when we felt an adrenaline rush before an interview, the time we presented to our class, the time we were being who we are. We know what it’s like, but it’s hard to recreate that moment. How often do you feel you are not bringing your whole self to the challenge? How often do you feel you could’ve done better? These are the moments where we are not present.

Here’s 3 key takeaways on what I learned from this book:

Present is being genuine and in the moment

If we are present, no matter what the result is, we can be confident that we did our best. To be present, we need to fully believe what we are doing, and to be honest with ourselves. The good news is, this is not something that happens overnight, it’s an incremental process, a continuous improvement to ourselves that happens over a long period of time.

Body language matters

To start with, looking at your own body language helps. How often do you slouch? How often do you shrink yourself when you’re sitting in a meeting room? These poses conveys to our mind that we feel powerless. And when we feel powerless, it’s hard to be present, we’re too busy protecting ourselves.

To feel more powerful, it is good to practice expanding your body posture, take up more space. For example, stand up straight, don’t stick your hand close to your body, don’t shrink away. These poses convey to our mind, and to our peers that we are confident in ourselves and we know what we’re doing.

Looking at your phone continuously can also be harmful as it impacts your posture. Imagine yourself looking and reading on your phone, most likely you’re hunched over, looking downwards, focusing on a little screen in your hand. Being in that pose for too long will make you uncomfortable, and if you don’t actively fix it, it can become a habit.

One way you can prevent this is to ask a trusted friend to remind you of your posture, of your body language. For example, you can ask to remind you whenever you slouch you can straighten up.

You’re not alone

In the past, I’ve often felt that I’m a fraud, that I don’t belong there, that one day someone will look through my facade and see that I’m not worth it. This is called Impostor Syndrome, and you’re not alone. Millions of people experience this, and this can happen even to people in socially powerful positions. It helps to talk about it, and to open up to people, but do not discount yourself short.

Last Words

It also needs to be noted that this is not a magic trick that will make your problems disappear in a night, this is a path to enable yourself to be more present, and as Amy said “Bringing your boldest self to your biggest challenges.

P.S : If you want to read the stories and the social experiment, I suggest you to read the book. If you only want the essence and the key takeaways, you can visit Amy’s 2012 TED Talk.

Portfolios of the Poor : How the World’s Poor Live on $2 a Day  is a book from 2010, by Daryl Collins, Jonathan Morduch, Stuart Rutherford, and Orlanda Ruthven. This article is intended to summarize my key takeaways from the book, and a reflection of opportunities available in Indonesia.

“Not having enough money is bad enough. Not being able to manage whatever money you have is worse.”

This sentence sums up the core point this book is trying to deliver to us. In this book, the authors assess how the poor manages their money in several countries (Bangladesh, India, South Africa), how each country differs, and what kind of instruments they use. The book offers an interesting take and meaning to money management for poor people. Instead of just looking at financial inclusion metrics such as savings accounts, the authors use the method of “financial diary” for households to record their cashflow and transactions.

The Poor is not stupid

Poor households try their best to manage their money with the limited instruments that they have. A poor household can use up to 5-6 financial instruments to support their life. The lack of sustainability in their earnings combined with sudden expenses makes it difficult to gather up large sums of money. For example, when you hear that a person gets about 2$ per day on average, this does not mean that they can always get 2$ everyday. The volatility of income is very high, one day they make 10$, then makes 0$ for 5 days, then makes 1$ the next day, and then make 5$ the next day. On average, that’s 2$ per day, but it’s hard to plan ahead when they don’t know how much they can make tomorrow. This volatility also makes it tougher for the poor to be able to utilize insurance products which require premiums every month/year.

And there are occassions that will demand large lump sum of money, such as healthcare, weddings, funerals, sudden business opportunity. As it’s hard to gather a meaningful sum of money through daily earnings, even just 1 issue can wreak havoc on their livelihood.

The instruments that they use is community based

Such as savings club (like ‘arisan’ in Indonesia), loans from friends and family, paying back favor to friends and family, the poor relies on their community instead of formal institutions. The rate of interest if annualized is very high, but in reality, the interest are often not compounded and there’s the informal component where interest can be forgiven. This makes the loans more flexible to the needs of the poor and helps them in managing their money. Grameen bank’s top-up loan system helps them even more where for example, you took a 200$ loan, paid back 100$ plus 5$ interest, then you can take out 100$ loan again, so you have 200$ principal loan in the end.

The catch from community based instruments like these are that there’s no privacy, and can be stressful. Also, as most doesn’t have properly documented system, there’s a lack of transparency for people to know whether the service is honest/not.

Getting large sum of money done through loans instead of savings

As mentioned above, gathering a meaningful sum of money through daily earnings is difficult, and being disciplined to save in the face of sudden needs and situations makes it even more difficult. This is why many poor households get a meaningful sum of money through loans, and then they’re compelled to payback the loan in a flexible schedule. This makes them able to get a meaningful sum of money at the right time, while paying it back slowly.

Key areas to focus

  1. Reliability – The delivery of products and services at the promised time, in the promised amount, and at the promised price. In the face of all the unreliable factors in poor people’s lives, there needs a reliable financial services for the poor to utilize.
  2. Convenience – The chance to take and repay loans, make and withdraw deposits, frequently, close to home or work, quickly, privately, and unobtrusively.
  3. Flexibility – Ease with which transactions can be reconciled with cashflows.
  4. Structure – Regularities that promote self discipline, such as regular visit by bank workers, planned savings schedules, loan repayment schedules.

Where Indonesia Is At The Moment and The Opportunities

As branchless banking efforts improve, promoted heavily by Bank Indonesia (BI) and Indonesia Financial Services Authority (OJK), with the Laku Pandai program, I dare say Indonesia is at the forefront of innovation in micro financial services. With hundreds of thousands of Micro Financial Insitutions (MFI / LKM in Indonesian), micro financing in Indonesia is advanced and reached edges of the country that banks and other institutions cannot reach.

In the Laku Pandai program, anyone can be a bank agent. These agents are empowered to be the point of contact to their clients, can register their clients for savings, and can make deposit/withdrawals from the client’s savings account. They get some income from the transaction, the bank can reach more people, and more people can access financial services from banks.

With the volume and the number of people in Indonesia, innovation in financial services for the poor can have a multiplier effect and I believe it’s in the government’s best interest to encourage these innovations. 1 innovation can lead to it being adopted by multiple organizations to serve different markets.

Opportunities that I see in the horizon:

  • Fintech to support microlending and other financial services
  • Create brokerage services / agencies to utilize banks and financing companies services, and channel it to communities and remote areas
  • Opportunity for consulting services to support people from all over the country to start a small financial services
  • Systemizing ‘arisan’ / savings club through free application/website and creating an ‘arisan’ registry for financial services authority to keep track and protect these community based financial services