Category Archives: Learning

I’m feeling curious. How about you?

As it’s Sunday, a short but sweet, and hopefully entertaining, diversion for you today,

You may know that I often write about the happiness-building potential of learning new things.

It can help to build a healthy sense of inquisitiveness in you, stops you getting bogged down in a rut, and gives you a sense of achievement when you’ve acquired a new piece of knowledge.

So it’s rather good to know that there’s a secret little way to use Google if you like the idea of learning but don’t have a whole lot of time.

Simply type “I’m feeling curious” into Google. (“Fun facts” works, too. And you don’t need the quotation marks.)

It’ll then serve you up with a random question and answer, and make it easy for you to get another.

True. And fun.

Give it a try, and if you feel so inclined, please share something fun you’ve discovered, in the comments section.

I just found out, for example, that $20 in US quarters weighs a pound, and that there are around 1.5 billion cattle in the world.

Holy cow.

The joy of being wrong.

I told a friend the other day about being in a thrift store recently, overhearing two boys of around 14 discussing an 8mm cine projector that was on the shelf.

“So how do you record on it?” one said to the other, who had no answer.

Of course, 8mm projectors didn’t work like that.

You “recorded” by shooting a reel of film, then sent it away for processing.

No way was I making fun of them, though.

Actually I was over the moon to eavesdrop on a conversation founded on pure curiosity.

A couple of young men growing up in Silicon Valley, with a hunger to learn about any technology, even one that went out of fashion years before they were born.

I write often about this kind of appetite with good reason, because learning something new can be a dependable way to build happiness.

But there’s a twist in this tale of tired technology.

You see, yesterday I was back in the same thrift store, mooching through the electrical equipment, only to spot that very same projector.

(It hadn’t exactly flown off the shelf.)

Here’s the thing, though.

When I examined it, er, it did actually have a panel labelled Record, and exploring it further, I discovered that there clearly used to be a type of 8mm film which came with a magnetic strip alongside the movie frames, allowing you to add your own soundtrack, albeit after you’d filmed your epic production.

Serves me right for chuckling at the two boys in the first place with my ha-ha-I-was-there kind of assumption.

However, I genuinely got a real kick out of finding out I was wrong.

For me, it was an amusing demonstration of the way we all (come on, it’s not just me) make assumptions that are sometimes wrong.

And it was a first-hand experience of the fun of learning something new.

See if you can find opportunities to do either of these today.

Catch yourself jumping to erroneous conclusions.

Discover something you didn’t know before.

Even better if both come in the same package.

Learning something new can lift your self-confidence and boost your mood.

Can you think back to identify a teacher who made a particularly big impression on you?

The chances are that he or she was someone who made learning feel easy, who inspired you, who gave you the appetite to pick up new skills and acquire new knowledge.

When it comes in the right shape and form, learning can be enormous fun.

So when was the last time you learnt something new?

And more importantly when’s the next time going to be?


For me, every day with Moodnudges is filled with learning, especially recently as I’ve explored ways to bring data to life using charts, graphs and visuals.

Needing help, I’ve had excellent mentoring from a friend who is an expert in the field.

He generously didn’t laugh at my early efforts, and equally kept me on my toes as I became (I hope) a little more accomplished.

Learning can be great for your self-confidence.

It can be fun.

And it’s a tremendous way to give yourself a boost.

So what would love to learn, and when are you going to start?

Although all learning is valuable, the most enriching lessons are often those you learn about yourself.

I wonder what you’ll learn today that you didn’t know yesterday?

When you were at school, it was all part of the process that you’d sit through lessons all day, then when the bell rang you’d go home with more in your head than you’d started with.

Much as excellent teachers like to speak of lighting fires rather than filling buckets, I’m sure there’s still a great deal of the latter in today’s classrooms.


I imagine most of us still go to bed with more in our head than was there in the morning, but unfortunately much of this can be stress, noise and aggro – a great name for a firm of lawyers handling environmental distress cases perhaps, but no way in which to retire for a relaxed night’s sleep.

Perhaps there’s a different way to look at this, though? Maybe instead of trying to turn a blind eye to these unwanted thoughts, it can be possible to ask yourself what, if anything, they’ve taught you? Even if this is something so seemingly obvious, for example, as ‘I don’t like it when other people make unreasonable demands of me’.

Then again the day might not have been all bad, providing you with a different sort of learning opportunity – the chance to ask yourself why, perhaps, you felt positively about something good that happened. ‘I like it when I make myself a hot drink and sit calmly in silence for ten minutes.’

There’s nothing wrong with learning for learning’s sake, in fact it can be a pleasure in its own right. But learning about yourself… well, that’s learning for life’s sake isn’t it?

How you grow as you learn

On the day you were born, you knew little. True, you had your instincts. We all do. But just about all the knowledge you now possess has been acquired since then.

Some of it was gathered through experiment: that’s how you know to test the bathwater before you step into it, and what avocado tastes like. A lot came to you through formal learning, leaving you able to quote dates from history, divide 7,610 by 57, spell necessary and tell me what the capital of France is.

Then there’s the informal learning, which means you perhaps have the ability to stand up for yourself, know how to get along with others, and (maybe did have) the capacity to wheedle a little pocket money out of an older relative.


We take it for granted that a tiny child has everything to learn, but can easily slip into thinking that after that it’s all downhill on the acquiring knowledge front, believing that it’s okay to lose the insatiable knowledge we once had to explore, discover and make sense of the world.

But when we lose our desire to do these things, don’t we also perhaps lose some of our love for life? Don’t we become more inward-focused and stuck in our ways?

Do you recall your school days, and that feeling of packing your pencil case ready for a new term? Remember how that felt?

In which case, why not resolve to keep learning new things this summer?

Why learning’s best when it’s hard work.

Back in the day, there was one particular person that I frequently used to present advertising concepts to who almost always gave me the impression that I’d got the whole thing hopelessly wrong.

As he listened, he’d screw up his face into a fierce frown, making you feel as a presenter that he abhorred everything about you and your damn stupid ideas.

It took a surprisingly long time before I understood that he frowned when he was concentrating and thinking hard.

His look of utter disdain actually meant something else entirely.

(Well, hopefully.)

I recalled this the other day when I sat down to record a demo for the Stanford University radio station, KZSU.


For the past few months I’ve been training to start work as a volunteer DJ, and doing a recorded demo was the final piece in the jigsaw before I can be “air cleared”.

Actually I’m really excited.

Radio is something I’ve long wanted to do.

Although I’ve dabbled in the past with hospital radio in the UK, this will be my first opportunity to present on proper FM radio in the San Francisco Bay Area (also streamed live online).

But the thing is, although I’m hugely looking forward to getting on air, the learning process has been pretty heavy going.

So much so, that when I sat down to begin my demo show I doubted I’d be able to pull it off.

But I did it, recorded it, and it sounded surprisingly okay to be honest.

Plenty of room for improvement, but not bad for starters.

I even experimented with a “Morning Moodnudge” feature, which seemed to work.

Making the recording involved a steep learning curve, and I’m sure I was frowning, just like the gentleman back in London I used to present ideas to.

But learning is good, even (and perhaps especially) when it challenges us, pushes us, and maybe even scares us a little.

I expect you already know this deep down, but maybe it will be helpful to have a gentle reminder.

As you go about the next couple of days, why not try to find small chances to learn something new?

Even better if it makes you frown with concentration a little, because as I proved to myself last week, beyond the frown lies satisfaction, achievement, and a boost in self-confidence.

So until the next time, this is Jon Cousins on KZSU, Stanford.

Are you ready for a Self-Reflection Sunday?

I used to love the fact that Sundays were different, but in many ways they’re now just like every other day.


As a kid, most shops didn’t open on Sunday, with the exception of the newsagent (I was a paperboy).

For a few of my formative years, there was some degree of church, either with Sunday school or monthly church parades with the Scouts, both of which would probably sound quaintly Victorian to a present day teenager.

(Honestly, I might be getting on a bit, but I’m not ancient.)


Then there was Sunday lunch – a proper big meal in the middle of the day, nearly always a roast of some kind, usually with the radio playing something like “Two–Way Family Favourites”.

Don’t ask.

However, young as I was, I also think of Sundays in those days as involving at least some element of self-reflection, which was probably good for me.

What had happened in the preceding week? What did the coming one hold in store? How was I doing?

With this in mind, and it is indeed Sunday after all, maybe you’ll allow me a few minutes to take stock on how things are going with the book project.

“Nudge Your Way to Happiness” is ever closer to being on sale, although the final tweaks and polishes are inevitably taking a little longer than anticipated.

The manuscript is edited and typeset.

The cover is close, but still needs a few adjustments.

And it’s surprising how long it takes to put together what’s known as the “front matter” and “back matter”: title page, copyright page, table of contents, acknowledgements, appendices, etc etc.

My brother Geoff is now back in London after ten days of giving me invaluable support with the project in California, and still helping from afar.

And hopefully it really won’t be too many more days before I’m able to send two PDF files to the publisher – one for the cover, another for the insides – which is how it’s done these days.

So that’s me taking stock this Sunday.

Now, how about you doing the same?

A Valentine’s look at how men and women viewed my book covers differently

“I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes.”

The song “Love Is All Around” played a starring role in the movie “Four Weddings And A Funeral” but for the past month, at least in this part of the world, it was definitely “Pink Is All Around”.

The store aisles have heaved with lurid pink cards, candy, and knick-knacks in preparation for February 14th – and a happy Valentine’s Day to you from me, although perhaps not in a bright pink kind of way.


Speaking of colours, I promised on Friday to let you know what happened after asking Moodnudges readers to vote for a cover for “Nudge Your Way To Happiness”.

Thank you to the Fantastic Four Hundred (and fifty-two) people who cast their vote, and to the many who left thoughtful, insightful and encouraging comments on the blog.

Topping the poll, pretty overwhelmingly actually, was the cover design with three weather symbols, showing a progression from a rainy day to a sunny one.

The concept needs work in terms of colours, fonts and layout (which may sound a lot) but it’s helpful to know that the basic idea was working.

It was also great to have learned that this was the one cover out of all five that appealed equally to women and men.

Interestingly, men tended to be drawn towards the concept with a “smiley meter” going from unhappy too happy (only a few women liked that one), while women tended to favour the idea showing a plant growing from a seedling to a blossoming flower (yes, you guessed, this one turned many men off).

But since the weather symbols cover got the most votes overall (more than a third of the total in fact) that’s the one we’re passing to our designer for some serious development and love.

Regular Moodnudges readers know I often talk about the way that constant learning can contribute to overall happiness, so perhaps you’ll take a moment to digest the findings of this little piece of research.

We were reminded (and I, of course, apologise for grossly oversimplifying) that men like measurement devices, women like natural things that grow, but sometimes it’s the weather that brings us together.

To learn is to know, to teach is to understand

A 1999 book listed 85 ways to knot a tie.

A website called Endless Simmer pictures 100 ways to cook an egg.

And according to Paul Simon there were fifty ways to leave your lover.


We live in a world rich with things to learn, and a computer with an internet connection makes it easier than ever to uncover whatever may tickle your intellectual fancy.

New learning lubricates your grey matter, not literally of course, but it helps to keep your cognitive functions firing on all cylinders in much the same way that regular physical activity boosts your body.

As you acquire new knowledge, share it with others.

Teaching somebody is a fine way to consolidate your own learning, plus you get to make a social connection, as well as doing something for someone else: a triple whammy as a matter of fact, as long as they’re either a fan of the same things as you, or are prepared to humour you.

Keep learning new things.

Today and every day.

The lesson for today: don’t stop learning.

Some years ago, the UK government launched a National Curriculum for schools.

I was doing some work in education at the time, so had copies of the manuals laying down the precise content that teachers were expected to deliver.

As the 11-year-old son of a friend looked through them with me, he said: ‘So when I’ve learned all this, I can leave, right?’

He was just about to start seven years at secondary school, so I had to chuckle at his suggestion that he might be allowed to leave and start work at thirteen, say, if he rushed through all the expected material (and clearly showed prodigious educational capability) in just a couple of years.

It isn’t like that, of course.

However much – or little – you learn, you have to serve your full stretch of five or seven years, because going to school is about far more than working your way though a set of prescribed requirements.

It’s about learning ‘softer’ skills such as getting on with others; finding out more about yourself; working under your own steam etc.


I hope it’s also about discovering some area of learning that really inspires you, whether or not it’s an academic subject.

In my experience, the most content people are those whose minds are still bright and enquiring, those who’ve never lost their desire to learn.

Of course there are people who in their latter years succumb to cruel conditions such as dementia, robbing them of varying degrees of their cognitive abilities, but there’s no doubt in my mind that a hunger to keep learning goes hand-in-hand with chirpy seniors.

This phenomenon isn’t just limited to older people.

We all tend to thrive when we add to our learning every day.

You’re very possibly not following a syllabus right now: all the more reason to seek out opportunities to increase your knowledge in the next 24 hours.