Illustration of Derek Powazek by Adam Ellis

Happiness Math: Yesands vs Nobuts

It took me 34 years to learn it, but I’ve finally figured out a basic mathematical principle that predicts my happiness in life. Here it is:

Take the number of times you hear “yes, and” in a day. Then take the number of times you hear “no, but” in the day. Now subtract the nobuts from the yesands. If your result is in the positive, so are you. If your results are in the negative, befriend other people.

Nikolai by Heather Champ.

This is not about avoiding disagreement – I love good debate. It’s about communication style and what makes people around you happy. It’s also not about extremes: I’m not saying to avoid nobut people entirely – just make sure they don’t overwhelm the yesands.

A nobut person is not listening to you. They’re just playing tennis, sending any ovation you make back at you. A nobut person will almost always make you unhappy, because they have to be right all the time, which means you have to be wrong.

A yesand person is listening. They care enough about you and the conversation you’re having to be additive in their conversation. You can both be right together, which feels good for everyone. People who feel good are more likely to find agreements, move forward, and be creative. Defensive, embattled people rarely make anything great.

And here’s the really sneaky bit. You can use either technique to communicate almost any idea. Consider:

You: I love burritos.

Nobut Person: No, but hamburgers are so much better.
Yesand Person: Yes, and I love hamburgers, too!

You: I think this is so well designed.

Nobut Person: No, but the typography sucks and the colors are awful.
Yesand Person: Yes, and I see so many ways it can get even better.

It may seem like this is being dishonest with your opinions, but it’s not. It’s communicating them in a way that’s productive. It’s about surrounding yourself with people who allow you to be successful together, instead of making every conversation a mini “king of the hill” battle.

Ask yourself, who would you rather hang with?

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Hi, I’m Derek. I used to make websites. Now I grow flowers and know things. I’m mostly harmless. More.