Delivering Happiness and Depression

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Poor Tony Hsieh. He had such ambitious plans to build a startup city in Downtown Las Vegas, and personally invested $350M towards the project.

But the going was rough. Outside money failed to appear, Hsieh stepped down, 30% of the staff was laid off, and three of the entrepreneurs involved in the Downtown project committed suicide in 13 months. That was 1% of the 300-person community.

In an article about the Downtown Project this week, Re/code asks: Can the pursuit of happiness kill you?

The Downtown Project has a strong focus on happiness that comes from Hsieh’s company and global movement, Delivering Happiness. Here’s how they deliver happiness:

Community. Whether it’s online on, Facebook or Twitter, or offline at our DH Town Halls and community events, we’re bringing people together. And these aren’t your ordinary folks – these are VHPs (Very Happy Persons) inspiring individuals that have made the commitment to make this world a happier place.

That might work at a rave, but just thinking about being in a room full of Very Happy Persons is enough to make me feel stabby.

Happiness does not come from osmosis. It comes from knowing what you truly value, and behaving in a way that’s consistent with those beliefs.

Delivering Happiness Bus

Every startup is a hypothesis formed from a set of beliefs. Maybe the hypothesis is that people will want to hitch a cheap ride in a stranger’s car, or that homeowners want their houses cleaned by homeless people working for minimum wage.

Growing a startup is then the execution of the scientific method. Sometimes the hypothesis is proven wrong and founders and investors learn that there were fatal flaws in their beliefs. For founders, these beliefs were so integral to their core identities that they made huge sacrifices in their pursuit. Crushing those beliefs results in the opposite of happiness.

Very Happy Person is neither a goal nor an achievement; it’s a side effect. It isn’t possible to feel happiness without making yourself vulnerable to an equal and opposite feeling. In life, there’s no downside protection for emotions, but that’s okay because the upside is limitless.

So, NO the pursuit of happiness can’t kill you. But it can make you feel pretty damn crappy sometimes.



Eleven years ago, I crash-landed a Cessna in Las Vegas after the control tower issued instructions for a high-speed landing that I didn’t have the experience to execute.

In the aftermath, I underwent an interrogation and checkride with an FAA Safety Inspector who decided not to revoke my license. I was a competent pilot, he decided, albeit a stupid one.

In parting, he suggested that I reinstate a standard ICAO phrase in my vocabulary: Unable.

Unable is the most underused word in aviation. It means the air traffic controller just told you to do something, and you can’t do it. No reason needed.

As humans, pilots are prideful beings. Many learned to fly in the service. The tower could ask for a double barrel roll on short final and the pilot response would undoubtedly be Wilco.

Remember when JFK Jr. crashed his plane off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard by flying into low-visibility conditions? Nah, ATC didn’t tell him to do that. He had two women in the plane with him. I imagine it must be difficult to say Unable to two women, one of whom is your wife.


Pilots have a hard enough time citing unable when facing down a life-or-death situation. It’s even harder on the surly bonds of earth, where death happens slowly. The employer who asks you to work weekends does not suffer the consequences of your failed marriage. The investor who sends you to Vegas isn’t the one gambling with the life of his company. Unable.

A control tower can’t see wake turbulence, icing conditions, or mechanical distress. According to NTSB investigators, no matter how ridiculous a tower directive, the cause of accident always ultimately comes down to pilot error — for being unwilling to say Unable.

No Air Traffic Controller has ever died from pilot error.

See Also:
Just Say “Unable” –AOPA