MONEY Leisure

Shark Week Turns into a Feeding Frenzy for Consumer Eyeballs—and Cash

140801_EM_SharkWeek_Cupcakes
No "Shark Week" party is complete without a dozen of these cupcakes ($34.95 via Discover Channel store). courtesy of Georgetown Cupcakes

When there are shark-themed donuts and cupcakes for sale, it becomes clear that the marketing of "Shark Week" and sharks in general has, well, jumped the shark.

The Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” kicks off on Sunday, August 10, bringing the frenzy of interest in the fascinating creatures of the deep to all new heights. The annual event is a ratings bonanza, and a hot topic on social media, complete with its own prerequisite hashtag #sharkweek.

While there’s nothing stopping “Shark Week” from being fun, entertaining, and informative all at once, some experts in the field—of scientific research, not entertainment or marketing—feel like the circus surrounding sharks is overkill, perhaps even exploitive. “I’m kind of disappointed, and I think most researchers are, too,” George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research, told USA Today. “It obviously is a big draw, but I’m afraid that the programs have gone more to entertainment and less to documentary over the years. It’s kind of a shame, because they have the opportunity to teach good stuff in what’s going on with science.”

The Discovery Channel is hardly the only party that’s guilty of playing to the lowest common denominator by focusing on “blood and gore or animals performing tricks,” as Burgess put it. And it’s hardly the only player out there trying to hook consumers’ attention (and dollars) by way of the shark.

Sharks—or more precisely, the fear of sharks—have a long history of helping to sell stuff. Movie tickets, for instance. Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” not only kicked off the summer blockbuster as a phenomenon, but is also widely considered the biggest and best summer blockbuster film of all time. A series of sequels and other shark movies followed, as did the ever-expanding, factually questionable “Shark Week” on the Discovery Channel. In the so-called “Summer of the Shark,” in 2001 (mere weeks before 9/11, it’s often noted, when very different fears took over the American consciousness), unwarranted hype over shark attacks was used to sell magazines and keep viewers glued to 24/7 news channels, awaiting word of the next deadly aquatic encounter.

We’re still fascinated by sharks, and sharks are still being used to lure us into shops and TV shows and movies that we should probably know better than to watch. Lately, in an age dominated by memes and ironic-air-quotes “entertainment,” the cold-blooded mankiller of the deep has been replaced by an equally fictitious creature—the shark as adorable mascot.

This summer, “Shark Week” has been joined by the straight-to-cable arrival of the gag “movie” “Sharknado 2.” But given how much over-the-top goofball hype goes into “Shark Week” itself—Rob Lowe waterskiing atop two great whites anyone?—the Discovery Channel event seems to be its own best parody.

The merchandising of sharks and “Shark Week” has been, in a word, shark-tastic (the title of a book sold on the Discovery Channel, naturally). Among the roughly 150 items listed on the site as appropriate purchases for “Shark Week” celebration are shark kites, a Shark Week smartphone case, Shark Week bottle openers and coozies, “clever” shark T-shirts that say “Bite Me” and “I’m Hammered,” and Shark Week cupcakes that show Rob Lowe atop his pal sharks again.

Elsewhere in the ocean of summertime shark products, Dunkin’ Donuts is selling a Shark Bite Donut (the frosting resembles a life preserver), and Cold Stone Creamery has shark-themed cupcakes and ice cream sundaes, complete with colorful gummy sharks. Limited-edition “Shark Week”-inspired soap is available at one New York City boutique, while a “Shark Week” search at etsy turns up more than 1,300 hand puppets, pencil holders, custom-designed panties, pieces of jewelry, and other crafts. A whole other list of goods has been devoted to the frenzy around “Sharknado,” including a new perfume called “Shark by Tara,” created by one of the movie’s stars, Tara Reid.

The normally sober tacticians at Consumer Reports even got in on the action, using the Sharknado sequel as an excuse to run a review of chainsaws—the perfect weapon in the battle against sharks falling out of the sky.

Then there’s shark tourism. It might seem odd that any beach community would actively want to associate itself with sharks. Yet the effort to brand Chatham, Mass., the town on the elbow of Cape Cod—near plenty of seals and therefore sharks too—as something along the lines of the Shark Capital of America has been several years in the making. Starting in 2009, news spread that biologists were tagging great white sharks off the coast. Sure, it freaked some swimmers and boaters out, but it also drew the masses to the coast, bearing binoculars with the hope of spotting one of the beasts.

“The great white shark is sexy,” Lisa Franz, Chatham’s chamber of commerce chief, explained to the Boston Globe last summer. “Chatham as a town, I think, has embraced the whole shark concept,” she said. “As long as nobody gets hurt.”

Fast-forward a year, and the shark schlock business is booming. “Truthfully, we’ve probably grown about 500 percent in terms of the sale of our shark apparel,’’ one Chatham tourist shop owner offering “T-shirts, hoodies, hats, belts, dog collars and other accessories” featuring great whites for $10 to $45 told the Associated Press in June.

People seem to love the shark meme so much that local restaurants and shopkeepers understandably have a new fear: They’re scared about what would happen to business if the sharks suddenly went away.

MONEY Tech

3 Sporty Gadgets That Will Make You Better, Faster, Stronger

Feeling athletic this summer? These affordable devices will help you take your performance to the next level.

 

Wahoo Tickr Heart Rate Monitor

Wahoo Tickr Heart Rate Monitor, $60

 

Why it’s great: Love using data to track your progress? This device, which monitors your workout stats in real time, is compatible with more than 50 popular fitness apps.

How it works: Strap the Wahoo to your chest to send your heart rate and calorie count to an iOS or Android device or a GPS sports watch. The monitor comes with its own app, which includes an eight-week training program.

Sony 4GB Walkman Sports MP3 Player

Sony 4GB Walkman Sports MP3 Player, $100

 

Why it’s great: These waterproof headphones plus built-in MP3 player can stand up to sweat, rain, and even laps in the pool.

How it works: The Sony weighs just over an ounce, holds nearly 1,000 songs, and is waterproof down to six feet. The player also features a quick-charging battery: Plug the device in for a few minutes to get an hour of playback, or juice it all the way for up to eight hours.

Golf Buddy Voice

Golf Buddy Voice, $107

 

Why it’s great: When you’re not sure which club to grab, tap the bitty Golf Buddy to hear the distance to the front, middle, and back of the green.

How it works: The two-inch-by-two-inch range finder clips easily to your hat or pocket and comes pre­loaded with tens of thousands of ­courses. The Golf Buddy requires no annual or new-course download fees. Don’t like a ­gabby device? You can mute it and read the distances on the LCD screen.

Not ready to commit to a new device? These three apps will help you up step up your fitness—for $3 or less.

Performance Stretching: Don’t hurt yourself! This $3 app matches your exercise routine with appropriate pre-workout stretches. iOS only.

Hundred Pushups: Yes, you can do 100 consecutive pushups, even if you’re not a gym rat. This $1 to $2 app will get you there in six weeks. iOS and Android.

5K Runner: Ease into running with a three-day-a-week program from this $3 app. In eight weeks you’ll be able to jog your way to a full 5K. iOS only.

MONEY Sports

Could 25-Year-Old Rory McIlroy Be Golf’s Long-Awaited Savior?

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland holds up the Claret Jug trophy
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland holds up the Claret Jug trophy after winning the British Open Golf championship at the Royal Liverpool golf club, Hoylake, England, Sunday July 20, 2014. Scott Heppell—AP

He was the consensus choice as golf's "next big thing" even before winning the British Open over the weekend.

As a sport and a business, golf is stuck in a proverbial sand trap, probably the deepest and most difficult one ever encountered by the industry. Player numbers are on the decline, especially among young people, and golf course closings in the U.S. are trumping golf course openings by a stunning ratio of nearly 10 to 1.

There is some hope, however, that golf will experience a renaissance, even among kids who are now too accustomed to instant gratification and too distracted by smartphones and social media to bother venturing outside to play baseball or go for a hike, let alone try their hands at the time-consuming, frustrating “old person’s sport” of golf. And one of the big reasons for this optimism is that today’s most exciting players also happen to be kids, and none more exciting than Rory McIlroy, the 25-year-old winner of the 2014 British Open.

OK, so a 25-year-old isn’t exactly a child. But he’s a kid compared with the prototypical gray-haired, 50-something golfer out on the links. And his success couldn’t come at a better time. McIlroy is part of a much-needed youth movement in golf, notes Jim Frank, a contributing editor to Links Magazine who has covered the sport for three decades. Joined by emerging superstars Rickie Fowler, who is also 25 and is known for cool clothes and shaggy Bieber-like hair, and incredibly talented young female golfers like Lexi Thompson (19) and Lydia Ko (all of 17), McIlroy is seen as a fresh injection of energy, excitement, and—dare we say it?—perhaps even hipness into the sport.

“He supposedly took the first selfie of a British Open winner,” said Frank. Hey, that’s gotta count for something.

Perhaps the biggest contribution of McIlroy and the rest of the youth movement—besides their unwrinkled, photogenic faces and a generally cooler appearance compared with the usual grandpas on the links—is that they’re changing the perception of how to play golf and when one tends to peak in the sport. “In the past, the assumption was that you didn’t really hit your stride until your 30s, after you’ve worked out the kinks in your game,” said Frank. “Today’s young players are really powerful, they wrench their backs and really hit the ball hard. And they’ve been playing so long that by the time they’re in the late teens and early 20s, they can dominate.” (They can also get injured; just look at how Tiger Woods’s body has fared in recent years.)

Nonetheless, the excitement, power, and youth that McIlroy and his peers bring to the game has to be good for golf, right? Sure, to some extent. But Frank believes it will take more than one charismatic, curly-haired Irishman to turn the tide.

“Are 14-year-olds sitting in front of a TV on a Sunday morning at 10 o’clock watching Rory McIlroy?” Frank said. The answer, of course, is no. While some parts of the golf world are trying to make changes to become more appealing to younger players and families, Frank believes that some retrenchment is still needed, and that the sport will always remain a niche activity, and one that always skews older.

When people in the business talk about rejuvenating the sport, they sometimes ask, “What’s the snowboarding of golf?” said Frank. “Snowboarding brought young people back to the mountains, and it helped save skiing.” Unfortunately, because a sizeable faction of the golf world has no interest in changing the game or doing much of anything to appeal to younger people, “there may not be an equivalent of snowboarding. But that’s the way we have to think of it.”

The big irony, Frank said, is that right now, when golf seems to be struggling so mightily in its attempts to attract new players to the game, there has never been a better time to play. “The equipment has never been better, and there’s great value for what you can buy fairly cheaply,” said Frank. “You can get on almost any golf course in the world, or join almost any club if you want. There are no lines, and there aren’t people behind you telling you to play faster.”

MONEY Tourism

Diagon Alley vs. Legal Pot: How Their Big Opening Days Match Up

A dragon breathes fire above The Wizarding World of Harry Potter-Diagon Alley during a media preview
A dragon breathes fire above The Wizarding World of Harry Potter-Diagon Alley during a media preview at the Universal Orlando. David Manning—Reuters

A new theme park area in Orlando and marijuana stores in Washington state both opened for business for the first time on Tuesday.

And that, perhaps surprisingly, is not the only thing they have in common. Here’s how the two opening days match up:

BACK STORY
Diagon Alley: Followup to very successful launch of Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park
WA Pot Shops: Followup to very successful launch of recreational marijuana sales in Colorado

IMPRESSIVE STATISTICS
Diagon Alley: Universal Studios says Diagon Alley will double the size of its Wizarding World theme park area
WA Pot Shops: Washington says it will collect $190 million in pot-related taxes and fees over the next four years

OPENING DAY WAIT TIME
Diagon Alley: Up to 300 minutes (a.k.a. five hours) for visitors to get inside the park on Tuesday
WA Pot Shops: Up to one day—at least a couple people waited in line overnight outside pot shops anticipating a Tuesday opening

RANGE OF PRICES
Diagon Alley: $96 to $136 per adult
WA Pot Shops: $12 to $25 per gram

CORE DEMOGRAPHIC
Diagon Alley: Anti-authoritarian fans of magic and fantasy
WA Pot Shops: Pretty much the same

PERSON YOU MOST WANT TO AVOID
Diagon Alley: Know-it-all spewing theories about stuff like the pros and cons of Half-Blood Prince vs. Order of the Phoenix
WA Pot Shops: Know-it-all spewing theories about stuff like the pros and cons of Cannalope Haze vs. Jamaican Lion

THING THAT WILL FREAK YOU OUT
Diagon Alley: Creepy animatronic goblins staring at you on Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride
WA Pot Shops: Creepy alive goblin-like customers staring at you—or at something—in front of the pot counter

RESTRICTIONS
Diagon Alley: Minimum height of 4 feet to ride Gringotts alone
WA Pot Shops: Minimum age of 21 to purchase marijuana

WARNINGS
Diagon Alley: Many rides not recommended for women who are pregnant and people prone to nausea
WA Pot Shops: Pretty much the same

MOST MEMORABLE THRILL
Diagon Alley: Trip on the Hogwarts Express
WA Pot Shops: Trip on edible marijuana snacks like those “enjoyed” by Maureen Dowd

WHAT’S SMOKING
Diagon Alley: Fire-breathing dragon atop the Gringotts ride
WA Pot Shops: Pretty much everybody

MONEY Leisure

7 Ways Buying Weed in Washington Is Not Going to Be a Party

waiting in line to purchase marijuana in Colorado
Line to purchase marijuana at the 3-D Denver Discrete Dispensary on January 1, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. Theo Stroomer—Getty Images

The era of legal marijuana sales kicks off in Washington today. We'd tell you to light up in celebration, but doing so may be harder than you think.

The basics of buying marijuana in Washington appear to be pretty simple: The state issued 24 licenses to stores on Monday, and sales are allowed to commence 24 hours later—so Tuesday—and anyone 21 and up and is allowed to buy. But when you dig down into the weeds, so to speak, of opening day for legal weed sales, things get a little hazy. Here are some of the hassles and headaches marijuana shop customers can expect early on.

Stores probably won’t open at normal times. Largely because of all the last-minute bureaucratic hoops Washington marijuana stores must jump through, many of the businesses awarded licenses to sell legally aren’t going to be ready to open their doors first thing in the morning on Tuesday. Top Shelf Cannabis in Bellingham is one of the few shops that’ll be ready for business early, with an opening hour of 8 a.m.

But that store is the exception. Most don’t seem to be in any kind of rush to open. “Know your audience: We’re talking stoners here,” the owner of Cannabis City in Seattle told the Associated Press. Accordingly, the store is expected to open around noon.

Some stores won’t open at all Tuesday. Instead of scrambling like lunatics to deal with all the necessary delivery details and paperwork, many weed stores are taking a more mellow approach and aren’t even trying to open Tuesday. For instance, Main Street Marijuana, in Vancouver, Wa., which anticipates terrific sales due to its proximity to the Oregon border and the hipster city of Portland, plans on having a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday at 11 a.m. With the mayor handling the scissors, of course. The Olympian reported that it was possible none of the three stores licenses in the South Sound would open on Tuesday. One, 420 Carpenter in Lacey, was planning on holding off until Friday to open.

The lines will be huge. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s a historic happening, the supply is very limited, and people want to sample the goods and say, “I was there on Day One.” I mean, people waited outside for hours in the frigid cold in January in Colorado to buy pot when stores first opened there for chrissakes. By comparison, hanging out with a bunch of stoners on a summer day in Washington is a picnic.

You can only buy small amounts. Because of the shortage of marijuana, customers will be limited as to how much they’ll be allowed to buy on Tuesday, and likely for the near future. State law officially caps the amount you can buy and possess at one ounce (28 grams), but initially stores will probably cut off customers well below that amount to ensure as many customers as possible get to buy some product. “When the sign on the shop’s door says bud purchases will be limited to an eighth, have patience,” the Denver Post’s Cannabist blog warns Washingtonians, speaking from experience in Colorado. “When the budtender tells you about their one-edible limit, have patience. Soon enough you’ll be able to order your full ounce — or a six-pack of mix-and-match brownies and chocolate bars.”

It’ll be expensive. Because legal recreational pot is a novelty, and because of the very limited supply, prices for weed will be especially high at the beginning. Prices will start at $12 per gram, and go as high as $25 per gram. Down the road, prices should drop slowly, as they have in Colorado. According to FiveThirtyEight, as of this past spring, the price of recreational marijuana in Colorado was around $8 per gram, and the median price of medicinal marijuana was cheaper still, at just $5.60 per gram.

Stores will run out. Colorado pot shops were running low on weed almost immediately after sales became legal on New Year’s. By most accounts, Washington stores are less prepared for the rush of customers than their counterparts in Colorado were a few months ago. The supply of pot at stores in Washington is very limited, and will remain unable to match demand for quite some time, and as a result, stores will probably run out of weed early and often. “There may be outages from time to time,” Alison Holcomb, criminal justice director of the ACLU of Washington, told the Oregonian. “How long [stores] will be able to keep supply on the shelves is a really important question… It will be a little rough in the beginning.”

Cops will be everywhere. Buyers, beware. High Times reported that police will be staking out Washington pot shops, ready to bust people for driving while stoned, lighting up in public, or other infractions. Likewise, the Washington Liquor Control Board plans will be running sting operations to make sure that stores aren’t selling marijuana to underage customers. Washington authorities know the eyes of the world are upon the state, and they don’t want anything embarrassing or untoward to happen on their watch.

MONEY Leisure

WATCH: Fireworks Sales Are Booming

As the Fourth of July approaches, stores selling pyrotechnics are busy this year. The business, however, is extremely weather-dependent.

MONEY First-Time Dad

Why You Should Get Up From Your Desk and Go Home

Luke Tepper
Luke is magically sleeping, while his father is fighting to stay still

We work way too much and see our families way too little. The latest on being a new dad, a Millennial, and (pretty) broke.

A couple of days ago I was on an airplane with my son. It may be a cliché, but there are truly few combinations as destabilizing as infants and planes. While other passengers may bristle at an infant’s shrieking hysterics, that annoyance pales in comparison to the sheer terror borne by the parents of the hysterically shrieking child.

(We know that you—passengers without children—are judging us. But more importantly, our kid is upset. So back off.) Anyway, Luke had a rough go of it on his first flight, so I was on DEFCON 1 for the return trip.

But he did great. Very little muss, almost no fuss. His calm allowed me to reflect on things other than what I’d do if Luke vomited on the lovely couple to my left, and I realized something: This vacation was the first time I had hung out with my son before 7 p.m. on a weekday for as long as I could remember.

Which sucks.

I love my job, but I rarely leave the office before 6:30 p.m. My commute is a little under an hour, and I usually stop by the grocery store to pick up dinner, so I’m lucky to get home before Luke’s asleep.

Of course, I’m not alone. Americans, by and large, work too long, take too few days off, and have problems enjoying their vacation time.

For instance, about one in nine U.S. workers puts in more than 50 hours a week, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Less than 1% of Dutch employees toil that hard. In fact, citizens in only three out of 36 countries devote less time to leisure activities like sleeping and eating than Americans do.

Not surprisingly, America ranks eighth from last on the OECD’s Better Life Index.

When it comes to time off for good behavior, Americans get 14 vacation days a year on average, per Expedia’s 2013 Vacation Deprivation Study, or less than half as many as workers in France, Denmark, and Spain enjoy. But that’s not the really depressing part. The really depressing part is that while Americans receive more than two weeks of vacation, we take only 10 days.

One reason is that workers want to save vacation days for later, or convert them to cash. But 35% (the plurality) report having to cancel or postpone getaways because of work.

And once we’re actually on vacation, it’s hard to shut our minds off. Much to my embarrassment, I found myself checking emails and social media my first few days at the beach. I had to tell myself to close the browser and shut the laptop and go spend time with my loving family. It’s as if we’re paid victims of Stockholm syndrome.

I don’t want to sound cranky or ungrateful. I derive a fair amount of pride from my work, and more than eight in 10 U.S. workers say they are satisfied with their jobs. The cool thing about what I do is that I get to see a finished product after I’m done, which is affirming.

But I feel almost guilty if I’m the first to leave the office, as if I have it in my mind that I really didn’t work hard enough or suffer long enough that day. While this is an especially busy time for us here (with the launch of Money.com), I know that many of my friends feel the same pressure to stay well past closing time.

So I’m here to tell you, workers of America, that it is okay to go home when you should, and that there is nothing inherently better about working 50 hours a week than 40. Don’t feel less of a success if your friends put in more hours at the office than you do.

By repeating that mantra to myself long enough, I just might get home in time to put my kid to sleep.

More First-Time Dad:

 

TIME

Undivided Attention: 6 Ways to Focus That Will Make You Happier

Give me your undivided attention for a second. (It’ll make you happier, I promise.)

You create your world with what you pay attention to.

There are a million things happening right now: some good, some bad.

Pay attention to the good, you’ll feel better. Pay attention to the bad, and, well … you get it.

Via Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:

the things that you don’t attend to in a sense don’t exist, at least for you. All day long, you are selectively paying attention to something, and much more often than you may suspect, you can take charge of this process to good effect. Indeed, your ability to focus on this and suppress that is the key to controlling your experience and, ultimately, your well-being …

Research shows that paying attention to positive feelings literally expands your world. Focusing on the negative makes it tiny.

Via Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:

Based on objective lab tests that measure vision, Barbara Fredrickson, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, shows that paying attention to positive emotions literally expands your world, while focusing on negative feelings shrinks it — a fact that has important implications for your daily experience.

As Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman famously said, “Nothing in life is as important as you think it is while you are thinking about it.”

As research has shown, lottery winners aren’t as happy as you might guess and paraplegics aren’t as unhappy as you might think. Why?

For each, being rich or being paralyzed eventually becomes one small piece of their very big life. In other words, they stop focusing on it.

Via Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:

“People think that if they win the lottery, they’ll be happy forever. Of course, they will not. For a while, they are happy because of the novelty, and because they think about winning all the time. Then they adapt and stop paying attention to it.” Similarly, he says, “Everyone is surprised by how happy paraplegics can be, but they are not paraplegic full-time. They do other things. They enjoy their meals, their friends, the newspaper. It has to do with the allocation of attention.”

And controlling that attention can be the key to your happiness.

Via Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:

Kahneman says that both the Dalai Lama and the Penn positive psychologist Martin Seligman would agree about the importance of paying attention: “Being able to control it gives you a lot of power, because you know that you don’t have to focus on a negative emotion that comes up.”

So in a world of buzzing iPhones and relentless emails and text messages, how can you better control your attention and make yourself happier?

Here are six tips from research.

(I still have your undivided attention, right? Just checking.)

1) Reappraisal

How you react to things is more important than what actually happens.

Research pioneered by Arnold and Lazarus shows reappraising situations, focusing on the good elements of “bad” events, can be a huge step toward staying positive.

Via Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:

direct your attention to some element of the situation that frames things in a more helpful light. After a big blowup over an equitable sharing of the housework, rather than continuing to concentrate on your partner’s selfishness and sloth, you might focus on the fact that at least a festering conflict has been aired, which is the first step toward a solution to the problem, and to your improved mood.

Sound like denial? Self-deception?

It is. And it works like a charm.

That’s why people happier than you do it all the time.

Via Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:

Directing your attention away from a negative experience not only is not as maladaptive as many of his peers think but, according to the Columbia psychologist George Bonanno, can be a superior coping strategy. Indeed, he finds that in the wake of an upsetting event, “self-deception and emotional avoidance are consistently and robustly linked to a better outcome.” Even when you’re reeling from a severe blow, such as a loved one’s death, diverting your focus from your grief can boost your resilience.

As I’ve posted before, more thinking can cure bad feelings. Meditation can increase your attention span.

2) Focus On Those Who Believe In You

How do politicians and salesmen stay so positive?

Part of it may be acting but they also have a tendency to selectively pay attention to positive reinforcers.

Via Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:

Individuals of sanguine temperament, such as certain politicians, CEOs and salesmen, seem naturally to excel at directing their focus away from negative targets. Research shows that when they confront a potentially unpleasant situation, such as some unfriendly faces at a gathering, these extraverts are apt to shift their attention rapidly around the room and zero in on amiable or neutral visages, thus short-circuiting the distressing images before they can get stored in memory.

3) Seek Flow

You don’t need more time “doing nothing” to recharge, you need more challenges that you find engrossing.

Flow” (being so wrapped up in what you’re doing that the world falls away) is an active state of attention that research shows we like more than endless hours in front of the TV.

Via Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:

In a stunning example of the kind of mind-set that undermines good daily experience, most people reflexively say that they prefer being at home to being at work. However, flow research shows that on the job, they’re much likelier to focus on activities that demand their attention, challenge their abilities, have a clear objective and elicit timely feedback — conditions that favor optimal experience.

4) Make Boring Things Into A Game

Even dull jobs can be more compelling if you change the activity into a game and make it a challenge.

This increases your engagement and makes you happier.

Via Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:

With some thought, effort, and attention, says Csíkszentmihályi, you can make even an apparently dreary job, such as assembling toasters or packaging tools, much more satisfying. “The trick,” he says, “is to turn the work into a kind of game, in which you focus closely on each aspect” — screwing widget A to widget B or the positions of your tools and materials — “ and try to figure out how to make it better. That way, you turn a rote activity into an engaging one.”

5) Schedule Challenges For Your Leisure Time

Schedule things in advance that draw you in and you’ll find yourself enjoying your free time more.

Most of us seek unscheduled free time for our leisure but given your brain’s lazy nature, you’re likely to waste that time doing what’s easy vs. what’s really fun.

Via Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:

Summing up, Csíkszentmihályi says, “If left to their own devices and genetic programming, and without a salient external stimulus to attract them, most people go into a mode of low-level information processing in which they worry about things or watch television.” The antidote to leisure-time ennui is to pay as much attention to scheduling a productive evening or weekend as you do to your workday.

6) Take Time To Savor

Take time to pay attention to and appreciate the good things in life.

Yes, “take time to smell the roses” is more than a cliche.

This is one of the secrets of the happiest people and it’s part of the basis for one of the most effective happiness-boosting techniques.

Via Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:

One group was told to focus on all the upbeat things they could find — sunshine, flowers, smiling pedestrians. Another was to look for negative stuff — graffiti, litter, frowning faces. The third group was instructed to walk just for the exercise. At the end of the week, when the walkers’ well-being was tested again, those who had deliberately targeted positive cues were happier than before the experiment. The negatively focused subjects were less happy, and the just plain exercisers scored in between. The point, says Bryant, is that “you see what you look for. And you can train yourself to attend to the joy out there waiting to be had, instead of passively waiting for it to come to you.”

Results?

And what are the results of more focus and undivided attention?

Focused work and focused leisure not only make you happier in the moment but your selection of challenges to overcome are what forge you into the type of person you want to be.

Via Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:

Over time, a commitment to challenging, focused work and leisure produces not only better daily experience, but also a more complex, interesting person: the long-range benefit of the focused life. As Hobbs puts it, the secret of fulfillment is “to choose trouble for oneself in the direction of what one would like to become.”

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Related posts:

How To Make Your Life Better By Sending Five Simple Emails

What 10 things should you do every day to improve your life?

Happy Thoughts: Here are the things proven to make you happier

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

MONEY Travel

QUIZ: Blockbuster Vacations! Which Movie Matches Your Travel Style — and Dream Destination?

140619_EM_MOVIEQUIZ_1
Sony Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

This quiz tells you which famous film should serve as inspiration for your perfect summer getaway.

...find out if your dream vacation is more Lost in Translation or Wet Hot American Summer!

MONEY deals

Cheap Seats! 10 Best Deals for Pro Baseball Fans This Summer

Philadelphia Phillies mascot shooting a Hatfield Hot Dog into the stands
The Philadelphia Phillies mascot the Phillie Phanatic shoots a Hatfield Hot Dog into the stands at Citizens Bank Park. Brian Garfinkel—Getty Images

With the kids getting out of school, it's time to take the family out to the ballgame. Ideally without breaking the bank.

It costs a family of four an average of $212 to attend a Major League Baseball game, and that doesn’t include premium seating or a single $25 corn dog. But with 81 home games apiece, a team can’t expect fans to happily pack the house and empty their wallets for every outing. To fill the seats, baseball franchises push a wide range of promotions and discounts on tickets and concessions, to sell fans and families on the idea that they can enjoy America’s pastime in person without spending an arm and a leg. With summer officially arriving this weekend, here’s a top 10 list of great pro baseball deals.

$1 Hot Dogs
Fans can feel free to arrive at Minute Maid Park hungry on Thursdays when the Houston Astros are playing in town: That’s when hot dogs are $1 apiece. Many other clubs, including the Texas Rangers, Philadelphia Phillies, and Washington Nationals, also host a few $1 hot dog nights this season. They’re especially good deals compared to the prices faced by New York Mets fans, who pay $6.25 for a hot dog.

$4 Beers
The Cleveland Indians are repeating a 4-3-2-1 concessions pricing deal launched last season, in which 12-oz. domestic (non-craft) beers always cost $4, hot dogs are $3, soda refills go for $2, and, on 13 promotional nights, hot dogs are $1. The Arizona Diamondbacks also sell $4 beers for all home games, more than $2 less than the average in Major League Baseball, and nearly half the price of a beer at Boston’s Fenway Park ($7.75). And the D-Backs special is 14 ounces rather than the usual 12.

$5 Yankees Tickets
During select few games in 2014, a promotion with MasterCard brings New York Yankees seats in the Bleachers, Grandstand, or Terrace levels down to only $5 a pop. Only if you buy with a MasterCard, as you might imagine. If the $5 seats are sold out, another group of games features half-price seats for fans making the purchase with a MasterCard.

$6 Student Tickets
Students ages 18 and under or with valid ID can take advantage of a Washington Nationals discount that makes upper outfield seats just $7. The Baltimore Orioles student ticket deal is even better: $6 seats for Friday home games. (Upper Reserve tickets on Tuesdays are always $9 in Baltimore, as well, and there’s no requirement to be a student.) Plenty of other teams have student discounts—even in New York, where admission to the Mets “Student Rush” games starts at $10 for students (plus a $2 order fee).

$6.10 Saturday Seats
One of the cheapest ticket deals available for all fans, the Kansas City Royals offer tickets starting at just $6.10 on special “610 Saturdays” this season. To score, fans must listen to the local station 610 Sports Radio, get a coupon code, and purchase online before the limited number of tickets is sold out.

$27 All You Can Eat
If you’re going to blow a decent amount of cash at the ballpark, you at least shouldn’t be going home hungry. That’s the pitch behind the many “all you can eat” promotions offered around Major League Baseball. The $30 Astros deal scores you a Mezzanine level ticket and unlimited hot dogs, nachos, popcorn, peanuts, and soda. The Royals host a similar promo for $40 per person. Cheapest of all, the Miami Marlins’ all-you-can-eat special starts at $27, which includes a ticket for certain Saturday games, as well as all the usual concessions you can stomach.

Family Packs
Virtually every Major League squad runs value-laden promotions aimed at families, with baseball owners hoping that doing so will turn your kids into lifelong fans, or at least fill what otherwise would be empty seats. The offers might be free or half-price tickets for kids with the purchase of a full-price adult ticket, or $1 ice cream for fans ages 13 and under, or a wide range of family packages. Called “family packs” or “fun packs,” they might include, say, four tickets, four hot dogs, and four soft drinks for $59 (the Los Angeles Angels), or four tickets, four hot dogs, four bags of peanuts, and four drinks for $50 (Oakland Athletics).

Dynamic Pricing Deals
After seeing fans flock to secondary market, dynamic-priced ticket sites like StubHub and TiqIQ, many Major League operations have rolled out dynamic pricing systems of their own. Basically, the way they work is that tickets are priced based on supply and demand. The result is that prices can bottom out when a game day is approaching and thousands of seats have yet to sell. Thanks to dynamic pricing, Kansas City Royals tickets have sold for $10 and under this year, and Cincinnati Reds’ tickets have gone as low as $5. And don’t forget about the bargains on the secondary sites themselves, where tickets in the past have sold for the absurd price of 1¢ (before fees are tacked on).

Any Minor League Game, Anywhere
The simplest way to enjoy a pro baseball game without paying a fortune is by skipping the major leagues and heading to the nearest minor league ballpark, where it’s rare to spend more than $20 for a ticket and the concessions of your choice. And the promotions minor league clubs run are true bargains—$1 beer nights, for instance, and family packages with four tickets and four hot dogs for a total of $20. The minor league Louisville Bats, meanwhile, host occasional wine tastings, with sponsor Barefoot Refresh pouring free samples over ice for guests 21 and up. The (Florida) Fort Myers Miracle packs its season with all sorts of gluttonous deals, including “Sink or Swim Saturdays,” when fans 21 and up can pay $12 for a wrist band that grants unlimited domestic beers through the sixth inning.

Totally Free MLB Tickets
With age comes privilege. Seniors ages 55 and up have plenty of “mature” ticket deals at their disposal around the country. For instance, the Yankees offer game-day deals for seniors (and a guest) starting at just $5, while the Nationals’ senior tickets are $7. Seniors in South Florida get the best treatment of all, with fans “55 years young and above” entitled to totally free tickets on Thursday home games for the Miami Marlins. No advanced reservations; just show up on game day within two hour of the first pitch. Considering the Marlins’ popularity (or lack thereof) in Florida, plenty of seats should be available.

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