My Thoughts on Happiness
I’ve delayed writing out my thoughts on happiness for far too long. Mostly because I didn’t know which format I wanted it to take. Would it be better as a list, an anecdote, or a preachy sermon?
A second obstacle to overcome is dealing with Imposter Syndrome. Am I qualified to write about happiness? Is my self administered thermometer credible enough? At the end of the day, both of those reasons were bullshit excuses I was telling myself to procrastinate. I can let another day pass without sharing my thoughts. Or I can simply share a few practical tips I've learned along the way.
Happiness is a Skill You Must Practice
Thinking about happiness as a skill makes it much less intimidating. After all, society paints the idea of happiness as the ultimate goal. A goal achievable through a lifelong journey of trial and error.
However, happiness is not a destination. It’s not somewhere you get to after years of hard work. It’s not something someone gives you after reaching a certain milestone. It’s not a specific number in your bank account. It's not a status with your preferred airline. Or any other metric of any sort. Happiness is just another life skill.
There are few key exercises you can practice to become an expert in the skill of happiness. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a solid start:
Have you ever stopped to think about how powerful a simple, “Thank You” is? We’re trained by our parents to say “please” and “thank you” at such a young age. Our parents instructed us to say those words before and after every transaction. By the time we had the capacity to understand the words, they became routine and monotonous.
Can you remember the last time you said "Thank You"? You're thinking about it now. Digging deep in the memory bank. If you haven't come up with something yet, you're worried you might be an ingrate. Let me help. It was probably earlier today, when you picked up your coffee in drive through. Or last night when you paid for your gas on the way home from work. I argue these transactional "Thank You's" aren't gratitude. They're politeness mixed with conditioned behavior.
So the question becomes: how can we express gratitude outside of saying "Thank You" transactionally?
Action: Focus inward. Tell yourself what you’re thankful for outside of the routine transactions. Reinforce the thought by sharing it with someone. A great place to do this would be the dinner table with your loved ones. Have fun with it. You don't need to think of something monumental each time you practice. It could be as simple as, "I'm grateful for the $5 I found in my pants this morning".
If you want to standardize your practice I recommend The 5 Minute Journal by Intelligent Change.
Appreciation / Thoughtfulness
This sounds like gratitude, but it’s not. It’s more extrinsically focused. Action: If you find yourself in a slump, make someone else happy. Example: You see a random funny IG post that reminds you of something you did with someone. Don’t just tag them in the comments. Link them via text message and tell them why you’re tagging them! “Hey I saw this video and it reminded me of the time we waited in line for 2 hours to get a free ice cream that ended up being not all that. The 2 hours in line were so fun though!”
This will take you 10 seconds to do but create a lasting good feeling. It may also start a positive conversation to get you focused on happy thoughts. I love when minimal effort yields disproportionate results.
I wrote about my negative visualization practice in detail here. The main premise is this: It can always be worse. Action: When you face a setback, consider the likelihood that things could be much worse. Example: a broken bone could have been a lost limb. A fender bender could have been a lost life. This practice isn’t mean to negate or diminish negative feelings towards every situation. It’s simply an attempt to look at the glass half-full, instead of half-empty.
If You’re Not Happy With What You Have, You Won’t Be Happy With What You Get
You have one already, but it could be better. This applies to basically every material thing in your life. Your 10 month old iPhone works fine, but the new one just dropped. You have a car that gets you from point A to B, but there’s a faster, more luxurious version available. The problem with constantly desiring "new and improved" items is the finish line to happiness gets a little further away after each acquisition.
I heard this from Naval Ravikant when he was a guest on The Tim Ferriss Show. The original credit belongs to a blog called Delusional Damage. Unfortunately, they are not online anymore.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I love being able to buy the latest pair of my favorite gym shoes, better headphones, the latest iPhone, etc. But if I weren’t able, I’d be just as well.
You might be wondering how I could possibly say that. I know what it feels like to be dead ass broke for extended periods of time. I’ve spent years running small businesses that preferred to pay me in experience rather than money.
The fact is, happiness is intrinsic. Seeking it extrinsically is a fool’s errand. There’s a Buddhist saying, “Happiness is like a butterfly. If you chase it, it'll fly away. But if you sit there quietly, it may land gently on your shoulder.” Focus on accepting yourself as you are with what you have, rather than seeking external validation.
Happiness Does not Correlate With Money or Intelligence
I don't want to risk this section echoing the passage immediately above. Instead, I’ll share the most important thing I learned from Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgwater Associates, one of the world's largest hedge funds. Countless studies show happiness does not correlate with either intelligence or wealth. Those same studies go on to show two recurring themes. If you’re missing even one of the two things below, I’d bet you’re feeling an emptiness inside.
1. Meaningful Relationships
Sense of Belonging to a Community: Do you feel connections with other people? This can be friends, family, colleagues, an intramural sports team. Get yourself in a group of like minded people that want the same things out of life. They will make the ride more enjoyable.
2. Meaningful Work
Enjoying Your Work on Something Impactful: Are you on a mission? It doesn’t have to mimic the scale of Elon’s race with Bezos to Mars. It just has to be important enough to you to get you out of bed. Some of the happiest people I know are Physical Trainers. They can see and feel the positive impact they are making on people’s lives on a daily basis.
Take Up 3 Hobbies
When it’s all said and done, it’ll come down to your actions. Personally, I stand behind the idea of pursuing 3 hobbies to optimize for happiness. They’re listed below.
1. Something to Keep You Physically Fit
Working out can kill two birds with one stone. I always recommend class based fitness programs. In addition to a built-in community, you get accountability. I prefer CrossFit®, but Yoga, Zumba, Orange Theory Fitness, Bootcamp, etc. all get the job done. You can build strong relationships in the class based gym environment. There was an entire table (10 people) at our destination wedding made up of Gym friends.
Hard Truth. Getting fat and being lazy is so damn easy. That’s why everyone does it. Working on your body is a noble lifelong mission most people choose to forego. It’s so easy to improve a little bit everyday. Just show up and do the work. Unfortunately, it’s easier to sit at home, order a pizza, and watch dancing with the stars.
2. Something to Keep You Creative
I like to think creativity is a muscle that needs to be stretched, flexed, and stressed to get stronger. Being creative doesn’t mean painting the next Mona Lisa or writing the next La La Land. You can start a separate Instagram account to take cool artsy photos, like my friend Jen did. Or you can create a podcast comparing fictional businesses, like my friend Jasper did. Or you can start a Vlog/Blog on helping people get better at CrossFit, like my friend Ben did. Do something. Do anything. Just create!
3. Something to Make You Money
Before you accuse me of contradicting myself, hear me out. This is me lobbying for the moonlight entrepreneur. The (side) Hustlers. Working on something outside 9A-5P that you enjoy and can make money with.
You might work at an accounting firm in New York City, but you love everything about Manchester United. Why not start a YouTube Channel recapping every game? You might be working as an insurance adjuster during the day, but you love tech gadgets. Start an IG page that highlights the pros and cons of the latest electronics.
Opportunities for making money in the internet age are endless. It’s a land grab. Put a stake in the ground, raise your flag, and get some.
Tying it All Together
If you scrolled straight down to the bottom of this post, shame on you. Go back up and read this in its’ entirety. If I can’t convince you to do that, here’s the elevator pitch on happiness...
Be grateful for everything you have, there’s a good chance it can be worse. If you’re feeling down, and ice cream doesn’t work, try to make someone else happy. Their joy can be the medicine you need to turn your mood around. Refrain from monetary, materialistic, extrinsic ambition. Instead, focus on building relationships and working on something meaningful. Take up hobbies that keep you fit, creative, and put a little cash in your pocket.
Before You Go:
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