Happiness Is A Skill You Must Practice

Happiness is not somewhere you move to after decades of hard work. It’s not a material item you can buy at the mall. It’s not a certain number in your bank account. It's not a status with your preferred travel partner. In short, happiness is not something you can measure. Instead, it’s a vaguely defined skill you must practice.

Key Exercises:

1. Gratitude

Parents train their kids to say “please” and “thank you” before and after every transaction. The words become routine and monotonous before we are able to fully understand them. Let’s put a solid effort into relearning the meaning of these two words as adults.

Action: Identify what you’re thankful for on a daily basis. Doesn’t have to be a big thing. It could be as simple as having 2 eyes and 2 ears. Reinforce the thought by writing it down or sharing it with someone. Recommended tool: The 5 Minute Journal by Intelligent Change. It’s impossible to be unhappy and grateful at the same time.

2. Appreciation / Thoughtfulness

This sounds like gratitude, but it’s more extrinsically focused. Showing your appreciation for someone can go a long way for both parties involved. It requires being vulnerable and emotional, which is scary. As Will Smith (& Jamie Foxx) says, “Everything you want is on the other side of Fear”. 

Action: If you find yourself in a slump, make someone else happy. Text someone you shared a happy memory with and let them know you were thinking of them. Bonus points: call, don’t text.

3. Negative Visualization

Negative Visualization is my absolute favorite. Nothing makes me happier than waking up from a day-dream that Dia got into a major car wreck and realizing she’s actually OK. This happens to me often. I constantly think about the worst case scenario. I’m not a cynic or a pessimist. Quite the opposite. I’m actually a blind optimist. I can be knee deep in shit staring down the barrel of a shotgun and still think things will work out in my favor. There’s something about identifying the worst case scenario, realizing that’s not current reality, and considering the (hopefully large) gap in between as bonus material in life.

Action: Routinely consider worst case scenarios in all aspects of life: Work, relationships, health, etc. Then, compare your worst case scenario to your current reality. Now realize the difference is what you have to be thankful for. Or 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 trains us to repeatedly look at the glass half-full instead of half-empty.

4. Eliminate Expectations

How often are you doing something for a reward or pay-off of some sort? Are you expecting a promotion at work because your consistently going above and beyond your duties? Are you expecting a kiss at the end of a date because you paid for dinner? Are you backing a charitable cause in exchange for some PR exposure?

Action: Start giving without expectation. Do what is right, expect nothing in return. If you constantly tie your actions to an expected reward, you will be disappointed almost all of the time. Be happy as a giver in a world full of takers. Try not to weigh every decision by asking, “What’s in it for me?”

If You’re Not Happy With What You Have, You Won’t Be Happy With What You Get

“Desire is a contract that you make with yourself to be unhappy until you get what you want.”

You have one already, but it could be better. This applies to basically every material thing in your life. Your 2 generation 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” is endless because of a little thing called Hedonic Adaptation.

Hedonic Adaptation is the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes.

So you might be super happy with your new iPhone for 2 weeks before it becomes as meaningless to you as your 2 generation old iPhone. At the same time, you may feel depressed about having to move into a smaller apartment further away from the city because you lost your big paying job. Rest assured, you’ll revert back to the mean level of happiness you had before.

The fact is, happiness is intrinsic. Seeking it extrinsically is a fool’s errand. There’s a buddhist saying I like: “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.” The word, “quietly” means so much. Focus on accepting your inner-self 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 a podcast with Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Capital and author of a pretty good book called, Principles.

Ray’s done the research: …”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 following two things, 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. For me, outside my friends and family, this is CrossFit and Real Estate Investor Association Meetups. 

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 CrossFit Coaches. 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. 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.

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 Harry Potter series. 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 Japer 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 ambitions. Instead, focus on building meaningful relationships and working on something you’re passionate about changing. Take up hobbies that keep you fit, creative, and put a little cash in your pocket.

Sunny Shakhawala

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