Happiness is a subject that I have been intending to write on for some time now. This post is long, but please read on.
It is ok to admit that you have been unhappy at times in your life. Everyone has been unhappy, at least at some point. I believe it is a universal experience. Perhaps you are unhappy now. Hopefully, if that is the case, this post will help you in some way.
I have been unhappy. I have been down right depressed. I have no fear in admitting it. For me, my depression peaked about two and a half years ago, concurrent with my stark realization that I had spent years of my life and hundreds of thousands of dollars training myself for a career that I didn’t want to do.
Since that time my life has changed immensely. My wife and I have built a wonderful direct sales business. It has given me clarity, hope and purpose. Most importantly, I have transformed myself from a cynical, pessimistic, and frankly unhappy person to one that is naturally upbeat, energetic, full of positive engagement, and happy.
How did I do it? I want to share with you some discoveries, and the resultant “rules” that I have adopted. I do this sincerely to help whoever might read this blog. I know exactly what it feels like to not want to get out of bed. To have random waves of debilitating anxiety, fear, and sadness. To feel like life is meaningless. I’ve been there.
I’m not so arrogant, or ignorant, to think that my “rules” are some sort of a universal constitution applicable to all people. Nor for that matter do I necessarily believe that my rules will actually work on you. Fundamental to what I believe (as explained below) is that your core values have to match your actions and goals. My rules are based on what I value. So they may not work for you.
I believe that everyone must discover what makes them happy on their own. You can’t adopt someone else’s method. It is just too personal. There are books upon books that tell you “how to be happy”. I have read a good chunk of them. Oddly enough I discovered my rules on my own. They just came to me, independent of any book or “guru”. As they came to me, I knew that they were correct, for me. I live by an edict from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Essay on Self-Reliance:
There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide….Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.
So I’m not looking to give you answers. I’m not looking to be a guru. But in the slight positive chance that my rules do help you in any way, I want to share them. I simply want to share MY rules because being unhappy sucks, and also because contributing to others is one of my core values. If even one rule works for you, that is a good thing.
You’ll notice, if you stay with me long enough to read this post, that nowhere in my rules will you find anything about success. Interesting observation I’ve made. Without a doubt, in my mind, happiness doesn’t come by acquisition of some title, achievement or attainment of money or “stuff”. Neither (and equally important) does it come from your “status” in relation to others, or the opinions of others. Again, just my opinion, but without a doubt focusing on “stuff”, being obsessed about getting a certain “amount” of money in your bank account, or “impressing others” has never made me happy. In fact I believe that these have been chief contributors to unhappiness at times.
I came up with my rules through reading and my own self-directed experiments. I would research what had worked for other people, and I would then apply them to my life to see if they worked for me. The research process helped me determine what for ME was useful. I think this alone was one of my greatest discoveries. Not everything that works for other people necessarily works for me, and I needed to preserve my own intellect, and make my own discoveries and my own decisions.
So, in no particular order, here are MY “10 Rules For Being Happy”. You can borrow them, but they are mine 🙂
1. I Need To Make Sure That I’m Internally Aligned:
I need inner congruency, in that my goals, and the way that I spend my time must be in line with the things that I most value. For me, I value most: freedom, positive contribution to others, adventure and curiosity, education, good health and rich relationships, particularly family. For me to be happy my goals, and daily actions must be directed at pursuing endeavours that foster these core values.
For the last several years, my wife and I have been building a direct sales business as Independent Consultants with Scentsy. We are now very successful, and hold the highest rank of SuperStar Director. But over the years we (particularly I) have received quite a bit of mocking, doubt, and even ridicule. I’ve had people think that it is “undignified” for a lawyer to want to do network marketing. I have had people suggest that I am “wasting my talent” or engaging in “overly risky behaviour” when I quit my job in 2012 because our Scentsy business was big enough to match my law income. I have had people worry about my mental and emotional health, in that who in their right mind would want to do direct sales, especially an educated lawyer (or so they would think)?
Well the truth of the matter is that they don’t understand internal alignment. I am absolutely the happiest I have ever been in my life by being engaged in our Scentsy business. This is because our Scentsy business completely is aligned with my core values. I get freedom (check). I help others positively (check). I get to travel, and experience adventure (check). I have time to stay healthy (check). I am constantly learning new ways to market my business, particularly online (check) and I have developed many rich lasting friendships (check). Most importantly my family life has never been better (check). 100% alignment.
In law I had no freedom, literally almost a complete absence of it. I rarely felt that I was truly adding value to the world. I didn’t get to travel and experience adventure. I hardly had time to stay healthy. Yes I had to learn but it wasn’t in areas that interested me, and I wasn’t forging lasting friendships. Most importantly, in order to succeed in law I had to spend more time away from my family. No wonder I was unhappy.
I think that internal alignment is very important. Figure out what makes you tick and makes you come alive (your core values) and then align them with what you do, and what you are pursuing.
2. I Need To Live by the “Magical Question”:
The magical question is “What is the most amazing, fun, wild, thing that could happen in your life in the next [INSERT TIME PERIOD]? The answer to that question becomes my primary focus for that corresponding time period.
This is just plain fun. It is what gets me excited. It is what gets me out of bed and keeps me awake at night – the magical question. I love being crazy with it. Thinking wild and outrageous things. Then trying with everything I have to make it happen (see point three).
For some reason that I can’t explain, this just really, really, I mean, really gets me excited and happy.
3. When I’m pursuing the Magical Question I Need To Push Myself To The Absolute Maximum That Is In Me
For another strange reason that I can’t fully explain, I know that when I am pushing myself to the absolute maximum that is in me, I feel more alive than ever. I think it might have something to do with Flow Psychology. I’m not sure. I just know that it works. I am absolutely most alive when I am pushing myself as hard as I possibly can to pursue the magical question.
4. If Something Scares Me, I Need To Move Towards It
Again, not sure why this one works but it just does. If I get scared of something, and I move towards it, attempt it, embrace it, whatever, I will be happy. Maybe it is because of the signal my brain gets by overcoming a fear or an obstacle. I feel this one must be biological. But the reality is that I just know it works. If I’m scared of something I should move towards it. I should try it, whatever it is. By moving towards my fears my life becomes rich and full. When my life becomes rich and full, I am happier.
5. I Need To Be Present In What I Do, Especially When It Comes To Relationships
This is one where technology does us in. Iphones, Androids, Blackberrys, they kill (or at least seriously impede) our ability to stay present. I am guilty of this all the time (although I am constantly working on it), being with someone but not being fully present. I have found that without a doubt I enjoy the conversation and the relationship much more if I am present. I enjoy everything I do much more if I am present. This principle applies to so much: driving the car, mowing the lawn, hanging out with my kids, doing online marketing. Whatever I do, I will enjoy it more if I am present.
6. Learning and Reading Makes Me Happy, So I Need To Make Sure I Never Stop
I am an absolute book junkie. I love reading. I love learning. I am one of Audible.com’s best customers. I religiously listen to podcasts on topics of science, philosophy and religion. I am a full on learning junkie. This makes me happy. I will never stop learning.
7. Being in Good General Health Has A Direct Impact On My Emotional State
Absolute no brainer here. When I am exercising and eating healthy I feel better and I am more confident. When I feel better and am more confident I am happier. When I eat crappy, fail to exercise and not take care of myself I do not feel as good. This is a 1+1 = 2 equation in my life.
8. The First Great Paradox: I Desire Rich Relationships But I Cannot Be Worried About What Others Think Of Me
This is the “dance like you just swallowed a monkey and it is going crazy inside of your stomach” principle taught by Magician Penn Gillette. A sure fire recipe for being unhappy, absolutely 100% guaranteed, in my opinion, is to constantly try and please other people, and to become overly concerned with the opinions of others. It just doesn’t work, and it makes you miserable in the process. If you are overly concerned with other people’s opinion of you then you will not take risks, you will not allow yourself to be vulnerable, you will not go out of your comfort zone, you will not fully live. I have found, that for me, there is a strong positive correlation between my willingness to take risks, be vulnerable and go outside of my comfort zone and my happiness. The more vulnerable I get, the happier I am.
You have to be you, and there is only one of you. No matter how quirky you are. No matter whether your interests are somewhat strange. If you feel like dancing then dance, even, in fact especially, if you have no rhythm. If you’ve never felt what it feels like to dance like you swallowed a monkey and that monkey is going crazy inside of you then, again in my opinion, you are missing out on one of the great happy experiences in life.
The great paradox is that I believe we need people to be complete. But it is most often another person that contributes to our periods of unhappiness. Here is how I have learned to balance the competing principles. I am just myself. By being myself I will draw certain people to me. The people that I draw to me will be my lifelong friends and they will fulfill my need for deep relationships. I will also likely push certain people away, unfortunately not intentionally, but just because that person isn’t drawn by my personality. If I want to be truly happy I have to be ok with that result. I have to just be me. I have to own it, rock it, embrace it. Even if I am different. Even if my “choice” of career isn’t your choice of career. I cannot be happy if I am constantly concerned about impressing others, or seeking their approval.
If you master this principle you will be immune to worrying about failure. Failure only has the meaning that we give to it. Failure could just as easily be coined “education”. Don’t all scientists technically fail when conducting experiments if they don’t get the result they want on the first try? Does that stop the scientist from trying again? Of course not. We are only worried about failure if we are worried about other’s opinions. The moment you stop caring becomes the moment you are no longer afraid of failure. When you are no longer afraid of failure you are in a powerful personal position, and, you are happy.
9. The Second Great Paradox: Although I Attack My Goals With Passion, I Must Also Detach From The Result And Enjoy The Ride
This is a really hard one to put into practice. It is hard because we actually “want” our results, otherwise we wouldn’t set the goal. But this is the principle where the cliche “the journey is the destination” isn’t actually cliche. It is an absolute truth that has to be applied. I have learned that sometimes, no matter what you do, you can’t control the outcome. So if you become fixated on the outcome, and you create an internal “rule” that says you will only be satisfied if you get the outcome, and then something out of your control happens that prevents you from getting the outcome, then you are often unhappy.
In order to be truly happy in life you have to learn to enjoy the ride. If you live constantly in the future your life will pass you by. If you are constantly fixated on “rewards” alone, but live a miserable day to day experience you will soon come to realize that life is just your day to day experience. Learning to lose yourself in the process of achieving a goal becomes extremely rewarding.
I learned this lesson best when I played basketball in college. The more I became fixated with “scoring” my points, the less I actually enjoyed playing and strangely enough the worse I performed. The more I lost myself in the moment of the game, the more I fully immersed myself in everything I was doing, the more I enjoyed the game, and again, strangely enough the better I performed. This principle has its roots in flow psychology and also in eastern religious tradition such as zen. Life, at least for me, is truly most enjoyable when I am enjoying the ride. When I am pursuing a fun goal (the magical question) but I don’t get so fixated on the reward that the journey becomes less desirable. Also, equally as important, if you are are fixated on the results you become risk intolerant. You become scared of failure. If you detach you are willing to swing for the fence. This is needed if you want big results.
The way this rule plays out in application is that it is easy to enjoy the ride when you are setting fun goals. If your goals are not inspiring, exciting, fun or imaginative then it can be more difficult to enjoy the ride. Again this is a very hard principle to put into application. “Detaching” is not an easy thing to do, especially in our consumer driven culture. But here are some books that will help you along the way:
Flow: The Psychology Of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly
Zen and The Art of Happiness by Chris Prentiss
10. Life Is A Great Experiment, A Curious Discovery, A Thousand Simple Tests
This is my “I’m a kid again”, or “I’m a great amateur inventor” or “I’m a mad scientist” or “I’m a wizard making spells” principle. This principle is the ultimate protection from failure. There can be no such thing as failure because everything is an experiment. Actions lead to results. If my actions don’t lead to the results I want then I simply need to change my actions. This is perhaps the greatest discovery of them all. Failure is a made up concept. It has no meaning to me.
I am on a path of discovery. Life is grand. I’m like a kid, seeing a butterfly for the first time and chasing it through the grass. If something looks interesting to me, I try it. If I don’t want to do it anymore, I don’t. When you live this way you have serious control of your emotional state. This principle applied doesn’t mean that you are non-committal. Quite the opposite, you are deeply committed to your core values (see principle 1). It just means that you aren’t going to get bogged down in the silly game of “comparison” with other people. Your life is your own. It doesn’t matter what other people do or what other people have. If it resonates true with you then it is good. Pursue it. Make life your grand experiment. Treat life like one my favourite all time quotes from Henry David Thoreau:
I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it were quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck all the marrow out of life.
My rules allow me to live deeply. They make life meaningful and rich. I hope you find your rules. Life is too dear not to live it deeply. Life is too short not to be happy.