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I think I’ve cracked the happiness code.
While I am talking about this in the context of my life, I do think that some of this could be applicable to you.
Since my tracking happiness post, I started thinking a lot about how much my life has improved over time, so I started putting together a compilation of all my thoughts, trying to document all the things that I believe led to the change.
I want to share with you how I got through some tough moments, a couple of key lessons that I learned along the way, and how I became a lot happier in my everyday life.
Think of this as a snapshot in time of where I am today. This is my ground zero, and from this point, I want to start challenging myself to start building upwards.
As always, I’d like to hear what you think about this and I’d also like to know about the kind of things you do that make you happy. Leave a comment and share your thoughts!
Let’s get into it.
Be selective with the people you spend time with
“You are the average of the five people you associate with most, so do not underestimate the effects of your pessimistic, unambitious, or disorganized friends. If someone isn’t making you stronger, they’re making you weaker.”
– Timothy Ferriss,
This one is possibly one of the toughest things to do in practice.
The people you surround yourself with the most have an incredible impact on your personality, the choices you make, and even where you end up in life.
It’s extremely tricky because most of the time, you’ll be unaware that you’re surrounding yourself with the kind of people you should be avoiding.
How to know if you’re hanging out with the right people
Here are some questions I ask myself to figure out if my relationships with people are worth investing in:
- Does their friendship consist of equal give and take?
- Do they encourage me, and push me beyond my comfort zone?
- Do they tell me when I’ve screwed up?
- Can our friendship survive through tough periods?
- Do they challenge me when I’m wrong?
- Are they willing to put in the effort to maintain and build our relationship?
Obviously I don’t disqualify people based on these criteria alone. They’re more like guidelines that I would look at, and it could be different for you. What do you value in your relationships? Let me know in the comments.
Now let’s think about this for a second: If you lost everything, would you be able to turn to your friends?
If you’re trying to improve yourself, and your friends laugh at you or belittle you, they’re not your friends. If they don’t value you or your time, politely tell them to get stuffed, cut them off, and don’t look back.
I used to have friends who didn’t believe in me, ridiculed and laughed at me behind my back, and competed against me, always feeling the need to be ahead of me in some way, no matter how trivial the stakes. I didn’t need that kind of negativity in my life and all I had to do was walk away, so I did.
Today, I have friends who are willing to push me, encourage me, and believe in me even when I don’t. I have friends who respect me enough to tell me when I’ve messed up. I have friends who appreciate my time, value my friendship, and invest the same amount of effort (sometimes even more) that I put into my relationships with them.
This didn’t happen by accident, and it took many years to get to this point.
I chose to invest in these relationships. The hardest part is finding them, and the way you can do that is by being the friend you would want to have, to the people around you. Soon enough, you’ll know which ones are worth your time, and which aren’t.
When you surround yourself with great people, you can’t help but to want to be more like them. The effect is infectious: you start sharing ideas, working together, motivating each other and enjoying each others’ company a lot more, and it’s absolutely fantastic.
Great relationships are the real secret to happiness.
Investing in the wrong people
Sometimes it’ll take years before you find out that you’ve made a mistake. I like to think that it’s a price worth paying, because when you do find those who are worth it, it will make all the difference in the world.
You don’t always need a great deal of friends—it’s always far better to have a few great ones.
Be selective with what you spend your time on
I’ve wasted a lot of my downtime in the past, and while I still do to some extent, I’m trying to be more mindful of it. I used to waste hours playing video games and watching TV shows, and while people have given me the “it’s not wasted if you’re enjoying it” speech, I’ve come to believe that it’s not true.
I’ve realised that the hours spent playing mindless video games and doing nothing of value turned into a blur of years in which I neglected my family and the precious time I could have spent with them. I had a massive, unwelcome dose of reality when I heard this for the first time:
By the time you leave to college, you’ll have spent eighty to ninety percent of the time you’ll ever spend with your parents
That statement really put a fist through my gut.
I can’t remember where I heard that, I think it was a podcast, but Tim Urban posted a similar statement on his blog, Wait But Why, in the post: “The Tail End”:
“It turns out that when I graduated from high school, I had already used up 93% of my in-person parent time. I’m now enjoying the last 5% of that time. We’re in the tail end.”
It really puts things into perspective.
The next thing I noticed is that while I was enjoying myself with these mindless activities, they didn’t create any lasting happiness. The joy of playing a video game evaporated as soon as it was over, and TV shows had the same effect. In all those years, I had done nothing of any value.
It wasn’t until I had left home for university that I decided I’d had enough of wasting my time with things that added no value whatsoever to my life.
Working towards becoming a polymath
I banned myself from watching tv shows and quit playing video games and something interesting happened. I had to find stuff to do to fill up all this newfound time on my hands so I started picking up old hobbies like playing the guitar and reading books.
I also picked up new activities, like digital art, working out, creating short videos, writing short stories, and working on a couple of business ideas (which failed terribly, but I learned a whole lot from them so no regrets there).
I felt alive and happy, and I knew I was on to something. I kept doing this, but the bad habits picked up again after a while and I slipped back into my old ways. The change was dramatic, but I barely noticed it. I was back to wasting hours on games and TV shows. I gained weight, lost touch with friends and constantly felt like something wasn’t right.
The light bulb moment took ages to arrive, but when it finally did, my life turned around once again, and this time, I started this blog, worked on another business idea (which also went on to fail), finally learned to improvise on the guitar and became a better student and person in general.
I really hope the stuff I’m saying doesn’t come off as bragging, because the core message here is that I learned that I could get a lot of things done if I stopped wasting my time with short term pleasures.
I agree with the phrase “It’s not wasted if you’re enjoying it”, but only if you’re doing something worthwhile. Otherwise, it is wasted. Yes, I did miss the opportunity to become great at a video game and have my skills become the envy of all my friends, but years later, I can safely say that no one would have cared or remembered that today.
Choosing to spend my time well made me so much happier, and while it’s hard to do consistently, I think it’s worth the effort. I’d like to know what you think about this. Have you done something like this yourself? Have you noticed a difference in the quality of your life?
When I started tracking my happiness, I could see the change occurring over time, and quite rapidly. I could visually see the impact of the changes I was making, and it was quite reassuring. It would be awesome if I could hear from you and find out if this is true (or otherwise) for you too!
Play the long game
This one actually took a lot of pressure off my shoulders. I was having a crisis of confidence, not being able to achieve the things I was aiming for. I was getting nowhere with my beginner coding lessons, I was struggling to get a job I wanted, and I felt like I needed to figure things out right then and there.
What’s the rush?
That changed when I watched a Gary Vaynerchuk video, and he asked a very simple question: “What’s the rush?”
I started wondering, what was the rush? Who was I racing and competing against? The thousands of overnight success stories that the media is all too happy to wave in our faces? I’ve been obsessing on becoming a success as quickly as possible that I missed the entire point of getting there—enjoying the process, as Gary puts it.
He’s right, I do love the process. I love the work I put in, and I enjoy learning, improving, and achieving little milestones. The problem is, I forgot all about the process, and that’s when it stopped being fun.
I spend more time watching videos and reading books about becoming successful, that I haven’t done the one thing that’s actually required to get there: Doing the actual work. And that’s going to take time to show results.
Once I figured that out, I felt like my head cleared and I could just focus on keeping my head down and getting back to work on the things I love. Being part of the process is what keeps me feeling happy, because it gives me a strong sense of purpose and drive.
I’m in this for the long haul, and sometimes I have to remind myself that a huge part of success comes from being on the journey itself, and having the fortitude to keep going, especially in the moments when I want to give up.
Learning to be Consistent
This is the second thing I realised about playing the long game. Consistency is the key to doing anything well. Whether I’m trying to learn a new skill, work out, work on a project or a side business, or pretty much anything else, consistency in the long term provides the greatest return on time invested.
I’ve been playing the guitar since I was eight years old. Yet, there are people who started a year ago who are miles ahead of me in terms of skill.
The difference is that I was inconsistent. I would pick up the guitar once every few weeks or so, whereas they practiced every day.
I’m trying to learn from that mistake, and right now, I’m focusing on keeping my nose to the grindstone.
It’s time to play the long game.
How do you find the things you love doing?
I did this by trying many different things, figuring out which ones I enjoyed and then focusing on those. You’ll know you that you’re in the right activity/job/hobby if you experience the state of flow, or being “in the zone”, consistently over a period of time. It’s a state of energised focus, and time just slips away without you noticing.
In other words, it doesn’t really feel like work. Sometimes it might, especially when it gets challenging, but it’s work that you want to do.
Working on these kinds of activities or hobbies really helps me feel like I’ve spent the day well, as long as I do at least one these per day. For me, this can be anything from cooking, to practicing my (very beginner) coding skills.
“I don’t have the time.”
At first glance, it doesn’t seem like this excuse has anything to do with being happy, but I promise it’ll start making sense by the end of this post.
I was using this excuse all the time, and worse still, I had convinced myself it was true. At one point, I was having a conversation with Van, my close friend and training partner, and sometime during the chat, I pulled out the old reliable “I don’t have the time”. He responded with silence.
I’m not sure what it was, but that awkward silence made me realise that I was full of it. Maybe it was because for the first time, someone was actually challenging my excuse.
Somewhere inside, I knew I didn’t believe my own excuse. When I said “I don’t have the time”, what I really meant was “I’m not willing to sacrifice my comfort for this.”
I went to school, I was working construction, I was working out five hours a day, I was taking acting classes from 8 o’clock at night to 12 midnight. I was doing all of those things. I wanted to make sure that out of the 24 hours of the day, that I don’t waste one single hour. Those hours were too precious.
That quote is from an interview with Arnold Schwarzenegger. That’s how he used to spend his 24 hours. That’s also why he won the Mr. Olympia championship seven times in a row. Can you honestly say that you’re not wasting a single hour of your day?
I can’t, but I’m trying to get there.
The reason I’m quoting Arnold, is because he is the definition of a polymath. According to his Wikipedia page, he’s an actor, producer, businessman, investor, author, philanthropist, activist, politician, and former professional bodybuilder.
He achieved all this by pushing himself well beyond his comfort zone and making the most of the time he had available.
I, on the other hand, have been coddling myself. Eventually, I had to tell myself that if I’m not willing to put in the work, if I’m not willing to sacrifice my short term comfort, then I need to be able to look at myself in the mirror and tell myself that I deserve to be stuck where I am.
This is where I am now:
I’m working on my fitness, learning to code, working on developing a couple of business ideas, improving my relationships with people, along with a couple of smaller goals that you can read about on my Now page. Of course, I expect to fail along the way—none of these things are easy—but I’m going to keep at it.
I’m sharing this publicly because I wan’t to challenge myself. I want some form of accountability, so that the next time you see me in person, I’m going to be an improved version of myself. Now, if I don’t achieve my goals, I’ll be publicly humiliated. How’s that for incentive?
Avoiding discomfort guarantees unhappiness
If you’re wondering how anyone could possibly feel happier by pushing themselves to their limit, spending every moment of their day honing their craft, challenging themselves, and going flat out to work on dreams they may never achieve, you’re not alone.
I often wondered why anyone would choose to work that hard when they could sit back and binge-watch Netflix instead.
I now believe that the way to feeling happier and more satisfied with life is a little counter-intuitive for most people: Seeking out discomfort.
Bear with me.
If you don’t push yourself out of your comfort zone, you’re left feeling unfulfilled. Consider working out—if you don’t push yourself until it hurts to the point that you want to quit, your body simply doesn’t get stronger. Anything less than that is your comfort zone.
This is true for pretty much anything. Take relationships: If you don’t approach that cute guy or girl because it’s outside of your comfort zone, you’ll get nowhere.
Seeking out that discomfort and putting yourself out there is what gets you results, and that eventually builds confidence, a sense of self-worth and achievement, and happiness.
Sharing this post so everyone can see my mistakes and my failures is definitely outside my comfort zone, but I’m doing it because I’m hoping that by sharing this, I can help at least one person. If I can do that, then to me, that’s a resounding success.
Discomfort is partly why I think more people should aspire to be polymaths. It’s far from easy, and there’s a lot of work involved, but while the idea of picking up new skills and spending time learning about new things can seem daunting, you’d be surprised at how much better you’ll feel with yourself.
In fact, I’d say that doing these things can and will significantly improve your overall satisfaction with life.
How badly do you want this?
Eric Thomas once shared a story that contained one of my favourite quotes of all time. I listened to this years ago, and it had such a profound impact on me. Here’s the video if you want to watch it yourself (it’s so worth it):
At the end of the story, he says:
When you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, then you’ll be successful.
Have you ever started something, feeling pumped up only to give up a couple of days later? That’s happened to me so many times, and each time it’s because I didn’t want it bad enough. Now, whenever I feel like quitting, I remember this speech, and ask I myself, “How badly do I want this?”.
Positive self-talk is one of the greatest tools you have, because when no one else is around, you’ve got your back. Maybe a little ironically, your greatest enemy is also yourself, because there will always be that voice in your head telling you to give up. That’s when the positive self-talk can really come in handy, to be the opposing voice that keeps you going.
I’ve been through many different public speaking scenarios and there have been moments where I froze, forgot my speech or story halfway through, said something stupid, embarrassed myself, and got laughed at. When I was up on that stage, I had only my own voice to tell me to keep going, battling the little one that was telling me to run off stage and hide.
Taking a moment to be grateful
There’s a reason why a person can have a roof over their head, running water, unlimited food, access to the internet, transportation, safety, community, a healthy body, youthfulness, and somehow still manage to be unhappy. It’s a lack of a gratitude, and a lack of perspective.
If you’re reading this, you probably own the device that’s enabling you to do so. That alone makes you more fortunate that you can possibly imagine. How often do you stop to consider that? If you’re like me, probably not very often, and if that’s the case, let’s work on that.
You can’t be happy if you can’t appreciate what you already have, and sadly, most people don’t and never will. They’re too busy being consumed with what they don’t have, and that’s why they will never have enough.
Think about this for a second, if you achieve a goal or receive something new, how long does that great feeling last? How long do you feel a sense of gratitude? Usually, it fades away quickly and then it’s time to start chasing the next high, and then the next.
In my opinion, chasing happiness is a pointless exercise if you aren’t grateful for what you already have, because no matter what you achieve and how high you climb, the destination will never be good enough to satisfy you.
Here’s to us
I want you to live not just a good life, but a great one. I want you to be able to say that you are truly happy with your life, and mean it. That’s why I’m sharing all of this with you, in the hopes that you will gain something from it, and find your own happiness.
One of the reasons I started writing this blog is because I wanted you to be able to see the steps that I have taken, and the mistakes I’ve made and will continue to make. If you think anything I’ve said above is flat out wrong or if you want to make suggestions, please let me know. I’m more than happy to learn from you and accept criticism.
I’ve had many moments where I felt like I was going nowhere in life, just doing the same, routine things and living the same day over and over. I spent a lot of time feeling stuck. I constantly felt unfulfilled, lethargic, and deflated, because everything seemed completely monotonous.
I think the truth is, I had only myself to blame for feeling that way. I was choosing to feel sorry for myself rather than take action and do something about it.
Thankfully, I don’t feel that way anymore. I’m challenging myself to live the best life I can live. I can look at my own life right now and honestly say that I have a great one, and I couldn’t be more grateful for being able to say that.