If you want to get fit, you hit the gym. What if you want to become happier?
It’s a much harder question. Most us don’t really know what makes us happy of the top of our heads. If we knew, we’d not be in the mental health epidemic during the most prosperous time in human history.
Happiness is vague. It varies from person to person. Because it’s abstract we often avoid questioning how we can get more of it as a whole.
I know I am poor when there is no money in my bank account. To confront poverty, I need that number to go up. And there are a million ways to do it.
If I am unhappy, on the other hand, there is no one metric that I can focus on. Feelings don’t follow a formula.
We’ve all experienced happiness. And every single one of us remembers the unhappy experiences. We know WHEN happiness happens, but we rarely know WHY it does.
Why not think deductively? Learn from our experience? Why not study the history of our own happy experiences so that we can reproduce them? Perhaps, if our days had more of those moments, our lives as a whole would be happy.
Understand ⇨ Plan ⇨ Execute ⇨ Iterate
This article shows a way to engineer your happiness.
STEP 1: YOUR HAPPINESS HISTORY
What are the coolest life experiences you’ve had so far? Try to recall specific memories. Where were you? Whom were you with? What exactly made you feel happy and why?
Many of my happiest moments came from “chosen-family dinners,” for example. They usually happen the following way. A few of close friends and I co-host a dinner party. We invite friends of friends that fit a particular vibe. Unlike a potluck, where you bring your own dish, we cook together. Co-creation builds connection faster. When the food is ready and the table is served, we hold hands and express what we are grateful for. As we, eat we go deep into conversation ranging anywhere from our fears & ambitions to philosophy.
I actually don’t remember a single time when I participated in a chosen-family dinner and wasn’t profoundly happy.
Note, how I described that experience. There are themes of belonging, co-creation, taking leadership, gratitude, connection, etc. I didn’t just say “dinner with friends.” I ask myself WHY. Why did this action / event make me feel what I felt.
Try to write a paragraph for as many of your happiest experiences as you can.
Fewer unhappy moments creates more space for the happy ones. Try to reflect on your unhappy experiences too. Reflect on them in a similar fashion.
STEP 2: FIND THE PATTERNS
The more experiences you reflect on, the more data points you have to see your patterns.
It’s time to deduce what actually makes you happy and why.
For me, the happiness patterns are (why & what):
- spending quality time with the people I admire (private events like KNN, Summit, etc.)
- pursuing my curiosity and learning (acting, branding)
- trying out new things (enduro motorcycling, working on software products, boxing)
- learning from people smarter than me in a conversation (1-1 breakouts and dinners)
- being in the flow (writing, reflecting and kitesurfing)
- observing my progress and growth (celebrating milestones over steak dinner)
- when praised for my leadership & impacting other people’s lives (my company, friends, my content)
- being reactive (using my phone too much, jumping into things blindly)
- my addiction to information consumption through video (5h sprints)
- getting into self-judgement loops (projecting what other people might think)
- feeling lonely and lack of social connection (blocking all connections with the outside world)
- lack of control (can’t help those I love)
- feeling tired like a melting marshmallow (nutrition)
You must write down what is true to YOU. If you felt happy driving a Ferrari, so be it! You should probably do quite a bit of digging to understand WHY that is. It’s not Ferrari that made you happy. All objects are neutral. Your interpretation did the magic.
Either way, don’t reject that part of you. It will do more damage than good. Lying to ourselves confuses the shit out of us. And the entire point of learning from real experiences is getting clarity.
STEP 3: DETERMINE ACTIONS
In step 2, you’ve uncovered what has made you happy historically. There is an activity that you did such as kitersufing. And there is a deeper reason why it made you happy such as being being in the flow state and feeling free.
If you love spending quality time with people you care about, create an excuse to see them more often. Most things don’t require much more than just being proactive.
What are the smallest actions that you can take to put you in the environment that makes you happy?
Part 4 is about determining what specifically you can do to be a bit happier. It should be clear and actionable. Your happiness no longer needs to be abstract! Being happier means that you just need to take a specific action. It sounds easy. And it works.
Can money buy happiness?
Money can’t buy happiness. But sure as hell a ticket to some weird country far far away can buy a spirit of adventure. Money can buy a photography class that will put you among other creatives who share your passions. Money can buy you freedom to do absolutely nothing and chill at the sun or meditate at a temple for the whole month. Money give a piece of mind not to worry about finances.
The billionaire founder of Zappos, Tony Hsieh, bought a super expensive penthouse to hang out with people he cared about.
“I bought the 810 loft, not because I wanted to own more property, and not because I thought of it as a real estate investment. I bought 810 so I could architect our parties and gatherings. Owning the loft would ultimately enable more experiences.”
Excerpt From: Tony Hsieh. “Delivering Happiness.”
Tony attributes much of the success of his billion dollar company to the connections that were made there (as well as meeting his wife).
Money can certainly be of great leverage to make you happier. You just need to know how to spend it ;)
Well, and now you do!
STEP 4: TURNING HAPPINESS INTO LIFESTYLE
You don’t want to be one-and-done type of a person. Taking AN action is not enough. It’s about creating a lifestyle of happiness. Happiness should be habitual.
That’s why you should schedule activities from step 3 on your calendar. Buy a plane ticket ahead of time. Make dinners with friends a tradition for every first Thursday of every month. Or whatever it is for you.
Happiness should be your priority. Trust me, life will get in the way, and some bullshit excuse always comes and you’ll be back to where you started.
It’s 100% on you now, if you have found what makes you happy and you do nothing about it. You are to blame for your own misery. So don’t shoot yourself in the foot. Commit to the happiness lifestyle.
BEING UNHAPPY LESS OFTEN
Yes! You can absolutely do more of what you love, but you can also do less of what you don’t! Lack of unhappiness creates space and piece. You now know how to fill it.
Similar to what we did with scheduling actions to make you happier, you can also take actions to make us less unhappy.
I am addicted to content, for example. I don’t watch youtube often, but when I do… it becomes a 5h session at 2.5x the speed. By the end, I feel I tried to upload 1tb of data onto a 1gb thumb drive. It’s as if my brain is leaking out. It’s like an overdosed mental state. Like a hot dog eating competition, but at home on your own coach. I think you got the point.
Ok, I don’t think I was vulnerable enough. Here is the mysterious content I end up at at around hour 4….
Sadly, I’ve been there one too many times. Will power simply does not work, because I don’t always have it (my willpower article).
What I’ve done is I installed software that block all the distracting website. It turns off my computer at 10pm, so that I am bored. I go to sleep then. Consequently, waking up at 6 takes no effort.
I have also software that blocks my computer until I hit 1k words in the morning. Writing has become a habit.
I started leaving my phone at home. I made hard-to-control actions that make me unhappy impossible.
Engineering unhappy behaviors out of my life has increased the space for happiness.
Happiness roughly summarizes the core life objective of every human being. The main reason we are not as proactive about making ourselves happier is because happiness is abstract and subjective.
Making happiness more specific and actionable is the solution. It start with reflecting on your experiences. Then making happiness actionable. And finally, stepping into happiness as a lifestyle by scheduling it into our lives.
You know what to do.