You want to discuss happiness, right?
There’s a place we must start. Something uncomfortable I must share with you.
You’re going to die one day.
This is not a new idea. It’s actually not an idea at all. It’s a basic truth. One you’ll see or have seen pop up a lot in my work.
You see, happiness is not about what you do for work, how much money you have in the bank, or finding a life long partner. Happiness is about living. Living is about choices. And there will always be more ways to live than the one way you’re currently living. Universally, there’s no better teacher of living than death. Death enables appreciation for life. It forces you to understand there will be a finality to your life. So my method for being happy requires you to face the fact that you’re going to die and realize you have some choices to make before that happens. Don’t feel overwhelmed, though. My method is quite simple, you’ll see.
Maybe you’re thinking, What makes Doug qualified to tell me how to be happy?
Great question. Here’s the best I can offer you: I’m pretty happy most of the time, you’re going to die one day, and I’m assuming that before you do, you’d like to be happy. As far as I can tell, those three things are as good a reason as any to share my method for how to be happy. If you’re already happy, don’t read the rest of this article. You’re on the right track. Just keep doing whatever you’re doing.
If not, let’s get to it.
Step 1: Ignore what other people are doing.
Here’s another uncomfortable truth. We’re all status seekers and this makes step one particularly difficult. I know we don’t like to think of ourselves this way, but we can’t fight biology. We’re all wired for survival. If you think you’re the smartest person, you likely feel threatened when someone signals they’re smarter. If you think you’ve got the most money, you feel threatened when someone signals they have more money. If you think you’re a ladies’ man, you feel threatened when someone signals they get more ladies than you. It goes on and on. The chemical response in your body is pretty straightforward. Your serotonin plummets, and your cortisol spikes. You get antsy and annoyed, and consequently less happy. You can’t really avoid it, which is why I recommend just ignoring what other people are doing.
Let’s go a little deeper, though. Everyone in life is playing a different game, and we’re all different people with a different starting hand. Some are playing the smarts game, some are playing the ladies game, and some are playing the money game. There are countless games people could be playing, and there are nuances and niches in every game. Each game has its own rules and different levels, which is why competition in life is stupid. A med student is different than a surgeon with 20 years’ experience, and a surgeon with 20 years’ experience is different than a psychologist with 20 years’ experience, yet they’re all doctors. People are playing different games with different rules, all on different levels, all the time. The only time competition works is when you’re playing the same game with the same rules.
All of our social media platforms make this a real challenge. Rather than being exposed to Tim the guy across the street, now we’re constantly exposed to the entire world. Everyone thinks they’re competing with each other because they have equal access to the distribution and acquisition of content. Of course, now that you’ve read this, you know this is all bullshit.
If you’re paying attention to everyone else, your focus is too external. If you want to be happy, your focus needs to be more internal. You have to focus on you, only you, and just get better at being you.
Step 2: Find out what you love. Do more of it.
It’s trendy right now to say, “Following your passion is bullshit advice.” Maybe that’s true when it comes to work, but life isn’t about work, and neither is step one. This has nothing to do with your career, although it might. It’s not always easy to figure out, but I think without much effort you’ll be able to. I’m simply asking you to figure out what you love to do. Do you love playing golf? Golf more. Do you love writing? Write more. Do you love listening to music? Listen to more music. There are countless things you can love doing, and I hereby give you permission to do those things as much as possible.
Now you might be thinking, Well, there are plenty of things I love, but they’re bad for me. Even better. You don’t even need me to provide a moral compass for you; you already know. Drinking alcohol is bad for you, but drinking socially with friends makes me really happy. I know l can’t do that every night, so I don’t. I save it for Friday or Saturday. On the contrary, I love reading, to which there’s no glaring downside, so I read every day.
As you go through life, what you love will probably change, which is why I recommend consistent reevaluation of this question: Do I still love this thing? You should always be doing more of the things you love; otherwise, by definition, you’re doing the things you don’t love. That sucks and will make you unhappy, I promise.
Maybe you don’t know what you love. Maybe all you know is that something makes you feel good. Great—keep doing that thing. Just feeling good is a good reason to do anything.
Step 3: Find out who you love. Spend more time with them.
This step has nothing to do with romance, although it could. Admittedly, I’m still working on the romance department. I’m hoping one day that’ll change, but for now I certainly have people in my life I love. So I spend as much time as I can with them. My circle is pretty small, and I like it that way. Sure, I have plenty of friends, but only a handful I communicate with regularly. This is just reality. Some I see more than others, mainly because of proximity, but I’m not looking to communicate regularly with a ton of people. Why? I need time to do what I love (see above) and spend time with friends and family I love.
Now, it’s just logical that people who are geographically closer to you will get more of your time, so don’t beat yourself up for not seeing people you love who don’t live close to you. I’m lucky to live close to my family (who I love), so I see them regularly. I have friends whom I love but unfortunately see way less of then I should. It’s a proximity thing—nothing more, nothing less.
Step 4: Find out where you love. Go there more.
This step has nothing to do with actual residence, although it might. As they say in real estate, location, location, location. Quite simply, if you love California, visit California as much as you can. If you love traveling, spend more time on the road or in the air. Maybe you love one particular restaurant in your town; go eat there more often. Not sure if you love somewhere? Go there and find out. Maybe you really love a place, or at least you think you do. I’d recommend taking an extended stay there, and potentially consider moving there. In fact, I’m going through this right now. I really love Miami. I don’t know why. Well, I do, but that’s another discussion for another day. Anyway, I’m always contemplating moving there. It’s quite possible I might. Which leads me perfectly to step 5.
Step 5: Align steps 2 thru 4.
How do I fit all the things I love into my life? This is the hardest part.
Everything requires a trade-off. You can’t play golf and write at the same time. You can’t hang out with all your friends, all the time. See all your family, all the time. When you’re in New York City, you can’t be in Connecticut. Typically, just when you think you’ve struck the right balance, something in your life reminds you, “Not so fast there, Dougie. Don’t forget about me, I thought you loved me.” And then you may have to recalibrate.
There’s the obvious fact that you’ve got to make money to do things. If you love traveling to Europe, driving fancy cars, and eating sushi every night, you’re going to have to align your money-earning ambition accordingly. If you like to read, watch movies, and travel around New England, you probably won’t need as much money. It all starts with figuring out the things you love to do. What good is money if you’re not doing what you love? You don’t want to trade off what you love doing. Those are things that will make you happiest.
Of course, you’re thinking, but I have no clue what I love, who I love, or where I love. Or, I think I love this, that, or there. You have to consider that you might be getting tricked by the idea of new. We habituate to old and repetitive, therefore we often get drawn to the new and shiny. So to find happiness, testing and tweaking incrementally is the process. Not sure if you love someone? Hang out with them more, you’ll find out. Not sure if you if you love somewhere? Go there, you’ll find out. Not sure if you love something? Do it, you’ll find out. Might sound shallow, but test friends, places, and things. How else are you going to know if you love them? Okay, so you can’t test family, but you can test time exposed to them. Not sure if you can stomach your sister? Test the amount of time you spend with her little by little.
Step 6: Ignore what other people think about your life.
The last step is a continuation of step one. Everyone will have an opinion about what you do, who you love, and where you love. Everyone has an image of you in their head that they want you to live up to. But that’s only an image in their head. You’re a real person. The only opinion or image of your life that really matters is yours. Nobody else is living your life for you. We’re all highly unique individuals with highly unique compounded experiences. If you’ve gotten to this point in the article, that means you’re listening to me. But I want to remind you, you don’t have to.
Case in point: I write in the “self-help” genre, which might be the dumbest genre ever because the majority of non-fiction writing is technically self-help. But anyway, there are people who don’t even consider what I do writing. Should I care what they think? Absolutely not. I love writing. For the record, that’s like someone saying electronic music isn’t music because they don’t use real instruments. Or something silly like that. Hey dumbass, all that music you love gets put through mixers, tweaked, changed, edited, and influenced. (Sorry, I’ll get off my soapbox.)
The point is, everyone is playing their own game with their own hand. You might be dealing with a parent who just got diagnosed with cancer, and someone else might have just won the lottery. All these different people with different varying circumstances are going to have an opinion about your life. Don’t listen. It’s more destructive than constructive, despite what they want to tell you.
Does happiness last?
In short, yes, but you’ll need to ascribe meaning to whatever you’re doing. This also happens to be the most important question you’ll ever have to answer, What has meaning to me? I realize that’s a big statement, but it’s really just another uncomfortable truth.
Most gurus might tell you to start with why. I say start on the surface with your feelings and work backwards to why. I think starting with why is incredibly intimidating and often demotivating. It paralyzes you into inaction rather than action. Thinking over doing. You might find this odd coming from someone whose general through line in life is intention over everything. But why is about meaning. We define meaning. We create meaning, which means we can ascribe meaning to anything.
The human condition is real. I want you to ascribe meaning to what you love—people, places, experiences, and things. Of course, these are perhaps the greatest choices you’ll make in your life. Just as I’ve done by sharing this article with you.
Or even better, as I’ve done and do with death. It’s the end that signifies the beginning.
It’s death that makes you happy just to be living.