The Pursuit of Happiness
Happiness, you can find it in the most unexpected places and times and still lack it when every other component in your life is clicking. What is the trick? Below are some simple practices that I have adopted, when applied effectively, help keep me in control of our greatest assets – mind and will power.
1. Live in the Moment
Over the past two years, I have been reading and following many traditional Buddhist philosophies and applying them to my personal life. One topic that has repeatedly made its way into my daily lifestyle is the notion of “living in the moment”. Simply put, living in the moment does not mean you always have to be doing something fulfilling or exciting. It means, that in the span of an average day, your mind will trigger many emotions ranging from negative past experiences or optimistic future outlooks. Despite the range of these emotions, living in the moment means to enjoy, experience, digest, and appreciate the minor details around you. Details, details, details.
How many of you go about your daily routines and never truly experience your surrounding? Have you ever stopped in the middle of a morning commute and just looked around? It is quite exhilarating, despite being highly unnatural in practice. When we slow down en route to a destination, anxiety often fills us. Train yourself to keep this emotion down. Be the master of your choices. You are in control of the present.
Next time you go out to eat, take time to appreciate the energy around you. Notice the people, the details on food preparation, and something as simple as the ambiance. I often find a brief feeling of euphoria when noticing really nice lighting, weather natural sunlight covering a white wall, or dim lighting setting the mood in a public place. Notice the colors, patterns, shapes, and more importantly people around you. When you take all of this in, not only do you become more “alive”, you don’t have time to dwell on the past or worry about the future.
Lastly, when the past haunts you, you are becoming a victim to something that is unchangeable and out of your control. I use a technique of visualizing a giant stop sign in my head as any negative past emotions begin to evolve in my mind. You can learn from the past, but remember the positive outcomes and or lessons, and let everything else reside in the earlier chapters of your life story. There is nothing positive that comes out of dwelling on negative past experiences.
2. Comparison is the Thief of Joy
The first step is to remember that true happiness comes from within, not from other people. People can provide happiness but to truly live a happy life you will need to make yourself vulnerable and open to a positive mindset and happiness in general. Remember people come and go in your life so don’t depend on any one person as they key to your happiness. When we compare ourselves to others, there are two general outcomes that emerge: a feeling of superiority or inferiority. Both are highly toxic, one being a sense of arrogance and the other a self-inflicting confidence killer.
Confidence comes from within. You don’t need to feel better than anyone else to feel confident, you need to be comfortable and confident with yourself. This is a difficult step because we often gain confidence via the feedback that people give us. Women know this experience as they go to a bar and are approached by many different guys in one night. This feedback alone is enough to let the woman know that she is desirable or is doing something right. They key in this step is to keep a positive and confident aura that will be present regardless of the feedback or people around you, because when the feedback is negative, you need to live in the moment and have the confidence to brush it off.
When we compare ourselves to other people, we typically do it on face value. This means that we compare physical attributes, signs of wealth, or even something more uncontrollable like success relative to age. What we fail to analyze is the emotions, struggles, and mental processes behind this person. Their life might be miserable behind closed doors and or vice versa. We really don’t know, so there is no reason to worry about it. You can live for yourself and be unselfish at the same time, if that is ever a concern.
3. Keep Low Expectations
This step has been a huge focus on my day to day interactions and lifestyle. When you keep expectations low, you do not leave yourself vulnerable to massive disappointment that may occur when expecting too much out of a situation. Before we analyze this further, notice the relationship between expectation levels and positivity. When you keep low expectations it does not mean you have low confidence or are a pessimistic person. All you are doing is simply accepting the fact that the outcome of a situation and or decision is at the mercy of a greater energy or force that is beyond our control.
When you apply for a job, expect to be declined. When you meet someone new, give the person a fair chance and be genuine, but do not give them too much trust at the very beginning. When you do this, you leave yourself open to variety, surprises, and happiness (albeit temporary). If you get hired for the position, it will be a great moment. If you do not, accept the fact that it was not meant to be and that there is a greater reason behind why it happened.
Ironically, the same things that can attribute to happiness can lead to the internal tortures that we all go through. People are a large source of happiness and disappointment. Be weary of each situation but do not over-analyze the finer details. If you train yourself to keep expectations low, you will find more and more happiness at the result of a situation, outcome, or event.
4. Knowing What You Don’t Want is the Key
That moment I admitted to myself that money is not as important as I always thought, the heaviest weight I have ever felt was lifted off of my shoulders. The day I decided to never again pursue a career in high finance was another one of those moments. For the five years previous to these epiphanies, I was living a lie to myself- chasing something that I thought would make me powerful, successful, and wealthy, despite knowing deep down that I would be miserable in the process.
With the countless opportunities in this world, it is important to focus on something that you really want to do in life. The hardest part is finding this goal. In my case, this question has really been a source of curiosity, motivation, and more often than not, despair, since high school. After analyzing the situation and making a list of things that I didn’t want, I have positioned myself on a better track to find that true passion or activity.
I recommend finding the source of stress in your life, especially when it involves many decisions, and begin to cancel out options that are distracting your true path. Anything and everything will help. Be true to yourself in the process and don’t let societal norms, parents, peers, or anyone else influence your decision making in this process. Write down a list of things that you would like as well. For example, my “3 year plan” is to simply continue living in Europe, improve on my language skills, and create a business that can be operated online.
These simple goals allow for change and adaptability in the future depending on what happens. I know what I do not want is an office job, too much debt, and general boredom in life. Having the latter listed is a great sense of comfort than the former. While not full-proof, I am confident this step will help you cancel out distractions and lead to more happiness in the future.
5. “Variety is the Spice of Life”
I love this simple quote for so many reasons. It represents adventure, danger, change, experience, and life in six simple words. Humans seek advancement, intellectual stimulation, and growth. When we push ourselves to new limits, it is scientifically proven that we gain a greater source of happiness. One way of doing this is to experience new things in life. It sounds simple, but it really does work. My personal philosophy is to say YES to any new experience that is within my moral boundaries.
Get out of your comfort zone and really try to experience new things. This can be even in the form of trying out a new type of food, hobby, traveling to a new place, or even surrounding yourself with people that you would typically not socialize with. Remember to keep expectations low, abolish all of your prejudgments, and really try to accept and learn from a new experience.
I went to meditate for the first time a few months ago, which was a really unique experience that helped fix my posture but also took me to a new level mentally. I probably would have said no to this invitation a few years ago, but seeking out new experiences has really been a source of happiness and value in my life. When new experiences do not meet your already low expectations, then you can add them to the list of things that you have tried but are not very interested in.
The most important thing to keep in mind is KILL THE ROUTINE. Do not let yourself fall victim to a routine that makes you count down the days of the week. It may help people stay organized and that is great, but if you have to keep a routine try and incorporate new activities within each day to make each day unique and memorable. Take a new route to school or work, eat something different, wear something that you wouldn’t typically wear (a great way to really keep your mind fresh), or just simply talk to new people about new topics.
6. Age is Just a Number: Adapt to it and Accept the Chaos
My grandfather always told me that life started at 50 for him. It was the moment when he felt comfortable in life, relaxed, and a leader of his family. It was more importantly the time when he felt the most stimulated intellectually. Aging can be scary for a lot of people. Society (and in some cases biology) tell us when we should start acting mature, settle down, and have a family. While some cases are recommended, I would argue that age is just a number and a person’s mindset is more important.
I read a recent study that polled thousands of older people from around the world about the happiest times in their lives. Surprisingly enough, the “happiest period” for these people was ages 30-34. Second, was childhood years when responsibility was low but curiosity was highest. The twenties were at the bottom of the list and for good reason. When you are in your twenties you git hit with a reality check that it is time to start maturing and thinking about the future. It is a time of chaos, turmoil, mental torment, and confusion for a lot of people. You are young, wild, and free, but at the same time have an underlying sense of worry that is fostering deep below.
My advice, to find happiness, find happiness at every age and accept the fact that aging and death are two realities that we all share in common around the world. They are a common beauty. Embrace your age but do not stress on it. It is just a number. Don’t worry bout your age when it comes to career or social activities. If you feel it, do it. If you want to be the 40 year old at a club, be that 40 year old, and be him proudly. The people judging you will be in your shoes eventually and probably too self-conscious to do the same, so go for it.
7. Sex, Relationships, and Love
For this post, I don’t want to dwell to much on the arguments of love and relationships, etc. We could argue all day about if true love really exists, if people are biologically meant to be in long-term relationships, or the religious hazards with sex. Personally, I do not care about these debates and I find that they bring more negativity than positivity. I want to discuss these elements in terms of happiness, from a scientific point of view.
The force behind all of the pleasurable feelings that come with relationships, love or sex, is a central neurochemical called dopamine. It is the happiness drug. At its most basic, this chemical is activated when you engage in activities that further your survival, or the continuation of your genes. From sex, eating, taking risks, achieving goals, or drinking water, all increase dopamine, and dopamine turns on your reward circuitry. Dopamine can be addicting (and for good reason), which is why you see people like Russell Brand who have genuine sex addictions. When you have a deficient level of dopamine, you experience things such as a lack of ambition or drive, low energy, anxiety, and anti-social behavior. When you have an access level of dopamine, you might turn into Russell Brand (could be worse). The mental connections, bonds, and physical interactions with other people will lead to a dopamine trigger, which in theory, will lead to a sense of happiness.
Like anything, high dopamine levels are not really sustainable unless you see out the rewards that will trigger the effect in your brain to release it. Adventure sports, sex, being in love, or simply eating a nice piece of dark chocolate, are all excellent ways to trigger this response. Find your formula and drink up like it’s your 21st birthday all over.
8. Alone Time
As a naturally introverted and analytical person, I value nothing more than quality alone time after a long over-stimulated day. One thing that I would recommend doing is really having time spent on yourself. Have one day a week where you can really think and treat yourself right. Back in New York, I was big on wellness products so once a week I would take a longer than usual shower, use good natural products, go to the gym, read, do something creative, and just think. These days would be my “me” days and would be spent alone for the majority of it. It gave me time to reflect, think, find peace, and just unwind a little.
Once in a while, there are people who come into your life who think and connect on a deep mental level that matches exactly with yours. If you know someone like this, you could also spend the alone time with them or connecting and discussing in a low pressure and open environment. The objective is to shut off the outside world, tune out negativity, and do things that make you happy. Whatever it may be, try to dedicate a few hours a week to this practice as a way to rejuvenate yourself and create the flow that will open the doors to happiness.
9. The Key To Life is Balance
This is the most important thing on the list on my opinion and one that my Parisian friends and I often discuss. In the grand scheme of life everything is about balance. Tim Ferriss, author of the 4-Hour Workweek, describes this principle by using the 80-20 Pareto Principle “Law of the Vital Few”, which explains that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. In our life that can translate to 80% of our happiness is derived from 20% of the people, events, choices, or activities that we do. It also relates to business where in a large number of cases, 80% of a company’s profits can be directly linked to the top 20% of clients. The focus of the Pareto Principle is to stay focused and become more efficient on the activities that you chose.
In school, work just hard enough to obtain the grades that you want. There is a very applicable saying that I like, which is, “Work Smarter, Not Harder”. I am tried to teach this philosophy to my former classmates who literally overwork themselves to the point that they unnecessarily stress themselves out. Sometimes taking the path of least resistance is the smarter way to go. Once you find this balance, I really do believe in the realistic acquisition of true happiness. Find the balance with work, life, school, family, friends, personal time, ambitions, and anything else and you will be happy. Being extreme will leave you longing for more. Studying too much will lead to a lack of social interaction. If you go to the gym and work out 10 hours a day, the law of diminishing returns will eventually win. Extreme people might have extreme results (think of the businessman who is rich but works 20 hours a day), but I truly feel that happiness lies within the balance.
10. Find Ways to Give to People and Help People
Simple and effective. You feel good when other people feel good for something you helped with. If not, then just keep doing what you are doing because it helps make the world a better place. Find your spots in small dosages – help an elderly lady cross the street, donate, offer free tutoring, etc. This point is not elaborate and is simple. Start as soon as possible and do it genuinely.
1) Avoid reading and focusing much on current events and the news. It is often front-loaded with depressing, sad, and unfortunate stories. Try and find out about current events via word of mouth with people. If it is really that important, someone will be talking about it.
2) The Pursuit of Happiness is not a destination, it is a journey. There will never be a point where you will achieve happiness and will never have to seek it out anymore. That is humanly impossible. Enjoy the journey, grow as a person, seek happiness.
3) Surround yourself with optimistic and happy people. This is obvious, but one negative person can really kill the mood for a larger group of people. Ironically, I was always the realist who might have contributed to the “killing of a high”. I do think I have grown out of this and matured, thankfully.
4) Take big chances and risks in life. It contributes to the increase of dopamine, but also to greater potential outcomes for happiness. When I decided to quit the FBI, move to Texas, and then move to Paris within a one month span, it was probably the riskiest thing I have ever done. Six months later, it was easily the best decision I have ever made in my life. Think about something, analyze it, then listen to your gut and do it.
• www.zenhabits.net (great site directly relating to everything discussed)
• http://betterexplained.com/articles/understanding-the-pareto-principle-the-8020-rule/ (explanation of the Pareto Principle)
• www.noexcuselist.com (Best place to learn anything for free)
• http://www.health-science-spirit.com/neurosex.html (The Neurochemistry of sex and dopamine)