We are terrible at predicting what will make us happier. Still, we all want to be happier! This post shows how you too can be happier today.
To the victor goes the spoils.
At least that is how the saying goes.
Is it true?
Should we strive to be happy?
Most people would agree that a happy life is a good life. Therefore, it seems like actively designing life to maximize happiness would be an excellent idea. Research, at first glance, appears to back up this point of view. However, the reality is different. In this blog post I go into what to do instead of striving for happiness, that research tells us actually works.
I made the unfortunate decision to glance at my LinkedIn feed in the middle of a recent Tuesday afternoon. It normally wouldn’t have been anything more than a slight distraction, an innocent way to take my mind off the meaningful creative work I was doing at the time.
What a mistake.
As I scanned my feed, full of work anniversaries, posts about managers looking to fill open positions and feel-good shares of how to “hack” your way to success at work, I stumbled upon a post by John (not his real name). John used to be a co-worker, about the same age and level of seniority as I. Instead of doing as I did and quiting my job to travel the world, and then moving into an entirely new field; John stayed put in the tech industry. We lost touch 6–7 years ago.
Glancing over John’s post, I clicked to see what his profile said about his career. I saw that he was no longer working for my alma mater (Microsoft). He had left while I was still working there, and in the course of the past few years had launched his career into the stratosphere, currently serving as founder/CEO of a fast-growing startup hell-bent on transforming an industry and flush with boatloads of VC cash. Not only that, I noticed that another colleague I had once worked with, was now in an exec-level position at the firm.
My innocent decision to check my social media account spiraled into a full-blown severe case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). Even worse, I started to feel the more terrible afflictions of jealousy and regret. The later is not necessarily a bad thing depending on the circumstance. Regret, in metered doses, is an opportunity to learn from the past. This time, I OD’d.
Thoughts kept swirling around in my head. I couldn’t focus on my work. I constantly wondered “What would life have been life had I stayed at my job?” and “Should I go back to my old life?” and “Did I make a mistake by quitting my job to travel the world?” and “Am I giving up on a bigger opportunity to make a positive impact on the world?”.
After too many hours of being terrorized by these thoughts, I did what I usually do when I need to get out of my head; I went for a jog. After a few miles of cruising around the meandering paths in the fresh air under blue skies (one of the perks of living near Denver, CO!) I felt better.
Having space and distance from my problem helped me get over my emotional reaction. I realized that my negative emotions were the result of ignoring a few important realities. I’d like to share them with you in the hope that they will help you to overcome any similar situation you may face down the road.
With social media addiction on the rise, it seems that FOMO and regret are also on the uptick. By checking into these three truths, you can move away from jealousy and regret and move towards something bigger and innately unique within yourself. Above all, you will find access to greater peace and calm in your day, regardless what Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn throw at you.
It is my opinion that to maximize one’s potential, not just to achieve but to contribute, that goals are a vital tool.
Goals enable the mind and body to organize resources in a manner that create a favorable outcome. Goals are the north star by which we can build the habits and systems that lead to a brighter future. I’d go so far as to say that humans are designed to be goal-seeking animals, with important aspects of our brain and physiology “lighting up” when pursuing a worthy goal.
You might think, by the tone of the past few sentences, that I think goals, and their achievement, are all that matter when it comes to living a full and successful life. If you believe that, you are incorrect.
Are you an early riser?
By early I am 5 AM early. In most locales and times of the year, this is before the sun rises. Here as I write this article, in January in Golden, Colorado, it’s pitch black at 5 AM. It’s also cold. When I wake this early, the first thing I do is turn up the heater!
For the past several years I’ve taken to waking up early. I’ve aspired to join the 5 AM club, but more often end up waking in the 6 AM range. No alarm clock needed. I’ve been going to sleep earlier than normal and moderating my caffeine use. The result is a natural 6 AM wake up.
For the past week, I’ve made it a primary goal to focus on waking at 5 AM instead. I tell myself that this is what I want to do, and make sure I’m in bed a little earlier than normal. The result has been that I’ve been getting up without any alarms at 5 AM or before! Here are my daily wake up times over the past week (January 29 - February 4):
This post is about what I’ve noticed in the past week of waking up at 5 AM. There are a lot of articles out there telling you that you should be an early riser. It is more useful to share my experience and let you decide for yourself.
Do you think it’s possible to accomplish your biggest life goals this year or less? Peter Thiel thinks so. In his book, Zero to One, Peter shares this bit of wisdom:
Q: What do you wish you know about business 20 years back?
A: There’s no need to wait. I went to law school and Stanford, but it wasn’t till I started PayPal that I realized that you don’t have to wait to start something. If you have a 10-year plan and know how to get there, you have to ask why can’t you do this in 6 months? Sometimes it’s necessary to go through the 10-year tenure, but you should always ask the question to know whether it is a story you are telling yourself or is that your reality.
I agree with his sentiment. If you want something bad enough, ask yourself if it really needs to take a long time.
This doesn’t mean that the process will be easy, it just means that you may be capable of achieving more than you thought possible.
Who says regret has to be negative? What if regret was all about understanding and learning from our past, for the sake of living a better life today? What if being clear about the things you regret not doing can help you gain certainty over your personal path to happiness?
I now embrace regret. I often think about things I’ve done (or haven’t done) that make me say “I should have done things differently!”
I don’t have many, but there are handfuls that I’ve reflected on as the years’ pass.
I’m now working my way, slowly but surely, towards the age of 40. A lot has happened in the past few years. New career. Marriage. Changing cities. New home. New interests. New friends. My daily routine is almost unrecognizable compared to how I lived even five years ago.
Now, as I reflect back, I notice that there are a few regrets I hold, particularly about things I did not do enough of in my 20’s. As I mention these things, it’s not that I ignored them as I was growing up. I did many of them throughout my teens and twenties. I just didn’t focus on them with a full level of commitment.
As Mark Twain said:
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did so. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Here are the things that I regret not doing in my twenties. I’m listing them in priority order. The first item is what I regret the most. The last is the one I regret less!
Don’t let your big, bold and audacious dream for your life suffocate your goals.
Your dream is the type of stuff you would put on your vision board. It represents wants, not needs. Your dream is a no-holds-barred picture of the kind of life you want to live. Dreams aren’t predicated on reality. You don’t need plans in place to back up a dream. Dreams are fun. Dream are also necessary.
Without a dream, motivation can wane. The purpose of near-term tasks and goals fizzle out without something big looming out on the horizon to pull us into the future.
As I’m writing this blog post, in early January 2017, we are also faced with a shocking fact. The vast majority of you, and I mean YOU, will fail in achieving your New Years Resolutions. Take heart, as you will have plenty of company. 90.8% of people fail to realize their resolutions.
That’s insane! Only 9.2% of people achieve the goals they put into place for the new year.
Does this mean the resolutions were meaningless? Does this mean that most people lack the resources and willpower to achieve their goals?
No, it does not!
What it means is that the resolutions are missing something...
Reading fiction is messing with my brain, and I like it.
I had finished reading the book I was carrying with me over the winter holidays. We were at my in-laws home, and I was scouring the house for another book to read. There were a few to choose from, scattered throughout various bookshelves. Most were being used as decorative accessories to prop up picture frames or tchotchke. I grabbed a paperback that didn’t seem to have much of a purpose. “Water for Elephants” it was called. I put it back down in search of a non-fiction book. None were to be found. I almost resorted to reading the local newspaper. Gasp!
Then, I went back to the book and picked it up. I paged through it trying to sort out what it was about. It had nothing but quotes of praise written on the jacket. From the cover image, I knew it was about a circus in the early 1900’s. My mom and wife had both read it and said it was great, though they couldn’t remember specifics. I decided to give it a shot. When was the last time I’ve read fiction? It’s hard to remember. Perhaps my second or third reading of "The Alchemist.” It’s been years.