Friends!

My silly, beautiful, strong friends. Welcome to yet another fantastic DEEP DIVE post with your host, johnsamuelgray. Today isn't going to be a walk in the park. No, friends, we aren't talking about baking cookies on this website. Today, we're here to talk about happiness. Perhaps the greatest challenge of all is to uncover what's behind this coveted state of being. But that's what we're about. We're starting off with the hard things, starting off with what's important. Because, if we don't start with what's important, how do we know we'll have time for it later? 

Here's how it's going to go: 

  1. What is happiness? (answer: excitement)
  2. Why are relationships important to our happiness?
  3. What is Stoicism and how can it help us become happier?
  4. Why is gratitude important to our happiness?
  5. Who is Tony Robbins and what can he teach us to become happier?
  6. Magical Surprise! 
  7. What are John's final thoughts?

Before diving in, I have two focuses for us today: simplicity and engagement. I am going to work to be as simple as possible while being as engaging as possible. Complexity is the enemy of execution, which is why I'm being simple. But, if I'm not engaging, you won't read a word further. Simple, and engaging. Sound good? 

LET'S GO!

What is happiness? 

What is happiness? Money. Obviously. 

What is happiness? Money. Obviously. 

My friend Tim is a lot smarter than I am, so I'll let him define happiness for us. .  

The opposite of happiness is—here’s the clincher—boredom.
Excitement is the more practical synonym for happiness, and it is precisely what
you should strive to chase. It is the cure-all. When people suggest you follow your
“passion” or your “bliss,” I propose that they are, in fact, referring to the same
singular concept: excitement.
— Tim Ferriss in The 4-Hour Workweek

Why is excitement the goal? Because when we are excited about doing things, we do things. The more things we do (that don't hurt ourselves or others), the more things we get done, and the better we get at doing these things. The more things we get done, the more accomplished we feel, and the more trusted we are by others. The better we get at doing things, the more useful we are to the world, and the more enjoyable doing things becomes.

See? It's a whole, fun cycle. 

With excitement as our goal, we want to dive into how we're going to get there. We're going to spend some time with some of the world's greats today, leading us along the path towards understanding excitement better, but before I go on, I want to make something very clear. 

Becoming excited about life takes work.
— The Amazing johnsamuelgray

The work starts now, with this post. And it doesn't stop. That is the nature of work, we continually do it. So, consider this the beginning of your excitement education. Keep this in mind as we explore all angles of happiness. Nothing will come for you if you don't take action; if you don't put in the work. 

 

Why are relationships important to our happiness?

Reason number one to have friends: they will transform you from human to flying squirrel .

Reason number one to have friends: they will transform you from human to flying squirrel .

The smart people of the world (Harvard) did a 75-year-long study on adult development and found out this: 

It turns out that people who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community, are happier, they’re physically healthier, and they live longer than people who are less well connected.
— Robert Waldinger, Director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development

Find Rob's TED Talk here. 

To summarize the talk: the quality of people's close relationships turned out to be correlated with living longer, having better health, and feeling happier throughout life. Not just the number of relationships, but the degree to which relationships were conflict-free had a significant impact on overall happiness. 

But why?

I am not sure. Loneliness seems to be synonymous with boredom, which is the enemy of excitement, but that doesn't tell us why relationships can make us happy. The best I have right now is this: because I get most excited when help others, and my best relationships are those that I can provide the other person the most value, then, aiming for quality, close relationships, can lead to excitement through delivering value to others. 

Basically, helping others always makes me feel excited, so let's aim for excitement by focusing on our relationships. 

Relationships also act as great safety nets for ourselves. When we find ourselves in times of disaster, we have our friends to help us out. The better our relationships, the less likely we are to find ourselves unable to find help.

One final reason to build strong relationships: become invincible to pain.

Our most happily partnered men and women reported, in their 80s, that on the days when they had more physical pain, their mood stayed just as happy. But the people who were in unhappy relationships,on the days when they reported more physical pain, it was magnified by more emotional pain.
— Robert Waldinger, Director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development

While we are uncertain why exactly good relationships make us happier, we can be be sure that they do, and that our efforts to build our relationships will directly result in more happiness. As an actionable moving forward, we must work towards keeping and maintaining strong relationships in our lives that are mostly free of conflict. 

A few ideas to help you move forward in your relationships today:

  • Replace screen time with people time.
  • Talk to someone you had a good relationship with, but haven't talked to for awhile.
  • Go on a long walk with a friend.
  • Host a potluck. There is nothing that brings people together better than food.
  • Join a community for a hobby you have always wanted to start.

 

What is Stoicism and how can it help us become happier?

Marcus Aurelius - an emperor of Rome and famous for practicing Stoicism. Hey, if it helped a Roman Emperor, it can probably help us, right?

Marcus Aurelius - an emperor of Rome and famous for practicing Stoicism. Hey, if it helped a Roman Emperor, it can probably help us, right?

Cue entrance of smart people...

According to its teachings, as social beings, the path to happiness for humans is found in accepting that which we have been given in life, by not allowing ourselves to be controlled by our desire for pleasure or our fear of pain, by using our minds to understand the world around us and to do our part in nature’s plan, and by working together and treating others in a fair and just manner.
— Wikipedia

In other words, we need to take responsibility for our happiness by protecting ourselves from the awful parts of the world. 

Stoicism is based on controlling the way we interpret the world. If something does something to us to make us angry, instead of feeling the anger, which is essentially us being mad at the world for not being exactly how we want it to be, we accept the world for how it is, release our anger, and move on with our lives. 

But, we can't just accept everything, or else nothing would get done. Stoicism says we shouldn't waste our energy on that which we can't control, as these things usually cause fear, anxiety, anger, and overall dissatisfaction. Instead, we should direct all of our attention towards the things over which we have full control; things like our eating habits, the environments we expose ourselves to, and how we greet people when we meet them. 

At its core, stoicism is about letting go of the act of worrying from our lives. When we worry, we spend energy deciding whether something out of our control is going to act in our favour. Spending this energy worrying has no effect on the outcome. In fact, this energy would be much better spent actually doing something about our problem. Say, if we're worried about our physique, instead of worrying about it, we use our energy to control the situation (get on a diet and exercise plan), and move on.

Another beautiful stoic idea: To have a good and meaningful life, we must overcome our insatiability.

Instead of becoming happy later, once we have fulfilled our desires, we choose happiness now. How? 

Learn to want things we already have. 

This turns happiness from a destination into a state of being. By learning to want what we already have, we will be able to step off the Hedonic Treadmill and spend more of life being happier. When we make our happiness conditional to fulfilling our desires, we only experience brief moments of happiness once a desire is fulfilled, because at this moment,  our desire is replaced with a new, greater desire - one which we have yet to fulfill. And the happiness is gone. 

We need to learn to want less to get out of this constant state of not achieving our goals. Instead of spending our lifetimes chasing happiness, we need to work to experience it, at every moment. No, this does not mean we get to sit on the couch all day. It means we must use all of our energy (that we control) to work hard to help others, through our work and social interactions. If we can do this, we can be happy both in the pursuit and in achieving our goals. 

If you're interested in learning more about Stoicisim, you can start here and here. If you want this special philosophy of life to really become a part of your core, I recommend listening to the book A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy and/or reading Seneca's Letters from a Stoic here

As a final caveat, because I know Mark would kill me, I am not saying that life is going to be happy all the time. In fact, the times in which we experience the greatest struggle usually bring us greater happiness in the lessons we learn upon reflecting in the longer term. But, aiming for happiness remains an awesome goal. Perhaps though, instead of aiming for happiness, we might consider aiming for learning - an act which isn't always pleasant. 

Why is gratitude important to our happiness?

When we are grateful, we focus on feeling happy about what we have. When we complain, the opposite of being grateful, we feel unhappy about what we don't have. It's a pretty basic choice: choose to feel great about what we have instead of worrying about what we don't. Very Stoic. 

There are a few ways you can incorporate gratitude in your life:

1.The 21 day Complaint Free Challenge

The challenge: Wear a bracelet on your wrist, and switch it from wrist to wrist each time you complain. Once you can keep it on the same wrist for 21 days in a row, you have completed the challenge. 

They have done studies with groups who have participated in this challenge, finding that choosing to eliminating complaining actually affects the makeup of our brains. By choosing to eliminate complaining, we stop wasting energy on worrying about what we can't control. With this extra energy, we practice gratitude. 

2. Morning Gratitude Practice

Mornings are a great time for things beyond gratitude like meditative walks on the beach.

Mornings are a great time for things beyond gratitude like meditative walks on the beach.

he practice: Immediately upon waking, think of three different things you are deeply grateful for. Write them down, tell a friend, or say them out loud. 

By focusing on gratitude first thing in the morning, we train ourselves to focus on the positive before the day has even started, priming ourselves to focus on the positive throughout the day. 

3. Grace at Meals

The habit: at meals, go around the table, each person giving thanks for the food they are about to enjoy, and something else in their life. 

While this is a habit from the Christian religion, I have found it helpful in mixing gratitude into my daily life. It allows me to extend gratitude beyond the mornings, and always makes me feel better and the food taste better when I do it. 

Who is Tony Robbins and what can he teach us to become happier?

The man. The myth. The legend.

The man. The myth. The legend.

To learn more about Tony, I encourage you to check him out on YouTube , and his Netflix documentary I am Not Your Guru

1. To engage people, we must be energy-rich. 

First, we need to understand that engaging people makes us happy. When we lead others, we need to engage with them. To learn from others, we need to engage with them. To connect in any meaningful way with people, deep engagement is required. 

Tony says we need to give to ourselves before we can give to others. When we take care of ourselves, we become energy rich. With this energy, we become very attractive to other people - we become easy to engage with. Here is how we become energy rich:

  1. Take care of the basics (eat, sleep, exercise)
  2. Shock your physiology (cold shower, shaking the body out, deep breathing)
  3. Go be in nature (walks by ocean, on trails, in mountains)
  4. Travelling
  5. Deep relationships

2. Reality comes from our heads. 

For any building to be constructed ever, someone thought of it in their heads before it became a reality. This is the same for our lives. Tony says that if we believe in abundance it will come to us. He used to go on hour long runs saying "I'm fucking unstoppable. I'm fucking unstoppable." Over and over. 

No, merely reciting language will not create any change on our lives, but choosing what we focus on and what we believe is ultimately choosing what will become a reality for us in our lives. If we are careful about what we believe, what we dream up in our heads, and what we spend a lot of time thinking about, we will be in control of what our lives turn out to be. 

3. Matching to Our Blueprint

Whenever you are happy with something in your life, it is because right now, the conditions of your life match your blueprint, or your belief about how life should be in that particular area.
— Tony Robbins

To match our lives to our blueprints, we need to make blueprints about processes, not outcomes. Instead of saying I want to have a million dollars, we say, I want to show up for work every morning, and put in my best effort. This way, we can create happiness for ourselves in every moment, as opposed to just for brief moments when we achieve goals. 

Magical Surprise!

From my beautiful friend Tim Urban at Wait But Why, here is one final lesson on happiness.

Happiness = reality - expectations

So, to increase our happiness, we must either make our reality better, or lower our expectations. The problem, Tim shares, is that today, our expectations are WAYYY too high. Because of social media, we are expected to be perfect, all the time. Seeing all of our friends at their best, all the time, we forget about the pain and struggle necessary to achieve anything. So, since most of us don't suffer through pain and struggle, because nobody talks about it or shares it, we feel extremely unhappy when our realities are so much worse than what we expect. 

My solution: don't consume social media. 

While that seems hypocritical, because I am creating content with this post, I am referring to the useless, constant stream of feeds on our favourite social media apps. Instead, I find it much healthier to consumer long-form, well-thought-out, useful material that we can use to take action in our own lives, creating change, and improving our quality of life. 

What are John's final thoughts?

Too many of us are becoming far to sensitive to endure any pain at all. We are hiding from solving any of our problems in as much comfort as we can possibly create for ourselves. If we can work towards increasing our pain tolerance and ultimately beginning our lifelong journey towards greater strength, we will live much happier lives. 

If you can remember one thing, it's that happiness takes work. 

Thanks for reading my friends. Much love. 

/johnsamuelgray\

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