Have you ever felt like your life was out of control? Yeah, me too. It’s a weird feeling, isn’t it? You wake up in the morning, and something seems, just…off. It’s nearly impossible to put a finger on it. You run through different scenarios in your head. Could it be my relationships? Does my job suck? Am I stuck in a repetitive rut?
As you think deeper about it, the only thing it does is confuse you more. Hey, you might say, I don’t get it. I have a good job, I’m following my life-plan as best I can, yet something isn’t right.
Join the club, my friend, join the club. And the club I’m talking about, of course, is club humanity. It seems like no matter how great our lives are, and how much we love certain aspects of it, there’s always something throwing a wrench in our emotional gears.
This happened to me very recently. I moved to Austin for the month, living that location-independent lifestyle. I’ve loved every minute of it, but for some reason, I woke up one morning and felt like everything was wrong. What could it be? I’m doing exactly what I planned on doing, I told myself, relax. But I couldn’t relax. Something was off.
And then it dawned on me. Even though I was following my plan to the “T," I hadn’t accurately defined the areas of my life that drive my happiness, which meant that, even if I was maximizing each one of those areas, I wouldn’t have known. That’s where the feeling of an uncontrollable life comes from: The inability to define and measure the important areas that bring us happiness.
You see, we humans walk a fine line between worrying too much about the future and living too much in the present. It’s a balancing act. We need to plan and progress in our goals, sure, but we also have to love life for what it is (a Matrix-like simulation, of course ? ), so that it brings us joy every day.
And I finally figured out a way to do it. To live every day with immense gratitude, yet still press onward and upward toward the ideal vision of life. And, lucky for you, it’s a template anyone can implement in their lives. Ok, here it is. As long as you create a life-plan that addresses each one of these five areas, you’ll maximize your happiness, and at the same time, you’ll achieve the success you want: Save money, make friends, seek experiences, act healthy, progress in your passion.
Oh yeah, and after you define each of these areas and create a plan of attack to move forward in each one? Shut the fuck up and live life, dammit. Elon Musk says we’re in a simulation anyway, might as well have a kick ass time in our video game world.
I put this first because I’m a finance guy by education and trade, and I’m also neurotic, which means that I worry about money a lot. Unnecessarily so. Anyway, financial piece of mind is one of the most important aspects of a happy life, because when you aren’t worrying about money, you can use that extra mental headspace to worry about something else ?.
No, but seriously, saving money provides a base-level of happiness on which you can build the rest of your happiness pillars. Life is easier when you aren’t concerned about money. So, how do we address and measure this first area of happiness?
Well, set a savings goal, and then achieve that goal. But be careful. Now, I don’t want to advocate for thinking small, but if you’re making $36k a year, and you set an intention to make $200k within six months, chances are you’ll fail and cause unnecessary money stress in the process. So, instead, think to yourself: What would it look like if it were easy?
For me, I believe that the economy is going to take off in a year or two, thanks to the purchasing power of Millennials. Well, it could also take a downturn, but regardless, I want to have adequate cash on hand within a 12-month period to invest. Ok, I think $12k in savings would be enough to allocate toward retirement and other investments. Since I’m self-employed, I work my way backward into a monthly income level I wanted to achieve, with monthly recurring revenue. So, if my total expenses are $2.5k a month, and my monthly entertainment stipend is $500 a month, and I want to save $1k a month for retirement and other investments, I need to earn a total of $4k a month. Not bad at all! Pretty doable, even if you’re a freelancer. Trust.
Ah but wait, I have to account for taxes. Ok, well, assuming a 40% tax rate, I’ll have to make roughly $5.6k a month. Let’s call it $6k to give me a little buffer. Great! I feel better already. As long as I’m able to make $6k per month, I don’t need to worry about money. And then the savings can be allocated any number of ways: Some goes to my emergency fund, some goes to my Roth IRA, and some goes to my active trading account, where I make bets on various stocks. Perfect! Well, my money woes are now over.
In fact, you can even think even farther along to ensure you’re headed in the right direction. If I want to make $6k a month by January 1st, 2017, then I can set an intention that I want to be making $8.5k a month by January 1st, 2018, which is the equivalent of a six-figure salary. That gives me an entire 12-month period to generate a measly $2.5k extra a month. Totally doable! Happiness achieved. Kinda.
I’ve found, through trial and error, that whenever I’m having a “blue day,” or whenever I’m feeling slightly down or depressed, it’s because I haven’t been having adequate human interactions. You see, I work predominantly from home, and while the schedule is great, I also don’t get that water cooler talk that we’re all used to in an office setting. I don’t go to happy hour with my coworkers, and I certainly don’t play golf with my boss. Mainly because I don’t have either of those things.
Which means, for me, it’s incredibly important to consistently meet people and screen for new friends, using, of course, my life blueprint. You see, money aside, I believe that making friends is the most important aspect of life. We’re a social species, and we need human contact and interaction. Therefore, this is the area that brings me the most joy in life. Conversely, it also brings me the most pain when I’m not focusing on maximizing it.
So, how do I measure this area and ensure that it’s constantly bringing me happiness? Well, two ways. First off, have you ever heard the quote, “you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with"? I’m sure you have. Well, I believe the quote with 100% conviction. So, one of my main goals is to always “add one to the five,” as my whiteboard says. This causes you to seek interactions with people who are better than you in one area or another, forcing you to consistently “level up."
And second, making friends is as easy as putting yourself out there. Literally. Often times all you have to do is show up to a social setting, and you naturally meet fun and interesting people. So, regardless of how tired I am, and as much as I want to eat ice cream and watch Netflix on the couch, I set a weekly intention to go out at least one weekday and one day on the weekend and just talk to people. Girls, guys, it doesn’t matter. All I’m looking for is a positive interaction, and maybe a number or two.
Oh, and if you don’t have friends yet, or no one you know wants to go out with you? Suck it up, pussy. Go out by yourself. It sounds weird, and it even feels weird at first, but some of the coolest people I’ve ever met came about when I went to a bar by myself…sober.
This area is a natural segue from the previous. See, making friends and having positive interactions with people is paramount, but the only way you go about doing so is through experiences. Therefore, the more experiences you have, the more uplifting people you meet. Think about it this way: If you want to interact with people who resonate with you, wouldn’t it make sense to seek experiences that you find interesting? Chances are the people who share those same interests will be seeking the same experiences.
But it goes further than that. There’s something to be said about our proverbial social and experiential bubble, and the acute need to pop said bubble in order to be happy. Living out here in Austin has taught me that. You see, when you get stuck in a routine, it acts like a blinder, and it becomes hard to notice anything new and interesting. When you force yourself out of that routine - like moving to a different state or country - it forces you to be increasingly observant of your surroundings. This alone increases your happiness because the stimulus that’s invigorating your brain is inherently new and exciting.
And then, as you seek more and more experiences, you’ll begin to accumulate references that allow you to further seek experiences that resonate with you. Keeping your mind stimulated with fun and interesting things, especially things you’ve never done before, is a sure-fire way to feed your happiness.
Oh, and the measurement part? Well, it’s more of a self-check than anything else. Train yourself to want new experiences, and you’ll have no choice but to have them constantly. For me, I’m always on the lookout for cool things to do, and I try to ensure that I’m doing something new at least once a week. Weekday or weekend, it doesn’t matter, try to have one new experience every seven days.
Shouldn’t this area be titled “be healthy,” or “work out regularly”? No, not really. See, acting healthy is as much of a mindset as it is the actual physical output of trying to be healthy. I think of health in two ways: physical health and mental health. And the great thing is one begets the other, and vice versa.
The first step is to act like you’re mentally healthy. Even if you’re having the shittiest day imaginable, make sure you’re smiling on the outside. Now, this doesn’t mean that you can’t confide in friends or family regarding your woes, but it does mean that you should act with cheer when the grocer asks how your day’s going. This is incredibly important for your happiness if for nothing else than you need to “fake it ’til you make it.” Before long, through the simple act of trying to be perceived as mentally healthy, you’ll actually become mentally healthy.
And then the mind-health you’ve generated gives you the mental fortitude to get out there and exercise! Or maybe it’s the other way around…probably both. Regardless, forcing yourself to keep up with your mental health and your physical health causes your body to pump itself with happiness hormones. Feel free to read white papers on it, but I actually recommend you try it for yourself: Go out and exercise and see how you feel after. Pretty damn good, huh?
Acting healthy is our way of making our body happy. Sounds lame, insert eye roll here, but it’s true. Working out at least three days a week, in whatever capacity is best for you, and forcing yourself to act mentally healthy each and every day, is as important as anything else in life.
Here we are, my favorite area of happiness! Well, one of my five favorite areas (joke, laugh here). But in all seriousness, passion is what makes the world go round. It’s also the main source of nourishment for your happiness. Someone who lacks passion lacks a purpose on this Earth, and we all need a purpose to feel like this life is even worth it.
Passion can be anything. It can be yoga. It can be computer programming. It can even be writing this blog, even if no one’s reading. You see, passion is the physical manifestation of your unique happiness. It’s the “thing” that gets you up in the morning and keeps you up late at night thinking about the endless possibilities.
Here, let’s define passion a little better, so we can identify it for ourselves. Webster defines it as “a strong and barely controllable emotion." And according to Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, passion is the thing that allows you to eat the shit sandwich of life and keep coming back for more.
Gilbert really has a way with words. Anyway, passion is the culmination of your happiness because it gives you meaning. So, in order to maximize a defined passion, treat it like a job. Boring, I know, but it’s true. Put a passion schedule on your calendar like it was a business meeting, so you work on your passion each and every day.
And if you haven’t found your passion yet? Well, set aside daily time to ruminate on what it could be, and also see the four areas above. By maximizing each one, you’ll find what truly resonates with you, and therefore, you’ll eventually find your passion.
The conclusion of this long diatribe? Shut the fuck up. Life is life. As Frank Herbert said, it’s not something to be understood but a reality to experience. So, look at each one of the above five areas of happiness, come up with a plan to address each one of these areas, day in and day out, and then stop worrying and enjoy the life you already have.
Happiness isn’t something to be achieved. It’s something you already have inside you. All you gotta do is find it.