Featured on Elephant Journal
I will never forget a charismatic friend I had in school.
He was two years older than me, outspoken, and charming with girls. After a typical evening at the pub—where he was the centre of attention, and I was playing the supporting role—he looked at me and told me with a smile that there are only three paths to happiness in life: money, women and fast cars.
I was 16, and quite taken by him and his words. I grew older and pursued those superficial paths to happiness.
They worked for a while, especially when I was younger. We all seek to boost our self-esteem, and often achieving money and status does that for us. There’s no denying the buzz of buying a new toy, whether it’s a flash car or the latest iPhone, with money we earned. There is also a certain thrill in knowing that a particular person is attracted to us.
However, all three had something in common: There was no lasting happiness. They were all short-term solutions that faded quickly. Worse, each “happiness hit” needed to be stronger than the one before to match its effect.
Through my hedonistic phase, I came to understand the worthlessness of my friend’s advice. I learned that there are better paths, leading to long-lasting joy, that are far superior to some fleeting sense of fun.
There are levels of happiness.
Some are temporary, like having a bit of fun or lifting our moods, and make us feel elated for minutes, hours or even days—but they won’t last long. They don’t substantially affect how we grow, and are characterised by external stimuli. When I bought my first Rolex watch, I was so happy that I wore it all the time. Within a few months, however, I started feeling its weight on my wrist. I recognised how people measured each other’s worth by the watch they wore. It didn’t make me feel good anymore, so I dropped it and never wore a watch again.
At the other end of the happiness spectrum lie contentment, satisfaction and fulfilment. Here, our feelings not only last longer, but are also full of meaning. These levels affect our inner psyche and can transform us into better human beings. This genre of emotion is subtle yet all-pervading. It starts slowly, and grows as we continue along our path.
I remember how I felt when I started running, training, and then finally entering and completing a half-marathon race a few years ago. I remember the exact day, the exact location, and the exact sensation of crossing the finish line. (Unlike the Rolex watch—I can’t even recall how or where I bought that.)
In my experience, there are four major steps to living with joy:
1) Ask what makes us feel good.
We are all different. As such, what makes me feel good will differ from what others find good. We need to discover what suits us and do more of that. We need to look at what interests us, at where our strengths lie, and focus our energy there; that’s usually where the gold is.
I love to eat chocolate croissants on Saturday mornings. Both the anticipation and that first bite put me in a great mood. Sure, it won’t last as long as many other activities, but it makes me feel good. Similarly creating a blog post after a few hours of work leaves me with an indescribable feeling—like I’m a superhero, even though all I did was write something.
The more we do the things we enjoy, the more content we become. This can include both small actions and bigger, more meaningful activities.
2) Avoid the things that make us feel bad (when we can easily do so).
This sounds like a no-brainer, but we spend a lot of our time doing things that make us feel like shit. We hang around with the wrong people for the wrong reasons. We stay in jobs that we hate in order to maintain our lifestyle and prestige. We follow fads to feel like we belong.
I don’t like meeting people in the early mornings, so I’ve found a way to schedule all my meetings from 11 a.m. on. This small shift has contributed so much to my well-being.
3) Seeking to feel right (aligned with our values)—not necessarily good.
We all have a set of values on which we try to base our behaviour. It’s not always the case that every value-driven action we take will also make us feel good. For example, no matter how disciplined or pragmatic we are, we often have to fulfil our duty by supporting loved ones at hospitals, weddings or funerals. It’s not always enjoyable, but we do it for them.
A good friend once invited me to a dinner that I would not have gone to under normal circumstances, as it was a big gathering with many people I didn’t know (meaning endless chit-chat with no real depth). However, he asked me specifically to be there, and he had been there for me on countless occasions when I needed a friendly face. I was happy to go when I told myself that I was doing it for him. And I enjoyed the night, as I felt good supporting a true friend.
4) Put ourselves in an atmosphere of growth.
We need to find that “one thing” in which we can grow and develop. Such growth has a direct effect on our self-esteem, and thus improves our overall well-being. When we become good at something, whatever it is, we develop a confidence that fills us with vitality and attracts like-minded people to us.
For me, that one thing is writing. It’s only been two years since I took it up seriously, but I’m constantly growing and learning. When I look back at my progress, I recognise the overall positive impact it’s had on me as a person. Since my “till death do us part” commitment to writing, my skills have improved, and I’ve acquired a sense of purpose I never had before. I can’t wait to wake up and write every day.
We often over-complicate living a joyful life. We simply need to understand the above four components and apply them to all aspects of our lives, be it relationships, business or personal growth.
In doing so, we will discover the freedom we all crave.