The 10 Things That Made Me One of the Happiest People I Know
“Life-changing” may be overused but these things changed my life
Years of life can melt together into an uneventful blur. There might be nothing majorly wrong but you aren’t waking up feeling truly alive. It’s easy to get stuck somewhere in the middle, where you want to change your life but don’t know where to begin.
Seeing/hearing “life-changing” everywhere feels cliche, tacky, and fake when you’re feeling worn-out and cynical. But eventually you do discover something transformational. And its impact is profound, as you start to experience life differently.
These are beautiful moments to cherish that humble you from the inside out as they don’t come along too often.
Everything I’ve listed below changed my life in a powerful, positive way.
- Replace a job you hate for a career that you love
Mother and duaghter working from home
School was a nightmare. I dreaded getting a job when it came time as I felt destined to hate that too. Nobody in my family loved their job; they just went to work and got on with it. And my prediction was right: I hated working! For 10 years I job-hopped, working in shops, opticians, cruise ships, and eventually ended up as a web developer in central London.
I had a good job but I wasn’t built for it as each day crushed my mind, body, and soul. Every day looked like this: wake up exhausted, try not to fall asleep on the train, work all day exhausted, and repeat — for three years. My mental health was shot, so I quit with nothing lined up.
The only career that appealed to me was freelance copywriting. So at the lowest point of my life, I threw myself into it and life got better with each day that passed as I built up my skills, income, and confidence. Waking up looking forward to work was bizarre. I’d finally erased a deep-rooted belief that work = misery.
Many people dislike their job but it doesn’t bother them too much as long as they are (just about) satisfied with the paycheque. I’m not one of those people. If you’re not too, doing something that you love — or even just “like” — for a living will be huge for you.
- Go to where the fear is
Some doors you want to keep closed because you worry you won’t be able to cope with what’s behind them. You’re afraid you’ll learn something that you can’t unlearn. You think that you’re doing the smart thing by avoiding your past. And maybe you are if you’re in a vulnerable state. But eventually you need to open the doors that scare you. I did because my anxiety was causing unbearable physical symptoms.
I had to admit that I had been used many times in my life. “Friends” kept me around for rainy days when they had nothing else to do. Girls got in touch only because they’d been dumped/rejected and they knew that I fancied them and would say the right things to make them feel better. And that’s just scratching the surface of relationships. There was so much more.
My career wasn’t progressing. I had high standards and dreams to accomplish but I wasn’t putting in the work. Yes, my early years weren’t the best but I had started to let that become an excuse for living a lesser life. I started reading some hard-hitting books on human psychology. It was brutal to get through, but it helped me make peace with the past.
Accepting some harsh truths is difficult, but empowering in the long run. Now you can protect yourself from similar events happening in the future. We all know someone who keeps getting hurt because they’re making the same old mistakes. I try as hard as possible to not be one of those people.
I’m not saying I don’t make mistakes; I make lots. But I’m making far less than I used to. And that’s because I took a long, hard look at what had led me to a dark place that caused me to break down when I was 29.
- Make exercise a part of your lifestyle
Man working out at the gym
There are certain things you can’t say to people because they’re offensive… understandable. But it’s not considered too mean to tee off on someone for being skinny it seems! I lacked confidence at school and it felt emasculating being called skinny by men and women all the time. I didn’t take it as a compliment and heard the comment everywhere I went up until my mid-twenties.
For years I believed that it was down to my “genetics.” And that I’m always going to be the skinny guy. But one day my housemate showed me his before and after pics having worked with a personal trainer. I didn’t know that level of transformation was possible. I knew you could improve your physique but not to that level. So I got a gym membership, upped the calories and protein and started hitting the gym 3–4 times a week.
Girls started checking me out; I couldn’t believe it. Before I went to the gym, this was rare. Everyone just seemed to treat me better: I stood taller, my clothes fit better, I had more energy, and more respect for what I did and didn’t do to my body. It was healthy for the mind too, proving that positive changes are there for you when you put in the work.
- Only drink alcohol when there’s something to celebrate (or give it up entirely)
Band performing live music
I started drinking at 18. Loved it. Mostly, because I was insecure and drinking showed me what life can feel like when you’re not filled with anxiety. Another reason was that it was a great way to meet people. I had a small circle of friends growing up, so going out in groups of 10 or 20 was new to me. It felt great.
Then, when I was 23 I needed an escape and decided to work on cruise ships for a year. I drank a stupid amount, pretty much every night. It was hard, dirty work and incredibly stressful. We worked seven days a week with little time off. Alcohol in the crew bar was dirt cheap — around 80 cents for a shot… so everyone was getting hammered and fucking each other.
I was over alcohol when I returned to land. The hangovers were unbearable and it just felt so empty. I didn’t like that a good percentage of people around me would only go out if it involved drinking. I also found drinking at home (even small amounts) depressing. It was enjoyable for the first few minutes but then I just felt tired, sad, and slow.
I have a fire inside to live, to enjoy every day on this planet, to have amazing relationships, and a thriving career. But alcohol stamps that fire out. Even two pints of beer make me feel off the next day. I still drink, but very little and rarely. I save it for when there’s something big to celebrate. I couldn’t be doing the things I’m doing today if I was drinking day in, day out; I just wouldn’t have the energy or drive.
- Focus on the action, not the outcome
A young couple on a date
Sometimes you want something so badly it burns. You want someone to look at you the same way you look at them. You want that job that you applied for. You want your work to get more recognition. So you obsess over saying or doing the right thing in hope it will return the desired outcome. But if you don’t get it, it causes distress.
You’ve been romanticising the outcome and you’ve made this more emotional than it needed to be. Maybe you will get the outcome you want; maybe you won’t. Maybe you will get exactly what you want — but not today. So whenever an action doesn’t work out so well, you sulk and don’t take action again for a while. This is a toxic habit that achieves nothing other than wasting time and denting your confidence.
You can’t control outcomes, only your actions. So focus on enjoying the action — free from outcome. And if it doesn’t pay off, well, you did what you could. And that’s going to have to be enough for you if you want to stop wasting energy over things that you can’t control. Learning to love taking action is addictive. So take more action — knowing that’s all you can do — and see how much unnecessary stress is removed from your life.
- Remove toxic people from your life
A woman daydreaming
As children, toxic people are loud, angry, rude, or scary; their threat is clear. Like in Disney movies and video games, you know who the bad ones are. But as an adult, toxic people become harder to detect as they’ve learned some tricks to deceive us.
Their games work on some, maybe many — but not everyone. Eventually it twigs that someone close to you is not who you thought they were. Maybe they lie, cheat, drag you down, or try to sabotage you. In short: they’re making your life worse, not better. And your life is too precious to waste on people like that.
So do you call them out? Risk having a big fight where hurtful words are exchanged or do you ghost them? Break up, or maybe even divorce? Some decisions will be more complicated than others. Either way, your brain feels as if it’s filled with sludgy battery acid. It’s exhausting trying to figure out whether you’re doing the right thing or making a mistake.
Nobody can help you; it’s something you need to figure out for yourself. But ask yourself this: if this person is “good for you”, why do you feel so bad? Yeah… exactly. Jocko Willink nailed this one in an old YouTube video of his, How to Get Over Break Ups and Betrayal:
“That person is not who you thought they were. They are NOT who you thought they were. The idea that this person was a trustworthy, faithful companion is not true. It is not true. That person does not exist. They didn’t exist. And they don’t exist — it was in your head. It was in your HEAD that this person was trustworthy and they were everything that you wanted them to be and they were faithful… that is a lie. They are not that person. They’ve proved it with their actions.”
It’s not all doom and gloom, even though that’s what it feels like when you’re stuck in it. Jocko went on to say, when talking about people who are ruminating over breakups and betrayals, “If they could just move on they’d find a reality that was actually congruent with what their desires are. It’s out there!”. Moving on isn’t easy, but it is essential.
- Practise Stoicism
A man walking away
What’s done is done. The most troubled people I know are the ones that ruminate over things that are out of their control. Being made redundant, seeing someone they love getting married to someone else, weeks of cold weather — no matter how big or small the issue, they get wrapped up in it and drown in negative emotions.
I used to be governed by my emotions too: a negative comment or event would stain my moods for days. But reading Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus changed the way I thought about… everything. Stoicism is not a religion — but I treat it like one. I’ve read Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations over five times. It calms me down. I think less, live more and try to see the beauty in everything, no matter how difficult, trivial or overwhelming it is.
I’m careful about the judgements and projections I add to my thoughts. And I decide whether they are helpful or not. I know which emotions I can lean into and enjoy. And I know which emotions aren’t helpful — as they are being fed by insecurity and I am the one creating it. Nobody else — me! Once you take that to heart, you learn that you have much more control over your mind than you thought.
- Love yourself unconditionally
A man sitting alone enjoying a view
I spent years too scared to look back at my childhood. Maybe there was something wrong with me? So that door remained shut until I was so sick of feeling low I had to open it. It wasn’t easy; I was scared that it would be too traumatic to take. But it wasn’t, and I started to see it for what it was — clearly — for the first time.
One night a simple text was all I needed to get over it for good: there was a photo shared in my family’s WhatsApp group. And there was a picture of me, aged 4. I had a smile on my face and just looked so innocent. It hit me like a rock. Why am I beating myself up for my childhood and how I acted at school?
I was still playing with toys, watching wrestling, and eating sweets FFS! You have to take responsibility for your life, but NOT so much when your parents are still buying your clothes for you, and chocolate milk is your favourite thing on the planet.
That one photo shattered all the cryptic gloom and doom that was trapped inside. And I started to feel a love for myself that I’d never experienced. Loving yourself is the ultimate advantage to live a great life. You love your own company and your time with others is even more special. You will be more present in everything you do. And that’s a beautiful thing.
- Never watch porn again
A couple laying down kissing
I found a TEDx Talk in 2013, The Great Porn Experiment by the late Gary Wilson. It’s had over 14 million views. In short, he explains how online porn is wrecking men’s sexual and mental health. Men of all ages are experiencing sexual dysfunctions because they’ve reprogrammed their minds to be turned on by porn, not people. (And it’s not just men, a huge percentage of women are being affected negatively too.)
For years I had experienced many of the effects that Gary Wilson claimed porn users suffer from: poor libido, awkward sex, depression & anxiety, OCD, social anxiety, impossible to build an emotional connection with a partner — all of them. I’d no idea porn was harmful because I would see articles saying “Spice up your sex life. Watch some porn!” — now this just makes me think of when doctors used to push cigarettes in the 1920s…
Let me tell you: quitting porn is extremely tough. You’ll get strong urges to watch it followed by some nasty withdrawal symptoms — even if you’re not a heavy user. Nothing will light up your brain like porn used to. That is… until a few months later after your brain’s had time to heal.
I remember during my first reboot, around 70 days porn-free, I was heading home after work BUZZING and noticed people looking at me on the London Underground platform. Everyone looked so grey and tired and I had a smile and electric energy. I started to think maybe someone had dropped something in my coffee at work? Why do I feel so alive! I felt the best I’d ever felt — and it lasted for months. And I’d only changed one thing: I didn’t watch porn.
Then I relapsed thinking that it was all in my head. I felt worse than ever after just a week or so of watching porn a few times. Internet porn is considered a “super stimulus” — it lights up your brain with dopamine like nothing natural on this planet. Porn sites are filled with 4–6 minute clips so that you keep clicking on more videos. Every time you click on a new video, jump a few seconds forward or spot a new thumbnail image that turns you on — another burst of dopamine hits.
Sex doesn’t release as much dopamine as an average online porn session. So you reach a depressing AF point where sex starts to feel as exciting as watching paint dry — because your brain craves an unnatural dopamine blast that no human can give you. Watching porn isn’t sex: you’re watching other people have a hyper-sexualised, exaggerated, air-brushed version of sex with actors that are hired for their physical attributes — many of whom have had multiple cosmetic procedures.
Billie Eilish, Terry Crews, and Chris Rock have spoken about how harmful porn has been to their lives. And I’m so glad that they did. These are famous people — I bet they don’t struggle to get a date! (What does that tell you about how addictive porn is…)
People claim that giving up porn gives you “superpowers” — more confidence, energy, creativity, and strangers will be flirting with you like crazy etc. but it’s not true. If you give up porn for months and you notice these benefits… you aleady had them. They just got suffocated as porn discretely wreaked havoc on your psyche for years — maybe even decades — as it chrushed your potential. (That’s what addiction does.)
Now a smile from an attractive stranger across the street fires me up. Years ago, only porn could turn me on. I’m more confident, more focused, and my mental health is the best it’s ever been. For the record, I’m not anti-porn. I just wish I’d known about online porn’s negative effects first — I would have never gone near it.
- Be 100% unapologetically you
A man dancing alone
If you’re not careful, when your confidence is low, you might go live in the box that others have tried to put you in. I fell into this trap. It wasn’t until I started learning more about myself and doing the things I’ve written about in this list that I started to learn what I really want out of life.
Do you know what your life would look like if everything went perfectly for the next five years? Asking yourself questions like that is important. Difficult, but important. You’ll start to lean into the person you want to be, perhaps even the person you already are? But first, you might have to pierce through some thick layers of self-doubt and anxiety.
“Do not accept the roles that society foists on you. Re-create yourself by forging a new identity, one that commands attention and never bores the audience. Be the master of your own image rather than letting others define if for you. Incorporate dramatic devices into your public gestures and actions — your power will be enhanced and your character will seem larger than life.” — Robert Greene, Author, Law 25 from the 48 Laws of Power
I love that quote. It’s bold, but you don’t have to be:
Maybe you want a simpler life, to move out of the city with your partner?
Maybe you want to move to a big city, to see what you do and how you act when nobody knows who you are?
Maybe you don’t have a clue who you are or what you want because you don’t have the energy or stillness to consider them?
But when you finally start doing all the things that make YOU happy, you’re going to notice some weird things happening: some friends will feel uncomfortable and insecure that you’re going after what you want in life. Because it reminds them that they aren’t doing much, which is a bitter pill to swallow. But the people that love you will cheer you on.
So be 100% unapologetically you. You are going to feel lighter and life will become so much richer and exciting. Going to bed each night living the life you want, or doing what you can to achieve it, is what your soul craves. So you have to be yourself and do what you want to do… what other option is there, really?
CONTRIBUTED BY William Thead