Happiness is a skill you can develop.
If you are so smart, then how come you aren’t happy? — Naval Ravikant.
There’s a stupid assumption that you can’t be happy if you’re smart.
Smart people are pessimists — only buffoons are happy.
I love how Naval Ravikant flips the script on this take:
Happiness is a skill.
It can be cultivated intentionally, and if you’re so smart, how come you haven’t figured out how to do this?
Let’s get rid of the dumb idea that smart people are miserable and normalize seeing happiness as a skill that can be improved.
I’ve been interested in happiness and modern positive psychology literature for a few years.
Read also: Things you do not need to be happier in life (amazing inspiration)
I’ve identified these seven happiness traits from observing the happiest people I know, my happiness and fulfillment journey, and the books I’ve read.
Happy People Appreciate The Little Things
Life is like a road trip.
There is a final destination, even if the trip started before it was decided. And along the way, many spectacular viewpoints encourage us to pull over, stop for a moment, and soak up the view.
But the significant majority of the trip is spent driving.
Your road trip won’t be fun if all you enjoy are the final destination and the viewpoints — you’ve got to enjoy the drive.
Singing along to songs in the car. Sharing stories about past adventures. Getting lost in the scenery along the way.
These seemingly trivial things make up the bulk of your road trip though they’re not the star of the show.
The big moments in our life are outnumbered by the little things we do every day. The happiest people I’ve known share one prominent characteristic: they cherish the small moments of joy in their lives.
Things like a perfectly run espresso.
Or talking about motorcycles. Jamming with friends. Debating about what will happen in the next Marvel movie.
They don’t wait for moments like becoming a millionaire or hitting 100,000 followers on social media to be happy.
Happy people set a low bar for their happiness.
Your life is mostly the little things. Don’t brush over these moments. Learn to cherish them.
Happy People Keep Themselves in Healthy Perspective
The following fact displays an irritating trait of humans:
Many people would rather earn less money but out-earn their peers than earn significantly more money but make less than their peers.
This fact has been well documented in a range of studies.
We perceive ourselves in relation to how we see others. And of course we do — we’re tribal creatures who have evolved to see how we fit into the tribe.
But now we have a problem: the tribe has become way too big. It’s not 150 people anymore.
You can always find someone sexier, richer, and smarter than you are. Your evolved tendency to compare yourself to others will make you feel miserable if you let it.
Happy people have figured out a way out of this trap by viewing themselves with a healthy perspective and comparing themselves to their past selves, not others.
I had a recent experience that demonstrates this:
I have been working as a coder for nearly five years.
I enjoy writing code and mostly like my job, but I’ve been enticed by the option of building a personal brand online and using it to generate meaningful income. This is the new direction I want to take, and I’ve decided to build a fitness and mindset coaching business (health and fitness have become my main passion).
I’ve joined some online communities and started following people on social who are in this lifestyle. A central tenet of the online business community is that employees are losers.
Okay — I’m exaggerating a little bit. Most people aren’t that harsh.
But the holy grail of this movement is to quit your job (if you have one) and make a full-time income doing something you love.
After spending some time immersed in this mindset, I started noticing low-key stress and dissatisfaction permeating my life.
I am, after all, an employee at the moment.
Then one day, I stumbled across a YouTube video from a content creator who is a software developer.
The comments on the video were full of people working on a career transition, but not to start their own business: to become software developers.
Quitting your less fulfilling job, learning how to code, and getting a software developer position were considered winning. And I had done that!
I instantly felt better about myself.
So did I abandon my goal of starting an online business?
But seeing all the people who wanted what I have reminded me that I have something to be grateful for, and it helped me put my life in a healthy perspective.
There will always be a group or person you can compare yourself to that will make you feel like you’re not enough.
You’ll make yourself miserable if you dwell on these comparisons too much.
Happy people manage to keep themselves in a healthy perspective while simultaneously setting goals and working on improving themselves.
Happy People Don’t Try To Be Happy
The issue modern humans face is that it is easy to miss the target of happiness by aiming at pleasure.
There have never been more opportunities for pleasure, and many make the mistake of assuming that the pursuit of pleasure and the pursuit of happiness are the same things.
We’re wired to feel our best when we’re disciplined and doing hard things.
We have a deep drive for sex, food, and comfort because survival was so hard for our ancestors that they needed every ounce of motivation to procreate and consume energy.
Unfortunately, this desire backfires in our modern comfort-saturated environment. The concept of “self-care” has become synonymous with Netflix, wine, and takeout.
These “self-care” moments are fine (and extremely enjoyable) sometimes, but focusing on them too much won’t make you happy.
The truth is happiness is elusive.
The best way to be happy is to forget about being happy and immerse yourself in what you’re doing.
When you set a condition of “trying to be happy,” you automatically define happiness as something to acquire that you don’t already have.
Much of ancient wisdom tells us that happiness is our default state — you already have everything you need within you to be happy right now.
Happy people intuitively understand this. They’re not pursuing happiness — they’re in flow. They go deep into the process of whatever they are doing, and their happiness ensues.
“For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater.” — Viktor Frankl.
Happy People ARE Satisfied
There is an assumption in the self-improvement community that the day you become satisfied is the day you become weak and complacent.
Undoubtedly, the “never satisfied” approach works spectacularly for some people (i.e., David Goggins). Still, I don’t believe satisfaction is the self-improvement cancer it’s made out to be.
Let’s return to the idea of life as a road trip. Doesn’t something seem off about sacrificing the entire road trip for a small moment of satisfaction at the end of the journey?
Deriving some satisfaction from the viewpoints you stop to appreciate doesn’t mean you abandon the trip and drive home. It makes the whole trip more enjoyable.
The author and professor Arthur Brooks thinks about happiness a lot; he teaches a course on it at Harvard. He has a concept of “The 3 Macronutrients of Happiness”: Enjoyment, satisfaction, and purpose.
Happy people are not complacent; they have not given up and become lazy because they’re satisfied with who they are.
Happy people have managed to hold satisfaction with their lives in harmony with self-improvement.
They derive satisfaction from the process of self-improvement.
Much like sacrificing 65 years for a happy retirement, outsourcing satisfaction to a small moment at the end of your life seems like a dubious strategy for a well-lived life.
Happy people have figured out how to be satisfied without letting it impede their growth.
Happy People Are Clear on Their Priorities
The easiest way to be miserable is to live in a way that is discordant with your values.
Happy people live with value coherence: the story of their lives makes sense because their actions align with their values, goals, vision, and purpose.
They know what they need to do, and they understand their why.
You need to establish a clear sense of priorities based on the vision you have for your life to avoid falling into cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is the mental conflict that results from your beliefs not lining up with your actions.
Let’s say you’ve set a goal to prioritize your health and get in the best shape of your life. But come Sunday evening, you find yourself descending into the cushions of your couch armed with a pint of double fudge ice cream and a spoon.
This action doesn’t align with your vision for what you want out of life, and unless you’ve intentionally framed it to work with your goals (i.e., one cheat day per week), it will muddy the view of your vision and create cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is hell on Earth.
The happiest people are in pursuit of something larger than themselves.
They have a vision for their lives that informs their daily actions and priorities. They prioritize these priorities and live with value coherence and no cognitive dissonance.
Happy People Choose Meaning
There is no objective answer to “what is the meaning of life.”
Instead of seeing this as depressing, you should see it as freeing: You get to choose the meaning.
Naval Ravikant talks about life as a “single-player game.”
You are the game master.
You can decide on the board, the rules, and the victory condition.
Happy people are those who are playing the game intentionally. They are playing a long-term game based on their interests. They have chosen to play a game with meaning.
And why not — what’s the alternative? The alternative leads to nihilism and resentment.
The men who buy guns and shoot up elementary schools have chosen the alternative.
There is nothing that forces you to see life as meaningful.
You’re a self-aware bag of meat made up of dead stars floating around a giant ball of fire on a rock in an infinite expanse of space.
Happy people don’t find the meaning of life. They choose meaning.
Why not choose to play a meaningful game with your time here?
Do you have something better to do?
Read also: what happy couples do differently (Highly recommended)
Happy People Try Their Best
Happy people have a high amount of self-respect.
They also understand how self-respect works. Self-respect isn’t any different from how you respect others. There is a set of traits and skills you have respect for, and you respect others based on how they demonstrate these traits and skills.
Self-respect works in the same way. You respect yourself in proportion to how you live up to the traits and skills you admire in a person.
The list of respectable traits varies from person to person, but one thing that everyone respects is quality effort.
There is no better way to enforce the belief that you are hard-working and worthy of respect than by putting your best effort into everything you do.
And, since how you do one thing is how you do everything, when you pick one area of your life to optimize with your best effort, it will bleed over into everything you do.
When you approach your life with your best effort, it is impossible not to develop strong self-respect. You’ll live with value coherence — your life story will be rewarding and make sense. You’ll have no cognitive dissonance.
Happy people live in this state. They respect themselves because they have a reason to respect themselves: they’re trying their best.
Happy people appreciate the little things
Happy people keep themselves in healthy perspective
Happy people don’t try to be happy
Happy people are satisfied
Happy people are clear on their priorities
Happy people choose meaning
Happy people try their best
Contributed by Colin Matson
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