How To ​Be Happy With Your Life

​​From the dawn of time, humanity has been burdened with pain.

From modern philosophers like Thomas Hobbes (​life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,") to evangelists like Billy Graham ("We live, we suffer, and we die,"​​​​​​) to world-renowned ancient thinkers like Aristotle ("The aim of the wise is not to secure pleasure, but to avoid pain,"), the pursuit of happiness has always been core to the meaning of what it is to be human.

​To help you be happy, I've organized the best tactics, the most up to date science, and the surprising ancient philosophies that humans have been using for millennia to teach you how ​to be happy in all the circumstances of life.

This is a big post, ​but I recommend reading it in order, as each section builds upon the last. I've organized this post into three sections: 

First, we start with the science of happiness, looking at in depth research that provides a basis for the rest of our topics.

Next, we take a look at philosophies and teachings of the ancients, reminding ourselves of concepts that can be forgotten in the modern hustling world.

Finally, we look at the tactics you can apply to be happy where you are in life. We cover how to conquer overwhelming sadness, pessimism, remind yourself that your life matters, and show the best way to make new friends.

If you would like to skip to a section, click below.




The Science Of Happiness

beakers and jars

​On Being Punched By Strangers And The Good News About Instagram

​Johann Hari was, by most accounts, quite depressed.

​Beginning antidepressants as a teenager, at the ripe age of 18. In his book Lost Connections: Uncovering The Real Causes Of Depression, Hari says about his depression:

​"I would often have to absent myself, shut myself away, and cry. They were not a few tears. They were proper sobs. And even when the tears didn't come, I had an almost constant anxious dialogue thrumming through my head. Then I would chide myself: It's all in your head. Get over it. Stop being weak."​​​​

Yet when almost 13% of people are on antidepressants, is being unhappy really just in your head? (source).

Perhaps it isn't.

Perhaps unhappiness is a detectable scientific phenomenon pervasive in Western culture.

And if it isn't just in your head, if it is more than a chemical imbalance as we are so often told, then perhaps another fact is also true: it can be fixed.

Hari says that in large part, sadness we feel in every day life comes not from genetic chemical imbalances in the brain, but from ​created​ chemical imbalances in the brain.

And one of the leading causes of chemical imbalance?

Loneliness. In studies reviewed by Hari, he found that loneliness increases the stress hormone cortisol as much as being physically attacked.

In Lost Connections, he says:

"Feeling lonely, it turned out, caused your cortisol levels to absolutely soar—as much as some of the most disturbing things that can ever happen to you. Becoming acutely lonely, the experiment found, was as stressful as experiencing a physical attack. It’s worth repeating. Being deeply lonely seemed to cause as much stress as being punched by a stranger."

There's some conflicting information about how many people feel lonely. A Gallup survey in 2004​​​ concluded that Americans are, in general, satisfied with their number of relationships. While the average number of close friendships has decreased since 1990, the average correspondent reported having almost 9 close friends. (source).

However, another study suggests that humans can actually max out the number of close friendships: we struggle maintaining more than five intimate relationships at once. (source).

​​And perhaps another study takes us even nearer to what we need to be looking at. When people were asked how many friends they could have important conversations with, the average answer wasn't nine, and it wasn't five.

It was zero. (source).

From a research standpoint, it looks like people ​claim​ to have several close friends, but when asked questions that are more specific (such as how many friends they are comfortable having intimate conversations with), the number drops dramatically.​​​

​We are lonely.

And loneliness is deadly.

Specifically speaking, not being lonely makes us emotionally healthy ​and it even makes us smarter​. (source).​​​

When it comes to loneliness and social interaction, I think we need to have a talk about social media (​and no, I'm not going to tell you to uninstall Instagram).

Depending where you go on the internet, you'll either see sycophants worshipping at the feet of the social media giants or people who are basically the Luddites of the 21st century. (The Luddites went around and destroyed technology in the 19th century - imagine if Mark Zuckerberg or Jeff Bezos had an evil twin)

Both of these approaches are a misguided, yet at a surface glance, supported by the research.

For example, one study shows that no ill effects were recorded as a result of social media use. People continued talking with friends and family, having social interactions, and didn't feel increased emotional negativity. (source).

Another study says that when social media is used too frequently, ​people were twice as likely to have feelings of social disconnection. (source).

A third study brings this two conclusions together nicely. This study concludes that when social media is used to establish meaningful connections, it has several positive effects without any negative ones; think of this useful social media as simply a new way to share your life, hear from your friends, and connect with new people.

Yet when social media isn't used to connect, ill effects begin to happen. This was observed happening at about the two hour mark each day; once participants crossed two hours, social isolation began to creep in. (source 1​) (source 2).

So by all means, use social media. Just remember that it's best used for genuine connection, and that too much of a good thing isn't really a good thing.

friends at a picnic with small dog

Hot Spouses And Big Houses (And Why Having One Choice May Be The Best Thing To Ever Happen To You)

​Any self-improvement book, course, or website (that would be us) will tell you to set goals. Know what you want and get it!

But research is increasingly showing that just ​setting​ goals doesn't help. You have to set ​the right​ goals.

​Specifically, the more materialistic your goals are (I want a nice XYZ, a salary of [six+ figures here], and a spouse that is a twelve out of ten), the more likely you are to be depressed.

Quoting from a study done by Tim Kasser in The High Price Of Materialism,​​​​​​​​​ Hari writes:

​"It really did seem that people were having a worse time, day by day, on all fronts. They felt sicker, and were angrier. 'Something about a strong desire for materialistic pursuits,' he was starting to believe, 'actually affected the participants' day-to-day lives, and decreased the quality of their daily experience.' They experienced less joy, and more despair."

So what does work?

Intrinsic goals. Goals that are less about how others see you and more about how you see you; less of an emphasis on appearance or "being better" and more of an emphasis on living a fulfilling life.

In Heidi Grant Halvorson's book Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals, she defines an intrinsic goal as one focusing on your own self-improvement (whether it be mental, spiritual, or physical) or a goal focused on your relationships in life.

​Intrinsic goals are more valuable and lead to more happiness than extrinsic goals because extrinsic goals are based in comparison. In Eric Barker's bestselling book Barking Up The Wrong Tree, Barker analyzes a study for the purpose of happiness:

​In a real life study of when people were presented with multiple options, the study found that the end result was usually better with increased options. When people were given options of multiple careers, for instance, their respective salaries usually ended up higher.

Yet even while options and absolute results increased, happiness and satisfaction decreased when people were presented with multiple options.

The more that people had opportunities to do, the less satisfied they felt with their ​final choice.

​On the flip side, studies show that comparison helps us to achieve extrinsic goals. If you're looking to bump your salary, rise higher in life, or just generally overachieve, then I have some advice for you: compare away.

Comparison acts as sort of a turbo boost when it's used. It causes us to want more and strive to be more even though "being better" doesn't actually make us much happier. (source).​

As with all things, going to either extreme is rarely the correct solution; you don't need to be a miserable world ruler or a happy person that can't afford clothes. Compare your life when you need a boost, stop comparing when you need to be happy.

So while limited comparison can be good for you, don't allow comparison to consume your life. Focus less on being the greatest musician ever and more on being a musician who can bring joy to yourself and others. Strive less to be the greatest salesperson in the world and more ​on being someone who can help others get what they want.

When we take the focus off of beating others and place more value in being happy with who we are (especially if that leads to desires for self-improvement), we may beat others less... but we'll be a lot happier about losing, about loving, and about everything else.

Keep the focus on what matters: yourself and your relationships.

goals sheet

​​Questions With Friends

Man's search for meaning probably began when the first humans started organizing words and yet this drive is so powerful that it continues to haunt us even today.

"Why am I here?"

"What am I doing?"

"What's my purpose?"

Each question only reflects a greater truth: we innately feel like there is more to life than what meets the eye. Even though we work at a job, that job is not our identity; though we have emotions, we can rise above them; though we think, we can think better.

Tom Rath cites a study in his book Are You Fully Charged? about meaning in the workplace. His research led him to see that when people are working on meaningful tasks in their jobs, their average engagement increases by 250%.

But why do we need meaning to make us happy?

Well, to put it simply, searching for happiness isn't enough.

In fact, searching for happiness may be making you unhappy.

In Ph.D. holder Christine Carter's book The Sweet Spot, she looked at a lot of science to determine what really makes us happy. Her findings were stunning:

“Compelling research indicates that the pursuit of happiness — when our definition of happiness is synonymous with pleasure and easy gratification — won’t ultimately bring us deeper feelings of fulfillment; it won’t allow us to live in our sweet spot. Although we claim that the “pursuit of happiness” is our inalienable right and the primary driver of the human race, we humans do better pursuing fulfillment and meaning — creating lives that generate the feeling that we matter.”

This raises a question: how do we actually stop pursuing happiness and start pursuing meaning?

What even is meaning?

Lucky for us both, there are answers to both of those questions. To stave off any incoming existential crises, let's first take a look at what meaning actually is.

In Emily Esfahani Smith's book The Power Of Meaning, she analyses what meaningful lives actually look like: when people say that they feel fulfilled, what are they actually doing differently?

Her conclusions led her to believe that a meaningful life is characterized by three things:

1) Connection and contribution to something beyond yourself (connection and contribution)

2) Doing activities that generate positive emotions (positivity)

3) Deepening social connections (social connection)

Let's take a look at each of these.

Connection And Contribution

Activities that promote connection and contribution to something beyond yourself can be anything that you feel is working for a greater good.

It can be coaching your local little league team, working on a project with your family, or going to the gym with your friend.

Tasks like these help us feel like we are creating a legacy. These tasks help us to see that life is only meaningless if we don't share it with others; that everyone (yep, even you) has talents and abilities that can benefit the world.

And you don't have to build the next Microsoft or Apple to feel like you are contributing; even small tasks like cleaning the house for your family, volunteering a couple of hours a week, or spending time with your child can all activate this feeling of meaning.

So go out and take part in something bigger than you.


I don't need science to tell you that humans avoid doing what is good for us. Instead, we do what is easy. (but here's the source if you want it anyways)

Yet the tasks that are easy rarely bring us much happiness at all. Just ask yourself the last time you finished binge watching a show on Netflix and said "Wow, I'm so glad I did that!"

Probably exactly never. If you're like me, you finished binge watching to go into a horrifying panic ​mode because you remembered that you're an adult with responsibilities and that if you don't do something ​with your life you might ​never accomplish anything at all.

A little dramatic, but it's how I feel.

One of the key elements of a meaningful life is a life that consistently does activities bringing positive emotion, not just activities that are easy.

I recommend putting down the remote and start doing a hobby. Not convinced it's worth it, or don't have a hobby? Then it's probably time to look at the research and get one.

Having a hobby can...

  • ​Make you better at work (source)
  • ​Increase job satisfaction and decrease burnout (source)
  • ​Lower blood pressure, cortisol, waistline, BMI, and make you believe you're in better health (you are)​ (source)
  • ​Put you in a better mood, increase interest, lower stress, and decrease your heart rate (source)

​So opt for things that make you happy, not things that numb your mind of offer an escape from reality for a fleeting moment of time.

​Social Connection

As mentioned earlier in this post, humans are social creatures and loneliness is deadly. So deadly, in fact, that loneliness is one of the ​most regrettable things about life.​​​​​​​​​

In Bronnie Ware's book The Top Five Regrets Of The Dying, she recounts the many people she took care of as they passed on. ​And as people lay on their deathbeds, many of them said a sentence that was becoming more and more familiar to Bronnie:

"I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends."

One of the keys to a meaningful life is staying connected with those around you, deepening those connections, and building new ones.

When you feel like you are connected and contributing to a higher cause, are doing things that actually make you happy, and are building deep relationships, you won't have to search for happiness.

You'll already have it.

​Road Rage, Thank You Notes, And Why (Kinda) Being A Control Freak Lowers Stress

​Be honest: are you a control freak? Because if you're not, you should be.


Here's what I mean. ​If you want to be stress free, you need to have control over your environment. When people believe that they have both direct and indirect control over their environment, their stress levels are shown to plummet.

​On the same note, when feelings of control are taken away, stress began to increase. (source).

But here's the kicker: these results held true even when participants only ​thought​ and ​felt like​ they had control over a situation. How much control the participants actually had was unimportant.

The amount of control participants actually had was irrelevant as long as they felt like they were able to influence an outcome. (source).​​​​​​

​And if you're really trying to avoid stress, avoid ​embarrassment in situations where you don't have much control.

In a study of people who were driving to work, drivers who had the more difficult commutes showed higher blood pressure and decreases in behavioral performance (duh). Interestingly enough, the increases in blood pressure and decreases in behavioral performance were especially severe when the driver had other people in the car. (source).

So avoid stress and avoid being embarrassed in front of others. Gotcha. But how do we actually do that? What do we do about situations where we don't have much control?

In situations where there isn't much you can do (such as driving to work or handling your boss), it's best to stop focusing on what you can't control and remember what thing you can take control of:


The positive control freak is not a freak because they worry about everything, but about nearly nothing. It isn't helpful or particularly productive to fear over problems you can't control, so the positive control freak doesn't do it.

​And while you can't make people like you, can't make every client buy from you, and may not even be able to pick what you're going to eat for dinner, you can always control your response to these situations, of which the list is short:

​Gratitude and optimism.

Optimism is its own beast, so we tackle it right here in the Tactics section.

​Gratitude, however, is pretty easy to talk about:

Do it.

In an eight month study looking at the long term effects of optimism and gratitude, researchers found that the effect gratitude places on you is pretty powerful. It makes you happy.

And the researchers were quick to specify that gratitude worked both in the short and long term as a producer of happiness and was not just a placebo.

Gratitude had a real, measurable effect on making the participants happy, not just in the moment, but for a long time after. (source).

Of course, the most simple way to show gratitude is to tell someone thank you.

So who do we thank when life gets rough and gives us situations that are out of our control? First, thank yourself. Appreciate the fact that you are someone who can handle tough situations and a tough life.

Thank yourself for getting you through one more day and then go thank others who helped you become who you are today.

​Taking control of our situations by controlling our response is the only way we can always feel like we're making an impact, so be sure to congratulate yourself and give some gratitude to the people who made you how you are today.

They​ appreciate it and it makes you happy.

To sum up this section on the science of happiness, here's an incredible TEDx talk about one the longest studies ever recorded: the study on happiness.

With that said, let's get out of the studies and move into the minds of the greatest thinkers humanity has ever known.

The ​​Philosophy Of Happiness

Ancient Greece - ​The Art Of Being A Pretty Decent Dude

Perhaps no period in history, with the exception of the Enlightenment, produced as much powerful philosophy as during the time of ancient Greece.

Particularly, Greece had the power trio: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. While tons of philosophers were produced during the lives of these three men, as they were all attentive teachers, these are the three that you'll probably hear about in high school and college history classes.

So let's look at what a few of these master thinkers had to say.

In his book The Republic, Plato uses a conversation with Socrates, his teacher, as a discussion on what justice truly is. Plato believed that if we could adequately define justice, then we could improve economics, government, and human rights.

And, he argued, we could be truly happy.

Most relevant to our discussion is how Plato believed that people could achieve happiness. Plato defends the idea that for a person to be truly happy, that person has to be a moral person, fulfilled all of their social duties.

Social duties and "cardinal virtues" played a big part in Plato's thinking. He thought that to be truly happy, people had to be wise (being able to discern the right course of action), courageous, fair, and have control over themselves.

He paid a particularly large portion of attention to the concept of self-control, saying that until a person could reject power and reject the things that didn't make that person happy (such as money or fame) then a person could never be truly happy.

It's worth remembering in today's world.

Aristotle believed similar things, but himself believed that if you were left with nothing and lived completely in a vacuum, that wisdom, wealth, or fame wouldn't have much value to you.

The only thing that would be left is your character: who you are.

He believed that to be happy, we must become people who are happy with ourselves, pleased with our own character. Of course, he argued, to truly have an excellent character, you must be a just person.

(Some philosophers throughout history have criticized what they consider to be a contradiction here - Aristotle first says that being just isn't ​extremely important, and then he says that if you want to be happy, being just is the most important thing. I've tried to reconcile these beliefs in the paragraph below)

​Aristotle believed that you must be a person of virtue. Even though wisdom, courage, self-control, and restraint are not the most important things in life, he argued, these are the only things that can make you a person who is truly happy with who you are.

So be a person of virtue.

Ancient China - ​Be Happy Because I Said So. ​Now​.​​​

Ancient China's philosophers were so impactful that their teachings still impact the world today. Confucious in particular is still adhered to, encouraging people to maintain the correct level of intimacy and respect with those around them.

Confucious taught respect as a major emphasis in his teachings: the respect between student and teacher, parent and child, older and younger siblings.

Confucious would argue that appropriate respect for your environment and those around you brings you the good life, which sets you on the path to happiness.

In particular, Confucian teachings say that you can create happiness; it does not need to be brought to you. Confucious believed that if you focused on the reasons in your life to be happy, that you would eventually achieve joy.

And once you have joy, a beautiful cycle of renewal begins. For each reason you have to be joyful, Confucious says, you can always find one more.

The happier you are, the happier you will be. It all begins with one step in the right direction: respect and optimism.

Another powerful ancient philosopher is recorded in history as Lao Tzu, literally translated as "old man".

This old guy has a lot to teach about how to eliminate stress, eliminate worry, and produce happiness.

Lao Tzu's big contribution to the philosophy of happiness is the idea that your thoughts should be focused on the present if you want to be happy.

While focusing on the future may make you achieve more, it doesn't bring true happiness.

It only brings worry.

This goes back to what we learned about comparison: comparing does make us accomplish more and compete better, but even winning doesn't ever make us truly happy.

And Lao Tzu believed similarly of the past; he said that staying focused on what has already happened won't just make us anxious, it makes us downright depressed.

So focus on the present, be thankful for the past, and expect the future to work out when the time is right.

​Middle Ages - ​​The Real... Uh... Reality

​In the times of the Middle Ages, theology and philosophy were often considered ​as closely linked, with guys like Thomas Aquinas ​believing that philosophy is the servant of theology.

Much of philosophical debate during the Middle Ages was made about the question of which is more powerful: faith or reason? Which should be adhered to the most?

Essentially, Middle Age philosophy came down to the question of whether the world was essentially spiritual or essentially physical.

Since happiness is a part of reality, how each philosopher viewed happiness depended on how they viewed reality.

The famous philosopher Augustine, who was so influential that he is still hailed today in Christian circles, believed that love was the key to happiness. ​Augustine believed that love (whether it be love of ourselves, of others, of possessions, or of God) was the missing element to ethics; that it was impossible to be truly ethical without being truly loving.

And the most important love of all, he said, was love of God. Without a connection to God, Augustine argued, all was for naught.

Other philosophers also shared the belief that to be truly satisfied in life, we must satisfy our spiritual element.

Al-Ghazali, a Muslim philosopher and theologian, believed that one must have both an intellectual and spiritual understanding of the world and of God and that only by using logic, a God-given ability, can humans attain joy.

Al-Ghazali believed that true happiness came from an understanding of the four essential knowledges that humans needed: Knowledge of self, knowledge of God, true knowledge of this world, and true knowledge of the next world.

And then finally, another, slightly later philosopher, brings us into the contemporary period: the Jewish philosopher Maimonides.

Maimonides shows the moving answer to philosophy's great​ debate of faith vs reason during the Middle Ages.

While earlier philosophers are almost without fail at least partial believers in the power of faith, Maimonides sticks out like a sore thumb.

His argument is that only by deep critical thinking can one attain true happiness. Happiness, he says, is purely and completely intellectual. Knowledge evolves into joy.

So love deeply, believe what you will, and always be willing to learn more.

​This thinking leads us nicely into the Modern Age (which, actually, isn't modern).

​Modern Age - Ingredients: Unlimited Power And A Dash Of Nothing

​The unmodern Modern Age was a time of incredible increases in knowledge of all sorts. Knowledge of ​science grew vast and there was an increase in arts of all sorts. Many famous people, including Christopher Columbus, Leonardo da Vinci, Napoleon, and the founding fathers lived during this time span.

It was an age of heroes.

It was​ an age of tragedies.

The Modern Age was a time period when philosophy grew in exponential levels and became inextricably linked to science. The philosophers ​were​ the scientists.

One of these men, Friedrich Nietzsche​​​, is particularly well known. Nietzsche had a lot to say and much of what he said revolved around, well, the more basic human needs (that means sexy stuff).

Nietzsche was a little bit obsessed with turning the lights down and putting some good Bach on, but that doesn't mean he thought you had to get between the sheets to be happy.

In fact, Nietzsche believed that basic human happiness was solved by a solution we've already discussed: control.

Nietzsche argued that once humans have power over their environment and are not subject to the whims of the unpredictable world around us, we experience true joy.

Another philosopher had quite a different view.

John Stuart Mill was a British philosopher who contributed a lot to the idea of individual liberty and was an early adopter of the belief that women should be able to vote.

His view on happiness is surprisingly ​spartan.

Mill believed that true happiness did not come from being able to do whatever you wanted. Instead, it came from not wanting so many things.

Mill was a minimalist.

In a way that would have satisfied the Buddha himself, Mill believed that more desires only caused suffering and greed, and that the only way to truly thrive was to thrive with only a few things.

​Live with only what you can really afford, only what you c​an really enjoy.

But what both of these men have in common is the same solution, they simply approach it in different ways.

Nietzsche believes that control over the environment is essential to happiness. Mill believes that the only way to truly control the environment is to control yourself.

​However you get there, mastery of self is the true way to unlimited joy.

But how do we actually master ourselves?

Well, I'm glad you asked.

The ​Tactics Of Happiness

​How To Activate Your Real Life Friend Finder

​By far, the best way to happiness is to have quality relationships with people you care about.

​As mentioned in the video of the TED Talk above, the number one indicator of someone's happiness is how they feel about those around them, so the most important step for you is to develop personal relationships.

But making friends is difficult, and takes a long time. In fact, becoming friends can take a ​really​ long time.

In Jeffrey Hall's study of friendship, he found that just to be a casual friend with someone, you're gonna need 40-60 hours with that person, preferably within a few weeks of initially meeting them.

To develop a new best friend? About 200 or more hours. (source).​​​

Making friends is obviously difficult, and takes a lot of time. But with relationships being so essential, this is the first area we should focus on.

​And you c​ould go downtown, hold up a sign that says "Looking For Friends", and see what happens...

(I don't think I would take you up on that)

Or you could do ​follow our little cheat sheet below and be swimming in friends in under a month.

​Go Where The Happies Are

The first order of business is to start going where happy people congregate. And to do this, your best option may be, well, a congregation.

Research shows that just ​being ​physically close to happy or sad people will turn you into the same kind of person that they are. And happy people tend to gather in two places: churches and in gyms.​​​​ (source).​​​

​Working out and participating in religious services give people disproportionate amounts of happiness compared to other activities. One study even says that consistently participating in these two activities can boost your entire well-being from physical to emotional to mental. (source).

​​​We aren't exactly sure why these two things in particular provide big boosts to happiness, but the best guess is that these are simple tasks that can be done consistently.

So you should go where the happy people are (maybe starting in a church or a gym), but you should also...

​Do What The Happies Do

A key element of friendship is a feeling of camaraderie, the feeling of being in something together.

One study where two participants had to ask each other 36 intimate questions showed that just after asking these intimate questions, the participants felt closer to one another. (source).

(here are the questions if you'd like to read them)

And remember earlier where we talked about the importance of hobbies?

Find a hobby, but don't do it alone.

Do it with others.

This can be anything: exercise (I enjoy jogging with someone), knitting, video games, martial arts, golf, fishing, a cooking class, you name it.

And in this hobby, try and surround yourself with people who you want to be like, people who are happy and successful in the same ways you want to be.

So find a hobby you enjoy and find others to do it with.

​Talk How The Happies Talk

So you're surrounded by people, you're doing what they do, and you're beginning to build friendships.

But how do you really take friendships to the next level? How do we really get people to genuinely like us?

Well, we talk.

Talk about them some, talk about you some.

This is an area I struggled with for a long time; I always thought that since people ​love​ talking about themselves, that I should rarely talk about myself.

Research slaps me in the face once again:

One study shows that you ​should ​​​​​​​​​talk about yourself with people. In fact, the research gets pretty specific: about 30-40% of your communications should be talking about yourself, and another 30-40% should be talking about the other person. (source).

​​​Be sure not to go overboard and hit only talk about yourself, but also be sure not to ​never​ talk about yourself.

​For people to be your friend, they have to know who you are.

And people have always been a lot more accepting of that than I thought they would be, once we got to know each other.​​​

Go where happy people congregate, do your hobbies with them, and don't be afraid to open your mouth, just not too much.

​Do these things and in less than a few weeks, you'll be swimming in new budding relationships.

You'll be swimming in friends.

​Learning Luckiness And 3 Important ​Beliefs

​​Being an optimist is strangely reminiscent of having superpowers.


Optimists have a lot of advantages over people who are pessimistic or just blatantly neutral. For one, optimists are happier. An eight month study found that optimism and gratitude literally change people's mindset to feel more joy. (source).

Not only that, but optimists tend to make friends more easily (source) and according to Richard Wiseman's book The Luck Factor, optimists flat out have better luck than the rest of us.

Further, optimism contributes to another happiness producing factor: control.

When you are optimistic, you by definition believe the future will be better than your current situation.

This belief, when stubbornly ingrained, allows us to control our responses to painful events. And the more we feel like we have control, the less stressed we are. (source 1) (source 2).

But how do we become more optimistic? By chanting meaningless platitudes ("each day, in every way, I am getting better and better")?

Well, no.

Not at all.

In fact, Martin Seligman's book Learned Optimism studies enough research to show that most of those platitudes are worth about as much as a cup full of dirt.

That's to say, not very much at all.

​Seligman's research shows that when you're looking at people to determine whether they are optimists or pessimists, what you're really looking for are stories.

When things in life happen, what stories do these people tell themselves?

Pessimists say that bad things are obstacles.

Optimists say that bad things are opportunities.

Pessimists believe that bad things are often unpredictable and, when they happen, are often long-lasting.

Optimists believe that not every bad event can be predicted, but that we have control over a large portion of the results of our lives. When bad things do happen, these bad things can be conquered.

In Seligman's research, he saw that whether you're an optimist or a pessimist isn't determined by some divine balancing scale, but is actually a learned behavior.

You trained yourself to be an optimist or a pessimist.

And since you trained yourself in, you can train yourself out.

One of the ways to start training yourself to be optimistic is to start listening to the stories you tell yourself.

When bad things happen, do you say ​statements like these?

​"This is never going to work out."

"I don't think I'll ever find the right person."

"Maybe I'm just not meant to be happy."

You can't begin to change your self talk until you begin to listen to it. When you can hear it and notice what you're saying to yourself, then you can begin to adapt.

Change "This is never going to work out," to "This isn't working yet, but if I either change my approach or keep trying, I can do this!"

"I don't think I'll ever find the right person," becomes "There are over 7 billion people on the earth, one of them has to be right."

"Maybe I'm just not meant to be happy," suddenly can change to "I deserve to be happy, I'm just not there ​yet​."​​​

Your self talk is the most important aspect of your optimism. Begin to hear it, then begin to change it by believing:

​1) ​My problems are not unsolvable

​2)​ I can be the solution to my problem

​3)​ I am not conquered yet

If you'd like to read more about self talk, we talk a lot about it in this post on motivation.​​​​​​​​​​​​

​Conquer your self talk and you conquer your emotions. You can literally create happiness.​​​

​​Why Lottery Winners Bankrupt Fast

​One of the greatest obstacles that people face when trying to be happy is that we often don't do what makes us happy.

We already discussed that people often do what is easy (watching Netflix) rather than what is best (focusing on your new business).

But to fix this, first we must ask the question of ​why​ people do what is easy instead of what they know is best.

I believe that people do what is easy because we often do not at all know what makes us happy.

And even if we do know, we often do not consciously remember it.​​​

The first step in pursuing your happiness is this: ​know what you want​.

Do you really want Netflix? Or do you want financial freedom?

Do you really want to check your emails and look over that project you can't do anything about for the third time? Or do you want to do meaningful work?

Do you want relaxation for ten minutes now or do you want retirement ten years early later on?

Life comes down to the tiny, minute choices we make. And if I'm allowed to beat us all over the head with reality for a minute, I want to say something you won't hear elsewhere.

You ​can't​ achieve your dreams tomorrow.

Probably not the next day either.

Maybe not even ten years from now.

But you know what you can do?

​You can achieve your dreams​. We simply must switch our mindsets from event to process.

Your dream life won't happen in an event. It won't happen overnight. It will be the cumulation of a thousand tiny decisions day in and day out, but understand this:

Until you go through the process, you probably aren't ready for the event.

​​​​​​​​​Jack Whittaker was, by all accounts, an extremely lucky man.

Already a millionaire at the time he bought a winning lottery ticket, Whittaker supplemented his current wealth with over $100M more.

Now ​that​ is a lot of money.

It's even more money today than it was when Whittaker won in 2002. Today, his winnings would be worth almost $150M.

And yet in 2016, Whittaker, now broke, says "I wish we had tore the ticket up." (source).​​​

Why is it that lottery winners, who can take home up multiple millions of dollars, are twice as likely to file bankruptcy as the average person? ​Lottery winners are so bad with money that 70% of them go bankrupt within 5 years. (source).

Not only that, but lottery winners are neither happier nor healthier after winning. (source 1) (source 2).

The reason why is simple: these "lucky" people experienced an event. They missed out on the process.

​And because they missed the process, these people were not emotionally or mentally strong enough to handle the event.​​​

When you think of your happiness, don't wish for an event. When we aren't strong enough to handle the event, then the event can ruin our lives.

If you want to be happy, be willing to dedicate your life to the process: dedicating moment after moment to becoming the person who ​deserves​ success in whatever metric you define.

Become a person who deserves to be rich.

Become a person who deserves to have a great spouse.

To achieve your dream, you have to be someone who is worthy of achieving your dream.

To be happy, first you must know what you want.

​Then you must chase it wholeheartedly, committing to the process.

And make no mistake, the process can be a ton of fun.

If you have never experienced what it is to wake up one day and know that you are better than yesterday, know that you are one step closer to your dream, I want to tell you that there aren't many greater joys in all the world.

Know what you want and pursue it day in and day out, each day enjoying the victories, each day remembering that the defeats teach you lessons.

That's the only way you'll really be happy.​​​​​​

Because life really ​is​ about the journey, not just the destination.​​​


Thanks for reading!

​Happiness may seem far away, but it is always worth pursuing.

​You can achieve it​.

Develop your relationships, avoid focusing on the wrong things, and improve yourself every day. You'll get there in no time.​​​

​Let me know in the comments: what are you doing to be happy?

Stay awesome. Have a great day.

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Founder and Editor at Elite Happiness! I love my life and want to help you love yours too. If this isn't your favorite website on the entire internet, let me know why in the comments so I can make this your favorite place to be. As always, stay awesome. Have a great day.

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