The 5 things I need to be happy
Advertising kicks my ass. More so than most people, I am highly susceptible. Especially Guinness ads. For some reason the second I see an ad for Guinness I feel like I need a Guinness.
This is particularly odd because I don’t really drink much.
And I spend more time than I care to admit looking at trivial metrics like how many frequent flyer miles I have or if anyone retweeted my latest tweet.
My unconscious assumption is that if I get more stuff (a fresh Guinness, more frequent flyer miles, lots of retweets, etc) then I’ll suddenly be happy. And it’s assumptions like that which keeps the wheels of consumerism well oiled. Consumer culture rests in the falsely constructed belief that if we obtain X (where X is anything we desire that can be purchased in one way or another) we will suddenly be happier than we were before we had X.
But of course, that never happens. At least not for me.
After four solid months of touring I’ve been able to take a break this summer. I’ve had a lot of time to reflect. I realize that happiness is more simple and more complicated than it seems. It’s simple because we don’t need much to be happy. In fact, I think we really only need 5 things to be happy. It’s complicated because modernity and consumer culture sends us down so many false paths towards happiness (ie trying to accumulate popularity, affluence, expertise, twitter followers, frequent flyer miles, material goods, etc).
Here is what I believe we need to be happy:
1) Health. Roughly six-eight hours of sleep a night, a diet focused on whole foods with lots of vegetables, exercise, and minimal (if any) amounts of sugar, alcohol, and soft drugs. For the total health package, which includes mental health we also need fun, honesty, and reflection.
2) A few close, positive relationships. Facebook makes it seem like you’re lame if you have less than 5,000,000 friends. In reality, I’ve found that staying close to a few friends and family members has made me much happier than trying to surround myself with a million acquaintances.
I think that the trick is just to have a few close friends. To have people who are mutually and significantly invested in one another’s happiness, success, and life. To have people you are comfortable being honest and vulnerable around.
3) The decision to focus on the positive. Virtually everything that happens to us has two sides. If I choose to work on the weekend, it means I’m being more productive, going above and beyond, and investing in the success of my audiences, lives events, and business. However, I am also sacrificing a weekend, a time that is generally reserved for fun, relaxation, and stress relief.
The difference between a happy person and an unhappy person is often what they focus on. Focus primarily on the negatives (how it sucks to be working on the weekend while my friends are playing) and you’re going to be miserable. Focus on the positives (how nice it is to have income, to be productive, and to create the best product I can, and to have extra time in the week to do so) and you’re going to be happy.
We don’t control much but we do control what we focus on. Happiness can only arise when we train our focus to the positive.
4) Meaningful work. No matter what, the vast majority of us have to spend a lot of time working. In fact, many of us spend more time working than playing. If you feel like your job is a waste of time, then it’s going to be harder for you to be happy because you’ll feel like tons of your time is being spent in a meaningless job.
I don’t think that you have to have your dream job to be happy, but I do think that you have to find some sort of value in the work that you do.
Personally, I dislike social-media marketing. I think it’s a waste of time for most businesses. Even if I were paid $1,000,000 a year to do social media marketing for some business I think I would be pretty miserable. Too much of my time would be spent doing something I don’t believe in or care about.
5) Service. Many of us (myself often included) live under the collective delusion that we are autonomous. We live as though we can walk by a beggar on our way to a restaurant and not feel guilty for spending $40 on dinner and drinks.
The fact is we belong to one another.
While it’s not realistic for most people to dedicate their lives to serving the less fortunate, service is a component part of happiness. Helping other people is how you find meaning in life. It’s how you live a life that becomes important and valuable to humanity. It gives you a sense of worth because you’re not just living for yourself; you’re living for others too.
When I pay a lot of attention to the tides of modernity, I am led to believe that I need money and success and status and twitter followers and a cool mac computer and a bunch of other stupid stuff to be happy. I think that’s normal. I think most of us feel that way – I mean, it’s the path that the media and society lead us down. It’s the path we end up on if we are not intentional.
But when I pay a lot of attention to myself, I realize that I don’t need much to be happy. I think that’s normal. In fact, I already have all of the things I need for happiness. I think you have everything you need to be happy too. If you don’t feel that way, it may just be a matter of changing some of your actions.
What about you? What do you need to be happy?
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