A Philosopher's Notes: On Optimal Living, Creating an Authentically Awesome Life and Other Such Goodness - by Brian Johnson

Happiness = Virtues in Action. Happiness isn't some elusive treasure we chase after. It's a state of being we need to PRACTICE. Use your strengths often. Do so in service to something bigger than yourself and you'll be blessed with abundant happiness and a life filled with meaning and all that goodness to boot. Good times!


From Martin Seligman's perspective, optimism is not about whistling happy tunes to ourselves when life gets challenging. It's about disciplining our minds to create more empowering explanations of what's going on. Whether we're optimists or pessimists comes down to what he calls our "explanatory styles"--how we explain what's happening in our world. Specifically, in this model, it comes down to three Ps: Permanence, Pervasiveness and Personalization.

The Equanimity Game

"When force of circumstance upsets your equanimity, lose no time in recovering your self-control, and do not remain out of tune longer than you can help. Habitual recurrence to the harmony will increase your mastery of it." --Marcus Aurelius

We need to catch ourselves the moment we fall into old, negative patterns. Make it a game. See if you can catch yourself right as you slip into weenie-ville. Notice your pissiness, fear, anger, anxiety, overwhelm, RIGHT when it arises and see if you can aikido that energy into something more constructive. Doesn't matter what you do, just do ANYTHING other than the old destructive patterns. Take a dozen deep breaths, go for a walk, sing a song, do a few pushups or jumping jacks, go for a run, whatever it takes to break the pattern.

Acceptance and Scripting

Eckhart Tolle tells us that, when faced with a situation we can do nothing to change, rather than moan and wail and otherwise suffer, it makes a whole lot more sense to not only accept it, but to act as if you scripted the event to occur in your life.


Maslow sternly advises us: "If you deliberately plan on being less than you are capable of being, then I warn you that you'll be unhappy for the rest of your life." He also reminds us: "It seems that the necessary thing to do is not to fear mistakes, to plunge in, to do the best that one can, hoping to learn enough from blunders to correct them eventually."

10 Power Questions

  1. How can you use your strengths in greatest service to yourself, your family, your community and the world?

  2. How can you get paid to do what you love?

  3. What 5 things are you most proud of? What 5 things will you be most proud of?

  4. If you had all the time and all the money in the world, what would you do?

  5. What's your ideal day look like? When do you get up? What do you do? With whom? For whom? Imagine it in vivid detail!

  6. Who are your heroes? Why? How are you like them?

  7. What would you do if you weren't afraid?

  8. If you were guaranteed to succeed, what's the #1 thing you would do? What else?

  9. What is it that you and only you can do for the world?

  10. How can you live in more integrity with your ideals? What's the #1 thing you could start doing that would have the most positive impact in your life? What's the #1 thing you could stop doing that would have the most positive impact in your life?! Sweet. Now rock it.


Consistency on the Fundamentals

What you'll find among all masters is a passionate consistency on their fundamentals. They show up day in and day out and rock the stuff that's most important to making them exceptional in their field. Identify your fundamentals. What are the things that, when you do them consistently, make you feel GREAT?! It might be meditating daily, exercising, journaling, doing yoga, keeping a gratitude log, reading inspiring wisdom, pursuing goals that fire you up, choosing to see the positive in challenges (or all of the above!), but whatever your fundamentals are, you've gotta get REALLY clear on 'em.

Plus 1 OR Minus 1? Abraham Maslow liked to say that in any given moment we have a choice: Will we step forward into growth or back into safety? Moment by moment by moment, we make a choice. And we shape our destiny. I like to think of it like this: It's almost as if we have a little subconscious computer that's keeping score for us. +1 if we choose to step forward into growth, -1 if we choose to step back into safety.

Let's move through your day. Moment to moment to moment. Forward into growth or back into safety? Forward into growth or back into safety? +1 or -1? +1 or -1? +1 or -1? Now, fast-forward to the end of the day. You're either at +10,000 or -10,000 or, likely, somewhere in between. Pay attention because if you were out of integrity all day long, those negative numbers are gonna eat at your soul and are usually accompanied by a strong urge to snap at your wife/husband/kids and/or to numb yourself from the pain with another beer or glass of wine or hour of TV or web surfing or [insert you're favorite numbing activity here].

At the end of every day ask yourself, "Self, did we get a little better today?"

Now What Needs to Be Done?

Feeling depressed? Don't want to get out of bed? Sweet. Now what needs to be done? Feeling overwhelmed and want to give up? Awesome. Now what needs to be done?

Commitments & Completions

Do you honor your commitments? You know, when you say you're going to do something, do you? Or, do you tend to make a lot of commitments and then drop a lot of balls--letting yourself and others down in the process? Getting in the habit of honoring our commitments is huge. Fact is, we simply can't function optimally when we're dropping commitments left and right. To develop integrity, quit making so many commitments and really check in before you make your next commitment and confirm to yourself that you will, fer sure, follow thru. And, you might want to take a quick inventory of your current commitments: Are there any you've been avoiding you can knock out pretty quickly? Maybe some require communication about a new commitment/new timeline? And, maybe you're no longer committed to some (or maybe never were) that you need to tell someone about?

Here's a cool little "completions" tool: See how many things you can "one touch." If you get an email that requires less than a couple minutes of effort, "one touch" it with a quick response. There's something magical about getting little things done efficiently.

Consistency Over Intensity


Krishnamurti tells us: "It's no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society."

12 Hows of Happiness

  1. Expressing Gratitude

  2. Cultivating Optimism

  3. Avoiding Overthinking and Social Comparison

  4. Practicing Acts of Kindness

  5. Nurturing Social Relationships

  6. Developing Strategies for Coping

  7. Learning to Forgive

  8. Increasing Flow Experiences

  9. Savoring Life's Joys

  10. Committing to Your Goals

  11. Practicing Religion and Spirituality

  12. Taking Care of Your Body: Meditation + Physical Activity + Acting Like a Happy Person

Acting Like a Happy Person

If you find yourself feeling funky, quit slouching over, breathing shallowly and repeating to yourself how much your life sucks. Although it might sound cheesy, there's science (and common sense) that tells us that those moments are exactly when we need to stand up straight, shake ourselves out, put our shoulders back, breathe deeply and walk with a confident smile as we remind ourselves we got it goin' on.

Acting As If

Next time you're feeling your less-than-stellar self starting to run the show, pause for a moment, reflect on what your Highest Self would do and then act as if you already were that super cool version of you. Good times are guaranteed to ensue.

States & Traits

It's really easy to get all geeked up about pretty much anything for a weekend or a week or a honeymoon. It's an entirely different thing to actually LIVE from that place. Ken Wilber describes the process as turning "states" of experience into "traits" of who we are. And that takes work. Diligent, patient, persistent and playful work. Day in and day out. Week in and week out.

Higher Highs & Higher Lows

As we choose to step forward into growth and actually live our truths more and more consistently, what we'll find is that our highs get higher AND our lows get higher--such that our new "off " days are often better than our former best days.

Quadrant IV -> Quadrant II

Quadrant II is for the Important but Not Urgent goodness and includes things like meditation, quality time with your family, working out, yoga, hiking, journaling, studying, etc. Basically, stuff that renews your soul. Quadrant IV, on the other hand, is for the Not Important and Not Urgent distractions and includes time-wasting stuff like checking ESPN for the 100th time that day (my personal favorite), flipping aimlessly thru the 2.43 million channels on TV or spending hours surfing the Internet. Now, I've noticed I tend to fall into Quadrant IV time-wasting activities when I'm stressed/overwhelmed/avoiding something/etc. and I've created a little game where I try to catch myself when I'm stuck in Q-IV. I see if I can swap that Q-IV soul-sucking activity for a Q-II soul-nourishing one. It's quite cool. So, for example, when I'm about to load the ESPN page to see the same updates from the last time I checked 10 minutes ago, I can notice it and say, "Aha! Nice try, dood. You're burned out at the moment and need a little break, yo. What's a cool Q-II you can rock that would make you feel great rather than like a weenie? Ohhh… Yah. Good idea. Let's go for a hike."


Lovers of wisdom do nothing reluctantly. If anything is worth doing, let's do it with all our hearts!

How Am I That?

Think of someone who recently annoyed you. Identify what it is about them that really bugs you. Are they greedy? Hyper-ambitious? Impatient? Do they cut people off in mid-sentence and never really listen? Do they act like they know it all? What is it about 'em that gets you all wound up? Got it? Sweet. Now, ask yourself: "How am I that?!?":) And make that a practice. What you'll notice, if you're like me, is that we tend to be most annoyed by people who are demonstrating qualities that we are still working on.


What would you do if you weren't afraid? OK… So… Uh… What exactly are you waiting for? This isn't a dress rehearsal… Wake up! Here's the deal: What we can be, we MUST be. Period. Live at your highest potential--moment to moment to moment. Not in the mood? Fine. Then live with regret, anxiety, and disillusionment. Your call. Think about it. When do we feel most alive? Exactly. When we're being ourselves--our highest selves. You want happiness? Think Areté.