Setting Up the Equation
Happiness is the absence of unhappiness. It’s our resting state when nothing clouds the picture or causes interference. Happiness is your default state.
While success doesn’t lead to happiness, happiness does contribute to success.
At work, in our personal life, relationships or love life, whatever it is that we do, we should directly: Solve for Happy.
Creating your Happy List
The moments that make you happy may be very different from the moments that make me happy, but most lists will converge around this general proposition: Happiness happens when life seems to be going your way. You feel happy when life behaves the way you want it to. Not surprisingly, the opposite is also true: Unhappiness happens when your reality does not match your hopes and expectations.
If you perceive the events as equal to or greater than your expectations, you’re happy—or at least not unhappy. But here’s the tricky bit: it’s not the event that make us unhappy; it’s the way we think about it that does.
As much as we hate it, pain and the discomforts of life are useful!
We let our suffering linger as a form of self-generated pain. All the thinking in the world, until converted into action, has no impact on the reality of our lives. It does not change the events in any way. The only impact it has is inside us, in the form of needless suffering and sadness. Happiness starts with a conscious choice.
Fun is useful, but some people seek it in desperation, to escape, because they’re afraid of their difficult thoughts. In that sense, the fun they chase is like a painkiller, to blunt the suffering. Fun is an effective painkiller because it mimics happiness by switching off the incessant thinking that overwhelms our brains—for a while. With no thoughts, we return to our default, childlike, state: happiness! As soon as the immediate pleasure fades, however, the negative thoughts rush back in and reestablish the suffering. So we keep coming back for more.
A wise use for fun is as an emergency off switch to allow for momentary intervals of peace so that you can get the voice in your head to chill, meanwhile interjecting some reason into the endless stream of chatter. Whenever you feel the thoughts in your head getting negative, enjoy a healthy pleasure—say a workout, music, or a massage—and that will always flick off the switch.
True joy is to be in harmony with life exactly as it is.
That Little Voice in Your Head
There are three types of thought that our brains produce: insightful (used for problem solving), experiential (focused on the task at hand), and narrative (chatter). We need a lot of attention to the present when we perform tasks, and we need problem solving. Those are very useful functions. What we don’t really need is the narrative component of thought, the useless, endless chatter—the part that makes us feel a bit crazy and keeps us trapped in suffering.
Observe the Drama: Occasionally an idea will stick. You’ll recognize the signs: you’ll be fully absorbed in thought and less aware of the rest of the world around you. When you notice this happening, this is your chance to learn to observe the drama. Start by acknowledging how you feel, the emotion triggered by the thought. Don’t resist it. Let it be. You may want to dig deeper, not in an attempt to solve the problem but to try to understand it better. Ask yourself why you became angry or agitated. Which thought led you here?
Bring Me a Better Thought: Every single time your brain is tempted with a thought it will take the bait. It can’t help itself! We can put this to very good use. You can prime your brain to focus on anything you want just by bringing it into consciousness. With infinite choices, what should you tell your brain to think about? Yep, you got it: Happy thoughts. Happiness is always found in the positive side of every concept. The easiest way to have a full arsenal of happy thoughts is to use your Happy List (from chapter 1). A happy thought doesn’t need to be related in any way to the dark topic that derailed you. Any happy thought on the list can short-circuit the stream of negativity in your brain by filling the vacuum.
Shut the Duck Up: For the brain, multitasking is a myth! We can use this feature of our brain to our advantage. My recommended technique to shut up that quacking duck is to flood it with things that it can’t think about, evaluate, or judge—things it can only observe. Here’s how: Direct your attention outside yourself. Observe the light in the room, pay attention to whatever is on your desk, catch that smell of coffee percolating in the kitchen, notice the wood grain on the table, or listen to the distant sounds of cars in the street. Don’t let anything go unobserved. Notice every tiny detail around you. This is what you used to do as a newborn child. Just observe. Alternatively, you can borrow from meditation techniques and turn your attention within. Pay close attention to your body. Tune in to any sore muscles from yesterday’s workout or back pain from sitting at your desk too long. Observe your breathing or feel the blood pumping through your body.
Who Are You?
First you’ll find out who you’re not. Then you’ll keep shedding layers until you reach the one that’s solid and real, the one that will withstand the tests of perception and permanence. The perception test is based on a simple subject-object relationship. If you are the subject able to observe objects around you, then you are not the objects you are observing. If you are looking at this book, then by definition, you are not this book. The only way to see planet Earth is from a vantage point outside it. Easy? The permanence test, on the other hand, relies on a simple question of continuity. If a quality or a description that you can associate with yourself changes while you otherwise remain unchanged, then that quality isn’t you. If you were once a teacher and now you are a writer, then those are changing states and neither is the permanent you.
You are the observer. You are the one aware of all that is happening around you. You are the one who sees.
Does Anybody Know What Time It Is?
Every time you examine your thoughts you’ll notice that whatever you’re upset about is rooted in a past you cannot change or a future that may turn out to be completely different from what you expect. You may as well let the past or the future go and do your best at whatever you’re doing now. This is the moment, the only one you can count on. Live in it fully, and the rest will take care of itself.
The Truth about Control
Is there anything ever under our total control? Yes, two things are: your actions and your attitude.
What I came to call committed acceptance: Take the responsible action first, then release the need to control.
It’s not rocket science: if there’s something you want to do but aren’t able to, then you’re not free even though you’re not in a physical prison. Think about the invisible walls of your captivity. Call them anything you want—or just call them fear.
There are no positive aspects to fear. It’s your actions and not your fears that keep you safe.
The easiest way to short-circuit all of your brain’s fear games is this: Once you know what your fear is, commit yourself to facing it. If you fear public speaking, find the next opportunity and volunteer to be a speaker. Put yourself beyond the point of no return. Don’t think. Just do it. It will be fine. I promise. Here’s a series of simple questions that will guide you through the quest to overcome your fears.
Learn to die before you die. It is time to face your fears.
Is It True?
Keep asking the question “Is it true?” as many times as you need until you realize how ridiculous the statements our brain offers us really are. Keep questioning until you end up with a description of the event that’s a factual narrative, a story that attaches nothing more to it than the truth.
When you’re searching, some concepts will be easy to pinpoint as an illusion, while others will shine as obvious truths. There are, however, points on the perimeter of the truth where it’s hard to prove either way. This is when you need to make a crucial choice and follow Golden Rule for Happiness: Choose to believe in the side that makes you happy. That side is more likely closer to the truth.
Being fully aware of the present moment considerably increases your chances of being happy. It all starts with making awareness your priority. Be crazy about finding out everything happening around you and inside you. Be curious. Be an explorer. Be a fanatic.
As you go through your day tomorrow, try to find out how many different types of trees you come across. For the rest of the week, measure the time your commute takes along different routes. Pay attention to how you treat other people. Notice if you treat your boss at work differently than the people you manage. Monitor your daily water consumption or your posture while you sit. It doesn’t matter what you set out to notice, just give yourself a reason to be alert. When you get back home, try to remember as much of your day as you can. If you seem to have forgotten part of the day, spend time trying to remember what happened. Start a “positive events journal.” Stay alert all day looking for the good parts. Write them down. As soon you make them your target, they’ll start popping up all over your day, making it a positive, happy day.
Reduce the Distractions: Remove the distractions. Make it a point to keep your phone in your pocket when you have some quiet time. Switch off the radio on your drive back home and spend time doing absolutely nothing instead of sitting in front of the TV.
Make a Totem: Always carry something with you that reminds you that it’s time to be aware. It shouldn’t be a useful everyday object, but something that’s odd enough to serve as a reminder every time you see it. Something simple like a stone with interesting colors, or a spin top, or a yo-yo. Every time you see it, you’ll remember that it’s time to be still for a short while. When you take your totem out, interact with it. Slow down the pace of your racing brain and be present. Keep your totem in a place where you’ll have to bump into it several times a day. I keep my beads in the right pocket of my jeans, and every time I reach into my pocket, I touch them and I remember: It’s time for an awareness break.
Whatever You Do, Do It Well: The trick is in trying to do everything to the best of your ability. Give every little step all you’ve got and perform as if it’s the very first time you’ve ever done it. Do it better than you did the last time, and take pride that you do it, whatever it is, really well. This doesn’t apply only to your job. It applies to everything, from washing the dishes to spending time with your loved ones. Try it on your commute.
Do Only One Thing At a Time: Don’t watch TV while you eat dinner. Don’t spend time with your daughter while “quickly checking your email.” Multitasking is a myth. Be fully present. Live your life in the here and now, not inside your head.
No effort is needed to keep any system at its equilibrium. When everything you do feels effortless, you’ll have found your path. Seek the path of least resistance.
Liking, admiring, appreciating, and respecting are all different feelings, and they are all different from love. I like and I admire for particular reasons. Love, on the other hand, is just there: unexplained, unsupported by any reason, and unchanging. Unconditional love is real. It’s the only emotion that’s not generated by a thought in your head.
The more love you give, the more you get back.
I invite you to give a smile, a word of appreciation, a good conversation, or a compliment. Give love, acceptance, and understanding with no judgment. Acknowledge those who cross your path: a waitress, a shop assistant. Don’t treat them like two-dimensional beings, objects there to serve you. Respect your elders. Introduce a friend who needs a contact. Pass on a CV to your HR Department. Call those going through a tough time and just listen. Help if you can. Make them feel that someone cares. Treat everyone as you would like to be treated. That’s the golden rule of love.
Let life flow. Keep what you use and give the rest away.