‘Happiness is for Americans’

I heard William Kentridge, the artist, say a friend told him at dinner party when he asked what she meant by asking if he is satisfied with his life. Happiness has a bad rap, it conjures up images of clowns at fast food restaurants, and rainbow spewing unicorns. Yet there is something in us, that forces us forward as human beings? Reaching higher, further, to a better something. And that something, for the purposes of this blog we are calling happiness.

Happiness for me, is contentment, feeling fulfilled, and yes, satisfied with your life. We all deserve to happy, or pursuing happiness is our purpose. Call it enlightenment, call it salvation, call it ‘comfortable in your own skin’ you know what I mean.

The catch with happiness is that it can’t be worked on, as such, when you work on other things happiness happens. When you make good, healthy choices, happiness happens. I suspect the most spiritual, and enlightened thing one can do is make a choice, but that’s maybe just me.

You have a choice.

Even in a chaotic world we still have choices. In fact, in a chaotic world you may have even more choices than in a stable one. In a chaotic world, the old rules, hierarchies and traditions have little or no authority.

The trick, I believe, in a chaotic world, is to always be responding, creating your own world, and own reality (if you must). The challenge is not to get swept away with the current of madness and at the same time to paradoxically not fight it, rather you should ride it.

As with many things in your life, career, relationships, money. Happiness, largely, is a choice, but even more than that, happiness is a skill. A skill that can be learnt, developed and grown into a strength. I first heard happiness described this way by Naval Ravikant on a podcast with Tim Ferriss, ever since it has helped me in my search for happiness, chosing to work at it, or the things that are the things around it that causes it.

So here is my two cents.

First Choose happiness.

Obvious right? Not so much. I rather enjoyed  being the emo depressed arty guy, its comfortable and familiar. It also has it’s benefits (more about that in another post), so the first choice is the most important one, will you give up the identity and benefits? Do you really, really, want to be happy?

If you make this your goal, same as losing weight, getting fit for a triathlon, taking a self-defence class, learning French or whatever, it will take priority in your life.

Then take action, a decision is not a decision if there is no action, I think Tony Robbins or some self help guru said that, but it makes sense. A decision without action is a desire at most.

What will make you happier?

Also, a seemingly easy question, or is it? What will leave you fulfilled, content, satisfied? Set the goal, the start to play the game to reach the goal. Make choices and create habits that will make you a happier human being. Go for counselling, see a psychiatrist if you must, get on medication if that is what you need, but don’t stop there. Get moving, go for a run. Eat clean. Meditate. Choose better friends. Control your calendar.

Happiness is threefold.

Thing work in three, at least in my life they always seem to. Training to live a better life also has worked in a triad, if I neglect one the whole structure starts deteriorating and eventual I crash and burn.

These three things are for me, my physical body, the way I react to stressors, and my general lifestyle.

Happiness and Biology.

I have struggled with sadness and depression since my earlier teens, maybe even before that. I can remember laying, sobbing in the foetal position when I was 14 wishing I could just cease to exist.

Not a good place to be.

I have been on anti-depressants for a few years now. I have been diagnosed with severe major depression, and taking my meds every morning helps me get out the gate. This is not for everyone, and to be frank, in my opinion, people tend to grab the pill bottle way too quickly.

That being said, what we put into our bodies affects greatly how we feel. Often feeling cranky and anxious is just because you need a glass of water, not because everyone at the office is out to get you.

Garbage in, garbage out. My food mantra, that I stole from Michael Pollan, is ‘eat fresh, mostly plants, not too much’. Sugar, carbs, caffeine, alcohol can be killers when it comes to managing my mood.

Happiness and lifestyle.

Second on the list is lifestyle. Yes, that’s right. We are talking exercise. 30 min of pushing your heart above 60% will release serotonin and other feel good chemicals, but only for 24 hours. So you have to get moving every. Single. Bloody. Day.

Personally, I enjoy crossfit, I like the community part of it, but whatever floats your boat. As long as you move.

Sleep, we wear our lack of sleep as a badge of honour, as though there is some kind of accomplishment sleeping 4 hours a night. You need sleep to be happy. End of story. I try to get to bed every night at the same time and get in a good 7-8 hours, and if I’m feeling tired during the day, I take a quick 20 min nap, there is no shame in that. How will you create your best work if you can’t keep your eyes open?

Get some rest.

Be around happy people, choose your friends wisely. They will greatly influence your mood, complaining, angry, negative people will suck you dry. So be careful of getting too close to those, or at least wear gloves.

Happiness and reaction.

Your and my happiness is directly connected to how we react to stressors and triggers in your life. Training yourself to react better is the best thing you can do. The mindfulness trend, seems every second website is advocating some sort of mindfulness at the moment, is actually super helpful here.

Mindfulness practices, like meditation, will help you stay in the moment, while at the same time detaching you from the situation. In short, it helps you not fly of the handle, or go into a downward spiral worrying about the future.

A good therapist will also be able to help get rid of triggers, a trigger being something that happens now, that subconsciously remind you of a traumatic experience earlier in your life.

Happiness is important, as are all emotions. Happiness moves you forward and towards, while other emotions such as fear move you back and away. All are necessary for you and me to survive this chaotic world. Joy, sadness, fear, anger, disgust (yes the Inside Out movie). Each emotion is a skill that needs to be honed into a strength, when coupled knowledge and experience. Ironically, when we experience all emotions, at their proper time and place, we live a full life, contented, and, well, happy.

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