Happiness is a funny thing. It's invisible and intangible, yet pursued by everyone. Most of you were probably born into a family where all of your basic needs were met. You had shelter to keep you warm at night and cool during summers. A sink provided unlimited clean water with the twist of a knob. Your fridge was stocked with enough food where you were probably never really hungry. These things alone put us in a very fortunate bracket of mankind. We don't have to spend our days hunting prey and carrying water from streams.
On top of that, we get a very solid education for free. We learn language, mathematics, sciences, arts, philosophy, sociology, and everything in between. In high school you can learn about photography, woodworking, computer sciences, and so many other awesome skills. I mean, you could graduate high school and take photos of people for a living. It's incredible.
It doesn't stop there though. In addition to our basic needs being met while getting an education, we have access to countless opportunities for adventure and entertainment. We have more television shows and movies than can be watched in a lifetime. We have closets and cabinets full of board games, video games, books, toys, sporting goods, clothes, appliances, and food. Even your smartphone has access to more entertainment than you could ever consume.
So why aren't we 100% happy all the time?
What's keeping us from emitting beaming rainbows of smiles and hugs to everyone we come across? Why do we shuffle around town and look down when eye contact is briefly made? Why can't we sit in our comfortable climate-controlled living rooms in silence and be content with our lives? Why must we pursue more? More money. Bigger house. Newer car. Faster smartphones. Better appliances. More of everything, always.
What if we aimed to pursue less? Over the last few years, I have been working towards owning and needing less material things. Whenever I can, I will donate, sell, trash, or recycle things that I no longer need. If I haven't worn a shirt in a year, it goes to Goodwill. If I still have an old iPhone or pair of headphones, they go up on Craigslist. As long as I keep up on it, I never have much clutter laying around. But how does this make me happier?
When you start minimizing, it almost becomes a challenge to own the least amount of things possible. You start looking for efficiencies and redundancies in everything you own. You start trying to lower your grocery and electricity bill. You'll buy one quality knife before you buy a 20-piece set of ginsu knives; because unless you're having ten people over for a steak dinner every month, you probably don't need ten steak knives.
But how does that make you happier? Well first, when you aim to own less, you become happier with the things that you do own. You stop seeing commercials or walking through the aisles of Target and salivating at all the new gadgets and trinkets. You will see them as unnecessary burdens that you don't have to take into your life anymore. When you stop wanting more, you start appreciating what you have.
Be a Hero, Not a Victim
Another way to boost up that happiness meter is to take control of your life. It's way easier to admit defeat and complain about all your struggles, but that won't make you feel better. It won't solve any problems. Usually, it makes the problems even worse. Instead, you should confront the struggle and find a positive way to tackle it. Use your creativity mixed with some confidence to address it. Is your boss really making you upset because he's not treating you like you think you should be treated? Don't go complain to your coworker. Even worse, don't sulk around for a couple weeks or months in the hope that your poor behavior will radically change your boss's attitude toward you. The way to make change for the better is to be the better. If you step up and take the challenge by the horns, you'll have more power to make a positive outcome for yourself.
This doesn't just go for workplace frustrations, this idea should be applied to every moment of your life. Every choice or struggle should be met with an embrace.
- If it's pouring rain, look up toward the sky and let your face get soaked.
- If someone tells you gossip, reply with possible solutions to the core issue.
- If your hard drive fails, look at it as an opportunity to start fresh and learn better backup habits.
- If a family member dies, appreciate their life and thank them for their time on this planet.
- If someone cuts you off, so be it. If you get mad at them, that's just pouring salt into your own wound.
- If your wallet gets stolen, just cancel your cards and get new ones.
Any of these things could easily take control of your emotions, but they don't have to. You have the power to think through things logically and choose the best course of action for yourself. The more you do that, the more you will enjoy life. When it's pouring rain in Seattle, I often find myself huddling under the hood of my jacket, miserable. But when I realize that it's just a little harmless water, I take my hood down and let the rain soak my face. It's a baby adrenaline rush and it makes me feel alive. It makes me feel like I have defeated the weather.
More than anything, creativity is one of my strongest sources for happiness. After sitting on the couch for several hours watching tv, do you feel happy and accomplished? Eeh, probably not. But what if you went on a hike and took some breathtaking photos? Or wrote a poem for your partner? Using our brains in creative ways is the best way to keep sharp and feel like we're actually making progress in our finite lives.
Writing for this blog provides many different layers of satisfaction for me. During the actual writing phase, I get to research and learn about topics while figuring out how to articulate it in an easy-to-understand way. After that, I release it to the world so that you guys can read and interact with it. Maybe it will prompt you to make a little change in your life. Or maybe you have an opposing opinion. Whatever it may be, we're being constructive and using our minds.
Even if you're not particularly artistic, it doesn't matter. There are so many outlets for creativity. Even if you just walk around your city and take photos with your phone of interesting things. Or go buy some cheap paint and brushes and slap some colors onto a canvas. Or even renovating your bathroom! Whatever it is, it will provide more happiness than most forms of traditional entertainment.
Yes, hugs. It doesn't matter who you are, you should be giving hugs on the regular. When you first meet someone new. When you see an old friend. When you see family. Wherever you are, try to give out as many hugs as possible. A lot of people will be taken aback at first, but they will secretly really like it. It's a great way to break the ice, too.
At Burning Man, everyone hugs everyone when they meet each other. Because it is the norm there, everyone is more open to sharing themselves with each other. Deeper stories are told. Love is spread. All of it just encourages people to be free and open and inviting. So give it a shot. Next time you meet someone and they hold out their cold, impersonal hand for a handshake, you walk right into it and give them a hug.