Confessions of a Happiness Major (special edition)
Instead of the usual quote, news story, and big idea I have a fun life lesson about not taking yourself too seriously… (I share these from time to time)
This morning I realized that I’m totally full of shit.
What a great way to start the day! As I stood outside my apartment at 7:30 am ripping a Central American candy flavored cigarette (I only had half and it’s been a long week!) I realized something…
Well first – the 7:30 cig thing is not a great look for a happiness researcher and former Zen monk. But more importantly – I realized that I’ve been doing the very thing that I constantly teach NOT to do.
I’ve fallen into happiness procrastination.
Let me explain.
I gave up the high octane consulting path for a cushier, less intense job in management to focus on researching, writing, and teaching about happiness. The main theme in all my work is that you must not make your happiness contingent. Your happiness should not depend on externals: on someone else, on substances, or on achievement. It’s not that those things don’t matter – it’s just that making happiness depend on them is risky business. Since those external forces are at best partially under your control (e.g. earnings) and, at worst, not under your control at all (e.g. crazy boyfriend or girlfriend).
It feels like the most common trap for neurotic, high-performing, achiever types like you and I is putting off happiness. It’s as if it’s a privilege reserved for us only after we’ve made it through our self-imposed to do list.
Like a sick end of the year psychological bonus or something.
That’s certainly how I’m wired. I have this sort of ambient tension and anxiety that creeps into a gradual tightening around my upper chest. And there’s a little operator in my head scanning at all times for schemes, optimizations, and things I NEED to get done. It’s sort of medium low rumble of constant “achieving anxiety”. That’s my word for it.
This often results in happiness procrastination on a daily, weekly, monthly, or longer level. For instance, I must get my 3 key priorities done today to be able to relax. I must make progress on my goals this week to view this week a success. I need a couple big wins to be satisfied with this month. Notice how in none of these cases did I think to use happiness as a measure of how well I’m doing.
That’s a pretty f—king radical idea! Isn’t having a pleasant day, a fun week, or an enjoyable month something to strive for? I sometimes forget that my desire to make progress is only a means to an end of happiness. If I’m not happy then why the f—k did I do all that work?
Today I caught myself on this.
Now I have what I think are very healthy, reasonable goals. I’d like to net $2,850 per month in relatively passive income so that I can fund my happiness studies work full time. (And perhaps even move out of this one-bedroom studio that wreaks of cigarette smoke that I found on Facebook for $600 / month) (double parentheses - the cig smell is from the previous resident, not me, despite what the opening of this journal would suggest!).
Here’s the trap: this goal of mine is well thought out (as opposed to “I want to make a million dollars” for no reason). And it is achievable (but harder than it sounds). So it’s easy for me to put off happiness. It often takes second priority to achieving my goal.
Once I get that $2,850 per month THEN I’ll be happy. Then I can relax. Then I can start dating again, sleep in on the weekends, or waste an afternoon taking a walk on a sunny spring day.
That’s how I’ve been living for the last month or so.
You can imagine my disappointment at having realized this as someone who spends so much time telling people about happiness. But fortunately, years of Zen and mindfulness training have allowed me to be fine with being an idiot sometimes. I’m perfectly imperfect (aka a human). And my own neurotic and anxious nature make a great laboratory for the study of happiness.
Let’s try to not be like me. Or at the very least call yourself out if you are. If you’re a high functioning professional or overachieving student then you’re probably wired a bit like me. At least that’s what I’ve found when I shared my other happiness confessions.
Contrary to what your subconscious achiever voice might tell you – happiness is only available right now. Don’t put it off. Don’t trick yourself.
The great Zen teacher Suzuki Roshi said “Treat every moment as your last. It is not preparation for something else.”Your life is not preparation for something else. Your life is not preparation for happiness.
To just enjoy your life is more than enough
I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it!
Let me know if you want more “confessions of a happiness major”…
PS - I'm on a mission to grow our happiness community to 2,850 by 2023. We're currently at 147. If you enjoy my writing, please invite others to try it » HappinessMajor.com/newsletter