I thought happiness was about achieving more
I grew up in Taipei and came to the States for college at Brown. As a computer science major with a love of building products, I filled up my weekends with hackathons across the Northeast. At my fifth hackathon, I bonded with a senior whom I really looked up to and we co-founded a startup.
To be fair, my startup knowledge was quite limited at the time. I had never heard of Y Combinator. I had never read Paul Graham. While I don’t advocate following gurus blindly, I do see value in reading startup literature in retrospect.
The lack of knowledge didn’t stop me. I went all-in and prototyped a few ideas along the way. We entered a few contests, won some and lost the others, and eventually honed in on a salient product insight that had a sizable market. Though we worked very hard, we eventually gave up on realizing the big wild dream.
Though the startup didn’t succeed, it taught me so many lessons from navigating product-market fit to managing relationships with all kinds of people. It also opened so many doors, such as a program manager internship offer from Microsoft in my first year and many other big-name companies in the following years.
Am I happy?
I didn’t notice that I was optimizing for the wrong metrics. While I knew better to not aim for financial success, I was still playing the status game. I chose to interview at the most competitive companies in the world because I wanted to prove myself. I thought happiness is about achieving more. I thought I could acquire happiness.
However, I wasn’t happy after achieving all my goals. My coach recommended me to look inwards, so I started to review my journals, meditate, and study neuroscience. The more I learned about meditation and neuroscience, the more I began to tap into my soul. Eventually, I noticed that I was trapped by the initial “startup failure.”
Instead of suffocating the inner voice, I chose to accept the failure entirely. As I leaned into the moment, I was able to see my past from an objective point of view. I realized that I was stronger than my resistance. With this new awareness, I could finally move forward.
My renewed definition of happiness
Through my study of psychology, neuroscience, and spirituality, I learned to debunk some myths around happiness:
Happiness is the journey, not the destination
As I discovered earlier, achieving a certain outcome wouldn’t bring you happiness. Even worse, if your happiness is attached to the outcome, you may get to a worse state if you fail to achieve. Thus, it is better if you could find happiness before you attain the goal.
Happiness is found in the presence, not some distant future
This is aptly described by the I’ll be happy when syndrome. How many times have you told yourself, “I’ll be happy when I graduate / find a job / get married / have a kid?” If you constantly live in the state of acquiring happiness, you will never be happy because your happiness is constantly delayed. Life is a lot more fun when you choose to believe that happiness is found right here, right now.
Happiness is defined by personal measures, not external status
If you were like me, you may have internalized a lot of standards and sought after shiny status. For example, many people let the need to achieve financial freedom stand in the way of their happiness. This is dangerous because they are relying on external measures to feed their soul. I believe that the most sustainable way is to tap into your inner strength and define happiness on your own terms.
Happiness is the natural by-product of a well-lived life
To live well, we need to follow through on our promises and consistently show up for ourselves. Happiness will naturally come after we win our own respect.
While we all know the principles, the game-changer lies in the details and execution. If how-to guides were enough, why aren’t we living happily already?
- We all know that exercise can lead to a better shape, but few people commit to their daily workout schedule.
- We all know that reading can level up our playing field, but few people dedicate more than 1hr to reading.
- We all know that new challenges are critical to progress, but few people carry out their new year resolutions.
For one, it is hard to escape the rat race when society is priming us to achieve more. For another, it is lonely to pursue the big hairy dream that feels right but runs on a super long time horizon. To ensure lifelong transformation, strategy and accountability are key.
If you want to invest in your growth and happiness, I want to introduce LivingOS University. I have spent the past few months putting together this learning program on how to change your mindsets, carry out action plans, and design the life you want to live: