On Happiness

What Do You Really Want

Better grades or better jobs? I was guilty of that too.

I started from wanting to be an interior designer when I was 7 to wanting to be a diplomat when I was 16 to wanting to be an entrepreneur when I was 18 to most recently wanting to erase all these artificial labels. I wanted to reprogram the beliefs that didn’t bring me happiness. However, I almost forgot how to want when I learned how to please the world.

I wasn’t happy after achieving all my goals. I didn’t notice that I was optimizing for the wrong metrics. While I knew better than 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.

It took me a while to realize that success is not what I achieve but who I am. As I silenced my inner critic and 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.

Five wantings that would make you a little happier

Earlier this year, I took a popular Yale course on the science of well-being. In the class, Professor Laurie Santos recommended five wantings that would increase happiness:

  1. Kindness (e.g. treat people well)
  2. Social connection (e.g. connect with people you love)
  3. Time affluence (e.g. having enough time to do the things you love)
  4. Mind control (e.g. meditation or a me-time with yourself)
  5. Healthy habits (e.g. exercise, sleep, drink water)

Which one would you want to make time to do today?

My renewed definition of happiness

Through my study of psychology, neuroscience, and spirituality, I learned to create more empowering beliefs 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 it. 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 are interested in a deep dive into life analysis, I recommend David Brooks’s The Second Mountain. ✨

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