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What’s It Going to Take to Make You Happy?

What’s It Going to Take to Make You Happy?

Happiness

    I’ve been thinking about this question a lot lately. What does it take to be a happy person? Obviously the answer is going to be different for each person, but what worries me is that, as far as I can tell, most people don’t even ask – and those that do don’t have a very good answer.

    Ask someone what would make them happy, and their answer is likely to be pretty vague. “A good career”,” they might say. Or, “Family.” “A strong relationship with my partner,” they might add after a moment’s reflection.

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    There’s nothing wrong with these things, of course, but there’s not much meat to them as answers. They don’t give us much to chew on – which is to say, they’re not really actionable.

    And I think that’s because we don’t give much thought to the question. Maybe we’re a little suspicious of the very concept of “being happy”. After all, our grandparents/parents/[insert fabled ancestors here] came to this country with nothing and scraped and toiled to build a better life for themselves – they didn’t sit around thinking about whether or not they were happy. They were miserable and they liked it!

    That’s the American Way, right? More and more, it’s the Modern Way, hardly bound to the US borders. Work hard, hunker down, tighten your belt, and make a better life.

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    There’s no dignity in happiness, not in this worldview anyway. Happiness is frivolous, fleeting, ephemeral. Dignity is found in the grave and serious, not the frolicking and joyful.

    There’s another reason I think we aren’t willing to face the question of what makes us happy: we’re afraid that the answer will prove to be something out of our grasp. Maybe you need a million dollars to be happy, and you only have $3.62. Maybe you need a better job than you’re capable of holding, or a bigger house than you can afford, or a prettier wife or more handsome husband, or better-behaved children. Maybe you need to be smarter, better-looking, more outgoing, taller, healthier, more disciplined, thinner… someone else.

    I don’t buy it. There are unhappy people in all walks of life. If it were brains, there wouldn’t be unhappy smart people – and there are. If it were money, there wouldn’t be unhappy rich people – and boy are there! If it were looks, there wouldn’t be unhappy beautiful people – and Marilyn Monroe wouldn’t have taken her own life.

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    And vice versa – there are unhappy dumb people, poor people, and ugly people as well. Just as there are happy rich people, happy poor people, happy dumb people, happy smart people, happy beautiful people, happy ugly people – happy people of every stripe.

    What makes them so special?

    I think the answer has to be self-knowledge – facing the question of what it will take to be happy head on. It’s obviously not something external to us that “makes” us happy; we make our own happiness. But it’s not so simple as just deciding to be happy. We make our happiness by determining what it will take, according to our own individual taste and character, to be happy, and chasing after those things and only those things.

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    Maybe you need to be rich to be happy – that’s the kind of person you are. Or maybe you just need to be comfortable, to not have to worry. Or, quite possibly, you need the edge of poverty to come really alive – stranger things have happened! You can’t know if you’re not willing – or not able – to face yourself and figure out what money means to you. Not whether rich people are shallow or profound, whether poor people are lazy or victimized by a social system that needs poverty to secure cheap labor – but what money means to you.

    Or maybe you need a different job. But what job? Maybe you need to move – but to where? Maybe you need to get healthier – but how? In what way?

    The trick here is to move beyond empty platitudes and hollow stereotypes and really look at our own lives. That’s where happiness starts to take root.

    Your assignment – and mine, too – is to figure all this out, to sit down with a pad and paper and start writing out our answer to the question: what’s it going to take to make me happy? Be specific – what exactly do you want from life? How is each thing on your list supposed to help you create happiness in your life? Most important, are you sure these are your answers, and not society’s, not your friends’, not your parents’? It’s so easy to internalize everyone else’s talk about what makes people happy – but the proof’s in the pudding: are they happy? If not, what are you doing listening to them.

    Sit down, write your list, and tuck it away somewhere safe. Then go out and do the things on your list, and let me know how that works out for you. Let’s see if we can’t all figure this out for ourselves, ok?

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    Last Updated on September 10, 2019

    How to Master the Art of Prioritization

    How to Master the Art of Prioritization

    Do you know that prioritization is an art? It is an art that will lead you to success in whatever area that matters to you.

    By prioritization, I’m not talking so much about assigning tasks, but deciding which will take chronological priority in your day—figuring out which tasks you’ll do first, and which you’ll leave to last.

    Effective Prioritization

    There are two approaches to “prioritizing” the tasks in your to-do list that I see fairly often:

    Approach #1 Tackling the Biggest Tasks First and Getting Them out of the Way

    The idea is that by tackling them first, you deal with the pressure and anxiety that builds up and prevents you from getting anything done—whether we’re talking about big or small tasks. Leo Babauta is a proponent of this Big Rocks method.[1]

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    Approach #2 Tackling the Tasks You Can Get Done Quickly and Easily, with Minimal Effort

    Proponents of this method believe that by tackling the small fries first, you’ll have less noise distracting you from the periphery of your consciousness.

    If you believe in getting your email read and responded to, making phone calls and getting Google Reader zeroed before you dive into the high-yield work, you’re a proponent of this method. I suppose you could say Getting Things Done (GTD) encourages this sort of method, since the methodology advises followers to tackle tasks that can be completed within two minutes, right there and then.

    Figure out Your Approach for Prioritization

    My own approach is perhaps a mixture of the two.

    I’ll write out my daily task list and draw little priority stars next to the three items I need to get done that day. They don’t need to be big tasks, but nine times out of ten, they are.

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    Smaller tasks are rarely important enough to warrant a star in the first place; I can always get away without even checking my inbox until the next day if I’m swamped, and the people who need to get in touch with me super quickly know how.

    But I’m not recommending my system of prioritization to you. I’m also not saying that mine is better than Leo’s Big Rocks method, and I’m not saying it’s better than the “if it can be done quickly, do it first” method either.

    The thing with prioritization is that knowing when to do what relies very much on you and the way you work. Some people need to get some small work done to find a sense of accomplishment and clarity that allows them to focus on and tackle bigger items. Others need to deal with the big tasks or they’ll get caught up in the busywork of the day and never move on, especially when that Google Reader count just refuses to get zeroed (personally, I recommend the Mark All As Read button—I use it most days!).

    I’m in between, because my own patterns can be all over the place. Some days I will be ready to rip into massive projects at 7AM. Other times I’ll feel the need to zero every inbox I have and clean up the papers on my desk before I can focus on anything serious. I also know that my peak, efficient working time doesn’t come at 11AM or 3PM or some specific time like it does for many people, but I have several peaks divided by a few troughs. I can feel what’s coming on when and try to keep my schedule liquid enough that I can adapt.

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    That’s why I use a starred task list system rather than a scheduled task list. It allows me to trust myself (something that I suppose takes a certain amount of discipline) and achieve peak efficiency by blowing with the winds. If I fight the peaks and troughs, I’ll get less done; but if I do certain kinds of work in each period of the day as they come, I’ll get more done than most others in a similar line of work.

    You may not be able to trust yourself to that extent without falling into the busywork trap. You may not be able to tackle big tasks first thing in the morning without feeling like you’re pushing against an invisible brick wall that won’t budge. You might not be able to deal with small tasks before the big tasks without feeling pangs of guilt and urgency.

    My point is:

    The prioritization systems themselves don’t matter. They’re all pretty good for a group of people, not least of all to the people who espouse them because they use them and find them effective.

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    What matters is that you don’t fall for one set of dogma (and I’m not saying Leo Babauta or David Allen preach these things as dogma, but sometimes their proponents do) until you’ve tried the systems extensively, and found which method of chronological prioritization works for you.

    And if the system you already use works great, then there’s no need to bother trying others—in the world of personal productivity, it’s too easy to mess with something that works and find yourself unable to get back into your former groove.

    “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

    In truth, this principle applies to all sorts of personal productivity issues, though it’s important to know which issues it applies to.

    If you thought multitasking worked well for you each day and I’d have to contend that you are wrong—multitasking is a universal myth in my books! But if you find yourself prioritizing tasks that never get done, you might need to reconsider which of the above approaches you’re using and change to a system that is more personally effective.

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    Featured photo credit: Sabri Tuzcu via unsplash.com

    Reference

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