There’s a lot of talk about happiness these days. The happiness industry is booming with seminars, books, courses and all sorts of work and leisure “systems” to help us all be happier.
I’ve come to understand that happiness, for me at least, comes from learning about myself and what makes me tick (some might call it “doing the work”). It also comes from ensuring I have the freedom to make time and listen to what it is that I really want to do and be in all aspects of life: relationships, professional pursuits, personal experiences.
My deepest realization some time ago was that preoccupations and various fears we all have keep us away from tapping into a powerful source of insight: intuition.
If we need to listen to ourselves and we’re our own worst enemy in this department, what can we do? We can’t control what the world throws at us. We can’t entirely remove various obligations that modern life imposes. But we can control our response to them and the associated triggers. The world can change our life without our consent, but it can’t dictate our reaction and our thoughts about the change itself or what we ultimately do about it.
Modifying our Reaction and Thoughts About Change
The best way I’ve found so far to alter my perception around this thing we call “change” is to work on myself and evolve my circumstances. I do that by regularly:
- Trying new activities to discover new things I like to do with my time, both personally and professionally.
- Creating change in order to immunize myself to it somewhat.
- Connecting with new people by engaging in deep conversations about topics I know little about.
- Keeping my needs (read "dependence") low in any one area with a diversity of roles and responsibilities.
1. Try New Things
The more we do something, the better at it we get…or at least the more comfortable we get. When we learn a new skill, we go from the awkward stage, to the competent stage, and in some cases we even reach a high level of expertise. That process is straightforward enough. It’s predictable, but the first stage stinks. Only the excitement around it can dampen the awkardness somewhat…unless it’s related to something we already know or because we’re used to trying new things, or both.
I’ve realized that by trying new things on a regular basis, I get better at the act of trying something new itself. I’m less worried about asking stupid questions, my anxiety level goes down and I’m more likely to be able to relate it to something else I’ve done in the past.
That means that I can bring the same curiosity and the same confidence to new situations I didn’t choose for myself. And it’s been helpful when faced with changes and decisions I didn’t expect to be making, and there have been a number of those over the years, including two professional pursuits that were cut short.
2. Create Change
Creating change is closely related to trying new things. It’s a lot easier to create change for ourselves when we’re moving toward something rather than running away from whatever we don’t like or need to move on from. And in order to know what we might want to move toward, we have to have tried our hand at various pursuits.
Making changes in our lives is also related to our ability to ignore the “sunk cost” fallacy. The more we stop various activities and stop performing certain roles and functions, the more comfortable we become leaving projects and personal identities behind. We start to get comfortable with the idea that past projects are always with us in some way because our collective experience works to better prepares us for present and future challenges. Moving on doesn’t mean we don’t value where we’ve been. It means we value where we are now and where we’re going. It offers us the possibility of having the best of the past while also ensuring we do what's best for ourselves in the present.
Note: As I prepared to speak to a group of professionals recently, I decided to complete an exercise I was to hand out at the session as a way to give myself some additional context. Upon completion, I compared it to that same exercise from 2.5 years ago.
Over 25% of how I use my energy (in yellow on the right) has changed, which is a lot given there was very little outside influence. And were I to do this exercise again in early 2017, I can guarantee it will have changed again by another 10% or so.
3. Connect with New People
I can easily get stuck in my own thought bubbles, in my own view of the world, even going so far as superimposing my view on others…at least in thought. I often rescue myself from this personal flaw by reading others’ thoughts about the world, life and how it all works via the written word (books are truly a gift). I’ve also found that I can rescue myself from the tendency to insulate my views, beliefs and perceptions though conversation.
I’m not talking about the casual chit chats we all have with each other daily. I’m talking about going deep on some topics with others, and most of the time in an unplanned fashion. In a two-hour lunch, it seems as though the best conversation comes at about the same time as the dessert tray or the bill, which is why I prefer to have no hard stop to any of these exchanges. It’s almost as though the conversation needs to reach deeper and deeper levels until we find our way to “the good stuff”, the stuff that makes for a memorable exchange that leaves both parties better off.
By having deep, meaningful conversations with others, I get to tap into not only what they care about and are most passionate about, but I tap into what I really think myself by way of having to explain it to another person. I get clear about what I want and discover opportunities to explore other endeavours and pursuits by learning about what others are up to and like or don’t like to do. Much of my personal growth happens via these conversations and it’s a shame that this type of exchange seems to be going the way of the dodo bird in this acedia-stricken society.
Diversification isn’t relegated to my investment portfolio. Diversification in my personal and professional roles also brings peace of mind. By participating in a number of relationships, professional pursuits, learning and development-related activities, sports and crafts, community events, etc., I’m not overly invested in one thing, though they’re all important to me in one way or another.
I currently identify with 22 roles: 6 relationship types, 8 professional pursuits and 8 personal interests. This large variety of roles helps round out who I am and enables me to discover skills, abilities and connections that span across roles. I’m regularly delighted to discover how two seemingly disparate roles are connected in some way, shape or form.
The beauty of this arrangement is that when one role disappears, either unintentionally or intentionally, I can usually simply move on, because so many other activities and interests are worth tending to. Not so say it’s easy to move on from something I’m passionate about, but what I know is that I can see it as an opportunity to focus on doing more with what remains or start a whole new project.
Further, I fundamentally believe that having a variety of roles makes me better at everything I do. Ideas generated in one area often apply or offer additional insights in another. There’s a multiplier effect we don’t benefit from when we’re too specialized and narrow our focus in a way that effectively tunes out too much of the world.
The paradox: quitting is a source of grit (and happiness).
To sum up the above, I’ve learned that:
- in order to optimize my happiness,
- to make room for new and better things and
- to make room for things that fit me in my life at present
I have to be a quitter. Were I not an accomplished quitter, I would:
- experience a greater sense of stagnation in my activities and in the quality of my work and relationships;
- experience a reduced sense of self—because learning and discovery are essential to an examined life; and I know I would
- be a less capable and confident version of who I am today and this “I got this” belief is what makes it possible to do what I do every day.
I hope I never stop quitting. My success and wellbeing depend on it.
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