I’m going to let you in on a major life secret.
It took me 25 years, 60 days, and 59,000 seconds to figure out what happiness really is — and it’s fundamentally changed the way I do everything.
How I live. How I love. How I spend my free time, approach new challenges, and search for meaning.
Here it is.
Happiness is the process of becoming your ideal self
We are conditioned to think of happiness in two temporary forms:
- Short-term pleasure — We frantically chase this type of happiness because it comes easily. It’s often experienced on a sensory level — sipping a frothy latte on a cold Winter day or impulse buying expensive shoes.
- Long-term fulfillment — This comes from going beyond immediate pleasures toward a greater purpose. Remember the bittersweet excitement you felt while being handed a diploma on stage? Or the sweaty, exhausted pride after finishing a marathon?
Sure, both are a meaningful part of our existence. But they are often in conflict with each other, making us unhappy.
Because happiness isn’t things or accomplishments.
Happiness is a matter of restraint and mindfulness — being conscious about the decisions we make and how they contribute to our ideal self.
Think of it this way
As a senior in high school, I desperately wanted to build muscle. I was insecure about my 6ft 4in 160lb frame and knew getting into better shape would bring confidence.
In the short-term, I needed to sacrifice momentary pleasures. Cake on a coworker’s birthday. Multiple drinks on a night out with friends. Spending Sundays watching football instead of going to the gym.
However, as I become increasingly committed to building muscle, new sensations emerged:
- Emotional calmness and satisfaction
- Increased self-confidence
- Inspiration to push forward
Most importantly, inner peace knowing that a decision brought me closer to something more impactful than a slice of cake.
I started falling in love with the regiment of working out and the new friendships, results, and opporunities it brought.
I no longer had to chase happiness through fitness — I was simply living, and happy as a result.
Set ridiculously high expectations
It took me nearly 26 years to figure out a critical piece of the happiness puzzle — How to keep going when goals are met.
Popular advice tells us to lower our expectations. You achieved something and therefore earned a reward.
But this is exactly why most people crave quick hits of happiness, instead of living a perpetually happy life.
Their expectations stop progressing.
Anyone driven towards a singular, finite goal is screwed if they can’t find joy in the building blocks that got them there.
This is a lesson you have to experience to fully understand
Mark Manson wrote about a friend who started a high-risk business venture. He lost most of his savings trying to make it work. Today, he’s happier than ever. It taught him many lessons about what he didn’t want in life and led him to his current job — which he loves.
The happiness didn’t come from finding a dream job; it was the experience of following his curiosity and uncovering any “what ifs?”.
“Create ridiculous standards for yourself and then savor the inevitable failure. Learn from it. Live it. Let the ground crack and rocks crumble around you because that’s how something amazing grows, through the cracks.”
The satisfaction of my fitness journey doesn’t come from looking in the mirror. It’s everything that went into achieving a difficult goal and then working towards the next objective: running a faster mile, increasing my deadlift, and so on.
When I struggled to find the “right” job out of college, it was becuase I set the bar incredibly high. The early days of my career were filled with pain, anger, and occasional desperation. Yet when I look back on it, those were defining moments of my life. I wouldn’t trade them for anything.
Those experiences are raw, deep, fulfilling happiness in its purest human form. They are the moments where I began sculpting the person I want to become.
When you realize happiness is simply living, it becomes far easier to inhabit
Set high standards and find joy in the simple act of moving towards it.
Live your life and be happy as a result.