A year ago, a friend met me.
He was pissed with his job as a service engineer for an automobile dealer. He enjoyed his work but hated the commute and the office politics. He had had enough.
So he made up his mind. He was going to join his father’s business. There he could be his own boss, have complete freedom to work at his convenience, or not work at all. I wished him the best.
Six months later, we met again. I expected to see a delighted, carefree person. Instead, my friend was grumpier. His complained that his father didn’t respect his decisions, his employees didn’t listen to him, and he didn’t enjoy the work in the first place.
Many of us try doing things that we think will help us achieve certain things in life that will make us happy.
IF I become an entrepreneur, THEN I’ll be my own boss, and THEN I’ll be happy.
IF I write a book, THEN I’ll mention “author” in my bio, and THEN I”ll be happy.
IF I lose ten pounds, THEN I’ll fit in that dress, and THEN I’ll be happy.
But this formula makes us base our happiness on too many IF-THEN permutations, on the mercy of variables outside our control.
And here’s the problem with such variables.
Life doesn’t move in a straight line. It curves and twists in ways we cannot imagine. Many times, the line shatters against unexpected obstacles. The more our happiness relies on variables outside our control, the more we set ourselves up for failure and disappointment.
The above formula also handicaps our ability to build grit — the single most important factor that dictates our level of achievement.
When the going gets tough (and it WILL), we don’t feel like carrying on with the task. In fact, we begin to dread the days ahead and feel miserable. The dream we thought the task would help us achieve seems even more distant. We feel betrayed and become cynical. We say things like, “The world is a shitty place,” “there’s no such thing as happiness,” or “happiness is a matter of luck.”
If this formula doesn’t work to achieve happiness, what does? Well, it’s a simple one — focus on elements that lie in your control.
The Only Things You Control
Your perceptions, actions, and willpower. That’s all.
You cannot control the outcome, no matter how badly you want to.
You cannot control how your boss might respond to your work. Tons of other factors could affect her mood. But you can control whether you give your best, listen objectively to her feedback and make improvements accordingly. As your work improves, so will your character, and eventually your reputation.
You cannot control whether you become a bestselling-author within the next year (unless you’re a certain someone who wrote books about magic, wizards, and a villain with slits for a nose.) But you can control whether you write 500 words each day. At the end of five months, you’ll have a 60,000-word manuscript ready.
You cannot control whether you’ll lose ten pounds within two months. But you can control hitting the gym and maintaining a healthy diet. And within three months, your friends will tell you that you look fitter and better.
These actions don’t sound like fun because you don’t have a guarantee that the results will make you happy, and because it’s easier to expect the world to toe in line rather than improve yourself.
But taking action is the only way to achieve real, long-lasting happiness.
Happiness is Like a Butterfly, the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder — Thoreau
The “other things” are the things you enjoy doing, the things you love, the things that add meaning to your life.
Doing things you enjoy will make you feel happy incrementally every day. You will feel fulfilled, witness improvement in yourself, and build momentum to do what matters. Over time, these incremental improvements yield amazing results.
If I rely on outcomes to make me happy, the pursuit of happiness will make me miserable. But if I rely on my own actions to make me happy, I’ll keep showing up and moving forward one step at a time.
This doesn’t mean only doing things that you enjoy. Even rock stars have to put up with boring work 95% of the times so that they can enjoy the 5%. But when you do something because you love it, you’ll know which “boring” tasks you should do. You’ll ask yourself, “does this task enable me to do what I love?” If the answer is yes, you build grit, do the work, and still feel happy. If the answer is no, you get better at saying no.
Finally, the better you get at what you enjoy, the better you become as a person — not just technically but also emotionally.
My friend eventually left his dad’s business to join a reputed automobile manufacturer as the chief service engineer. He loves his job now and has learned to appreciate it.
Bestselling author Ryan Holiday wrote that life is not about who you want to be, but about what you want to accomplish. To accomplish, you must take action and be patient with the results.
You’ll have to stick around and be satisfied with what you get, but not so satisfied that you stop working on your task because you feel you’ve achieved what you wanted to.
Don’t do something because you hope it might lead you somewhere. Do it because you enjoy it. Do it again and again, until you can do a fantastic job with your eyes closed. Then do better and raise your level.
Happiness comes with meaning. Meaning comes with purpose. Purpose comes when you do what you love for a cause larger than happiness.