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I try to spend one weekend day a week doing whatever I feel like, including staying home and vegging in front of my TV should I choose to do that.  It helps me to relax and makes me feel as if I’ve had some time to myself.

Yesterday was such a day for me.  I actually met up with a friend for brunch and got home shortly before 1pm but spent the rest of my day reading and watching TV.  For most of the day, I was tuned into one of the PBS stations in the Bay Area.  They were broadcasting on a couple of my favorite topics — the science of neuroplasticity and the steps to happiness.  While I was watching these programs, it dawned on me that I’ve learned most, if not all, of the facts and steps presented in these programs through my regular readings.  Moreover, I felt the facts presented are becoming matter-of-fact to me, as in I have internalized them into my thinking.

Sadly, while I’ve incorporated them into my thinking, I have not yet carried out all the principles presented.  I would say I am more than 50% there.  For example, I take ownership of my own happiness, as in I try to never view myself as a victim of circumstance.  I practice forgiveness as much as possible, and I try to always look at the positive side of things.  I found my purpose and passion in life and am working towards fulfilling that.  But I am far from raising my internal happy meter to where it could be by always practicing all the steps to happiness.  But I am not discouraged because life is a journey, a process, a work in progress.  Now that I’ve learned what I need to do, the next step is just doing them.  But not just doing them for a period of time, but practicing the principles for the rest of my life!

To practice something for the rest of my life means to form habits of the practice.  From my experience, there are three steps to making that happen:

  1. Know the steps. There’s nothing worse in life than not knowing what you don’t know.  This form of ignorance keep you from reaching a higher level of understanding of life in general.  It also keeps you from achieving great things.  For me, this step in living a happy life is very close to complete (at least with the steps I’ve been exposed to) due to my deep yearning to learn.
  2. Believe in the steps. After you’ve learned what you need to do, it’s imperative that you incorporate those steps into your personal beliefs.  The best example I can give is with exercise.  Many people know that exercise is good for them, yet they don’t do enough of it.  Why?  Because they have not yet incorporated that fact into their beliefs.  So how exactly do you incorporate facts into your beliefs?  I think the methods vary for people, but for me, I experiment with the steps presented.  For example, when I learned that smiling physically can lift one’s mood mentally, I tried it out.  Guess what?  It works, and now I am a believer!
  3. Practice the steps. Too many people view life and life’s achievements as destinations.  If that’s how you view your life right now, it’s ok because to get anywhere, you still need to practice the steps.  Just know that what gets you there is also what will sustain you there for as long as you like.  So if you want to continue to feel happy once you start to feel happy, you will need to continue to practice those steps.  The good news is, it gets easier with each practice! I promise!

While I was perusing my daily reading, a thought crossed my mind about just how schizophrenic we as a (American) culture has become. On the one hand, we preach hard work — work hard, and your dream will come true. In fact, that’s part of what living the American Dream is all about. America is the land of opportunity — if you put your heart and sweat into things, you can make anything happen. On the other hand, we actively scoff at hard work. How many times have we labeled somebody as “smart”, “talented”, or “a natural”? By using words that relate more to innate abilities than hard work, we are in essence telling others that we value talent more than attempt, high IQ over effort.

But the reality is, success consists of a small part luck and innate abilities and a big part of work and planning. I like the list of Element of Success posted by Trent at The Simple Dollar. Of the seven items on the list, only two are elements outside of our immediate control — natural talent, and luck/opportunity. As Thomas Edison once said (and yes, somebody like Edison would know that it’s true since he’s achieved what most of us only dreamed of), “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.”

As I thought further on this topic, it dawned on me that this kind of thinking spans more than just the way we think of success. More often than not, we frown upon any kind of synthetic, non-natural approach to obtaining most things in life. For example, do you know that we value natural happiness (i.e. I am happy because I have what I really want) over synthetic happiness (i.e. I can’t always have what I want so I will settle for second best)? But have you ever stopped and asked yourself, “Is one form of happiness better or worse than the other?” If you have, you will find that the answer is a BIG FAT NO. If you don’t believe me, check out the talk by Prof. Dan Gilbert of Harvard for validation.

So why do we behave this way? Why do we preach hard work on the one hand and scoff at work hard on the other? Why do we value natural happiness over synthetic ones? I think the answer lies in our egos. We preach hard work because we want to believe that we, too, can achieve greatness. But we scoff at the actual work to achieve greatness because if it were to really take hard work then we aren’t that smart or special at all. After all, if you are truly talented, everything should come to you effortlessly, right? Similarly, we value natural happiness because that kind of joy is obtained effortlessly. Synthetic happiness, on the other hand, is a consolation prize and only second best.

By the way, not everybody thinks this way. In particular, those who have the growth mindset actually embrace hard work because they believe it is only through hard work that one can achieve and stay at the front of the pack. Similarly, people with growth mindset would also be the first to embrace synthetic happiness because they realize ultimate happiness is a state of mind, not the result of any external circumstances. As long as you feel happy, it doesn’t really matter whether it comes in a natural or a synthetic form.

Now it’s your turn. Tell me what you think — do you agree or disagree with any of the content of this post? Please leave them in the comment.

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August 2020