I have been happy in the last few years. It hasn’t been always the case — I went through a hard childhood, a horrible teenage years, and harsh army service, all of which bled into my young adulthood. Throughout the years I gathered tips and rules that made me happy, I kept them like small gems, and now I am sharing them with you.
Don’t take yourself too seriously
People who take themselves too seriously seldom find happiness. They worry excessively about others’ opinions of them, overthink minor errors they’ve made in speech or action, and judge themselves harshly.
Take a moment to look in the mirror, smile, make a funny face, and perhaps even engage in a silly dance. Acknowledge that many events are beyond your control — and in many instances, these events significantly influence our successes and failures. Refrain from attributing too much credit or blame to yourself.
Pro Tip: Avoid trying to change others when they take themselves too seriously. I recall a meditation teacher once advising me, “If you walk on a road full of sharp stones, do you try to sand down every stone? Or do you simply wear shoes?”
Good partner & friends
Your partner and friends can significantly impact your happiness in life.
I met my wife on my last day of army service. We worked together at a gas station for a few months before things became serious. We’ve navigated through difficult and pleasant times, quarrels, and peaceful periods. We learned to listen, communicate, forgive, and importantly, we’ve shared countless laughter. We have been together for 26 years.
Even when I worked extremely hard and had young kids, I always made sure to have time for friends. Two or three people I can tell everything to. People who are on your side, and build you up. For years now we have been meeting with friends for Friday dinners. I have several friends I call each week, even though we only meet a few times a year.
Pro tip — keep toxic people away from your life, they are the antithesis of a good friend.
Be kind & help others
This is well known fact that kindness is a good way to live your life. I found it makes me happy to finish the day after I genuinely tried to help others. I spend 2–4 hours a day, separated to 30 min sessions, for helping startup and founders. I always start the session with “what would be a good outcome of this meeting for you?”
Pro Tip: It’s equally important to be kind to yourself. I’ve found that I can be much kinder with others once I start treating myself kindly.
Multiple happy future goals
This is a trick I heard in a podcast, but I could not find the reference to it. Aspiring towards a single ideal future, such as landing a job at Google, is not an effective way to contemplate the future, as your chances of failure increase when you’re fixated on just one favorable outcome. Envisioning multiple happy futures — like securing a position at Google, Microsoft, Amazon, or an exciting startup — offers a healthier way to frame your aspirations. This is just an example of my techie life, you can extrapolate this for many aspects of life.
Pro Tip: Most aspirations are crippled by fear. The most common reason for not succeeding is simply not trying. I’ve experienced numerous failures, but the few times I didn’t fail made all the difference.
Understand your motivations
This took me ages to figure out. I kept looking at my manager’s job and wanting to achieve their position. One day I looked at my manager, and he seemed really sad and stressed. I realized career progression does not make you happy. For me, working on developer platforms makes me happy, and I have done most roles around developer platforms since then.
Pro Tip: I didn’t reach this realization on my own; I enlisted the help of an executive coach. Consider seeking professional assistance to decipher what truly drives you.
Neutral & growth mindset
I’ve found a growth mindset to be a profound source of happiness — the belief in the ability to learn, adapt, and become better. Embracing the notion that I’m not static, but a work in progress, has been deeply impactful for me. Each year, I write my own ‘release notes’ to remind myself of this principle.
I learned about the Neutral Mindset from a book titled “It Takes What It Takes”. Though filled with sports jargon that I didn’t fully grasp, the gist is as follows: when confronted with any challenging situation, avoid hyping or demeaning yourself. Instead, consider clearly, “What is the situation? What do I need to do to achieve my desired outcome?” That’s it.
Pro tip — it is hard to remove bad feeling and judgment when things do not go your way. See “having perspective” and “Everything passes” for more ways to deal with that.
Pets have been a delightful source of happiness in my life. There have perhaps been two years of my adult life without them. Now, I have a wonderful cat and a dog that brighten every morning and every evening. Pets offer unconditional love and pull your focus away from yourself. They’re truly wonderful.
Pro tip: If you’re not ready for the full-time commitment that comes with owning pets, consider fostering. We have friends who foster kittens. It brings them immense joy for the short duration the pets are with them.
Music / Sports / Hobbies
My children taught me this lesson. They find immense joy in music and sports. Whenever I have managed to cultivate a habit of regular physical activity, I’ve always felt happier.
Pro tip: If you find it challenging to establish a sports or exercise habit, try the “just show up” method. Don’t begin with an hour of running; start with just five minutes. Simply showing up for physical activity and gradually increasing your time and effort is an easier way to get started.
In the midst of the chaos that was my life last year, one of my team members asked me, “How do you maintain your calm and happiness?” I thought about this for a while before telling her that having been shot at in the army, I’ve gained perspective.
I wouldn’t recommend my childhood, teenage years, or army service — they were all challenging, but they gifted me with a valuable perspective on life. People who have undergone hardships and prevailed possess a unique outlook on life. Cultivate this perspective not by evading difficulties, but by confronting them.
Pro tip — When you feel as though you’re enduring hardships and struggling to maintain perspective, revisit rule 1: “Don’t take yourself too seriously”.
This is an extension of “having perspective”. Having a bad week? It will pass. Facing a challenging boss? That too will pass. Suffering from explosive diarrhea? Yes, you get the idea.
Pro tip — Savor the little things, because good moments pass as well. Hug your kids before they grow up, and continue to do so when they’re grown. Smell the flowers, enjoy the rain. After all, we only live twice.
I do not have it all figured out. Nobody does. I share these tips with love to you all. We are all work in progress.