October 19, 2013

The 3 Things You Need to Be Happy Right Now. ~ Joe Choi

“An emergency came up and I need to leave for the day.”

That’s what I wrote in the email to my boss before I logged off my computer. I grabbed my belongings and hurried down the stairs so I could wait for the elevator on the floor below. I didn’t want to wait for the elevator with anyone I might know.

There was no actual emergency. The only emergency was that I hated my job. And just about everything else in my life.

A couple of years ago, I was really unhappy. I had trouble getting out of bed in the morning even after nine hours of sleep. I didn’t know what I could do to get out of my rut. So one December evening, bored and on a whim, I went out and bought a MacBook for $1,500.

I was really happy the night I came home with my new computer. I stayed up until 3 a.m. I played with all the new features and programs. I was immersed and forgot about all my worries and troubles. But then, I couldn’t get out of bed the next morning.

Not only that—things got progressively worse. A month later, I ended up in a therapist’s office explaining all my problems. Big fail. The MacBook didn’t bring happiness. I never even use all the new features on my MacBook that I thought were so cool on the first night.

There’s research out there that suggests that buying experiences brings more happiness than buying material possessions. I don’t know about that. I once bought concert tickets and was stood up at the last minute by a date. I ended up going alone and scalped the ticket while I was waiting in line. The woman I sold the ticket to graciously invited me over to their party of three for the evening, but still, I couldn’t help feel unhappy the whole time.

Another time, I was on a train bound for Bucharest. It was supposed to be a liberating trip where I’d find myself. Whatever that means. Instead, I found myself lonely and wanting to get the hell out of there and back home as soon as I could.

So material things don’t bring us happiness and neither do experiences. In my case, I even spent money on someone else (research suggests this is another way to bring happiness) for an experience and it ended up backfiring on me.

But I’ve found three things that consistently bring happiness. Whenever I’ve been at my lowest, I’ve found that I was out of balance in one of these areas.

1. A Passionate Pursuit

I’m not talking about pursuing a promotion, a new job or a hot crush. These pursuits usually backfire and we end up unhappy when we don’t get them. I’m talking about the lifetime pursuit of a skill or craft. You can call it a hobby or passion, but it has to be something you can spend a lifetime doing and still not master. This pursuit doesn’t even need to be a day job, although for a lucky few people it might be.

Photography, gourmet cooking and woodworking are good examples. Growing up, I played baseball and hockey. I played, practiced, read books and watched all the games on television. But I’ve found that physical sports make poor choices as passionate pursuits.

As we get older, we can’t perform at the level we used to and that can be frustrating and hard on the psyche. But I’ve found activities like golf or yoga to be good choices because we can always adapt, challenge ourselves and stretch our limits with these.

The idea is not to become the best at whatever your pursuit may be, but to have an activity that you can immerse yourself in, where you lose track of time and feel a sense of accomplishment after you’re done.

2. Someone to Love

This doesn’t have to be a romantic partner, although it very well can be. You probably have people in your life that you “love,” but just forget about over the years. It could be old friends, family members or even former co-workers from the trenches.

I use the word “love” in quotation marks because it really means people we enjoy spending time with. These are people we laugh around and we can’t help but feel good when we’re with them. We probably already have these people in our lives or have had them at one point in time, but it gets more difficult to keep in touch as the years go by. That’s why we need to make an effort to reach out to them more frequently.

Do you have to sit in traffic at some time during the day? Are Sunday nights spent watching TV? Why not use that time to make a quick phone call or even some plans to meet up instead?

3. Something to Look Forward To

We all need something to look forward to. The only rule for this is that our goals shouldn’t start with the phrase “One day….”

As in, “One day, I’ll…

…get a new job or quit the one I have.

…take a trip to that place I’ve always wanted to go.

…find a partner that I’ll be happy with.”

It’s even simpler than that. Look forward to something that will definitely happen in the near future instead of looking too far ahead. Start this with the phrase, “I can’t wait…”

As in, “I can’t wait…

…until Saturday morning, because I can sleep in and then have a nice breakfast.

…until I have the free 30 minutes later this afternoon where I can sit in a café and enjoy a coffee and read a book.

…to go for a walk later today, because it’s a gorgeous day outside!”

Better yet, combine number one and two. For example, we could plan a weekend where we’d spend one day on a passionate pursuit and another spending time with someone we love. Doesn’t that seem like a great weekend to look forward to already?

Everyone looks for the bridge they can cross that’ll take them to the place where it’s always a sunny spring day. I don’t know if such a place exists, but we need to look around and admire our surroundings every now and then.

That’s what these three things help us do.

They’ve certainly helped me.

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Assistant Ed: Jamie Khoo/Ed: Sara Crolick

{Photo via Corbis}

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