The Happiness Equation

3rd March 2013

Is there even such a thing? Can we really attempt to define an actionable formula for what makes us happy as human beings?

It’s a difficult exercise because the entire idea of “happiness” is of course based on each individuals perception of what that word actually means.

Yet no matter how different those perceptions are, we all strive for it. We all seek happiness, contentment, and fulfillment on a daily basis in our lives.

Through the years I’ve constantly challanged myself to figure out exactly what it is that I consider, on a personal level, happiness to be. As a result, measuring those observations and realizations over time has helped me develop a personal guideline for how I choose to live my life.

Finding what didn’t make me happy was easy. Finding what did turned out to be a lot harder.

I thought for a few years, that possibly money was the answer. That was wrong.

It’s cliche to say: “Money doesn’t buy happiness.” - but it’s absolutely true.

After I graduated college, I explored a profession that was both high-income and considered to many to be “an incredible opportunity”.

As soon as I started working for that company I pushed myself because I thought that by succeeding in that position, I would in effect become wealthy and as a result: become happy.

However, there was a strange feeling inside me every time I received a paycheck. Actually, quite the contrary, there was no feeling at all. It was emptiness. Lack of fulfillment. A distinct absence of pride without any sense of true accomplishment. It was then that I truly realized that on a personal level, money was directly unrelated to my overall sense of happiness.

I can speak from experience that I’m not alone in this regard.

Some of the richest people I know are also some of the most miserable and unfulfilled people I know. I’ve met extremely wealthy people who are discontent, irritable, uninspired, and weary of wholeheartedly trusting others. Yet, some of happiest, most content people I know live on little to limited financial means. They live life for the now, they pursue their dreams, and open themselves up to believe in the sincereness of others.

The juxtaposition between those two sets of people is completely fascinating to me.

Money is important, without a doubt. However, it seems to serve as an amplifier to who you have established yourself to be at your core. Passion, friendships, enthusiasm, creativity. These are the things you should seek out and discover before you consider adding money to the mix. If you’re miserable, money won’t cure it, it will only compound it.

Thinking about that concept reminds me of an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations I watched a few years ago as he traveled through Provence, France.

There was one particular scene where he sat down to eat lunch with two locals that really stuck with me.

As he sits down to talk with them he begins to tell them how enamored and envious he is with their simple and modest lifestyle.

Anthony Bourdain: What the ordinary person has here is the dream of everyone in the world. Everyone wants what you have.

French Local: Do you understand that for us, when you say that, its totally absurd.

Anthony Bourdain: Of course.

French Local: Because you are telling us that the more money you have, the more you want to live like someone that has no money.

Anthony Bourdain: YES!

French Local: That’s strange.

Anthony Bourdain: And not only that, but we want to eat the food of our impoverished childhoods because everybody in some child-like way, craves a life of simplicity.

Bourdain can speak from personal experience here. The guy has money. Yet, all Bourdain wants to do is eat good food, travel around the world, and be around like-minded people. That’s centric in his formula for living a fulfilling life. Furthermore, people like Bourdain have seemed to realize that the more money we make, the more we realize how unrelated it is to our true overall sense of happiness. Not many people who have worked their entire life towards a goal of achieving financial wealth look back on things and say “I wish I would have worked more.”

It’s usually a mix of “I wish I would have spent more time with my family.” or “I wish I could have stopped and took a look around.” or “If I could do it all over, I would have pursued (insert passion-based career here) instead.”

With that in mind, I’d like to go back to my concept of a “Happiness Equation” and what I’ve been able to boil it down to.

I’m not saying this applies to all or even most people - but through my own introspection I have found that:

Happiness = The freedom to pursue what you love, with who you love, in a place that you love, without any constraints.

For me, its that simple. If those aspects are present in both my carrer and personal life, then I have fulfilled true happiness at a fundamental level.

This is without a doubt one of the main reasons I love being an entrepreneur and why I love being around other founders.

On a daily basis I talk to people with such a high level of excitement and enthusiasm, that its not only contagious, but completely intoxicating as well. These people (that I’m lucky enough to now call my peers) have skipped over much safer positions and careers because they want more than anything to be able to bring their passion into the world.

They believe that the world will be a better place because of what they are doing/building and they wont let anything get in their way of achieving it. It’s intensely inspiring and choosing to be an entrepreneur awards you this fulfillment. Furthermore, because entrepreneurship has no guidelines, it allows the individual the freedom to craft their own reality.

As a direct effect, being an entrepreneur has empowered me with the freedom to realize my own aforementioned formula for happiness.

For example, my family is everything to me. I love my wife and daughter more then I can express into words or portray adequately here as I type into this text box.

They are who I am and being with them is when I am at the peak of my happiness.

Because of this, I knew I had to have a career that provided flexibility so that nothing would get in the way of spending time together when I felt like I needed or wanted to.

At LiveNinja, we purposely don’t have set working hours or days because I feel my co-founders and employees deserve the same. If being with your family all day Wednesday makes you a happier person on Thursday then that’s what I, as your team member, want you to spend your Wednesday doing.

I pride myself knowing that my teammates don’t have to feel pressured when they want time off to do the things that add to their overall well-being and I vow to never change that as a part of our company culture.

In my previous position (which I mentioned before) I was making a lot more money yet I was consistently unhappy with what I was doing each and every day. Now, as an entrepreneur who founded his own company I make considerably less yet I’m leaps and bounds happier then I have ever been before. In other words, I can’t measure the ratio in my life of dollar amount to happiness. The two are unrelated and that’s something I am very proud of.

While I am aware that money is extremely important, don’t chase it thinking that you’ll achieve automatic happiness as soon as you find it. You’ll likely be disappointed.

Instead, create an environment that allows you to do what you love everyday and surround yourself with people you truly want to be with. People that inspire you to be great and encourage you to grow.

I have found that happiness exists within those parameters.

Laughter, friends, family, passion, drive and enthusiasm for life is achievable by just making a conscious decision to pursue them.

If you can focus on finding what makes you happy, and are then able to realize it on a daily basis - consider yourself rich in the truest sense of the word.

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