Some Steps to Putting Happiness First

A few months back I wrote about Putting Happiness First. It's easy to write about changing something, but the real work comes with actually doing it.

To help with actually putting happiness first, I've been thinking a lot about steps I can take to achieve happiness. These are my thoughts.

Think about the end result

If you're frustrated that someone hasn't done something, re-evaluate whether you really need their action or not. What happens if they don't follow through? Can you do whatever is needed without their help?

A lot of emphasis is placed on delegating responsibility to others, to help with getting things done. But what happens when others aren't able to help? You have a few choices:

1. Criticize and judge the other person

It may feel good to let off some steam by complaining that someone let you down, but it's not productive and can really hurt in the long run. It's highly likely that anything you say during this time of frustration will come back to bite you, either because you made an assumption about the other person that was wrong or that someone will take your words and use them against you.

There are better options.

2. Accept that they're not going to be able to help

A better approach is to understand they have their own priorities and unfortunately your task isn't at the top of their list. This doesn't meant their selfish or lazy, just that as much as they may want to help, it may be one thing too many on their plate.

In that case, you may just need to do the job yourself. In the words of Randy Pausch, "Don't complain; just work harder."

3. Re-evaluate how important it is that a job gets done

Maybe the reason someone hasn't done something is that it isn't as important as you thought it was.

Sometimes things need to go undone in order to focus on the real priorities. While some tasks are important, some times it turns out that getting a certain item done isn't that worthwhile after all.

Identify the underlying goal

I used to want to become a well-known speaker and developer, until I asked myself what it would get me. The answer? Not much. While there may be a temporary buzz for being well-known, it's not a true measure of success.

Basing your self-value in another's perception is a slippery slope. While it's nice to hear kudos for a job well done and get recognition for working hard, there needs to be intrinsic value to the work you do.

Instead of trying to become a well-known speaker, I should instead aim at being a great speaker. I have control over becoming my skills as a speaker; all it takes is hard work and practice. The well-known part may or may not happen, but that's secondary to the real purpose.

When you create goals, make sure they're not too dependent on factors outside your control. That's usually a sign you're placing too much emphasis on something that doesn't hold real value.

Stop comparing yourself with others.

Stop trying to win the imaginary battle of who the better person is. I have a bad habit of constantly comparing my contributions to others and that's always leaves me unhappy. Why?

Because it's not a competition

At the end of life, we don't tally our points and see who won and who lost. It doesn't matter how other's lives turned out. No one will speak at your funeral to how much better or worse you were than someone else.

By focusing on how others are doing compared to you, you're putting your attention on a life that you don't control. You'll either end up depressed that you can't achieve the success of someone else, or annoyed that someone isn't living up to your expectations. Either way you're unhappy and lack control.

Spend time focused on yourself. Accept that different people lead different lives, which means that their values are placed on different things than yours. They may not be as successful at something because they're really passionate about something else. Or perhaps they're ultra-successful at something because they caught a break that you didn't.

In the end, they're not you and they're not responsible for your happiness.

Understand it's all a one-shot deal

I think games have skewed my perception of reality some. When playing, you always get another chance. There's always a saved game ready to reload whenever you mess up. But with life, you don't get to start over.

You get one shot at this, so time spent unhappy will always remain as time spent unhappy. By all means, makes mistakes and get dirty, but don't spend your time being miserable when you don't need to be. Commit to working at being happy and you'll get there in the end.

Now, this is all easier said than done. It's really, really, really, really difficult to stop complaining. Unhappiness can be addicting and sometimes it feels good to just bitch about something.

It's okay to let off steam here and there, but make sure you're talking to someone who understands you just need to vent. And once your done, realize that happiness takes work. Identify your next action, let go of what happened, and get on with it.