Guest Post: How to be the Happiest Person in the Room

Last weekend, I went on a snowboarding trip. I almost canceled because I had a lot of anxiety. A couple of the people on the trip were friends, but there would also be new people there. Meeting new humans is never been something I look forward to:

“What will they think of me?”

“What if I say something stupid?”

“What if I embarrass my old friends?”

A couple days before the trip, I read through the guest post that you’re about to read below. Rainbows and unicorns appeared when I read this part:

It is said suffering is excessive focus on the self.

Damn. There was the answer. I had anxiety because I was focusing on myself. Quite selfish and stupid. Immediately, I thought:

To hell with it. I’m just going to be me and not worry what anyone else thinks.

I felt better and had a great time on the trip.

Today, I’m thrilled so share a guest post about happiness from The Happy Philosopher. This one hits home because I’ve been working on my happiness for a while.

How to be the Happiest Person in the Room

The Happy Philosopher playing a happy song (maybe a G chord which is happy sounding)

I came home from work and told my wife we needed to talk. I had been soldiering through severe burnout for months now and I could not do it any longer. Something had to change. I simply was not happy anymore. I told her I could work at most five more years and then I was quitting. That was my plan. It was not a great plan, but it was something.

This was the final punctuation in a conversation that we had been having for months. But as satisfying as it was to have an end date, I still had the same problem. I was not happy. I needed to become happy now. I was not willing to wait 5 years.

No one taught me how to be happy; not my parents, teachers or friends. There was no elective in my high school or college class I could take. As I sat down later that night with a glass of wine I took a deep breath reflected upon this.

What did I know about happiness and what was I doing to achieve it?

Unfortunately, very little and next to nothing were the answers to those questions. I was trying to find happiness by reaching for things that I thought were supposed to make a person happy. I watched what made other people happy, both in real life and through entertainment like television and movies. I looked at people I thought were happy and tried to reverse engineer it. I suspect this is what most of us do.

Society was my teacher, and as it turns out a pretty rotten one. From that day on I have been on a quest to become happier, and it is not an exaggeration to say I am now usually the happiest person in the room.

It’s been over 5 years now since I’ve hit rock bottom, and I would like to share my observations with you.

You cannot force happiness, it must emerge

First, know that happiness is sort of a hard concept to get your arms around. It is like smoke, and the more you grasp at it the more it disperses and becomes unpredictable. You can’t just tell yourself to be happy. The mind doesn’t work that way. That strategy works about as well at telling yourself not to think of a pink elephant.

You must cultivate happiness and, by doing so, create the conditions for it to emerge. It is like seeds in a garden. They will not grow in spite of your wishes if you do not give them enough water, sunlight, or the proper temperature and nutrients.

Focus away from yourself

It is said suffering is excessive focus on the self. I have found this to be true time and time again. When I am most concerned with me is usually when I am least happy. Sometimes I cannot avoid it. When I get trapped in my head, the way out is to focus on the other.

Think back to the last time you were truly happy. Not just feeling pleasure or mild positive feelings, but deep seated happiness. My guess is that you were not focused on you, but had the feeling of “living in the present moment”. You just became the experience and got lost in it. You stopped watching the movie and became the movie. There was no anxiety of the future, no fear, no regret, no ego. You were in a state of beauty and flow, but where was the “you”? By completely immersing in an experience we increase our capacity for joy.

One of the most powerful tools for happiness is a meditation technique called loving kindness. It is the practice of mentally sending goodwill, kindness, and warmth towards others. I am skeptical that the good feelings ever make it out of our heads, but there is a surprising effect on you that is nothing short of spectacular. When you focus on the other you become happier.

Meditation is one way to achieve mindfulness that I have found particularly helpful, but anything that gets you into the present moment can be powerful. You have to practice this however; it will not just happen. Which brings me to my next point:

Happiness is a skill

I was not always happy; in fact there were times in the not so distant past where I was kind of miserable. Part of the reason was that I didn’t know how to become happier. I thought happiness was just something that manifested once you did all the things society told you would make you happy. This is a naive viewpoint.

Happiness is a skill you develop like any other. It is no different than becoming good at basketball, neurosurgery or computer programming. Right now we have a skill level at everything we do. Maybe your happiness skill is underdeveloped. In this case you actually need to practice being happy.

I know this all sounds like metaphysical nonsense but I’m convinced it is true. I used to become absolutely enraged driving through rush hour traffic. I remember several times driving into downtown Chicago during rush hour wondering how many more people cutting me off would drive me into a homicidal rage. I could not be happy in this situation if you paid me.

Since then I’ve practiced.

You could drop me in any traffic jam in the world right now and I would not have the same negative reaction as before. I may not be delighted or bubbling with joy, but I could still be happy. For years I have practiced being happy in difficult situations.

Recently I was on a plane for about three hours experiencing the worst back pain of my life. In spite of powerful pain medications, muscle relaxers and a complimentary strong drink I was absolutely miserable, but interestingly I was not unhappy. I put the skills I developed over the years to good use and actually became content.

Gratitude is everything

Gratitude is the foundation of my happiness. It is a skill which is like no other. If it were a drug it would probably be illegal because of how good it makes you feel. Gratitude is the soil in which happiness grows.

Every moment we exist is a gift. Every moment is of infinite value. Having constant gratitude for each emerging moment is probably one definition of enlightenment, but this is easier said than done. When we are stuck in traffic or the anesthesiologist got our sedation a little too light during our colonoscopy gratitude is probably not at the top of our mind.

Much of the time though, we are simply not grateful enough for what we have. We take things for granted, and as a result we leave happiness on the table. I know this sounds kind of woo woo, but you really need to think of life this way. Every moment you do not have gratitude you are sacrificing your happiness. It is the equivalent of paying more income tax than you need to or leaving your windows open all summer with the air conditioning running.

Whatever your situation right now, you can instantly feel better by reframing and having gratitude. I’ve done this exercise so many times throughout my life and I’m still amazed at how well it works. Here is an example.

If you live in the United States I’m assuming you have running tap water. I do, and I completely take it for granted. According to the United Nations 783 million people do not have access to clean water and almost 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation.  For many people simple access to water is their biggest and potentially deadliest problem each and every day of their lives.

There are so many faucets in my house each one of us could go into a separate room and with the simple turn of a handle have an endless supply of clean, cool, beautifully pure drinking water for a few dollars a day. I don’t have to walk a mile with a bucket on my head or have to worry about getting cholera. I have it easier than most humans who have ever lived with respect to water access. How can I not have gratitude when I frame it this way?

When is the last time you had gratitude when you turned on your water faucet? Listen to Jocko Willink discuss gratitude here better than I ever could (start around 24:30).

I could do this with endless amazing things in my life, and I do. I have a phone which connects to infinite information and entertainment. The two cars in my driveway are marvels of engineering. I can drive hundreds of miles in any direction in perfect comfort for a few dollars. I can drive this wondrous tool to the store and purchase food grown in every climate zone in the world, which was impossible throughout most of human history.

And if I’m too lazy to even get up to go to the store in my magical comfort controlled chariot of hedonism?  Well, with a few clicks of the mouse I can have nearly anything delivered to my doorstep within a day or two. Modern life is fucking amazing. It really is.  To be happier, simply think about how great your life is and the infinite number of ways it could be worse.

Be relentless with gratitude and your life will change.

Sometimes it just won’t work

If you are in a place of extreme suffering you may be angry with me right now. This article probably seems very hollow. You may want to yell at me through the screen and tell me how wrong I am; how I cannot possible know your suffering.

I know how this feels. I have been there. I’ve lost friends to suicide, and have seen (and felt) the deep despair of depression. It is true I cannot know your suffering, in the same way you cannot know mine.

Nothing is guaranteed in life, including your happiness. It is possible to do everything right in life and still suffer greatly.

I don’t write this to discourage, but I acknowledge sometimes our mechanisms fail. At times we need help.  Some people need a village of help just to get back to zero; to get to a stable enough place to even think about happiness.

I do not have all the answers for everyone, but I do know that if you don’t believe you can become happier…you are right. Our minds are the most powerful prison of all. Without the fundamental belief that things can get better, they simply won’t. Whether you believe you can become happier in your life or not, you will be right. Choose your beliefs wisely.

Unfortunately there is another way to be the happiest person in the room, and that is to be in the room alone, to isolate ourselves and get trapped within our despair. If this is you and you can’t find a way out please get help. Find someone to get you to your feet again and never let go of the belief that you can be happy.

But most of the time it will work

We tend to focus on the negative most of the time. It’s what we are programmed for. We constantly perseverate on “What if”.

What if…

  • I lose my job
  • My relationship fails
  • Someone laughs at me
  • I’m never happy again

Most of the time we are wrong about the future. Not the mundane stuff. We can be pretty sure the sun will rise, there will be oxygen and gravity doing their thing, and the morning traffic on the Bay Bridge will be just as crappy as it was yesterday. But most likely we didn’t lose our job (or we get another), our relationships stay strong (or they were better off ended). People may laugh at us but 5 minutes later are too self-absorbed in their own problems to even care.

I’ve noticed the vast majority of the bad things in my life never actually happened. I’ve wasted years of my life worrying them, but they never happened. Either that or they did happen, but I wouldn’t have been able to predict or control them anyways.

Let go of your limiting beliefs. Don’t make the same mistakes I did. Happiness is an oil tanker, not a speed boat. It takes time to change direction when you have been going one way for such a long period of time. Small changes over long periods of time make a difference. Lean about happiness. Practice the skills of happiness.

You can become happier.

You will become happier.

Start today.

Thanks so much for this wonderful guest post Happy Philosopher!

Make sure you visit The Happy Philosopher at his siteFacebook and Twitter. Dr. HP also appeared on the Physician Financial Success podcast and it’s a worthy listen. Finally, check out his 10 Questions from January.

Join the 10s who have signed up already!

Subscribing will improve your life in incredible ways*.

*Only if your life is pretty bad to begin with.

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48 Responses to Guest Post: How to be the Happiest Person in the Room

  1. I think it’s really interesting how the older I get that my happiness derives outwards instead of inwards. I am less happy accumulating stuff and more interested in accumulating memories and spending time with people that I care about. I think society teaches that we need lots of money to be happy but that’s a false narrative. Happiness for me is spending time with friends and family.
    Mustard Seed Money recently posted…My 2017 Goals: Recap #1My Profile

    • I think this is something a lot of people realize, but don’t necessarily pursue as they are so worried about what society and others will think about them. I fall into the same boat and couldn’t be happier.

  2. Mr. SSC says:

    Nice post and well phrased on how to find happinesss. I agree that being happy is more like an oil tanker than a speedboat. Big changes don’t happen overnight and require mindfulness and cultivation to become reality.

    Happiness for me is family, and it wasn’t until recently that I realized even though I say that a lot, my outward physical part didn’t seem to always line up with that. I’ve been working on being more mindful, less reactive and being present when at home and it’s been amazing how that mindset has carried over into work and other aspects of my life that I wasn’t even expecting. It definitely takes work though.
    Mr. SSC recently posted…I Like Work, but I Love Life MoreMy Profile

    • Sometimes I think people don’t believe they can change their happiness level because the change is usually so gradual. They don’t see it. It’s not like a pill or alcohol which changes your mood quickly.

  3. Good stuff Happy Philosopher. I’m currently working on a post called “The Myth of Happiness” and this post was a good filter to process that through. I have a hard time with the word ‘happy’, I think it better describes a temporary emotional state rather than a permanent state of being. My argument is that people shouldn’t seek happiness, but rather contentment. But I think your points about gratitude and practice hold true for contentment as well. Maybe I’m just splitting hairs and focusing too much on the vernacular, either way I think it’s a great message. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Good to see my buddies getting together here, even if they are accusing me of going a little light on the sedation for a screening colonoscopy neither of you is old enough to require yet.

    Doing things to make other people happy does have a nice reciprocal effect. The Golden Rule works.

    Cheers!
    -PoF

  5. I love The Happy Philosopher’s site, so thanks for this post! BTW, I’m really grateful my sedation was not light during my colonoscopy. lol! One thing I’ve been working on is not letting other people’s mood or comments towards me get me down. I let that get to me way to easily. In a sense I’m putting MY happiness into their hands. Work in progress. I achieved that flow state you talk about this past weekend where I was totally immersed in gardening. It’s a real thing!

    • Chad Carson says:

      Good post! It is not the first time I have heard some of these happiness recommendations, but I could tell they were are tools that were well worn and used often by the author. Kudos to Happy Philosopher for letting his story shine through and give life to the lessons.

      I am definitely feeling happier and more encouraged having read this article!

  6. I really agree with the last few comments. My post on Monday was largely in a similar area, around Money stress. The simple point is we spend so much time worrying about what might be in the future. Usually those are not the problems that appear or are much smaller then we envision. It’s the issues we don’t see coming that are an issue. That doesn’t mean to worry about the boogey man around he corner. It does mean we should worry less about what we can’t control, and focus more on he happiness from now.
    Fulltimefinance recently posted…Dealing with Money StressMy Profile

  7. Happiness is an odd emotion. I’ve struggled with it quite a bit. Some of the things that made me super happy… i.e. first solo in an airplane, skydiving, traveling solo, playing guitar and drums with a band onstage, running a marathon…. all came with a tremendous amount of discomfort and major anxiety. I find that if I get too comfortable, I get really, really restless, which can appear as unhappiness to me. But, as you mentioned, as I get older, I feel that the self-centric challenges, aren’t as fulfilling, and the happiness can be short lived. Now I find that I want to do more things that help others, rather than just focus on my own personal endeavors.

    I totally think about the water issue all the time. Some girls in India can’t go to school because they have to walk 5 miles every day to get water. Here I am, a female, with an engineering degree, that my parents paid for, in full. I know ‘voluntourism’ is a thing these days, and I could definitely find a way to teach kids, but I wonder if I could work in a village somewhere, actually getting the water, to allow some of the girls to go to school and learn. That would certainly get me out of my comfort zone, while helping others.

    Have you heard about astronauts facing depression after a space flight? They get to that ‘what next’ point and there isn’t much to top it. Again, that is where I think serving others fulfills that deep restlessness…. for me, at least. 🙂
    Primal Prosperity recently posted…You lucky bastard – you’re alive!My Profile

    • I think it is natural to have a let down after a big exciting event, so I’m not surprised astronauts would struggle. I know I have felt this to some degree then I was racing triathlons. There would be this post race let down where I would feel mildly depressed and aimless for a few days or even weeks.

  8. Pingback: How to be the Happiest Person in the Room | The Happy Philosopher

  9. Ahhh, interesting. I really like the idea of not focusing too much on yourself to stay happy. It’s easy to be introspective and even a little selfish–which can lead to quite a lot of unhappiness.
    Mrs. Picky Pincher recently posted…What A Frugal Weekend!My Profile

    • I like to think of it as “thinning out” the ego and personality. When ego and personality dissolve, our true nature emerges and we can live closer to the present moment.

  10. Great stuff! It’s a dark rainy day here in CT, but I feel happier already 🙂

  11. WealthyDoc says:

    Love it!
    I think a few minutes of meditation in the morning has really helped me connect to the present moment later in the day.
    Also, Russ Harris’s work such as The Happiness Trap are great. Check out ACT if you want to be even happier.

  12. This is brilliant. Great guestpost HP!

    I’ve never reached the depths of depression myself but I’ve definitely had some low points. I think reading about happiness and psychology is a really big help with this sort of thing, you must know how your mind works before you can overcome it!

  13. Jacq says:

    Caring less about what others think has increased my happiness amount. I haven’t given it all up. My current work environment is very supportive, and while I in general lack fashion sense, I feel able to dress comfortably (not sloppy), which has led to me trying to be fashionable, and I look good and feel good. To me if you at least don’t feel uncomfortable in your clothes it can go a long way, the physical comfort, can let the brain absorb all the gratitude bits, and get me a bit closer to happy. 🙂
    Psychologically the last place I worked was not good for my level of happiness. That idea of “I can’t do this for 5 more years!” was suffocating. While it spurred me into the realm of FI, my goal now is to have the FI freedom to do more of the things that make me happy (which the work day often interferes with).
    *high five* for loving kindness meditation. 🙂

    • When we care excessively about what others think it is a sign our ego is too strong, and likely causing us to be unhappy. The funny thing is, when we are truly happy the people around us focus on that fact, and less how we look or dress. Better to be happy without fashion that to be well dressed and miserable 🙂

      Loving kindness meditation is crazy. It sounds so goofy but the results are nothing short of amazing.
      TheHappyPhilosopher recently posted…How to be the Happiest Person in the RoomMy Profile

  14. Wade says:

    No easy answers to those seeking happiness. Outward instead of inward is interesting.

    Reminds me of an SNL skit. I’ll adjust.

    How to be happy:

    1. Be happy
    2. Be cheerful
    3. Don’t be unhappy

    Boom!

  15. Gratitude has played a big role in our happiness level and how we view life overall. Being thankful for even the smallest things helps make us appreciate and garner so much more from life.

  16. Great post! I particularly like the focus on practice and taking your time. I still haven’t tackled meditation but I have tried to be more mindful and present on a regular basis and have also started thinking more gratefully about the many amazing things in my life.

    Nothing has changed overnight but I do find myself more at peace and generally getting happier over time. It seems this stuff does work.

    Change your thinking and you change your emotions!

  17. Good post HP. In the ultimate analysis, happiness is entirely internal. This happiness comes from a deep feeling of contentment, a feeling of ‘enough’ – My What is Enough post explores this from a lens of unhealthy obsession with probability driven numbers like SWR: http://tenfactorialrocks.com/what-is-enough/

    Of course, ‘enough’ applies to beyond money and to all life factors that are measurable or perceptible. The more ‘enough’ you feel in many areas of life, the more happy you become as a person. My father once told me that we all carry our heaven and hell right within our own minds, the wisdom of which I realized only much later.
    Ten Factorial Rocks recently posted…Debt = DesperationMy Profile

    • Enough is a concept everyone struggles with. We are not hard wired for enough. Our nervous systems evolved in times of scarcity. Striving for more has always been associated with survival. Remember, our brain does not only care about our happiness, only our survival. We are messy wet computers programmed for replication and survival 🙂

      • That’s the problem, HP. The inability to separate what’s required for survival and what’s enough is why people are always on the hedonic treadmill. Your very use of the words ‘replication’ and ‘survival’ refers to the lymbic brain (‘caveman’ thinking) that most of society still operates from. As long as this happens, true happiness will elude most people.
        Ten Factorial Rocks (TFR) recently posted…Debt = DesperationMy Profile

  18. ChrisCD says:

    Everyday you wake-up is a new day to start fresh. I have certain religious convictions and believe I serve a higher power, but that isn’t necessary to decide to be “happy”. Like another poster, I prefer contentment or joy. Happy is an emotion where as I believe the other two are a decision that we make.

    But regardless, we basically have the power to change our outlook. Our mind is such a powerful tool. We can rush to be offended by others or choose to not be. I was once told I was an aged athlete. I was so thrilled that I was just called an athlete. My wife was offended because they said I was old. We can’t chose what happens to us, just how we will react.

    And sure, for someone going through a hard time, this post and the comments may frustrate them. But then, they don’t know your pain or my pain. You have witnessed suicide. I have witnessed great pain. Yet we both choose to not let those moments define us or destroy us.

    You are living and breathing. You have the power to make today a better place for those you come into contact with. I believe that is far better than the alternative.

    Great post. cd :O)

    • Thank you Chris. Great way to re-frame. I constantly advise people to do this, to re-frame the negative into a positive. I try and use the negative in my life to become better and learn. That is how I re-framed my friends suicide, an opportunity for me to learn and help others.

  19. Lisa says:

    Someone came to speak on happiness at my office a few months ago – it was the most attended brown bag ever. He talked about how being grateful for what you have and being kind to others have been proven to increase your happiness. My SO struggles with negative self-talk even more than I do. Ever since then, he and I have been sharing 3 things we are grateful for each night before we go to bed. He also writes down 1 thing he accomplished that day. If I struggle to think of anything amazing, I just reach for the obvious ones like good health, a warm house in the winter, etc. It has definitely helped my attitude, especially at work.

    Travel will can give you that sense of gratitude. We went to Morocco last year – I definitely fully appreciated a western-style toilet and potable tap water after that trip. On the way home, connecting in Madrid, I remember being thrilled that the airport had a water bottle spigot on the drinking fountain.

  20. Jeric Danao says:

    As to what I believe in, never reverse engineer what you believe in which will make you happy to begin with. It’s not that you’ll be apathetic on what’s around of you, but be aware on things that will make you truly happy. Nevertheless, thank you for sharing this insight, it really reached me and I hope it reached other readers as well.

  21. FirstHabit says:

    Thoughtful post. Thanks. The word happy is hard to define, so thankfully English provides other words that have more precision. I think there is psychological well-being (long lasting contentment/oil tanker), and hedonic wellbeing (short-term pleasure/speed boat). I agree that gratitude is a foundation, and the highest levels of happiness (flourishing or as the Greeks called it “eduaimonia”), require a few other ingredients like self-acceptance, personal growth, autonomy, purpose/meaning, and friendship (love).

    • I’ve found the long game on happiness/well-being/eduaimonia (never heard that word before) is the one worth playing. Hedonic pleasure is fleeting and never seems to satisfy.

  22. In the spirit of this post, I would like to express gratitude to Mr. 1500 for lending me his blog and audience for this article. I hope you all enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.

    🙂
    TheHappyPhilosopher recently posted…Should a Medical Resident Rent or Buy a House?My Profile

  23. Nice post! People always forget that happiness is in little things.

  24. Mrs. COD says:

    You’ve got on some great points here, especially the idea of focusing outwardly rather than inwardly. So often, doing for others can have such a positive impact on my happiness and attitude, plus, hey! It helps the others! Win-win! I also like your focus on clean water. That’s a pretty basic need that most who have take for granted. Just remembering that and other things that often seem so simple or trivial is key to unlocking our happiness as well as our generosity.

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