Finding happiness in life can be simpler if you apply the principles of Agile thinking.
Here are 10 rules to get you started.
Agile thinking and happiness don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. Living agile is all about responding to change, and change is scary. Change leads to anxiety, fear, and depression. But it doesn’t have to.
Finding happiness in times of turbulent change is a matter of internalizing principles. Principles that will be your bedrock even when the world’s going crazy around you.
I don’t mean to belittle finding happiness in life. It’s a lifelong process. It takes more than one article, or one book, or one research study. But a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Finding Happiness in Life the Agile Way: 10 Rules
1. Don’t Spend Money on Yourself
Using your money to promote underindulgence requires a shift in behavior, for sure, but another scientifically validated means of increasing the happiness you get from your money is even more radical: not using it on yourself at all.
– Michael Norton, Harvard Business School professor.
Research conducted by professor Michael Norton demonstrated that when random individuals were given an envelope with cash and instructed to give it away or spend it on themselves, the group that gave money away reported increased happiness. The other group didn’t feel any better despite the windfall.
This might explain why billionaires like Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffett, and Mark Zuckerberg are giving their fortunes away now, to worthy causes like public education and the fight against malaria. All while they are still alive and can witness the positive impact of their giving.
It would be taking it too far to say humans are wired for altruism–but we are wired for reciprocity, meaning that we feel fulfilled when we give and get back.
2. Except If You Are in Debt
Debt is enemy number one for finding happiness in life. Research shows depression and anxiety ramp up when you carry credit card debt.
Avoiding debt should be plastered on every document the financial aid office at your college gave you, but it’s not. So you’ll have to figure this one out for yourself. Making debt elimination a priority is a critical personal cash management strategy.
Imagine trying to change directions quickly when you have cement boots on your feet. Your debts are those cement boots. They make it harder for you to move to a new city, harder to quit your job and become an entrepreneur, harder to live in alignment with your Personal Hedgehog because you need that paycheck to service your debt.
3. If You Do Spend Money on Yourself, Buy Experiences, Not Stuff
If you do spend money on yourself other than debt (as you inevitably will), focus on buying experiences, not stuff. The high you get from investing in new junk is real — but it’s extremely temporary.
Recently, I spent $2,000 on a trip to Peru where I hiked Machu Picchu and a number of other incredible ruins. At Machu Picchu, I proposed to my girlfriend. And she accepted!
Now we will have a memory and a connection to a place that will last forever. I could have easily blown that money on a new flat-screen television that would have gone out of style in three years. Guess which one I would rather have.
4. Close Your Internal Feedback Loops Before You Lose Touch With Yourself
The most frustrating kind of person I work with is the one who is so out of touch with him or herself that he or she responds to my questions with “I don’t know what I want” or “I don’t know what I’m good at.”
I could answer these questions for them. As an outside observer, I can tell what lights this person up when they speak. Or what sort of questions I can go to them with. But it’s the stunning lack of self-knowledge that bugs me.
I believe the age we live in makes its really easy to ignore your internal feedback loops–the part of your psyche that processes events and tells you whether you liked or disliked them–because everywhere the Herd is telling you that what you hate (mindless work, paying your dues, paying $160,000 for a worthless education) is actually what you should be striving for.
Eventually these conflicting messages begin to hit home. They affect your intuition. You stop trusting yourself. Your internal dialogue starts to sound something like this:
I’ll stay in this miserable job for another 3 years so I can get promoted to a job that I will probably hate just as much–but hey, I’ll be making more money so I can spend it remodeling a house that I’ve stopped liking!
If that isn’t mental illness, I don’t know what is.
5. Be Accountable for the Life You Design
You are both the designer and end user of your life. If you’ve designed an aspect of your life poorly e.g. you went to medical school when you really just want to work for nonprofits, it’s your responsibility to change your circumstances.
There’s a personality type that is always looking outward to external reasons for blame. I know because that’s my default personality type. It took discipline and soul-searching to change myself into someone who accepts accountability for both the inputs and outputs of my life.
Yes, there’s plenty of things outside our control, and those things can be frustrating and even debilitating. But going through life complaining about external circumstances is like winning the lottery and complaining about the taxes. You’ve already won, so stop complaining.
6. Build a Support Network Before You Need One
A community of supportive people doesn’t fall out of the sky and land at your feet. It might seem that way when you are growing up because your parents, your teachers, and your classmates were always there. But when you become an adult, you have to actively build and cultivate a supportive community.
And this only gets harder as you age, because the tendency as you grow older is to shrink your networks and become more isolated. You lose friends to marriage, to career moves, to starting families.
Make an effort to connect with old friends, old mentors, and old bosses whom you liked. The surprise factor alone will make you memorable.
7. Happiness is a Choice, So Choose Happiness
Happiness is agnostic. It doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, healthy or sick. It doesn’t care what race you are, where you came from, or who your parents are.
I’ve known people who, by any objective measure, were destitute. But they were happy because they were getting what they wanted out of life. The flip-side is the MBA suit who’s making six figures and driving an expensive car, but is overworked, tired, and miserable to be around.
Happiness comes before success. If you weren’t happy without material wealth, you won’t be happy with it either. Given the choice, choose happiness.
8. Except When You Need to Choose Meaning
Finding happiness in life isn’t synonymous with hedonism. Hedonism is the relentless pursuit of pleasure (usually physical) with no regard to other compelling objectives, like duty or meaning.
Pursuing meaning in life isn’t necessarily pleasurable. If you want nothing but comfort, park yourself in front of the television for hours on end and order delivery food. But that’s not what makes most people happy. Not in the long run.
In this article in The Atlantic, writer Emily Esfahani Smith draws on the story of Viktor Frankl and the lessons of psychology to conclude the following:
By putting aside our selfish interests to serve someone or something larger than ourselves — by devoting our lives to “giving” rather than “taking” — we are not only expressing our fundamental humanity, but are also acknowledging that that there is more to the good life than the pursuit of simple happiness.
9. Chuck Out Your 5-Year Plan and Learn to Adapt Instead
Long-term planning is a joke. The funny thing is we’re all secretly in on the joke.
I’ve seen executives demand PowerPoint presentations detailing the next 3 years of growth from college grads whose aggregate total life experience can be summed up by the Konami Code. It’s a sham, a song-and-dance routine meant to convince the people on the ship that someone knows the directions.
In reality, not only do we not know the directions, we aren’t sure where we’re heading half the time. This is really freaking scary to the Herd. So they’d rather live with the sham (until it all comes crumbling around our heads, see the 2008 financial crisis).
You can opt out. You can choose to be an adult and recognize that forecasting 5 or 10 years into the future with any kind of precision is a fool’s game. That it’s much more important to be prepared, lean, and adaptable than it is to follow a plan that’s 4 and a half years out of date.
10. Practice Gratitude and Embrace Possibilities
You and I are alive at an amazing time in human history. In the late 200’s B.C., Ptolemy (successor to Alexander the Great) began building the Library of Alexandria, an ambitious project with the intent to house all of human knowledge.
But because the Library was a physical place, it stored only physical books and scrolls. The Library itself was incomplete. And eventually destroyed.
The Internet’s goal of connecting every human being on the planet is just beginning. The dream of a Library of Alexandria where all human knowledge is accessible in one place is getting closer to reality.
Take advantage of the opportunities available to you. They weren’t available to the 99.9% of people who have ever lived. And practice being grateful for the fact that everything’s amazing right now and you’re alive to enjoy it.
Image by thephotographymuse.