When I think about what I truly want to do in life, I always come back to “helping people feel better.”
When somebody is sick, I want to share what I’ve learned from Metabolic Effect on how to recover quickly.
If somebody is feeling down about how they look, I want to share one of the hundreds of programs I’ve written throughout my personal training career.
When somebody is having a bad day, I want to channel my inner Shawn Achor and drop some (unwarranted) positive psychology research on them.
Don’t misinterpret that. I am by no means a selfless human being on the path of Mother Teresa – kissing babies, feeding the poor, donating my time and money to charity, giving up bacon, etc. I’ll work on that.
Most of the learning and research I do is for myself. Selfish af, I know.
I want the six-pack of a Spartan, a brain like Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting, the savvy of Will Smith in Focus, and relationships like that group of Venezuelans I met at the club in Hollywood last month (shoutout to my new Latino friends).
But as I’ve (slightly) matured over the past few years, I’ve found myself wanting to help others get six-packs, super-brains, and smooth moves of their own. That way we can all feel good.
As cheesy and naive as it may sound, I just want everybody to be happy #GoodVibesOnly
So I read a shit ton on happiness and positive psychology in hopes of finding some secrets for all of us to benefit from. And through all that reading and nerdy shit I do when nobody is looking, I’ve found three “killers of happiness.”
When I avoid these three killers in my day, I am much more productive, fulfilled, and ultimately, happier.
Three Happiness Killers
1) Inactivity — (Movement -> Motivation -> Movement -> Motivation)
I have been lucky enough to have jobs that give me a ton of freedom. I can work from home or (Elon Musk-willing) Mars, I can create my own schedule or not create any schedule at all, and I can eat popcorn for breakfast if I so choose. And I do choose.
The trade off of that is that I have a lot of free time. I can certainly decide to put in extra work, write a blog, workout, write a book, or schedule meetings. But often times I don’t. I work hard from 6am to noon so I can have the afternoon to watch Ballers, make nachos, and hang out with Kels.
Something I’ve learned is that free time isn’t as awesome we think. It’s part of the reason that I usually feel anxious or depressed in the afternoons. I’m freaking bored, man.
In one of my favorite books of all time, The Happiness Advantage, my man Shawn Achor writes, “In general, Americans find free time more difficult to enjoy than work.”
Bullshit? I think not.
Why? Because work requires us to use skills, keep our minds engaged, interact with others, and make progress towards goals or objectives. All of which contribute to our happiness.
Free time often involves “Netflix and Chill.” (In case you didn’t know — that requires zero skills, no human interaction, no goal pursuing, and the turning off of minds.)
If we were to spend out spare time hoopin’ with our boys, on dinner dates with lady friends, museum visits with grandma, or pottery classes with our neighbor we’d be much happier. The problem is that when we finally do get some free time, it’s so much easier to zone out to TV or our Instagram feed.
At first, with these more “chill” activities, we feel relaxed (for about 30 minutes according to Achor), but then, we begin to feel drained and lethargic. We get sucked into the vortex of Friends or Game of Thrones. It’s called psychic entropy. After about 30 minutes, we get lazier and lazier, and TV gets less and less relaxing.
The more we chill, the more we want to chill, and therefore the more depressed we feel, and the more nachos we eat.
The good news is that we can use psychic entropy to our advantage too. We can build momentum in either a positive or negative direction. In the positive direction, we could read a good book, meet up with friends to play ball, or go on a hike.
Whereas TV is easy to start, these activities are a little harder to get going. It takes about 15-30 minutes for you mind to become engaged in the book. It takes a shit ton of activation energy to change into yoga pants, and drive to the gym or hiking trail, but once we’re there, we are typically glad we went.
You still awake? Stay with me…
The more aware we are of this “psychic entropy,” the more power we have to choose our actions.
When we know about this tendency of the human mind, we can fight through that first 15-30 minutes of struggle, knowing we’ll be happier and more fulfilled later.
Do the thing you don’t “feel like” doing because movement leads to motivation, which leads to more movement, which leads to more motivation… and eventually, to a happy brain.
2) Eliminate The 3 C’s
Happiness Killer #2 is something we all do now and then. Myself included. It requires some serious self-awareness.
It’s what I call the “3 C’s” — when we do the three C’s, we avoid taking responsibility for our own lives. And until we take responsibility for our own situation, we are helpless to change it. We sacrifice long term wellbeing, for short-term dopamine hits. What are the three C’s?
Get it? Got it? Good.
The reason they are so destructive to our happiness is because they transfer responsibility of our happiness to other people or things. There’s is always something or someone we can blame for our problems: Our parents. Our girlfriend or boyfriend. Traffic. Our boss. Trump. Obama. The weather. That entire bag of popcorn that left me on the toilet.
The 3 C’s are very similar to watching TV: it feels good in the short term, but actually hurts our happiness in the long run. It feels good to complain, criticize, or (sometimes) compare because it builds our lowly self-esteem.
If we talk about Steve’s shitty social skills, it makes us feel like we’re better with the ladies. If we blame the rainy day, we’re justified in sitting inside all day watching TV.
The problem is that it takes the power of our happiness away, and gives it to others. Research by University of California psychology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky tells us that 10% of our happiness comes from our circumstances. 10%! That means 90% comes from our choices, attitudes, beliefs, and all that other woo-woo-inside-us stuff.
(*Side note: there is something called a baseline happiness level. It’s genetics. Some people are programmed to be happier than others. But even that only accounts for 50%… max. Based on who you ask*)
The best way to stop engaging in the 3 C’s is to watch your language. Listen to what you say, and immediate stop when you notice you’re fucking around with one of the C’s.
Instead, here’s a “C” that does contribute to your happiness (and who knows, you could make somebody else day too)
At Metabolic Effect, we teach that everybody just as different biochemically on the inside as they are physically on the outside. That’s why we never give meal plans. There is no one-size-fits-all program. By paying attention to your body’s responses (hunger, energy, cravings, digestion, mood, sleep quality, etc.), you can pinpoint which foods work for you, and which one’s do not.
It’s a powerful lesson that applies to more than just health and fitness.
When I moved in with Jill & Jade in the Summer of 2011, I started down a path that would change my life for the better in almost every way possible. However there was one habit of theirs that I picked up that had a negative effect on my happiness.
Those two were self-proclaimed introverts. The recharged by being alone, having silence, and relaxing. I naturally lean more towards extroversion. I recharge by going to play basketball with friends, playing beer pong at a party, or chopping it up with the locals.
When I started to adopt their habits, I began “recharging” alone, spent time in silence, and avoided social outings.
Just as with health and fitness, life is very individualized. Some people are introverts, some extroverts. Some like shoes, some like beers. Some are materialistic, some are cavemen. The key is finding your sweet spot.
Psychologists call this “cognitive dissonance.” Super sexy vocab, I know. It basically the discomfort the mind feels when it holds two contradictory beliefs. If you are an extravert, but you change your actions to become more introverted, you’re mind will be confused as to which one you identify with.
A pool table, cookouts with friends every Friday, a cold dipping pool, and the freedom and resources to fly friends and family out to visit me is a huge piece of of my happiness formula. Others couldn’t give two shits about a pool table or having Cookout Friday’s. And that’s A-Okay.
Authenticity is the antidote. And a baseline for authenticity is self-awareness. Finding your happiness formula requires patience, exploration, and honesty with yourself. Some of the hardest skills to learn.
There is no one-size-fits-all advice to a good life. There are trends and starting places (like not being an asshole, a hot bowl of popcorn, and exercising), but you’ll have to be flexible to make them fit you and your lifestyle.
It takes time and practice to eliminate these Happiness Killers, but that’s a part of the game of life. Start engaging more in your free time. Stop complaining, comparing, and criticizing, and develop enough self-awareness to know what does or does not make you happy. These aren’t tactics, they’re a way of life, and they’re hard. But as with all things it life, it’s the hard shit that shapes and fulfills us the most..