The Pursuit of Happyness

It is Saturday evening. It is one of those rare times in a week when I get to spend some time on a blog post. And it’s nice to be able to begin it differently. There’s a whole bunch of topics waiting to be blogged about but I’m ignoring all of them.

I’m just enjoying the moment a little bit here. This is in contrast with how blogging is done rest of the week. On most days, it’s done in the morning after exercise and before work and on days when I don’t manage to wake up, it’s done after work in the evening. In either case, it’s not relaxation in the traditional sense as I’m either looking to head to work or end the day and go home. So, posts tend to be relatively short and to-the-point and thanks to feedback from many of you, I realize that suits you, as well. We’re all busy after all.

This, of course, wasn’t the case before the long and short form partition. I only wrote a long post when I felt like as I had a quote to account for the learning for the day. But, in truth, I haven’t ever been happier about the blog before that decision was made. It pushes me a fair bit but it’s another case where the juice feels worth the squeeze.

So, today, I thought I’d take a different approach. I started typing this with no topic in mind but I’ve gradually come to one I feel most passionate about at the moment – The Pursuit of Happyness. I also thought I’d let myself ramble a little bit. It’s been a beautiful day. I played a 90 minute football game in bright sunlight in the morning, had a nice afternoon nap and woke up in the evening and can feel the temperature has steadily been getting colder. As I write this, I’m sitting contented on Saturday evening enjoying the thought of an entire weekend to myself. And, of course, I’m away from email and work till tomorrow morning. So, I thought I’d take some time and enjoy some writing.. As a result, I expect this to be long, very long. I have a lot to say, haha ;-).

And I hope you’ll enjoy reading it as much I’ll enjoy writing it.

I was on a Skype call with a friend I was getting to know. I asked him questions about his background, family, his dreams and long term goals. And of course, he flipped all of those back to me.

I answered the question about my long term goals very differently from times in the past. I have ideas of what I’d like the future to look like. Some ideas are around coaching and teaching while some others involve crazier stuff like owning Manchester United (when I have a few billion in lose change, of course.. haha). Today, however, I found myself reflecting on the past year and telling him about a different approach I was taking for a little while. And I also reflected that a large part of the past 2 years has been on the pursuit of happyness.

I distinctly remember a question I asked myself two years ago – When am I happy?. It was August in 2009 – my start up adventure was over. I was now just a university student looking for a job that I would hopefully like. A whole new world. Of course, at that point, finding that job was top priority. But, really, what made me happy? I remember a few answers coming out then – staying in touch with close family and friends, reading books and sharing learnings, doing something meaningful with the time I have, playing sport, being of help to those younger than me who could benefit from a bit of mentorship and guidance (especially since I’d promised someone who had spent a lot of time with me that I’d pay it forward) and lastly, but importantly, having ‘enough‘ money. Enough is, of course, tricky. But I’ll come back to this later. Oh, and I also remember that I sought daily inspiration. (which, as I understand is normal for ‘N’ types in the Myers Briggs Types – I promise a detailed blog post on that as soon as I finish that (incredible) book)

The biggest realization, for me, then was that my happiness seemed to revolve around a clutch of small things. And as the process was naturally iterative, the next question was What can I do about this?. A few things happened over the next month – I started sending a close bunch of friends smses with daily ‘Good Morning’ quotes (SMSes were cheap on the student plan!), began writing one email 3 times a week to a very close friend and Mom (Tuesday/Thursday/Sunday Hello) where I rambled about the little things in my life, began sending these poor bunch of close friends a ‘weekly book learning’ as a way to force myself to read something of value, playing football 2-3 times a week, working with some younger friends thanks to activities I was involved in and spending quality time on weekends with friends.

Suddenly, the world seemed different. I’ve mentioned this many times before but having spent all of 3 years trying to make a venture work meant that I had attached all my self worth to it. That’s why calling it off was incredibly hard and the period after that was harder. That period was an intense time as we went through the ‘2nd year’ of being a serious start up and realized things wouldn’t work out. And it wasn’t for lack of effort. We had all learnt lessons for life and it was time for us to pick the pieces and move on and find our own different paths.

I vividly remember my happiness levels slowly go up. It was the 1st semester – I wasn’t regular in most of these things but slowly, they became habitual. ‘Good morning’ quotes started showing up here and at that time, solved a major problem as I wasn’t disciplined enough to blog a learning every day. I remember the ‘Hello’ emails happening without trouble but the rest was a struggle, including football. There’s something about being a university student. Even though we have lots of time, there always seems like there is none of it.

The next phase was understanding how I could make this regular and habitual. I realize this also a function of the ‘J’ type. And as I’d read a very inspiring book that spoke about finding coaches and making little systems, I began experimenting with that. Here again, as in many many points in life, I had a mentor leading the charge and showing the way. I have learnt SO much from people older and wiser who have taken time to help me. I always promise to ‘pay it forward’ but I sometimes wonder if I will ever have the kind of impact they’ve had on my life and thinking. And that was the beginning of a points system where I tried accomplishing a certain bunch of things every day and I lost a dollar for every point I missed (big money as a student) to a close friend, who was my ‘coach’. I used to meet him every sunday discussing my plans for the next week, performance for the last week etc.

Those days used to be a constant wrench. A real struggle. I didn’t have that kind of discipline. 30 minutes of book reading every day was unthinkable. I learnt a lot. Slowly, I began to settle into that and actually began habitually doing the little things that made me happy. I could feel the difference. My relationship with my Mom and close friend became so much deeper (I felt the difference when I was back home), my younger friends added an incredible amount of joy in my life, my curiosity was being stoked by all the great I was reading, I was beginning to feel inspired by the quotes and learnings and my own attitude was slowly becoming worthy of this blog’s philosophy. I also got lucky – I found work I would enjoy at a place that seemed perfect for me and things began looking up.

Soon though, university was over. I remember the next phase being that of the GMAT but I also remember continuing to do these little things. Happyness. I was beginning to feel it.

And then, of course, work life began. This was a tough transition again. I was doing all these little things – how could I keep them up with a full time job? I began learning to say No to a few things. My discipline systems ensured accountability and soon, I was feeling settled. Then, the travel phase began and I began trying to wonder if I could keep up this energy in spite of constant changes of location. I learnt that we can do anything we want as long as we ask ourselves the right questions and stay true to ourselves. Over time, this list has increased to counting blessings, reading the news, playing games on Lumosity :), sleeping 8 hours, writing to more and more friends regularly and so on – every bit bringing with it more learnings..

Thus, the past year has meant a lot more of these little little realizations. A few things about life never change – there are ALWAYS ups and downs. It’s gotten to a point where I’ve started laughing at unexpected downs because I’ve half expected something funny to happen right after a really cool up. The challenges also never stop but that doesn’t mean it’s an excuse for me to do any less. I’ve been amazed at the human capacity to ‘do’. The more I do, it seems like the more I can do. And the harder I work, it seems like the luckier I get. No hard work has ever gone waste. Because, over time, the dots connect. Always.

Of course, there have been tons of mistakes on the way – many many Mea Culpa moments in every little project. And I’ve also learnt that with more growth comes responsibility. This blog has been proof. A recent incident comes to mind when I pissed someone close to me off unintentionally thanks to something I said here. It felt bad. Really bad. But then, you live and you learn. Failure makes you humble. Attempts at stuff don’t come without failure of course. Reminds me of a football league I signed up for with a bunch of friends 2 months ago here. We are so out of depth that we concede 10 goals a game(!). It was very demoralizing at first but I’m learning to be a good loser. In fact, I’m learning more from the football experiences thanks to failure after failure after failure.

Along with all of this, I can feel a real thirst to understand myself and how I fit in. That’s why the excitement about Myers Briggs and personality types. I remember this quote that ‘life is such that you can get out of it knowing more about others around you than yourself’. I’ve realized that I’m only accepting of people and situations around me when I accept myself. I find myself hungry to understand how we work, why we work they way we do and that hunger has led to me devouring books. A quest to stay hungry, stay foolish..

I’m beginning to realize many of the basic ways of the world thanks to these experiences and books that escaped me in the past. I find myself more respectful of tradition and admiring the little things because I’ve found them contributing more to my happiness than anything else. Of course, money matters. Here, I’ve found the $75,000 to happiness most useful as a goal.

I’ve realized the importance of letting go, in the little things. A laugh, for example, in a sticky discussion or situation goes a long way in smoothing things over. I’ve greatly reduced trying to win discussions with sarcastic/’smart’ comments.. because you never really win. That’s incredibly hard for a heady competitive person to understand especially when you love debate and competition to stir up some emotion and adrenaline.

I’ve also begun to accept (slowly) natural cycles of productivity and energy. Some days you are the pigeon, and some you are the statue. Also seeing time and time again that everything that happens happen for the good. Learning to laugh at them more and probably, most importantly, laugh at myself a lot more. Trying to speak slower, smile more.. all the little things. And trying to keep my child-like excitable self while not being childish.

Learning to ‘let go’ has been a tough tough battle. Given ever changing schedules and travel plans, I used to fret endlessly about my holidays, trips back to Singapore etc at this time last year. Now, I’ve switched off from these worries that are beyond my control. I realize they more or less tend to work out. And if they don’t – so what? The fact that I have such choices means I have it really good. There’s no reason to complain..

And, at this point, I’m loving this stage and process. A lot of what’s going on now is character building. And I believe it’ll have tremendous impact in the years to come – if not as somebody who makes a difference in the world, atleast somebody who makes a difference to my kids and people I come in contact with. I’m not clear what lies ahead but I trust it’ll come to me when I’m ready. Life is an incredible teacher. And the teacher can teach only when the student is ready. And I’ve realized life doesn’t do free advice.

I joke with a friend that, as a kid, I was close to ADHD. Always trying many things and improving breadth without necessarily going down in depth. That has changed with time. I realize I’m beginning to see the deeper meaning behind the philosophy of this blog. When this journey began, this blog was almost a diary where I document learnings. I was too scared of criticism so I blogged under the acronym of ‘Every Day I Get Better’. Over time, I’ve learnt to accept both ends of the stick and learn to laugh at the low points and at myself. That’s not come easy. It’s amazing how we naturally focus on the negative because, along with the mistakes and low points, have also come so many words of encouragement from those who read this. It never fails to inspire me. I’ve begun to realize that learning every day is way of looking at, and living life. And, as a result, a large part of the past year has been a quest to be worthy of the blog in many ways by focusing on the upside instead of all the things that went wrong.

That, really is, the story of the journey over the past couple of years. It’s been an incredible journey filled with learnings from people, books, experiences, highs, lows and failures thanks to the best teacher of them all – life. I’ve dug deep in this one and I realize I’ve been writing for an hour now. But, what an hour it has been.. this is another one of those little things that makes me happy.

The Pursuit of Happyness – it really is a journey, a pursuit defined not by answers, by questions. And an amazing one at that because every positive act we do as a result of being happy has a tremendous ripple effect around the world. The Butterfly Effect. Amen to that.

Isn’t that amazing? I find myself smiling as I’m writing this. And it’s nice to be sure that it’s probably going to make you smile as you read this as well. :)

Smiling thus, I will call it a day. There’s a beautiful few hours of Saturday evening to be enjoyed. And as always, there’s tons to be thankful about and so much of life to enjoy. It’s amazing how good we have it – just to have working vision and hearing to be able to take the world in.

A big part of all these learnings has been the responsibility that comes with the good. But I’m hopeful that will happen. And I’m hopeful it’ll all be worth it. As Steve Jobs would say..

‘..and we’ve all chosen to do this with our lives. So it better be damn good. It better be worth it.’

It will. I hope. I believe.