The Secret to Happiness (No, Really)

Recently, I was talking with an app developer and congratulating him for having hundreds of thousands of users. “No,” he said, shaking his head, “it doesn’t mean anything until you have a million users.”

“Really?” I said, thinking I’d be pretty psyched if I had that many people on my mailing list. “But, in the meantime, you can be happy with the hundreds of thousands of users you have now.” He was not convinced.

Ha, it’s easy to tell others they should be happy where they are. And it was a good reminder that happiness is a skill — you can’t convince someone that they can be happy any more than you can convince them that they play the violin or tennis.

What I’m starting to really get is that, like any skill, happiness takes practice. If we haven’t practiced how to be happy (i.e. appreciate) where we are now, we’re not going to suddenly and magically know how to be happy when we get the millions of followers/big-time clients/dream job/physical fitness/relationship or whatever else we think might bestow instant happiness.

In fact, if our usual mode is relentless striving and wanting what’s “over there,” we’re essentially training ourselves to feel lack, scarcity and not-enoughness no matter what happens.


So, if satisfaction in life comes down to enjoying the process in and of itself, what exactly does that mean?

  • It means: training yourself to make peace with where you are, accepting that you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. (Never mind that our culture views acceptance as a weakness. You’re accepting where you are in this moment, not that you can’t change it going forward.)
  • It means: shifting from thinking “why is this taking so long” to seeing the journey itself as the goal. Reframing it as mastery means there’s no finish line — and you’re okay with that.
  • It means: using imagination and curiosity to find intrinsic satisfaction in whatever you’re doing. Daniel Chambliss says in Champions: The Making of Olympic Swimmers: “The very features of the sport that the “C” swimmer finds unpleasant, the top-level swimmer enjoys. What others see as boring — swimming back and forth over a black line for two hours, say, they find peaceful, even meditative, often challenging, or therapeutic.”

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