I am an unreasonably lucky man. I’ve never won the lottery, I didn’t buy Bitcoin when it was <$100 a coin (though I know a number of people who did), and it seems like every time I play cards or dice I lose my ass, but I deeply feel that where it really counted, I was as lucky as they come.
I was born in the United States of America. I was born to a pair of people who didn’t have much to their name, but who loved one another and their children fiercely, and believed that hard work and grit could build a better future. Through nothing more than universal good fortune, I grew up in the one place on Earth where I could be and do anything in the scope of human ability, with parents who put blood, sweat, and tears into making sure I had the opportunity to thrive.
Talk about luck.
There are millions of us, something like 330 million at the time of this writing, and if nearly all of us are among the top 5 or 10% of the wealthiest people on the globe, then why the hell are we so angry all the time?
I did some research for this post and found hundreds of articles and posts about anger from COVID lockdowns, being dissatisfied with race relations, or livid with politicians who ignore their constituents’ needs, but that isn’t really what I’m talking about. I believe that those things are symptoms, and the real problem lies deeper.
I think that modern Americans are fundamentally unhappy because contemporary cultural influencers have redefined what happiness means in order to improve their bottom lines. Many entities thrive on discontent, including commercial interests, social media personalities, and politicians. It’s to their benefit to keep people discontent.
“Okay, wise guy, what do you suggest?”
Well, I’m glad you asked.
Stop Comparing Joy
The number one ruiner of happiness is comparing yours to theirs. If everyone looked more at what they had and less at what their neighbor seemed to have, we would all love our lives a whole lot more. Top of the list of most prolific serial killers of joy is social media.
Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. all take snapshots of peoples’ lives and put them on display. Very few people put up random candid pics and posts from their day. They curate what they show, and that gives a biased view of their lives and their satisfaction therein. Instagram models have even started renting planes, cars, and friends in order to make their followers believe they enjoy a certain lifestyle. Your friends on Facebook you haven’t talked to since high school probably aren’t out there ‘living their best life’ nearly as well as they want you to believe.
They’re showing what they want others to see, so they can keep up.
Even if that weren’t the case, even if there are millions of people out there with more things, more love, and more peace than you, that doesn’t make the things, love, and peace you have worth any less. The only person who can diminish your joy is you. Stop letting some dick nose on Twitter or Insta make you feel like what you have is lesser.
I’m certainly no world traveler. I’ve only been to a couple of foreign countries, and I haven’t even been to all of the lower 48 states. I have, however, seen poverty and the impoverished. I’ve seen those who don’t know for sure where their next meal will come from, and who are thankful for a sliver of shelter floor to share with others. I have seen those people smile from ear-to-ear and heard them laugh deeply. They find happiness in their lives and experiences, despite having next to nothing to call their own.
How can that be?
Perhaps we’ve been sold a bill of goods. Perhaps we’ve allowed advertisers, marketing gurus, and Instagram models to convince us that we need fancy cars, big TVs, and the latest iPhones to be happy, when what we really need is a good hobby, good relationships, and freedom to pursue our passions.
Stop Blaming Other People
Here’s where I will lose people. By and large, especially in the United States and western Europe, it is en vogue to blame The Man or The System for our shortcomings and failures.
Despite what people/media/government/social justice warriors/haters want you to think, your circumstances are your responsibility. The sooner you acknowledge this truth, the sooner you can take this weight on your shoulders, and the sooner you can take control of your situation.
There are tons of self-help books that hammer on this point, all of them written by people who are far more commercially successful than me. I’m not a big self-help book person, but I’ve read a number of books that have helped me grow as a person. A couple that I really liked: Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willing and Leif Babin, and Fortitude by Dan Crenshaw. Both of those books focus heavily on the mindset of taking responsibility for your shortcomings, fighting to overcome them, and finding ways to make the most of bad situations.
Yes, some people get a head start by virtue of being born into affluence. Yes, some people have an easier time getting a leg up because they know someone, have a more winning smile, or a better personality. Yes, some people have it harder due to biases in perception from people in positions of power.
So. Fucking. What.
Put your shit kicking boots on and wade through it. Fight hard and fight smart. Whatever field you are striving for success in, make yourself undeniable and you will achieve your goals.
Seek Out Suffering
I truly believe that constant comfort leads to long-term unhappiness. At any given moment across the first world, there are thousands of people smashing the keys on their phone, tablet, or computer to complain. Most of them do this complaining while sitting in a cushy chair or couch, eating a hot meal with high calorie content, and enjoying reasonably-good health. Maybe their hair is still damp from the long hot shower they just took. From a place of such comfort it is easy to feel every prod, poke, or itch, to dwell on each pang of hunger or aching joint.
Each of those small (or huge) conveniences is easy to take for granted. Why not step outside of them for a weekend (or more) and enjoy some time outside of the house and in the wide world where the only running water is between two banks and the closest thing to air conditioning is a cold front? Out there, where our ancestors lived their entire lives, hunger, thirst, and slight exhaustion are constant companions.
Maybe the outdoors really isn’t your thing. You can choose another type of suffering. Go for a run. Lift weights. Take a cold shower. Talk to Chatty Charles at the water cooler who talks incessantly about his world-view that you completely disagree with. Each of those things have benefits beyond making you uncomfortable: Running helps your heart and lungs; Lifting weights strengthens muscles, bones, and connective tissue; Chatty Charles might teach you something you didn’t know, and at the very least you will have a better understanding of another human being, which has its own inherent value.
Voluntary suffering makes you appreciate the simple comforts you might have forgotten about, comforts that other people don’t have, and that appreciation is requisite for happiness.
Find a Partner
Humans are social creatures. We crave companionship. If you want to improve your happiness, find someone to share happiness with. I call this person a partner, which can carry romantic connotations, but it doesn’t have to be a romantic relationship. A partner can be a husband or wife or a close friend or a sibling. This partner is a person who will be present with you, invested in your success, and provide an outlet for your investment to ensure their success as well.
Happiness shared is happiness doubled. Troubles shared are troubles halved.
I know this topic causes intense unhappiness for some people. “Oh sure, just find The One and be happy. Thanks a lot, asshole.” And to an extent, yeah, something like that, but also, no it’s not like that at all. I’m not telling you to find The One, settle down, and live happily ever after. I’m telling you to find like-minded people, cultivate meaningful relationships with them, and revel in the shared joy and reduced pain that comes from a strongly-tied community. From that will come relationships of all kinds, probably even the romantic kind.
I don’t give relationship advice because different things work for different people. If you need to hear more than ‘be open, be honest, and demand the same from those around you,’ then I can’t really help. That’s not your failing, it’s mine. I’m just pointing out my limitation.
Corollary: cut shitty people out of your life
Very few things will kill joy like an asshole. If you have a person (or people) in your life that does not give you the same openness, honesty, support, and respect that you give them, then throw them out like a rancid steak. You don’t need that shit hanging around.
Don’t, however, mistake someone’s honest opinions or criticisms as disrespect. A person with different opinions or experiences can be invaluable. Be careful not to cut someone out just because you don’t like what they have to say. It could be an insight that could change your life for the better.
The Wrap Up
I figure I better make a big bold header to show people where they can jump to get a TLDR.
To wrap up, the biggest thing to do for your happiness is to stop comparing your shit to other people’s shit. Social media is a strong offender in this regard. Stop blaming other people for the things that go wrong in your life. Take responsibility and quit being a bitch. Eschew (why yes, that is a great word) comforts from time to time to better appreciate what you have. Seek out opportunities for voluntary suffering. You’ll feel better after feeling worse. Build real relationships. Find a partner. Share the good and the bad. Cut out the blood suckers and assholes and keep close the no-bullshit friends who are willing to tell you hard truths.
That’s all I’ve got for now.
Stay ready. Stay safe. Stay free.