At a time when you’re at a crossroads in your life, the new path you seek must take you down a journey that makes you truly happy. How does a successful, experienced, capable person make a choice that leads to authentic happiness?
The following frameworks helped me, but be warned, it takes a substantial amount of effort, will make you question deep beliefs about yourself, and you may arrive at an answer that leaves you less certain than before. This is also just one approach which worked for me. Your path to finding these, and mixing/matching them may be substantially different.
The outside track
In the Japanese ‘ikigai’ ideal, you will search for something that ‘you are good at’, ‘you love to do’, ‘that the world needs’, ‘that you can get paid for’.
(Image taken from Fresh New Ink & the Stories Behind My 3 Tattoos by Christopher Chiu on Linked In.)
But how do you figure out each one, or do you do it all at once?
I was in this situation when Sharad met me. The framework which he gave me that day helped me a LOT, and has helped quite a few people since. Thanks Sharad!
The framework consists of understanding happiness better, breaking the search for happiness into meaningful chunks, solving for each chunk. In an ideal world, you’d have a holistic solution where all of them get solved together. But consider that your pursuit of happyness v2 🙂
1. Do you know what happiness really is? A good start is the book “Authentic Happiness”. Talks about three components: the pleasant life, the good life, and the meaningful life. https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/
2a. Do you have the “pleasant life” or a “pleasant enough life”? If not, work on getting there first! In my case pleasant life is having enough to support family, meet friends, live in an apt with facilities, etc.
2b. Your options are either to be in a job that pays you enough, AND gives you the ‘good life’.
2c. Or if you can’t, then seek financial independence, mrmoneymustache.com for instance (http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/01/13/the-shockingly-simple-math-behind-early-retirement/ ). This is what we went for as a family.
3a. Do you have a ‘good life’ at work? See https://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_on_flow and read http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/history-of-happiness/mihaly-csikszentmihalyi/
3b. Do you know what your strengths are? Take the “Strengths Finder” test to identify your core strengths. Do the exercises to strengthen them further. Find friends who can tell you your strengths (and weaknesses).
3c. Getting into flow, testing and expanding the boundary of your abilities, is key to having an engaged life. Identify (or even create) roles/jobs that would use your core strengths on a regular basis, therefore getting you into flow, and thereby giving you the ‘Engaged life’. For me, flow comes when having complex conversations where I help move the needle for founders.
4. Can you find what greater purpose or mission gives your life meaning? Finding this is key to achieving the ‘meaningful life’, or ‘what the world needs’. If this mission uses your strengths, that’s super!
5. Bring things together. Construct components of your life, either separately or ideally together, that give you the “Pleasant life”, “Good Life”, “Meaningful Life”. This will require some iteration, perhaps over a few years, as your choices mature and change.
Typically for those who have already achieved the Pleasant Life, i.e. material aspirations are satisfied, constructing a Good Life will satiate you for a while. Once you have crafted both, start looking for what makes your life meaningful.
Caveat: The outside track is necessary, but may not be sufficient.
The inside track
The path above assumes that you know yourself well enough to make those choices. But I certainly didn’t a few of years ago, and I continue to learn more about myself everyday.
Stepping back, there’s a common reason why I and many folks in the 35-45 age group face a mid-life crisis.
Typically at 21-25, a goal was set that seemed impossibly distant: Get married, have children, get a house, car, have a good job with a great company.
For most people between 35-45, many of these are checked off, and suddenly there seems to be little to look ahead to anymore. Yes, the family is here, yes we’re well off, yes the job/title are prestigious. But wait. Why do I now either long for experiences and things, or on the other hand feel utterly disconnected? And even after getting every new thing that excites me, why do I still feel unhappy?
Fundamentally, these goals/things/experiences are just milestones. They are externally motivated, impermanent achievements, that in and of themselves can’t make you happy. As you reach each milestone, you may realise that your happiness level before & after the milestone barely changes. But now you are scrambling to the next milestone that excites you enough to chase it, and perhaps make you happy.
Digging inside yourself
It’s at this stage that you need to dig deeper within, to find what true peace is, and how to craft a path to your internal peace.
The spiritual path helps you understand your mind better, and find more intrinsic sources of peace. Essentially ‘Know Thyself’ and in one way or the other attain equanimity to external stimuli, without giving in to extremes of emotion. Others think of it as a ‘single-player-game’, i.e. happiness is within your head, and only you can control your happiness, see for instance http://thehappyphilosopher.com/single-player-game/
The framework below (I’m much less confident suggesting this one, since it’s so much dependent on your current mind-state)
0. In this journey a mentor is useful to identify your blind spots, biases, and unknown unknowns. Otherwise you may be repeatedly reaching local optima that leave you unhappy. (Manjula has been that coach for me)
1. Understand your own mind better. Dig deep into the meaning of happiness for yourself, by looking within yourself. For me ‘Waking Up’ by Sam Harris helped, (Thanks Manjula for the book).
2. Work to improve your equanimity. I tried Vippasana, and mindfulness. Your choice may be different. Meditation of different kinds to get you into flow/equanimity. Your meditation may be dance!
3. Building this equanimity will in parallel help you learn about your happiness more. This journey of understanding yourself better, looking inside, is a long one, and as you go along, your understanding and application of the outside track gets better too.
3a. Apply this better understanding of yourself to your outside track too.
For me, the application of all these over the last 4-5 years,
- Financial Independence through MrMoneyMustache,
- Happiness through Authentic Happiness,
- Mindfulness through Waking Up/Vippasana,
And on a personal level
- Coaching from Sharad/Manjula
- Support from my better half 🙂
has helped define ‘pleasant life’, ‘good life’, ‘meaningful life’, and (hopefully) something the world will pay for 🙂
Best of luck on your own journey of discovery!
(Prasanna is the founder Anchor of iKen and runs Upekkha an accelerator for SaaS businesses)