Happiness isn't a state of mind, it's a state of being.
I've been doing a lot of thinking lately. In between thoughts of becoming a father (only a few weeks away...!) and supporting my newly forming family (is my income stable enough? are we spending too much?), I'm also thinking about health and longevity (am I taking care of my health? are we eating healthy? is our environment healthy for raising a baby?).
On what seems like the opposite end of the spectrum, I find myself thinking about the emerging and constantly evolving world of digital publishing, WordPress, the Internet, and social media.
How can I design things better? What technical skills or programming languages should I acquire next? How can I use my writing and knowledge to share what I'm doing with the world in a way that makes the world a better place?
How these two tracks of thought can even live side-by-side, inside the same brain, I don't know. It almost seems wrong to be thinking about one when the other feels astronomically more important.
But there must be more to life than just survival and living good, more to life than just... happiness, right?
I've never been content with contentedness.
Every now and then I'll recall a moment on Cocoa Beach, in Florida, sometime in early 2012. It was during one of my many twice-daily walks.
I've lived in Florida several times over the past few years, usually for a few months at a time. Whenever I lived there I would have a routine of walking on the beach in the morning and then driving to Starbucks to spend the day working on my laptop. In the evening, I'd take another solo hour-plus walk before sundown, sometimes walking until the stars came out and the darkness made it too difficult to see in front of my face.
These twice-daily walks helped me learn how important regular walking and fresh air is for my health and spiritual wellbeing; the activity seems to cleanse my soul in ways that I cannot describe.
One sunny day on the beach I stopped walking, looked out at the flat ocean, took in a deep breath of fresh ocean air, and felt an absolute sense of calmness flood my body, a sense of contentment so strong that even to this day recalling the memory floods my body with a sliver of that peace.
I had the freedom to go anywhere in the world and yet I felt content right where I was.
But it wasn't enough. That refresher was great, but it wasn't enough. Something inside me wanted to do something, to grow, to move, and to continue evolving. (I wrote a bit about this last year in Travel Notes: Thoughts on Florida1.)
This desire to do something, to grow and evolve--to question--, seems fundamental to who I am.
For example, when I'm tweaking my website and thinking about web design and user interaction--which I've been doing a lot lately--I always find myself thrown into deep thoughts about the future of the web, the future of human connectivity, the future of communication and knowledge-transfer, and the future of... well, the future of everything.
For the first few years of publishing to raamdev.com, I had a message that said "Under Construction". One day I realized that my entire life is constantly "under construction" and as a result so would my 'personal' website. It's been more than 12 years since I began publishing to raamdev.com and it's still "under construction", just like me. The only difference is that I'm not constantly announcing it.
I feel a sense of responsibility to re-think the status quo, to question everything, whether that be the status quo of how we educate and raise our children or the status quo of how digital authors should publish their work and connect with their audience.
The driving force behind this re-thinking of the status quo stems, I believe, from a recognition that our world is changing. It stems from a deeply felt understanding that we're at the cusp of a new era.
The thread that seems to weave through everything my life, whether it's thinking about how I'm going to home school my daughter or thinking about the design of a commenting form on a website, is simplicity. I'm constantly asking myself, "how can this be made more simple? what things that are assumed can be taken away? how can we reduce this to its essence?"
As a digital writer and publisher, I want to publish thoughts and essays online and communicate with my audience through the comments on those thoughts and essays.
But what if I want to spend the day away from my computer, playing with my daughter, for example?
I don't want to be looking around for a WiFi connection or waiting for my website to load and then logging into the WordPress dashboard to publish essays or reply to comments. That's archaic.
Before writing and publishing went digital, writers could simply look up from their notebook and then look back down. That was it. That's all there was to the physical act of switching modes.
Sure, they didn't publish things regularly like we can and do today, but when publishing today really just involves pressing a button on a web page, why does the entire task have to be more complicated than looking up or down from a notebook?
Why can't digital writing, publishing, and communication with readers be as simple as, let's say, sending an email from my phone (which is generally always connected to the Internet and always on me, like an old-fashioned notebook)?
Yes, I could just pick up an old-fashioned notebook and use that, but why should I have to create more work for myself transcribing those paper entries into digital entries? Besides, my handwriting skills are nonexistent so a paper notebook isn't an option.
There are certain tasks that are basic and fundamental to digital writers and publishers, but the tools and the processes don't yet exist to allow them to really live offline, the way pre-digital writers could.
Is it possible right now? Absolutely. But the processes we follow are largely dictated by the capabilities of the tools we use. Those tools are largely incomplete, designed with the online-world in mind instead of the offline world.
I'm going to start changing that by building tools and sharing systems that make sense for people who don't want to always be tied to a computer but still want to remain connected in a way that lets them communicate and share with the world.
I'm in a unique position to help bridge this gap because I understand how the technology works deeply enough to create new systems and build (or enhance, as is the case with open-source software like WordPress) tools to augment our offline life in a way that makes sense.
[I realize that there's an iPhone WordPress app that allows me to publish and reply to comments from my phone, but the app and the workflow has many flaws. Besides, I already use email for writing and communication; why should I need anything else?]
The status quo has never been more broken than it is today and that's a direct result of the fact that technology is changing our world faster than ever before. Part of what I feel responsible for is reflecting on those changes, challenging the status quo, and coming up with alternative solutions that make sense given the opportunities that technology makes possible.
Home schooling, for example, was far more difficult for parents just 30 years ago. If parents weren't already school teachers, they had limited resources and know-how to school their kids with. Their options were limited to the local library or paying for pre-designed courses that included all the books for schooling their kids at home (which is what my parents did).
Parents were lucky if they could even afford to home school their kids. If they didn't already have money set aside, or if one of the parents wasn't making enough income for the whole family, then finding the time to home school was nearly impossible, or at the very least extremely challenging: it meant that one or both of the parents spent the majority of their time working.
But today parents living in a modern society have almost unlimited access and opportunity by way of the Internet. They can learn new skills and put those skills to use by working online from home, or by building a business that allows them to work for themselves (as my parents did, except they did it without the Internet, the old-fashioned work-your-ass-off kind of way).
We now have amazing things like Google, Wikipedia, and KhanAcademy2. We have access to an international marketplace (eBay) from our bedroom. Every modern house has access to more knowledge than all humans of the past thousand years combined.
It's a home schooling dream-come-true. As a parent, you can sit in your house, make money at home, and you have access to everything. If your kid asks you a question and you don't know the answer, you can look it up on your phone and tell them. If you don't know Algebra, you can learn it yourself, for free, from home, and then help your kid learn.
The world is a different place today than it was yesterday, and it will be an even more different place tomorrow. The status quo today represents not just yesterday's old world, but that of hundreds of years of stagnation.
Conscious change is paramount to our evolution. If it's happiness that we seek, conscious evolution is the only way we'll attain happiness in a sustainable way.
Sui Solitaire recently released Kindness Sprouts, a collaborative ebook of kindness and self-care. (She's generously giving all proceeds directly to charity.)
Sui invited me to contribute to the project and asked me to answer the following question, How do you show yourself kindness? This was my response:
I show myself kindness by having the courage to eliminate things from my life that are causing me distress and dissatisfaction. I spent many years feeling caged by my job and caged by my lifestyle. I pushed off doing what I knew needed to be done and sacrificed my own happiness, and for what? For the satisfaction and comfort of everyone else? To conform to what others thought was the best thing for me?
I began showing myself kindness when I started listening to and caring about what my heart and soul were telling me. I began showing myself kindness when I found the courage to be brave and challenge what others expected of me.
When I gained the confidence to believe in my own dreams and stand up to the expectations of others, I discovered that I also needed to learn how to stand up to my own self-imposed expectations. I love technology and I spend many hours of the day working at the computer. When I find myself getting agitated with how much time I've spent in front of the screen, I don't let myself justify the discomfort by saying “that's just what I do.” Instead of being unkind to myself, I walk outside, put my hand on the trunk of a big tree, look up at its outstretched arms, and allow myself to reconnect with mother nature; I allow myself to really feel one with the universe. I'm immediately reminded that being kind to myself is being kind to the world.
Interestingly, ever since writing this for Sui's project I've been going out of my way each morning to spend time in the forest. I drive about twenty minutes to the local state forest and just walk, usually for at least an hour, with my phone turned off and my mind open. My day feels more complete when I start it walking in the forest.
Thom Chambers' latest magazine, How to Run a Lifestyle Business, is a goldmine of motivational and thought-provoking ideas from many different leaders. I've highlighted my favorite parts below:
As Simon Sinek explains, people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it. It's not the new features or the best-in-class that gets us, it's the story we tell ourselves when we buy or use a product or service. Sinek uses the launch of the iPod by way of example; while other mp3 players were there sooner and cheaper, they were focused on 'what' the product was: a 5GB mp3 player. Apple, meanwhile, sold the 'why': 1,000 songs in your pocket.
'What' is all about reason, about rationale. It's the classic nice-guy-finishes-last syndrome: he can display to the girl all the logical reasons that she should date him, from his good job to his nice house, but nobody ever fell in love based on a list of features and benefits. Rather than coming from this place of practicality, 'why' connects to emotion.
Starting with why means saying, "I believe this", then creating products and services that make that belief a reality. Those products and services are the 'what' of your business. They're the physical manifestations of your beliefs, nothing more.
When you start with why, suddenly everything changes. It's no longer about trying to pack more features into your product or to offer your services at a lower price than your competition. It's about stating your beliefs loudly and proudly, then acting on them. Do this well enough for long enough, and people who believe the same things will align themselves with you and your business by becoming customers and fans.
Simon's TED talk, How great leaders inspire action, is a must-watch.
Professionals, as Steven Pressfield notes in The War of Art, are those who turn up every day, no matter what. They do the work, relentlessly, knowing that each day is a battle against the Resistance that tries to get you to procrastinate, avoid the hard work, and settle for less than you desire.
When things gets tough, it's easy to look for excuses not to work. Isn't this meant to be my lifestyle business, my utopia? Surely it should always be fun?
As Pressfield explains, "the more important a call or action is to our soul's evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it". Building a successful lifestyle business is one of the biggest evolutions you can undertake, so you can be damn sure that you'll encounter plenty of Resistance along the way. Fight it. Do the work.
Or as Julien Smith would say, don't flinch.
In the following section, Thom is talking about Seth Godin's concept of finding just ten people to share your idea/message/product with and how those ten people will be enough to determine if what you have will succeed.
Perhaps the best way to look at it is this: you're replacing promotion with creation. Leo Babauta has written about this on Google+, calling for a less in-your-face approach to selling work. Make it, make it available, and let the fans decide if it's worth spreading. Then get on with creating what's next.
The idea of 'first, ten' means that, in Seth's words, "the idea of a 'launch' and press releases and the big unveiling is nuts. Instead, plan on the gradual build that turns into a tidal wave". He also acknowledges that this might mean your growth ends up being "not as fast as you want". But if you're in this for the long run rather than just the big show that tries to make-it-big-quickly, then you'll certainly grow fast enough to succeed.
What I got out of this is the need for focus. I seem to have a hard time focusing on something long enough to turn it "into a tidal wave". But that just tells me I need to decide what's worth focusing on and then make a commitment to seeing it through.
It's about having the attitude of an artisan instead of an amateur, as Thom explains in the next bit.
When it doesn't require a huge financial or time investment to get started, it's easy to be less committed to a project - "this website only cost me a few bucks, so it's not the end of the world if it goes wrong. I'll give it a shot and see how things turn out".
This is where your attitude comes into play. You can have this attitude, the attitude of the amateur - or you can have the attitude of the artisan.
The artisan doesn't have much money, but is still relentless about quality. The artisan sees her small size as a phase, a stepping stone towards success, and acts accordingly. Even when she's starting out, she's conducting herself as she would if this were a fully-grown business.
You're always told to dress for the job you want, not the one you have. In the same way, you need to write and create for the business you want one day, rather than the business you have today.
When you hear about a startup that sold for a hundred million after six months, remember: you're not playing that game. When you have the chance to spam your list to make a few affiliate sales from someone else's new product, remember: you're not playing that game.
Which leads us to a simple question: what game are you playing? The answer is found in one of the great overlooked conflicts in every lifestyle business: the conflict between the artisan and the accountant. The artisan creates work that brings satisfaction and pleasure, with no concern for money. The accountant creates work that brings money, with no concern for satisfaction or pleasure.
In most traditional businesses, to a greater or lesser extent, the accountant is king. Money matters most. When you choose to start a lifestyle business, though, you embrace your inner artisan. You see that money isn't everything, that lifestyle, happiness, and satisfaction are just as important.
For some, starting a lifestyle business is the start and end of their inner artisan. They focus entirely on building their business in a way that best pleases the market, or brings the owner the easiest life. The extreme of this are niche site owners, who find profitable markets and run affiliate or AdSense campaigns. They 'set it and forget it'.
For others, the artisan takes over and they focus on doing work they love without worrying about the market. The extreme of this is the blogger who gives everything away without any business model in place, hoping to make money somehow, someday.
The artisan refuses to compromise; the accountant will do anything for the sale. The artisan wants a headline that reflects the mood of the work; the accountant wants a headline that goes viral.
Both are valid in their own way; it's up to you to choose the point at which you're happiest between the extremes of pure integrity and pure income.
David Tate writes about the dangerous effects of reading, but more than that he explains why it's so vital that we stop being filters, that we stop developing a habit of judging what we're consuming in attempt to consume things that make us happier and instead focus on creating the things that actually make us happy.
I think we should all agree that getting faster at judging things is bad, but I think the real danger in having a super-efficient-filter is that your default mode is exclusion – you reject long enough and you lose the ability to create things that pass your own filter. You stagnate at work for fear of everything you do being judged like every news article or viral video that you view.
So how do you break the power of consumption? By creating your own things. All the things you consume - somewhere somebody is making all this stuff, right?
Adding anything (not just your opinion) to the world is creating – writing, drawing, dancing (not line-dancing which is not art but instead some sort of long-term psychological annoyance stress test). Normally when people think of 'creating' or 'innovation' they think of a naked hippie standing in the woods painting a tree, an alcoholic writer slaving away at a sad tale of a small town, or some tech geek coming up with some new way to annoy everyone by sharing every detail of their pointless life.
If the world overwhelms you with its constant production of useless crap which you filter more and more to things that only interest you can I calmly suggest that you just create things that you like and cut out the rest of the world as a middle-man to your happiness?
When we're poor, sufficiency appears one step away. When we're rich, sufficiency still appears one step away. No matter what we do, sufficiency remains elusive, always appearing one step ahead.
But that's an illusion. Sufficiency doesn't move, we do. If we're chasing sufficiency, then we don't understand what we need; we don't understand our 'enough'.
What really matters to you? What would it take for you to wake up every morning eager to start the day, content and happy just to be alive? To find sufficiency, you don't need to do anything. To find sufficiency, you just need to ask yourself, with all honesty, "What is enough?"
As I flip through one of the four airplane magazines from the seat pocket in front of me, I catch myself staring at a tropical beach photo -- you know, the one's you see in travel magazines that have a dozen or so straw umbrellas hovering over lounge chairs, nestled on a beautiful sandy beach overlooking a blue-green ocean.
Suddenly, I realize that I now have the freedom to go to those places. I no longer have to dream about them like everybody else.
It was an exhilarating feeling of absolute adventure -- sort of like what you feel on day one of a two-week vacation, only amplified to encompass an entire lifetime.
I'm writing this post from a WiFi lounge in London's Heathrow airport, waiting for my connecting flight to Bangalore, India. A few short months ago, I never could have imagined myself being here in London.
Now here I am, sitting among dozens of fellow travelers -- some traveling for work, some for pleasure, and perhaps even some nomadic travelers like myself, headed to an unfamiliar place on a mission to rediscover themselves.
The twenty-three hour journey to India is giving me plenty of time to think about the impact this lifestyle change is going to have on my life. Every time I look around the airport and realize that I'm not traveling for work or vacation like most of the people around me, I get this twisted feeling in my stomach when I realize that this freedom is my life now.
The entire world is knocking at my door and nothing can stop me from greeting it.
I'm living the dream I've had since I was thirteen.
I'm a world traveling, nomadic explorer!
When you've got a calling -- when every ounce of your existence is telling you to do something -- there comes a point where you can no longer ignore it. I reached that point where I simply couldn't put this off any longer. Holding it back -- holding it all inside -- was beginning to destroy me. It felt as though my entire life was being slowly extinguished.
But the transition up to this point wasn't easy.
I left a secure job with great coworkers, got rid of my only means of transportation, and reduced my physical possessions further than I thought possible. With no travel experience outside the United States, I'm now on my way to the opposite side of the planet toting just a single backpack and the clothes on my back.
The most difficult part of this transition, however, has been the emotional impact its had on those I love. Nobody likes to intentionally inflict pain on others -- even if it's indirect and will result in your own eventual happiness. It still feels wrong.
When I have tough decisions to make -- when I'm feeling certain conflicts inside -- I don't resort to emotional decisions. I rely on what my morals and my instincts tell me is right and wrong. Sometimes things work out for the better. Sometimes they don't. But whatever happens, I always know that my actions were based on decisions that were made by being true to myself; by being honest with myself.
Being honest and true to myself is very important to me.
What good are we as human beings if we cannot even be honest and true to ourselves? If we cannot even trust our own instinct or listen to our inner calling, what right do we have to exist?
There's only one person who's going to change your life for the better. There's only one person who is really going to make you happy. There's only one person who will make you free.
That person is you.
You cannot rely or depend on anyone but yourself. You have to trust yourself to handle any situation that gets thrown at you. You will handle it. You might make the wrong choices and you might fail miserably, but you'll handle it. And when you come out the other side, you will have learned something. You will have grown. You will have improved.
You have to be ready to accept failure. You have to accept that you don't know a damn thing.
The only way you're going to learn is by failing. Over and over and over. Accept that and suddenly you have no limits. Suddenly there is nothing stopping you from doing what you love. Suddenly the impossible seems doable. Suddenly life has more meaning. Suddenly you are the owner of your happiness.
Travel Update: Be sure to check out The Plan: 6 Months, 3 Countries, and $3,000.
My grandfather passed away in his sleep last Thursday at the age of seventy.
I clearly remember the very last time I saw him. It was three weeks prior to his passing. He shook my hand, as he always did, and asked how I was doing. I only saw him for a brief moment but now that moment is burned into my memory.
The days following his passing were noticeably, and understandably, tough on my mom, grandma, and my aunts and uncles. It was the first time I had seen many of my relatives cry. I was so impressed by my grandmothers strength. At one point, when she started crying into my shoulder, she held back and said "look at me, crying like a little child".
In life, choose happiness. Reserve your sadness for the afterlife.
A strange feeling arises every now and then when I realize he's gone. For that brief moment, it doesn't feel real. Everything, from the wake to the funeral, felt surreal. I couldn't help but contemplate how one day, myself and all the people present will meet the same fate. Life felt animated, a picturesque moment in a film without a known duration. Thirty years? Ten years? Five months? Three weeks? Six days? One hour?
My other grandfather, on my dad's side, died when I was about nine years old. I remember going to his wake and being surrounded by people in black suits towering over me, mourning for a reason I didn't understand and obviously feeling something I didn't feel. I really didn't know him that well and my only other memory of him is of when we visited him in the hospital.
You never know what moment may be the very last you'll see someone, so it's important to treat every moment as if it were your, or their, last. Living that way makes you appreciate every moment of life, regardless of the situation. When we take life for granted we forget who we really are and how much those we love mean to us.
Death gives us the ultimate reason to celebrate life.
A little over a week ago I wrote about how every single one of us will die one day and why that means we should all choose happiness and growth in life.
Almost every day I remind myself of this fact and each time I do I seem to appreciate life a little bit more. It reminds me that I have no reason to be unhappy; no reason to be angry; no reason to be frustrated; no reason to be unmotivated. It pushes me to take action and do the things I've always wanted to do. It reminds me to appreciate family, friends, and most of all, myself. It reminds me that, as my Uncle Dan always says, "your health is your wealth" and that all the money and fame in the world is pointless if I don't have my health.
"Your health is your wealth."
Take care of your health.
There are few things in life that are absolutely, one hundred percent, guaranteed. Death is one of those things. Take a moment to think about that. Every single one of us, no matter how smart, rich, or popular, every single one of us is going to die. The flesh and organic matter that is this body is guaranteed to one day cease to exist.
It's not just us either. Everything ends one day. Even this Earth will be gone, most likely consumed by the sun when it expands to a red giant billions of years from now. The entire universe, with all the planets, stars, and galaxies, will also be gone one day. And while it will probably happen a lot sooner, we can be certain that any memory of our existence will also gone when the universe goes.
The bottom line is this: You can be guaranteed that every single thing you see, think, do, or create, every single person you know or have heard of, every single place you’ve been or know about, will one day cease to exist.
So what does all this have to do with happiness? Well, if we can be assured that we’ll all die one day and that everything will eventually be gone, then it’s safe to assume that the only reason for existence is to experience life while it’s here.
So what’s life? Well, we know that death most often brings sadness and is associated with the ending of progression, so this would mean that life, being the polar opposite of death, should be associated with happiness and growth. I propose that choosing anything less than happiness and growth in our life is associating ourselves with death and thereby ignoring life.
This should give no one any reason to accept anything in life that constrains their own happiness or growth (whether mental, physical, or spiritual) or enables the constraint of others’ happiness or growth. To do either of these is to disregard, neglect, and eschew life itself.
Life is our chance. It’s our small window of opportunity. Our situations may vary and our circumstances may differ, but we all have the ability to make a conscious, day-to-day decision to strive for happiness over sadness; for growth over stagnation; for life over death.
Choose happiness. When something upsets you — the car in front of you cuts you off; you feel yourself getting agitated; someone is rude or unpleasant towards you; things just don’t seem to be going your way — make a conscious decision to let it go and choose happiness. Don't let your circumstances become an excuse not to be happy. You're alive right now. That's the only reason you need to be happy.
Choose growth. Do you feel as though you're a better version of yourself today than you were yesterday? If you don’t, then it's time to make a conscious decision to do something to improve yourself every single day. Stop watching so much TV. Stop oversleeping. Do something every day to improve your health (both mental and physical!). Small changes over a long period always equate to a greater overall change. As long as you're living, you should be growing. Stagnation is for death.
It’s your life! What will you do with it?