Fast Company magazine recently did an article (well, more of a blurb, really) on the four habits of the happiest people. The piece came from Michelle Wax of the American Happiness Project, one of those consulting firms that helps to make people more content and productive — which a year ago I would have accused to being Orwellian, but I think we’ve all learned the value of taking care of our personal mental health since then, and I, personally, remain vehemently opposed to hiding behind “inhibitors” and “suppressors” when the fact is, it’s okay to not be happy 100% of the time. Now, please don’t debate me or tell me your own personal struggles with depression and anxiety and how much medicating has helped you. I have been made well aware of these arguments, and this is my personal choice. It’s not that I’m some kind of anti-vaxxer or a science denier. I’m just an “anti-anti-depressanter(?)” who thinks pharmaceutical companies and psychologists care more about sustainable, repeat business than they do about curing people. That said, I was thinking about my own practical, yet simple, keys to happiness, which aren’t quite as fugacious as the ones listed there. Oh, and I’m not attacking something I don’t understand (like the way I just went after the word “fugacious”), I’ve read tons of self-help books, and I do all kinds of odd things to stay in touch with my “inner self” … or whatever you call it. Look, here’s proof!
Anyway, if anybody asked, which they didn’t, here my own four personal keys to happiness, along with some pseudo-scientific or at least imaginative reasoning behind them.
#1. Keep different music genre/playlist/station for every mood
So, you know, based on every hobby and side-project of mine, that music would enter into this. My theory, obviously not scientifically proven except by personal observation, is that many of you people are listening to music wrong. I cringe whenever somebody is in a negative mood, and stares at their music collection muttering something like, “What am I in the mood to hear…” This isn’t driving. You don’t turn into the skid. It’s sailing. You tack against the wind. Everyone has that “one song” that never fails to change your mood. Start collecting those onto playlists of similar mood and learn to program yourself.
I learned about this back in my college years, when, after getting mercilessly crushed by a girlfriend (on multiple occasions), I found that sitting in the dark and listening to the entire Black Sabbath catalog from start to finish a couple of times (granted only thirteen albums plus the two live ones at the time) usually got me through the worst of the pain and back out into the world. Of course, this was more because all I could think about was how sick I was of listening to nothing Black Sabbath after a day or so. These days, I find the tactic is, “What mood do I want to be in…” and choose the music appropriate to the desired outcome. Heartbreak? One glass of wine and about an hour of decent lounge music and I’m ready to at least go and at least window-shop again. Can’t concentrate on work? There’s a great station out of London called D&B Liquefied. Can’t stop thinking about work? Yacht rock singalong. Angry and don’t want to be? Chillwave and Synthpop. Angry and want to roll with it for a while? Oh, there are 67 different flavors of metal at Radio Caprise. You’ll find one to fit for tastes. Vague, undefinable, what I call “creeping malaise?” I hate this one, but I usually go with Soma FM’s Secret Agent channel as a neutral mood-resetter.
Okay, granted, music is extremely subjective, so your mileage may vary. Point being, I pride myself on being able to set and control anyone’s emotional state given enough time and a big enough playlist. It should be a career, but it isn’t … yet.
#2. Do all your worrying between 9:00 and 9:15AM
This one is a bit more practical, and I’ll admit to pulling it out of a book called “The Worry Trick*” a few years ago. I’ve tried to get many of my “worry prone” friends and relatives to read this book, but they all give up when they realize the author — and I, by proxy — have completely pegged them in the prolog. The idea is, you can spend the whole day stressing out over things in your life, running scenarios about all the additional awful things that can happen and how much worse your life could get. This is all a “feedback loop” and even rationally, were all the awful things you’re now anticipating were to happen did happen, your constant worrying about them didn’t affect them one way or the other, and only served to expend your valuable energy. Instead, the book suggests that when you start to worry about something, just decide you’re not going to worry about it, and instead write it down on a “worry list,” set aside a set time every day, usually ten or fifteen minutes, and run through everything on your list and give it all your energy during that time.
It sounds stupid, but it works, and I frequently anger my friends who refused to read the book, since they’re still try to get me to worry about things with them the rest of the day, because for some reason they feel like worry is some physical burden they can offload on me and make their own load lighter. Well, here’s the clue, you’re not halving your share of worry, you’re doubling it by copying-and-pasting it to someone else. Trust me, it takes practice, but this one is a life and sanity saver.
#3. Have at least one regularly scheduled social night, and one “me” night out per week
Hard and fast rule for eight years now. Wednesdays are a standing commitment with my friends — we hit the same two bars, see the same dozen people, drink the same quantities of the same beer, and pretty much have the same conversations … every week. This is my mandatory social time. In addition, Thursdays are completely up to me and based my mood. I may, occasionally, meet those friends again and repeat Wednesday night. I may meet another friend somewhere else. Usually, I just go to a quiet bar somewhere by myself, have a couple of drinks, and catch some live music or do some reading on my phone. Point being, this gives me at least two nights to look forward to, no matter what day of the week it is or however stressful my current situation might be. Of course, alcohol isn’t a requirement. Maybe you like coffee or pastries, I don’t know. The point is, get out of your house and into a happy place on a set schedule. I abhor routines and predictability, but these nights are essential to my well-being.
#4. Always keep a lottery ticket in your wallet
Yes, the lottery is a tax on people who don’t do math, and I was a statistician/analyst for over a decade, so I have actually calculted that there is a 99.99998932401704% (yep, look it up) certainty that I will never become an overnight millionaire. However, for $2 a week, I am allowed to have that .00001067598296% chance, rather than an absolute certainty. Plus, I get more than $2 worth of enjoyment planning which abandoned office-building on I-69 I’m going to buy to house my nightclub, music venue, cigar lounge, radio/recording studio, and luxurious penthouse apartments. Even better, every two months or so, I win my $2 back, and maybe once a year I’ll win $20 and pay for half a bar tab. It’s still cheaper than golf … or heroin.
However, more than a lottery ticket, it’s all about injecting randomness into your life so that there is always a chance of something unexpected, unprecedented, and cool happening at any moment. For example, living in Indianapolis, and having a birthday that is usually on race weekend, I am invariably hosting a cookout/birthday party at the same time several hundred celebrities are in town, so I always make sure to pick ten of them to invite. Now, to date, none have showed up, but if you tell your friends that you’ve invited David Letterman, January Jones, Matthew McConaughey, Kiefer Sutherland, and Ashley Judd to your house for burgers and ribs, they may be less hasty to say they’ll be somewhere else at the time.
So there you have it, my list of four keys to my own happiness. Feel free to leave your own in the comments below.
* Discolsure: Amazon requires me to say that I receive a couple of pennies if were to you buy the book through this link.