How I Got Happy (a Not-Quite-How-To Filled With Examples That May Not Work For You But They Worked For Me So Like Whatever)

Those who read this blog regularly (WHY? WHY DO YOU DO THIS TO YOURSELF?) know that, around this time last year, I was pretty miserable. I'm not going to cover it all here. What I will say is that, in the past year, I have found what I consider an entirely new life, and its one I'm extremely happy in. Not faux-happy. I'm not telling myself I'm happy so I won't focus on how miserable I am. I'm not practicing retail therapy, saying to myself "This particular purchase has caused my overall misery to subside temporarily! All I have to do now is string enough of these together over time and I'll always be happy!"

I'm happy. Genuinely happy. Here's how I got there:

1) I Cut the chaff. There were people in my life who did nothing for me, but expected everything from me. To hang on to these people was a desperation move. I told myself these were my friends. I saw my giving to them as a way of helping out a buddy.

But nothing (or, very little) came back my way.

So, I instituted a very simple, blunt policy: It works both ways. I still help those around me. I haven't turned into a bald-face asshole. I hold doors for strangers; I cover the change for people in the line at grocery stores who come up a little short. And the same goes for people in my life who consider themselves my friend. I do favors. I help out with moving something heavy, or loan a bit of cash, or build a website when they ask.


And then, I wait and I watch. What's the next communication (if any)? Thanks? Another request? A favor returned? If I'm shafted, I don't just flat out tell these people to go fuck themselves when they leave me high and dry, I simply cut off the favor pipeline. There's no discussion, no lofty conversation about ideals and payback and the true nature of friendship. There's simply a realization that friends don't treat friends that way, and if they're treating me that way, they're not a friend.

Being kind is not synonymous with being a door mat. I'm not sorry. I deserve better.

2) I go to bed. I'm getting actual sleep now. Not weeks of 2-3 hours a night, followed by a crash for a weekend. I sleep at least 6 hours a night now. At first, I felt like I was wasting SO MUCH TIME -- there was this block of 2-3 hours every single night just sitting there, and I'm not doing anything with them!

But then after about a month, I started feeling something I never felt before in the mornings: awake. I can actually function. I don't have to sit there like a zombie while the coffee brews. I still drink coffee (lots and lots and lots of coffee. And Red Bull), but it's not what wakes me up anymore. I can get right out of bed, let the dogs out, fix breakfast, and read the news without the dull film of DURRRRRRRR coating my brain. And for the past, oh, 10 months or so, I get more done between 6-9 AM than I used to in an 8 hour day -- and I'm not bragging, but if you consider exactly how much I do in my day between writing books, articles, ad campaigns, designing crap, running an art exhibit, travel and running a small business... Trust me, it's made an impact in more ways than one. It allowed me to actually follow through on the next thing:

3) I put shit away when it's time to put shit away. There's a time for work, a time for play, a time for family, a time for eating, a time for being with yourself -- and only yourself... And I had to realize when those times are and not let them interfere with other times. That's not to say I had to go put everything on a calendar. But for some things, that did help.

The major thing was to quit working when my wife got home, and carving out a dedicated 2 hour block each day for the gym (that's travel time included). Unless the project or job is an emergency -- like this Scott Pilgrim thing I did for Fark, where we got the go-ahead a week before launch and had 100+ hours to do in a little less than 40, or the roof caves in on my house, I don't let work interfere with my family time. And almost more importantly, I don't let family interfere with the work time. I play video games when and if I have time between those two things, which as it turns out, there usually is.

4) I read a book a week (at least). I buy some of them, and borrow others from friends or the library. But I read at least one book a week. Some fiction, mostly non-fiction how-to books. It puts me into a state of absorption. I take in new information, perspectives, and views, regardless of the subject matter. I get to see, just for that week, what someone else is thinking. I may disagree with it; I may not be able to view a fantasy world the way the author did, but I was there, at least for a bit. It's like a muscle; it lets the brain relax from being so contracted with thought. Blood gets to flow back in, and it gets to rest for more flexing later. And if you're wondering how I find the time: I read on the toilet and during travel. If you ever borrow a book from me, there's a good chance it was once in my bathroom and/or on an airplane. I practice good hygiene, so don't be too grossed out... Think to yourself how much stuff you touch right after you get out of the toilet. Same thing with those books, I just touch them while I'm there too.

5) I stopped reading Reddit and stopped watching CNN, MSNBC, The Daily Show, etc. I don't give a shit about other peoples' opinions on the news anymore. I now just read the actual news. Instead of letting someone broadcast to me what they think is important, I subscribe directly to sources (AP, Reuters, etc).

Leaving Reddit was by far the biggest boost to my overall happiness. There's no easy way to say it: Reddit is a hive-mind. Much more so than Fark could ever be, because Fark's stories are submitted by users but promoted by editors. Reddit is 100% groupthink. And that's fine, if you like it and are able to cope with it.

But I found that reading what the hive mind produces can't help but make me part of it, and that particular hive mind is, by and large, depressed, lonely and unhappy. Not stupid, not losers, not a waste of time... They're very smart. They're very productive (at least most of them are). They have fine jobs. But they're unhappy. I don't want to be unhappy. I'm not saying this is true for everyone, or even a majority of people. I'm saying it was true for me.

There came a point where I just couldn't read all the negative comments or thoughts (or even headlines) about the daily news, and all these AskReddit threads about people whose spouses cheated on them, or they're abused, or whatever. The same goes with cable news and The Daily Show. While entertaining, they ultimately are exposes on current events, and exposes can't help but be dissatisfied with the source material. E.G. They're unhappy.

Being around negativity affects you. Reading negativity affects you. Hearing negativity affects you. PERIOD. You are what you ingest -- not just nutritionally, but informationally as well. And I now ingest good, healthy stuff.

To be clear: I'm not just burying my head in the sand. I still read bad news. I still realize people have problems. I'm just not letting the wave of emotions generated by people to wash over me anymore.

6) I let go of the past. I know everyone says this is a key to happiness. But I also know that, like everyone else, I had no idea how to do this. I couldn't figure out how to just let it go, move on, and be happy... Because that shit MATTERS SO DAMN MUCH. You feel like, if you don't think about it, you don't care about it. And if you don't care about it, you're not a good person. So you allow yourself to dwell, either on the guilt or the pain or the reasons why whatever happened to you hurt you so bad.

The trick to letting go of the past is to realize that, those past few seconds where you thought about my whole tirade about Reddit, you weren't thinking about what troubles you. Did anything change? Did the world collapse? Did everyone in your workplace get fired? Did your spouse suddenly stop being an asshole, or suddenly forgive you for what you did, or any of that?

No. So if you let it go for just a few more seconds, not much else is going to change. Expand that to an hour or a day, and you'll find the same is true. Guilt and dwelling on pain and whatnot fixes nothing. It doesn't help. All it does is make you feel better about shit going South because it gives you at least a small sense of caring about it.

I figured out that I can still care without obsessing. I just do the right thing when it's time to do it. I apologize when I get the chance if I screwed up. I tell people they screwed up when the time comes for me to be able to do that. I change directions when a path becomes blocked instead of dwelling on why it became blocked.

7) I stopped feeling trapped by life. The only way to really illustrate how I came to this realization and changed my brain is to try to get into yours, so forgive me for putting this on you. But here goes:

Sitting here right now, you have choices. You can close this window. You can get up and go get a glass of water. You can keep going to the door. You can walk out of it and go to your car. You can drive... Well, anywhere. Sure, there's obligations... But obligations are YOUR DECISION. You decide what matters. And if your boss's approval (which you never seem to win) or your parents' approval (which, ultimately, comes with love and not with deed) or anyone else's approval of your actions matters to you, then fine. Those are your obligations.

But you have a choice. You can stop letting what they think of you affect what you do, and that's where it starts. First, you stop letting it affect your actions (but you still care). Then, you stop letting their guilt or disapproval get into your heart and mind and soul and you realize that, if they love you or like you, they'll support your decisions to do what makes you happy, because that's what people who love you want for you -- your happiness.

And if hopping in your car and driving to Chicago this weekend just to see what the pizza's like makes you happy, or just getting in your car for a drive, or just getting up for a glass of water, or just closing this window makes you happy... Do it.

That's what I did, because...

8) I realized I deserve to be happy. What did I do to deserve to be happy? Well, I was born. And a natural consequence of being born is death. And I realized that I'm going to die. It's inevitable.

So then, I realized I have a finite amount of time between right now and the last moment I'll be alive, and only I get to feel the feelings, think the thoughts and do the things that I'm going to feel, think and do, which means that I'm actually the only one I answer to for all of it.

So I might as well be happy.