Happiness Is A Process, Not A Project


Why Do We Do Anything?

What motivates you to get out of bed each day and do your life’s work? In 1651, English philosopher Thomas Hobbes chalked up the motivation for all human activity to some combination of ‘passion’ and ‘aversion.’ That is to say, we move towards pleasure and away from pain. Think about what makes you happy at work. Now think about what would make you even happier? Is it a corner office? A bigger team? A salary increase? There are certain milestones which we hope will give us happiness once we reach them. Yet somehow most of us remain unhappy as we climb the career ladder; we’re working longer hours with greater intensity, while satisfaction is elusive. While we continue to invest more time and energy into our careers, we somehow remain disconnected from our work. And no matter how hard we push, recent research reveals that we’re forfeiting vacation time. We simply aren’t getting it right.

Reframe Happiness

Rashida Jones, in a series for Wired, suggests that the solution to this paradox is to reframe our definition of happiness altogether – we should view happiness as a process instead of as a project. The fundamental difference being that in a project, goals are about creating something new or about implementing a change – by design, a project is complete. Whereas in a process, the goal is to create value by repeatedly performing a task – by design, a process is endless:

“I try to remind myself that happiness is not the endgame. If your happiness depends on selling your company, snagging one perfect job, finishing the design for your perfect living room, you’ll never actually achieve it. And now that work and life have merged together, it’s doubly important to remember that you deserve to be happy all the time. Luckily, there are techniques and tools that can help you achieve this total world domination—or at least a smooth day at the office.”

By reframing happiness as a process, you can can achieve it every single day. You don’t have to sacrifice it today for some elusive, greater happiness later. But does this sacrifice of happiness mean lowering your standards? Does it mean that you’re settling? Mark Manson counters the popular narrative that people are becoming unhappier because we’re all narcissistic, entitled little snowflakes who want happiness all the time. In a piece titled Stop Trying To Be Happy, he echoes Jones’ suggestion that happiness should be a journey, not a destination – a journey including all the trials & tribulations:

“The failure to meet our own expectations is not antithetical to happiness, and I’d actually argue that the ability to fail and still appreciate the experience is actually a fundamental building block for happiness…The “lower expectations” argument falls victim to the same old mindset: that happiness is derived from without. The joy of life is not having a $100,000 salary. It’s working to reach a $100,000 salary, and then working for a $200,000 salary, and so on. So, I say raise your expectations. Elongate your process. Lay on your death bed with a to-do list a mile long and smile at the infinite opportunity granted to you. Create ridiculous standards for yourself and then savour the inevitable failure. Learn from it. Live it. Let the ground crack and rocks crumble around you because that’s how something amazing grows, through the cracks.”

Don’t Wait For The Unicorn

Investing disproportionately in happiness as a project leads to inevitable disappointment because our level of happiness won’t meet the our endlessly changing standards. Once we reach our destination, there’s more that we need in order to feel happy. And the cycle repeats itself. Why would we want to do that ourselves when we have tools & techniques at our disposal to make us happy in a much more sustainable way, today? Don’t wait for the corner office, the bigger team or the salary increase to make you happy. But don’t stop pursuing them either. All you’ve got to do is redistribute your stock of happiness. Invest disproportionately in things that will make you happy right now, and let the rest play out.


Are You the Second Rate Version of Someone Else? We need the best version of you

Friendly advice for my fellow 20-somethings: stop it with the obsessive comparisons. Seriously. This should be a time for you to learn, explore, wonder, create, play and grow. Not get tangled up in insecurities. So unless you develop blinders, become critical of the media (especially social media) and celebrate your victories, you will rapidly deplete your energy and creativity in the pursuit of second place.

“The key to success is comparing yourself to everyone, everyday. Then let that anxiety and fear propel you to work harder, faster, and with more motivation.” – Guy who had a nervous breakdown at 27 (via Paul Angone)

Consider this:

  • No matter how nice you were on the court, Nike would’ve never signed you to a 7-year, $90 million contract back in high school.
  • Jennifer Lawrence is gorgeous, hilarious and awesome. She also won an Oscar at 21.
  • At 27, Kevin Systrom made $400 million off his 40% stake in Instagram. At 27, you’ll still be paying off your student loans.
  • Jay Z accomplished more in his retirement than you’ll accomplish in your entire career.
  • It’s highly unlikely that you’ll win more championship rings than Bill Russel (11), or more gold medals than Michael Phelps (22).
  • You’re watching The Oprah Winfrey Show..on the Oprah Winfrey Network.
  • Your app/product idea sounds great, but it in all likelihood it won’t have a fraction of the cultural impact that the iPhone had. Sorry.
  • Will Smith will outwork you.
  • Eminem will out-rap you.
  • You can’t keep up. Charlie Sheen does more blow in 36 hours than you’ll do in your entire life.
  • Oh, the club paid you $700 to DJ last night? Cute. Tiesto shuffled through his iTunes and got paid $250,000.
  • Put that protein shake down; Arnold had the best proportions ever. He’s also a 7-time Mr. Olympia winner, blockbuster movie star and former Governor of California.
  • You could be the first Latino, trans-gendered, disabled and atheist war veteran on the GOP ticket, but let’s face it – you still won’t have as much hype as Obama in ’08.
  • Your company doesn’t have what it takes to offer SnapChat $3 billion in cash.

So you could spend the rest of your life trying to be the next version of LeBron James, Mark Zuckerberg, or Oprah. But you’ll never be the next version of them, because they already ARE the next version of themselves. And you? You’ll always be, in the words of Don Draper, “in the rearview.” Therefore, stop it with the obsessive comparisons. The world doesn’t need the second LeBron James, Mark Zuckerberg, Oprah, etc.

The world needs the first you.

“Always be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of someone else.” – Judy Garland


The End Credits of Your Life How do you want this episode to end?

While browsing through some of Songza’s quirky new playlists the other night, I wondered to myself,

If this day was a television episode in the story of your life, what song do you think should accompany its end credits?

I often joke with my co-founder following any triumphant business move that the end credits of that particular day should close out like they do in these two clips:

We all have a playlist of songs queued up to close out the episodes of our lives. Perhaps you’ve reached a new milestone in the gym; perhaps you got that job you thought you surely lost; perhaps you’re on the verge of a breakup; perhaps you’re still trying to figure your life out. Whatever season the “you show” is on, there’s no shortage of songs suited to reinforce its themes and underscore its story arcs.

Last season, my show took a minor melancholic twist: I broke up with a girlfriend and found myself simultaneously falling out with one of my boys. My end credits were being backed by self-loathing, synth-laden tracks like this and this.

No bueno.

I had to reevaluate the type of show I was trying to produce. I decided I was done producing boring melodramas and wanted to go back to producing an upbeat comedy/underdog story. A few tweaks later, my end credits are now thankfully being backed by songs like this and this.

It’s amazing how a dash of musical motivation can enhance the power of suggestion. If you’re not happy with the direction that your show is going in, shake it up; talk to your audience; re-write your script; fire troublesome cast members; hire a badass crew; change the filming location; do what gotta do. You are, ultimately, the producer.

Start production of each episode (the duration is up to you – is an episode of your life 1 day? 1 week? 1 month? 1 year?) by asking yourself:

How do I want the next episode of my life to end, and what song do I want accompanying its end credits?

Then do whatever it takes to get the song to play against an imaginary black title screen with the words “PRODUCED BY ME.”