The Secret to Happiness Part Two

Hey, everyone. This is the final post in Season Two of The Jerx. Will there be a Season Three? We'll see. There are more details on the future of this site at the bottom of this post.

This is a follow-up to this post on the secret of living a happy life. 

I'll repeat the two caveats that I started the previous post with.

1. I'm not trying to explain a mindset that I adopted, I'm trying to explain (via analogy) a mindset that I'm fortunate to have been born with. That's not something I take any pride in, by the way. I realize it's just a quirk of some chemical imbalance that allows me to be naturally pretty joyful about life. Now, maybe the fact I didn't adopt this mindset means it's something that can't be adopted. Maybe what I have to say would be more valuable if I had struggled through depression. I don't know. I think there is still some insight to be gained even if I didn't have to work for it. Perhaps even more than if I had to work for it. If you're trying to lose weight, it's probably valuable to learn tips and techniques from someone who has lost weight themselves. But if you could find a way to relate to the mindset of someone who was naturally thin and healthy, that might be even more beneficial.

2. Happiness is strange in the sense that it's something everyone strives for, but when you're genuinely happy, the reaction you often get from other people is, "Haha, look at this idiot. He's not living his life in a constant state of agitation and self-doubt!" So be prepared for that reaction when you embrace happiness. 

My first post on the Secret to Happiness  dealt with the mindset I use when handling difficulty, adversity, and obstacles. Honestly, I think that's the most important element to happiness. However, there is another aspect to happiness that is less about the defensive game of how to handle difficulty and more about the offensive game of pursuing goals and objectives.

In regards to that area of life I suggest you:

Treat Your Life Like a Heist Movie

There are three elements here that I think are important.

1. Heist movies involve an audacious goal.
2. Heist movies involve meticulous planning.
3. In Heist movies, obstacles are plot points.

Audacious Goals

The best heist movies have the criminals pursuing a goal that seems almost impossible. What I'm suggesting is that you pick one ludicrously ambitious goal that is technically possible but wildly unlikely, and then dedicate yourself to achieving that goal. (I don't mean you have to dedicate all your free time to it. I mean it's something you work towards consistently, a little each day.)

Here are some examples of audacious goals:

"I'm going to write a book." No. That's too realistic. Any idiot can write a book. I've written two.
"I'm going to write a book that will stay at the top of the New York Times Bestseller list for a year." That's more like it.

No: "I'm going to open a restaurant."
Yes: "I'm going to open a restaurant that will eventually be named the best restaurant in the world."

No: "I'm going to get in better shape."
Yes: "I'm going to play in the NBA."

No: "I'm going to get married and have kids."
Yes: "I'm going to start a family that is so close and loving that one day a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie will be made about how great we are."

You'll notice that each realistic goal is a part of the ludicrous goal. I'm not suggesting you change the direction of your goals. Just amplify them.

But how does having a goal you'll likely never achieve lead to happiness?

Well, I think humans are happiest when they are pursuing some sort of goal that is in alignment with their interests. And I think genuinely pursuing a goal leads to more stable, long-term happiness than even achieving goals does. 

If your goal is to win the Super Bowl and then you do, you probably have a spike of happiness that fades over time. If you don't come up with some new goal to replace that, then your happiness is tied to your achievement and that's in the rearview mirror.

The pursuit of a goal is always pushing you forward. That momentum is a key to happiness. The happiest people I know are looking ahead with hope and anticipation. 

Okay, but why make the goals unachievable? Why not set a realistic goal, meet it. Set another one, meet it. And so on?

I don't see a benefit to that. It certainly wouldn't be a very interesting heist movie to watch someone steal $20 over and over. This isn't about the satisfaction that comes with accomplishing something. It's about the happiness that comes in working towards something. 

You're not locked into this one unrealistic goal. If your interests or priorities change, you can change the goal at any point in time. 

If your goal is realistic and you achieve it, but it's not the way you imagined it to be, then achieving your goal can actually feel like a negative thing. "I wanted to write a novel, and I wrote one, and it sucks, and now I'm miserable." And maybe you never write one again. But if your goal is to write the #1 New York Times Bestseller, and you write a shitty novel, that's okay. This is just one step along the way to writing that bestseller. Like in a heist movie, this was a dry run. If your goal was to write a novel and you write a bad one, that may feel like a failure. But if your goal is to write a bestseller then this is a big goal with many steps to it. Writing a bad novel is one of those steps. It's part of the learning process. Maybe you need to write 20 bad novels first. Who knows. You make up the steps to this heist as you go along. And you can celebrate the completion of each step along the way and not be let down by the fact that it didn't turn out exactly as you had hoped because it's always just a step of a work in progress.

This may sound like horseshit to you, but I can say that I've received confirmation on this idea from a number of people who have achieved their "dream." For the past 10-15 years I've watched a bunch of my friends in the entertainment industry succeed at a goal they had set out for themselves. Whether that be getting on Saturday Night Live, becoming the lead on a sitcom, getting a comedy special on a major network, or making millions of dollars on youtube. And yet, I've had personal conversations with them and all of them have told me that the mid-2000s when they were grinding it out with their friends and constantly writing and working on new material and doing shows for a couple dozen people, those were the happiest times of their lives. 

When I tell these people I have a theory that achievement doesn't lead to happiness, and that it's the pursuit of a big goal that brings joy, there is almost a universal understanding and agreement on their part. They all get the idea that there is some sort of magic in pursuing a long-shot.

That's not to say you shouldn't take happiness from your achievements. You should wring all the happiness from everything. If I fold over an omelette cleanly I'm pretty pumped for a couple of days. What I'm saying is, linking your happiness to achieving some goal is probably not a good strategy.

Meticulous Planning

You have your audacious goal, now you break it down into as many steps as possible. Let's say your goal is to be the first person to win a Tony award for a magic show. What are the steps? The more steps, the better. This may be something you work on for the next 70 years. You need to work on your magic, your writing, your stagecraft. Maybe you take some online classes or night classes somewhere. You need to see more theater shows and meet people involved in the theater. You need to write a show that you put up in a local theater, then you take it to a bigger city, then eventually NYC. Once you're in NYC you'll start in a small theater, move to an off-Broadway show, then... finally... you get your Broadway show! But that one doesn't get the Tony. So now you start over again with a new show. And so on, and so on. Each of these steps has 100 sub-steps.

I said the happiest people I know have hope and anticipation for the future. Plans are a manifestation of hope and anticipation.

Make spreadsheets and fill notebooks with your plans. Allow them to be rambling and meandering. Maybe to get your Broadway show you'll have to seduce Neil Patrick Harris, so you take two years to get in the best shape of your life and then arrange it so you bump into him randomly at the Magic Castle and then you accidentally drop something and when you go to pick it up, your trousers split (along the seam you weakened) exposing your bare, beautifully toned buttocks. Ah... but he doesn't take the bait! So now you have to find another Broadway producer. But she's more into abs so you spend three months on those.

A lot of you, maybe most of you, are wondering what the hell I'm going on about. Why plan for a goal that's almost impossible to achieve? You're never going to win a Tony for a magic show so what is the point of putting in effort to try? Isn't that wasted effort?

No. Because you're not picking an arbitrary audacious goal. You're picking an audacious goal that's in line with your interests.

If your goal is to win a Tony for your magic show, then you are probably going to die having not achieved your goal. But perhaps because you pursued that unreasonable goal, you die having written three different theatrical magic shows that you put up in smaller theaters in other cities. And you have beautifully toned buttocks and rippling abs. In the pursuit of this audacious goal you will have a bunch of other achievements and accomplishments along the way. 

The goal is kind of meaningless. It's the MacGuffin. It just keeps the plot moving. The plot being your life. 

Obstacles Are Plot Points

In a heist movie, the alarm goes off and the SWAT team comes in and our heroes are dragged out of the building. This seems like the dissolution of their plan. 

But no! Those guys in the SWAT outfits are actually other members of the crew who are sneaking out our heroes right in front of everyone. 

When things go wrong in a heist movie it becomes an opportunity for the characters to outmaneuver the problem with cleverness. Or that thing that has gone wrong is actually part of the bigger plan. Or, it only looks like something has gone wrong because what you thought was the plan was actually cover for an even bigger and crazier plan. 

You're writing this movie, so you can see the obstacles you encounter as any one of these things. But you shouldn't bemoan them because the movie would be meaningless without them. The obstacles are what give you a chance to show your cleverness or your resilience. That is what my first post on happiness was about.

Here's a heist movie no one would watch. This group decides to rob a bank. "Hey, no one is in the bank," the ringleader says. "Check this out, the vault is unlocked." Then they go in the vault, put the money in duffel bags and leave in their van. The obstacles are what makes this all interesting.


"But I don't want to be famous or write bestsellers." That's fine. Neither do I. You can have audacious goals about family, or making friends, or even living a life of leisure. 

"But I don't have time for pursuing such a goal. I have a job and a family." I'm not talking about putting hours into this goal every day. You can find 20-30 minutes somewhere in your day to do some work in an area of your interest with an eye towards a long-shot goal. And if it does take off in some way then yes, maybe you'll need to devote more time to it, but that's something you can choose to do or not. And that's a good problem to have.

"But if I pursue an unreachable goal I'm guaranteed to die unfulfilled." Well, what would be wrong with that? That means you get to come back as a ghost because you have unfinished business. And that's cool as shit. But no, I don't really think you'll die unfulfilled. (So if you want to come back as a ghost, you'll need to make sure they build a shopping mall on your burial ground or something.) Here's the thing, the goal is just a goof. It's a little adventure you're pursuing. And it's something you got into knowing the outcome was unlikely. And this isn't about fulfillment, it's about happiness. What I see in the people who seem the least happy is they don't have anything they're chasing, nothing they're planning for. They've either attained some reasonable goal, or given up on the unreasonable ones they had when they were younger. They're kind of muddling through their job and their relationship. On the flip-side, I don't know anyone who is really unhappy who is pursuing some big goal. So for your mental health, to keep you young at heart and happy, I recommend spending 30 minutes a day working on some audacious plan. And if that turns out to be an actual bank heist, I want my cut for inspiring you.

Season Three

In the next week or so, an email will go out to the supporters of Season Two of the Jerx to see if there's interest in another year. The email will include the details on the planned rewards and all that. If there's support for another year then I'll start up again in a few weeks. If not, then I won't. Simple!

Now, this is more of my bad business sense, but the reason I'm leaving it in the hands of the previous year's supporters and not making a public post here about it is because I feel like they're the ones who should have the say. If this site is still providing value for the people who have backed it for a year or more, then it's still worth doing for me. But if they didn't find it worth their investment, then it's probably not. 

If we end up doing another year, then there will be an opportunity for new people to support the site and get the rewards later in the year. But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

I'll update you on what's to come at the end of the month. Either way, you're the best. Thanks for reading. And have a dope 2018.