Find the Atoms of your Happiness

Small islands of success in a vast sea of failure (copyright by hrvojeah on flickr)

I meet a lot of people who know exactly what will make them happy and fight with determination to get it: Be an entreprenneur, work for google, conceive a child, earn a million, whatever it is. And that’s good, have a goal and go for it! Unfortunately, what often happens is that we define this one goal as being success and everything else becomes failure by definition. If you define “being an entreprenneur” as your mark of success, then being an employee is a sign of failure. If your eyes are on google, working for anyone else reeks of failure. If your single mission is to conceive, then adoption or being a favorite aunt would be a failure. By these limiting definitions of success we divide the world in a very small island of success and a big sea of possible failures, making failure (as we define it) the much more likely outcome.

But once you are caught up in this most passionate belief that you have to work for google or have a biological child, how do you get yourself out of it? Because saying: “Stop being so single minded!” is about as successful as telling a shy person: “Stop being so shy!”

I recommend that you break down your goal into smaller and smaller pieces until you find your atoms of happiness, the building blocks that you need to build a happy life. Look at your goal and ask yourself: Why will this make you happy? You will have to ask this question a number of times. Let me show you how this works:

Goal: I have to be an entreprenneur!

Why will this make me happy?

Because then I can devote my whole time to doing, spreading, teaching Net-Map.

But why will this make me happy?

Because I love the way Net-Map lets me understand the complex issues people are dealing with and come up with good solutions with them.

But why will this make me happy?

Because I feed on the magic moments when the temperature in the room changes and you feel like a door opened the other person’s mind and all of a sudden they see a solution to a complex, messy problem they have been struggling with for a long time.

But why will this make me happy?

Because it gives me a feeling of connection and being meaningful in other people’s lifes and having an impact and empowering others to better cope with their problems.

O.k., let’s stop here. You see how I move from a rather specific goal to a much broader and also more emotional exploration of what makes me tick. Now take this last statement and forget for a moment how you have gotten it. Just read it as it is: It makes me happy to have a feeling of connection and being meaningful in other people’s lifes and having an impact and empowering others to better cope with their problems. This is one of my atoms of happiness. To have a complete periodic table of my happiness, I would have to take other concrete goals I have and break them down the same way. Now if I want to take this as a building block and develop concrete goals out of it, I have to ask myself: So what are all the things I could do which will give me these feelings? I see that being an entreprenneur is one of them, but all of a sudden I am surrounded by all kinds of options for success.

From seeing the world as a sea of potential failure with a small island of potential success I moved to seeing a whole diverse landscape of success with the occasional ponds and pitfalls of potential failure. I’m not planning to stop being an entreprenneur any time soon. But being aware of the many different ways I can lead a happy life gives me the feeling of doing this by choice and not because this is the only possible way.

2 Responses

  1. Should one be very specific about his goals in order to advance in life? Why or why not?…

    I find that a lot of people with very concrete plans can get stuck in the plan even if it doesn’t fit their needs anymore, either because they changed, the world changed or the plan never actually made sense. To avoid that, it helps to understand your…

  2. I am confused about my aim in life. I’m doing my undergraduate in CSE. I’m not sure what I want to be or what I want to do. How can I select an aim or how can I be sure where I want to be?…

    Hi Ins, This is an interesting question. I think that there are two different things you can think about when choosing your career: 1. Subjects you are interested in and 2. Who you are and what ways of working agree with you. Very often – and because i…

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