Whiteboard Notes on Happiness
At Microsoft, a lot of great discussions happen at the whiteboard. Recently, I was discussing happiness with one of my colleagues. It was a bit of a brain dump on happiness with the goal of getting to a simple set of insights for designing and driving personal happiness. Jotting down some quick notes on happiness at the whiteboard, was both a way to quickly enumerate some cornerstone concepts and principles, as well as a way to connect some key happiness dots.
Here are my notes …
- Fulfillment vs. happiness. One of the most helpful insights about happiness is that there are two questions about happiness: 1) How happy are you? and 2) How happy are you with your life? It’s the short-term and the long-term view. The first question is about happiness in the moment. The second question is about fulfillment. While you may not feel happy in the moment, you can take steps towards a more fulfilling path for the long run.
- Happiness level. I remember the first time I saw somebody rate happiness on a scale of 1-10. I hadn’t thought about it as a scale of 1-10 before. It makes sense that people have different happiness levels. Some people are more melancholy, while others are more sunshine and rainbows. We can work against our own happiness if we hold ourselves to a happiness bar that doesn’t match who we are.
- Predicting Happiness. In Stumbling on Happiness, Daniel Gilbert teaches us that we aren’t very good at predicting our own happiness. In fact, we’re better off asking a friend about a job they have, or movies they’ve seen, or vacations they have taken. If they have similar values, chances are we will enjoy the same jobs, movies, and vacations.
- Mental Model. Your idea of what happiness looks like might be one way, but then what life really looks like, might be another way. For example, if you’re idea of happiness is based on having a pretty little house, with a white picket fence, but you’re reality is completely different, then your mental model of happiness can work against you. Create a new vision of happiness in your mind. Throw out the ideals you’ve learned from movies and stories, and adopt a mental model that better supports you.
- Crossed-Expectations. One of our biggest setbacks in life is crossed-expectations. We fully expect on thing, but get another. We get better at reducing cross-expectations by learning how to set our own expectations better, as well as seeing things as they are, not just as we think they should be.
- The When of happiness. One of the worst ways to define happiness is to have a series of “Whens” — “When this happens, I’ll be happy.” Pushing happiness out to the future, and hinging it on a condition, is not very effective. Instead, find a way to be happy as you go, and most importantly, find happiness in the now.
- Happiness as active. Happiness is a verb. It’s not static. Happily ever after is great for fairy tales, but not for real life. It’s not like you can build up so much happiness that it just lasts forever. Happiness is more of an active thing. There are ups and downs. If you treat it as something that’s more dynamic, then you can better embrace the challenges, and the opportunities.
- Frustration tolerance. In Feeling Good, Dr. Burns teaches us that a low frustration tolerance will block our happiness. Things go wrong. When we’re already late, of course there will be unusual traffic. When we really need that print out, of course the copier will eat it. One of the best ways to raise our happiness level is to raise our frustration tolerance.
- Me Centered Universe. Professor Srikumar Rao in his Personal Mastery Program teaches us that a lot of our problems come from a Me Centered Universe. We analyze the impact of everything that happens in terms of what it means to us. We can instead, align what we do to the bigger picture and the greater good. By shifting our focus, we can reduce our own pain and suffering.
- Rules. This is similar to our mental model, but it’s more fine-grained. We have a lot of rules around how things should be in order to be happy. When we project our rules on how other people should be, or how life should go, we can set ourselves up for disappointment. while some of our rules may serve us very well on our happiness path, others can very much work against us. When you aren’t happy with a situation or with somebody, is it your rules? One way to get over this hump is to ask, if this situation never were to change, what’s the one quality I would need to truly be happy?
- Wins vs. Losses. It’s easy to keep a score that works against our own happiness. We get taught to focus on how many we got wrong, not how many we got right. I tried to balance this out in my Friday Reflection pattern, by asking, “What are three things going well?” and “What are three things to improve?”
- Drive from happiness. One way to increase your happiness is simply to do more of what makes you happy. The trick is to know what actually makes you happy. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of doing what makes other people happy, at the expense of not knowing your own happiness factors. Treat happiness as a choice, and decide to be happy, then drive from that.
- Own it. One of the most effective ways to drive your happiness is to own it. Own your own happiness. Don’t be a victim and don’t make happiness outside of your control. Drive your happiness from the inside out.
While it is a bit of an eclectic collection of happiness ideas, I hope it can help you while you design and drive your own personal happiness and fulfillment in life.