Finding happiness in rough times


We can always find something to be unhappy about. It’s not hard. Or clever.

We can always point to circumstances or situations which are sub-optimal (or just downright shitty) and say “that’s why I’m not happy”.

But where does that get us?

How does it help (us or others)?

How does it make things better?

We can, and should, find what is good and amplify it.

We can, and should, find what is bad and mitigate it.

But there is very little value in tethering our happiness even to these noble projects. They’re still external and outside of our complete control.

To be happy, even in the dark times – we should work to improve our character – our own interface with the world.

Can we stay calm when things get hectic?

Can we stay humble and grateful when things go our way?

Can we stay brave when things get scary?

Can we keep moving forward – one step at a time?

Can we keep striving to make things better?

If we work on our character – our reactions and interactions with an imperfect, unfair and indifferent world – then we always have something worthwhile to work on.

Our progress and growth can always be a source of satisfaction and drive since they are within our complete control.

Then we always have a something to be happy about, even when things are rough.

Focus on what you can control

Remember when this was a joke?

I suspect that today is going to be a depressing and frustrating day for a lot of people.

In London where I live, there isn’t a lot of love or enthusiasm for Donald Trump, but we’re waking up to the news that he’s likely the next President.

It’s not a great situation, but, given the Brexit vote earlier this year, it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise either.

If we learned anything from Brexit – it should be that no amount of complaining, bitching or whinging is going to un-elect Donald Trump.

Our job now is to focus on what we can control.

If you think that Donald Trump is bad for this world, then focus on what you can do to make it better.

Think about all the things you really care about and make sure you’re working to develop and nurture them.

Find the things you can influence and work to improve the hell out of them.

Donald Trump might have reach, but you have boots on the ground, experience and you’ve got a head start – so get going.

If we all spend the day wallowing, it will be a long, frustrating day.

But it doesn’t have to be.

Start by making one thing better right now and you’ll already be ahead.

Outcomes and effort are not the same


We often conflate and confuse effort and outcomes – to our detriment.

An outcome is something we can work towards, but ultimately it’s not completely within our control. It’s at least partially determined by external factors: the market, the weather, the thoughts and opinions of others.

Our own effort – including it’s magnitude and direction – is within our control. And it’s only through the application of our own effort that we can pursue preferable outcomes.

Effort is the hammer, outcomes are the nail.

When we reflect on our actions at the end of the day, it’s tempting to review our performance based on outcomes. Did we achieve what we wanted? Did we get the preferred outcome? While these are helpful to be aware of, they should not be the measures of our success.

Effort is a much better yardstick for evaluation. Did we apply our effort in the wisest, most just and courageous manner? This is a much more constructive question, because it focuses on what we can control.

If we didn’t apply our effort correctly, it may have compromised the outcome, but it will rarely, if ever, have been the sole determining factor.

If we optimise our application of effort, the outcomes will take care of themselves.

Can you be happy in last place?

Mens 100m final by William Warby

In almost every, quantified activity, someone has to come last.

Someone has to be the slowest, the weakest, the lowest.

It’s the brutal result of us quantifying our performance and there is no way around it.

Even in the Olympic sprinting finals. Even if each finisher smashes the winning times from all the heats, someone comes in 8th place.

Dead last.

And coming last sucks.

Firstly, there’s the crushing feeling of failure which hits you immediately.

Then there’s the discomfort and pity you receive from the witnesses, both of which can be worse that the original experience.

When you come last, all the effort you sank into the project: the time, the money, the sacrifice, the focus – it all seems to have been in vain.

Because you came last.

But to be honest, all that is bullshit.

If you’re unhappy with last place, then you’re thinking about it the wrong way. If you’re tethering your happiness to elements outside of your control, you’ll be disappointed no matter the outcome.

All you can judge is what you can control. And to be clear, our sense of what we control in this world, is massively over-inflated.

You can’t control whether you beat someone else. You can’t control the outcome, only what you put in.

You can control your training, your outlook, your technique, your focus, your attitude and your commitment.

All the other factors: The weather, competitors, referee, market and environment. They’re all in the hands of other agents and those external factors are going to influence whether you win or lose, just as much as your own performance will.

If you have to judge yourself, then do it by criteria decoupled from those external factors. Focus on measurements of what you control. Your speed, your distance, your time, your effort, your rate of improvement, your personal best.

But even with that kind of outlook, even with all the training in the world, you’re still going to occasionally find yourself in last place.

And at that point, you need to remember:

Dead Last Finish is greater than Did Not Finish which trumps Did Not Start.