At 34, stuck somewhere between being young and being old, I believe I’ve discovered the secret to happiness. A brave thing, claiming “the secret” to anything, yet if one’s principles are based in empathy, morality, and a keen understanding of the human condition, it’s hard not to believe one has stumbled onto a rulebook for further action. Time and tide may paint me a fool, but I believe this is worth sharing:
Be ruthlessly consistent in the application of your principles, and joyously inconsistent in your choice of activity.
At the outset, give. If you want to create change, whether for yourself, others, or a combination, give. Take that thing you’re best able to do, and share it with the aim of allowing others to benefit from it before yourself.
Never attach a price tag to knowledge. Give away what you know freely, and do not hoard it like so many coins. You may run out of dollars, food, water, heartbeats, and sunshine, but knowledge is an infinitely renewable resource. If you run out, you can always get more.
Learn from experience, and do not make the same mistakes twice. This is not an idle admonition. Rather, apply it to love, business, friendship, cooking, health, and every other activity in your mortal coil. When you’ve screwed up, take stock. Know what happened and why, and place the locus of blame squarely on yourself. When you own the responsibility for the error, you also acquire the means to correct it.
Trust those who show you love and friendship, even if love and friendship have hurt you before. You may have good reason to be jaded, to have a hard heart, but understand that in every relationship where you did not receive what you felt you deserved, there was another person who felt the exact same way. Resolve to give others what they need, and love and friendship can never harm you again.
Never assume malice when ignorance will do. Others are not out to get you, even if they do something immediately and obviously against your interests, looking you square in the eye. They are merely maximizing their own happiness, fulfilling their own needs, a natural process that necessarily leaves you in second place. They do not understand your inner thoughts, the thousand permutations that they’ve set into motion, the volume of pain they’ve caused. Know that they are ignorant to your complexity and suffering, and forgive the appearance of malice.
Work for what you believe in. While this sounds like dull inspiration, a platitude forever ruined by a faceless battalion of high school guidance counselors, it is the most important principle of all, an action statement you should tattoo on your chest. When you find something that resonates with you, pursue it with all your heart. You will always know what is wrong with the thing you believe in and what might be done to fix it.
In knowing, you acquire the duty to act. This begets purpose; the great-grandfather of happiness, the reason men and women will pursue a vocation faithfully and without pause until the end of their days. Work for what you believe in.
There are more principles, permutations on these ideas, nuances learned, but these comprise the bulk. I apply them every day; to Again Faster, to DBWOD, to the AF Project, to my lover and my friends. When I apply them without fail, they always seem to work.
I am not young, and I am not old, yet someday I will be, an old man looking back. I believe carrying these principles with me will result in a wonderful life, full of purpose and happiness and love.
Accept my principles, reject them, or devise your own. Regardless, be ruthless in application and varied in activity. Yours will be a brighter world.