The Secret to Happiness

April 16, 2019
James Whittaker

Check out this episode on the Win the Day Podcast

“Be happy with what you have while you pursue all that you want.”

Jim Rohn

I find human motivation to be a fascinating subject and have dedicated my life to understanding it. Along the way, I’ve seen how modelling and applying the habits of extraordinary achievers can propel ordinary people to enormous success, irrespective of what happened in their pasts.

Buddhist practitioners believe that life is suffering, and the source of that suffering is desire (i.e. craving that which we do not have). Yet, Napoleon Hill fans might recall that the first principle of Think and Grow Rich is … you guessed it … desire. Hill even wrote: “The starting point of all achievement is desire.” 

So where is one to turn?

An Interesting Conversation

A few years ago, I was having a vent to my Dad, who to this day I still call by his first name, Noel. During our conversation, I explained to him that I was annoyed because the results I felt I’d earned had not yet manifested.

via GIPHY

He listened calmly. Then, our exchange went a little something like this:

Noel: When you’re driving on the highway and you’re behind a slow car, how do you feel?

James: Frustrated. Pissed off.

Noel: Why?

James: Because I want to get in front of them.

Noel: Why do you want to get in front of them?

James: So I can get to my destination faster.

Noel: And what happens when you do get in front of them?

James: There’s one more car.

Noel: Yes. There’s one more car.

I opened my mouth to respond, but no words came out. Then it hit me, like I had been dunked in an ice bath: It doesn’t matter what race you’re in, there’s always one more car.

I’ll never forget that powerful lesson on the futility of impatience.

The Secret to Happiness

There’s a very big difference between:

a) Being satisfied from giving your best actions in the present, and
b) Attaching your happiness to an outcome.

Dale Carnegie once said, “We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon, instead of enjoying the roses blooming outside our windows today.” In the conversation with my Dad, he had reminded me that I had been too focused on chasing what was over the horizon rather than enjoying the journey.

Even when Napoleon Hill referenced ‘Desire’ in his achievement philosophy, he meant it in terms of stimulating action in the present. Hill believed that purposeful action was the surest way to become self-reliant, insulate ourselves from defeat, and realize our potential. Without action, our brain atrophies—like any muscle we don’t use. When that happens, we will eventually succumb to ill health, poverty, and misery.

True happiness is not just found in the present, it’s found by being present. It’s our duty to be the best we can be; however, our self-worth should never be contingent on an outcome, destination, or material possession. Enjoying the journey—come rain, hail, or shine—is what counts.

A Practical Example

Ben, 35 years old, earns a good salary at his law firm, but his dream is to make Partner. He gets into the office at 7am and returns home at 9pm. Due to time constraints, he eats whatever he can grab on the go, and rarely exercises. Ben’s wife and childhood sweetheart, Jess, stays at home to look after their two young kids. 

For years, Ben has told his wife to be patient because his promotion to Partner will eventually happen. He needs to be Partner, and she should want that for him too, because the moment it happens they will have everything they need and can finally live happily ever after.

In a meeting with his bosses, Ben is told that he needs to raise his billable hours to be considered, so he works even harder, neglecting his family even more. A few years later, Jess has become tired of her absentee husband, while her kids only have a surface-level relationship with their father. She communicates these frustrations to Ben, but he resents the judgement because he’s “doing it for them.” 

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Jess moves into her parents’ house, taking the kids with her. Ben makes Partner, but quickly realizes that there’s always more hours to bill, clients to gain, and work to do. He also discovers that by attaching his happiness to the outcome, he missed the incredible things he already had in his life and lamented that he never enjoyed the journey. Ben realized the hard way that he’d confused his needs with his wants.

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Regardless of what we’re pursuing, whether it’s romance, cash, fitness, jewelry, waterfront mansion, or any other destination, those who spend all their time trying to pass the car in front will never be satisfied.

Instead, eradicate phrases like “I’ll be happy when…” and “I’ll be happy if…” from your vocabulary.

Be clear on what success looks like to you, but remember to give yourself everything you’ve got in the present moment. As Coach John Wooden said:

“Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”

That’s how we win the day, and that’s what makes the journey so fun.

Onwards and upwards always,
James W.

PS – In case you missed it, ‘The Rob Dyrdek Story: From Skateboarder to Business Mogul.’


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