The First Step to Optimize Your Happiness

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The goal of every human being is to maximize the total life experience of something called happiness, or at least so. Every year there are thousands of books printed on the subject. To optimize happiness, it helps to understand what happiness is. Happiness is no more than a feeling you get when your body chemistry is producing pleasant thoughts and sensations in your mind. It is a by-product. It is achieved indirectly, by producing something beautiful or useful or by making someone else happy.

Anyone who has experienced happiness probably has the ability to be more happy than unhappy. All it takes is a little tweak in the body’s chemistry. It’s hard to fix everything that is wrong around us, and you can’t prevent negative influences from drifting into your head. But you can control your body’s chemistry through simple lifestyle changes. That in turn will turn your negative thoughts into positive and make the setbacks in your life feel less important. And I don’t mean by simply popping a pill or drinking alcohol.

For me, it is good to look at happiness in terms of timing because timing is easier to control than resources. The single biggest trick to optimize happiness is to take control of your schedule and be able to do what you want and when you want. The what can be as simple as eating, taking some time off, or even retiring. For example, you might be wanting to take a month off from work. But if the only time you’re allowed to take some time off is when your stress level is up through the roof, that time-off would make you feel anxious instead of happy. Knowing that it is only a temporary escape. However, a few days off when you’re stress level is low to moderate will contribute more to your happiness because it will instill your mind that work and rest is a balancing act. We cannot function only with one and without the other.

The other benefit from being able to take control of your schedule is that you have more time to do the things you like. Now, I know parents don’t understand what I’m talking about. They think that kids remove flexibility in their schedule, especially when their kids are young. Those parents might have all the “stuff” they could ask for but they have no flexibility to enjoy what or when they want. They become victims of mindlessness or distraction. In many ways, they feel that their lives are impoverished compared to those who have less. When I decided to work for myself, any day does not feel like work. I can work for as long or as short as I want. If I want to take the next day off, then I take the next day off. That simple. What I’ve done is transformed work into pleasure simply by having control of when I do it.

In your personal life and career, consider ways to increase flexibility in your schedule. I know I have to. When I'm starting a new project, it requires a lot of investment in time. But I know that the long term benefit will outweigh the initial overload. Realistically, some of you will still have to work long hours, watch the kids, and do what you’re responsible for. But do keep an eye out on how to maximize flexibility. It’s something you want to work toward. You all won’t become independent teachers, but you can certainly find a boss who values your productivity more than your attendance.

We all want to be happy. Millions equate happiness with money. But studies showed that once people are lifted out of poverty, their happiness is not dependent on income, but rather on love and meaningful work. We are happy when our aspirations are being fulfilled and when we are developing our capabilities or helping others develop theirs.