We all want to be happy.
So the following manifesto is my gift to you. It contains the 28 lessons/experiences I have learned over my lifetime that have become the code to attaining the success and happiness I have achieved in my life.
I could sell this book to you, make it available on Amazon, or make you provide personal details to get a free download of it. But no.
At this stage in my life, I want you to know what I’ve uncovered. Because this life is too short to waste time hunting for the answers.
This manifesto is what I know about success and happiness. I hope it sparks some ideas. Enjoy!
What people are saying:
STRATEGIES TO BE HAPPY
noun man·i·fes·to \ˌma-nə-ˈfes-(ˌ)tō\
A written statement declaring publicly the intentions, motives, or views of its issuer.
Chances are, you are stressed, overworked, overweight, unhealthy, stifled creatively, dread Sunday nights, hate your boss, count the minutes to the weekend, celebrate both hump day and Friyay, worry about money, and most importantly, don’t have the time for the things you really want to do. Or worse: you don’t know what things you really want to do.
Welcome to the club. We’ve all been there. But wow, what a miserable existence, right?
But it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, changing your life isn’t complicated. It just requires discipline and a choice.
Most of us never make the decision to do anything about it. We simply end up wandering down the path that others have chosen for us.
This manifesto is a short collection of simple ideas about how to change the way you think about your life.
There is not much physical activity here. This isn’t an exercise book. This book is mostly about changing mindset. And with the right mindset, we can achieve most anything we want to. We just have to choose to do so.
This collection doesn’t have to be read sequentially, although it won’t take you long to get through it. You can pick and choose what you want to read or when you need to read it.
Hopefully it serves as a little inspiration for you. The changes/activities/attitudes suggested in this book are classic cases of “It’s simple, but not easy.”
While the book is about personal discipline and making choices (your own), this is also about looking at life a little differently. And the time to start doing that?
A quick note about my Key Actions
At the close of some chapters, I will provide a simple KEY ACTION.
Now, don’t get freaked out. These “key actions” are different than books that provide all sorts of exercises, worksheets, action plans, checklists, templated planning guides, and all that kind of stuff.
I am not suggesting that, in most books, these aren’t useful tools and guides to provide to the reader. What I am saying is that most of us won’t lift a finger to do any of it.
So, rather, I will suggest a simple key action that you might consider taking. It will often be a simple task that will begin to move you in the right direction. Other times it will ask you to think on something important, really just to make you aware of something you might not otherwise be thinking about.
Again, like other books, you will choose to take these actions, or you won’t. But remember, the key to success and happiness is oftentimes simply making the right choice…
Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.
1. Life is a game.
If you read only one chapter in this book, read this one:
Life is a game. And you are either on the field playing the game, or you are sitting on the bench or watching from the stands.
For most of my life, I was sitting on the bench. When I decided to get into the game, everything changed, and my life became a “successful” one, a life that was suddenly satisfying.
Look, you may choose to sit on your ass and watch Netflix every night. That’s your choice. But my guess is if you are reading this manifesto, that kind of life doesn’t really suit you.
And understand this: playing the game isn’t easy. It requires work, discipline, blood, sweat, and tears. You will need to practice, you will need to develop strategy, you will play injured, and you’ll get hit hard by other players. And there is a risk that you might lose from time to time.
But you will also achieve wins and great performances!
In the end, when you are reflecting back on your life, you’ll relish the game that you played. You’ll treasure the fact that it was hard, and that you gave as good as you got.
You cannot be happy or successful sitting on the bench. So, choose to get into the game, for you will find that true happiness comes from being on the field, contributing.
KEY ACTION: Decide to do something (a hobby, a different job, new projects) that YOU want to do. And decide to stop “not” doing them because somebody else doesn’t think it’s a good idea.
2. Take care of yourself first.
You’ve no doubt heard this plea: When on a plane and in case of emergency, put YOUR own oxygen mask on first, before helping others.
Most initially react intensely that they would certainly take care of their child first, before they tended to their own mask.
But that’s pretty hard to do if you’ve already passed out.
No, helping others is important in life, of this there is no doubt. But you can’t do that if you are personally NOT in good shape.
I am kicking off this manifesto with this simple request: Please focus on YOU. Because no one else will.
Most of the lessons that follow in this book are appeals that ONLY YOU can do.
Most people in your life are burdened with their own demons, and they are certainly not lying awake at night thinking about how to help you solve YOUR problems.
You have to take charge of your own success and happiness. If you wait for others to step in to give you purpose, direction, instructions, and all the answers, you will suddenly be 70 years old and wondering where the hell your life went, full of regrets.
You have the power to determine your own success and happiness. IT IS NO ONE ELSE’S RESPONSIBILITY. It is entirely up to you.
This realization shouldn’t be frightening.
Rather, realizing that you alone have this power should be very, very exciting! And you can do something about it, right now. So…
KEY ACTION: Do something for you right now. Something ONLY for you.
3. Your problems aren’t unique.
Look, your problems aren’t unique. If you think you are the only one dealing with crazy problems, get over it.
Mankind has dealt with the same problems you are currently having for a long, long time. So, get over yourself, stop feeling sorry for yourself, and figure out what to do.
If mankind has survived all these eons with issues far more significant than yours, you can figure stuff out, and move on to doing your important work, and moving on with being happy.
What is it with us these days? We get so ate up with our importance and how “hard” things are for us. Good Lord, the stuff you are stressed about, complaining about, and paralyzed with fear about, ain’t nothing compared to what mankind has been facing most of our existence.
Heck, at this very moment, there are billions of people that would do ANYTHING to be in your shoes at this very moment.
So, pause for a moment, take a breath, and get over yourself. It’s time to make a simple plan, and get to work.
Yeah, I guess what I am saying is this: Your problems aren’t unique, and you can NO LONGER use them as excuses for NOT making the important choices you need to make.
4. Embrace change.
To be happy in life, you will have to embrace change. Frequently. And you have to accept this fact. For if you don’t, you will be miserable. And stuck.
If you think you can sneak through life without ever changing, you are in for a most unhappy, and frankly, boring life.
You’ll be treading water.
The world is changing. Constantly. It’s changed since you started reading this manifesto. You have to embrace this fact. In fact, to be happy and successful, you have to learn how to TREASURE this fact.
Change is the new normal. The only constant is constant change. This is a good thing. And when you learn to celebrate this, that’s when things become interesting. And exciting.
Yes, it’s the classic case of how something new is at first frightening and different, and then once you do it a few times, it becomes normal and easy. When the something new becomes easy and routine, this realization both exciting, comforting, and rewarding.
But then down the road, it all becomes routine. And then the cycle must begin again.
Think about the first day of school, or the first day of a new job. They are scary and different at first. But before long, they become routine. And then you get comfortable.
This is all good. But life is too short for routine. When you are feeling that way, it’s time to change…
KEY ACTION: Change something. Right now. Even if it how your office furniture is arranged. Trust me, even this simple small change will be invigorating!
“Happiness is where we find it, but very rarely where we seek it.” J. Petit Senn
5. Taking control of your life.
I did the regular job thing, where I had to be somewhere 9 to 5. And I hated it. I did the corporate work thing, where I was working to make someone else rich. And I hated it. And I did the business partner thing, where I was working to put money into two pockets. Ultimately, I hated that too.
Now, I work for myself. I am building my own thing, crafting my own company. I am not poor, but I am not a billionaire either.
But I consider myself very wealthy – why? Because I have complete control over my life. And over all my years, I’ve learned that is priceless.
If I want to spend time with my wife, I can do so. If I want to wrestle with my dogs whenever I want, I can do so. If I want to head out in the middle of the day for a long-distance run, I can do so. If I want to take a few days off to visit with family, I can do so.
I don’t have to get permission from anyone.
Nothing makes me happier than to have this kind of freedom. It is priceless. Sure, I may not have limitless financial liquidity, but I am a very rich man.
It took me a long time to learn that lesson. And it’s critically important to finding happiness.
6. Be excellent for thirty seconds: How to get into the zone.
Whatever task I am doing, such as cleaning dishes, walking the dog, writing, taking a shower, writing a check, recording audio for a client, I focus on doing the best I can possibly do for just thirty seconds at a time.
This includes the most intense FOCUS I can personally muster.
Part of doing something excellently is putting your full attention to it, not thinking about ANYTHING else. Pure focus. No multi-tasking.
You can do anything for thirty seconds. And that includes intense focus. Don’t worry about doing any task for SIXTY MINUTES straight. For me (and most), that’s impossible. I don’t have that kind of attention span. But I can do ANYTHING for thirty seconds.
Most of the time, I can do this for longer than thirty seconds. But thirty seconds is all I ask of myself.
And I don’t worry about taking a few seconds for a break after my thirty seconds are up. I can allow a random thought to come into my head, reach over to pet the dog, or grab a bit of coffee. In fact, this happens often. As soon as you realize your mind has wandered and you have lost concentration, reset yourself, and start another 30-second count. Don’t punish yourself for taking a little break. You’re human.
But then I dive right back in and focus on whatever task I am doing for thirty more seconds. I call this my “work meditation.” The key is total focus. Focus is hard with all of today’s noise and distractions.
But like I said, you can do anything for thirty seconds.
KEY ACTION: Go make a cup of coffee, or brush your teeth, or straighten up some items in a drawer. Really focus on the task. Perform it slowly, carefully, methodically. Don’t think about anything else. I think you’ll be surprised how nice it feels to give something total focus…
7. Focus on now.
For me, stress is the following: Agonizing over something that’s already happened, or consumed with worry about something that hasn’t yet happened.
So, what about now? Why don’t we never think about and focus on what’s happening right now? Life is so much different looking through the NOW lense.
Oh sure, you should learn your lessons from the past, and prepare well for future activities, but don’t wallow in either of them. To me, that’s the definition of misery.
When you are focused on the present, the world is an entirely different place.
When you are reading a book, focus on the book; don’t sit there distracted and worried that you should be doing something else. When you are walking through the city, look up; actually notice the people around you, notice the architecture of the buildings as you are walking by. Don’t just walk with your head down, staring into your phone, worried about some random task.
Everything looks different when you are engaged with the now, I promise.
And when you are facing that monumental TO DO list, we tend to panic and wonder how we will ever get any of it done. We agonize and worry, and in the end, we get NOTHING done.
Instead of focusing on the first task and simply getting it done.
Before we move on to the next chapter, a quick comment: A lot of people think they are focusing on the now, or in the present, or in the moment. Trust me, chances are you are not.
“Wherever you go, there you are,” goes some such famous, overused Zen quote. When you are focused on the now, you are happier, at least I find myself that way. You might think this is a real stretch, but how did Viktor Frankl get through his horrors? He had to focus on where he was and had to find meaning and purpose in the present, despite the tragedy around him.
You can do this too. You MUST do this too.
When you are in the current moment, even mundane tasks become interesting and often rewarding. This does take work and discipline, but anyone can do this.
KEY ACTION: Take a quick look outside. Notice the weather. Watch the trees waving in the wind. Observe what someone around you is doing. Take a nice deep breath. Just notice real things other than the two action items you are currently trying to multi-task…
8. Be active and move.
“We must keep moving. If you can’t fly, run; if you can’t run, walk; if you can’t walk, crawl, but by all means keep moving.” MLK Jr.
Ah, the proverbial 10,000 steps per day. It’s harder than it seems, but it’s not hard. You just have make a conscious choice to get up off your butt and be more active. Achieving your 10,000 steps doesn’t mean that you have to run a marathon every day.
But this really isn’t about hitting the goal of 10,000 steps a day. Life is just better when you are moving around and active.
You just feel better when you move.
Yes, it’s doing the usual things: taking the stairs instead, walking to the store rather than driving half a mile, using a standing desk, or conducting walking meetings instead of sitting in a boring, barren conference room. But it doesn’t matter to me how you get your steps in, just get them in!
Look, you don’t need me to tell you about the health benefits of being more active. They say that “sitting is the new smoking.” Our bodies weren’t designed and didn’t evolve over all these thousands of years to sit at a desk eight hours a day and lounge on a sofa at night. We are meant to move. We have been given a great physiological miracle designed to run, and we aren’t using it.
But let me share another benefit to moving and activity: Discovery!
My wife and I recently moved to Chicago, and we walk everywhere. We have to, actually, since we sold both of our cars. We live downtown, so we certainly don’t need vehicles, but we now walk almost everywhere.
The most unexpected gift from this new lifestyle is finding new things. You see things when walking that you would never see driving a car. You notice people, you stumble upon surprising little boutique shops, you notice architecture, all the little things that add a little spice to life. This fresh new look of the world around me has been invigorating!
The best news about this new discovery? It makes you more creative. It gives you ideas. It widens your perspective. Seeing new things, and seeing things in a different way, naturally results in increased creativity.
Increased movement also helps you with problem solving. We’ve all wrestled with problems we couldn’t solve, and got stuck on a project and couldn’t find a path forward.
But then, we shifted focus by taking a walk, ironing our shirts, getting into bed, taking a shower, or some other mindless task. And then VOILA! An idea presents itself and suddenly you’ve got a solution.
How does this work? Who knows (someone can explain it, but not me). But the point is, your mind sometimes just needs time to work the problem. It appears that taking your direct focus off the problem allows your mind to do its profound work of ideating.
For me, this scenario most often happens when I am walking, or being active in some way. And when it does, I have to step over on the sidewalk out of the way of foot traffic, pull out my phone, and tap out notes to myself about what my mind just uncovered.
So, to put it simply, get off your butt, move a bit, and you’ll be more creative and a better problem solver!
And yeah, healthier too!
KEY ACTION: Go for a walk right now. Ten minutes worth. And yes, I mean now. Put the book away for a few minutes.
The one thing most people can do to achieve more success in life is to read.
There is some horrible statistic that I wish I could officially cite, but it goes something like this: A majority of people never read ONE book following high school graduation.
This is tragic.
There is such a wealth of knowledge, information, learning, and inspiration that exists out there, but far too many people never partake. And, by the way, most of this information is FREE.
Another uncited statistic goes like this: If you read for just ten minutes per day, you are one of the most well-read people on the planet.
It still blows my mind how little most people read. A business book is considered a best-seller and a success if it sells 10,000 copies. Just 10,000 copies. Heck, there are 10 million people that live in metro Chicago alone. In all the world, 10,000 copies is considered a success?
Not enough people are reading.
For the record: I am probably speaking to the wrong person here. You. I suspect that if you are actually taking the time to have downloaded this manifesto and read it, you are probably a more active reader than most. But, and you know who you are, let this be an appeal to read even more!
Reading is everything to me. It is a source of knowledge, it is a source of relaxation, it inspires creativity, and makes me more interesting in conversation.
You have to make time to read. And when I am talking about reading, I am not talking about opening up the New York Times app and scanning a few headlines. I am talking about reading a legitimate book, a process that requires making time and utilizing discipline to work your way through the story, message, and theme.
And as far as I am concerned, I don’t care what genre you consume. I read modern (and classic) business books, classic literature, fun fiction, and the one thousand page deep-dive historical biographies.
And I don’t read one book at a time either. At any given moment, I am working my way through ten to fifteen books; some in print and some on the Kindle app on my iPhone.
And yes, it’s true: It is hard to find the time to read, but harnassing the discipline to do so is part of the process that actually is good for you (making time for something important).
I read on the plane, I read in bed before and after sleep, I read on the train, and I give myself short five-minute reading breaks during the work day, sort of as a little reward for getting through some difficult work.
The simple act of disciplined reading separates the successful and happy from those slogging through life in mediocrity.
For me, reading helps with creativity. And I am not just talking about learning something specific or generating an idea directly from the book that you are currently reading (but this obviously happens too).
No, for me, I get random ideas when I am reading. I don’t know how it happens, perhaps because my mind is focused on something else, but I will get random ideas in the middle of reading text. This forces me to mark my spot, and find a notebook to jot my idea down.
And here’s the really funny thing. The ideas often have nothing to do with the material I am presently consuming. In fact, when I am stuck on a problem, I will often put it aside to read for a few minutes. Amazing how sometimes a solution presents itself when I am reading about Churchill.
Reading is the single most important personal development strategy you have at your disposal. And you don’t need money (read: libraries) to do it. What you have to do is make and invest the time.
KEY ACTION: Just pick up a book and read. Even for ten minutes. Right now. I beg you.
You have too much stuff. Period.
You have too much junk filling closets, basements, garages, attics, and you spend too much money renting that storage unit, or units (you know who you are).
The weight of all of this stuff is a burden, I assure you. Removing unnecessary junk from your life is tremendously freeing. Words cannot describe the joy of eliminating miscellaneous stuff from your physical world.
The time and money you spend on junk is an unnecessary burden. I look at it as making an unforced error in my opinion.
Yes, by all means, keep the things that warm your heart and bring joyful happiness. But if you are honest with yourself, most of the physical stuff you own does not.
But this isn’t just about your physical stuff. You are carrying too much mental junk too.
You have too much on your mind. Too many people you are trying to please. Too many events and responsibilities you’ve said “yes” to.
You don’t have any time left for yourself, or to think ABOUT yourself.
This is one of the reasons you feel stress.
Removing the mental clutter enables you to focus on the present, to do what you truly want to do, and do it well.
Many of you ask, but HOW do I declutter? Simple. Do it the way I did it:
One thing at a time.
Seriously. When I started my decluttering process, I had a TON of stuff. It was overwhelming to think about getting rid of all of it over one long weekend. Physically impossible.
So, I just started to remove ONE THING PER DAY.
That’s it. One pair of socks. And old pair of golf shoes. Some Christmas ornaments I no longer used. One thing at a time.
I’ll say it again: Even “removing” just one thing feels freeing. And before long, you’ve actually made some progress.
And what to do about those cherished family heirlooms?
Simple. Get rid of them too. Mercilessly.
Chances are, the actual physical object isn’t what makes it special to you. It’s the memories and symbolism behind it that make it special.
Do what I do: Take a photo of the item and then save it to a designated folder (I use Dropbox). Then, whenever you are feeling nostalgic, open the folder and scroll through a bunch of cherished memories.
So much better than storing dozens of moldy, dusty moth-eaten boxes in the attic.
One of the benefits of decluttering is the newfound feeling of control you achieve when doing it. A lot of us are hurtling through life down a path we don’t really want to be on, and we feel like we have no control over anything.
Decluttering is one of those little secret strategies that begins to wrestle some control back into your life. And trust me, that’s very important!
KEY ACTION: Just get rid of one thing. In the next five minutes. I guarantee you will feel better immediately. Go.
11. How to get it all done.
First of all, you won’t get it all done. Ever. So get that out of your mind right now. You will never be caught up, you will never get done everything you think you need to get done.
Ok. Hard part is done, becoming aware and acknowledging of this key fact of life.
Honestly acknowledging this simple fact is the key to removing a lot of stress, and just making the passage of a typical day more enjoyable and bearable.
But when it comes to getting things done, here’s a typical pattern: If you are like me, you make a list of all the things you have to do in three basic categories: work tasks, personal tasks (like grocery shopping), and wishful stuff (like exercising, or yoga).
At the end of this list-making process, you’ve created a monster list of things to do that WILL NEVER GET DONE, at least not anytime soon.
When you dedicate time to tackling this list, you stare at it, panic, and have NO IDEA where to start. And you keep stressing on it.
What most people do here is tackle the easy things first, because it does feel good to remove a couple of items from the list.
But obviously, the hard (and probably most important) stuff remains on the list, and continues to get pushed to the next day, day after day.
You think about some of those tasks when you are lying awake at night, and your stomach sinks when you think of them all.
Here’s the simple strategy to get things done: One, identify ONE task (and prioritize) what needs to get done. Two, focus on nothing else until it is done (applying the “thirty-second” strategy). When you are working on the task, THINK OF NOTHING ELSE, especially the rest of your to do list.
Once you’ve completed the task, pick the next priority on the list, and repeat.
Two other assumptions to kill: Having a long To Do list isn’t a badge of honor. So get over that. This is a sign that you don’t have it all together.
And two, 99.9% of the people around you could care less if you aren’t getting it all done. They aren’t either. So stop worry what others are thinking.
And if someone tells you they got everything done? They are lying to you.
KEY ACTION: Pick one important task to do. Right now. And do it.
12. Slow things down.
Chances are, if you are stressed, you are simply moving too fast.
Most of us think we are required to move at a lightning pace through life, and that we always have to be engaged in something and working to get it done quickly. And we believe everyone around us expects us to be moving fast and accomplishing major things every single hour.
As you already know, it is hard to sustain that pace over time, and when you fail to do so, you feel stress. And disappointment.
What a shame.
Four words: Slow. The. Fruck. Down.
As it happens, you do not have to move at a lightning speed.
If your boss demands that you work at a furious speed? Get a new job.
If your friends and social contacts demand that you do EVERYTHING? Get new friends.
I am not suggesting that you move like a sloth. I am suggesting that you should actually slow down enough to enjoy your life. Slow down enough to actually enjoy your work. As it’s happening.
Too often, we are moving so damn fast, we fail to enjoy what we are actually doing, and we are probably too stressed thinking about the NEXT thing we are supposed to do, rather then enjoying what we are currently doing. And before we’ve even finished the current task at hand.
I’ve mentioned it elsewhere in this manifesto, but I implore you to do ONE THING AT A TIME. Because you are so rushed to get everything done, we often try to multitask. This is wrong, and a bad choice. You won’t enjoy any of it. And you won’t do ANY of it well.
(Hint: Read The One Thing by Gary Keller. This book will help you here.)
Slow down with everything: when you read, actually read the words on the page so that you can capture their meaning. When you eat, slow down and actually taste the food that you normally shovel into your mouth. When you work on a project, actually slow down and enjoy the work, and do not worry about the next task. (See thirty second strategy). When you are having a conversation with someone, actually listen to what they are saying verses thinking about what you will say next.
Life is short, true. But you want to at least enjoy what you are doing when you are actually doing it. To me, this is one of the critical cornerstones of happiness.
KEY ACTION: Just stop, right where you are, and do nothing for two minutes. Put this book down. Just relax. It’s a start…
13. Saying no.
We spend a majority of our time doing things we don’t want to do. Is this really how you want to spend your life?
When thinking about this problem, I am reminded of an entrepreneur named Derek Sivers. He talks about his “Hell Yeah” approach to life:
The problem, he says, is that we say YES to too many requests, when we really don’t want to. As a result, we end up doing too many things we don’t want to do, and this wastes our time, is stressful, and fills us with regret and bitterness.
He claims there should only be two answers given to any request: “Hell Yeah,” and “No.”
When someone asks you to do something, if your answer isn’t “Hell Yeah,” it should be “No.” By “Hell Yeah,” he means “Oh, that sounds really exciting and fun, I can’t wait to do this!”
Why would you agree to spend any time on a task, project, lunch, etc., that you don’t want to do? Life is too short to waste it doing things you’ll regret.
The next time someone asks you for your time on something, ask yourself that “Hell Yeah” question. If you groan and roll your eyes at the request, but you still say yes, just because you don’t want to hurt the person’s feelings, you are NOT in control of your life.
Look, I get what you are thinking here. There are times when you have to do something you don’t want to do, like go to the dry cleaners, or take your sick child to the doctor, or mow the yard. There are specific day-to-day things you have to do.
That’s not what we are talking about here. And you know this. You know the types of requests you are agreeing to that you don’t want to. Start applying the “Hell Yeah” method to your life.
You’ll be back in control and much, much happier!
KEY ACTION: Look at your calendar, follow-up and decline something you don’t really want to do. Right now. You don’t have any time to waste.
Downtime. You need it. Your life depends on it.
Chances are your friends, family, and business colleagues make you feel guilty for taking downtime. This is bunk. Don’t let them guilt you into thinking you have to be engaged in purposeful, “important” activity 24/7/365.
You need time to decompress. You need time to take time to get your mind off things. Two quick comments:
I am not suggesting that you embrace laziness. Don’t not do the important work.
And I am not talking about meditation here. Meditation is a skilled, disciplined practice, but it isn’t “downtime.”
Finally, downtime doesn’t include a serious (if fun) hobby, like training for a marathon, painting, or making music.
For me, especially as an introvert, I just need time dedicated to being away from creative thinking, being away from other people, and doing mindless stuff to just decompress and unwind. In our busy lives, we often don’t make the time to do this. But this is a critical to our mental (and physical) well being.
When I meditate, I am clearing my mind and letting it come to rest, and learning and listening to the deep recesses of my inner thoughts to truly see what bubbles up when I allow myself to listen and slow down.
When I seek downtime, I am truly turning off the machine and rebooting. As you know too well from technology, rebooting often makes the hiccups go away.
The key point is NOT to feel guilty about taking some downtime. This is for your own good, and the people and projects around you. Don’t ever apologize for this!
KEY ACTION: Pause and go read an article from one of your favorite magazines or blogs. I don’t care if you read from People magazine. Or binge on Netflix. Go ahead. Who cares. You need a little time for yourself. Do whatever you want. Unplug.
And don’t apologize for it.
15. Improved communication.
I often say that 99% of the world’s problems are the result of poor (or lack of) communication.
How does that great quote go? Something like the biggest mistake made with communication is the mistaken belief that it’s actually taken place?
I think communication is my biggest weakness.
In business, poor (or lack of) communication is why most people are unhappy with their work. They do not know what is going on, they do not understand the long-term vision of the organization, and they certainly rarely understand the true mission, purpose, and “why” of an organization.
Management typically does a lousy job communicating this to the organization. If you are in charge, you need to communicate on a very regular basis to your team, whether you run the company, a department, a division, or even a small team.
If you are member of an organization or team, you should seek to get these answers. It changes your work experience dramatically. And can motivate you to do better work.
At home, poor communication is a big problem too.
When my wife and I get into an argument, most likely it is the result of too little communication. When we are talking regularly about the important things, things are really great, and we are very happy.
It’s amazing how you can let this slip if you are not careful. This requires discipline to focus on your communication. And it’s very important to achieving happiness in ALL of your important relationships.
Here is what I’ve learned, both in business and home life: communicate more than you think you should. Every time. You’ll be informed if you are overdoing it. Trust me. And also, rarely does this occur. Trust me on this too…
KEY ACTION: Go strike up a conversation with your better half. And don’t ask what’s for dinner. Ask about something you know they care deeply about, where you want to seek a higher level of understanding. Then listen.
16. Move the needle on average.
Most of us try to do too much at once. And when we fail, as we usually will, we are frustrated, dejected, and oftentimes give the whole project up.
What a shame. Because we know doing it all at once generally isn’t sustainable.
As you already know, overnight successes often take YEARS.
The goal is to slowly move the needle on average.
As I wrote earlier, I am trying to move more, to be more active. And I track this automatically through an app on my iPhone. My daily average steps is just shy of 11,000 per day (for the past year). My goal is ultimately to achieve 15,000 steps per day.
Now, I cannot do all of this at once. I can’t just go out one day and walk or run 50,000 steps and achieve my goal in 24 hours.
Doesn’t work this way.
Shouldn’t work this way.
But instead, each day, move the average by making small steps. Just be certain that what you do moves the average in the direction you want to be heading.
Keep this up and you’ll get there, I promise. And faster than you think.
And with the right mindset, you’ll still be happy each day as you make your steady progress. Slowly, but steadily.
What you’ll find is that daily progress is ultimately more satisfying than a one-time dopamine hit for winning.
17. Do you love where you live?
As I write this, I am in my upper forties. And it wasn’t until just two years ago that I truly loved where I lived.
I am not necessarily talking about my actual house, although that is certainly important. In this case, I am talking about my city.
I’ve lived in a lot of places. And I certainly have fond memories from all of them. But until I lived in Chicago, I never realized how impactful it was to my happiness to be truly mesmerized by where one lives.
These days, I’m less interested in vacation travel, because I have SO MUCH I want to do here at home. Just last night, my wife and I started to plan a staycation.
When I am traveling on business, I cannot wait to get home. I cannot wait to land at my home airport, and I love to take the train back into downtown Chicago.
We live in a highrise on the 55th floor, and I am simply inspired to wake up each morning and stare out at the skyline laid out in front of me. And at night, I stare out across the nightscape. Honestly, it’s the fulfillment of a childhood dream.
And that doesn’t even include all the things to do: the museums, the festivals, the restaurants, the parks, etc. The list is endless.
I began to realize there was something to this when people started to comment about our love of Chicago by saying things like, “Wow, it’s so nice to see people truly loving their city!”
Wait, what? You don’t feel the same way about where you live?
Investigating further, I’ve learned many people don’t feel this way about their home city. Sure, they probably like it, but chances are they are there because of a job or family. Both of these are important obviously, but are they missing out on a chance for more happiness and satisfaction if they could spend their short years in a place that is truly magical to them?
It was at that moment I realized that for most of my life, I wasn’t truly happy with where I lived.
KEY ACTION: Ask yourself honestly: Are you happy where you live? I mean, “giddy to come home from travel” happy? If not, you need to think long and hard about this…
18. Do work that you love.
I live in a highrise in downtown Chicago, and every morning when I head down the elevator to walk the dog, I see dozens of people heading out to their job. I can’t tell if they are satisfied with their work or not, but they don’t look happy, and certainly don’t appear to be chomping at the bit to get their work day started.
For me, this appears to be a miserable existence. How can you possibly spend one-third of your life in a place you don’t want to be, doing work that doesn’t provide any satisfaction or meaning?
Look, I get it. We need money to pay the bills. But there is plenty of meaningful work out there. You just have to go find it (or create it). You are allowed to be happy doing work that also pays the bills.
I made a lot more money as a national political strategist. But I hated the work. I make less money now running my little media company, but I am driven, motivated, and inspired to hit it hard every morning.
Early in my life, I thought happiness would be achieved when others were impressed by me and my job. I was dead wrong.
Most people won’t leave a rotten job because they can’t possibly handle the (perceived) stigma of quitting, or being without a job. They worry what other people will think of them.
Others are willing to live paycheck to paycheck because they just cannot see a time when they’ll be far ahead enough of the financial curve to make a desired career change, so they remain in the same lousy job and unhappy. For most of their career.
They remain paralyzed with fear, and stay in a job or career that earns money, but isn’t fulfilling or rewarding.
There’s no simple way to do this: you are just going to have to decide to make it happen. It’s entirely on you. But like I said earlier in this book, you must acknowledge that this responsibility being entirely on you isn’t a reason to be frightened. Rather, that you have the power to affect this change all by yourself should be invigorating and exciting.
But no magical fairy is going to appear and make the change for you.
KEY TO HAPPINESS: Ask yourself, are you doing work you love? If not, acknowledging this is an important start. But you must make a change. You have no other choice. Quit your lousy job and find another, or get with management and make internal changes.
There is no other way.
19. Don’t overcomplicate achieving a goal.
I always tend to overcomplicate achieving a goal.
Since I’ve moved to Chicago, I’ve lost nineteen pounds. I want to lose eight more. This would get me to 188 pounds. Why this particular number? 188 pounds would represent losing FORTY pounds from my all-time heaviest weight.
So, like most, I’ve downloaded apps to track this weight loss, I’ve created charts, notebooks, tracking grids, all kinds of means to record down my daily weight, how much I’ve lost, and how much I’ve still to lose.
To what end?
All this activity is pointless. It wastes time. It makes me think I am actively doing the work to lose the weight.
But it is meaningless.
So, I’ve scrapped most of it. Gotten rid of all these tracking charts and apps meant to track my weight loss.
It is useless.
So, each morning, I get on the scale: If it doesn’t read 188, then I haven’t achieved the goal. I still have work to do. And I need to take steps that day to work towards it.
It is that simple.
Why spend all kinds of time tracking it through charts, tables, graphs, and apps? That activity isn’t helping me lose weight. The time I spend generating data isn’t my eating clean, healthy food, or running five miles out on the lake shore.
For me, I now set a simple goal: Get to 188 lbs. Generate three proposals today. Get the TO DO list below 10 items.
Instead of spending time “tracking” my progress (or lack there of), I spend it actually doing, working, achieving the actual goal. Not just talking about it…not just tracking it.
Most of us overcomplicate the achieving of goals with meaningless activity that is just another form of fear and procrastination.
Know the goal. Acknowledge to yourself where you stand towards accomplishing it, and just do the work to get there.
20. A design focus.
Do you focus on design?
Or do you let shit happen as it happens? Taking things as they come? Reacting, in other words…
Or, do you make the effort to design how you live your life? Are you designing your career? Or are you waiting for your boss to promote you and give you a raise…just hoping and praying?
I will admit that for most of my life, I had NO plan. I had NO direction. I didn’t think thirty days ahead, let alone one, five, or certainly ten years ahead.
I look back now at how my twenties and thirties played out, and it was completely random. I had no role in how ANY of it transpired.
Nothing I can do about it now, and I have to really work to not let that get me down. Would be easy to wallow in sadness and regret.
Can’t change it now.
But, I can begin to design things going forward.
My wife and I are truly beginning to think long and hard about how we will design our later years, our retirement years. We are making moves now to be sure we have the financial stability to live how and where we will want to live.
It’s actually kind of exciting, actually thinking about the future a bit, and having some influence over how it might come out.
And, obviously, I am putting much more time and thought into how I will execute my business and career going forward.
While I now know what I want to do, and where I will do it, one still has to design how things will unfold, yet remain flexible to handle the unexpected.
A big part of unhappiness and stress is NOT having any control over things. That’s why adding a design focus to your life can have such a dramatic effect.
ACTION IDEA: Stop for a minute, and just think about how you want your life to look five years from now. Once you have this vision, are you currently doing things to get you there?
21. Do people envy you?
Here’s the funny thing: You always want what someone else has. Have you ever noticed that? It’s been this way since childhood, which makes me realize many adults still act like children.
Perhaps you like your car. But when your neighbor gets a new one, you suddenly want what they have. Or you at least no longer like what you have.
Why do we do this to ourselves?
But a key to finding/understanding happiness in your life is the realization that people want what YOU have. They like your car. They want to live in your city. They want to decorate their house like you. When you upgrade your smart phone, they want to do the same.
Now, they’ll never admit this, obviously, but it’s true. So, take a chill, sit back and enjoy this realization, and know that what you have is pretty good.
The grass is rarely greener on the other side…
Happiness is enjoying what you have. You cannot be happy if you are always wanting something else. Think about it…
22. Take a snapshot.
Here is an exercise you should try right now, and one you can try to do at any given time, in any given situation:
Take a snapshot of the what’s happening around you, and then take a minute to review why things are awesome at that exact moment in time. And I’m not suggesting you actually take a photo with your smartphone, I’m talking about a mental snapshot.
This idea is similar to a gratitude exercise, where each day, one lists all the things they are grateful for. Over time, you realize you have a lot to be happy about.
I was flying in a plane when I originally had the idea to add this to my daily practice. Here’s the snapshot I took of my life at that moment:
I can’t believe I’m flying in a machine that will take me from Chicago to Orlando in only two hours. I am grateful that I could afford the airfare. I am optimistic that I will accomplish a lot on this trip I am taking. I am grateful that the flight attendant accepted my free drink coupon, and that the scotch actually tasted pretty good.
You get the idea.
Yeah, sometimes you’ll have to stretch and really work to find the good in a particular situation. But that’s worth doing, right? And I’m assuming you’ll be able to pull it off, if you are serious about it.
Here’s the payoff: We’ll learn to find the good, the joy, the positive, and the happiness in virtually any situation. Learning to find the positive in any situation is actually a very important skill to acquire.
23. Move through failure.
You will fail. Your art will not be appreciated. You will blow a deal. Someone might not like you. You will get a negative review on Amazon. Your girlfriend will dump you. Your child at some point will say they hate you. You will lose your job. Your company will go out of business. Your marriage might end.
You know what? So what.
So the hell what.
It’s. Gonna. Happen.
My life changed when I began to accept failure, or rather, began to understand that bad things WILL happen. Life became a lot easier when I made this critical mindset shift.
Yes, the old cliche is true: when you fail, pick yourself back up and learn your lessons from it. This is obvious. And very true.
But far too many people wallow in sadness at this failure instead of moving on. They use it almost as an excuse to not be happy or successful. As in, “well, since I failed, it’s just not going to happen for me…” As a result, they open a bag of cheese puffs and watch TV.
Failure will happen. Negative things will happen. There is NOTHING you can do about it.
Rather, accept it, learn some lessons from it, move it to the “past” folder, and then move on to the now and to the future. But whatever you do, don’t use it as an excuse for your inaction.
KEY ACTION: Thinking about a big failure of yours. Forgive yourself. Think about one key learning from the experience. Then…move the f_ck on!
24. Be ready for anything.
Shit will happen unexpectedly. You need to be ready for anything.
If you are prepared, this brings peace and tranquility whilst you are living your life. And I don’t have to tell you, but this is priceless.
In 2017, my father had a really bad fall, smacking his head really hard. He was never the same, and died three months later.
Naturally, this launched a chain of events that changed EVERYTHING for my family. The short, simple lesson: be ready for anything. Because you never know.
Dad did a lot of work to prepare the family for just such an occurrence, and that certainly made things easier. But even then, there were things we were left scrambling to deal with. And still dealing with one year later.
The good news is we have made a lot of changes/adjustments in OUR lives that are leaving us in very good position long-term. These lessons learned from my folks personal experience have certainly helped us. And it is a lovely feeling to make progress on this front.
Some of these moves are hard, and some are expensive. But…feeling prepared and secure does SO SO much towards delivering happiness and peace.
Here’s a final thought: This process (of being prepared) never ends. Life, health, government rules, legal processes…these things are always evolving. And your preparations must evolve with them. And do NOT be afraid to consult professionals to guide you through these complex issues.
Key Action: Think up some common life scenarios. Are you ready? Let me ask the obvious: Is your will prepared? And are the wills prepared for the people you will serve as caregiver to? If not, get to work.
25. Learn how to deal with fear.
The best antidote to fear is action. You can sit there all day long worrying about something, but when you finally start taking action towards it, have you ever noticed how the fear goes away?
You cannot deny this, for you know it to be true.
Just start, everything melts away when you get moving and lean into the task. Happens every time.
And then nine times out of ten you come to this realization: “Why was I so afraid in the first place? I don’t even recall what gave me such pause…”
At this point, I usually laugh at myself and smack my forehead. And then I make this promise to myself:
“I won’t ever do that again. When something is ahead of me and I feel fear, I will tread forward boldly and tackle it.”
Well, you know the rest of the story. We often go through the same cycle again and again.
True success begins to emerge when you finally learn not to let these little fears delay you. Oh, you will always feel that fear, but hopefully we learn to proceed forward in spite of it, and move forward by taking purposeful action.
There’s the popular quote that goes something like “courage is feeling fear, but doing it anyway.” I repeat, you will NEVER overcome fear. As my friend Bill Wooditch likes to say, you have to move through it.
Every famous person you know, every person who has made it big, and seemingly has it all, they all feel fear too, just like you and me. They also recognize that fear symbolizes that something important is about to happen (if you take action).
The difference is in how they handle it. Some see it as opportunity, and see it as the signal that this is the obstacle they must overcome to succeed. The obstacle is the way.
Others (most of us) become paralyzed, do nothing, and then watch TV and yearn for the successful life that those famous people have. What a shame.
You will always feel fear. You will not be fearless. So, feeling fear doesn’t make you a failure. What makes you a failure is to submit to defeat and inaction because of it.
KEY ACTION: Identify that one thing that you dread thinking about when lying awake at night in bed. Good. Now you’ve at least identified what you should tackle first thing tomorrow.
26. You need a big goal.
In calendar year 2017 (as I write this), I intend to compete in my first full marathon (26.2 miles).
As my wife says, “This will come to dominate your life.”
Good. That’s the whole point.
I need something big to strive for, some audacious goal for me to achieve. And I can’t wait.
And oh, there will be moments of despair and dejection, pain and suffering, and pleadings of “Why did I do this?”
Good. That’s the whole point.
That’s life. Life has its ups and downs. And we are meant to suffer through trials such as this. This is what strengthens us. This is where we learn what we are made of. This is where we learn we can do most anything, and where we learn that we can achieve what we set out to do.
Too many people never strive to attain some big goal like this. Deep down, they don’t really want to do the work.
For me, this isn’t about getting the medal. For me, looking back on it, I want to feel the pride and satisfaction that I did ALL the work that was required to achieve the goal.
That’s what I will truly be most proud of. Sure, it will be nice to say I am a marathoner, and add that distinction to my biography.
Achieving this big goal will earn respect. My own, and that of others. And don’t minimize the importance of gaining self-respect. It’s truly one of the keys towards having success and happiness.
KEY ACTION: Make a list of two or three things that would be considered a big goal. And no, losing 5 pounds doesn’t count, nor does binging on an entire season of House of Cards over one full weekend, with snacks.
Stretch on this. Really do something audacious and scary. Something that would fill you with pride for having done the work to make it happen.
Once you have your list, in my experience, one thing will stand out. Boom. There’s your goal. Now get to it…
27. Get a handle on your money.
You don’t need me to say it again. But I will:
Money doesn’t buy happiness. Most people who suddenly achieve wealth will honestly tell you it doesn’t make them happier.
You can now recall all of the stories about endless lottery winners…and how most of their stories ended unhappily.
No, life on your terms, doing the things you want to do, that’s what makes you happy.
You do have to manage the money you do have well.
I haven’t had any credit card debt since 2011. And I cannot tell you how tremendously freeing that is. Unless you have experienced this feeling, you have no idea how good it feels.
Simple rule: you don’t spend what you don’t have, although I don’t count your typical mortgage or car payments in this rule. But between you and me, I pay rent rather than own. I love having total control of where I live, and if I want to make a change, the process is far simpler than selling a home.
Keep up with your taxes too. If those are unsettled, that’s a tremendous source of stress and angst that you just don’t need.
Don’t make unforced financial errors.
Finally, over the past couple of years, my wife and I have really worked to build up our savings. Having that set aside and there when we need it is game changing. Because when a big expense jumps up and surprises you, it is truly amazing to have it covered.
A recent news report indicated that over 50% of Americans could NOT write a $500 check today if needed. This is sad. This is shocking. And quite certainly, the source of a lot of stress, unease, and unhappiness for all of those people.
Get a handle on your money. And once you do, maintain and stay ahead of it. This will change your life.
It did mine.
KEY ACTION: Go write a $25 check to help pay down your credit card. Right now. It’s a start.
28. But are you happy?
Before we close, just a quick question:
Are you happy?
You know, you might be. But are you aware of it?
Turns out, for me, happiness was always there. All I had to do was take it. All I had to do was choose that what I was doing and what I was involved in was making me happy.
But for nearly forty years of my life, I chose not to do that. I chose to always think that others had it better, or were more lucky, or looked down on what I had and what I was doing.
Why do “others” have so much power over us? Why do we give them that power?
Turns out, as I’ve hinted at earlier in this manifesto, the “others” don’t give a damn. They are too worried about their own lives, and what “the others” think of them.
No, you might be happy. You can decide that your life, your work, your friends, your home, and your family, is enough to make you happy. So, if that’s the case, then damn it, be happy. And don’t apologize to anyone for that.
If you conclude that you aren’t happy, then hopefully some of the thoughts and remembrances of mine in this manifesto make you realize that there are some simple mindset shifts you can make to turn it all around.
Either way, it’s your choice. Go make it.
The Close, New Definitions.
I said at the beginning of this book that to achieve success and happiness, you simply need discipline and a choice: You have to choose to live the life you want, and you are required to have discipline to do the things necessary to get there.
It’s that simple.
Understanding that you have a choice is happiness. Being disciplined to actually do it is success.
So, we’re at the end. You may be reading and thinking “Well Todd, I am not richer. And I am not CEO of some large company. So, how can I be possibly be successful and happy?”
If those are the questions you are asking, then you missed the entire point of this manifesto.
Happiness isn’t financial glory. Happiness isn’t titles and lands.
Happiness is doing what you want to do, spending time with the people you want to, doing the things you want to do. Please notice the key word here: DOING. Happiness is doing things that matter to you. That’s all.
(If doing what you want, with whom you want, and when you want yields wealth, well then fine.)
Success is sitting on your deathbed and not having any regrets.
And as you read this, most of us would have regrets as we pondered our demise, and it doesn’t have to be that way.
You do have a choice to live life on your terms. Most of us just don’t choose to do that. And that’s a shame. We let “others” define things for us.
Choose to live YOUR life. On YOUR terms. Not on what everyone else (society, culture, friends, family) expects.
If this book accomplishes one thing, it hopefully serves as the “RESET” button for your life, and gives you permission (and suggested mindsets) to define what your personal idea of success and happiness can be. All I’ve done here is share what I’ve come to realize those words mean to me.
I spent most of my life trying to live under someone else’s definitions. Everything changed when I changed and followed MY definitions.
You now have permission to do this as well. Get to it!