Love What You Do, Do What You Love

Me in the tulip fields at the Tulip Festival in La Conner, WA (May, 2010)

Everyone wants to be happy. There is a ton of research out there examining what it takes to become happy. I’m even part of a social experiment right now (being run by Daniel Gilbert) to understand what makes people happy. The ironic thing is that Yogis have taught for thousands of years that happiness is already present, we just need to remove the obstacles that stand in our way of seeing it as so. It’s like picking up a rock and polishing it over and over, until you can finally see that it was a diamond all along. The sad thing is, if you look around any environment (particularly amongst middle and upper-class Americans) you’ll surely find a majority of people that are anxious and not feeling totally happy with their lot in life.

A supposed fix to the problem of unhappiness is to simply stop doing whatever you are doing that is not giving you joy, and to start doing something that is more pleasant. That is to say, stop doing what you MUST DO and start doing what you WANT TO DO. Across the blogosphere, there is an emergent tribe of writers that speak about living an unconventional lifestyle, one that abdicates the need for a normal job and embraces a lifestyle of working from anywhere you care to live, doing something you love. These blogs are gaining incredible traction at the moment. Tim Ferris, Chris Guillebeau, Tynan and many others have discussed this new approach to living a life that is in line with your passion.

The problem is that it isn’t the job, it isn’t the 60 hour work weeks, it isn’t the fact that need to do what you must do and no what you want to do that keeps you from being happy. The problem is that you don’t love what you do, whatever that thing is. No matter how boring or possibly dreadful that thing is.

When people ask me about my job, I am very quick to respond that my job at Microsoft is the best job ever. I work with ridiculously smart people. I work on things that will impact the lives of hundreds of millions of people for the better. I am well-compensated and the work environment is pleasant. When I explain to people how awesome my job is they look at me like I am a little crazy. Most people tend to drone on about how hard they work, how under-appreciated they are and how there must be something better to do out there. This includes other people I talk to from my company. It’s unfortunate. This is the exact type of mindset that keeps people from being happy. It’s like folks are trying to sabotage their own chances for success.

You can never expect to find true happiness doing something else until you can be happy doing what you are already doing.

You can never expect to find true happiness doing something else until you can be happy doing what you are already doing. I don’t care who you are or what you do. You could be a garbage-collector in Manhattan or an attorney in Hollywood. You could be a pro surfer living on the North Shore or a goat-herder in New Zeland. You can be a six-figure blogger or a kindergarten teacher at an inner-city school. If you can’t find some way to be at peace and be happy with your current state, then you can never find happiness in some new job or career. It’s a universal truth and something anyone looking to make a job change must come to grips with.

Without this mindset, when you get to whatever new situation you think will make you happy, you won’t find happiness, it will sink away, like a stone tossed into quicksand. In yoga we teach that everything needed to live a happy and fulfilling life is exactly inside of you at this very moment. If you think you are under-appreciated, over-worked and under-stimulated in your current job…if you think you are a victim and need to do something else. That is totally fine and in many cases an important step to take.

Everything needed to live a happy and fulfilling life is inside of you at this very moment.

However, you must first learn to love what you do at some level, and then you can embark on the path to do what you love. This is the empowering way to transform you career, but it is the way that most people avoid going. It can feel better to get others to empathize with you by droning on and on about how out of luck you are and how you aren’t appreciated. Instead, try finding all the great things about your current situation. Look hard for the things that are joyful and that you love about your current role. From there, you can stop being a victim and can plot a course for your future with power and direction. Not with pity and dread.

I saw Tim Westergren, founder of Pandora.com, at the Seattle Public Library. As a life-long musician he told he story of Pandora and how it was the result of his deep love of music and desire to help "the long tail" of artists connect with their fans. This mindset helped him see the business through near-bankruptcy and endless litigation to become the success it is today.

I’m serious when I say to find happiness in whatever you do, no matter what. I’ve spent plenty of time traveling to other countries, including developing countries. Wandering through small villages in South India or in Peru, I’ve been amazed at how happy and content people are – even with hardly any material possessions of material wealth. They find happiness in their own life, their family, their friends and other intangibles. Part of me also thinks that since people living in small villages are not surrounded by material goods and people “one-upping” each other with bigger cars, houses and fancy clothes – that there can even be less temptation to think you got the short end of the stick and instead just be happy with what you have. Happiness is something you get to define for yourself, not something that others define for you. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

Happiness is something you get to define for yourself, not something that others define for you.

As a kid, I remember being ridiculously happy shoveling horse shit into raised beds and tilling the soil as we prepared for spring planting for our massive garden. I did this all the time. In the hot and humid weather in Northeast Pennsylvania. How can I have been that happy doing hard (and stinky!) manual labor as a young kid? It was just a mindset. Most kids have it, but we lose it as adults if we get caught up in the material world. As most of us are adults with comfortable lives (by comfortable I mean we shelter and clothing and aren’t going hungry) we have no good reason not to be happy with our current lot in life. This doesn’t mean that we can’t aspire for bigger and even better things. Of course we can and in fact, we must (thus the reason I call this blog “Set Higher Standards”). This mindset, however, must come on top of a sense of happiness for your current situation, not disgust. Otherwise you’ll continue to feel let down in your quest to find greener grass on the other side by looking outside of yourself, when what you have been seeking has been literally right under your nose all along.

Learn to love what you do, whatever that is. You will then find it much easier to find other things that you also love, and if a major life change is needed to better align yourself with those things, it will be easier for you to take those steps.

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Also, I’m getting ready for my second 50K ultra-marathon next weekend at The North Face Endurance 50K in San Francisco! One more long run tomorrow and then I get to relax for a week until showtime :).

Seeing The Cup As Half Full

Everything we do can either be seen in a positive manner or negative manner. There are obvious things that happen that people see as positive. Spending time with friends. Getting a big raise or kudos at work. Having fun doing a hobby you like. These are all totally obvious positive experiences. It’s easy to see the “cup as being half full” in these situations. In other situations, it is easy to see things as negative – that is to say – as the “cup being half empty.” Losing a job, losing a relationship, getting injured, etc.

What is striking to me is that seeing the cup as half full is a conscious choice regardless of the situation, and relative to each person. One person might be elated to get kudos for a job well-done at work in front of their employees, whereas another person might actually greatly dislike the public recognition and not feel comfortable with it (I’ve seen this happen before).

I was in yoga class yesterday and we spent a lot of time upside-down, doing handstands and other inversions. These poses can be terrifying for some people, but can also be incredibly fun and rewarding for those that are willing to give it a try (we were working with partners, so there was little risk of falling!). This was a recent example of how the same exact situation could be seen as a total bummer for some people and a totally uplifting and fun experience for others.

The trick is to realize that every situation is like this, and that we have a choice to interpret the situation as a great opportunity to learn, try something new, grow and maybe have some fun….or as an excuse to retreat into some story about how the world is out to get us or how things aren’t working out the way they should. The choice is ours every time. What choice do you tend to make?

Happiness is a Choice

It is a choice we make. Perhaps the single most important choice in our lives. It is not something that happens to us, or a situation we stumble upon.

Consider that people can be happy in all sorts of situations. Subsistence farmers in rural India can be happy despite having few material possessions. Billionaires can be happy while riding private jets. Children can be happy playing with the silliest of toys. I often find myself happy just by watching animals.

If happiness is not predicated upon a specific event or situation, then it must be something that is chosen, consciously or unconsciously.

As such, if the ultimate pursuit of life is happiness….then we can all get exactly what we are here to get. We just need to decide.