A lot of us get stuck in cycles of wondering if what we're doing with our lives is what we're "meant to be doing" with our lives. I know I do.
Lists upon lists upon lists of ideas. So many lists - maybe that's my purpose...chief list maker, guardian of the listiverse.
The truth is, you don't find purpose, you create purpose. By doing things. By being interested. By getting really good. Through practice.
Unfortunately, most of us get trapped on the income treadmill. Not in an empty corporate greed, making money with the aim to make more money, to then make more money kind of way. But instead in a costs are rising, wages are reducing, how am I going to survive kind of way.
That lingering, heart-raising, economic anxiety.
Some others are a little more fortunate, prospering in the workplace. Getting raises to get more raises to get more raises. Replacing Fords with Ferrari's and Jeeps with Jaguars and so on. Adjusting to their means and so still not escaping the income treadmill.
And all of that is great if you're doing what you love to do but if its not, when are you going to do what you love to do? As Alan Watts said, the upsetting thing is most of us do things we hate doing and raise a family and teach them to do the things they hate doing and so the cycle continues. When what you could do is practice the thing you love to do until you get so good at it that people will pay you for it (video here).
Of course, life is hard, and for most of us it's not so easy to just do the things we love to do. At the very least, we still have bills to pay and so jobs to maintain. In the meantime, however, there is nothing stopping us being interested in other things and to eventually get so good at them that we can make careers out of them.
Right now though, how do we increase our current situation happiness? There are two methods I know of, so read on.
The first is to practice Stoic thinking. You are in control of your thoughts and actions, that is all. Expanded, that is your emotions, judgement, creativity, attitude, perspective, decisions, desires and determination.
You hate your job? Instead be grateful that you have one and patient for the opportunity to develop further.
Your boss is an ass hole? Great, practice kindness and humility and use his attitude as a way to practice improving your own.
The work is below you? No, remove your ego. There is something to be learned from every situation we find ourselves in.
The work is tedious? Okay, use your creativity to expand or develop or improve it.
Remember, the situation you find yourself in is the situation you're in. So make the best of it, whilst planning and testing your next moves.
The second method is a principle called Inversion. Its a form of subtractive thinking. For example, businesses will sometimes have strategy meetings asking some form of "how can we be more successful?" This form of question is so open ended and full of variables that its difficult to give a coherent answer to. Instead, a better starting point is to invert, asking "what are the things that would cause us to fail?" Identify those points and create ways to mitigate them, and by extension the business becomes more successful.
Inversion then, is a great tool for dealing with happiness. How? We might have no idea what makes us "happy" in the present, so we have to do things to find out. However, after some thinking, we can sure as hell make a list of things that make us unhappy.
For example, some things that make me "unhappy":
Lack of mental stimulation
Lack of exercise
If I avoid these things then, I'm reducing the things that make me unhappy, and so therefore increasing my happiness. As Charlie Munger, famed partner of the legendary investor Warren Buffett says; "Tell me where I'm going to die, so I won't go there." Or as the Mafia say, "just focus on removing the pebble from your shoe."
Doing interesting projects. Practicing. Reaching Flow. Getting so good that you reach mastery. These are all things that help us achieve "happiness".
Right now, though, where you are is where you are. That might be in a shitty job, a stressful relationship, a four hour commute and so on.
Luckily, there are a couple of things we can do to decrease our unhappiness and so increase our happiness, whilst we work away at our interests.
The first is the practice of Stoicism. It's recognizing that the only things you control are your thoughts and actions. It's realizing that the situation you're in is the situation you're in and to make the most of it. It's practicing kindness when a boss is an ass hole, it's practicing humility when the work is of a lower level, it's practicing grace and poise in hostile environments. All of these things will help us cultivate ourselves to be better people.
The second is the principle of inversion, or subtractive thinking. Knowing what makes you happy is hard. Knowing what makes you unhappy is much easier. Like long commutes, or processed food, or lack of exercise. If you avoid the things that make you unhappy, you will by extension improve your happiness straight away.