I was a miserable child-the very essence of the intellectual social misfit. I was constantly depressed; there was rarely a day or even an hour when I didn’t think about killing myself, and there were a few times when I tried (and failed, thankfully!) And to be perfectly honest, I thought this was completely normal-whenever I got to know someone, I would find that deep down inside they carried their own sadness.
But at the age of 14 I made the most important decision of my life. I decided that happiness was possible, and that I could somehow use my talents to become happy. I didn’t know how, nor did I have a clear sense of what happiness would look like. I just knew there had to be more to life than going to bed and praying I wouldn’t wake up.
For 10 years I’ve been obsessing over happiness. I’ve read mountains of books on psychology and neuroscience. I dove into spirituality, self-hypnosis, and magick. I learned all about diet, nutrition, and exercise. I found a job I love and “followed my passion.” I learned to be social and open up to the world. I tried all sorts of adventures and annihilated my comfort zone-all for the sake of happiness.
If this were a sales pitch, I would tell you that nothing worked except product X. Well, that’s not true. My journey toward happiness has been steady, incremental progress. The depressive thoughts went from hourly to daily and now I only spend a few hours per month in what I’d refer to as a negative emotional state. By my standards, the fact that I’m now happy about 95% of the time means my life is an overwhelming success! And I want to share the most important things that I’ve learned, in hopes that it’ll help others.
Perhaps the most important thing is that unhappiness comes from insecurity about our value as human beings. Especially for men, almost everything we do seems to be oriented around getting approval-at worst from society at large, at best from the people we respect. Validation and security are a huge part of everyone’s life. And conversely, any sort of rejection hurts because it makes us doubt our value-whether it’s getting rejected by the girl at the bar, or fired, or being laughed at. Even the most successful and capable people often feel like complete impostors [link: impostor syndrome]. We end up confused and terrified of the world, hiding ourselves and putting on a facade just to disguise the fact that deep down inside we don’t believe we’re valuable. It’s an awful, awful cycle.
The happiest people I know are those who have somehow won the validation game and overcome their insecurities. If you truly like yourself and believe you’re a valuable human being, it’s almost impossible not to be happy. The monkeys in your head just shut up entirely.
So how do you get to this state? As I mentioned above, I haven’t found a one-shot cure, but here are things that have really helped me:
- Recognize that all human beings are valuable. We are all broken, and we are all perfect. If you find yourself tearing somebody else down or mocking them, there’s probably something about *you* that you’re trying to hide. If you mock someone for failing, you’re probably insecure in yourself. Try your best to constantly feel loving and non-judgmental towards others, and you’ll find that your feelings towards yourself improve. Once you truly believe that the “losers” of the world are still valuable *as human beings*, you’ll feel a ton of positive value towards yourself.
- Find a group of friends who will always validate you when you ask. A core group of people who love you and think you’re awesome goes a long way towards building your self esteem. And don’t be afraid to say “I’m feeling down, I could use a hug and a positive word.” Not only are you helping yourself, you’re also helping them by giving them an opportunity to help others.
- Reenforce yourself every time you try, as opposed to every time you succeed. If you’re trying to learn to approach women, congratulate yourself every time you make an approach. If you’re learning to negotiate, congratulate yourself every time you start a negotiation. With practice you’ll base your self-esteem on your actions instead of the outside world. And your actions are completely in your control.