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Finding the perspective to “the good life”

“If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap.
If you want happiness for a day, go fishing.
If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune.
If you want happiness for a lifetime, help someone else.”

– Chinese Proverb

When does the good life begin?  “Life is hard.” the old man woud say and surely he’d be right.  Many folks in this world are struggling – to get a job, to have food to eat, to raise their kids right.  I wonder,  “Why are they struggling and not me?”  There are four steps that I’ve uncovered to living the good life and they’re each worth remembering, because those happy days can slip away in the blink of an eye.  If you’re already happy, skip to step four.

I’m lucky that I was raised by parents, who sacrificed, so that I’d have more opportunities to bypass the constant struggle of life.  They sent me to good schools, they paid my martial arts dues, they gave me as much food as I needed.  Step one is getting, finding, or making an opportunity.  Some people create their own, some are handed theirs, but each of us inevitably needs a little help in the form or a proverbial lottery ticket.  Many people squander their opportunities.  They don’t see them for what they are or they don’t have the willpower to do the hard work to capitalize on their opportunity.

In martial arts I learned how to train for a fight properly and it was second nature to kill myself in preparation for those harrowing moments in the ring.  Step two is working so hard by practicing what you want to improve that it becomes a habit.  Recent studies that show that willpower drains a tremendous amount of glucose from your system to fuel the fire of forging a new habit.  Once working hard is a habit, it becomes easier.

Scenes of an MMA Fight
Scenes of an MMA Fight

It requires less energy, which is why I can roll through a hellacious MMA workout without passing out.  I apply the same principles I learned about consistent practice in martial arts to other areas of my life and you can do the same.  Think of a skill, at which you excel.  How did you develop that skill?  Apply the same magic that you used to develop that skill to any other area of your life that you want to improve and you will.  If you don’t think you’re good at anything, you’re wrong, but read this for more on this process.  This process will allow you to convert your opportunities into a successful life.

What about money?  Doesn’t money lead to happiness?  Yes…to a point.  Research shows that making about $75,000 per year is the sweet spot for being happy.  In general, you don’t get additional happiness by making more money above that line (unless you’re Ebeneezer Scrooge, but then you’re probably not very happy anyway).  $75,000 is an average.  If you’re the child of a Hollywood star, a rap mogul, or a NBA center, 75K might be a major step down in happiness.  Relativity matters.  For someone that grew up poor, 50K per year might yield a seemingly lavish lifestyle.  Step three is to understand what you  need financially to be content with life and develop the plan to get there.  Think long and hard about what’s important and the costs of living your happy life.  Sprinkle a little of step two into the equation for putting your plan together to land a career that will put you where you need to be financially.  This puts you far along the path towards “the good life”.

Depending on your current situation a lot of time may pass between step three and consistent happiness.  Embrace those moments in between that bring a smile to mind.  It’s really not money that brings happiness, although it does enable most of us to have the right perspective.  Step four is to savor happiness in its smallest forms by changing your perspective.

Comparing the whole universe to my corner of our world
Comparing the whole universe to my corner of our world

Some of my happiest moments are: cooking dinner for my wife, playing with my dog at night, looking up at the night sky, giving a random compliment to someone, and breathing fresh air while driving my car.  These don’t require a ton of money.  Think of how a monk lives focusing on each moment, living completely in the present moment and you can see that perspective means everything.  Many of our daily activities bypass us as we roam through our days on auto-pilot.  Take a moment to change your perspective, live completely in the present moment, and feel grateful for those ordinary events that are really quite extraordinary.  If you can master just that, you will be on the fast track to “the good life”.

“The man who makes everything that leads to happiness depends upon himself, and not upon other men, has adopted the very best plan for living happily. This is the man of moderation, the man of manly character and of wisdom.”

– Plato