HOW TO BE HAPPY WITH YOUR LIFE
Most of us dream making our passion project into our full time job, easier said than done right? This leap of faith is very frightening but at the same time immensely rewarding. Stephen Cassano is a men’s wardrobe consultant who did just that and he’s sharing his triumphs and difficulties with happiness as he turned a passion to his career.
As a new entrepreneur working at my own company full-time, many people have asked me, “How in the hell can you be this happy when you don’t make nearly as much money as you used to?” Over a year ago I left a high-paying job that allowed me to take extravagant trips around the world and buy plenty of things I didn’t need. I left the American dream to follow my dream, one I’ve had since 2014: running and owning my own business. My monthly income quickly became non existent and the worries of money hit me hard for the first time in my life. This caused stress and worry on a scale I had never experienced before. Even though this stress was strong and continues to be, I have found that I am happier now than I ever was in my “successful” career. I realized once I stopped leaning on money as my main marker of accomplishment, I was forced to find other things to derive happiness from, which in my experience has brought me far more joy than money ever had.
My most important realization after leaving the life-most-traveled was that focusing on what really matters like physical health, relationships, and community breeds a sense of wholeness and happiness that today’s society tries to sell you but can’t truly deliver. Through some mental and perspective changes I realized true happiness can only be found within.
THE BIG SHIFT
I wanted to share some of the basic shifts in mindset that have allowed me to be happier with far less resources than I previously had.
Trigger Dopamine Early
Everyone has their daily routine, we get up, shower (hopefully), eat, drink a caffeinated beverage and go off to work. While I too have a similar routine, it’s important to take some time in the morning to embrace an activity that will bring you happiness (even if it’s just for 5 minutes).
My morning happy begins with coffee. I love making, smelling, and of course, drinking it. Because of this, I have made a conscious choice to bypass a Keurig or a traditional coffee maker in the morning. I use a manual brewing process, like a V60 pour-over instead. This makes the activity more intentional and enjoyable because I am a large part of the process, hell, I am the process! This means when I get to drink that cup of black caffeinated gold, I know that I had a hand (literally) in making it taste the way it does. So within the first 30 minutes of my day, I feel like I've already done something for myself that brings me just a little hit of dopamine. Try to find what your caffeinated gold is and implement it each morning.
Diversity in Activities
Routines are great (and sometimes necessary) because they allow us to shed a lot of distractions out of our day. However, I found that a constant routine can generate a feeling of complacency which rarely attracts happiness. I’ve discovered by challenging myself to experience something new 1 -2x a week I find growth at a faster pace and discovering new things I enjoy in life. These changes in activities can be as simple as, “I’m going to switch up my coffee shop selection today” or “I’m walking a different way to the gym today.” Diversity is the spice of life, and sometimes you just need a little bit of a kick to make a dish really pop. So next time you take on a routine activity see how you can shake it up.
This one might take a couple of tries to implement. However, I found accepting people for who they are and what they do (as long as they aren’t hurting others) is a much more fulfilling way to go through life. Realizing you cannot change or control anyone but yourself will help save you wasted energy and frustrations.
Hedonic Treadmill Shift
The hedonic treadmill is a marketing and economics term for the feeling of always wanting more. This phenomenon is something almost all humans experience as it is in our nature to continue to upgrade or purchase the next best thing.
This created a challenge since my buying power drastically decreased over the past year. I quickly realized the state of always wanting more was going to be impossible to satisfy at my current crossroads.. So instead of giving into buying more material items, I’ve put emphasis on acquiring more intrinsically valuable things, like experiences, relationships, and most of all, knowledge. For example, I have been making an effort to replace the thought of “buying those awesome Taft boots” with learning something new, like how Taft boots are made or what the best binding method for a shoe sole might be. While this activity doesn’t replace the satisfaction of buying those boots it’s a replacement strategy which saves me cash. This by far has been the hardest shift but being knowledgeable on a myriad of topics comes in handy more than you’d think. Whether you are strapped for cash or not, you should always think twice before your deep desires, to drop a few paychecks on those luxury boots, kick in. Everyone is entitled to treat themselves but don’t forget about saving and investing either!
My Happillars (Think Happy-Pillars)
Is this a silly name for these? Yes, but I’m happy about it.
These are the activities that keep me functioning at a higher state of constant happiness as I navigate the ebbs and flows of starting a new business.
Increased physical activity has been the best and easiest way to increase my mood and general sense of happiness. We release a healthy amount of dopamine during aerobic and anaerobic exercise as a natural response to physical stress and since dopamine is the happiness neurotransmitter, getting in more activity makes you happier, it’s science. Haven’t you noticed that after you finally exercise you are greeted with a sense of accomplishment? This feeling not only increases your happiness level but also helps you maintain a level of healthiness. Even if you have a demanding schedule take 10 - 15 minutes to get those chemicals flowing, you can thank me later.
Nutrition and Shared Meals
We all know the feeling that comes with eating junk food that tastes good: sluggishness and regret (side note, I really want to make a junk food brand called regredibles). These feelings lead to less motivation and could mess with your decision making, yeah I’m serious. Keeping a healthy diet gives me more energy to do the things I need to do and allows me to accomplish more things within my day. Outside of what I eat, I’ve started to pay attention to how I eat. I have gone from eating breakfast, lunch, and most dinners at my desk or alone, to eating away from my computer, and timing my meals so that I can share as many meals as possible with those I love (friends, family, etc). Taking some time out of your day to hit the pause button is very satisfying.
So here is my new new mantra: Share your food, share your life, share your happiness.
Building Healthy Relationships
Building healthy relationships and removing unhealthy ones have made a huge impact on my life. Because I don’t have the crutch of a steady paycheck anymore, I have become acutely aware of things that make me uneasy (AKA unhappy). I used to ignore unhealthy and toxic relationships which gave me an underlying sense of turmoil for years. Coming to terms with these people and phasing them out of my life was a difficult process but an important one everyone should execute. Conversely, my healthy relationships have brought me some of the greatest moments and consistent feelings of happiness in my life. A fleet of healthy interpersonal relationships that bring support, trust, and healthy challenges can be the platform on which you build a beautiful life. Quality over quantity my friends…
These are people that give you most honest feedback and offer the most unwavering support. Building and investing in these relationships, while sometimes hard and taxing, have almost always paid out way more than I thought they would. The more I invest here, the happier I’ve been. One important thing to remember is people come and go, this is normal. The sooner you recognize this the less stress it will bring you.
I am blessed with a very loving and supportive family. Leaning on them for advice, emotional support and encouragement has helped me gain the confidence I need to pursue what I really want to do. Having their support has been a blessing and fuels a lot of happy times. Spend time with family, (even if they drive you crazy) they know you best and are great for tough love when you need it.
Looking out for those in your community and actively participating in the world around you was an aspect of life I totally forgot about. Lately, I’ve started to give back in my own small ways; Picking up trash on the sidewalk, buying coffee for a stranger, or leaving a note on a random car wishing it’s owner to have a great day are common examples. None of these are groundbreaking but if you do something nice for a stranger you’re investing in your community which in turn improves the community you live in and shapes you into a better human overall.
Achieving Flow State
Flow state is the feeling you get when you’re working hard on something and everything begins to click. Achieving peak productivity (flow state) makes me feel good about my work and myself, regardless of outside factors. When I'm good at what I do and I do what I like, what could be better? I haven’t found anything that rivals this feeling. It’s the ultimate confidence builder and productivity mechanism. Flow state can be achieved at work, during hobbies, in the gym and many other aspects of life, which all benefit you in the end. More flow state= more happy times.
Happiness Begets Happiness
If you go out in the world looking for happiness, you’ll see more happiness in it. Regardless of how my business does or how many views I get on my site, I rely on my shifts in thinking to keep a smile on my face. You can’t buy happiness, but you can find it in your daily motions if you know where to look.
So search until you find them, you’ll be happy you did!