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It has been over a month since I last published anything, and that is because I have several topics I am researching and experimenting with, but I wasn’t sure which one to write about first.

I looked for an overall theme to the subjects I am studying and asked myself if there is an overall theme or purpose to what I try to learn.

Everything I learn builds towards the idea of living a good life that achieves sustained happiness.

This is the quest I am on now, and it is a quest without end. I do believe there is a formula to happiness, though, and in my opinion it boils down to three different disciplines, if practiced regularly, will bring about long-term, sustained happiness.

These three disciplines are:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-improvement (Growth)
  3. Gratitude

As I have already alluded, these three disciplines can never be perfected, but can be practiced and improved upon throughout life. That is what makes this process beautiful; to stay happy, you must work to improve and grow these disciplines, creating a consistent goal build towards.

The three disciplines can be practiced separately or together since they feed off of each other and impact each other in a positive way. As you improve on each individually, you will improve on all of them.

Self-Awareness

Self-awareness fits into this puzzle in a central way. To be happy, you must take the time to understand who you are as a person, what really makes you tick. This might seem easy and straightforward, but in the modern age of television, advertising, and marketing, it can be very easy to lose yourself over time.

For the dictionary definition lovers out there, self-awareness is the…

Conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives, and desires.

One of the key obstacles in becoming self-aware is the conflict between passion and prestige.

Below I am sharing a snippet from Paul Graham’s article on how to do what you love quoted by the marvelous Maria Popova in her article on a similar subject. Both of these wonderful people are better at this than I am so I am going to delight you with their work.

What you should not do, I think, is worry about the opinion of anyone beyond your friends. You shouldn’t worry about prestige. Prestige is the opinion of the rest of the world.

[…]

Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.

[…]

Prestige is just fossilized inspiration. If you do anything well enough, you’ll make it prestigious. Plenty of things we now consider prestigious were anything but at first. Jazz comes to mind—though almost any established art form would do. So just do what you like, and let prestige take care of itself.

Prestige is especially dangerous to the ambitious. If you want to make ambitious people waste their time on errands, the way to do it is to bait the hook with prestige. That’s the recipe for getting people to give talks, write forewords, serve on committees, be department heads, and so on. It might be a good rule simply to avoid any prestigious task. If it didn’t suck, they wouldn’t have had to make it prestigious.

This quote really hits home for me. While not directly speaking about self-awareness, Paul Graham hits a very strong cord about what it is that we actually want out of life. So many of us grow up dreaming about the Malibu mansion and powerful supercars but is that what we actually want out of life, or is that what we think we want.

How often does a new fad come around that takes the youth by storm? Do you remember yo-yo’s in the mid to late 90’s? Did you get into yo-yo’s because you liked them, or because you wanted to like them since everyone else did?

Self-awareness, to me, is throwing aside all the noise that marketers throw our way and really delving down to 3 simple questions.

  1. What am I passionate about?
  2. Am I doing what I am passionate about every day?
  3. What can I do to add more time for my passions?

For me, reading and writing are two of my strongest passions. I wrote all the time when I was young. I never wrote when I was a teenager unless a school assignment forced me to. Why didn’t I write in high-school? Honestly, I am not sure. I remember a lot of video games, basketball, and poker. All things I enjoy doing, but not all things I am truly passionate about.

Now I write over 1,000 words a day and am working at writing over 2,000 words a day. Today I have written over 2,500 words. Today is a good day. Today I am happy. 🙂

Gary Vaynerchuck is one of my favorite YouTube personalities. He is a badass business person, tells it like it is, gives a ton of free advice to his fans, but most of all… the man is self-aware and champions self-awareness.

Self-awareness has led to me being happy. It has shown me what I want to improve on, who I want to be around, and what I love doing. Self-awareness alone will not sustain my happiness, though. I need more action to truly sustain that happiness.

I need to continue to grow as a person.

Self-Improvement/Growth

This is the section that I have the most experience with. The year of 2015 has been “The Year of Growth” for me, and I am very passionate about spreading the importance of constant self-improvement and growth. Also, as it happens, this year has been one of the most consistently happy years I’ve ever had. A large chunk of the reason (ahem, 1/3rd of the reason) has to do with my constant work towards self-improvement and growth.

Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning. – Benjamin Franklin

According to best-selling author James Altucher, there are 4 areas of self-improvement that everyone should focus on of they want to feel happiness. I happen to agree with him, so I am quickly covering them here.

They are:

  1. Physical
  2. Mental
  3. Emotional
  4. Spiritual

His advice on each is simple:

Physical

Sleep well. Between 7 and 8 hours a night.

Eat well. Studies show that a low-glycemic diet has an immediate impact on willpower.

Exercise. This means general movement. Don’t stay sitting for more than an hour at a time. Go for a short walk several times a day. Move your body!

Emotional

Only surround yourself with people that improve your quality of life. These people should love, support, and respect you and you should love, support, and respect them in return. Never forget the quote about how you are the average of the five people your are closest to.

Cut out anyone who is bad for you. Simply ignore them and move on with your life. I have worked on this lately and it is easier than it seems. Every day I strive to cut out the bad and focus on the good.

Mental

Write down 10 ideas a day. This is James Altucher’s exercise to train your mind to constantly try to solve problems in everyday life. 10 ideas a day seems simple, but it is not. Doing this every day for 6 months will completely alter the way you think about the world.

Read something new every day. This is one of my own additions. Read something new and question it. I love questioning things. It makes me feel like I am not a zombie just accepting what other people say. Question everything I have written in this blog post. You’ll be better for it.

Spiritual

Try and go an entire day without complaining. Can you do it? If you have trouble doing it, try being aware of every time you complain about something; Acknowledge it, then try to avoid doing it again. This will drastically change the way your brain works. This exercise works closely with gratitude and self-awareness since you will end up working on both at the same time.

In fact, anytime you feel a negative emotion such as stress, anxiety, or fear, acknowledge it. Simply state out loud or silently to yourself that ‘I realize that I am feeling anxious.’ I didn’t believe this worked at all until I tried it for a couple of days. Apparently this is a practice called mindfulness and is a brain exercise on staying present and not allowing yourself to dwell on the past or the future at the cost of enjoying the present. I wouldn’t have written about it here if it had not have helped me get past stress and anxiety on multiple occasions. It has even worked in traffic when I turn into a rage monster.

Finally, one of the best forms of spiritual self-improvement is to practice gratitude, which I cover in the next section.

Learning new skills as part of self-improvement

I wanted to add a short section about learning new skills. Skills that some of you may have wanted to learn for years but have been too overwhelmed to conquer. Skills that could add an abundance of happiness to your life.

A subject like this requires an entire post all to its own, which I will eventually write, but for now this section will act as a teaser.

Becoming self-aware is extremely useful in reminding yourself what your passions are, as well as what skills are truly important to your passions as well as happiness. That is the point of this section; to give you the motivation to go after that passion you might have neglected for years. It will be a much shorter journey than you think.

Did you know it only takes 20 hours of practice to learn a new skill? It’s true.

The 10,000-hour rule made famous by Malcolm Gladwell has been misinterpreted so often people have actually come to believe that it takes 10,000 hours to learn a new skill. Fortunately, it only takes 10,000 to master highly specific skill to the point of becoming world-class.

Here is a Ted talk to back up the point I am looking to prove.

Pretty amazing isn’t it?

So finish reading this blog, then go learn a new skill! Just don’t forget to be grateful.

Gratitude

Gratitude is a fun topic because it can create the most immediate boost to happiness among the 3 mentioned in this article. According to the research and book of Dr. Robert Emmons, practicing the mindset of being grateful just once per week can boost your happiness as much as 25%. That is huge upside for little downside. Gratitude is also the easiest to practice, as it requires almost no actual work.

When you to focus on the good things that happen in your life, you train your brain to focus on the positive in all situations.

There is a lot of research on this topic, and I will be linking a YouTube video describing the benefits of gratitude at the end of this section.

Easy exercises to improve gratitude

When I read multiple books on similar topics, I often find a lot of overlapping information and data. This is a great thing because it means multiple people have come to the same conclusions about the topic. This also means that any exercises they all recommend probably work pretty well.

The “Gratitude Journal” is one such exercise that I have seen crop up in several books I have read or am reading.

The Gratitude Journal

The basic premise of the gratitude journal is that a few times a week you write down the things that you are grateful for. It is as simple as that.

What happens is that your brain will begin to start habitually think about all the things you are grateful for, and that will completely change your mindset on life. When you are constantly reminding yourself how many others have helped you, and how good you really have it, it is very hard to complain (see section above on complaining).

What makes the gratitude journal powerful is that it is a written recording of your grateful thoughts. You are putting pen to paper and recording what you are thinking of. This allows you to return later to remind yourself all the blessings you have in your life.

When you complain, be grateful instead

This is my second time mentioning this because it works.

Try not to complain, but when you do inevitably complain, think of something or someone you are grateful for.

Become self-aware, improve yourself, and be gracious

By learning who you are, understanding your weaknesses, strengths, passions, and desires you will come to appreciate you who are. More importantly you will understand that you will never find happiness by trying to become someone that you are not.

As you grow as a person and become self-aware, it is critically important to constantly be working to improve yourself on a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual level. You will become healthier, more knowledgeable, more open-minded, and less worried about what life may bring.

And now, I end this post with a cheesy flourish in the form of Minions! They are self-aware (I think), they show self-improvement, and they are extremely grateful!

Minion Happiness

Stay happy my friends.

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