After years of optimising my life for productivity (and expecting that would help me with finding happiness), I feel like I am only just starting to explore the idea that happiness is not so much found in what we do but rather how we do it. So what do a self-help book, a design podcast, Fringe World Festival and waffles have to do with happiness?
The self-help book
When my brother sent me a quote from Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism, it was pretty clear this was essential reading for me. His central thesis is around the idea of doing “less but better”. He talks about this as a practice called Essentialism.
I read this book in about 3-4 hours over the course of a couple of weeks. I had just left my long term job with a Big 4 consulting firm to focus on a few different things, including a role at a social impact consulting firm, freelancing and my board roles. So the book could not have been more timely!
McKeown shares many practical tips on how to pursue less in your life and work. Topics include how to figure out what is essential, how to say no, and how to be present.
It’s this last part that I’ve been musing on since finishing the book.
The design podcast
Late last year I was listening to the back catalogue of Jake and Jonathan, a hilariously irreverent design podcast. What does that have to do with McKeown and his essentialist ideas? Well, on this podcast I discovered something about the “but better” part of McKeown’s central thesis. One of the hosts, Jonathan, had been doing a lot of reading about pursuing happiness. One of the books (I’ll update this with an attribution if I can find which book it was!) talked about how often we as humans guess incorrectly whether or not something will make us happy.
Jonathan went on to share the story of how he, his wife and child were staying at a hotel. One evening his wife suggested they go to the pool. Usually, Jon would have said no as he thought staying back and reading or working on his business would make him happier. However, based on what he’d been reading, he opted to say yes. The night became a special moment of fun and connection with his family that made him feel happy. The key to this was letting go of his expectations of the night and being open to what happened next.
This story keeps coming to mind for me as new opportunities come my way. McKeown’s book is all about how to choose what is essential and what you will say yes to (and no to). However, this idea from the podcast tells me what to do once I say yes. This idea has paid off for me recently, particularly when choosing how I spend my rest and leisure time.
Fringe World Festival and waffles
Recently, a close friend had a spare ticket to a Fringe World Festival show With Fire in Her Heart and last minute asked if I wanted to join. My main exposure to the arts has come from watching friends perform in plays or gigs, so given I didn’t know any of the cast, this wasn’t usually the type of thing I’d chose to do. However, remembering the hotel pool story, I said yes.
The night that followed contained so much fun! From having to sign as my very youthful-looking friend’s responsible guardian, through to being swept away in the story the play told, through to standing in the rain waiting for her friend from the cast, through to discovering delicious waffles at Pitcher and Iron, the night has left me with some fun memories.
By letting go of my non-essential plans for the night (another lazy night on the couch), and my expectations of what I would and wouldn’t enjoy (a biographical Fringe-world play about a politician), I had fun and could carry that positivity into the week ahead.
And finally, increasing happiness
Practically, when I bring together the lessons of Essentialism with the podcast and my own experience, I am going to keep reminding myself of the following steps to increase happiness in my life:
Develop a good idea of what is Essential for me and remove what isn’t to leave more space for living
Once I do say yes to something, say yes fully and enter into what comes next
Let go of the expectations of what that experience will be like and be prepared to enjoy something new
I challenge you to apply these three steps this week. Let me know if you find some happiness somewhere you weren’t expecting it!