On being happy

For the whole past night I lay awake without sleeping a minute, mostly because I am still fully jet-lagged from the move to Europe yesterday. For some reason, the one thought that entered my mind was one about what it means to be happy.

Yes, of course, being on an exciting startup journey, there are other goals which are more in the foreground. There is creating a product users love, getting funding or earning enough money to sustain yourself.

Whilst I greatly enjoy this product and user focus, it is fantastic to take a step back during these more quiet days and reflect on life more widely.

Personally, what I want to achieve in life is being happy. An old Steve Jobs exercise describes best what this means to me:

Getting up every morning and looking into the mirror, asking myself: ”Do I like what I am doing?” After every full day, I do the same in the evening. Whilst I write my next day’s to do list, I reflect on my achievements. And by doing this, I also try to listen as good as I can how much fun and fulfillment I have gotten. If there are too many days in a row that I can’t answer with a loud “Yes”, something is up – I am not happy. And I aim to change things around sharply. Very sharply sometimes.

The great thing about being happy is that we all know what it feels like. This makes it simple and hard. The simple part is that we know once we have reached it. The hard part is to create a lasting feeling of happiness.

The opposite of being happy is not being unhappy

My intuition tells me that there is no such thing of an endless time of happiness. Being happy comes in waves I believe. It is not something that exists permanently.

Now, I feel that this past year has been the one in my life, where I have been the happiest – by far. And this was not because of what I did when I was happy. It was because of what I did when I wasn’t.

What I realised was this:

Whenever I am not happy, it is because I am frightened. I am scared shitless.

Knowing that you are not unhappy, but frightened and scared changed things dramatically. I could focus on that fear and beat it. Whenever I would beat it, I reached happiness. Right until the next challenge I had to take on. In my head this looks like this:

Your life is like climbing a mountain. That mountain has plenty of plateaus on it’s way up. Whenever you reach a new plateau you are happy. Whenever you have to climb again to reach the next one, I am scared. Why? Because I am hanging in the air. I could trip and fall down, break my leg or neck. Taking the step to reach the next plateau always takes huge courage. And it’s frightening.

As soon as I started to embrace that feeling of fear, to focus on it, to overcome it, to keep climbing, is when I started to climb a lot faster. Climbing doesn’t get easier, but knowing and facing that fear every time you start doing it makes a huge difference.

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