Getting from an average life to an awesomely happy life might require you to create a whole new mindset. In case you’re thinking: “But I have an awesome life! Why should I even be reading this?” Do you have four Mondays in your week? In other words, does Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday sound like Monday #1 through #4? Do you spend your Sundays dreading Monday? If this is you, then this is why you need to shift your mindset because, let’s face it, you are not living a truly happy life.
About five years ago (call it a mid-life crisis), I underwent a process that completely shifted my mindset. I found myself at a crosspoint and thought I was leading a happy life, when I was everything but genuinely happy. I was like a child who poses with a fake smile for the camera. I had a great job (and still do), but was contributing a tiny portion of my paycheck to my 401(k), with the hope to retire someday with a house paid off, had very little money saved in the bank, lots of debt and a huge mortgage. I had success, but that didn’t translate to happiness at home.
I was living under a perfect storm, even though the sea looked calm in my eyes as I was going through the motions. Then, a game-changing word struck me like lightning and woke me the hell up. I started asking WHY? Why was I living like that? What kind of American “dream” was this? Why was I following a set of rules and traditions that were imposed by society without me having a say in it?
Around the same time, there was a fire that changed my life and led me through a complete transition, as it changed my perspective on a lot of things. There were tough decisions to make that required critical thinking and unlearning of many past behaviors. I took a deep look into the hood of my finances and I was in such a financial disaster that my lawyer even advised me to go through a personal bankruptcy. I said no, I don’t run away from my problems and decided to clean up the mess on my own, but it wasn’t an easy task.
I had to look at things and life from a different perspective. I didn’t have a manual to follow for the steps that I took to turn my life around 180 degrees, but I took complete charge, and once I got going, there was no turning back!
The answers weren’t always there, but every step that I took in the right direction got me closer to my soul, to finding my inner peace, to becoming debt free. I was also becoming happier and the people around me started to notice. I felt empowered and started to re-engineer my life.
Now that I look back, I have to say that I wouldn’t change a thing about the way I proceeded. I’m documenting the steps that I took in hopes that if you’re in a pivotal moment in your life, they can help you define your moment, seize the opportunities and lead you to happiness. They helped me become an even better human being and I was glad that I found Mrs. Enchumbao along the way, because she was an instrumental partner in this journey that is now drenched in true happiness.
1. Question everything in life
Have you noticed how before you were even born, most of your life events have been predetermined by society in a sequential order? When you should get baptized (if you come from a Christian background), when you should get married, have children, buy a house, all the way to when you should retire and practically die. Before you even made it out of the womb, there were a whole bunch of traditions and social expectations put in place, which you probably don’t even know for what reason.
Have you ever heard the story of the soup and the bone? I remember it from my college psychology class: One day a mother was cooking a soup when her curious child asked her: “Mom, why do you cut the bone in half to make the soup?” And the mom responded: “Because that’s what grandma used to do.” Another day the grandmother came to visit and the child asked: “Grandma, why did you use to cut the bone in half to make the soup?” And the grandmother responded: “Because the pot was too small to fit the entire bone.” So for her entire life the mom would make the soup and cut the bone in half, probably thinking that it was a recipe requirement, while it was really done out of necessity by the grandmother.
Just like in that story, there are things in life that were decided for a reason, but may lack relevancy for me and you. So, why should we keep doing things without wondering why?
It’s this kind of mindset that keeps us doing repetitive tasks, day after day, and following traditions without questioning why they were put in motion. For example, society dictates that we work 8 hours a day, but is this really the optimal time to spend laboring to make a living? And only because someone along the way decided that we must get 8 hours of sleep, 8 hours of leisure and entertainment and 8 hours of work?
The eight-hour workday, a concept that wasn’t widely recognized until the 1950’s, was actually decided out of necessity because full-time manufacturing workers were clocking in an average of 16 hours a day. So people revolted to work less hours.
The 40-hour workweek is one of those old concepts that need to be revisited and revised for this new century. I bet that if you work in an office, you could probably get all your work done in 3 to 4 hours a day, if you were allowed maintain your full salary and go home after you’re done. With all the technological advances, we really should be working less hours, but nooooo, the blood-sucking full-time hours still remain, leaving very little time for other activities. But if we don’t need to work all these hours anymore, why is this concept still around?
David Cain wrote an insightful article for Business Insider on the real reason for the 40-hour workweek and I’m going to quote him on this eye-opener:
“All of America’s well-publicized problems, including obesity, depression, pollution, and corruption are what it costs to create and sustain a trillion-dollar economy. For the economy to be “healthy,” America has to remain unhealthy. Healthy, happy people don’t feel like they need much they don’t already have, and that means they don’t buy a lot of junk, don’t need to be entertained as much, and they don’t end up watching a lot of commercials.”
Aha! That is a more valid reason why we’re still working 40 hours a week! Working many hours at a job raises our stress level and keeps us unhealthy. We might eat more due to anxiety, get depressed more often and have more frequent doctor visits. Or we might hit the happy hours more frequently and find more needs for entertainment due to working longer hours.
Healthy people don’t need to buy junk to be happy! That pretty much describes our lifestyles. This is why we no longer participate in the holiday-shopping zombie club. Buying or gifting more junk doesn’t make us any happier.
I do believe that in the long term, we can have a healthy economy and a healthy America. Healthy, happy people can create a different kind of thriving economy.
But all those working hours of your day won’t go away because society has an agenda ready for you, and if you don’t wake up and ask yourself the why of things, you’ll continue to live a pre-designed life, in which you might not have much of a say. Instead of going through the motions, why not question if the motions in place are right for you? It’s what I did and it felt freakin’ awesome to be in total control! By changing my world, the world around me started to change as well.
I questioned why my life was going in a certain direction, I questioned the why of all my actions, and that led me to answers that made me stronger and firm about how I should choose to live my life. Voy a vivir mi vida!
2. Get rid of labels
One exercise that I did during my transformational phase was to get rid of all labels that have been set by society, for a period long enough to allow me to cleanse and detox my mind. These labels tend to create barriers instead of dialogue. How would your mind react if you stop thinking like a Democrat, Republican, Conservative, Liberal, Moderate, Catholic, Protestant, Christian, Atheist, Agnostic, Muslim, Vegan, Vegetarian, Omnivore, Black, Latino, White, Asian…? The labels can be never-ending!
A world full of labels can block us from seeing other points of view. The other day I came across a presentation of Warren Buffett talking to Nebraska students on how to stay out of debt and the financial future of American youth. During the Q&A someone from the audience asked a question and the anecdote that Buffett narrated stuck with me. It’s what he calls the Ovarian Lottery. Wise words from a man that have lived through many of our conflicts as a country. See the transcript below:
Student: To what extent do you feel that the current policies of welfare and social security are considered financially competent and fiscally prepared for the future?
Mr. Buffett: “I think that the country as a whole is quite well prepared for the future. We have an enormously rich society and it will get richer. Everyone isn’t going to participate in that. Some won’t participate because of physical disabilities, others because of mental disabilities, others because of shortcomings in the education they received while growing up… all kinds of reasons…
I pose this problem sometimes to people. Let’s assume that it’s 24 hours before you were born and a genie comes to you and says: ‘Joe, you look pretty promising to me. You got a sense of fair play and a good mind. I’m going to let you have an extraordinary opportunity. I’m going to let you design the world in which you’re going to be born in 24 hours. It’s yours! You pick out the political rules, you pick out the economic rules. You pick out the social rules. You design the world and when you are born in 24 hours you’re going to be born into that world. That’s the world that it’s going to exist for your lifetime, for your children’s lifetime and their children’s lifetime.’
Having heard so many genie jokes before, Joe says ‘What’s the catch?’ And the genie says: ‘Well, a there’s a very slight catch. When you’re born in 24 hours, you’re going to emerge into this world but what you don’t know is whether you’re going to be born black or white, male or female, rich or poor, weak or able-bodied, bright or [mentally challenged], in the United States or Afghanistan. All you know is that you’re going to reach into this barrel that has 6 billion balls, representing everyone person in the world, and you’re going to participate in what I call the Ovarian Lottery. You’re going to pick one ball and now you’re going to merge. What kind of rules do you want to have for that society, not knowing which ball you’re going to get?”
Imagine that! What kind of world would you design not knowing who you would be? Get into other people’s shoes to see how they perceive the world. Try to understand why they react they way they do without judging. Labels are just there to shape our perceptions.
People sometimes get so stuck under a label that they are afraid to step out of their zone and try new things. One time I heard a co-worker saying how a family member wouldn’t cook a dish from a different country because they’re not from that country. What!? That’s an ignorant way to label and forbid yourself from trying new experiences.
If interested in watching the entire WB presentation, here’s the YouTube video. The Ovarian Lottery story-telling starts around the 51-minute mark. I encourage to watch the entire presentation, there’s a lot to learn here.
3. Redefine your relationship with money
There are fools out there who would tell you that having a budget is letting money control you. Well, most of us know that it’s the other way around: you’re in control when you manage your money. I never really understood the true meaning of money until just four years ago. It wasn’t until March of 2012 when I purchased the book, Your Money Or Your Life, that a lightbulb turned on in my head and I became more aware of how I viewed money. What does it help me accomplish? Why do I show up to work every day? Do I have to attend a job until I’m in my 60s? I’m glad I found answers early enough in life to change course. And, most importantly, I discovered that by buying more stuff with my life energy, I wasn’t any happier. Money is just a tool that will allow us to do whatever the heck we please with our time.
“Money is something we choose to trade our life energy for.” ― Vicki Robin,
4. Eliminate, improve, simplify
Step 1: Deduct what takes away happiness
Psychologist Ed Diener, author of Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, describes what psychologists call “subjective well-being” as a combination of life satisfaction and having more positive emotions than negative emotions. In another words, happiness can be defined as freedom from suffering.
During my soul-searching period, I started to analyze my life and get rid of all the negativity. As soon as I started to go down that path, my stress level decreased as well. It was a transitional period where things in my life got a little worse before they got better, but as I continued to deduct negative elements from my life, I became more and more drenched in happiness.
“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” – Mark Twain
Drench yourself in true happiness by keeping the negative forces out and detoxing your life of negative people!
Of course, there are life circumstances that bring us sufferings we can’t avoid, such as a death or sickness in the family, but how much of our happiness can we really control? Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, in her book The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, analyzes studies and reports that 50% of our happiness is set by our genes, 10% by life circumstances beyond our control, and 40% by our own actions.40% of our happiness is set by our own actions. Click To Tweet
Let’s say you don’t have happy genes like me 🙂 , you still are able to control 40% of your happiness!!! So, get on the happy bandwagon and stop feeling as if nothing is under your control!
Step 2: Improve what’s working
On the previous step, we talked about getting rid of all the negativity in your life, but I’m sure there are also things that are working out for you. How else would you explain that you’re rich enough to read these words on a digital screen? Now, take those positive things and think of ways to make them better. How can you be more efficient, invest more in valuable relationships and get on the path to fulfill goals that are worth pursuing?
I can give you a few examples off the top of my head:
- While I was getting rid of debt, I continued to save and invest as well until the debt pile was gone. Then, when I became debt-free, saving for financial independence became a priority, so I improved my saving and investing strategies even further, instead of going back to a consumer mentality.
- If learning about finances is improving your life, then continue to be a sponge and suck in more knowledge.
- If you’re happy because you went from a two-year cell phone contract to a prepaid plan and are saving more as a result, continue to look for better prepaid deals.
Always stay on the path to continuous improvement. Run your life like a successful company. That’s how you get from average to kick-ass hero on the FI path.
Step 3: Keep things as simple as possible
Remember the saying: “More money, more problems”? The reason why more money tends to bring more problems is because we complicate our lives more as we make more dough. The first thing that most people do when they get a raise is inflate their lifestyles. They pay for more services, subscribe to more offers and, in return, have more bills to worry about by the end of the month, which suck more of their energy to keep up. They buy newer cars every four years and get into more debt and bigger mortgages. In reality, it’s a cycle of deprivation because you’re depriving yourself from the art of simplicity.
By simplifying your life, you become more efficient and you free up some bandwidth to think about the things that really matter. You can start by decluttering your space. It’s therapeutic. Then, move onto other aspects of your life, don’t stop! “Most clutter enters our lives through the ‘more is better’ door. It comes from the disease of materialism, of looking for inner fulfillment in outer possessions.” – Your Money Or Your Life
Also, take a look at your finances and see where you can simplify them. I remember having a bunch of savings accounts, but with very little money. I think I had an account for every emergency. When you have a house with a pool like I did, you need to have at least $1,000 saved to cover the expenses of running it in the summer. I didn’t want to reach out for the credit card when the summer came, so I would save that money in a separate account. The funny thing is I would still get into credit card debt for other things that were “unexpected”. Now that my relationship with money has changed, I can have one emergency account for all my expenses. I’m no longer tempted to spend money just for the sake of it.
5. Name your top five priorities
What are your priorities in life? I answered this question the day that I realized what were the things that I would want to take out of my house if there was a fire. There weren’t that many, and I came to realize that I only cared about a few items that brings me fond memories. I did not care for the big screen TV or any other replaceable items. Coincidentally, Mrs. Enchumbao was already on that path and knew her top 5 priorities in life. She lives according to those and it helped her think about the things that make her truly happy. A list of five keeps you focused, as you don’t go around taking steps and making decisions without a valid reason.
6. Find unconventional ways to get things done
Always remember that the people that created laws also created loopholes. You need to rid of all thoughts that have been ingrained in your mind to live an average life. Strip yourself off predetermined bias, and try new ways to approach a problem in ways you never thought of. Always look for loopholes and ways to hack the system. You don’t have to break the law, but you are allowed to break the rules.
We’re defying the “expectations” by saying that we can retire in three years and we’ll have the solid numbers to prove it. We’re telling folks that we don’t need to stay tied to a job until retirement age due to health insurance. We’re getting rid of the guides because they simply don’t work for us. At the the end of day, if you follow what everybody else is doing, you’re going to end in the same place as them.
Damn, this is a long post…are we there yet?
Yep, brace for landing, please. 🙂
Only in the U.S. you are given the opportunity to rise over and over after falling. It’s one thing I love about this country. All you need is to have a burning desire to succeed, put in some effort and lots of determination. The rest kind of falls into place as the universe aligns to turn your dreams into a reality. I have failed before, but I’m the type that gets up and keeps trying. I was determined to just be genuinely happy and that determination has gotten me to this point in my life, where I can say that I’m finally on the journey to true happiness. I make decisions purely based on what makes me happy. Mrs. Enchumbao always says that she consciously has her world revolve around her, because if she’s happy, everyone around her will be happy as a result. I couldn’t agree more.
So, don’t wait any longer to get on your journey to have a kick-ass life:
- Start by asking why and question everything.
- Get rid of the labels that keep you confined to a preconceived mindset.
- Redefine the role that money plays in your life.
- Get rid of negative people and bad energy; improve what’s working in your life and simplify things along the way.
- Name your top five priorities and live according to those.
- And, finally, find unconventional ways to get things done.
We all have different journeys and don’t get turned on by the same things, but no matter how much noise disrupts your life, know that you first need to find your own source of happiness before you can make others happy. It could be a now or never moment, make it count! Do you really want it? Yeah!!! Yeah!!!