My Recommendations for a Happy Life
An essay by Jim Westergren
My personal thoughts on the matter and what has worked for me.
Not a scientific article
This essay is advice for myself (follow this Jim!) but also for others to benefit.
Most of my advice is so obvious it almost sounds stupid but don't let that fool you - most often the most simple and obvious advice can have a profound positive effect on one's life.
There is a difference between pleasure (short term temporary feeling) and happiness (long term stable feeling).
Examples of pleasure (negative if done in excess):
- Playing computer games.
- Watching Netflix.
Examples of happiness:
- Making progress towards or achieving your life goals.
- Being recognized for doing great work at your job.
- Seeing your children achieving success.
- Many people like you, because of who you are.
- People like to be around you.
- Financial security and freedom.
- Your spouse and children are happy and love you.
- Having created something that is of value for others.
- Don’t do bad things.
4 simple words, “Don’t do bad things”, but with a great meaning and a big game changer. Probably the most important sentence in this essay.
If somebody tells you they don’t like that you do or don’t do a certain thing, then that is probably a bad thing. Or if you don’t feel good about doing something, then that is also a sign. Everybody does some bad things, some more frequently than others. This can include lying, looking at porn, coming late, drinking alcohol, not keeping your word, wasting your time, staying up late, not doing the dishes and so forth. Easy to say but difficult to do well. Resist the urges of your brain - inside you know what is right and wrong, good and bad. Do the right things. Don’t listen to the justifications of your brain. Resist the urges.
Remove negativity from your life
- Reduce your news consumption almost completely. I recommend replacing all news consumption (tv, internet, social media, newspapers) by instead reading this page a few times a week to stay informed about what is happening in the world. If there is anything there that is relevant or interesting for you, click on the links but I recommend to continue staying on wikipedia and staying away from the sensational media. See also the article News is bad for you – and giving up reading it will make you happier for more information. Don’t use Facebook to read about news - that’s a bad idea. Facebooks algorithm gives you what you want to see, not what you need to see.
- News is almost always negative and you cannot do anything about the information you receive. There is of course a huge amount of good news in the world as well but you don’t hear much about it because it does not generate the same attention and therefore does not make profit for the news agencies. Did you know that the world is actually getting better?
- If relevant, tell to some people something like: “I like/love you but I have made a new decision that I don’t want to continue to speak/discuss the topic of politics/religion/money/other toxic topics etc with you anymore because it is not positive for neither of us. We should speak about other things instead, thanks for respecting my wish on this matter.”
Take care of your body
Very important advice here:
- Sleep at regular hours and get your minimum 7-8 hours of effective deep sleep per day.
- Eat at regular hours, good healthy food, no junk food.
- Reduce the sugar intake. Replace soda with water and so forth.
- Hygiene: shower at least every second day, brush your teeth twice a day.
- Exercise your body a few times a week. (I don’t follow this, but I should. At least I walk my dog daily.)
- Go to the dentist before you really need the dentist.
Don’t do anything excessively
- Anything good or innocent can become negative if done excessively.
- Instead start doing new activities in other areas. Learn new things.
Stop wasting your time (life)
- Reduce watching TV (Netflix, movies etc) to a maximum 4 hours per week.
- Reduce playing computer games (or Xbox etc) to a maximum 4 hours per week. Personally, I stopped with video games when I got my son 13 years ago.
- Reduce news consumption to maximum 2 hours per week.
- Reduce time spent on social media to maximum 2 hours per week.
- And only do any of these "reward things" AFTER you have completed some task that you need to do. Like my kids, homework is to be done first.
Average phone screen time for American teens is now 6-8 hours PER DAY (source), that is just insane.
Personally I spend more than 2 hours per week reading Hacker News and have done so for at least 10 years so I should probably decrease that but I have learned a huge amount of things from there as well so I am not sure if I regret it.
Many people will tell you that they don’t have time ..., it is almost a joke. What they mean is either that they are not able to manage their time properly, they are not interested or some other real reason.
I have 3 kids, a dog, a day job half time, 2 startup companies and 4 games that I am regularly working on and yes I actually have extra time, because I try to not waste my time. Not easy, but doable.
Instead of TV try to suggest to your family to sit down together and play an amazing modern board game instead? These are my favorites - I can highly recommend this.
There were certain years when I was young when I had very limited time but I still had time to write interesting sci-fi short stories. That sounded underwhelming but let me provide some more details: I worked around 100 hours per week in a religious organization and had access to between 2 to 3 hours of free time per week. During the week I mentally created my short story in my mind and when I finally had time, I sat down and typed up the whole short story in one go in around one hour. Years later, after I left the organization I published my writings on the internet and one of the stories was discovered and then published in a textbook for the benefit of Indian students learning English, still read by many students today. I was 21 when I wrote it. Interesting anecdote and my message with it is that yes you can have time to do something even if you feel you don’t have time.
Remove things that hijacks your brain
Focus is important. Distractions are bad.
- Recommendation: make sure to have a regular computer at home. Then remove all social media apps from your phone. Communication apps such as Messenger and Whatsapp are fine. You can still look at your social media accounts once a day max 30 minutes on your computer when you are home. If this is too steep of a change for you then at least remove all notifications on your phone.
- Remove notifications about new emails. Look at and answer emails only once or twice a day (for example in the morning and afternoon).
- Recommendation: Use the uBlock Origin browser plugin to block ads, tracking scripts and most other garbage on the internet. Also in that plugin go to settings > filters list > annoyances, turn on easylist-cookies to remove all the annoying cookie consent banners. It has unfortunately gotten so bad on the internet that The FBI now recommends using an ad blocker when searching the web. I have used an adblocker myself for around 15 years.
Do constructive things that makes you feel happy
- Do you like to listen to great music? Ok, then do that more often.
- Do you like to dance? Sign up for classes.
- Do you like to travel? Plan your next travel.
- Do you like to read a great book? Well, buy one and schedule time for reading.
- Take a walk in the nature, camping.
- And of course many more things which you might like.
Remember: nothing in excess.
At this time tomorrow you could do something amazing. Drink tea in Venice, Italy? Why not.
Or why not put on some great music and dance with your children in your living room?
Meet people, get friends
It can be very fulfilling to be with friends and getting in contact with new people. Especially like minded people with the same interest as you have.
Don’t be afraid to meet new people or to contact people.
Do good things
- Give genuine compliments to people when they do something good.
- Do more than what is expected of you: in work and in private life.
- Read great books on a regular basis (I need to improve on this).
- Setup an automatic system that saves a part of your income each month.
- Help your spouse and children. Tell them that you love them, help them, care for them, play with them, kiss them good night.
Assume a right frame of mind
- You as a person are capable of far more than you think. I know this is true as I have accomplished things that I thought were impossible but made possible with the right frame of mind. A person only uses a fraction of his brain and mental capability. I know this for certain.
- You can always improve and be better at something. Always try to be better.
- Getting success in something is about making regular progress without giving up. There is a whole book I recommend on this topic: The Slight Edge. Regular progress, not giving up.
- How the future of your life will be is mostly decided by the actions you yourself are doing in the present.
- Assume as a default assumption that you can do anything. You can learn almost anything by using tools such as google, internet, youtube, ChatGPT, asking people etc.
- Life is a miracle and something truly amazing and you are part of it. I feel this way but maybe I had more luck in my life or it is my view or a combination - not sure.
- Respect other people. Assume in your mind that all people are important - especially people you encounter and interact with in your life.
Your life goals
Which are your goals this year? The next 5 years? The next 10 years?
- Maybe you want to learn something? Maybe a new language, playing an instrument, programming, video editing?
- Certain academic degree? Job position?
- Certain amount of money saved? Debt free?
- Finding a great woman and getting married?
- Having children?
- Your children getting great grades in school?
- Buying or building a dream house?
- Building a website or app and getting it popular?
- Getting success with some side projects? Creating a game, writing a book?
- Getting your game popular or your book published?
- Getting famous?
- Inventing something?
Work on your life goals
- What actions do you need to take? Break it down in small steps.
- Do progress at least 4 times a week towards your goals.
- Take regular steps towards your goal, get some progress done each week.
Control the information you are getting
There is unlimited information on the internet, social media, television etc. Accept right now that you cannot catch up with it, it is endless and will never stop.
Most of this information is useless to you, it is just junk food for the brain and is bad for your mental focus. Some of the information might even be destructive (putting you in a bad mood for example).
But some of it is very important and vital for you, to help you achieve your goals. There are for example great books written about mastering almost any topic, great tutorials on youtube, pages with good guides, people that you can contact on social media and so forth.
Don’t confuse interesting information and useful information, they are not the same. If I open Hacker News, Reddit or Twitter I immediately see a massive amount of new very interesting information in areas I am interested in but only a fraction of it is actually really useful to me.
Reduce the amount of junk information you are processing to useful information instead. It will have a great impact on your brain and mental power.
Appreciate what you have
Be grateful for the good things that you have in life. Don't take them for granted. Take a moment to think about all the good things you have.
Spending your time on the right things
Your time is limited and maybe you also like me have a list of amazing projects and opportunities you want to do right now. So you have to choose, and it is really difficult.
For many years I used to think that what is important is doing things very well to a very good result. I no longer think like that, because it is wrong.
What is much more important is doing the right thing. In other words it is actually better doing something mediocre but it is the right thing to do than doing something really good but it is the wrong thing to do. This idea was a game changer for me and something I apply to new projects I do. For example I release code or new projects more early and see what people like or have interest in. I put my things early on Reddit and ask for feedback and should not be afraid if they dislike it.
I of course keep improving the projects I build but getting something done is much more valuable than spending years on something that never gets done.
- “HELL YEAH!” or no.
- Perfect is the enemy of good “Achieving absolute perfection may be impossible and so, as increasing effort results in diminishing returns, further activity becomes increasingly inefficient. ”
- "If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly." - G.K. Chesterton. Corollary: if a thing is not worth doing badly, it is not worth doing.
Discipline is more important than motivation
- There is a feeling of tremendous happiness when you truly help others.
- Care about others that you like or love. How is it going for them? Do they need some help? Warning: avoid lending out money to people you like or love, it can cause problems in the relationship when they cannot repay the loan and they might avoid you or be uncomfortable around you. Then it is better to give money as a gift and not a loan. Better yet, find other ways to help, for example by arranging for the person to get a better job.
My latest project
If you liked my writing, you should take a look at my latest project. The free browser game Advinsula, The Adventure Island MMO RPG.
I did not use ChatGPT when writing my essay but I now asked GPT-4 if there was any things missed to mention in this essay and I got the reply below:
- Emphasize the importance of mental health alongside physical health.
- Suggest the benefits of adopting a regular mindfulness practice, such as meditation or yoga, to increase self-awareness and improve mental well-being.
- Encourage volunteering and community involvement as ways to increase happiness and well-being.
- Suggest finding a balance between work and personal life.
- Highlight the importance of setting healthy boundaries in relationships, both personal and professional.
- Encourage readers to develop hobbies and interests outside of work.
- Highlight the importance of maintaining a support network of friends and family.
- Encourage readers to reflect on their personal values and ensure their actions align with those values.
- Suggest the practice of setting SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound) to increase the likelihood of achieving personal and professional objectives.
- Discuss the role of effective communication in maintaining healthy relationships and reducing misunderstandings.
- Encourage readers to develop their emotional intelligence to better understand and manage their own emotions, as well as empathize with others.
- Highlight the importance of self-compassion and self-care in maintaining overall well-being.
- Suggest incorporating regular relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, or visualization, to manage stress.
- Encourage readers to develop a growth mindset, where they view challenges and setbacks as opportunities to learn and grow.
- Discuss the benefits of maintaining a sense of humor and learning to laugh at life's challenges.
- Encourage readers to practice forgiveness and let go of grudges to improve emotional well-being.
- Suggest the benefits of spending time in nature and enjoying outdoor activities as a way to boost mood and well-being.
- Encourage readers to cultivate a sense of purpose in their lives by setting meaningful goals and contributing to causes they care about.
- Highlight the importance of being present in the moment and fully engaging in activities and experiences, rather than constantly looking ahead to the next thing.
- Discuss the importance of creating and maintaining a positive and supportive social network.
- Encourage readers to be open-minded and accepting of diversity, which can lead to increased understanding and empathy.
- Encourage readers to seek professional help when needed, such as therapy or counseling, to address mental health concerns.
- Discuss the value of practicing gratitude regularly, and how it can foster a positive outlook on life.
- Encourage readers to engage in creative pursuits, such as art, writing, or music, as a means of self-expression and stress relief.
- Suggest the benefits of participating in community events and volunteering to foster social connections and a sense of belonging.
- Discuss the importance of adopting a balanced approach to technology and social media usage to maintain mental well-being.
- Encourage readers to continually learn and grow by seeking out new experiences, challenges, and opportunities for personal development.
And then I asked GPT-4: "What do you think is the 5 most common errors humans do if they want to live a happy life?"
While it's challenging to pinpoint just five common errors, the following mistakes are often made by people seeking happiness:
Chasing material possessions: Many people mistakenly believe that acquiring more material things will lead to happiness. However, research has shown that experiences, relationships, and personal growth contribute more significantly to long-term happiness than material possessions.
Neglecting self-care: In the pursuit of happiness, people often overlook the importance of taking care of their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Ignoring self-care can lead to burnout, stress, and decreased overall happiness.
Comparing oneself to others: The habit of comparing oneself to others can lead to feelings of inadequacy and dissatisfaction. Focusing on personal growth and appreciating one's unique qualities and achievements is a healthier approach to cultivating happiness.
Failing to cultivate meaningful relationships: Humans are social creatures, and strong, supportive relationships are crucial for happiness. People sometimes prioritize work, material success, or other pursuits over nurturing and maintaining meaningful connections with others.
Overlooking the power of gratitude: Practicing gratitude regularly helps people appreciate what they have and cultivate a positive mindset. Failing to recognize and appreciate the good aspects of life can prevent individuals from fully experiencing happiness.
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