Finding the Real

Finding the Real

Throughout my career as a SEAL and a human being, I traveled the world, experienced and worked with people of various religious beliefs, backgrounds, ways of thinking, and age.  With my current resilience business, I have trained Fire Fighters, Police Officers, Military Personnel, Pest Control Specialists, Department of Corrections Officers, Drug Abusers, Murderers, Oil Rig Workers, Doctors, and Financial Advisors.  The interesting common thread among all of these individuals?  They all want to be happy.  Whether you are working on an Oil Rig in the middle of Texas, or a SEAL Operator from Thailand, the one common entity that we all share is our craving to just be happy and surround ourselves with people that care about us and that we care for.  Fairly simple.  But is there a formula for happiness?  Yes.

Happiness = Set Point + Circumstances + Voluntary Activities (Real Activities)

Happiness is something that is elusive to some people, and something that comes natural to others.  As Jonathan Haidt writes in his book The Happiness Hypothesis, our happiness depends partially on what we were dealt in the “Cortical Lottery.”  This is our genetic set point for happiness.  Even if you don’t want to study the science behind this, you intuitively know this to be true.  Some people are happier than others, no matter what the circumstance.  That’s where the saying of making lemonade out of lemons came from.  Conversely, we also know people that, not matter what good things happen to them, they are always grumpy and find the negative in everything.  Knowing your internal set point of happiness is one way to work on yourself and make yourself more happy, or more serious when the situation warrants it.  

Our circumstances are generally where we were born, our genetic traits such as height and intelligence, and our economic status.  We know that we need a certain amount of money to be happy; however, this happiness fades quickly beyond a threshold amount of minimum money needed to sustain a comfortable life.  I don’t want to put a number on it, because this depends on where you live, but suffice it to say that all of us reading this now most likely make more than the amount needed to meet that happiness threshold.  Any more money you make won’t make you any happier.  

The final (and most important) components of the happiness equation are the voluntary activities that we do for ourselves.  This can be any activity that you enjoy doing (watching television or interacting on your phone does not count, unless you want to count these as a negative activity) and that you are marginally good at doing.  The reason that you want to be good at doing the activity (remember that you don’t need to be a pro) is that you are looking for an activity that induces a psychological state known as flow.  A flow state releases large quantities of dopamine in the brain and harnesses your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual states to cause, you guessed it, happiness.  We all have these types of activities.  Playing the piano, surfing, Scuba Diving, cooking, writing, building a house for homeless individuals; all these activities have he potential of inducing a flow state.  You must pay attention to the activity and be totally immersed and fascinated by it.  Thinking of other things as you are doing the activity negates the benefits that you get from the activity.  I know people that are “ready to move on to the next thing” or are “bored” when doing a specific activity.

Finding the Real  and the “Real” Principle

My dad once told me, “Be happy with what you do; don’t do what makes you happy.”  It took me years to not only to believe what he said, but also to actually practice it and see how right he truly was.  He once told me that you could be truly happy, even if you were sweeping the floor.  You just needed to decide to be happy and the rest would just fall into place.  On the flip side, pursuing what you think makes you happy does not necessarily bring you happiness.  Many super rich people can tell you that.  When you think that you will be happy if you have this or that, then the game is over before it even begins.  Conversely, if you seek out happiness in any activity that you undertake, including some of the most mundane and “boring” tasks, then you increase the chances of achieving a flow state, inducing happiness.  Making any task real is up to you.  Start with a dose of gratitude, coupled with some fascination and concentration, and any task becomes real.  Try it the next time you do something trivial like driving your car.  Concentrate on keeping the car on the road.  Become aware of everything around you, including the sound your engine makes and the bumps that you feel.  Slowly let yourself become grateful for the fact that you own a car and have the means to fuel it and maintain it properly.  Finally, come to the realization that you are driving something that has only been around for a short period of time in our evolution, and let yourself get immersed in the feeling of utter freedom that this possibility brings and the places that you can go with the new found freedom.  You can see how this concentration, realization, and gratefulness can apply to any task, including sweeping the floor or doing the dishes.  Be the best you can possibly be at any task, induce flow, and become happy.  


Practice this new methodology (gratitude, fascination, concentration) with some of your actions that you perform this week.  Try and be the best that you can be while conducting the activity.  Apply yourself and really take ownership of the action.  Choose actions that you don’t like to do and apply the “real” principle.  Making it real takes energy and commitment on our parts, but when we discover and practice the secret of happiness and find the activities that we do real, we can be happy with anything that we do and share this practice with others.

“Lean into it!”

Dr. N