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How to Be Happier & Why Attitude Matters

Written by Joe Cohen, BS | Last updated:

Note: This is not a science post. These attitudes reduce stress/anxiety for me, increase happiness and make me way more productive. They’re simple, but not easy.

This Post is Descriptive, Not Prescriptive

This post is merely about what changes occurred within me, and the results that I experienced.

I am not telling my readers to follow my path. I am merely describing, not prescribing. But some of the things that helped me may help you.

This post is more for entertainment purposes.

The Source of Unhappiness

There are two reasons why people are unhappy: one is biological and the other is psychological.

The psychological aspects have more to do with an inherent strain that comes from different parts of our being; that is, different units of our brain want different things.

I’ve discussed the biological aspects and will continue to discuss it, because that’s something that people can change and improve on with better information.

This post deals with the psychological aspects.

My Own Journey

My journey started at about the age of 22 (I’m 28 now). At this time I suffered panic attacks, which I didn’t even realize were such at the time.

I was a perfectionist, compulsive and I needed to feel in control of everything. Ideas were precious to me, possessions were cherished, my ambitions knew no bounds and I would’ve done anything to be “successful.” I had every type of anxiety -generalized, social, performance… you name it. My nails were bitten and lips chewed up. I was a nervous wreck.

My OCD and fatigue was such that I couldn’t work, date or go out. I felt like I needed to spend all day taking care of my health just to function normally.

Although I had an unlimited desire to accomplish, I had no motivation to implement those desires. I would endlessly plan and not implement any of the plans.

I was in the mindset where I was preparing for life, for some future time.

At this time, I had tried all kinds of self-help to become “better.”

Most self-help stuff weren’t telling me anything new, but rather seemed to try to motivate me. But I was already psychologically motivated, perhaps too much so. I was motivated to want to do things, but I wasn’t motivated to actually do anything. The material didn’t change any of my ability to implement my motivations.

After failing with conventional self-help, I started on a 6-year journey that I am still on. The results to date of my 6-year “hack” (really the anti-hack) are completely unexpected.

I didn’t expect many outcomes that have transpired when I started this journey, and I keep being surprised.

I expected to become a bum, be single, live in a shack (or crappy apartment) and never work again.

The Results of My 6 Year “Experiment”

The changes I’ve made have allowed me to be much more productive and creative than I ever was.

The following are what I experience 99.9% of the time. I have lapses once in a blue moon. I am not a saint.

  • I don’t experience fear in any significant way
  • I don’t have anxieties
  • I don’t have bad/depressed moods
  • I don’t hope the future will be different
  • I don’t experience jealousy
  • I don’t get angry
  • I have much better relationships with people

In the way of material things, I love my “job”, I have a good income, I live in a nice beachside house in Cali, I have a beautiful girlfriend and everything else material I could ever want.

Since I am not a materialist, I invest my money in making myself healthier and helping people – mainly through producing content and creating tools to help people improve their health.

Now you might say of course life can’t get any better! But I thought life couldn’t get better when I was single, living in a crappy apartment and my income was negligible. Even at that time, I was hoping my life didn’t get worse.

The Happiness Test

I find happiness to be a strange concept. I see the most wretchedly unhappy people claim to be happy.

In the typical fashion of western society we try to obtain happiness. It’s something that we need to get.

I see happiness as something that all people have, but we’re the ones who are blocking it. Therefore, there is nothing to obtain.

We constantly strive for happiness, which is in itself a source of unhappiness.

The test to know if you are happy is to ask yourself how much you want your current life to be different and how much you’re hoping that your life is different.

The less you find yourself striving for some aspect of your life to be different, the happier you are. That is the happiness test.

How We Spend Our Time

Most of our time is spent:

  • Being stressed
  • Hoping
  • Dwelling on the past
  • Regretting the past
  • Worrying about the future
  • Planning our future
  • Arguing with others or ourselves
  • Exerting our will
  • Controlling – trying to control others or our own life
  • Arguing – with ourselves and with others
  • Being jealous
  • Being angry
  • Being frustrated or disappointed
  • Hating
  • Being sad
  • Being critical of ourselves and others

If you notice, none of the things we are spending our whole day on is actually helping us in any way.

We are not happier from any of this or better off in any way and instead these mental toxins make us miserable.

When you stop these draining and useless actions, that’s when our life improves.

You’re The Problem

Ask yourself who is doing all the things we spend our time on? That’s right, it’s “you.”

You’re the one who, on some level, is choosing to be angry, frustrated, sad, controlling, regretful, etc..

You’ve decided (some aspect of your biology) to spend your time in this manner, or else you wouldn’t be doing it.

So you’re the problem, not your circumstances in life.

The Conscious Mind

This is not scientific, but rather my theory of how the mind works.

Our mind consists of a variety of units that work in conjunction with each other. The vast majority of these units operate beneath our conscious radar.

Each unit of our brain wants something else. There is a tug of war between these competing brain units.

Your conscious mind is only one unit of your brain and works with these other units.

The conscious mind is something that implements the totality of our desires between the competing brain units.

But the conscious mind is more of a mirror that reflects the totality of these desires.

Most often, since there are conflicts beneath the radar, the mirror that we have (or the conscious mind) reflects these conflicts, which is why we always feel conflicted.

The conscious mind itself is a unit that contributes to the chaos of conflicting brain units.

It piles on top of this mess of conflicting desires and creates even more conflict.

This is a significant source of discord within ourselves, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle.

Meditation is an exercise that seeks to calm down some of these conflicting brain units, especially the unit that causes the most conflict: the conscious brain or what we think of “me” or “I”.

Trying to Change Makes Things Worse

The Zen masters say that anybody who studies Zen or goes to a Zen master ought to be given 30 blows with a stick. Because he was stupid enough to pose the question that he had a problem, as Alan Watts says.

For a second, I was thinking of making this into an ebook, but then I thought anyone who buys a book on how to become better or happier deserves 30 blows on the head.

There’re a few lessons to this.

1) Change comes through experience, not knowledge. Through blows, you learn experientially through pain that you don’t need to try to change. Pain is perhaps the greatest learning tool. Zen masters can’t teach you that you can’t change through instruction because that’s trying to change through knowledge. It’s just more thinking.

2) You can’t change through an effortful process. Change comes spontaneously, not by seeking or planning. When you try to control a spontaneous process, you destroy it.

3) You don’t need to change to be happy. You’ve already got everything you need within you already. The only thing that stops you from being happy is yourself, which is a concoction of different desires that are competing with each other. When this competition calms down, that’s when you become happier.

4) Hitting is a form of shock treatment, which forces you to be in the here and now.

If you try to change these things directly, it more often than not makes things worse, because the conscious mind is just getting more involved.

So people face this paradox. We’re unhappy, but the only way we know to change our unhappiness is by using our conscious mind -but then that only makes the situation worse. So we feel trapped.

As opposed to what we think, we can’t turn an on or off button and command the way we want to live our life. How we want to live comes from an upwelling of the entirety of our being.

If we were capable of controlling ourselves with our conscious mind, then we wouldn’t be doing anything in the section above (“How We Spend Our Time”).

This means we can’t tell ourselves that we won’t be angry anymore and then stop being angry ever (or fearful, anxious, jealous, etc.). If such a situation did occur (that we told ourselves not to be angry anymore and it worked), then some deep parts of ourselves realized that our life is better without anger. Then it relayed this decision to the conscious mind. So we changed on some deep level even before our conscious mind was aware of it.

If we think we can use our conscious mind to change, this is just a sneaky manifestation of our desire to control.

I’m not saying that you can’t change. What I am saying is that you can’t change through willing it with your conscious mind.

Instead, the entirety of your being – conscious and subconscious – will change when you’re ready.

For example, if you’re in a toxic relationship, your being may decide that you need to get out of it. But some people stay in a toxic relationship because they conflict. Often, the source of toxicity provides something that they want. If you’re married with kids, some parts of your being might want to stay in a relationship for the kids. Some parts of your being are uncomfortable with change.

Example: You Can’t Change Your Level of Motivation With Will Power (in the long run)

Motivation is a good example to illustrate how change occurs.

Motivation is something that we often try to change by willing it with our conscious mind. Been there, done that.

Usually the issue isn’t the desire to do things, but the ability to follow through these desires with action.

Ironically, the less I tried to be motivated, the more motivated I became. I think there’s a few explanations as to why this happened.

First, I’ll mention the two possibilities of why you want to become motivated.

Either your biology isn’t working (or you’re naturally like that), so you can’t implement your desires.

The other option is that your you’re not interested in what you’re doing.

Many people pursue paths that don’t interest them because they want money, status, acceptance or praise from family, friends and community.

So my family wanted me to become a lawyer, but if I would’ve chosen that route, I wouldn’t have been motivated to follow through. Trying to become more motivated wouldn’t help, because the entirety of my being wasn’t interested in this field.

I may have still chosen this route for prestige or status, and I would’ve went through the coursework, but it would’ve been painful because I wouldn’t have been motivated.

I would have tried to use my conscious mind to become more motivated, but the only way the conscious mind can get you to do something that your being doesn’t want to do is by activating your stress response.

Your stress response will then make you more motivated to act in the short run, but in the long run you will burn out and become demotivated.

When I stopped trying to motivate myself, I became so unmotivated to do what I didn’t want to do that I completely stopped doing everything I didn’t want to.

Instead I only did things that I wanted to. This freed so much psychological and physical energy, which made me more motivated.

I currently work an average of 12-14 hours a day, but it doesn’t feel like work because I enjoy it and I always have the choice not to do it. I never find myself trying to find more motivation and I never procrastinate because I generally don’t do anything that I don’t want to.

I also think it’s a problem when we have such a desire to accomplish that we can’t let go and take time off. When I stopped trying to become motivated, I went through a period of 2 weeks of watching TV for 16 hours a day, because that’s what I felt like doing.

And I watched a good amount of TV since and have taken off a lot. I went weeks without doing “work” simply because I was in the mood to do other things more.

In the short run you will lose motivation because you stop using your stress response. But over time, you become even more motivated when you reduce your stress response over a prolonged period.

If you find yourself procrastinating or searching for more motivation, it’s time to change the direction of your life, rather than using your conscious mind to change. (Or your biology is broken).

Simple, But Not Easy

Simple, but not easy is one of my favorite all time expressions. It sums up everything in life that actually works. If it were easy to be happy, everyone would be happy.

If happiness was complex, we would’ve cracked that code sometime in 10,000 years of advanced civilization. It doesn’t require any technological breakthroughs.

The answer is that happiness is simple, but not easy. And the paradoxical part is when you try it becomes even harder.

People do things that make them unhappy all of the time such as stay in relationships that are toxic.

We work hard to attain status and we are unhappy most of the time while we’re at it. But we do it because we have some innate force that tells us that we need it. And if we don’t listen to our desire to pursue status then we will also be unhappy in other ways. So we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

All of These Principles Are One and The Same

There’s an internal conflict when presenting these ideas. On the one hand, if you truly implement just a single one of these ideas, then there’s nothing else to do.

This means that many of these ideas are different sides of the same coin.

On the other hand, breaking them down into different perspectives allows a greater understanding of what I’m trying to explain. So keep in mind that many of these principles are not different, but just different ways of looking at the same idea.

There’s Nothing You Have to Do to Get Where You Want to Be

Some people have this idea that we need to do things and fulfill certain requirements to start living. We need to work on ourselves for years. We need to be a master at meditation.

People feel that they need to work hard at things in order to reap the benefits.

I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to figure anything out or do anything to become better. You’ve got everything already.

You just need to let yourself be, which means to let your life play out the way it is destined to play out and just stop interfering.

If you are sick or your brain isn’t working, I am not saying to stay sick. Your being will know you’re sick and you will seek out treatments, if that’s the way your nature is.

Just watch and don’t try to interfere with this process – and if you do interfere, that’s also OK.

With all that said, here are the attitudes I’ve adopted:

1) I Realized That This Is It: The Logic Behind Living In The Moment

How many people do you know are happier now than they were 5 or 10 years ago?

Kabat-Zinn proposes an important question: what if this day or moment is the best moment of your life?

Growing up, I always thought that I’d be happier in the next year, but my happiness hadn’t changed. It occurred to me that I was living right now in the future that I had imagined years before.

I asked myself what gives me the right to believe that life will be better in the future? If anything, I could think of a gazillion things that could go wrong – I could get cancer, some serious disease, a leg cut off, etc…As we get older, we increase our risk for diseases every year. What if I died when I’m 50? And if everything went right, I asked myself, would life really be that much better than it was?

All of the people I could think of just had increased levels of stress as people went on to get married, have kids, build a business, etc…

My conclusion was that in all likelihood life would change, but as I got older the most likely scenario is my life would get worse – situationally. And if it did get better, it wouldn’t be by much.

Kabat-Zinn speaks about how we live life in moments, not days, weeks, years, etc… You can’t argue with this. These moments fill your life and your mood and outlook in these moments are relatively fixed and controlled by your biology.

As much as I hate cliches, happiness truly is a state of mind and this state of mind processes the world in moments. Our mental state at any given moment is what determines our happiness and not external factors (beyond necessities).

Probably 90% of our lives is spent working, grooming ourselves, sleeping and taking care of sh*t that we need to live and be healthy. Maybe 10% of our life is leisure – and this is without a wife and kids. If I couldn’t appreciate on some level the moments in 90% of my life then what hope was there for me in living a good life? What goal or accomplishment can suddenly lift up all of the moments in 90% of my life for a prolonged period? Realistically, I couldn’t think of a single one. To live a good life I had to appreciate on some level the 90% of life that is not leisure.

I accepted the idea that however happy I was now, today or this week, is what I could expect for the rest of my life, if I’m lucky.

The mindset of this is it completely shifted my thinking. It took up to a year to completely settle into this new mindset, but once firmly rooted, I stopped hoping because hope means you are planning for a better future.

If you find yourself thinking about how if you only had XYZ… THENNN you’d be happy and things will great, then you need to pay attention to your past and see how your past expectations measure up with your present circumstances.

Given this bleak realization, I believed the only chance I had to change my consciousness was by practicing mindfulness and meditation and changing my biology.

2) I Simplified

The first practice/attitude people should try to adopt is simplification. There was no one that hit this point home more than Matthieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk.

Humans have a knack for complexifying. Our natural tendency is to get caught up in thinking that more is better. I say if you want to fix an issue, first see what you can remove.

Life gets better by needing less, not acquiring more.

Simplifying doesn’t require doing anything or spending any money.

Simplifying is most important because it saves us time and money, which most people are pressured by a shortage of.

Simplification is getting rid of anything superfluous in your life. This includes superfluous thoughts, luxuries, friends, possessions, obligations and I hate to say it but dating as well – at least for a block of time. I stopped dating for a few years and it was tremendously beneficial for me (I currently have a girlfriend).

You don’t have to implement this to the same degree as I have. I actually went a year of sleeping on the floor with a 1/2 inch cot – a bit thicker than a duvet. I got rid of most of my cloths, my car, various possessions, etc…

I’ve learned how to cut my base monthly expenses including rent to 800 dollars a month (in NYC).

My expenses are ridiculous these days, but it doesn’t cause stress, because I’m willing to give it all up. Occasionally, I imagine a fire burning everything I have, becoming completely broke or other doomsday scenarios. I don’t find any situation so bad, so I don’t worry about it.

Even the fear of dying has lessened its grip on me.

I’m not telling you to live on 800 dollars a month. I’m telling you that your happiness shouldn’t depend on needing more than that. If you make a million dollars a year, there’s no reason not to buy a nice car or have a nice place. What I am saying is realize that happiness isn’t bought by material things.

Sometimes I experiment being without things that I feel are important for me. I went 2 months with barely eating any vegetables. The point was to see if I needed them or not. It turns out I don’t need them as much as I thought, but since they enhance my life a bit I consume them. I’ve gone more than 6 months without a cell phone (about a year ago). See George Carlin on Stuff.

If you simplify your life, it will allow you to build an awareness and pay attention to your patterns and learn from them.

3) I Go Along With It: The Principle of Judo

The word Judo means the gentle way. Ju- the gentle, do- way. “Do” is the Japanese word for “Tao.”

Through experience and self-awareness, you may or may not come to an understanding on a deeper level that you’re the problem.

And when you realize that you’re the problem and that you can’t use your conscious mind to change things, you start to give up.

“You” can’t change the problem, because this is how we’re built.

That doesn’t mean you won’t change. But you will change whether you try to or not. There is no need to put in extra effort with your conscious mind, which will only cause more internal strain.

What this means is there is nothing to do except watch the show of your life play out.

So if you start to feel guilt, you needn’t feel guilty about your guilt. If you start to feel guilty about your guilt, then needn’t feel guilty about that either. And if you do, that’s also fine.

Basically, you don’t need to add another layer of conflict to the mess. And if your being forces you to add a layer, then don’t add an additional layer on top of that. Basically, you don’t need to fight yourself.

The concept of Judo is an attitude that boiled up from my being, and it has helped me out tremendously.

When you realize that you can’t change yourself or other people (nor should you try), you stop additional conflicts that would result if you resist- and you save yourself boatloads of energy.

Watch this video: Time to Wake Up (speed up to 1.5X). This is my favorite video ever.

4) I Stopped Feeding The Striving

Americans are horrified by this one. We’re doers and we love striving.

Notice I didn’t say “I stopped striving.”

It’s in our nature to strive, buy more things than we need (complexify our life), not let go, not accept who we are, etc… And our nature evolved like this for good reason.

In our evolutionary past, the more resources someone had, the more likely their offspring would survive. Women, therefore, became attracted to status and traits that could lead to having more resources and status. Hence, our desire to strive and accumulate possessions, especially those that signal status.

However, sometimes we feel a need to strive beyond what our internal state wants. We see ambition as a virtue, which should be increased limitlessly.

There’s a problem with me telling you to stop striving.

If you tell people not to strive, then they start striving towards non-striving. Meaning, they strive to get to a state that will make them happier, which is just a mutated form of striving.

I see people who identify as Buddhists striving to get out of samsara, for enlightenment, for unity with the earth and for nirvana. But that’s just more striving.

The process of striving is just a signal from your being that you are not happy. Just let that be and see the decisions you make.

I believe striving for happiness and making this a pursuit only creates unhappiness.

We should simply be and live life the way our being tells us to, with the least strain possible. But I needn’t tell you that. And when strain arises, that’s a part of being human. Just see it for what it is – a natural process just like any other.

The essence of striving is trying to change some current reality to make it better. When we strive we are making it clear that we think our lives will be better in some way by accomplishing some goal.

Striving, like any other innate trait, is not “bad” or “good.” It’s part of the fabric of who we are. So if we strive and accept the reality of our striving because we can’t help not striving, then we will be more at peace with ourselves.

All we can do is be aware of our striving and listen to it. However, if you’re someone who tries to increase your striving more than you naturally feel – so that you could accomplish more, you are rejecting who you are and creating more of an internal strain.

We should question our striving and ask ourselves if we think life will really get better by accomplishing the aim of our goals. If yes, then pay attention to what happens when you do accomplish this. Just make sure not to move the goal post every time you inch closer to your goals. This is something we naturally do without realizing it.

Remember, there is nothing to do, nowhere to go, and nothing to accomplish, when it comes down to it.

I pay attention to my inclinations and embrace them. If I feel like striving, I strive. Sometimes we’re afraid to embrace who we are.

I like to very mildly strive and accomplish, but I do for its own sake, not because I think it will lead to a better future. My biology likes it. I view it like a game and don’t take it seriously.

When I play a sport, I want to win, but I’m equally happy losing, because it’s the game that counts, not the outcome. It’s the journey, not the destination. Striving is part of my own journey and I appreciate it as some odd biological fact in the grand scheme of things.

It probably evolved as a way to build status, which signals to women that I can provide resources if we get married and have kids. And ultimately, those who had more kids passed down these striving genes.

I think people accomplish whether they “choose to” or not and whether they strive or not. Things will happen if you plan them or not.

More than anything people hate being bored. You don’t have to strive to accomplish. But we are afraid to stop striving, lest we be less successful. That’s why it’s beneficial to let go of being successful.

You can genuinely be interested in learning a skill or getting things done without actively trying. I don’t strive to do research or give consultations. I just like doing it. People are also tinkerers. Sometimes, I just like to tinker with the website or some other project and sometimes not.

When I stopped striving as much, I actually was able to get a lot more done, simply because striving takes time and energy.

5) Meditation and Mindfulness

I have to admit that I don’t meditate often. I haven’t done it for the past 9 months.

Meditation is a practice to increase an appreciation for the present and to build self-awareness.

I’ve realized that meditation is more important when you’re busy “doing” all of the time, especially activities you don’t particularly enjoy.

But if you treat life as a game and your biology is working, I don’t think you require meditation. Meditation is a tool, but it’s not necessary if you’ve given up on trying to be something different.

So when I was in school and working at odd jobs that I didn’t enjoy, I needed to meditate and try to be in the present moment. I find mindfulness particularly important to practice when you’re bored with your occupation/life or your biology isn’t working.

On the really rare occasion that I get stressed, meditation can also be useful.

I also find it useful if I eat lectins, which can cause anhedonia and a lack of motivation for me.

Otherwise, I see no need for meditation if you are healthy and not stressed (at least for myself).

Mindfulness meditation can make you more aware and samadhi meditation can make you more focused.

Focusing is necessary for being in the moment and awareness is necessary for recognizing what’s in your conscious mind at any given time.

Being mindful means becoming an observer of your reality, which allows for more self-awareness.

If you’re meditating to check off one of your accomplishment boxes, then meditation won’t help you much.

6) I Stopped Trying To Change Who I Am

You want to be the way that feels most natural for you.

Most people are afraid to stop trying to make themselves better, because they are afraid of what will happen. I used to be like this.

People change from experiences, social environments, incentive structures and biological factors. But these happen no matter if you try to make yourself better or not.

But the problem is we have a hard time finding this state of being that we are comfortable with.

We object to ourselves in various ways and we have a laundry list of things we want to change.

I’m going to tell you that this process of objecting to ourselves, while natural, makes no sense in an objective sense.

Monkeys don’t object to themselves if they’re slightly less intelligent than their fellow monkey. One plant doesn’t object to itself if it is shorter or uglier than another plant. Meaning, everything is a part of nature and the minute differences that we care so much about is rather unimportant, in the grand scheme of things.

But the problem is that we do care. We do view these small differences as important to our lives. You will not stop objecting to yourself, because that’s what it is to be human.

The point is that it doesn’t matter what your circumstances in life are (if you’re beautiful or ugly), but rather how your brain responds to those circumstances.

After I lost hope, I tried to change my mental state so that I can be happier. Eventually, I realized that I couldn’t change my mental state directly. The only thing that changed my mental state was implementing practices and a lifestyle that was conducive to a more equable mental state. These include taking steps to decrease stress, getting more sleep, exercise, eating healthier and changing my biology with supplements and devices.

While this may sound reasonable that you can’t change your happiness directly with our conscious mind, the self-help movement is all about convincing us that our “I”- the thing we think that is making the choices – is capable of changing our life by thinking or using our mind in some way.

I think this movement feeds into the neuroses of Americans, as I discussed in my post about fatalism. It fills us with hope that we can take artificial steps to make us happier.

My mother used to tell us to look in the mirror and say I love myself a bunch of times to build self-esteem.

It’s as if somehow my conscious mind can convince my subconscious.

A book called the “The Secret” is also beloved by the masses. The core principle behind the secret is that if we just have the right mindset we can magically change the world.

I think the self-help movement is like a drug that can help some people in the short term, but has side effects in the long term.

It’s not that thoughts can’t influence our brain, it’s just there’s no set of thoughts that you can have that will cause your mood to change in a specific way for more than a brief period.

So if you feel better by saying you love yourself, then do that, but these methods don’t cause any lasting changes. If the Secret gives you enjoyment to read, then go for it, but it won’t make you happier in the long run.

7) I Stopped Thinking About the Past and The Future

You can’t command your mind what to think about or not. But if you’re aware of what’s going on in your mind, and the futility of thoughts, you will eventually stop.

I realized over time, that every time I thought about the future it created attachments. Thinking about the past was irrelevant and created regret.

Thinking about the past or future didn’t contribute to my well being in any way, and I only internalized it after a slow process of stopping and see the improvements.

After I realized benefits, I gradually stopped thinking about the past and future.

I also stopped thinking of “positive” thoughts as well, because that created delusions, I’ve found.

Once you stop thinking about the past and future, you will instead be living, learning and experiencing more.

Being engaged in your passion is what fills the thinking void.

I liked engaging in future and past thinking, but it was more like a drug than anything else. It gave me a high, but there was always a cost later on.

What subjects did I used to think about, but not anymore?

  • How great I am at some task
  • How great I am in general
  • How terrible I am at some task
  • How I’m no good in general
  • What others thought of me
  • What if… I don’t succeed or don’t accomplish some goal or something happens to some possession of mine, etc..
  • What I could’ve said in situations had I been able to turn the clock back
  • What I will say in the future to someone if situation X arises
  • How I could’ve done things differently in various situations in the past,
  • What I want to do in the future,
  • How good life will be in the future, especially if I accomplish X
  • What life would be like when/if I accomplish X,Y, and Z in the future
  • Plan out future situations in my head about everything I was going to do that day, week, year and map out the rest of my life
  • How I can be more attractive to the opposite sex
  • What I’m going to eat, supplements I should take, lifestyle factors I should implement
  • Trying to rehash mistakes I’d made, to correct them in the future
  • Trying to recapture thoughts that I’d forgotten

If you’re not neurotic, you might not relate to these thought patterns too much. Honestly, I forgot to a large degree all aspects of my neuroses because it’s hard to imagine you could be different than how you are now. But every so often I get flashbacks of what I was like. It’s hard to fully appreciate how much has changed.

8) I Became More Aware of Negative Thoughts and Emotions

All of the negative thoughts and emotions we have are pointless. They don’t enhance our life and if anything make it worse.

These negative thoughts and emotions are draining and prevent us from living a good life. They don’t serve any purpose.

So why do we engage in them? Because we are compelled to.

When we have a negative emotion, we should simply be aware of the experience and let it pass. Where is it coming from?

Realize that it’s just an emotion that is normal for people, but purposeless. Don’t fight it or feed it.

9) I Started “Doing” Less and “Being” More

We love doing. We should be called “human doings” instead of “human beings”, as the great Kabat-Zinn says.

We take great pride in how much we do and accomplish. We brag about how we have so much to do that we don’t have time for sleep.

I got an email by someone who was telling me how he was able to get an hour of less sleep a night so that he could accomplish more and now he was on 6.5 hours. He was wondering if there were any hacks I knew of that could bring this down to 6 hours.

All I could think about is where is this guy trying to get to? He wants to sleep less so that he can do more, but where will all this doing lead him? When will he decide his happiness is more important than achievement?

In my book, the difference between being and doing is simply whether we like it or not.

If you do something for the sake of getting it done, that’s doing. If you do something because you like the process, that’s being.

When you are engaged in your passion, that’s when being becomes effortless.

10) If It Feels Effortful, I Don’t Do It

Everything requires some effort, but not everything feels effortful.

If I do something repeatedly that’s energy draining, I will simply stop.

You will drain your “life force” the more you do things that you don’t want to do. This doesn’t mean you won’t get things done, however. You can hire someone else to do it, or shift your focus a bit.

If it requires motivation, then that means it feels effortful and I don’t do it.

11) I Follow My Passion

The process of being is not an active process. It’s a place you will drift to as you find your passion in life.

When you do what you love, you will start experiencing life instead of trying to hack your experience.

You will stop trying to become more productive and more motivated.

To follow your passion, you need to first start simplifying so that you don’t need a lot.

When I started following my passion, people told me there’s no money in blogging or whatever it is I do. Who will consult with me when I don’t have degrees?

I’d get a daily call from my Jewish mother that I needed to become a lawyer or accountant.

I basically ignored everyone and plowed forward, not caring how much I made. I was ready to be broke for the rest of my life. That decision has paid off in countless of ways.

I wouldn’t have been able to follow my passion as long as I cared much about what people think of me.

For a while, I would put myself in embarrassing situations to lower my ego and lessen the amount I cared of what other people thought.

So here’s the sequence of events for me:

Stopped caring what people think->Simplified my life->Fixed my biology->Followed my passion->Tried to become as unambitious as possible->Only did what I wanted to do->Let life play out through experiences…

12) I Don’t Take Life So Seriously

My personality type tends to take life more seriously.

We are but an infinitesimally small speck in this vast universe, living among billions of people and trillions of other living creatures.

The truth is we don’t really matter. Our quibbles, dislikings and likings are a product of our biology.

If you don’t take any aspect of your life too seriously, you will feel more free. Your fears and anxieties will disappear. People are anxious because they care about things too much.

Most people I meet take life so seriously. They walk around with serious expressions. They take their ideas so seriously, too. Try disagreeing with people who take their ideas seriously and you will see how upset they get. I’m thinking the whole time, you realize that none of this matters, right?

Not taking life so seriously doesn’t mean we won’t form opinions, or that we shouldn’t do what we have to do to survive. It means not taking ourselves, our ambitions or our opinions too seriously.

13) I Started Accepting

This actually the most important.

Acceptance means to accept that THIS IS IT and to accept that if your life doesn’t improve, then that’s also ok, even if your life is far from ideal.

Acceptance means to accept our eventual death (even if you think there’s a chance we will live forever).

We need to accept our compulsions and strong impulses.

Accepting doesn’t mean you won’t try to change anything.

It merely means that you will be more comfortable with the idea that things won’t change, even if we want them to.

Acceptance means to accept whatever it is you do, even if your behavior is harmful.

If you have a negative habit, you can try to change it, but accept the result, whatever it is. Acceptance means not complaining – or if you do complain, accepting this feature of your personality.

Acceptance means to go with the flow of whatever feels natural for you.

You need to accept who you are at this time, not who you want to be or who your parents or friends want you to be. Accept reality as it is, not as we want it to be.

Acceptance most importantly means you need to accept the present moment.

Accepting the present moment requires shifting from a state of doing/thinking to being.

Accept that whatever you are like or situation you are in was destined to be and in some sense there’s nothing you could’ve done to change it.

In some way, you are always being your best self, even if you think you are screwing up. That is a truism.

See acceptance therapy.

14) I Started Letting Go

Acceptance and letting go are closely related.

Letting go and acceptance are some of the hardest things in the world to actually do.

In order to accept you first need to let go of the desire for your situation to be different. If you let go of the desire for things to be different, acceptance will come forth effortlessly.

When you truly accept where you are, letting go comes forth more effortlessly.

The self help movement is built around the idea of not letting go – that you need to cling ever more to your ideas and desires.

That house in Malibu? It’s yours if you just want it enough.

You just need to adjust your mindset and the world will be great.

Letting go means even letting go of your attachment to life itself. Letting go of your own mortality creates freedom. No one is capable of letting go of their mortality fully, but letting go just a little can be helpful as well.

Letting go doesn’t mean we can’t buy things, but it means we should have a certain level of detachment to our possessions.

You should let go of the need for any outcome.

I let go very slowly, one attachment at a time, and I then paid attention to the results. After seeing the overall positive changes that occurred, it allowed me to let go even more.

It’s in our nature to constantly form new attachments and desires, but it helps when I take a step back and create some distance from these attachments.

A common practice in letting go is to imagine a life without that thing you’re attached to. How do you feel?

Instead of imagining how great my life would be if I had something, I imagine how my life would be if I didn’t and I’m aware of what I’m feeling.

Examples of what I let go of to one degree or another:

  • The future and the past,
  • My thoughts and ideas about everything,
  • My needs and desires, ambitions,
  • My attachments to material possessions and mental or emotional states.
  • My ego and with it my desires for status, admiration, acceptance, approval etc..
  • Dualities such as my likes and dislikes, opinions about right and wrong, good and bad, truth and fiction.
  • My self delusions about how great I am or how bad I am.
  • Needing to think about a specific topic.

You can have thoughts, just look at them as passing objects and don’t get caught in them. What do you feel? Anxious? Bored?

15) I Started Accepting My Mortality

The worst thing that can happen, pretty much, is death. If you are terrified of death, that will instill fear into the rest of your life like a domino.

People are afraid that when we die, we’re going to be locked up in a dark room forever.

Death is more like an eternal sleep, which isn’t so bad. Was life so bad before you were born? It’s the same after you die.

Being afraid of death creates a domino effect of fear and anxiety.

Humans are built to want to survive, but letting go of our mortality can be helpful.

16) I Stopped Judging As Much

I am naturally a judger, but I am working on it.

We’ve got judgments about everything.

We like this, we don’t like that. This is “good” and this is “bad”.

When you judge, it means you’ve lost perspective of the universe and our place in it.

Nothing is inherently good or bad. Good or bad are creations of our brain. Just like soft and hard are creations. A rock is only hard in relation to our soft skin but objectively speaking, it’s all just a different arrangement of atoms. It’s our brain that creates hardness and softness.

Same with color. Our brain creates color, but color is just a frequency and a wave. Color is just atoms moving around.

Now we aren’t ever going to stop judging, but taking a step back and realizing that it’s all a creation of the brain puts things into perspective and creates a bit more detachment.

17) I Lost Hope

Obama’s got a lot to say about hope.

Hope serves an important purpose for people and if you try to bust people’s hope they will get very upset.

I see it as a crutch, but an important one. Glasses are also a crutch but we need them to get by.

When I initially lost all hope, I became depressed for a bit. There’s no losing hope forever because hope is one of those things that keeps creeping back.

But the more I lost hope, the happier I became in the long run because hope is a future-oriented mindset. It’s a statement that you want things to be different and you are not happy now on some level.

Hope is an illusion. Everyone is hoping for a better future and they believe strongly that this future will come one day.

Losing hope forced me to deal with the present.

When you stop hoping that the future will be different, it forces you to confront the present reality. In the beginning, it’s a bitter pill, but over time it was good for me.

I used to constantly hope and believe that the future will be better until I realized that this was a fantasy. If I ever hope now, it’s usually that my life doesn’t degrade (more of an appreciation than a hope), because I’m satisfied with my life now and I can’t imagine it will get significantly better. And I thought this when I was living in a crappy apartment in Brooklyn and I had nothing.

Politicians and marketers know that if you want to get elected or sell a product, you have to take advantage of this principle.

The goal of a politician is to convince you that if you elect him/her then your future will be better in some way. Almost always, however, we are disappointed by our hope. Think back to all of those times you hoped for some outcome and the result either didn’t come to fruition or even if it did, it didn’t feel as good as we thought it would be.

So we make goals and put our lives on hold and assume we will bear the fruits of our lives when we accomplish some task. We plan about some dreamy future and spend our time hoping that this future will be better.

I want you to think back about every time you thought about your future and compare your experience now to how you thought it would be when you dreamed about it. It’s not as great as you thought it would be.

18) I Became Less Busy

We like to wear the badge of being busy. Being busy is relatively easy.

My question is how capable are you of doing nothing and being comfortable with that?

We’re always trying to get somewhere and pile on things to do, but the busier we are, the less we listen to what our body and mind are saying.

When I stopped seeing business as a virtue, it allowed me to start playing around and doing things I liked. By being less busy, this is how you find your passion.

By being less busy, you become more aware of how the patterns in your life affect your mental and physical state.

For example, I’ve noticed that whenever I get too ambitious, unhappiness sets it. That’s why I just threw out all of my ambitions.

If I constantly was busy and had a million things going on it would’ve been very difficult to notice this trend.

I’ve noticed many such trends, which is what allowed me to realize what kind of life I want to live to be happy.

19) I Cultivated Patience

I’m not talking so much about patience with people – when trying to give someone instructions, for example.

I’m talking about patience in life. How badly do you want to complete your project or accomplish that thing later? The more impatient you are, the more it signifies you’re living in the future.

If you’re truly living in the present, then you are enjoying the present and you needn’t rush to the future.

The less patient we are, the more we believe that our imaginary future will be better. It signals a lack of appreciation and acceptance of our present moment and a desire to change things. It means we are striving for some future.

Like everything else, we shouldn’t try to force it. The only thing we can do is have an awareness of our past – that every time we were impatient when that event finally came it never felt as good as we imagined it would be.

We can also have a passive realization that being impatient won’t accomplish anything and isn’t conducive to practices that make our lives better.

Remember, life is lived in moments. If you can’t be happy now, you won’t be happy later. If you’re impatient now for some future, when you get to that future, you’ll probably be impatient for a new future, and you’ll be living a life always waiting for the future and never living.

20) I Stopped Trying to Change or Convince People

There is no point in convincing people of anything.

If you try to convince or change people, it means either:

  1. You have not accepted your present reality.
  2. You’re too attached to your ideas.
  3. You’re insecure about your ideas.

Each of these 3 will cause distress for you.

When you stop trying to change or convince people, you free yourself of mental energy that you can channel in other places.

So when you get the urge to try and convince someone or change someone, ask yourself where that’s coming from.

21) I Started Realizing That Everything That Happens is Destined to Happen

When you realize you can’t control your fate, you stop worrying, which frees a lot of our energy and allows you to focus on your passion or anything that makes you happy.

For me, this is a philosophical truth.

This is true because we didn’t choose our biology, our environment or anything for that matter. We were born with it. We also didn’t choose the brain that makes us think we have free will. See the illusion of choice.

Basically, if you don’t believe in the supernatural, you must conclude that free will beyond our physical brains doesn’t exist. Because these choices come from an evolved material brain that is always trying to make the best decisions.

If you are religious and think God created free will as a supernatural force, then that’s also fine.

Religious people trust that God will make everything work out for them and whatever happens it’s for the best – as in it’s God’s will. Even if some tragedy strikes, they trust that God has some master plan and it’s all for the best. And I think this makes religious people happier.

There are also people that believe in spirituality and think that the spirit is guiding everything.

However you think of it, when you feel that you aren’t in control, it makes you regret or worry less because it was destined to happen.

22) I Got Rid of Energy Suckers, Narcissists, Negative and Crazy People – and People Who Tried to Change Me

The people around you can influence your state.

You want to be around positive people who aren’t loaded with mental baggage and don’t try to suck your energy.

You don’t want to be around people who try to convince or change you.

Most people claim they are just trying to “educate” you, for your benefit, of course. If they do this too much, it’s time to push the sayonara button.

Narcissists are another category of people that you should get rid of if you want to improve your life.

23) I Started Dating

Dating is part of human nature and fulfills certain basic pleasures in life. I am quite happy without dating, but I experience loneliness sometimes.

What’s key is to make sure that you’re not dating an energy sucker or someone trying to change you or a drama queen.

24) I Became More Autonomous

Autonomy is known to help happiness in research. The more you don’t need to rely on any one person, the happier you will be – especially if these people are unstable or trying to change you.

I knew before I had a complete autonomy that I would be happier when I didn’t need to rely on anyone, and it’s true – I became happier.

25) I Started To Imagine Everything Turning Into Dust

When you imagine all of your efforts and all of your achievements and all of your possessions turning into dust, how do you feel?

The worse you feel at this prospect, the more attachments and anxiety you have because anxiety is really about fearing that we will lose something dear to us – whether it be losing respect, our possessions or something else.

When you realize that everything will, indeed, turn into dust, you stop caring as much.

26) I Stopped Reading/Listening to All Self-Help Material

Most of the self-help material I’ve seen preach ideas that are counterproductive in my opinion.

They preach hope as a virtue, limitless mindsets, unlimited ambition and using your conscious mind to control your fate.

They focus on how you can change with ideas and encourage striving.

They tell you mantras, hacks, how to think or reprogram your mind and all the hoops you have to go through.

It’s all nonsense.

Alan Watts’ Sayings

Waking Up

“When you’re ready to wake up, you’re going to wake up, and if you’re not ready you’re going to stay pretending that you’re just a ‘poor little me.”

Vicious Circles

“So then let’s consider first of all what is a mind in the grip of vicious circles. Well, one of the most obvious instances that we all know is the phenomenon of worry. The doctor tells you that you have to have an operation. And that has been set up so that automatically everybody worries about it. But since worrying takes away your appetite and your sleep, it’s not good for you. But you can’t stop worrying and therefore you get additionally worried that you are worrying. And then furthermore because that is quite absurd and you’re mad at yourself because you do it, you are worried because you are worried you are worried. That is a vicious circle.” ~

There’s Nothing Wrong With You

“But we have been bamboozled… by religionists… by politicians… by fathers and mothers… by all sorts of people… to tell us, you’re not it… and we believed it.” (“You’re not it” means that you need to do, get or be something to start living a good life.)

So, do you see now, why, if I put it to you in this very negative way…You can’t do anything to change yourselves, to become better, to become happier, to become more serene… if I say “You can’t do a damn thing!” Can you understand this negative statement in a positive way?

What I’m really saying is, that you don’t need to.

Because if you see yourselves, in the correct way, you are all as much extraordinary phenomena of nature, as say trees, clouds, the patterns in running water, the shape of fire, the arrangement of stars, the form of a galaxy.

…You are all just like that. There’s nothing wrong with you at all… So, it’s a question fundamentally: Do you define yourself as a victim of the world, or as the world?”

The Principle of Judo

Except that I have to add this little flip… you have in you… you do think there’s something wrong… see… there’s no question… you do! We all object to ourselves in various ways.

…and I’m going to add, there’s nothing wrong with that either because that’s part of the flow, that’s part of what is going on, that’s part of what we do.

So what I’m going to do, I’m going to deliver you from the sense of guilt, because I’m going to teach you, that you needn’t feel guilty because you feel guilty.

Of course, you feel guilty! It’s like someone put a match to you and you feel hot.

So they taught you as a child to feel guilty… and you feel guilty.

Well, then someone comes along and says “Well you shouldn’t.”

That’s not the point. I’m going to say… not that you shouldn’t… but that when you do… don’t worry about it.

…and if you want to say further “But I can’t help worrying about it,” I’m going to say to you “Okay, worry about it.”

This is the principle, called in Japanese “Judo” – meaning “The gentle way” – go along with it, go along with it, go along with it.

Simply Watching and Listening

So, therefore, this is the beginning of meditation. You don’t know what you’re supposed to do… what can you do?

Well, if you don’t know what you’re supposed to do… you watch.

You simply watch what’s going on.

Like, say, somebody plays music. You listen. You just follow those sounds.

And eventually, you understand the point of the music.

The point cannot be explained in words because music is not words.

But after a while, in listening to any music, you will understand the point of it… and that point will be the music itself.

About the Author

Joe Cohen, BS

Joe Cohen, BS

Joe Cohen flipped the script on conventional and alternative medicine…and it worked. Growing up, he suffered from inflammation, brain fog, fatigue, digestive problems, insomnia, anxiety, and other issues that were poorly understood in traditional healthcare. Frustrated by the lack of good information and tools, Joe decided to embark on a learning journey to decode his DNA and track his biomarkers in search of better health. Through this personalized approach, he discovered his genetic weaknesses and was able to optimize his health 10X better than he ever thought was possible. Based on his own health success, he went on to found SelfDecode, the world’s first direct-to-consumer DNA analyzer & precision health tool that utilizes AI-driven polygenic risk scoring to produce accurate insights and health recommendations. Today, SelfDecode has helped over 100,000 people understand how to get healthier using their DNA and labs.
Joe is a thriving entrepreneur, with a mission of empowering people to take advantage of the precision health revolution and uncover insights from their DNA and biomarkers so that we can all feel great all of the time.


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