A few years back I was scrolling through one of my favorite blogs, Humans of New York.
Humans of New York was created by photographer Brandon Stanton. Stanton has spent the past decade going around the world, taking photos of strangers and asking them deep personal questions.
People get very real with him. The stories shared are often traumatic and dark and quickly make you realize you may not have it so bad.
One day while scrolling through the page, I stumbled upon a photo of a fashionable older Asian man, smiling and posing.
It stopped me in my tracks.
His quote read,
“I’m different than other people. I’m never sad. I make my life happy through discipline. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, and I eat lots of fiber. Every day I take a walk in the park to think about my balance. I’ve been a chef, a fashion designer, a painter, and now I’m learning martial arts. I do Tai Chi in the park every morning. It helps give me energy for my painting. I have already learned forty-two moves. I’m ahead of everyone. I’m almost eighty years old, but all the women in my group think I’m in my fifties.”
I swear I read this quote ten times. I analyzed every detail of his features. Above and below him on the blog were stories of people who were hooked on drugs or dealing with divorce or just didn't know how to get out of their own misery.
This guy was an anomaly.
He was the happiest man in the world.
It’s been years since I came across the photo but I’ve thought about him every day since.
He left this indelible mark in my brain. One of possibility.
In a single paragraph he outdid a hundred self help books.
He found that thing that all of us are so desperate for...consistent joy.
What struck me was his intentionality.
His happiness wasn’t random...“I make my life happy through discipline.”
Being great at happiness is no different from being great at a sport or any endeavour. It requires deep focus and attention to detail. It means practicing day in and day out until you’ve acquired the skills to make yourself fulfilled. It means removing the things that don’t work for you, getting rid of distractions and negative forces that bring you down.
Notice he started with what what he doesn’t do, “I don’t drink, I don’t smoke.”
Subtract before you add.
Most people wake up in the morning, mad at the fact that they don’t feel good. They proceed to hop on their phones, drink some caffeine, go to a school or a job they don’t love, while spending more time on their phones, then come home eat an unhealthy dinner, maybe have a drink or two, scroll through their phones again and pass out. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
The happiest people I know have the most boundaries. They prioritize their own joy. They do the therapeutic work to heal their own trauma. They’re selfish with their time and invest their energy in who and what they love.
It’s not random.
You don’t become great at anything by chance.
Creating joy in your life takes work and intention.
When I get low or feel in a rut I think to myself, ‘What would the happiest man in the world do right now?’
Would he spend time with people that don’t make him happy? Would he do work that doesn’t give him joy?
Would he go outside? Would he learn a new hobby?
I don’t know his story. I don’t know if he had an abnormally easy life or suffered serious setbacks.
But I like it that way. I like to leave it open. To not complicate it with specifics. To accept that whatever life you’re given you can intentionally choose how you operate within it. And that choice will make all the difference in how you feel.
So, after reading this email, maybe ask yourself, what would the happiest version of you do right now?