Being happy isn’t enough: finding a life purpose you REALLY care about.

unhappyI recently had an “Aha!” moment reading Sebastian Marshall’s Ikagai.

I’ve written earlier about how “chasing your passion” is bad business advice, but I still essentially cling to the idea that happiness is a worthwhile goal.

We have absolute freedom, so – given the option – why not be happy?

Surprisingly, there are many reasons.

But the biggest one is probably that it’s lazy. And boring. And you’re giving up the potential to be something much greater, much bigger, much more meaningful, in exchange for a meaningless standard of psychological well-being that matters to virtually nobody but you.

As Sebastian writes:

When someone’s goal is to get more serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine pooled in their brain, I think … wow, that’s it? To be quite frank, I don’t think I’m particularly a big deal and I don’t think my pleasure on any short term timescale is a big deal. 

So if your goal in life is to “be happy” – that makes you vain, and selfish, and lazy. And very boring.

But it gets worse…

I’m not arguing to be unhappy of course. Happiness has positive value.

If you are constantly unhappy, you’re probably not likely to benefit those around you, or do much positive in your own life.

So becoming happier may be a decent en-route short-term goal to larger measures and actions.

But in itself it’s incredible weak; and people often use it as an excuse.

They worry and fret and pout about their mental state. “Oh, poor me, I’m so unhappy! I’ve got to become happy before I can actually do anything! So I’ll just give myself a little bit more pleasure in this moment and not worry about all the shit I don’t like because that stresses me out!!!” (They probably use a lot of exclamation points as well…)

happy bliss

But their unhappiness probably comes from lack of control or lack of money or lack of relationships which means:

1) They don’t (yet) have the resources needed to start their own business, quit their job and make money.

2) They don’t have control over their money or have negative money beliefs.

3) They don’t have excellent relationship skills, know how to make themselves desired and trusted, know how to compromise and please other people.

4) They aren’t healthy or happy with their body or image.

Luckily, 1~4 are all more or less skills and habits that can be learned and practiced.

But in each case, the goal isn’t “get happy.” People with these worries blocking their happiness should focus on LEARNing how to overcome the specific obstacle or challenge.

Don’t like your job? Become an entrepreneur by changing your mindset. Read a few hundred books. Take risks. Start small. Listen to podcasts to change your negative thought patterns. Save a little money to start your own business. Move to a foreign country where costs are low.

Always alone? You’re probably sabotaging your relationships – you’re doing something wrong. Stop blaming other people, figure yourself out. Read psychology and self-help books. Read books on attracting and keeping members of the opposite sex. Human beings are remarkably predictable. They’re pretty easy to influence. You can make people genuinely like and even love you if you learn the right tricks and try a little bit instead of wallowing in denial and self-pity.

Worried about your health or body? Get your ass off the couch, stop eating junk, do some exercise. Focus on improving your sleep, your digestion. Get more sunlight. Go swimming and/or running more often. Stop drinking alcohol.

None of these things are obvious solutions to the empty life goal of “Be Happy.” You don’t really want to do them. You’d rather party, watch TV or surf the web all day. You’d rather drink soda and eat cake all the time. You’d rather buy yourself something shiny and pretty/cool. But those are lazy actions that are triggered by your vow and life philosophy to “Be Happy.”

And that’s why you’ll never achieve it.

Because you’ll be chasing each short-term fix and you’ll never patch the soul-swallowing holes killing your chances of real happiness. Real happiness comes from control and power and freedom. Real happiness comes from making a huge impact, from changing the world, from being part of something amazing.

medicating happiness

Medicating for happiness

Happiness is basically an agreeable balance of neurotransmittors. Exercise and eating the right foods can help these get in balance, as can pharmaceutical drugs. If your brain is “broken” (you’ve fucked it up with an unhealthy lifestyle so you feel “sad” or “depressed” or “unmotivated” all the time)  luckily it’s not that hard to fix.

Unless you don’t want to, because you secretly enjoy the attention that comes from being the sad, depressed, tragic creative. If you’re unwilling to give up your sense of self-identity in favor of lasting happiness and becoming useful to other people rather than sucking energy from them, then that’s fine (just stay away from me; I hate people like that).

If you believe your personality is God’s Purpose for your life on earth and you shouldn’t mess around with that stuff, then you also need to immediately give up ALL PROCESSED foods, all electricity and transportation, and go live in a cave and eat berries. Seriously, the argument from nature is ridiculous: our lives are not natural. That’s why most people are sad and depressed and sick all the time. If you take medicine when you have a headache to get rid of the pain, you can take it when you’re sad.

Of course everybody should have natural responses to emotional triggers and events: dealing with loss, losing a loved one, your goals and plans fall through… disappointment and frustration is to be expected. You should be able to laugh in comedies and cry in tragedies. This is a normal part of the human experience and I’m not suggesting you pop pills to get high all the time. But if you have serious, chronic depression; if you feel bad all the time even when things are going great; if you just can’t care or get excited about anything; you have a brain imbalance that can be fixed.

American Drs. have a habit of over-prescribing some awful stuff though (Prozac, aka ‘bottled sunshine‘). Don’t give up if you don’t like the first few meds they try. For me, St. John’s Wort worked pretty well for years… now a tiny dose (5mg) of Nortriptyline keeps me very balanced and pretty “normal” – while an extra boost (100mg) of Neurontin/Gabapentin can put me in a better mood and make me more outgoing and talkative. Vicodin, meanwhile, can reduce my social anxiety and boost confidence.

I take them all occasionally to help with migraine prevention – my main debilitating health issue, and I’ve tried LOTS of pills to try and prevent/abort migraines. It’s not a philosophical issue when you’re lying on the cold, hard bathroom floor, hugging the toilet, vomiting everything out of your stomach until the intense pain and dizziness finally abates. Migraine symptoms can make me completely useless for several days. Should I accept it as “part of my personality?” and just learn to live with the pain? Migraine is also basically an imbalance in brain chemicals.

I don’t “abuse” drugs and I rarely use them recreationally (although if I really need to force myself to relax, I prefer marijuana to Valium.) I use them as needed to keep me regulated and in the most effective state for my current task.

Why let social anxiety screw up an interview, or inability to focus your brain keep you from that looming deadline, or insomnia ruin your important event the next day? Although my goal isn’t to be happy, the experience of unwarranted unhappiness and lack of motivation through a time period you aren’t enjoying is a total waste of your life.

The life of the creative genius

There’s a myth modern society has bought into – that in order to be a “real” artist you need to be sad, frustrated, melancholy or misunderstood. It’s true a lot of artists or geniuses were bi-polar, fluctuating between bouts of mania and depression. It’s true a lot of them had migraine symptoms.

But it’s just as true that they constantly self-mediated with alcohol or opium or meth or cocaine or whatever else was available to them. They used uppers and downers and focused on maximum output. They didn’t question whether the substances were “changing their personalities” because in the end, nobody gives a damn about your personality!

It dies with you. All that will remain is your work, the product, the output.

So stop worrying about “who you are” and focus on what meaningful stuff you can build that other people will appreciate.

creative genius

More output! More production!

Nobody will give a shit about your deeply realized philosophical insights unless you sit down and write the book.

If all you do is talk all the time and bring other people down, you’re not a creative genius (although you might have wasted potential. Who knows if you don’t complete and the work?)

Stop wasting time self-obsessing about your “happiness” and focus on what you’re producing!

How to weather unhappiness

A much more reasonable life goal would be to weather unhappiness: how could you experience unhappy emotions (frustration, depression, sadness, melancholy) but STILL be motivated, positive and confident in the general direction of your life, or at least your abilities to change things around quickly?

To do this you would need to build up your:

A) Savings and investments

B) Reputation, personal magnetism/people skills and powerful relationships

C) Experience and skills you can count on to start from nothing and build something of value again, quickly.

Creating something – anything – is a good way to kill your boring and useless worries, kill your thoughts and channel your time and energy. But if you just make anything it will inevitably lead to frustration and sadness when you can’t get anybody to take an interest in your work, or sell it, or make some money. So don’t just make whatever you feel like (again – it’s selfish). Decide to make something that will be well-received/popular from the get-go. You only live once. Do you want to be rich, famous and happy? Or frustrated and lonely with the small chance your work will be discovered in a few hundred years?

Decide to make something of value to others, not to yourself.

You can do that by finding out what’s popular, what’s selling, what people are talking about and interested in. Take all those together, cram them into something new, better, a step ahead, and success will be oh-so-easy for you.

But by any measure, making your own stuff and selling a lot of it is a great way to make money, quit your job, get more freedom, confidence, and steer the course of your own life. Which means true happiness always boils down to productivity.

You have to make a lot of stuff…

The title of this post is “finding a life purpose you REALLY care about” – but it’s a bait and switch. Like most people, you’ve been sold the lie of “follow your passion.” And like most people, you’re spending your life trying to find out exactly what that is, knowing you can’t be happy until you find it.

But I don’t believe in life purposes. And I don’t really care much about you or your beliefs. In 100 years, nobody will care about you at all. Unless you’ve built something.

You can waste this life trying to find a “meaning” that “makes you happy” … or you can Get Shit Done.

Fuck Passion. Make something meaningful.

I can reflect on the meaning of my life when I’m 50 and traveling around the world on my yacht. If I want my life to matter I can give away a few million on a good cause. I’ll be able to do these things because I’m relentlessly helping other people achieve goals and making stuff that will make their lives easier. I used to focus on quality – but now I know it’s more about quantity and output (of course, the more you produce, the better your skills become).

For me personally, the biggest boost in productivity (even after all the others have failed) I got from Sebastian Marshall’s Ikagai – that’s the “aha!” moment I mentioned earlier.

I’ll convey it in two parts:

ONE: I’ve had a lot of difficulty with productivity over the last year. Although I’m earning more than ever, accomplishing more than most people, checking off my list of goals and to-do lists (late maybe, but I still get it done) I don’t feel the pressure.  Maybe it’s because I have soft deadlines and no boss. Maybe it’s because I know I can easily make “enough money” to pay the bills. Maybe I’m TOO happy – looking forward to my trip to the Philippines this month, then Japan in May. I have the time and freedom and resources to pretty much do what I want.

I tried to motivate myself with tons of motivational quotes and posters mounted around my office. I’ve tried to self-medicate with caffeine and other stimulants. But I still sleep in late, watch too much TV, and procrastinate more often than not (OK… not really THAT much, I still clock in around 60 hours a week at my desk … although if I’m developing my own stuff, it doesn’t feel like work.)

I’m paraphrasing, but Sebastian writes he had a personal breakthrough when he stopped comparing himself to “everyone” and started comparing himself to the top 1% of achievers in the history of the human race. By the first measure, he was already in the top percent – free, earning good money, living anywhere, relatively healthy and building power and influence. At this point it’s easy to be complacent and say “I’m doing pretty well. I can afford to take it easy. I’ve already achieved more than most people.” You may feel like a winner, but you’ll start to act like a loser.  You’re a big fish in a small pond.

Compared to other online, self-employed bloggers or digital nomads? I’m doing a’ight. Compared to my epic heroes (Thomas Carlyle, Oscar Wilde, Thoreau or Emerson) I’m a lazy asshole. I sleep way too much and don’t work nearly enough. I don’t tackle the great, important social issues of my times. I’m not willing to be bold, sacrifice, challenge, or instigate controversy.

So I put pictures of them on my wall, with quotes that challenge me (rather than affirm or approve of me). My goal (now) is to become more famous than all of them; produce more, write better, make a bigger impact, through both fiction and non-fiction. I need to become a caricature of myself. An anecdote. Larger than life.

TWO: Sebastian also introduces the “Equal-Odds Rule” and summarizes it thus:

  1. If you want to make excellent stuff, you need to make a lot of stuff.
  2. If you make a lot of stuff, you’ll make a lot of crap.
  3. If you want to make excellent stuff, you need to make a lot of crap.
  4. And that’s OK, because you are judged by your best work.

You’ll never discover the purpose of your life slaving through a job, busy all the time, with barely enough money to pay the rent, medicating the pain and boredom with entertainment and alcohol.

So first you need to change your situation (unless you’re already rich and happy and healthy and wonderful… if so I envy you).

And for most people, the only way to really change your station is to make new stuff (not raise your income a little, but triple it. Twice.) Life is short. There’s no need to be embarrassed about the crap you’re going to produce.

In fact the crap is the necessary training period you are required to go through before you start producing things of quality.

Trying to make something perfect is an easy way to waste your time and resources. Start small. Make what you can. Make more. If it doesn’t sell, make something else. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. When you find something that sells, make and sell 1000 of them. Then 10,000.

Build habits. Create everyday. After (at least) several years, you’ll start to get pretty good. People may start to take notice.

Think Bigger (happiness is not enough)

But it’s easy to get frustrated and revert back into inactivity.

You need a bigger goal. You need more passion and drive.

It’s not about the money. It’s about the impact. It’s about making a meaningful contribution.

What “follow your passion” really means is “create things of value to other people by doing things you enjoy anyway.”

But that’s easy.

“Finding your life’s true purpose/meaning” is much harder, but here’s a tip:

Since you don’t know what it is yet, choose something that excites you.

That’s right – just make it up. Make sure it’s a “Stretch Goal” – something that seems totally unattainable right now.

Sebastian’s is to become “the greatest strategist of this generation.”

My newly inspired “meaning of life” could be to become the best book designer in the world. That’s a meaning I could enjoy, except it doesn’t really light my fire. Something I feel more passionate about would be “I now write and publish a book every month, and I make a million dollars a year in book sales alone.” Seems like a dream come true, right? Impossible?

But I am learning to write and publish very quickly. And a million dollars isn’t really that much.

In the USA, about 70% of adults have a Kindle or Ipad, which means there should be about 220,500,000 of them out there. But maybe my readership is only about 1%… that’s still 2,205,000.

And maybe only 10% of that one percent actually finds and likes my books. That’s still 220,500 fans.

If they like one book, they’re likely to buy my others. So if I write and sell 10 books to those people (and make $1 / sale) were back to $2,205,000.

The secret to wealth is in BIG NUMBERS.

A million a year as a full-time, professional writer? That’s a pretty exciting goal.

A couple years ago my goal was simply to make enough money to support myself.

Then it was to make 100K/year with my online businesses.

But those are small goals – you need to have a why it matters goal. You need to have a goal that stretches you and makes you a little uncomfortable – an unreasonable goal. A goal that when you tell other people, they laugh at you.

So instead of “I’d like to make $1000usd/month on book sales” (my recent short-term goal) I should be thinking “I want to be the best-selling author of my generation.” Or “I want to sell 100,000 books a month.” Make it real with affirmations. (“I now sell 100,000 books a month.”) Tell everyone you meet you’re plan is to sell 100,000 books a month.

But you also need a motivating WHY – what will you do with the money? Why are you doing this? What’s the point of it? When it comes down to it, you need to get your butt in the chair, build the habits, and build a lot of stuff (much of which will be crap).

I’ve accepted I may need to publish 10 crap, low return books before I start writing books people love and making real money. So rather than stretching them out, I want to write my 10 crap books ASAP – this year. One a month. I don’t want to an award-winning, popular author literary critics love. I want to write books that sell and make me a fortune.

I want a boat. I want a big house on a mountain in the forest. I want to travel through poorer countries and donate huge resources and tools to improve their standard of living. I want to build schools everywhere. I want to make giant public art pieces for cities. I want to invest in and develop new energy technology that curtails global warming. I want to build eco-friendly apartment complexes. But the shortest and easiest route between those things and me (write now) is writing a few dozen books and making a million dollars.

Is it the true meaning of my life? Who cares? Nobody knows why you are here. Might as well make yourself useful.

About Derek Murphy

I help authors and artists turn their passions into full-time businesses, make a bigger impact, and blaze a luminous trail of creative independence. Right now I'm in Taiwan finishing a PHD in Literature, writing several books, and managing a handful of online businesses. Find me
  • Dana Delamar

    The best thing I’ve found for migraines is a combination of Petadolex and Migrelief (you can find both products on Amazon). Takes 2-3 months to kick in. I went from 8-10 migraines a month down to 0-1. Huge improvement! Also largely got rid of my migraine-associated vertigo.

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