What I focus on to actually be happy

The 4 Pillars I use to measure my happiness

Cheesman Park, Denver (Photo by me)

Unlike most people, I am always completely happy and fulfilled in my life.

Just kidding.

But in all seriousness, it’s just not possible for me to be happy at all times in my life. I have ups and downs just like you and everybody else, but I’m always striving to achieve happiness.

Notice how I said achieve happiness — I didn’t say find happiness because I don’t think it’s a destination. I believe that happiness is a byproduct of putting in the work.

After years of feeling shitty and chasing the wrong things, I noticed I’m the happiest in my life when I feel balanced.

I’ve spent time chasing after shiny objects only to realize that once I had them, I still wasn’t pleased. This brought me to wonder, was happiness just a mirage? Is it something that I will always strive for but never actually achieve?

Maybe — but maybe I just wasn’t happy because something was missing. I had a firm grip on one aspect of my life, but others were falling to the wayside.

Ben Austin says “Each area of our lives must be treated with the type of respect, love, care and focus that we put in others.”

This is the mindset that I was missing.

I assumed that since I couldn’t afford certain things that once I had more money, then I’d be happier, right? If I found the right girl, then I’d be happy, right? Once I had more career success, then I’d be happy, right? It was always, once I get X then I’ll be satisfied, and I can relax.

But as I chased, I wasn’t valuing the process, only the destination.

This mindset failed me over and over again.

If Your Only Tool Is a Hammer Then Every Problem Looks Like a Nail
— Mark Twain

I wasn’t necessarily chasing the wrong things; I was letting one aspect of my life become my focus, hoping I would be satisfied. I needed a new lens to view my happiness problems through.

My Happiness Model

I didn’t develop this “happiness” model it’s pretty widely adopted — I think the first time I heard about this model was from Tai Lopez, interestingly enough.

This is my personalized version of the four pillars with slight modifications to the original. I adopted my version of it because I wasn’t satisfied leaving growth and fulfillment out of the equation.

Growth — The Foundation

Growth and improvement are the foundation of the structure — the stronger the foundation, the harder it is to fall. If the foundation starts to crack and weakens, then it will lose stability and need to be repaired. All four pillars rely on the foundation to support them. None of the pillars will be able to hold the structure without growth for support.

“If you are not growing, you are dying.” — Tony Robbins

I look at growth as the umbrella that encompasses the four aspects of my life that I need to focus on to be happy.

Growth is what I’m striving for because I shouldn’t wake up one day and say — “I have all four pillars complete, CHECK ✓.”

The goal is to be continuously improving my health, wealth, love, and fulfillment.

With growth being the stability for of each of these pillars it forces for constant improvement. It doesn’t matter if I think I’ve achieved all four pillars, if I don’t continue to grow, then I will eventually lose the short high, and my structure will crumble.

“It doesn’t matter what they have. It’s never enough if you don’t keep growing. Because if you don’t grow, you die. If your business is not growing, don’t bullshit yourself; it’s shrinking. If your relationship is not growing, it is shrinking; it is dying. There is no in between in real life with how things really live. And if you grow, the reason I believe growth is imperative in the universe — it’s not my rules — everything in the universe grows or dies.” — Tony Robbins on The Tim Ferriss Show

1. Health

Am I healthy? If I’m not healthy, then it’s hard to be truly happy. If I have a terrible headache, then it’s tough for me to do anything productive. There are aspects of health that can be out of my power but the things that ARE in my control — I take responsibility for improving.

I take physical fitness seriously and want to continue getting in better shape as well as growing my knowledge of fitness and nutrition.

Health doesn’t consist only of only physical health, it also relates to my mental health. In addition to physical exercise, I am always striving to be at peace with my mind and the constant stream of positive and negative thoughts. I find that these two go hand in hand — when I’m exercising I can get out of my head and into my body.

The health pillar is an equilibrium between adapting habits that will improve my health and avoiding activities that can be detrimental to my health and wellbeing.

Activities like lifting, cooking, yoga, biking, meditation, snowboarding, and basketball help me improve my physical wellbeing and staying healthy.

2. Wealth

Not to be confused with being rich — the wealth pillar entails having financial stability and marketable skills.

If I’m struggling to make rent or stressed about a bill I have to pay then this can cause an imbalance.

I don’t just want money to buy things; I want money to provide me with a good quality of life and freedom.

Ask anyone who’s struggling with debt or just got laid off from their job — it can be stressful as hell, and there’s no doubt it will cause an imbalance.

Being a mega-millionaire isn’t my goal (but I’m not opposed), my goal is financial freedom so I can spend more time doing the things that I enjoy.

Having a full-time job, stock market investing with Robinhood, a 401k account with bi-weekly contributions, budgeting my money in Excel, learning new skills, and not buying shit I don’t need all help balance my finances so I can plan for uncertainty.

3. Love

“We human beings are social beings. We come into the world as a result of others’ actions. We survive here in dependence on others. Whether we like it or not, there is hardly a moment of our lives when we do not benefit from others’ activities. For this reason, it is hardly surprising that most of our happiness arises in the context of our relationships with others.” — Dalai Lama

That quote pretty much sums it up.

Having relationships is important.

When I say love, I’m not just referring to romantic relationships — I’m also relating to healthy friendships and family bonds.

When I was starting my first company in college, I had no friends and rarely went out and socialized. I rarely even left my apartment other than to grab food and go to the gym. I was so focused on building my company that nothing else mattered at that point. This had a significant impact on me — I felt isolated and lonely which took a toll on my happiness and confidence. I eventually joined a work and travel community because my lifestyle was not sustainable or healthy by any stretch.

This is one of the reasons that I now go into an office (almost) every day — being around people is healthy. If you’ve ever worked remotely for an extended period or spent a lot of time isolated, then I’m sure you’ve experienced something similar.

I build and nurture healthy relationships by joining social leagues (bowling, kickball, flip cup), going to my office’s happy hours, attending UX meetups, and going to yoga.

4. Fulfillment

Fulfillment for me means finding the activities that invigorate me and doing them as often as I can.

I am fortunate to have a career as a product designer at an awesome company. Having a fulfilling career is something I strived for, and I can honestly say that I’m fulfilled by the work that I do.

If I didn’t have a fulfilling career, then my priority would be to find one. We spend 80% of our life at work, and work-related thoughts often occupy our minds when we aren’t working.

Work and career is a huge part of my life, but in addition to growing as a designer at my job, I also enjoy developing and improving in hobbies and extracurriculars.

In my eyes, what sets interesting people apart from the rest of the world is what they do with their free time. I can often fall victim to having a lazy evening and wasting my time on my phone or watching Youtube videos. However, I try to push myself to fill my free time with fulfilling activities that help me grow as an individual. When I do, I always feel proud of myself and vitalized.

The activities that are currently fulfilling for me are weightlifting, yoga, basketball, writing, sketching, reading, biking, and snowboarding.

I love watching the progress I make in different hobbies or activities. It truly is fulfilling.

When I’m in a funk, I use this blueprint to pinpoint the parts of my life they may need some nurturing.

There are always unexpected curve balls that life can throw, and there’s no certainty of what the future may hold. But without preparation and planning, I am sure not to improve.

I challenge you to assess your own life and see where you may be lacking focus. Are you wasting too much time or mental energy on activities that may be detrimental to you? Are your finances mismanaged and thus causing constant uncertainty?

Take your happiness into your own hands.

Develop healthy hobbies, make a budget in Excel, go to a meetup, and go for a daily walk. Push yourself and I guarantee you’ll feel happier in a month or two.