Three Easy Steps to Be Totally Happy

This image encompasses all three points, for extra-easy reference.

Sure. Here’s that bullet-point listicle you were looking for, and in deference to Western sensibilities, it’s just three items long:


Step One: Leave Detroit. “Detroit” here is shorthand for “anywhere where the act of simply being hurts you”. If this is true for you — true of your home, your work, your neighborhood, your city — then if at all possible, you need to leave. If the environment is toxic, leave. If you can’t leave, making changes to improve your own personal environment, or taking frequent and restorative breaks from it, can be enough —even just being mindful to not let your surroundings be a constant source of negativity is good— but overall, come on, this is important. You can’t be happy if every resting moment is actively bringing you down. You need to have at least a neutral environment to be in most of the time. A bad one is such an albatross that any changes you make to try and “get ahead” will probably only barely keep you going, instead— it’s incredibly difficult to get on top of things if your environment itself is draining you. Take it from someone who started in literal Detroit and took 30 years to realize how very much a poor environment contributes to a negative emotional state: Get space from that, any way you can. You’ll be sooooo much happier and able to handle life.

Step Two: Hang Ten. “Hanging Ten” is a term of art for standing on the frontmost edge of your surfboard. It makes a great metaphor for the kind of present-moment-focused dogged insistence on paying-attention-no-matter-what that the Zen Buddhists preach: And it works. Throw away your thoughts, even if they’re just distracting you but especially if they’re bringing you down. Unless you actively intend to be thinking right now, just stop. Use your senses, however you can right this second — LISTEN — don’t let anything knock you out of this moment and if it does, crawl right back on and get to Ten again. Make this your daily, constant spiritual practice — call it what you will, supplement it with meditation or prayer or whatever, but stick to the point: Cranking the ATTENTION knob to Ten, and keeping it there, not just while you’re thinking about spirituality, but in every moment of life. Tired? Hang ten. Struck by shock or grief? Pay attention. Bored? ATTENTION. Get in the habit of making “pay closer attention” the first answer to every single thing that comes up.

Step Three: I am so sorry about this one, but…RELAX. I know that’s frustrating to hear, but seriously, it bears more contemplation than you’ve probably given it, I swear. (Being that it’s a core principle in kungfu, I’ve been contemplating what relaxation is and how to do it for a decade, and I’m just starting to get it. It’s a shockingly complex topic!)

Whatever’s bothering you, be it a math test or Beelzebub himself, I promise you that 90% of its power comes from the things it tricks you into inflicting on yourself. YOU have more power to hurt you than anyone or anything else, and if you could just stop hurting yourself, the ability of anything else to hurt you would be reduced to a tiny sliver. Obsessive thoughts and unconscious feedback loops between thoughts and emotions probably cause more pain and suffering than anything else in this world, cancer and war and pop stars included; and that’s before we even get into the physical effects of tension on the body and brain. No matter how bad things are at this moment, being more relaxed will help. Being more relaxed will make easy times more restorative, and shore you up against the damage of hard times (in much the same way that “being in Detroit” will exacerbate that same damage). Figure out how to relax: It’s not obvious, it’s not automatic once you’re an adult in a stress-glut world, and it’s one of the most impactful things you can do from any start, in any life, to bring more happiness.

See? Simple.

The hardest move is the easiest one -/@-