How To Increase Your Happiness Right Now
I've been fired from a lot of jobs.
My first job was as a busser at a diner and I was eleven. My first shift, I told the assistant manager I had a four-mile walk ahead of me and it was getting dark. Would he mind if I left. He looked at the clock and said, "You've got two minutes left. Find something to do."
I quit right then. Working for other people wasn't going to be for me.
Luckily, I had found two subjects I fell deeply in love with: Writing fiction, and philosophy. I initially pursued a PhD in philosophy, but abandoned it to go to law school (because I didn't want to contemplate why I was starving to death), and I became a very successful trial lawyer at a firm I was half owner in, but I always knew writing was my passion and that I would at some point have to switch to writing full time. I wrote my first short story at 10 years old, and right now, at 42, I'm working on novel 64 and write around 5 to 8 novels per year, under three different pen-names. It's what I was put here to do, and I knew I wouldn't be happy unless I was a full-time writer.
How did I know this? With something called "The Sunday Evening Test."
It's a test to gauge whether you are pursuing your true purpose in life, and hence, whether you're maximizing your happiness. The bulk of your waking hours are spent in work, and if you're doing something for those hours that are not your true purpose, happiness is, I'm sorry to say, impossible.
The Sunday Evening Test is a simple one:
When 7:30 pm on a Sunday rolls around, how do you feel?
That's it. That's the test.
It sounds deceptively simple but is quite difficult. We do everything we can on a normal day to avoid looking at ourselves too deeply. We don't want to know the source of our anxiety, or why we get depressed when seeing our family, or why we, occasionally, believe that suicide may just be an answer to our problems. Human beings fight to not know themselves (hence why Socrates believed "know thyself" to be the purpose and aim of life, but also its most difficult achievement).
So asking yourself truly and honestly how you feel on Sunday evening is a task that will require quiet contemplation.
Sit somewhere by yourself when the family has gone to bed or is otherwise preoccupied on Sunday evening. Now, how do you feel? Do you have a gentle sadness that you have to return to work after a nice two-day break? Or is it outright panic and depression? Are you excited and can't wait to return to work, or can you not even think about it because it sours your mood so quickly you feel out of control? Is it perhaps so painful you can't even do the exercise without your mind immediately drifting to other matters?
I knew a lawyer that would wake up in the mornings, get dressed, go to his office, put the key into the lock, stand there a few moments, take the key out, and go home and lie in bed.
Why would he do this?
The simple answer is that he was in the wrong type of work. He had no business being a lawyer, and the Sunday Evening Test would have revealed this to him. Had he sat in meditation on Sunday evening and asked himself honestly how he felt, he would have told himself that he was in the wrong type of work and a change needed to happen.
Unfortunately, he did what so many do: he continued to try to make it work, and it ended in disaster. He killed himself on a quiet Tuesday morning while his wife was at the grocery store and his children in school.
The Sunday Evening Test has been with me for years. I quit the practice of law years ago to focus fully on writing, because on Sunday evenings, I found myself dreading the next day (not that I hated being a trial lawyer, I didn't, but I knew it wasn't my true purpose). Have that dread one too many times, and you know it's time for a change, because disaster is otherwise around the corner.
Now, every Sunday evening, I feel energized, excited, and unable to hold that excitement in because I know that I will be going back to work tomorrow doing what my purpose in life is: to write.
All of us have a true self, the real "us" that so few in our lives will ever know, and we deep down and grudgingly already realize that if we are to be happy, we must allow our work to be an expression of our true selves. Feeling that you have devoted your life to a career or profession you hate isn't going to be a minor inconvenience: it will be the central pain in your life, and one you may not be able to recover from.
Your car can be replaced.
Your house can be replaced.
All your personal items can be replaced.
Your money can be replaced.
Even (though this is uncomfortable to think about, I know) your girlfriend/boyfriend or spouse can be replaced by another you may love just as much.
Time cannot be replaced.
Time is the ultimate luxury, and we have only a brief speck of it here on this earth. Our unconscious knows this intuitively, and that pain we feel on Sunday evenings is our deeper selves telling us that we are wasting the most precious resource we have, and soon it will be too late to do anything about it.
If you want to be happy, do NOT dull your feelings on Sunday evenings with television, booze, drugs, video games or, yes, even books. These are distractions so that you don't have to feel the anguish of contemplation, and the realization that the remaining time you have left is being wasted.
Fight for that time on Sunday evening, and don't be distracted by anyone or anything. Make that painful feeling, whatever it is, the central feeling in your life, until you have found a solution and no longer feel it.
You'll know your task is done when, on a quiet Sunday evening, a smile slowly comes to you as you realize you're excited for tomorrow to come, and that no matter how little or how much time you have left, you know you're spending it how it was meant to be spent.