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5 Ways to cultivate true happiness (all you have to do is mind the gap)

True joy cannot be acquired from anything outside of you.

It’s built within.

There I was, sitting in my tiny room in Palo Alto. Laptop open, my little keyboard on the side, headphones on. My black beat machine to the side.

It was my second year of business school. The year before, I had more of a spring in my step, even with an injured achilles.

I had more optimism, learning about strategy, valuations, design thinking. Meeting up with entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, executives, and professors.

Everything was good in sunny California. I was jolly in my Stanford cocoon. The world was about to become my oyster once I have this elite MBA tool in hand.

It was an ambitious mindset that got me there. The same mindset helped me graduate from college at 19, get my masters in engineering at 21, and hold a high-paying job in my early 20s.

I kept climbing the ladder. Acquiring things: degrees, job titles, endless economic insurances.

So how did I get to my second year in business school, sitting in my dark room, making music, while the sun shone outside.

On my black desk, as I sampled Bob Marley’s song for ​this track​, the words of the rastaman resonated on a different level: “Now you got what you want, do you want more?”

I learned I’d never be happy chasing external things. I continued chopping up my beats.

Do you want more?

Unhappiness is on the rise.

In case you haven’t been paying attention: global unhappiness is increasing.

Due to inequality, fragmented communities, food insecurity, global complexity, lack of doing meaningful work.

The happiness gap continues to increase. The capitalist system has lured you to sleep. Told you multiple lies since you’ve been a kid.

Selling you products you don’t need.

It lulls you into unhappiness with fear, turmoil, and distress. Blasted through their media screens, just to get you in a “buying mood.”

It makes you feel like shit, just so it can offer you the feel good pill in the form of a new car, new house, job title, new diet.

The reality is that nothing external can bring you real joy.

Once you grab the new thing, it disappears. An illusion. Puff. Gone – faster than it came.

Then you look for the next hit. Then the next hit. Then another one.

Until you become an addict for external joyless products. Real happiness starts within. You don’t need a new job to feel better about yourself.

Your happiness is an inside job.

5 things to know to nurture your happiness

No one is going to solve the happiness puzzle for you.

No job, partner, lifestyle, business, artwork, or any external acquisition will make you whole. Learning how to nurture your happiness from the inside is the only way. It will help you understand yourself better, reduce emotional imbalance, improve your experiences, and strengthen your relationships.

Here are 5 things to keep in mind.

1. Pain and pleasure exist in the same part of the mind

Everyone wants to escape the matrix. But is it possible?

Pain and pleasure exists in the same part of the mind. They are both on opposite sides of the same lever – like two kids on a see-saw.

Push too hard on one side, the other side will compensate.

Party too hard. Deal with the hangover. Chase the dopamine from that tasty cookie, deal with long-term weight issues.

The cost for short term pleasure is long-term pain and the reward for short-term pain in long-term pleasure.

That thing you’re avoiding in the short term is the key to your long term joy. That thing you’re rushing too right now is fleeting, another illusion.

There’s no right or wrong.

Just find your balance.

2. Understand the expectation gap

Your happiness depends on how wild your imagination is.

When you take an action and the result does not match what you expected, you become unhappy. It’s that simple.

Psychologists call this the “expectation gap.” The better you become at matching your expectation with reality, the happier you will be.

There are three types of expectation gap:

  • Imaginary gap
  • Interpersonal gap
  • Intertemporal gap

Understand the expectation gap and you’ll develop mental flexibility.

Let’s talk about each one.

3. The imaginary gap (stop planning, become an expert)

You’ve spent too much time planning instead of doing.

There are no physical limits to our imagination. You can dream as big and wild as you want to. But there’s a limit to what we can achieve in a day. The limitation is time and attention.

Most people think they are good at estimating what it takes to achieve a goal.

So they plan:

  • I’m going to write a book, I’ll do it this way.
  • I’m going to start a business, I’ll build it in 5 steps and porter’s forces
  • etc

The reality is that we all underestimate the time it takes to get anything done.

The only way to learn is to actually do the thing.

When you take action, you get feedback. Each piece of feedback is a reality check. With time, you become an expert at matching what can be achieved with your expectation.

You close your expectation gap

Happiness resides in expertise not planning.

4. Intertemporal gap (unlearn the linear life illusion)

The expectation when the future you projected for yourself does not match where you are at.

Go to school.
Get a job.
Get married.
Start a family.
Buy a mansion.

Dream the ideal life and get there, one step after the other.

Who else was sold this linear lie? {cough}…I mean life. I know I was. When you get on the traditional treadmill, you fit in. Soon enough life becomes mundane. You begin to question “what’s next?”

For some, the fear of getting off this treadmill becomes too daunting.

On the other side, there are those who zig zag, spin around, go in circles, do the cha cha slide and still don’t know where they are supposed to be.

When the life you projected for yourself in the future does not match where you are now, you become unhappy.

It’s important to question: who promised you this future life?

Unlearn it.

No one knows the future. Keep it moving.

5. Interpersonal gap (Comparison will steal your joy)

“How’s she doing? Really”
She now works for who? Oh wow.”
How does she do it all? She’s amazing”
“I’m so happy for her?”

That’s you, smiling, while you get an update about an old friend.

This is a small version of me, wearing my all-back hoody, track pants, and sneakers, standing on your left shoulder, whispering in your ear, saying:

…. stop lying jo”
“Are you really that happy?”
“This your smile doesn’t feel genuine o”
“What have you done recently”
“Look at your mates”
“Just advancing”
You’re just here”
“You’ll get there one day, maybe?”

Comparison is the most prolific criminal. It will steal your joy.

You work so hard to get a goal, just to get there, look around and start thinking about what the other person is doing.

Social media has poured jet fuel on the flame of comparison. Before you could only compare with someone down the street. Now you mean, I have to watch everyone live their so-called best life on my phone?

“Get this digital screen of torture away from me.”

The theft of joy is growing at an enormous scale.

In the words of J Cole: “there’s no such thing as a life that’s better than yours”

Be content, stop comparing. Reduce the interpersonal gap.

Love Yourz.

Choose process over outcome

Happiness is not something you can buy. It’s a practice.

Find joy in the present moment. Choose a thing to get better at. You can never have a perfect plan, start becoming an expert at getting it done. The more you do, the more your expectations match reality.

Detach from the outcome and focus on the process.

Remember that the future outcome you perceived is possibly another illusion. I’m not saying you should not imagine, but don’t get too attached to your imagination without feedback.

Lastly, reduce the comparison. We are social animals. We live to be around one another. Instead of focusing on comparison, focus on the group you can contribute to.

Contribution is better than comparison.

Nurture your happiness, no one will do it for you.

Yours truly, Nifemi

P.S. If you made it this far, enjoy a listen to this mixtape, Interpretations, that I made 8 years ago in that bedroom while I was supposed to be in my finance classes.

Who is Nifemi?

Hey I’m Nifemi of NapoRepublic

I help busy people fit in a creative practice to bring to bring order to their reality and help them live a more meaningful life through writing and reflection.

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