November 26, 2022


4 minutes

I've hacked myself into being happier. Here's how:

Kareem Abukhadra

Author, Founder Relentless

1. I defined what happiness is

You can't optimize what you haven't defined, so this step is important.

I define happiness at any given moment as the level of positive emotion you're experiencing minus the level of negative emotion.

Positive emotion = Joy, presence, anticipation of positive events

Negative emotion = anxiety, depression, sadness, guilt

Using this definition, you can then aim to maximize the following 2 constraints:

  • Numbers of hours in a day
  • Amount of happiness

    For example, day A is happier than day B.

2. I worked on increasing the amount of positive emotion and decreasing the amount of negative emotion I experience.

Here is a list of habits and practices that do this:

A. I have a schedule.
  • I'm prone to anxiety. Anxiety exists with unpredictability. Having a consistent schedule reduces unpredictability.
  • I eat at the same time, work at the same time, sleep at the same time, wake up at the same time.
B. I optimized my diet. Here's the 80/20 for doing this:
  • Avoid foods I'm allergic to. You can tell you're allergic to a food if you don't "feel good" after eating it.
  • I eat whole foods (aka unprocessed). Fruits, vegetables, meats, are whole foods. Cookies are processed.
  • I intermittent fast. This has a tendency to reduce ruminating / chatter / repeating negative thoughts.
C. I work out every morning.
D. I realized that feeling happy with what I've achieved (and in life in general) will fuel my ambition (not hurt it).

Here’s why:

  1. Being happy means I have a more positive outlook on life and my capabilities.
  2. A more positive outlook on life and my capabilities means I set harder to achieve goals.
  3. Being happy also means I am more optimistic when I am working towards achieving my goals, work harder and longer, and can better solve difficult problems I come across.
  4. Therefore, happiness fuels ambition.
E: I learnt how to perform CBT on myself.

CBT (or cognitive behavioral therapy) is a tool you can use to change your thought patterns.

Because your thoughts are one of the biggest predictors of your feelings, this is one of the highest leverage ways to increase positive emotion and reduce negative emotion.

Here's how it works:
  • Write out all your automatic negative thoughts - don’t judge the thoughts, just let them all come out
  • Respond to each one with more realistic rational thought

For example, lets say I have the following automatic negative thought:

"I am fat and unattractive and will always be alone."

I can respond to that thought with the following:

"I would like to lose 50 lbs and although I don't feel good about the way I look right now, I am making steps to change this. This includes developing an eating and exercise plan. I'm going to be in a great position if I keep this up for another few months and I'm so excited for where I'll be. There's no reason I'll always be alone."

Rinse and repeat till you talk through all automatic negative thoughts.

F: Related to above, but I started talking to myself the way I talk to my best friends. I'm my biggest hype man. Surprising how uncommon this is.
G: I picked better thought patterns / mental rules.

Here's a few that are helpful:

  • Don't beat myself up if I break my rules, fall out of schedule, or do something which doesn't align with my identity.
  • I blame myself and take ownership for as much as possible. This means I have the power to change things I don't like.
  • I realize I'm in a better position that Warren Buffet and many of my idols. All of them would give away all their material success to be my age again.
  • I realized that being happy is like maintaining dental hygiene. It requires you to work at it every single day and keep up the right habits.
  • I started judging success on a longer term time frame and recognizing that many outcomes in life have non-linear relationships to effort.
H: I learnt how my personality affects what I enjoy and then modified my behavior to account for my personality:
  • Most things in psychology don't replicate (aka are bullshit). The big 5 is very well replicated.

For example, I'm in the top 1% for extraversion, so I work in a shared office space. I experience noticeable differences in my mood if I work in an isolated environment for an extended period of time.

I: I used to take 3 hours to fall asleep and have insomnia which affected my mood.

Here's 3 things I did that have had the largest impact on solving this problem:

  • Sleep at the same time every night INCLUDING weekends. The tradeoff of missing out on late nights out are worth the increase in happiness and productivity I get.
  • Get sunlight into your eyes first thing after waking up.
  • Turn off lights 2 hours before sleep. If you use a computer, use a blue light filter. I work in pitch dark before bed.

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