One secret to happiness I’ve discovered is simple. Don’t take life seriously. I have heard billionaires, athletes, and President Barack Obama say it. Specifically, they say you should take your business (or career) seriously, but not themselves. But how?
Most people cannot keep in mind the bigger picture. So many of us are fortunate to have been born healthy, with all our limbs, no diseases, and to not have to worry about food.
Over 2 billion people live off less than $2 a day. As Americans, we’re born lucky. If you’re making $32,400 a year, you’re in the top 1%. Yet many of us get so caught up in the superficial small things of life that we forget this. Do you know someone who’s making a lot of money but still gets frustrated or angry at the smallest inconveniences?
Seriously, I’m the worst at it. It has to be genetic. To this day, family and friends will occasionally tell me I take things too seriously and dwell on bad events too much. Here are a few examples of when it happens:
- when a kid poured a cup of water over my head for fun at a potluck
- when people show up late
- when screw up a part of a presentation
- when someone offends me or break the rules
- when bad short-term circumstances (poor dating life, low income) cause me to forget the bigger picture (I’m in the top 1% of the world)
Problems With Taking Life Too Seriously
What are the consequences of this? Well, there’s a ton.
For one, you scare away people — potential lovers, potential friends, or career opportunities. Us intellectual men do that. We get too wrapped up in logic to remember that the bigger picture is to connect and win someone over emotionally.
Second, you’re causing yourself unnecessary suffering and reducing your lifespan with stress. Seriously, no pun intended, why do we get so pissed off that someone cut us off in the road when it always happens and the anger isn’t useful?
I’ll tell you why. It’s genetic. Fortunately, there are systems to take life less seriously even if you aren’t wired that way. I’ll break them down for you so you can live a happier life in this podcast episode.
They aren’t in control of their mood or life as much as they think. A person pissed off in traffic because someone cut him off even though he’s healthy, young, and mentally capable has at least those three things, if few more, he’s taken for granted. He has failed to be grateful and has been caught up in the life’s minor road bumps, something that ironically shouldn’t throw him off because they should be expected in any life.
It took decades, but the billionaire Ted Leonsis gets it. In his book, The Business of Happiness (affiliate link), he was stuck in a traffic jam, watching someone else blows up in a puff of anger, while he sat there and observed a beautiful sunset in peace and awe.
Taking your life less seriously will make yourself a lot happier, extend your life, improve enjoyment of life, and make you a much more enjoyable person to be around that attracts others like a magnet. That’s because you move past the small things that shouldn’t bug you and you reduce the toll that stress and resentment take on your body.
Also, your improved resiliency helps when you hit hard times. Life will probably deal you a tough blow at some point: you aren’t making money, you’re hungry, your professional and romantic life take a jump, the economy tanks, another world war happens, and so on.
These are the easiest of times to get mad and take life too seriously. The rare, socially savvy who understand the greater picture of the universe are the ones who can laugh or poke fun at their situation with a sense of humor during those dark times.
In fact, the book 50 Secrets of the Longest Living People and other studies of centenarians have found that they have a resilient, positive, happy outlook on life no matter what tragedies befall them.
I’ve met a few young people like that over the years and somehow, you just know that they’re going to be upbeat and joyful whether they’re poor, single, rich, married, overweight, fit, or paralyzed in a wheelchair. It’s just their natural attitude.
How To Not Take Life (Or Yourself) Too Seriously
“Don’t sweat the small stuff and it’s all small stuff.” -originator unconfirmed
I may get upset over someone shows up late even though I had a college education paid for as a citizen in one of the greatest countries in the world. Most of the world doesn’t even have that luxury. In fact, 80% of the world lives on $10 a day or less. 50% live on $2.50 a day.
One of my earliest memories was being laughed at when I was a child. I broke a chair to make my point. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that the answer is never to be passive aggressive.
Another time, I went full Serious Sam as an almost fully grown adult and ran away from home. After a fight during a family vacation, I ran away into a crowd at a theme park, thousands of miles away from home, hoping to never see my family again to make them suffer. I lost them. And when they found me again, I violently ran away, even planning how I’d sign up for work to survive.
Yes, my father blew up at me in a temper tantrum in a way didn’t need to. Yes, it was frustrating and unfair. And a typical Asian display of criticism that kept going and going. But we all have obstacles in life and I turned an unfair occurrence into an affair that lasted hours as officials searched for me across the theme park.
But it wasn’t the end of the world. It was a petty fight. Even the end of the world isn’t so serious. As Gary Vaynerchuk says, the only thing that’s truly serious is your death and the death of those you love.
We all have obstacles. Imperfect parents is one of mine. We roll with the punches. We do what we can. We don’t drink unnecessary poison and destroy our lifespan and happiness by letting some event, big or small, get the best of us and stress us out.
“Don’t sweat the small stuff…and it’s all small stuff.”
― Richard Carlson, inspired by Wayne Dyer
One thing that works for me and might work for you is to put on some music that really gets you happy or pumped up (for me, it’s usually Pop music) and force yourself to physically dance to that in a happy state of mind.
Force yourself to make a small smile, and turn that into a big smile. Make a funny joke about the situation. Turn negative situations into positive ones.
Let’s say you failed to approach a girl at a gym because you were waiting for her to get off the treadmill like the dating advice videos say only to find that she decided she wanted to do a 65 minute jog session and then leave the gym the moment you weren’t looking (true story). You could rage and get depressed or you can see the humor in it. You could say, “Ah, well. At least I got my cardio in waiting for her. Fitness!”
Let’s you’re broke and you just got fired. You have no marketable skills and things look bleak in the job market. -> “Hey. At least I don’t have to wait in line for the bathroom anymore! Haha!”
You get the point?
This isn’t just theory. I didn’t just pull this from thin air — I got it from successful people like Steve Harvey who has a reported net worth of $140 million. In his book Jump, he reveals how he use his sense of humor in the worst events life handed him when he was getting started. When he was homeless and sleeping out of his car as a comedian, his car sank into a lake once.
Rather than getting pissed off about how life was out to get him, he found the humor in how ridiculous it was and laughed it off. It wasn’t always easy to do. He had to pay to get the car towed out. But he truly laughed at the situation which helped him persevere and stay resilient.
Optimism, humor, and positivity not only gets you through but turns your mind into one geared towards success and creates a state of almost impossible happiness in seemingly irrational situations.
With practice and time, I’ve made great strides with not taking life too seriously and you can too.
Car accidents, surprise traffic jams that make you miss an event, or impromptu four-figure bills don’t make me sweat anymore. I’ll even smile during them. Not because I enjoy it but because I know that everything’s tiny compared to getting cancer and having one week left to live. My functional brain and health is what’s most valuable. Almost anything else I can get out of and build back from.
For further reading, I recommend the book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff and It’s All Small Stuff: Simple Ways to Keep the Little Things from Taking Over Your Life (affiliate link).
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