Many people go all day without a single happy thought.

 

After recognizing–and fixing–this habit in myself, I became determined to share it with others.

 

Since most of my daily conversations are with other business owners, I spend a lot of time helping them build businesses that will make them happy. That’s right: profit is never the end goal (but it’s always a necessary part of the journey.)

 

But the path to good business and the path to happiness are almost the same.

 

First, let’s define happiness by what it is not:

 

Happiness is not joy. Joy is short-lived and wrapped up in excitement. Joy requires new experiences, and people who pursue joy instead of happiness often become addicted to novelty. They buy little trinkets every day, or get “addicted” to new TV shows. They chase “different for the sake of different”–in their habits, careers and even their relationships. Joy is fun, but its pursuit is a trap.

 

Happiness is not contentment. Those self-satisfied moments spent sitting by the fire, or on your couch, happily reflecting–they’re necessary. But not for long. Most of us know a retiree whose physical and mental power has gone into decline after a year on the couch. We know how depressing Mondays are after a restful weekend. We need some level of stimulation to make us happy.

 

The key is to find appropriate levels of challenge in our lives: to start with something we can definitely “win”, gradually increase the difficulty, and then take a short rest before trying something else.

 

This is easier to imagine in small pieces. When runners reach a pace that’s challenging but sustainable, they call it a “runner’s high.” When we’re driving long distances, we enter a “flow state”. Call it anything you like: you’ve experienced being “in the zone” for short periods, I’m sure.

 

What if your whole LIFE was spent “in the zone”?

 

Would you be happy?

 

Happier than you are now?

 

The first building block of happiness, then, is an appropriate level of challenge: a reason to get up in the morning and get busy living.

 

The second building block of happiness–and a prerequisite, really–is safety. Maslow’s hierarchy wasn’t originally depicted as a pyramid, but modern graphic representations always show “Security” at the bottom. In our culture, it’s easy to be secure; even our poorest have access to clean water and air. And most of my friends live above the “happiness index”–the earning level at which you can afford a house and car.

 

The next building block is social need. We need to feel needed. It’s not really enough to fit in; our brains are wired to seek tribes in which we’re important. No one throws the medicine man to the lions, right? No one sacrifices the Chieftess. This will sound like I’m building up to selling CrossFit, but I’m not: if you want to be happy, you need to be important to others.

 

And THIS is what leads us to the secret, often-missed, but absolutely necessary prerequisite for happiness: service.

 

Visit any refugee camp; any poor village; any community stricken with plague or disaster. Look for the smiles: where do you see them?
The kids usually find happiness without interference. The middle-aged people like us find happiness by taking care of the elderly and the kids. But the teenagers–too young to serve, too old to play soccer with a rock–are disenfranchised. The elderly–too weak to serve, or too old to play–are depressed. Busy people are happier people.

 

To be happy, we need to work. And we need our work to be important to others.

 

What happens when we start from scratch? When the board is wiped clean by–let’s say–a hurricane?

 

A few of my friends just had this experience in Houston. I watched from afar, donated money, and asked “how are you doing?” more often than they probably cared to answer. But even thousands of miles away, I could watch them climb back to their previous high levels:

 

First, they made sure their family was safe.
Then they contact their extended family and “tribe”–mostly their CrossFit members–to make sure they were okay.
And then they started to serve. Going house to house, they donated time and sweat to ripping out drywall, carrying tons of insulation and peeling up floorboards. Some of them left their own houses and businesses for last. While it will take months for insurance adjusters to make their rounds, these folks were out in boats, cauterizing the damage and empowering others to get back to normal. They were doing meaningful service.
One–Jeff Smith–answered my message with: “I’m doing fine, brother. This is where I shine.”

 

We won’t all have the opportunity to rescue another human. We all have the opportunity to serve. And that means the opportunity to be happy.

 

Here are the steps:

 

First, notice the words in your head. How often do you have negative thoughts?
For awhile, I was literally spending days without a single happy one. The key was to notice, and then practice changing the script. It won’t be easy; don’t give up easily.

 

Second, write down your “bright spots”. Motivation for the next step requires success in this step. One key to finding appropriate challenge in your life is doing stuff you can WIN. Every Friday, write down your wins.

 

Third, serve. Find a way to be important to people (usually you just have to ask, “How can I serve you more?”) A caveat: if you work in the service industry, you must find a way to serve outside your job. Accepting an hourly wage for service cancels its benefit to your happiness.

 

Fourth, exercise. (Yeah, yeah–you can unsubscribe now.) But if you aren’t exercising regularly:

 

Your brain won’t rewire itself to be happy
You won’t have many little “wins” to celebrate
You won’t be confident enough to offer yourself to others.

 

If Catalyst were wiped out by a hurricane today, and I had to rebuild a business with the single goal of “Make people happy,” I’d still build a gym. Because that’s the start.

Feel free to respond with your workout, your service, or your Bright Spots!