Happiness Is So Much Easier Than People Realize

This morning, as I boarded the elevator up to my office, a spotted another man headed over to the elevator car. I held the door for him and we both got in.

Spotting the large, black object I was carrying under my arm, the man asked me, "What is that thing?"

"It's a battery for an electric bike," I told him with a smile.

He interestedly perked up. "Oh yeah? That's cool."

"I carry it in with me, since these things are kind of expensive," I said. Then, realizing that we still had lots of time before our elevator stopped, and not wanting to be rude, I continued on, "It's a great way to zoom into work without getting sweaty."

"Oh, yeah! I bet!" he said. Then he asked me, "Do you live downtown?" I told him that I didn't, and then I described the neighborhood in which I live. His eyes went wide. "You mean up there, up the freeway?!" I smiled and nodded, and he started chuckling to himself. He said was impressed, and he thought it was really neat that I biked to work from there. Then, our elevator stopped at my floor, I wished him a good day, and off I went.

This is not an uncommon conversation for me to have. Sometimes it's the bicycle battery that initiates the conversation, sometimes it's my bike helmet, sometimes it's the fact that somebody saw me ride in. Whatever instigates things, these conversations never cease to impress me because of how fond people feel toward my bike commute; and the fact that I commute on an electric bicycle only seems to sweeten the deal.

I don't think they're impressed at the physicality of it. After all, riding an electric bicycle is not particularly physically exerting. The sense I have of what they tell me is that they just think it's cool to ride a bike to work, and that it's cool to ride an electric bicycle. They think it seems like a fun thing to do, and they appear to wish they could do it themselves. Their reaction toward me is a lot like the reaction you'd get from someone if you told them you just rode a really cool rollercoaster or something. It's appreciative excitement.

Needless to say, I happen to agree: I think biking to work is fun, and cool, and exciting, and I feel fortunate that I can do it. It brings a smile to my face; it's so much more fun than driving. It's a big increase in my quality of life.

Imagine how much fun the man I met in the elevator this morning could be having if he, too, owned an electric bicycle and used it to commute to work. It would no longer be an impressive thing to talk to me about; it would be something that other people would talk to him about. He could be the one feeling the wind on his face as he zips through the side-streets, the back routes, and the bike paths. He could be the one telling his colleagues how much fun it is to ride a beautiful machine like that to work every day. He could be the one saving gas money and wear and tear. He could be the one showing up to work with a big smile on his face.

All he has to do is buy a bike.

*        *        *

Memorial Day weekend was surprisingly great for me, too.

Saturday morning, we had to renew my daughter's passport in person at the passport office. That would typically be a real drag, and it was still pretty frustrating by the end of it. But we managed to spend some good, quality family time together. My daughter and I walked to the coffee shop and ordered coffee together. The passport office is located inside of the old Post Office, a large and historic building, built in 1933, right next to the train station. It's the kind of old building that has large stone columns, gargoyles, marble floors, and so on. It's truly a site to behold, and even gets pretty good ratings on Trip Advisor. If you have to be stuck in some government office somewhere, doing something annoying, I suppose a beautiful specimen of historic 20th Century architecture is the best place to do it. In the afternoon, we did typical weekend things: running, playing together, having dinner outside, watching a movie, and so on.

Sunday, we went to the pool. I had suggested it on Saturday, and my daughter was so excited about it that it was the first thing she asked to do when she woke up. The water was a little cold, because the sun was behind the clouds for most of the morning, but we nonetheless had a great time. In the afternoon, we split up; I went for a long run, while everyone else went to a backyard pool party/barbecue.

Then, on Monday, we joined our extended family at the lake for another barbecue. I went for a little trail run. We chatted and ate and had a great hang with our family and friends, then we came home, did the grocery shopping, and had another great evening of playing together, having a nice Sunday dinner together, and watching another movie.

That old post office is visible from one of the major freeways in the city, which means that hundreds of thousands of people drive past it every single day without stopping and snapping a few photos. There are coffee shops all over the place, but I seldom see fathers and daughters walking there hand-in-hand to spend some time together. My neighborhood has two different community swimming pools, with accompanying grills and tables and chaise lounge chairs, and mostly it's just a handful of families who use them. The lake we went to was enormous, with hundreds of picnic tables and charcoal grills, and although it was crowded, there were still plenty of tables to spare.

But the thing is, getting out in the sunshine and the trees, enjoying the scenic places, laughing and running around outside as a family, and making use of public amenities is so incredibly rewarding. And it's so simple. And practically free. Consider all the people who stayed indoors this weekend, or who mostly watched TV and went shopping, or all the people who wished they could have done more with their time. The fun my family and I had was simple, low-cost, easily obtained fun. It's not hard to come by, it's put right there for the taking. The really remarkable thing is how few people avail themselves of the opportunities.

*        *        *

By chance, I happened to have a conversation with a young friend of mine recently. She's been given an important opportunity to receive a lucrative scholarship and to earn an advanced degree. It's the kind of opportunity you get if you're a good, hard-working student who has a good relationship with your professors and who happens to be in the right place at the right time. Good for her!

This opportunity, however, is in another city, a few hours away. When I was speaking to her about her opportunity, that was the first thing she mentioned, that unfortunately it was in that city. But it's a good opportunity, and I wanted her to know that I was happy for her and that I wanted to encourage her, so I said, "That's a really cool city!" Yes, she said, she agreed, but she didn't have many friends there. "Oh, that's okay," I said, "sometimes it's good to strike out on your own in a new place like that!"  She reassured me that she wanted to take advantage of the opportunity, but she was "just saying" that she didn't want to move away from her friends.

I understand, of course. However, when someone tells me their good news, I am not in the habit of focusing on the negative side of it. So most of what I was saying was positive because I wanted to be happy with her about her great opportunity. I was surprised by the fact that most of what she seemed to want to talk about was the unpleasant fact that she'd have to move to a new city where she didn't have many friends. I agree that this can be unpleasant, but so long as I'm sharing good news with people, I prefer to focus on the positive.

Imagine how much happier she'd feel if she focused on the positive, rather than the prospect of being lonely.

*        *        *

Some people will react to all of this by thinking to themselves, "I'm glad you like your bike, Ryan, and your park, and your neighborhood pool, and your positive attitude. But that's not what everyone wants to do." I agree with this… to a point.

If you don't like riding a bike or going to a pool, that's not a big deal. But the more simple things you "just don't like to do," the more skeptical I am of your claim that you're doing the things that make you happy. If getting outside and doing stuff just doesn't do it for you, then you seriously ought to reconsider what it is that makes you happy, and if, indeed, you are happy at all.

The reason I say this is because I know so many people who waste their time doing things that honestly don't make them happy. I know lots of guys, for example, whose idea of a perfect weekend involves sitting in front of a television and drinking beer all day. One day like that every once in a while might be fun, but the truth is that drinking a lot of beer and sitting around all day - especially if you do it frequently - makes a person feel physically unpleasant, and there's only so much of that physical discomfort a person can feel before it affects their mental comfort as well. Similarly, a person might prefer to binge-watch the latest TV series or surf the internet all day, or play video games all day. A person might choose from any array of passive, mentally disengaging, indoor activities and/or high-calorie food and drink, and alcohol. On their own, there's nothing wrong with these activities. But when they become the majority of what you do with yourself in your free time, that's going to start wearing you down.

In the long term, though, these things don't nourish the soul. They're fine to do from time to time, but they shouldn't be most of what you do with your life. And I'm not saying that in a moral sense, I'm simply pointing out that getting outside and doing interesting things - whatever you like to do, as long as it is outside and interesting - will make you feel better than you do right now, no matter how good you already feel. Communion with nature is scientifically proven to improve mental health. We already know that outdoor activity is good for physical health. What a lot of people fail to realize is that it's also incredibly fun. And fun is a good thing for people to have. Fun makes us happy.

People are not particularly good at pursuing things that make them happy. People will play the what do you want to eat / I don't know what do you want to eat / I don't know what do you want to eat game until it crushes their very soul. And they'll do it night after night without realizing that the simple solution is to grab a rotisserie chicken and a veggie platter from the grocery store on the way to the park and have a picnic. It's simple. If nobody cares what they want to eat, then go do that! Come home an hour later with some fresh air in your lungs and a smile on your face.

Happiness is not a difficult thing to obtain. The little things you do in your free time show you how easy and low-cost it is to really enjoy yourself. They should also give you a little insight into what kinds of experiences you're leaving on the table. Get a bike, put on some running shoes, go for a picnic, go find a park or a community swimming pool. These are the things that will make you happy.

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