/ Talha Atta. / blog

Discovering personal happiness & getting there

October 14, 2019

I always find it fun meeting new people and getting to explain what I’m doing with my life. I smile and explain that I’m testing out a unique path. I get to choose what I spent my time on and do what I want to do. Sometimes people think I’m on my way to being homeless, and other times people really respect that I want to spend my days doing what I enjoy.

If I want to spend 16 hours per day watching Netflix I can do that, but I honestly prefer spending my time building cool stuff with cool people that I enjoy being around.

Recently I met someone new, and a few minutes into the conversation the person asked me the question “What do you do for fun?”

After a few seconds of thinking hard about it, I had a mini realization and replied: “Everything. Literally everything.”

I find it baffling that so many people in the world hate their jobs, despite spending 40+ hours of their week doing them. The more I learn about the world, the more I’m crazy grateful I’m not stuck doing things I don’t enjoy.

Happiness is a pretty crazy concept because no one has a clearly defined definition that applies to everyone.

Do I achieve happiness by shaving my head, moving to Tibet to become a monk, giving up all desire for anything just to sit around all day chilling in a boring monastery? Or do I achieve it by moving to Bali, drinking and doing drugs all the time, and counting down my hours by engaging in hedonism 24/7/365? Honestly, I’m not sure anyone’s figured out the answer despite all the people who argue they have.

Ever since I was a little kid my biggest goal has been to make as much money as possible. Money was always a huge part of my identity and what I wanted most for a long period in my life.

In my final year of high school, I joined an events startup as the second employee. At 17 (and also later 18), I helped scale the company to 20 employees in under a year. During the process, I worked 10x harder than I ever did at school and switched to online courses.

The year turned out to be one of the best and worst years of my life, one that really changed my perspective on what happiness really was.

It was one of the best because the job was literally everything I thought I wanted since I was a kid. I was getting paid a ton of money, had equity in a fast-growing business, learned a ton about sales and growth, and got to travel the world for free.

It became one of the worst when I stopped to think about if any of it actually made me happier inside. No matter how much I worked, how much progress I made, or how many more zeros I had in my bank account, I felt the same.

When nothing I did externally changed how I felt on the inside, my life felt like a lie. I got everything I wanted but I didn’t feel this sensational, amazing, on top of the mountain feeling that society told me was “happiness” It got to the point where I just felt bummed out all the time. I woke up bored and not wanting to go to work, I started to hate travelling, and even the paychecks that once made me scream like a little girl felt like they didn’t matter. It struck me: I was having a mid-life crisis at the ripe age of 18, the same year I legally became an adult.

I could tell you there was one crazy moment which lead to the decision to finally quit, but truthfully it was the accumulation of multiple experiences. One moment I vividly remember is back in May, I went to this conference called C2 Montreal. During the conference I remember talking to someone who told me “Life’s too short to not wake up excited every day” and it hit me like a truck. The day I came back was the day I decided to pull the trigger and quit.

To everyone else in my life, it seemed like I was making a huge mistake, but unsurprisingly, I could not be happier with the choice I made. Once I quit and started to think about what genuinely excites me, I started feeling better again. I’m super grateful that I got to have my mid-life crisis earlier than most. Most people have these realizations when they’ve gone through a big chunk of their lives and have kids, rent, food-to-buy and other adult stuff.

When I start breaking down why I wasn’t happy in the period I should’ve been the happiest, it boils down to 3 major areas:

Most people view happiness as a feeling, if they’re not feeling ecstatic or amazing then they don’t think they’re happy. As a result, the “happiest moments” in life become these arbitrary highlights that we constantly wait for while everything else becomes a foggy transition period.

13-year-old me thought happiness would be when I finally had $1 Million+ dollars in my bank account. So I worked a job I stopped enjoying because I thought it would lead me to that.

18-year-old me finally realized happiness isn’t the end result of having $1 Million+ dollars in my bank account. Instead, it’s the journey of working hard and enjoying the process of getting to that point.

I don’t view happiness as a feeling anymore, but rather a state.

Saying you’re happy at a certain moment doesn’t make sense. You may be living the same enjoyable life and been happy the day before, but the next day you might wake up and feel sad because it’s raining outside. Although nothing in your life has changed at all, since your feelings are dynamic you may feel something has changed.

The feeling of happiness is temporary and shouldn’t be what you should be pursuing. Once I started understanding that happiness is a state, I started to view enjoying my life every day as the absolute form of happiness I should strive for.

These days, I am really happy. One huge lesson I’ve finally learned is not to constantly be asking myself am I happy at the current moment. Instead, I now ask myself “Did I enjoy my life today, and am I doing what I want to do?” And recently, the answer to that question has been a consistent yes.

There are a few things I can do to make sure every day is a happy day:

Now that I don’t view specific moments as the catalyst for happiness, I’m no longer waiting for anything in my life to happen before I can be happy. Making a million dollars, selling my first company, or some arbitrary achievement won’t be the answer, which means I have the answer already. I just need to do more of the things that I positively enjoy, and less of the things that I don’t.

Happiness is a choice that I can make every day. I’ve learned that I’m the only one who can change my happiness by choosing what I work on, how I react to things, and what I spend my mental energy focusing on. By not relying on specific moments in time to make me happy, it’s pretty invigorating.

It means that this thing I call life has now become a huge continuum of time where happiness is always possible as long as I take action to make it so.