I heard a line on a podcast last week that has made an appreciable difference to my day-to-day life. In an interview with Tim Ferriss, the author Michael Lewis said, “I decided, at some point, that I was going to adopt, self-consciously as my narrative, that I’m the happiest person that anybody knows. It’s amazing how happy-inducing that is.”
He went on to say that he notices patterns in the way people talk about themselves. There’s the person who is always the victim…on the receiving end of some injustice. The person who paints himself as the hero. And the smart person who always delivers the clever put-down. There are many different versions.
He says that you have to be careful how you craft your narrative, because you are to some extent, also creating your character. For Michael, by self-identifying as a happy person, he has found that he experiences greater enjoyment in his life and relationships.
I’ve been experimenting with being the happiest person that anyone knows for the last couple of days and the effect has been profound. I’ve noticed that I’m happier more of the time, that I’m less concerned about minor personal struggles, like a sore shoulder, a problem in my business or a newly emerging wrinkle, and that I’m enjoying activities that I wouldn’t normally get so much of a kick out of. It also turns out that happiness is contagious. When I’m happy, the people around me are more upbeat and less bothered by the niggling worries in their own lives. There’s no space for complaining or talking badly about other people. And when you don’t give voice to how disgruntled you are, it turns out that sucky things have a remarkably short half-life.
Obviously, there are occasions when being happy is not appropriate. But that’s not what this is about—putting a positive spin on things or brushing them under the carpet. I’m referring to the decision to adopt a daily disposition towards happiness, or in fact anything that you choose. You could choose, self-consciously, to be the most laid back person that anybody knows and see if that makes you less triggered by current events or the person with the most energy or competence in any given domain. Happiness works for me because I’m pretty happy anyway but it’s your agency that is the issue here not the particular type of person that you want to be.
You could try this exercise, that I found to be incredibly uncomfortable. Can you identify the character of the person in the stories that you tell about yourself? Are you the victim or the hero? The good guy or the baddie? And if you don’t like the way being that person feels, maybe you would also like to try experimenting with a slightly different story.