What must you have, be, or do, in order to be happy? What is essential for you to experience pleasure, purpose, and peace? And how do you figure this out?
In my last post, I suggested that you identify your “Non-Negotiables” to avert a life crisis and reduce your Fear Of Missing Out.
Are Non-Negotiables the same as goals? Not really. A goal requires some effort, whose outcome is uncertain. A Non-Negotiable is a decision or behavior, over which you have a huge amount of control. Often Non-Negotiables are not hard to accomplish, as long as you have determination and discipline. Sometimes having a Non-Negotiable simply means you say “no” to distractions which don’t make you happy, anyway.
For example, when you’re age 30, you can have a goal of becoming a millionaire by 40. But that’s an aspiration, not a “Non-Negotiable”. On the other hand, a person living in London can have the Non-Negotiable of continuing to live in London — but it’s not really a “goal” to keep living where you’re already living.
Can you have too many Non-Negotiables? If you come up with 27 Non-Negotiables, you might box yourself into such a rigid life structure that you leave no room for spontaneity, creativity, or seizing opportunities. But if you define too few Non-Negotiables, then perhaps you’re open to everything — which keeps you from focusing on being true to yourself and what really brings you fulfillment.
To define your Non-Negotiables, you can finish the following sentence:
“The only thing I need to experience pleasure and purpose in life is to…” If you find this hard to do, don’t feel bad. Instead, you can break down your Non-Negotiables this way:
SPIRITUAL — What process do you have to know yourself and understand your purpose in this universe? You could meditate for 15 minutes daily. Or attend services at your mosque, synagogue or church weekly. Or just walk on the beach, or write in your diary. Figure out whatever works for you, and make this a Non-Negotiable for your spiritual life.
HEALTH – Do you have a certain workout routine, which you absolutely refuse to abandon? Vegetarian diet? No smoking? At least 7 hours of sleep per night? If you’re committed to living healthy, then maybe you’ll pass on that investment banking job, which pays great, but which destroys your health. As for me, I do 10 minutes of yoga and stretching every morning. Is it “hard” to do? No. Have I been doing it every day since 1987? Yes.
GEOGRAPHY – A huge number of life decisions are simplified once you define where you are going to live. For some people, they do this all too readily — choosing to live in the town where they grew up or finished college, even when they could honor all their Non-Negotiables, and still live in a place which is much better for them. In contrast, others tell themselves that the only place they could possibly live is San Francisco or Boston, when in fact they could lead a wonderful life in Costa Rica or Austin.
FAMILY – Would you be willing to live in another city than your spouse or kids? How much are you willing to travel for work, especially in cases where you’ll earn more money, but see your family less? What does it even mean to be part of your family? For many homemakers, their Non-Negotiable is creating the best environment for their children, even if their own income and careers suffer as a result.
For couples with kids, counselors suggest having a weekly “date night”, so that you don’t get so absorbed by your role as a parent that you lose sight of your role as a spouse. Your Non-Negotiable would be putting your marriage first, as the foundation for a happy family.
SOCIAL – In the book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, author Bronnie Ware identifies as Regret #4 “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.” So maybe your Non-Negotiable is that you have lunch or coffee with two different friends, every month.
WORK — It can be extremely helpful to identify in your career what you must do (create amazing products, help the least fortunate people in our society, or fight discrimination) and what you refuse to do (sell things which make people stupid, apathetic, or sick). I delve deeper into this in my popular Happiness Workshop.
PLAY / FUN / TRAVEL — Silicon Valley has many workaholics. Some of them try to “work hard and play hard”, whereas others just “work hard and then work some more”. This might be sustainable short-term, but not long term. If they worked a bit less and got more sleep, many of them would be healthier, happier, more creative, more productive, and more successful. I’ve heard one of the most intense venture capitalists on Sand Hill Road tell a CEO “Please, take off one day per week to rest and have a life.”
INTELLECTUAL / CREATIVE / ARTISTIC – Do you love gardening? Playing bridge? Dancing salsa? Having a hobby or creative outlet can help you fulfill your other Non-Negotiables.
FINANCIAL — How much money do you want? How much do you need? If you make massive sacrifices to keep that $100,000 per year job, then at least be aware that this is your financial Non-Negotiable. And recognize all those other things you may be giving up — related to Spiritual, Health, Geography, Family, Social, and Fun.
ACTION EXERCISE: Each of us has a limited amount of time, money, and focus. How we spend these determines our Non-Negotiables. Go through the above list, and force yourself to write out what your priorities are. Then have your spouse or partner do it — and compare lists. The conversation will help bring more pleasure, purpose and peace into your life.
* This is my fifth blog post. If you liked it, then you might also enjoy my other posts here.
* I would really appreciate your feedback. Please email me to let me know what you think, and what other topics you’d like me to address. And I’d love if you connect to me on LinkedIn, or follow me on Twitter. You can contact me here.
Copyright 2014, Jim McCarthy. All Rights Reserved.