The Happiest People in the World Have This One Thing in Common
The happiest and most flourishing people in the world all share a single fundamental ability. This ability frees them from the daily tyranny of anxiety, distraction, and problem-centric thinking that plagues most of us. This ability is, in fact, the hallmark of happy, healthy, highly rewarded human beings.
And thankfully, it’s not something you’re born into. It can be learned and practiced by anyone, anywhere, at any waking hour. So what is this ability and how do we get it?
The happiest people have the ability to put their attention where they want when they want for as long as they want. The happiest people can control and focus their attention intensely. So, if you want to join the HHH club (Happy, Healthy, and Highly Rewarded), it stands to reason that cultivating your own focus and attention is crucial.
But why would focused attention make you happier? And, how do you go about getting better focus? These are the questions I will answer in this article so let’s start with step one, take back your mind.
Take back your mind
The fact is, focus, is power. When the sun’s rays hit a leaf on the ground, what happens? Not a damn thing. But, focus those same rays with a magnifying glass into a tight point on that same leaf and BAM! Fire! Bye bye leaf.
When you begin to take back control of your mind and what it focuses on in any given moment, everything in your life begins to change. Problems fall away, worries fade, relationships are mended, and, just like that leaf, you begin to feel the power of focus setting you alight with joy and flourishing. Bye bye anxiety. Bye bye depression.
Not only that, but you’ll be happy to find that with enough effort and Jedi mind training, money, wealth, and all other by-products of success will tend to find their way to you while you were busy working. But, chasing money and fame directly will leave you broke and alone, no matter how long or hard you grind.
Conversely, if decide to turn away from the allure of fame and fortune and step into the arena of excellence and the creation of value for others, wealth, and good fortune will relentlessly hound you to the ends of the earth. It’s time to turn away from the distracted many, step into the arena, and join the ranks of the focused few.
Join the “Focused Few”
In my most recent article, Creative vs. Reactive, I discussed the fact that being able to focus your attention deeply on a single task is becoming very rare at the same it’s becoming more valuable in our increasingly knowledge and information based economy. This idea comes from Cal Newport’s “Deep Work” (I highly recommend it) in which he describes the divide that is opening up between “the focused few” and the “distracted many”.
Right now the vast majority of people spend their time distracted, with their attention constantly fractured by checking their smartphone, email, or other network tools, fairly often throughout the day. The thing is, this behavior not only leads to depression and anxiety, it also tends to lump you right in with the broke, distracted majority.
If you can’t go an hour or two without checking your email, social media, or some other network tool, anxiety and depression just might be right around the corner for you. So, as we’ll explore in the next section, the best way to step into the arena with the focused few is reducing and/or eliminating these distractions from your life altogether.
Residue Slathering Distractions
In “Deep Work”, Newport introduces the idea of “attention residue”. This is an idea he picked up from a 2009 academic paper by Sophie Leroy titled, “Why Is It So Hard to Do My Work? The Challenge of Attention Residue When Switching Between Work Tasks.”
The basic idea is that when you switch from one activity to another, your mind doesn’t just leave the previous activity and move on. The first activity leaves behind a sort of residual thinking that we call “attention residue” in your mind. Attention residue occurs when your mind starts cranking away at your previous activity, sapping you of your ability to focus on what’s in front of you.
If you think about it, attention residue is ubiquitous. It’s everywhere! Checking your email, phone, or social media throughout the day is just like laying on a thick layer of attention residue before you get to work. Your mind keeps working frantically in the background on other less important situations while you’re trying to focus, killing your productivity.
You want to cut out that extra layer of attention residue slathering distractions. By eliminating or reducing the email checking and social media tittering, you can show up with calm confidence and a focused, ready mind.
But, let’s get practical. What’s one way you can upgrade your focus starting now?
Quit Social Media
Facebook is known to employ specialized experts called “Attention Engineers” who’s job it is to ensure that their software will keep hold of your attention for as long as possible and be as addicting as possible. Casinos have been using Attention Engineers for years to keep people glued to those slot machines and to keep them coming back again and again. We know that gambling can literally change the way your brain is wired and, fairly quickly, turn you into a desperate, wide-eyed gambling junky if you spend enough time pulling that lever.
Well, imagine this: Instead of going to the casino, you carry the slot machine around with you in your pocket. And, instead of playing for a few hours and then driving home, you pull that lever all fucking day long every single day, any time you feel the slightest hint of boredom. What would THAT do to your brain?
The next time you feel compelled to check social media or email for no particular reason, STOP! Recognize the compulsion, find something productive to do instead and BEGIN! Recognize that every time you resist the temptation to pull that lever, you’re stepping forward into growth and literally training yourself to be happier, healthier, and more highly rewarded.
Get in the Mind Gym
Let me just cut to the chase here, if you’re human, you need to meditate. And by meditating, I mean focus your attention on the present moment. That’s really as specific as you need to be about meditation. No chanting, incense, candles, or odd-looking shrines required. You don’t even need to sit down!
I was told recently that I should teach a meditation class. My response was simply that you don’t need a class. Life is meditation.
Imagine this, while you’re studying for school you start thinking about an underhanded remark you heard a friend make earlier. You start to wonder if she was talking about you. Eventually (and often unconsciously), you bring your attention back to studying. This is meditation.
Or, you’re sitting in a meeting at work and, while the boss is talking, you start to wonder whether you left the stove on and your house is on fire right freaking now. Eventually, you remember, after petting the cat, you turned the stove off and you come back to what the boss was saying. This too is meditation.
The fact is, you’ve been meditating your entire life, every single day. But, no one probably told you outright that focusing your mind is a powerful, Jedi-like ability that will majorly improve every aspect of your life.
Well, I’m telling you now, focused attention is power and meditating is power training for life. And whether you want to be a badass Jedi or just a better human being, you’ve got to get in the mind gym and train to be increasingly present, here and now, moment to moment.
My Experience with Better Focus
For me, actively cultivating my ability to focus has changed every aspect of my life for the better, unequivocally. I’m more productive at work, I have better interactions with everyone I meet, and I’m far happier and calmer than I’ve ever been. Also, things just don’t bother me like they used to.
I’m no longer in a constant state of low-level anxiety due to my mind spinning out of control on everything that’s wrong in my life. Now, I see my mind conjuring up some imaginary argument that will never take place or rude comment that will never be made and I just think to myself, “STOP!” I bring my attention back to now, and I continue on with what I was doing. I let it go completely, as quickly as possible, and thank myself for the gift of putting in one more rep at the mind gym.
Let’s Do This
There is only one best way to build your focused mind and that’s your way. I encourage you to consider that these small changes, focusing on the present moment and reducing/eliminating distractions, could make the difference between living a wonderous, beautiful adventure of a life or nothing. You can spend the rest of your days steeped in anxiety and depression or, in your own way, you can learn to focus your mind.
Let’s be present, train our focused attention, and join the HHH club, as we live and work with gratitude among our new family of happy, healthy, highly rewarded folks. Let’s do this.
“My Experience Is What I Agree To Attend To.”