This is a transcript for Episode #2 – The Pursuit of Happiness of the Induced Catalysis Podcast. In this episode, I share my thoughts on how you can try to figure out what makes you happy, how you can try and motivate yourself to work on these things and stay accountable to yourself.
Disclaimer: Before we start off with today’s episode, I just want to put out this disclaimer that everything that I’m talking about today is based on my own personal experiences and I’m not really looking at giving out advice of any sort.
I’d like to start off today’s episode with a quote by John Lennon. He says and I quote, “When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy‘. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” As much as I like John Lennon and his music, I find it hard to believe that he was this articulate at the age of five, but it definitely makes for a good story, and it also gives us the topic for today’s episode.
Around a year ago, in June 2019, I moved to Mumbai for my first job. I was almost 25 then and by my own weird definition of the word, I felt like my life was ‘sorted’. Because for the first time in my life, I didn’t have an immediate goal to strive towards. Up until that point in my life, everything had been fairly straightforward. It was like a road and there were various milestones that I had to clear one after the other. Tenth standard, twelfth standard, engineering, MBA, placements. And suddenly, I was at the end of this road.
I had always thought that after reaching this point, I would be happy. I had achieved (to a fair degree) everything that I had set out to achieve in life. I was living in a nice part of Bombay, working in a good company, earning a decent salary that allowed me to buy the things that I wanted to. And I thought that this would be all that I needed to be happy. But now that I was here, I realized that I wasn’t happy at all. In fact, I felt pretty lost and aimless.
Over the past year, I have realised something about happiness and how it works. The syntax for happiness isn’t ‘If I get xyz, I will be happy.’ You might be tempted to think in that way. You might think that happiness lies just around the corner – that landing that dream job or buying that new car is going to make you happy. But that kind of happiness is extremely short-lived. It’ll be gone before you can even savour that feeling properly.
But we always tend to think along those lines. Last summer, when I was overweight, I constantly told myself that all I needed to do was lose 10 kilos and I would feel happy. So I hit the gym, watched my diet and tracked my weight like a maniac. I did lose 10 kilos and I did feel happy at that point of time. But at the same time, it’s not a permanent state of mind. Once you reach ‘x’, your mind automatically sets a new target for yourself, ‘y’. And the cycle just repeats. Over and over and over again.
So I sat down long and hard to try and figure out what exactly ‘sparked joy‘ for me. And after giving it a fair amount of thought, I’ve figured out that, for me, happiness isn’t about reaching a particular destination. But rather, as the cliche goes, it’s about the journey. And once you make it about the journey, it can be extremely satisfying because the journey, by definition, doesn’t have to culminate at a particular point. It can be never-ending. So I’ve zeroed in on the two things that make me happy.
The first is learning and growing. I’m someone who gets a huge kick out of learning something new. I love being able to do something today that I wasn’t able to do yesterday. As a result, I’m constantly on the lookout for new things to learn. This can take various shapes and forms – it could be something as simple as learning new chords and strumming patterns on the guitar so that I can play a new song every week or it could be about improving my Mandarin vocabulary and learning new characters. Sometimes, it could be just reading a book or listening to an interesting podcast.
When you’re learning something new, very often, the learning curve can be incredibly steep and it’s easy to get dejected. And whenever, I find myself in that state of mind, there’s this song by Macklemore called ‘Ten Thousand Hours’ and there are two lines in it that I really like – ‘The greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint. The greats were great ’cause they paint a lot.‘ And that’s the thing really, you might not see progress immediately but keep at it and you eventually will.
And the other thing that makes me happy is connecting with people. Again, this could be in different ways – it could be through my blog posts, it could be through this podcast or even through my half-baked attempts at stand-up comedy. I love the feeling when someone actually takes the time and effort to read my posts. It gets even better and more fulfilling when they say that they could actually relate to what I was saying.
I think it’s very important to figure out what makes you happy so that you can focus your time and effort in pursuing that. You might be someone who loves dancing. But there are so many aspects to that – Do you get joy out of performing on stage? It could be about learning new steps and improving your technique. Or it could just be about being in the moment and losing track of everything else while you’re dancing. So try and figure out what exactly makes you happy. You probably already have a fairly good idea about this.
Deep down inside, I think all of us have these ambitions, dreams and projects that we want to pursue. But there is this inertia that holds us back. And as a result, we grow so accustomed to putting off these dreams. We procrastinate, we wait for a better day and we make excuses to ourselves. Very often, I think it’s because we’re afraid. We’re afraid of trying and failing, of coming face to face with dejection. It’s much easier and more comforting to think that I could have done this if I wanted to. And as a result, we put them off thinking that, “I will do it later on when I get more time or when the right opportunity comes by.”
The same thing happened with me and this podcast. I kept telling myself that there was no point in trying to make a podcast because I didn’t have proper equipment. I continued doing this for more than a year until one day, I snapped and decided to just get it done with. I recorded the first episode of this podcast on my phone and just uploaded it. And it felt amazing. The fact that I had finally acted on something that had been in hibernation for so long.
And once you actually start, things get easier. No matter what you want to try or what you want to learn about – there is a plethora of resources online. Pretty much all of humanity’s collective wisdom and knowledge is at your fingertips. And more often than not, we don’t do justice to this fact.
I’m not denying that it’s a struggle to break out of our comfort zones. But I try and ask myself everyday, ‘What have you done today to take yourself closer to your dreams?’ It doesn’t have to be anything spectacular. But the small steps add up over time and it’s important that you do something everyday. Sometimes for me, it might be something very simple like cooking my own dinner instead of ordering in from Swiggy or Zomato. I tell myself that with every meal that I eat at home, I am essentially buying myself a meal for next year or whenever I eventually go off on my backpacking trip to China.
I’ve also noticed that it’s easier to get things done early in the morning. I’ve set myself a routine – I wake up in the morning and begin work on my Mandarin lessons. This ensures that even if I have a long day at work and I’m too tired to do anything at night, I don’t have to feel guilty about not studying. Another rule that has helped me is the ‘two day rule‘. I came across this concept in a YouTube video by Matt d’Avella. It’s very simple – you never go two days in a row without working on whatever you’re trying to accomplish. It’s okay to not go to the gym because you’re feeling tired today. But you have to push yourself to go tomorrow at all costs, because missing two days in a row is simply not done. This simple rule helps me stay accountable to myself and keep things going.
That’s pretty much all that I wanted to share in today’s episode and in conclusion, I urge you to try and do something small today, no matter how insignificant it might seem because it all adds up in the long run.
You might want to check out this book, ‘Atomic Habits’ by James Clear. The book has a lot of handy ideas and techniques that help you build and maintain good habits that stick with you. It also explains how you can work on getting rid of bad habits. I read it and loved it. Maybe you might feel the same…