I have no expertise whatsoever on the topic of happiness. But I do have a knack for observation and simplification. That’s what I do for my day job as the creator of Dilbert. Today — as some of you are already backtracking on those New Year’s resolutions — I’m going to strip out all of the mumbo-jumbo around the topic of happiness and tell you the simplest way to get some.
You’re reading this in the business section because every bit of what follows on the topic of happiness is relevant to your career, especially if you have entrepreneurial ambitions. You’ll need all the good health, good looks and mental energy you can muster to influence people and survive the long hours. As luck would have it, the good habits that make you healthy and energetic help to make you happy at the same time, so it’s a double win.
As far as I can tell, people usually experience the sensation of happiness whenever they have both health and freedom. It’s a simple formula:
I’m talking about the everyday freedom of being able to do what you want when you want to do it, at work and elsewhere. For happiness, timing is as important as the thing you’re doing. For example, your favorite food is useless to you if the only time you can eat it is when your stomach is already full. But if I offer you bland food when you’re starving, you’ll feel as if you won the lottery. The timing of things matters.
The same principle is true for exercise. If you exercise when you’re in the mood for it, you can enjoy the workout. But if you can only exercise after a long day on the job and a grueling commute, you might hate it. There’s a right time and a wrong time for nearly every activity, from sleep to sex to paying bills. Matching your mood to your activity is a baseline requirement for happiness. The good news is that timing is relatively controllable, especially in the long run.