Hanoi, 2016
Hanoi, 2016

Dear friend,

For the longest time — I’ve tried to find “happiness” in my life. And I think I’ve found it.

Of course this is not a formula that works for everyone — and it won’t necessarily work for you.

However I hope these “tips” can give you some insight in how to find happiness in your life. Pick and choose and scan through the list to stimulate your thinking.

This is partly a letter to you, but also a letter to my 18-year-old self. I’ve also included some actionable “assignments” which I help can help inspire, motivate, and uplift you:

Download

PDF

Text file (.txt)

Table of contents

  1. Count your blessings
  2. “Everything happens for a reason”
  3. Buy experiences, not things
  4. Don’t maximize, “satisfice”
  5. All black everything
  6. Seek absence of pain, not abundance of pleasure
  7. Don’t do what you don’t want to do
  8. Get strong
  9. Moderate your drugs
  10. Don’t consume sugar
  11. Be in a state of “flow” as often as possible
  12. Everyday do one less thing
  13. Don’t take your emotions too seriously
  14. Don’t skimp on sleep
  15. Don’t consume; create
  16. Share what you learn
  17. Write down at least 10 creative ideas a day
  18. Don’t ask others for advice
  19. Forget favors given; never forget favors received
  20. “Tomorrow is never”
  21. Spend less time on social media
  22. Don’t look at advertisements
  23. Never half-ass anything
  24. Subtract superfluous technology from your life
  25. Avoid “dualism”; don’t classify things as “good” or “bad”
  26. Practice “wu-wei”
  27. Procrastination is a good thing
  28. Compliment people more
  29. Realize that “enough” is never “enough”
  30. Don’t look ahead; look behind
  31. Spend money on others
  32. Spend more time with fewer people
  33. Walk more
  34. Marry your best friend
  35. Avoid optimization in your life
  36. Value your time, attention, and energy over everything else
  37. Embrace “beginner’s mind”
  38. Don’t adapt to the world; let the world adapt to you
  39. Ask yourself: “What if the opposite were true?”
  40. See yourself from a third-person or birds-eye view
  41. The reward is the action itself
  42. “Hell fucking yes!” or “no”
  43. Traveling won’t fix your life problems
  44. Decrease time, increase intensity
  45. K.I.S.S. (Keep it simple, stupid)
  46. Don’t change others; change yourself
  47. If you’re angry, wait 1 day before responding
  48. You can create your own luck
  49. Emulate 5 people you admire
  50. Remove distractions to focus
  51. Imagine the other person is going to die tonight
  52. Don’t try to control your reputation
  53. Avoid debt
  54. Don’t compete with anybody (except yourself)
  55. Don’t do unto others as you don’t want others to do unto you

1. Count your blessings

Melbourne, 2016
Melbourne, 2016

The world is a phenomenal place. It is easy to get jaded if we don’t count our blessings.

Happiness isn’t having everything you want in life. Rather, happiness is having gratitude for what we have.

Whenever I am feeling shitty, I always try to count my blessings. I count my blessings by saying what I am grateful for.

I’m grateful to be alive, I’m grateful for my friends and family, I’m grateful for modern technology, I’m grateful that I’m not starving on the streets, and I’m grateful that I have the opportunity to do meaningful work to help empower others.

Assignment:

If you want to find more happiness in your life, try to write 3 things you’re grateful for everyday (no matter how shitty your day was). If you have a partner, you can share your “favorite 3 things of the day” before you sleep.

2. “Everything happens for a reason”

Melbourne, 2016
Melbourne, 2016

As I’m getting older, I’m getting less religious and more spiritual.

Regardless of your religious or spiritual beliefs— there is great solace that comes from the idea: “Everything happens for a reason.”

Everything might not happen for a reason — but think of how you can benefit from any negative life situation.

Did you not get that promotion at work? Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise— you don’t need to work that extra 20 hours a week, for a modest raise, and you can focus on personal projects instead.

Did you lose a limb? Perhaps this can give you an opportunity to build your other artistic interests or skills.

I also love the idea that no matter what, the “universe conspires in our favor” (from the ‘Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho).

By believing that “everything happens for a reason” — you will be a lot less anxious in life. Not only that, but you will build resilience to gain a positive out of every negative thing that happens in your life.

Assignment:

The next time something shitty happens to you, think of yourself in 2 years — how will you look back on this experience? How will this negative experience make you a stronger experience?

And what benefit can you get from this negative experience?

Always think positively.

3. Buy experiences, not things

Marseille, 2012
Marseille, 2012

Whenever we buy something new and shiny, it excites us and brings us temporary pleasure. However generally after 2 weeks, this effect wears off. Psychologists call this “hedonic adaptation.”

For example, if you buy a new car, the appeal will wear off after around 2 weeks. If you buy a new camera, smartphone, or device — the same will happen.

Also no matter what, all our physical possessions will disintegrate into dust one day. What used to be new and shiny becomes old and outdated.

What never gets outdated? Experiences.

By investing in experiences, we grow and learn as human beings. Experiences include having a cup of coffee with a friend, traveling, or trying some new extracurricular activity.

I never regret any money I spend on experiences. Why? No matter what, the memory will always live with you. I might buy an expensive car, but if I get into an accident or someone steals it — it disappears forever.

Assignment:

Whenever you get the urge to buy a new item, try to buy an experience instead. Buy a plane ticket to visit a place you’ve always wanted. Sign up for a workshop. Invite a friend to dinner and pick up the bill.

The more meaningful experiences you accumulate in life, the happier you will be.

4. Don’t maximize, “satisfice”

New Orleans, 2015
New Orleans, 2015

There tends to be two types of people:

  • Maximizers: Want the “best” of everything
  • Satisficers: Wants “good enough”

Maximizers tend to be a lot more miserable and less satisfied than satisficers (‘satisfice’ is a combination of the word satisfy and suffice).

Personally, I am a maximizer. I want the best of everything. I want the best car, the best laptop, the best smartphone, the best camera, and the best clothes. However this leads me to just becoming more miserable — because “best” is never the “best.” There is always something newer and “better” coming out every year.

What has helped me instead is to seek to satisfice. Nowadays, I aim for 80% “good enough” and I will say — I’m a lot happier. When I am buying clothes, it doesn’t need to fit perfectly. When I buy a camera, I know there will always be upsides and downsides. When I buy any device, I know there will always be a newer model that will come out.

The beauty of being a “satisficer” is that we save money, time, and effort. We aim for “good enough” (in terms of our physical possessions) which allows us to have more energy, time, and attention to do our life’s work (whatever that may be).

Assignment:

What is your personal barometer for 80% “good enough”? Try to satisfice more in your life decisions.

When you’re choosing a restaurant, don’t aim for the best. Aim for “good enough.” Remember, who you eat food with is more important than what you eat.

The next time you want to buy a new camera, don’t have 100 tabs open reviewing different cameras. Limit yourself to reading reviews and testing out 3-5 cameras, and then settle for the one that is “good enough.”

Also remember— if you don’t have the best, it will force you to be more creative and resourceful.

5. All black everything

Portrait of Eric Kim by Luis Donoso
Portrait of Eric Kim by Luis Donoso

“Colors blind the eye.” – Tao Te Ching

In modern society we are overwhelmed by “choice anxiety.” We fall victim to “paralysis by analysis” — we have too many things to choose from.

I used to own close to a hundred shirts, about 20 shoes, and tons of different jackets and outfits. Every morning was stressful — I had to always choose my outfit of the day.

Even more stressful — shopping for clothes. So many different cuts, fits, and colors.

One thing that has helped me simplify my life: wear all black everything.

Black shirt, black pants, black socks, and black shoes. This will help limit what you need to wear, and wearing “all black everything” allows you to wear the same outfit everyday.

Assignment:

If you find yourself overwhelmed by choosing between different colors and options, limit yourself to just black (or your personal favorite color).

You can apply this to different things. When choosing a digital device, just buy the black one. Buy the black backpack. Buy the black camera.

Limit your choices, and you will have less stress — and more energy to be creative.

There is a reason why Steve Jobs wore the same outfit everyday — one less choice for him to make a day, and more energy for him to do creative work.

6. Seek absence of pain, not abundance of pleasure

Hanoi, 2016
Hanoi, 2016

One lesson I learned from the Greek philosopher Epicurus is that happiness isn’t always feeling pleasure. Rather, happiness is the absence of pain.

For example, happiness isn’t always eating the finest food, always having sex, always gambling, and always drinking and taking drugs.

Rather, happiness is absence of pain. The absence of physical pain. The absence of emotional pain. The absence of feelings of guilt, anxiety, frustration, and anger.

Think of happiness as a subtractive philosophy and concept. This will revolutionize your life.

Assignment:

Rather than seeking to add more “fun” and “exciting” things in your life — how can you subtract pain and misery from your life?

For example, can you subtract your commute time to work? Can you subtract your headaches by sleeping more? Can you subtract your negative emotions by subtracting negative friends and influences from your life?

What can you subtract to add happiness to your life?

7. Don’t do what you don’t want to do

Hanoi, 2016
Hanoi, 2016

Life is short. Why do shit you don’t want to do?

Granted, we all need to pay the bills, pay our taxes, and fulfill some social obligations.

However, there is a lot we don’t need to do — yet we still do, because we are afraid of being ostracized, judged, or criticized by others.

Do you really want to go to that party? Do you really want to network and spend time with people you don’t want to? Do you really want to drink and take drugs when you’re forced or pressured by your friends?

Assignment:

For a week make an experiment: don’t do anything you don’t want to do (without getting fired from your job).

As a good rule of thumb: it is either a “hell fucking yes” or a “no.” Practice saying “no” as a default answer — and see how liberated you feel.

8. Get strong

Istanbul, 2014
Istanbul, 2014

Mental toughness and physical toughness is desirable. Mental toughness will help you get through emotionally stressful or difficult times. Physical toughness will help build your ego and mental well-being.

I believe in the mind-body link. When our mind is healthy, our body is healthy. When our body is healthy, our mind is healthy.

We can build mental toughness by expecting the worst, by learning how to deal with rejection, as well as doing things which are outside of our comfort zone.

We can build physical toughness by doing bodyweight exercises (pushups, bodyweight squats, chin-ups) or by lifting weights at the gym (benchpress, squat, deadlift).

Assignment:

Build your mental toughness by trying to do one thing a day that scares the shit out of you.

Build your physical toughness by seeing how many pushups you can do in a day, and trying to do 1 more pushup everyday.

9. Moderate your drugs

Berkeley, 2015 #cindyproject
Berkeley, 2015 #cindyproject

We all have drugs which affect our moods. This can include caffeine, smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, or any other drugs out there.

An excess of any drug will fuck us up. Too much caffeine will give us headaches, and prevent us from sleeping at night. Too much smoking will kill us (or just smoking in general). Too much alcohol will give us massive hangovers and ruin our next day. And of course, too many of other illicit drugs will damage our brains and screw with our hormone balance in our bodies.

“Moderation” is a tricky thing. It is different for everybody. For one person, 3 coffees in a day can be “moderate” (it might be 1 coffee for someone else). 3 beers can be “moderate” to one person, while 1 beer might get someone else drunk.

Trust your own gut.

Assignment:

As a rule, consume less of the drug than you think you should. If you’re at a coffee shop and have a decent caffeine buzz, say no to that next coffee. If you’re at a bar and feeling a nice alcohol buzz, say no to that next beer.

When in doubt, say no to the next dose of drug.

10. Don’t consume sugar

Garden Grove, 2016 #cindyproject
Garden Grove, 2016 #cindyproject

If there is one substance we can all remove from our diets (without any adverse affects) it is sugar.

Sugar leads to weight and fat gain, diabetes, a multitude of diseases, and causes our insulin levels to spike. So whenever we consume sugar, we get a temporary high, then we crash.

The problem is sugar is in almost everything (often disguised as high fructose corn syrup). Sugar is in energy bars, smoothies, sauces, granola, sweetened beverages, and almost everything in the grocery store.

We’re generally happier when we have minimal body fat, when our energy levels are high, and when we feel healthy.

Assignment:

Try an experiment and cut out sugar for a week, or preferably a month. Don’t drink calories. Don’t have desserts. Avoid any foods with added sugars.

Track your mood, your energy levels, and mental performance. I can guarantee all aspects of your life will be improved, and you will feel happier as a result.

11. Be in a state of “flow” as often as possible

LA, 2014
LA, 2014

You know the feeling of being in a “flow” state (also called being in the “zone”). We feel in a “flow” state when we’re focused on a creative task which pushes us. We lose track of time, we don’t feel hunger, and we feel like we’re never going to die.

You can feel a flow state when you’re hiking, rock climbing, playing music, making photos, writing, reading, or having an engaging conversation.

The opposite of being in a “flow” state is being in a state of apathy. That feeling when you’re bored, and feel like there is no point to life. You aren’t engaged. You’re passive, and not doing anything.

The common mistake a lot of people think is that they think “happiness” is retiring, making a bunch of money, sitting home, and doing nothing. They think being happy is sipping a Corona at a beach.

However research has proven that we are often the happiest when we are in a flow state. We’re happiest when we’re engaged, creative, and pushing our boundaries.

Try to be in a flow state as much as possible. Even the small daily things can put you into a flow state— cooking simple meals, tending your garden, and having a lovely conversation with a loved one.

Assignment:

Avoid boredom and apathy for a week by focusing on doing creative work whenever possible. Focus on active activities, rather than passive activities.

For a week don’t watch any TV, uninstall all the social media apps from your phone, and don’t look at any blogs or news websites.

Take more time to write, read, reflect, meditate, paint, draw, photograph, dance, or any other creative activity.

12. Everyday do one less thing

SF, 2016 #cindyproject
SF, 2016 #cindyproject

What causes us a lot of anxiety in life and stress? The feeling that we always need to be doing more.

My suggestion: everyday try to do one fewer thing. Then once you’re left with only 2-3 activities— focus on those things.

We cannot achieve anything great in our life when we are distracted by a multitude of activities. We need to cut out the superfluous activities from our life, and we need to focus on the few things which brings us happiness and value.

Assignment:

There are many ways you can apply this concept of removing 1 thing a day.

Perhaps remove 1 junk food everyday, uninstall 1 app from your phone everyday, unfollow 1 person on social media everyday, think 1 less negative thought everyday.

Rather than thinking of what to add to your life, think of what you can subtract.

13. Don’t take your emotions too seriously

London, 2014
London, 2014

Happiness isn’t an emotion — rather, it is a mindset.

There are days we’re going to feel shitty (when we are sleep deprived, when we get into a fight with our significant other, when we are jet-lagged, or when we are sick or have food poisoning).

But just because you’re in a negative emotional state doesn’t mean you’re “unhappy.”

To me, happiness is how you value your life as a whole. How you feel about your contribution to society. How you feel about your personal morals and ethics. Whether or not you feel like you have a sense of purpose in life.

Don’t take your emotions seriously. There are days your emotions go up and go down. Not only that, but the human brain is wired to be in a constant state of dissatisfaction (or else we would have died off a long time ago).

Assignment:

The next time your emotion is in a negative mood — don’t say “my life sucks.” Rather, just say, “I feel shitty because of _______.” Blame the negative emotion on a lack of sleep, of something negative you heard that you don’t like, or some pain you feel in your body.

But then take a step back, and make an honest evaluation of your life. Are you doing work you enjoy? Do you have personally meaningful relationships? Do you feel a sense of purpose in life?

If the answer is “yes” to the questions above, you probably have a “happy” life. If “no” — figure out how to change the more systemic problems in your life.

14. Don’t skimp on sleep

Berkeley, 2016 #cindyproject
Berkeley, 2016 #cindyproject

We’re all sleep deprived. We’re all addicted to caffeine, and trying to figure out ways to sleep less.

But if there is one thing we can do to increase our happiness— it is to increase our sleep.

Simple ways to improve your sleep: cut out caffeine past a certain time of the day (for me, that is around 2pm). Don’t look at a computer screen or your smartphone screen after 8pm. Do some sort of physical activity during the day to help you fall asleep at night. Sleep in a slightly cold room in the evening (helps you fall asleep earlier). If you really have bad insomnia, try experimenting between 1-5mg of melatonin in the evening to promote natural sleep.

The better you sleep, the more energy you will have to do meaningful work, and you’ll just feel less shitty during the day.

So if there is one thing you can optimize for in your day, it is your sleep.

Assignment:

For a week, make sleep your #1 priority. Say “no” to activities that will cause you to stay out late, drink, and will ruin your sleep. Cut out looking at your devices after 8pm.

Also on the weekend, abstain from caffeine for 24-hours. Don’t turn on an alarm clock on the weekend, and see how much sleep you really need to feel fully re-energized.

15. Don’t consume; create

Downtown LA, 2016 #cindyproject
Downtown LA, 2016 #cindyproject

Consumption is for suckers. We’re happiest when we create.

Try to replace consumption with creation.

Instead of consuming YouTube videos, create your own videos (with your smartphone video camera, or with your webcam).

Instead of consuming books, write your own.

Instead of consuming art, create your own.

Consumption of media, art, and inspiration is good to give us ideas. However in today’s society, we consume far more than we create. And when we consume, we tend to be in a more passive state. When we create, we’re in a more engaged, and happier active state.

Assignment:

For a week, replace all your consumption habits with creation. Don’t read books, watch TV, or browse social media for a week. Instead, try to use all that time to create.

16. Share what you learn

Garden Grove, 2015 #cindyproject
Garden Grove, 2015 #cindyproject

What is the point of learning if you’re going to hoard it all for yourself?

The more we share, the happier we are.

The great thing about sharing what we learn is that it helps us learn better. Because we need to truly understand a concept or theory before sharing it with others.

As a human species, we succeed when we share. We share stories, information, money, food, and other resources. If humans weren’t social beings that shared— we would have died a long time ago.

Assignment:

What can you share? What skills do you have that others don’t know?

You can share it by teaching it to a friend 1:1. Or by writing a blog post, or making a YouTube video. Or by volunteering some time to teaching at a local community center or school.

The more you share, the more empowered you will feel, and the happier you will be.

17. Write down at least 10 creative ideas a day

Hollywood, 2011
Hollywood, 2011

I got this tip from James Altucher — try to write at least 10 creative ideas a day. You can do this in a notepad, in your smartphone, or any other device.

The point isn’t to have the 10 most creative ideas. The point is practicing your idea muscle. The more creative ideas you write, the more motivated you will be in life. And the more ideas you come up with, the more you will innovate.

For me, I need at least 99 bad ideas before I get 1 good idea. And you don’t need to pursue all your ideas. Steve Jobs says that innovation is deciding which ideas to say “no” to.

By having a lot of ideas, you will never grow stale in life.

Assignment:

If you want to keep it simple, just use your smartphone to write down at least 10 ideas you have a day.

Write down ideas regarding what makes you happy, or what makes you unhappy. Write down a quote that you heard during the day. Write down something that you wish you knew if you were 18 years old again.

And down the road, look at all your ideas, and select the few good ideas you have to take action upon.

18. Don’t ask others for advice

Downtown LA, 2011
Downtown LA, 2011

Nobody knows you as well as you do.

I generally believe in asking others for advice. But the problem is that whenever we ask others for advice, they give you advice based on their own worldview.

The sum of human knowledge is “Know thyself” — uttered over 2,000 years ago.

Rather than consulting others for advice, ask yourself for advice. That means taking a step back, and thinking to yourself: “What advice would I give my past self, or my future self?”

This means having the courage to giving yourself advice which might seem contradictory to others.

Assignment:

For a week, don’t ask anyone for advice. Rather, follow your gut. Don’t share your ideas with others, because they might just shut them down.

Follow your own intuition for a week, and do what feels right to you. And really ask yourself for advice. You can ask yourself advice in the third person, or imagine your future self giving your present self advice.

19. Forget favors given; never forget favors received

Downtown LA, 2015
Downtown LA, 2015

Whenever you do a friend a favor, immediately forget it. However when someone else gives you a favor, never forget it.

The problem of human psychology which leads us to misery is that we over-value the favors we give others, and under-value the favors others have given us.

Don’t blame yourself— it is human nature. We’re more prone to seeing the negative in life, and rarely the positive.

Another problem we have — we think that we’re really nice, while others are assholes. Try to switch that up — imagine yourself as meaner, and others as nicer.

Assignment:

The next time you do a favor for a friend, pretend like it never happened. And never keep “tally” or “score” for the favors you have done for others. And never expect for that favor to be returned. Then you will never be disappointed.

However the next time someone does something nice for you, never forget it. This will help us be more grateful for our friends and family. And never stop saying “thank you” or showing gratitude.

20. “Tomorrow is never”

Garden Grove, 2016 #cindyproject
Garden Grove, 2016 #cindyproject

If something is truly important to you, do it today, or better yet— right now.

Whenever we say we will do something “later”— we will never do it.

I’m not saying procrastination is bad. In-fact, it is good to procrastinate on things which aren’t important to you.

However, only procrastinate on things you are comfortable being left undone if you died tomorrow.

Assignment:

Imagine that you won’t wake up tomorrow. When you go to bed, you will choke, and die in your sleep (peacefully).

If you knew that you wouldn’t wake up tomorrow, what would you do differently today — without quitting your job and doing something crazy?

What art project would you work on or complete? What words of gratitude would you share with someone else? Who is an individual you would forgive?

21. Spend less time on social media

Downtown LA, 2015
Downtown LA, 2015

The more time I spend on social media, the more dissatisfied I am with my life.

The problem with social media is that your friends and family will only show the good things in their lives. Therefore we have the wrong impression of reality — we think that everyone else is always having a great time.

Not only that, but people like to show off and peacock on social media. They like to show off new things they’ve bought (a new car, home, or device). Then we instantly feel envious, as we compare ourselves to them.

Assignment:

Go a week without checking social media. Then check your mental state. Do you feel more calm, less anxious, and less envious?

22. Don’t look at advertisements

Downtown LA, 2011
Downtown LA, 2011

The modern consumerist society works by creating a sense of desire through advertising. Advertising makes us feel incomplete. Advertising makes us think that if we only had “X” we’d finally be happy in life.

But things don’t buy us happiness. Buying that new car won’t make you happier (for longer than 2 weeks). Buying that new smartphone won’t make you happier (past those 2 weeks). Buying that new designer handbag won’t fix any of your life problems.

If you want to feel less desire for superficial crap in life, cut out advertisements from your life.

Assignment:

Install an ad blocker for your browser. Avoid any media which has advertisements (TV, newspapers, magazines). Avoid going to the mall for fun.

Of course we cannot avoid all advertisements in our life. But try to subtract as many advertisements as you can, and you will feel less desire— and therefore will have more satisfaction in your life.

23. Never half-ass anything

Downtown LA, 2015
Downtown LA, 2015

Either “whole-ass” something, or don’t do something at all.

Life is short. Why pick up a new hobby or activity that you will only half-ass?

If you want to learn that new foreign language— either try to master it, or don’t bother at all. If you want to be really good in photography, seek to master it, or don’t bother.

We’re happiest when we are really good at something. We aren’t happy when we’re only “moderately” good at something.

Assignment:

Apply this concept to every part of your life. Think about the extra-curricular activities that you “half-ass” in life. Then subtract them, completely.

Then focus on the few things that brings you true happiness in life, and “whole-ass” them with even more enthusiasm.

24. Subtract superfluous technology from your life

Berkeley, 2016 #cindyproject
Berkeley, 2016 #cindyproject

That new smartphone won’t fix your life’s problems, neither will that new laptop, or new digital camera.

Rather than trying to constantly add technology and devices to our lives, see how you can subtract superfluous technology from your life.

Do you really need that tablet device? Do you really need that new app on your phone? Do you really think that upgrading your smartphone will improve your life?

I’ve found that subtracting technology from my life has helped me become happier and more creative. By having fewer apps on my smartphone, I’m less distracted— and have more focus to writing and doing creative work. By having fewer digital cameras, I don’t stress about which camera to shoot with (I just stick with 1 camera and 1 lens, and have mastered my camera).

Even with my creative writing, I write best when I turn off wifi, and spend long periods of time not looking at social media or email.

Assignment:

Experiment subtracting superfluous technology from your life. Do you really need an iPad and a Kindle to read e-books? Everyday, try to remove one device from your life, by locking it in a cupboard, and trying to go a day without having it.

Fewer devices=fewer things to charge=fewer things to worry about.

Spend more time turning your phone to “airplane” mode, and limiting your internet use. By subtracting technology from your life, you will add more time and focus to your life.

25. Avoid “dualism”; don’t classify things as “good” or “bad”

Fort Bragg, 2016 #cindyproject
Fort Bragg, 2016 #cindyproject

In the West we believe in “dualism” — we classify things as “good” or “bad.”

But can we truly classify everything in life as “good” or “bad”? Is a spider “bad” because it catches flies? Is cock-fighting really “bad” when you compare them to chickens which are stuck in cages their entire lives, fattened up, then slaughtered?

When it comes to morality— we can always find a “good” or a “bad” in everything.

So next time something happens in your life, don’t classify it as “good” or “bad”. Just say it how it is.

Did you lose your wallet? Don’t call it as a “bad” situation. Just say, “I lost my wallet.”

Did you accidentally get hit on the head? Don’t feel upset. Rather, just state the facts: “I got hit on the head by accident.”

The more we practice describing what happens in our life (without classifying it as “good” or “bad”) the less angry we will be in our lives. Which will help us be happier and more grateful.

Assignment:

For a week, don’t call anything “good” or “bad.”

26. Practice “wu-wei”

Berkeley, 2016 #cindyproject
Berkeley, 2016 #cindyproject

In Taoism, there is a philosophy of “wu-wei” (action without action).

For example, it means living a life where you’re not forcing anything.

Do you have that email you’ve been procrastinating on? Don’t force yourself to respond to that email — only respond to it when you feel like it. In-fact, most emails are worth not responding to.

Do you feel like working out? Don’t force yourself to work out— only exercise when you feel like it, and exercise in a manner which is fun for you.

In photography, don’t force yourself to make photos. Only take photos when you want to take them.

Assignment:

For a week, don’t fight any resistance in your life. If you don’t have the energy to do something, don’t do it. Only do it when your body and mind is ready.

27. Procrastination is a good thing

Berkeley, 2016 #cindyproject
Berkeley, 2016 #cindyproject

In modern society, we see procrastination as a disease to be remedied. But in-fact, procrastination is a good thing.

I once heard that the work we’re doing when we’re procrastinating should be the work we should always be doing.

For example, when I procrastinate on doing my taxes, I end up writing blog posts. Because writing blog posts is what I enjoy.

For you, you might procrastinate on studying for your exams by reading, painting, or taking photos. Perhaps that is what you should spend more time on.

Do you procrastinate on calling a certain family member or friend? Perhaps your body is naturally procrastinating on calling them— because you have a negative feeling associated with that person. Perhaps that person is toxic. I never procrastinate on calling my mom (it is effortless), but I procrastinate calling certain family members that I have a toxic relationship with.

Even going back to the example of taxes— I always procrastinate on it, but it somehow always gets done at the end.

Assignment:

For a week, listen to your gut and procrastinate as much as you can. Procrastinate on what isn’t important to you — and rather, only focus on doing things you want to do.

28. Compliment at least one person a day

eric-kim-photography-cindy-project-black-and-white-7-headband-portrait

We rarely compliment others. But a compliment is something that can bring tons of happiness to someone (and it is free).

Whenever I see someone who is wearing an outfit, an accessory, or has something that is interesting— I compliment them on it. It brings them happiness, and it cost me nothing.

The more (authentic) compliments you give others — the happier you will make others feel. And that will make you feel happier too.

It doesn’t have to just be material things. Compliment people on their bravery, courage, tenacity, or character.

If you have a friend who did something tough in their life tell them: “Dear friend, I admire you for your courage for doing that thing. It really shows the strength of your character.”

Assignment:

For a week, give at least 1 compliment a day. It can be to your local barista, waiter, co-worker, boss, partner, or kid. It will help you find the positive in everybody.

29. Realize that “enough” is never “enough”

Berkeley, 2015 #cindyproject
Berkeley, 2015 #cindyproject

Happiness isn’t about having everything we want. Rather, happiness is about putting a limit to our advancements — in terms of the stuff we have, and our lifestyle.

No matter how many things we own, we will always want more. No matter how much money we earn, we will always want more. If anything, the more we own, and the more we have, the hungrier we become to have more.

Rather than seeking to desire more, seek to desire less. The truly wealthy person isn’t someone who owns everything he/she wants. The truly wealthy person is someone who only desires what he/she already owns.

Assignment:

Don’t buy anything new for a week. And make a mental practice of only desiring what you already own.

If your passion is photography, and you desire a new camera— stop. Rather, re-read old reviews of the camera you already own, and try to re-live the excitement you had when you bought the camera you currently own. Apply this same technique to anything else in your life.

30. Don’t look ahead; look behind

Downtown LA, 2015
Downtown LA, 2015

As humans, we always compare ourselves with others. The problem is that no matter how successful we are, there will always be someone more successful than us.

At the same time, no matter how “unsuccessful” we are— there will always be someone more “unsuccessful” than us.

For example, when it comes to social media — there will always be someone with fewer followers than us. When it comes to money, there will always be someone out there who earns less money than us.

To be truly happy, don’t look ahead — look behind.

Assignment:

Always count your blessings by considering all the people who are in a worse situation than you.

Consider all the people who earn less money than you. Consider all the people who are starving, who are living in a worse home than you, and who has more family members who have died.

Don’t gain joy from the suffering of others— but use it as an opportunity to count your own blessings.

31. Spend money on others

SF, 2016
SF, 2016

Let’s say someone gave you $20. What would you bring more happiness— if you spent that $20 on yourself, or on someone else?

Psychological studies have proved that money brings you more happiness when you spend it on others, not yourself.

For example, whenever we spend $20 on ourselves, we quickly forget it. We might buy ourselves a shirt, dinner, or something else. But when we spend money on others, we gain social gratitude from others— which brings us happiness.

Try it out next time — when you go out to dinner with a friend, buy their dinner. Buy their beer. Buy their cup of coffee. Buy them a present. See how much joy it will bring them, and observe how that joy will transfer over to you.

Assignment:

The next time you go out with a friend, pay for their dinner (surprise them by pretending to go to the bathroom, but sneaking off to pay the bill instead).

Then the next night, go to dinner yourself and spend the money on yourself. Compare the two experiences, and see which brings you more happiness.

32. Spend more time with fewer people

Kettleman City, 2015 #cindyproject
Kettleman City, 2015 #cindyproject

One big lesson I’ve learned in life is that happiness is having a deeper relationship with fewer people, rather than having shallow relationships with a lot of people.

I feel as human beings, we crave depth in relationships. I’d rather have 3 very close friends, rather than 30 so-so friends.

With very close friends, you can share your lives with them on a deep level. You can treat them like yourself. You don’t need to censor yourself with them. You can spend money on them, and not feel any regret. You can share deep secrets, without any fear.

However with so-so friends or acquaintances, you always limit yourself. You don’t know how much you can trust them. And not only that, but you end up wasting time on people who aren’t your real friends— who can end up being parasites.

Assignment:

Write down a list of your 3 best friends. And for a month, only meet these people. Check up on them — text message them, call them, meet them for lunch or dinner. Embrace a depth in that relationship, and cut out all the so-so friends or acquaintances you have in your life.

33. Walk more

Prague, 2015
Prague, 2015

Humans are designed for movement. When we sit all day, we get lethargic and depressed. There are even theories that the reason why organisms have brains is because it helps us with movement. Organisms without brains don’t move.

Not only that, but walking is great for your mind. Whenever I walk, I come up with great ideas, and conversations with friends feels more engaging while walking. Some of the most thoughtful philosophers in history have got their best ideas while walking.

Assignment:

Try to sneak in more walking into your daily life. Try to walk to the local grocery store instead of driving. Do a brief walk during your lunch breaks, or after work. Or perhaps after having dinner, take a walk around the block.

Even more drastic of an idea— get rid of your car and see how much you can get away with taking public transit, walking, and Uber. I personally went car-less for a year, and it forced me to walk more, and made me happier. I talked with more strangers, took more photographs, and got more fresh air and exercise.

34. Marry your best friend

Amsterdam, 2015 #cindyproject
Amsterdam, 2015 #cindyproject

The thing that has brought me the deepest happiness is marrying my best friend, Cindy. She constantly challenges me, shows me love and support, and helps me become the best version of myself.

If there is one thing that is consistent — a marriage can make or break your life. A good marriage is like eating cakes and honey for the rest of your life. A bad marriage is like eating glass for the rest of your life.

It doesn’t need to be marriage— you can have a committed relationship instead. But choose your life partner wisely.

Assignment:

If you’re in a toxic relationship, cut it immediately. You only have one life to live, why spend it with a person who brings you down, who disrespects you, adds stress and anxiety to your life, and makes you into a worse person?

35. Avoid optimization in your life

SF, 2016
SF, 2016

Optimization will ruin your life. Trying to optimize your life will add more stress, anxiety, and frustration to your life. Why? Because nothing ever goes according to plan, no matter how well you try to plan.

Instead, try to add more buffer time, redundancy, and add a margin of safety to your daily life.

For example, plan fewer things in your schedule. Don’t try to cram more appointments into your schedule.

If you’re deciding what time to meet a friend, always expect it to take you longer to get there. So if you think you can meet a friend at 1pm, tell them to meet at 2pm instead. That extra 1 hour of buffer time will add less anxiety and stress to your life.

Similarly, if you have a scheduled meeting, try to aim to arrive 1 hour early. For me personally by doing this, I end up only arriving 30 minutes early. And I end up reading a book or something else to pass the time, instead of rushing in traffic and feeling anxious.

If you’re traveling, add more buffer time to your schedule. Arrive a day or two earlier than you think you need to (because who knows, you might miss a flight, a flight might get rescheduled, or you might get sick).

In your personal finances, add a “margin of safety”. Have more money in your savings than you think you should. Take fewer risks financially.

Assignment:

Add a 25% buffer time to anything you schedule this week. Try to arrive an hour earlier, and schedule your appointments an hour later.

36. Value your time, attention, and energy over everything else

Saigon, 2014
Saigon, 2014

The 3 most valuable things in your life are:

  • a) Time
  • b) Attention
  • c) Energy

Why? All of these things are non-renewable resources.

No matter how rich you are, you can never “add” time to your lifespan. No matter who you are, once you have lost your attention by a distraction, you won’t gain “more” attention. Your energy levels are like a gas tank — you start with 100%, but your energy will always go to 0% as the day progresses, and nothing will “add” energy to your day (except perhaps for caffeine, which ends up causing you to crash anyways).

Therefore as a personal rule, I try to prioritize my time, attention, and energy above everything else.

When I have a choice, I will trade money for having more time. For example, if I can take the bus for $1 and it will take me 1 hour, I would prefer to take a $10 taxi that only takes me 10 minutes.

I know I am easily distracted, so I avoid anything that might take away my attention — so I can focus. Therefore I never check email, social media, or blogs first thing in the morning. I always reserve those attention-sucking distractions towards the end of the day.

With energy, I prioritize all my important work earlier in the day. For me, writing and blogging is the most important work for me. So I prioritize always doing it at the beginning of the day, when my energy levels are high, and I do all my chores and small tasks for later in the day.

Assignment:

When you have an opportunity, trade money for time. Avoid distractions and energy-sucking activities which aren’t important for later in the day.

37. Embrace “beginner’s mind”

Provincetown, 2015
Provincetown, 2015

The only way to stay inspired and to keep learning in life is to always retain a “beginner’s mind.” Once we become an “expert” — we become blind to other options. We don’t challenge our pre-existing notions. We become rigid, then we die.

Assignment:

Try to be a beginner in more things in life. Even if you’re an expert in photography, imagine yourself like a beginner photographer again. What questions would you ask? What would you do differently, or the same?

Try to learn a new art or craft that you’re totally a beginner in — and it will help you humble yourself in what you’re a master at.

And as you get older, try to become more child-like and more of a beginner. This way, your options and creativity will always be unlimited.

38. Don’t adapt to the world; let the world adapt to you

Kyoto, 2015
Kyoto, 2015

Whenever we try to do something new or innovative, we will always experience a push-back. Why? Because human beings love following the status-quo. We hate doing things which are contrary to our traditions or culture.

But once again, life is short. Why live a life according to the rules of others? I suggest you to be more unreasonable — let the world adapt to your morales, principles, and way of living.

By living an unreasonable life, you will live a more authentic life. You will make a greater impact in society, and find more innovative ways to help others. Not only that, but you will be happier.

Sure you might alienate people, but that is the price of living an authentic and true life.

Assignment:

What are some beliefs that you have, that everyone else thinks is crazy or unreasonable? Write them down, and try to live according to your own principles for a week. Don’t budge — let others adapt to your schedule.

39. Ask yourself: “What if the opposite were true?”

Tokyo, 2011
Tokyo, 2011

One of the best ways to be more rational in life, to be more innovative, and to be more open-minded is to realize that everything you believe in can be right and wrong at the same time.

For every “rule” there is always an exception. They say that money doesn’t buy you happiness, but I’m sure that there are some billionaires who are very happy.

They say that having a family is the key to happiness. But I know many people out there without families who are happy.

For every notion we believe in, try to ask yourself: “What if the opposite were true?” This will help us expand our minds, find holes in our thinking, and help us come up with more creative ideas.

What works for you doesn’t necessarily work for others (like everything in this article). But finding real happiness and “truth” in life is discovering your own preferences, and what brings you personal happiness.

Assignment:

For a day or a week, assume that all of your beliefs are wrong. If that were the case, how would you live your life differently?

40. See yourself from a third-person or birds-eye view

Portugal, 2015
Portugal, 2015

One of the best ways to find happiness in life is to kill your ego— to not take yourself too seriously.

What I do is imagine myself from a third-person perspective, or a birds-eye view.

Imagine yourself in a airplane, high in the sky. When you look at people from that high of a perspective— they are like ants, or like sand in a beach. It is hard to imagine that all these little ants have stresses, anxieties, hopes, dreams, and many things happening in their lives.

By detaching myself from my body and seeing myself from a birds-eye perspective, I don’t take my stupid problems in life so seriously. Who cares if I didn’t get that pair of shoes I wanted? Or who cares if I didn’t sleep that well the night before? The world doesn’t care if my family member or loved one died. It happens to everyone.

Assignment:

Sit in a chair. Then visualize your soul detaching from your body. See your soul hover above your body, and looking at yourself from a third-person perspective, or from a birds-eye view.

What would you find less important in your life, and more important? This will help you realize how tiny and insignificant you are, which will remove stress from your life. But then also encourage you to do work to help empower others, not just your tiny body.

41. The reward is the action itself

NYC, 2016
NYC, 2016

Many of us do things in life for an external reward. We go to work to earn money. We help a friend to get a “thank you” and a pat on the back. We make photographs to get “likes” on social media.

But what if the only reward was the action itself?

For example, what if you did favors for your friends not to get gratitude from them, but because doing the favor in itself brought you happiness?

What if you made photographs not to have them admired by others, but because clicking the shutter itself is what brought you joy?

Don’t seek any affirmation, thank you’s, or external rewards like fame, money, or attention for the work you do. The only reward you deserve is the action in itself.

Assignment:

The next time you do something nice for someone, don’t expect a thank you. Give $100 to a charity organization anonymously. Make photographs without publishing them online.

Then ask yourself, “Did doing this action in itself bring me happiness?” Or am I only doing this for the affirmation from others, or some sort of external reward?

42. “Hell fucking yes!” or “no”

Amsterdam, 2014
Amsterdam, 2014

There are a billion decisions we can make everyday. How do we know what to do and what not to do?

Easy: ask yourself whenever you need to make a decision — is it a “Hell fucking yes!” or “no?” (credit Derek Sivers).

Your life is built upon what you decide not to do in life, not what you decide to do.

Once again, life is short. Why spend doing your valuable time on this Earth doing shit you don’t want to do, or waste on? How could you concentrate your effort, time, and talents on things that will actually make a difference in your life and the life of others?

Assignment:

For a week, only make decisions based on the criteria if it is a “Hell fucking yes!” or a “no”.

43. Traveling won’t fix your life problems

Seoul, 2009
Seoul, 2009

I think traveling is great. It gives you the chance to meet new people, experience other cultures, and expand your mind.

But traveling won’t fix your life problems. I learned this the hard way.

My first bug for traveling bit me when I was around 18. I was dissatisfied with my life, and I thought that “happiness” was somewhere else— perhaps in Paris, or somewhere in Europe.

But when I finally traveled to Europe, I found out that it was a lot more similar to home than dissimilar. And none of my mental illnesses or dissatisfactions were cured when I traveled abroad. The only way I was able to find more satisfaction in my life was from studying philosophy, and getting encouragement from loved ones in life.

Assignment:

Consider— if you never traveled for the rest of your life, could you still be happy?

44. Decrease time, increase intensity

Berkeley, 2015 #cindyproject
Berkeley, 2015 #cindyproject

This is another tip I learned from Nassim Taleb — with unpleasant tasks, decrease the time you spend on doing it, but increase the intensity.

For example, if you have a bunch of work you need to get done, try to get it done as quickly as possible, in as short of a period as possible (rather than just doing a little bit over a long period of time).

I’ve found a short period of intense stress to be more desirable than a long period of moderate stress.

Assignment:

Try out the “pomodoro” technique — the next time you need to do something unpleasant, set a timer for 25 minutes, and only focus on that task for those 25 minutes without getting distracted. You’ll be surprised how much you can get done.

45. K.I.S.S. (Keep it simple, stupid)

Marseille, 2015
Marseille, 2015

Whenever you have the choice of the more complex plan or the more simple plan— always opt for the simpler plan.

Simple is hard to attain. Simplicity is about removing superfluous decisions, and about subtracting complexity.

In your life, always opt for the simplest option or process possible. It will make you more effective, less stressed, and fewer problems will arise.

Assignment:

How can you make your life simpler? How can you get 90% of the results of an activity with only 10% of the effort?

Embrace laziness to be more effective. Seek to do less work while being more effective.

46. Don’t change others; change yourself

NYC, 2016
NYC, 2016

You can’t change others, but you can change yourself.

You can’t make your partner more patient. But you can make yourself more patient.

You can’t make your kids less bratty, but you can make yourself more compassionate.

You can’t make others more generous. But you can make yourself more generous.

Imagine you lived a life where you knew that you couldn’t change others, but that you can change yourself. How much more empowering would that be?

And I can guarantee you that the more you seek to change yourself, the more you will end up actually changing and influencing others (via your actions).

Assignment:

For a week, don’t complain (at all) about others. Rather than trying to criticize the actions of others, only criticize your own actions.

If you thought someone was an asshole, blame yourself (I wasn’t patient enough). If someone insulted you, blame yourself (I wasn’t compassionate enough). If someone got angry at you, blame yourself (you did something wrong).

Of course you’re not the root of all the problems in the world. But if you only ever blame yourself, and never blame others, you will be a lot happier in life (because you realize you have more power than you realize).

47. If you’re angry, wait 1 day before responding

SF, 2016
SF, 2016

One of my worst vices is my anger. Whenever I’m angry, I feel my face turn red, I feel my blood pulse in my body, and I end up saying or doing things I regret.

The best thing I’ve learned for myself is to wait at least 1 day before responding when I’m angry. I do this with Cindy, and 99% of the time, my anger is gone by the next day. And I’m grateful that I didn’t do or say anything that I might end up regretting.

Assignment:

For a week, if you feel any anger towards your spouse, kids, co-workers, boss, whatever — wait at least 24 hours before responding. When you feel anger, say that you’re going to go on a walk, go take a cold shower, or make yourself some food. Then 24 hours later, see how you want to respond.

48. You can create your own luck

San Diego, 2014
San Diego, 2014

A lot of life is luck. Our destinies are shaped by our parents, our upbringings, where we’re born, the time in which we’re born, and the random encounters that happen to us in life.

Many people complain about their lives because they say they’re not lucky. They don’t realize that happiness is in their power — that they can create their own luck.

Realize that you can shape your own future. You can control your own emotions, and outlook in life.

If you want to gain some sort of success in your life, know that action is the most important thing. If you want to become a successful photographer, you need to take action by going out and making more photos. If you want to become a successful writer, you need to take action by writing, publishing, and sharing more of your stuff. The more you create and share, the more luck you will create in your life.

Assignment:

For a month, don’t tell anyone your dreams, plans, or ideas. Rather, only focus on action. See how much luck comes your way.

49. Emulate 5 people you admire

Downtown LA, 2013
Downtown LA, 2013

They say you’re the average of the 5 closest people to you. I also think that if you want to find happiness or success in life — try to emulate the 5 people you admire the most.

For me, those 5 people include Seneca, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Marcus Aurelius, and Kanye West.

I’ve read all their interviews, books on them, and consumed their ideas. I try to internalize their ideas, philosophies, and try to mimic their actions.

Those 5 people are different for everyone. Who are the 5 people you want to become the combination of? This will help you raise your ambition, and accomplish what you truly desire in life.

Assignment:

Write down a list of the 5 people who you most admire. Then everyday try to read at least 1 interview with each of these people. Try to ask yourself, if that individual were giving you advice, what would they tell you? Always keep them in your mind, and help them inspire you to become the best version of yourself as possible.

50. Remove distractions to focus

Lansing, 2014
Lansing, 2014

I don’t know how to focus. But I know how to remove distractions.

We’re generally unhappy when we’re listless, restless, and unfocused. We’re happiest when we’re focused on what is important to us, and in a concentrated “flow” state (or in the “zone”).

What distractions can you remove from your life? Some ideas:

  • Remove social media
  • Remove toxic people
  • Remove blogs/news websites/media
  • Remove TV/Netflix/movies
  • Remove advertising/marketing/spam
  • Remove technology/internet/email

Assignment:

The next time you need to do creative work, turn off your phone (completely), and turn off your wifi. See how much more focus this will give you.

51. Imagine the other person is going to die tonight

London, 2015
London, 2015

I like the idea of living everyday as if it were your last. But also try to imagine the opposite— whenever you meet others, imagine like they’re going to die tonight.

If that were the case, what would you say to them? What would you appreciate about them? What would you not do to them? How would you treat them differently?

Assignment:

For a week, whenever you meet a friend, loved one, or someone — imagine like it is the last time you will ever see them.

52. Don’t try to control your reputation

Paris, 2014
Paris, 2014

We can’t control our reputation. We can’t control what others think of us. Ultimately others will judge us however they like.

But like my friend Greg Marsden says, “What other people think of you is none of your business.”

The more we try to control our reputation, the more we ruin our reputation— and the more miserable we feel.

The solution: live a life authentic to yourself, and be kind. Don’t let anxiety pervade your life, because you think others are constantly judging you.

Assignment:

Stop thinking of what others think of you.

53. Avoid debt

London, 2012
London, 2012

Debt is slavery. Avoid debt at all costs. Debt will force you to doing things you don’t want to do. Debt will force you to stay in a job you hate. Debt will force you to follow a lifestyle that you hate.

Assignment:

If you have debt, aim to pay it off as quickly as possible. Never buy anything that you can’t buy in cash. Don’t invest or buy anything that will put you into debt.

54. Don’t compete with anybody (except yourself)

Paris, 2015
Paris, 2015

All of life is comparison/opinion.

All the sources of “happiness” we find in life comes down to how we compare our lives with others, and also for our own opinion of our own lives.

This means don’t compare yourself with anyone, and don’t compete with anyone (except perhaps yourself). Strive to become a better human being everyday, and don’t compare your “success” with others.

There will always be people who are better looking than you, richer than you, and with more awards than you.

If you don’t compete with anyone, you will find more satisfaction in your life. And to continue to grow in life, just compete against yourself from a year ago.

Assignment:

Try to improve yourself 1% everyday (however you judge that). Seek to be 1% smarter, 1% more hard-working, 1% more creative, 1% stronger, or 1% less jealous, envious, or angry.

Aim for steady progress in your life, and you will never grow stale and die.

55. Don’t do unto others as you don’t want others to do unto you

Tucson, 2014
Tucson, 2014

Ethics is tricky. Not everyone else in the world has the same preferences as ourselves.

So it is a mistake to treat others as we would like to be treated. Because not everyone wants to be treated like we want to be treated. If you’re an extrovert, don’t treat an introvert how you would like to be treated (going out to a party). Similarly, if you’re an introvert, don’t treat an extrovert how you’d like to be treated (staying at home alone).

Assignment:

The easiest way we can prevent ourselves from harming others is this: don’t do unto others as we don’t want others to do unto us.

This means never hurt anybody else, insult anyone else, or purposefully do anything evil to someone else. Don’t treat others how we don’t like being treated.

Simple, to the point, yet so difficult to follow. But follow this rule, and you will find a lot more happiness and tranquility in your life.

Conclusion

Hanoi, 2016 #cindyproject
Hanoi, 2016 #cindyproject

None of these tips will probably apply to you. But they have helped me tremendously in the last 10 years of my life. All these tips are advice I wish I could have given my 18 year old self.

None of the information above is a “rule.” They are all suggestions and tips.

I hope you might find some of these tips helpful in your own life.

Never forget that your life is short and limited. Your most valuable assets in life include your time, attention, and energy.

You were born for great things — why limit yourself to pettiness and the bullshit of everyday life?

Don’t be afraid. Have confidence and courage in yourself. Don’t seek to pleasure yourself, seek to find the minimum necessary to sustain yourself— then devote the rest of your energy for empowering the rest of the human race.

You got this.

Always,
Eric

If you want to learn more on happiness, read all Happiness Articles>