Recipes for Happiness

9 min readJun 6, 2024


Sages love to write this stuff. Then there’s the occasional non-sage, amateur philosopher and happiness-seeker, like myself.

I do not practice all that I suggest here, though I make an earnest attempt at almost all of these, I frequently fail.

Happiness is often defined as a state of serenity that allows one to bear the disappointments and heartaches of life, while feeling some kind of overwhelming gratitude for the good things in our lives. Clearly this is insufficient for most of us to grab and make real. We need to add to this a sense of purpose, of meaning, without which we would surely feel a lacking in our existence. We also need to add a sense of capacity, agency — this is where we bring a unique and valuable skill or service to humanity, no atter how small, and therefore we feel useful and appreciated. Another thing we cannot live without is love. We must feel loved and we must love someone, even if that’s just our dog.

Focus on what (who) you love.

We spend too much time thinking about people we don’t like. People who behave in ways we disapprove of. People whose beliefs are offensive to us. We may derive some perverse pleasure from our imagined superiority as we point to someone’s obvious racist tendencies, someone else’s abhorrently pro-life doctrine, etc etc. None of this serves us. We find an immediate happiness boost when we turn our thinking to the people we love and care about, those friends we admire, respect and care about, and the people who inspire us with their acts, their words, their wisdom and kindness. The more time we can spend in these thoughts, the happier we will be.

Nurture the optimism muscle.

Picture ‘future me’ and work hard to make this also a ‘better me’. Stronger me, wiser me, healthier me, wealthier me, happier me. Build a mental image of life in the somewhat near future. Self, surrounded by friends and family, smiling, with fewer problems, more accomplishments to be proud of, more gifts from the universe to be grateful for. It may not all come together as we wished. But our constant nurturing of this optimistic ‘better me’ in the future will give us fuel to get through the daily ups and downs. It gets harder as we age, knowing our peak is, theoretically, behind us. Never mind. Learn something every day. Read more. Accumulate wisdom, not gripes. Take lessons, not offense.

Nurture the empathy muscle.

Empathy helps us forgive. It helps us see the human side of everything. The grumpy fucker behind us, honking. The bossy boss who won’t sign off on our PTO request. The list never ends. When we forgive, we’re giving ourselves a gift. We’re putting down the rock we were carrying around, we travel lighter, we free that space in our head where that person was camping, rent-free. This applies to people we disagree with, those we perceive as our political and philosophical enemies. Not enemies. Just people. There’s no room for them in our consciousness once we decide to be happy. Forgiving is a gidt to self, not the forgiven.

Purpose. Meaning. Drive.

Whatever we see as our calling, and however feeble and distant it may feel when applied to who we are today and how we’re living, our calling needs to be ever-present in our awareness. Sometimes, in the absence of a career goal or a dream, we can adopt a simpler calling, for example, to be kind and to be a highly ethical human being. That’ll do it, until we can add something more pragmatic and perhaps career-related. The Japanese concept of Ikigai describes ultimate happiness in life through work. What you love to do <<->> what you’re good at <<->> what you’re paid to do <<->> what the world needs from you. When you can find your way to the fulcrum between these four pillars, you will, inevitably, be happy.


This isn’t just about relationship status. Many people have the inner strength to feel happy and complete without a life partner, as a single person. There may or may not be a life partner, but the self remains strong, confident and complete. Many of us aren’t there; we feel we need someone to love and who loves us back, forever. Love goes far beyond this though. Love warms us when we’re afraid, gives us strength when we’re feeling down, love allows us to forgive when we’re disappointed. Love may not fix our money problems, but after we die we’re remembered more by how well we loved, than how we fixed our money woes. Love is for friends, extended family, team mates, needy people in our social sphere. It may also be the one person we chose, and who chose us, as our forever partner. Love is giving more than we take.


I dislike the theory that happiness (or serenity) is inversely proportional to our expectations. Suggesting therefore, that if we keep our expectations somewhere around our shoelaces, we should expect to feel super happy. It’s often suggested by inhabitants of those annoying countries that always score high in the world happiness report (Finland, Denmark, etc) that a core reason for their high score is the relatively low priority given to financial and materialist motives. Not wanting to pursue wealth, allegedly makes us happier. That’s fine in a country that has sufficient financial resources to fund its poorest to a decent minimum standard of living. It also suggests that work is a dirty word and should not be allowed to crowd our delicate souls, remaining a de-prioritized item compared with rest, family time and fun with friends. I don’t know… those of us who feel driven to succeed and are willing to work hard in pursuit of our dreams would surely see the life of the average Dane as boring and unambitious. We must each allow ourselves our preferred level of drive and ambition. The real harm to our happiness is not our wanting, it’s our tendency to compare ourselves with others who seem to have more than we have. See above: purpose. Our expectations can always exceed our current state of self, but ideally would remain realistic and achievable, so our vision of “future me” = “better me” is something we truly believe we can attain.

Self love.

We mean, of course, not a recipe for narcissism, as self love calls for respect for self, kindness to self, forgiveness of self. There’s no need to place self above all others, but just to give oneself a decent dose of daily gentleness so we can avoid self loathing, which serves nobody, ever. “You are enough” is a good affirmation to wake up with. And there’s no harm in adding “but I still want to achieve XYZ…” to this enoughness. I find this one hard to practice consistently, as my inner critic slams me when I trip up on one of my own goals. I flog myself when I suffer a setback, whether through error or bad luck. I’m learning slowly to practice the same forgiveness I afforded others, and to check whether there was a lesson in that setback, and if so, take the lesson and forgive myself, then keep moving with optimism and self love.

Why this matters.

The western world is not falling apart. There’s a major shift underlying all the turmoil and disruption we read about in the news. The human race has grown weary of western liberalism. More countries are developing a liking for strongman dictators instead of what they see as feeble, bleeding heart socialists fighting with old school conservatives, all of them adding up to a failed status quo where poverty, corruption and crime are the only winners. We’re experiencing a wave of angst as our left wing swings further left and right wing goes deeper into nut job territory. We see no real progress on climate change or the wealth gap — our two most important challenges. Our anxiety causes us to entrench in our views, giving way to our (wrong) instincts to hate the other side and then credit ourselves with a false sense of being rare, enlightened beings. This serves us not at all. Our moral superiority turns out to be a worthless currency, and our feeling of helplessness increases as we point fingers at people we see as villains in our story.

Human beings have faced far bigger problems. We have pulled through. Life in a ‘broken’ country can still be wonderful, fulfilling, safe and healthy. And happy. America, the UK, France, Australia and other pillars of western culture will continue to decay, while challengers like China, India , Russia, Iran and others will erode the west’s lead in cultural, economic, military and social trends. It’s OK. We still live in a place that offers infinitely better quality of life than those challengers can. Our happiness doesn’t depend on political stability or economic dominance. We require decent health and safety to score in the high end of the happiness report, for obvious reasons. Give a society essential health services, a reasonably low level of corruption, very low levels of religious oppression, and that society will thrive.

Beyond our climate and wealth gap problems, we’re living in a loneliness epidemic. Our frequency and depth of contact with others is dramatically reduced, by obvious forces that may be improvements over the past — work from home, e-commerce, social media, and our post-pandemic agoraphobia. We’re trying to be self-reliant in more ways than ever before, but an essential ingredient is eroding — talking to people we trust. The trend impacts some age groups and demographics more than others, but surely all of us to some extent. The antidote is also obvious. Go outside. Talk to strangers. Join clubs, teams, troupes, groups, organizations.

Which is the most important element described here? I believe it’s empathy. We can’t practice empathy until we’re kinder to ourselves, therefore when we have empathy we also have self love. These two forces will lift us out of the swamp. We have a chance at turning on the other lights once we’re done hating half the population — and ourselves.

What’s the hardest to do of these bits of advice? I would suggest Purpose. Finding a calling when we aren’t sure what we were put on the planet to do, and trying to pretend some noble sounding cause is in fact our actual purpose in life, this is hard. I really don’t know if mine is a valid purpose: to live my life well, be remembered as kind, thoughtful, and good to be with. To build a company that will outlive me and do some good in the world. To give more than I take. It’s so vague, and misty. I fail to live up to it in moments of self doubt and fear of the future. Maybe it’s just good enough to keep me feeling that it’s really great to be alive on this planet, bumping into things as I try to find my way. I see Better Me in a time not to far into the future, smiling.




San Francisco geek, entrepreneur, wannabe economist, mediocre equestrian